Advances for the final wave of this year’s releases have been sent out, and so the past week has yielded copies of:
- The Exploding Hearts – Shattered
- My Chemical Romance – The Black Parade
- Pas/Cal – Dear Sir EP
- Pavement – Wowee Zowee: Sordid Sentinels Edition
- The Shins – Wincing the Night Away
- Voxtrot – Your Biggest Fan EP
- Tom Waits – Orphans
A very productive week to be sure. I’ve got opinions on all of them, so I thought I’d spend some time talking about each, one by one. So here goes.
The Exploding Hearts – Shattered
This is a compilation of B-sides and unreleased tracks from the all-too-short career of the Exploding Hearts. It’s a testament to the band’s talent that this doesn’t sound like the typical B-sides compilation at all, this sounds more like a fresh album filled with quality material. In particular, the previously-unreleased ‘Busy Signals’ and the early single ‘(Making) Teenage Faces‘ are among the Hearts’ best material, filled with massive hooks, crunchy guitars, that lo-fi punk production, and just sheer quality through and through. The second half of the compilation is made up of some alternate mixes of tracks found on Guitar Romantic, the Hearts’ lone album, and these alternate mixes aren’t really all that revelatory. But again, this compilation stands as a testament to the talent of this band; Shattered would be a work that most bands would be thrilled to present as their own, which only serves to highlight the brilliance of Guitar Romantic and the Exploding Hearts in general. I haven’t heard that Nice Boys album yet, it’s the new album by the lone surviving member of the group, but I’ve heard generally positive reviews of it, so that should be up in my queue soon.
My Chemical Romance – The Black Parade
Uh, lol. Breihan’s got some good stuff to say about the video for their lead single. I’m really tempted to actually listen to this once, I think the unintentional humor levels would be absolutely off the charts if the video is representative of the album’s direction. The best part of the video is our first shot of the band, and the drummer looking really intense in slow motion. Kills me.
Pas/Cal – Dear Sir EP
So here we are. I can’t think of a release this year that I’ve anticipated more, not even I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass can match up with this. Last week, I got to hear ‘C.A.U. (Sans Muscle)’, and as discussed in a post last week, I was impressed. And then, the full EP leaked. I was torn as to whether or not I should take the plunge and listen to it. My expectations for it were through the roof, so chances are it would be a disappointment, and my appreciation for Pas/Cal would decline forevermore, which would be a shame. On the other hand, there was nothing in the band’s track record to suggest that such a disappointment could even be possible. Then I thought, I’m going to have to listen to it eventually right? No, I thought for a moment, no I don’t. I can leave it on the shelf forever, and just stare at the album cover longingly a few times each day. Right? Ridiculous. Besides, I’d already paid money to preorder my own copy, so hearing the advance won’t really hurt the band any, I’ve already given them my money. So I gave in to my atavistic urges and started up the record.
First track, ‘Little Red Radio’. Awesome. Really upbeat, fun, catchy, amazing. Second track, ‘C.A.U. (Sans Muscle)’. Still hasn’t gotten old, still amazing. Third track, ‘Dear Sir’. What. In. The. Hell. Pas/Cal have suddenly taken a side road into Animal Collective territory, like they went out into the forest and communed with Gaia while tripping on shrooms, then came back into the studio and just jammed for a while, man. Somehow, surprisingly, it works. Fourth track, ‘The Lot We Came Home With’. If you told me this was a Belle & Sebastian b-side, I’d believe you for days. Too bad it’s also b-side quality. Probably the weakest Pas/Cal I’ve heard thus far, but I’ll forgive them. Last track, ‘Wake Up Wake Up Wake Up’, is a pretty derivative closer, but it’s not bad, just not great either.
I hope that this EP is just leftovers that were cut from the final album, because it’s probably the weakest of their three EPs so far. Fortunately, that still makes it an above-average release by typical indie rock standards, with at least two tracks that will be getting heavy play for me. I’m still thirsting for Citizen’s Army Uniform, due out in January 2007, so I look forward to hearing that. In the meantime, Pas/Cal are still great.
Pavement – Wowee Zowee: Sordid Sentinels Edition
Actually I haven’t listened to this yet. This is one of those rare cases where I’ll wait for my pre-ordered copy to arrive in the mail, rather than jumping on the advance. I’ll just say that Wowee Zowee is by far my favorite Pavement album, it’s not even close. That’s not to say that Crooked Rain Crooked Rain or Slanted and Enchanted are bad albums, because they’re not, they’re actually the best albums ever. Other than Wowee Zowee. In addition to the album proper’s quality, the b-sides from this era are completely classic, stuff like ‘Easily Fooled’ and ‘Painted Soldiers’ are so aces. But of course, the real exciting material is all the unreleased songs and live performances that Matador has generously included. These Pavement reissues have been the picture of exactly what a reissue should be; the archives have been completely cleaned out, without going completely overboard and offering massive box sets of aborted takes and alternate mixes. To be honest, I thought the unreleased material on the Crooked Rain reissue was pretty weak, but I’m extremely glad that they were included, just for completist’s sake. I’m crossing my fingers for another reissue on the level of Slanted and Enchanted: Luxe and Reduxe, and judging from the b-sides, that should be exactly what we get, and I can’t wait.
The Shins – Wincing the Night Away
Someone summed up The Shins really well by drawing an analogy to candy: it’s really really incredible at first, and you just can’t get enough of it, but then it quickly dissolves and you completely forget about it. When Chutes Too Narrow arrived, I don’t think I listened to anything else for the next three or four weeks. Then, I abruptly stopped, and I never listened to the album ever again. I finally popped it in again earlier this week, after a three year hiatus. I was surprised at how well the album stood up, but I doubt I’ll revisit it again.
