So yeah, in the last few weeks I've been travelling a bit, and I downloaded plenty of music for the long plane flights and car rides. The results are in. Here they are:
The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots
This is basically a standard pop album, but instead of adding perhaps rough guitars or exotic instrumentation to give the music a hip, experimental "edge," layers of extraterrestrial synths are added, softening the sound (surprisingly) and making it weird yet pleasantly accessible. The album itself is the saga of the titular Yoshimi, and seems to be almost a satire of conventional concept albums. There's plenty of instrumentals, which might be considered filler by some, but really just define the album's sound even more. Overall, a fantastic listen. Also, the songs are really catchy.
Yo La Tengo - Popular Songs
It's probably bad that this is my first YLT album rather than one of their earlier, more acclaimed works. But I'm not complaining. The first nine songs here are all simple indie pop, not covering vast expanses of musical ground for anyone really, but it's also plain to see that YLT is out not to surpass the farthest reaches of musical exploration. They're out to write good tunes. These nine good tunes make up the more persistent half of the album. It's also the half most worth returning to. "Periodically Double Or Triple" sounds a lot like "Taxman," for example, and since "Taxman" is a good song and "Periodically" has its own kicks, it's a good song. The same goes for most of the pieces of this nine-song suite. The last three songs, however, run about the same length as the rest of the album, opening the doors wider for a bit more experimentation. "More Stars Than There Are In Heaven" is beautiful, if a bit too repetitive. "The Fireside" is closer to post-rock than the style Yo La Tengo is known for. "And The Glitter Is Gone" is really just a messy, 16-minute jam that makes an underwhelming closer to a very good album.
Menomena - Mines
Menomena's latest opens with "Queen Black Acid," a fantastic work of indie rock and possible Who homage. It's as strong as anything on I Am The Fun Blame Monster but, sadly, it's a false promise of brilliance throughout the rest of the album. This isn't to say the album is bad. The songs here are legitimately good, and their production remains spiked with quite a few shots of Portland swagger, but around "Lunchmeat," the songs begin to blend together and it becomes difficult to discern one song from the next. No big leaps are made. There are no strange interludes designed to keep the taste when you've been mindlessly chewing for a while. The hip-tronica influences start to sound immature, the saxophone bits messy. The songs on their own are all good, but the album as a whole lacks the coherence and ambition that has made Menomena's earlier work so great. That said, you should still download "Dirty Cartoons" and "Killemall."
Boris - Flood
This is one of those albums only divided into tracks to piss off people with iPod Shuffles. The first part is basically just a riff repeated on a delay pedal, which is by no means impressive. However, with the second part, the album jumps into a post-rock epic, ending with a blast of drone metal. The third part incorporates vocals, but they really don't contribute much to the sound of the music. Also, half of the third part is more drone. The fourth and final part is the prettiest of the parts (all of which are 13-22 minutes long), but is still rather boring. The volume changes, when unexpected, are quite irritating rather than moving. The metal passages are loud but boring. Everything else is pretty alright, other than the neverending first part. The album as a whole isn't really anything worth listening to.
Madvillain - Madvillainy
I've never reviewed a hip hop album before so hear me out. This is in no way a conventional hip hop album. It uses sampling like DJ Shadow and rapping like Del Tha Funkee Homosapien and song structures that really are closer to the Minutemen than any other hip hop artist. The influences range all over, and there's fantastic lyricism here. However, it lacks the accessibility for a newbie rap-listener such as myself to give it a humongous score. I dig "Accordion," "Meat Grinder," and "Figaro" the most.
Built To Spill - Perfect From Now On
So once again, maybe I should have introduced myself to Built To Spill via an album more conventional. One without the long-form songs that treat themselves like they're short. One without the tempo changes, the songs that seem to be located inside other songs, etc. But I didn't. This is one of those albums that reveals its true genius on subsequent listens (which I haven't quite gotten around to yet) if there's any true genius. There seems to be a bit to go around here, but it's also the type of album that speaks to every person differently. For some, it might be a messy ball of distortion and Corganesque vocals; for others, a subliminal masterpiece of indie rock. I myself am looking forward to returning this and perhaps giving it a higher score then. For now, it's the third best thing to come out of Idaho, next to them delicious potatoes and Napoleon Dynamite.
Beach House - Teen Dream
In dreams, nothing is certain. You're never sure how you got to where you are, who that man is, or whether you're dreaming at all. Why Beach House is therefore labeled by some as "dream pop" is fairly certain: if in the right mind set, they can send you into a world of uncertain bliss. The soft vocals and guitars are keyboards to one's ears. The rolling, keyboard-induced textures are blankets. The music as a whole is simply a bed comfortable not because of where it is and who put it there, but of what its essence is: a place to dream. The music borrows heavily from both Ride and Cocteau Twins, but lacks the impeccable production and actual song quality mastered on Nowhere. That said, it's a great listen not only for bedtime, but for long car rides, candlelit dinners, and other activities often seen on dating websites.
Suicide - Suicide
Sometimes genres are combined perfectly, other times it comes across as a mess. Suicide's first album would be considered the former by most critics, but the latter by me. Present are both the dirty, snarling vocals and tempos that defined such contemporaries of Suicide as the Sex Pistols and The Clash, and the synthesizers substituting for almost every instrument with artists like Kraftwerk and Devo. The result was No Wave, and it wasn't pretty. It's groundbreaking in a way, but the ground it breaks is dry, fruitless dirt, as the very underground Suicide is still probably the most well-known No Wave band, besides early Sonic Youth (who, by the way, embraced noise and took advantage of it much better than the obnoxious synths here). The attempts at being closer to early-60s pop like "Cheree" and "Johnny" are the album's best shots, but they're still nothing compared to anything from Psychocandy. "Frankie Teardrop" is simply depressing, and not the epic it claims to be. A grossly overrated album.
Mogwai - Young Team
Mogwai's debut is different from most post-rock albums. Most post-rock albums send their music through sonic landscapes, paying little attention to their cultural roots. Mogwai steps in these directions, but they do so while still keeping in mind their predecessors in the field of post-rock, like Slint or Talk Talk. They let their music owe more to alternative rock than perhaps any other post-rock band here, while still utilizing crescendo and timbre in a way that is distinctly out of the realms of rock and roll. "R U Still In 2 It" is openly vocal, for example. However, as opposed to each individual song, the album as a whole seems to build and build. Any song, in use as a building block, may therefore seem obsolete on its own (with the exceptions of the fantastic "Tracy" and "Katrien"). That is, until the album climaxes on the sprawling closer, "Mogwai Fear Satan." This is not the most cohesive album ever, nor does it have the best post-rock songs you've ever heard. It is, however, a fantastic listen and a good introduction to post-rock.