Wincing the Night Away, however, is no Chutes Too Narrow. I’ve listened to this about three times now, and only ‘Red Rabbits’ remains a good song. I don’t like this album. It’s derivative, poorly-written, and plain boring, that’s all. There’s some folks who genuinely enjoy it, but I’m not one of them. There’s also one person on rateyourmusic.com who’s already given it a 5-star rating, which made me lol. I wonder if The Shins sent a promo copy to Zach Braff.
Voxtrot – Your Biggest Fan EP
Come on, three songs, that’s all you’ve got? Talk about milking your fans for their money. And that’s why I’m not giving them my money. Also, because I don’t particularly like their music. But a lot of others have gotten really frighteningly cultish about the group, mirroring my relationship with Pas/Cal, so I’m in a continuous state of trying to discover Voxtrot’s appeal. I may have found it, because the second song ‘Trouble‘ is one of the best songs I’ve heard all year. It’s got a very catchy chorus, and the buildup to the final chorus is just immaculately done, pretty much perfectly written and executed. Unfortunately, the other two songs are completely flat to my ears, so I guess I’m still searching for that elusive Voxtrot attractiveness. But at least they’re hitting .333 with an impressive slugging percentage of 1.333 in this series, so it may be time to call them up to the big leagues. But they’ll have to improve their plate discipline in order to unseat Pas/Cal at shortstop.
Tom Waits – Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers, and Bastards
A massive 3-disc set, filled with both rare unreleased material and some new material as well. Actually, I haven’t listened to this either, but come on, it’s Tom Waits. Must be good. Actually, more than good: instant classic. That’s why I’m saving this for the proper release as well. What an amazing year for music so far.
I love that photo.
Links that are better than that Shins album, and may or may not change your life:
- You remember that Sony Bravia commercial with all the bouncing balls in the streets of San Francisco? Sony’s now got a new Bravia commercial featuring explosions of paint, and you can download it here.
- Anyone who’s seen me using a computer knows that I x3 keyboard shortcuts, so I’m gleeful to learn that you can press Ctrl+Backspace (or Option+Delete on a Mac) to delete the entire word to the left of your cursor in one fell swoop. Thanks Lifehacker.
- The Economist thinks that the Nobel Peace Prize should take a break.
- According to this investigative report, the nation’s No Fly List is an absolute joke. Though I still believe that it’s better to be safe than sorry, this is pretty sobering.
- A short interview concerning pickpockets.
- This lightbulb looks amazing.
- There’s now an easier way to move a lot of files between computers. Maybe I just missed it, but why wasn’t this thought of earlier?
- Here’s some really bling bottled water. Apparently Paris Hilton lets her dog drink it. That’s an endorsement if I’ve ever heard one.
- You know those Motion Capture tests, where sensors are attached to the body to create a more accurate computer representation? EA Sports makes fun of it with these great commercials for Fifa 07 featuring Wayne Rooney going berserk and Juninho playing with otters, while David Villa’s is just plain absurd and incredible. Unfortunately, the Ronaldinho one isn’t as good, but if you’re going to see the other three, why not be a completist about it.
- Srsly, how hard would it be to make the US Olympic Handball Team? Apparently, pretty freaking hard, nice article.
- Find out how much of your favorite caffeinated drink could kill you. I’d have to drink 825 bottles of Snapple Sweet Iced Tea to kick the bucket. Let’s get started! Evelyn also points out that the site features coffee-flavored yogurt and coffee-flavored jello, which we’ve decided that we must try immediately. Or at least, I will.
- Get rid of those stacked measuring cups, here’s an adjustable measuring cup. Again, brilliant, why didn’t anyone come up with this sooner.
- For you musicians, here’s a nice-looking online metronome, also gives an A440 pitch.
- Ten coins can give you perfect change for any occasion. Of course, that’s useless after only one go-around, but I always find it so satisfying to have perfect change, and so for some reason I feel like this is a worthwhile cause to pursue.
- Make some really beautiful flame fractals.
- A hands-on review of the Zune, Microsoft’s soon-to-be-released mp3 player that some are calling an iPod killer. I’m actually very very tempted to get a Zune, as I’m not a fan of iPods at all, and this looks like a quality product from Microsoft, for once.
- Another very addicting game. Supposedly US Air Force pilots can average more than 60 seconds in this game, but I’ve never topped 10 seconds, haha. I’m just not cut out for the NBA, it seems.
- Wallpapr is a nice way to automatically generate wallpapers from flickr.
- The Japanese Giant Salamander, which can reach lengths of almost five feet, is already an endangered species, but a recently discovered small colony of albino individuals near Hiroshima is even rarer, so the question is whether or not the nuclear explosion had any influence on this aberration. By the way, these salamanders also grew to a length of thirty feet and are currently destroying Tokyo.
- Use ring finger length as a way to determine athletic ability.
- Incredibly hysterical movie reviews from a Christian watchdog. WFMU’s blog has a good description of the site:
But it’s the lengthy reviews, strange plot summaries and excrutiatingly detailed category offense listings that nearly steal the show every time. For instance, Fight Club gets one demerit point each in the Impudence/Hate category for “encouraging sadness” and “nihilism and glorification of it,” as well as “impudence toward boss = ‘enlightened’,” “praying for car wreck,” “belittlements,” “punk music in startup background” and Helena Bonham Carter’s “punk dress.” Speaking of, Hollywood seems to mean nothing to CAP, as actors and directors aren’t even mentioned on many of the site’s reviews – just the title and year of release.
I’ve got nothing against Christianity, I think most of my friends are actually Christian, but these reviews are among the best I’ve ever read. Not even Air Bud, Narnia, or Peter Pan can escape this dude’s wrath.