Sleater-Kinney – No Cities to Love (2015)

Es difícil actuar emocionado con respecto al regreso de Sleater-Kinney, cuando el trío de mujeres del norte de Estados Unidos anunciara a finales del año pasado su regreso tras 10 años de silencio. La banda no había sido en mi galaxia musical más que una recomendación permanente, con una marca de interés para meterme más de lleno en su discografía en un futuro. Tomó que se levantaran de entre los muertos para que finalmente les prestara la atención debida.

Su discografía es amplia, abarcando diez años desde el debut Sleater-Kinney en 1995, hasta el que es considerado su mejor trabajo, Sleater-Kinney de 2005. Su carrera se monta en la musical ola feminista de principios de los 90s llamada Riot Grrrl, la cual exigía atención hacia los problemas de las mujeres y cuyos grupos estaban compuestos enteramente por féminas. Las influencias del género aun son percibidas en agrupaciones actuales, sin embargo, la mayoría ignora la existencia de bandas comoL7, Bikini Kill o Babes in Toyland. Esto es comprensible, dado que lo musical solía quedarse corto al lado de la carga política, con producciones crudas y ruidosas muy poco accesibles. Los artistas que finalmente sobresalieron más de dicha escena fueron aquellos (o debería de decir “aquellas”) que no se quedaron encasillados en las limitantes tanto líricas como estilísticas del género. Hole es un buen ejemplo, pero si hay que resaltar alguna, esa es Sleater-Kinney.

No puedo hablar con propiedad de sus primeros diez años de trayectoria. Habré escuchado The Woods o discos como Sleater-Kinney un par de veces, y podría resaltar una que otra canción, pero es hasta No Cities to Love que realmente me he propuesto entrarle a la banda. Y pues lo primero que debo decir es que esta es probablemente la mejor puerta de entrada a la banda, dado que a lo largo de sus diez canciones se puede encontrar la actitud confrontativa, acompañada de excelentes ganchos instrumentales que le dan personalidad a cada canción a tal punto que es difícil resaltar una en particular sobre las demás. Si bien es cierto que el sonido puede parecer un tanto similar, esto sencillamente se debe a la cohesión que un álbum debe tener; tal vez no tan perceptible, pero sí existente.

Sleater-Kinney – Jumpers (2005)

En cuanto a las letras, vale resaltar la canción que da título al álbum, y que propone que las ciudades (y muchas cosas en general) son simplemente la suma de sus partes, y que es por eso que las apreciamos. “Me parece que lo único que trae la fama es mediocridad”, canta la banda en Hey Darling, justo antes de la canción que ve el final a los diez años de silencio de estas chicas, que ya pasando de los cuarentas seguramente tienen nuevas preocupaciones que hace 20 años, pero la fama nunca ha parecido ser una de ellas. Puede que la carrera de la bnada no les haya dado mayor fama ni dinero, pero sí una sólida fanaticada que con que este disco, sin duda crecerá (cuentenme a mí entre los nuevos adeptos).

Sleater-Kinney – A New Wave (2015)

No Cities to Love al final no está rompiendo nuevos territorios, sin embargo, echa de ver que a pesar de diez años de silencio como banda (Carrie Brownstein forma parte del equipo de la comedia Portlandia, mientras Janet Weiss tocó con Stephen Malkmus y formó su propia banda Wild Flag), la banda sigue haciendo bien lo que siempre ha hecho. El disco al final representa la vuelta al firmamento de una muy buena banda de rock, al igual que representa la oportunidad para muchos, incluyendo este escritor, de descubrir lo logrado por estas chicas a finales de los 90s y principios de la década del 2000 en un género musical (rock alternativo y rock en general), que ha sido ampliamente monopolizado por hombres.

Sleater-Kinney - No Cities to Love

Rating: 4/5

Eddie Vedder – Ukulele Songs (2011)

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With Lightning Bolt, the tenth studio album by Seattle band Pearl Jam coming out in just a few weeks, it’s just appropriate that I was asked to review the second solo album of the band’s lead singer, Mr. Eddie Vedder. However talented he might be, it’s curious to note how his creative effort has greatly been focused on his day job band. It wasn’t until Sean Penn asked him to help him with the soundtrack to the excellent 2007 movie Into the Wild, that he released an entire album without his mates behind him. Then came Backspacer, and in between that and Lightning Bolt, Vedder released yet another solo album.

And that’s how we come across Ukelele Songs, a very self-explicable name for an album, because that’s exactly what we find here, 16 tracks with not much else than Eddie covering old songs from the 30s-40s with nothing else than his voice and one of those little guitars used by Hawaiians. And therefore, we must not really judge Ukelele Songs as the work of a singer-songwriter, as the work of an artist who is getting bored and restricted by his day job band and wants a silent retreat. No, Eddie Vedder just had an idea in his mind, decided to take action and record it. And maybe what he initially intended was to simply share this set of songs among his closest friends, however, it’s great that he treats us fans just like that.

And no, this is no essential record to understand Pearl Jam or 90s music or the grunge scene. No, this is simply a treat given to us by this man, just like those Christmas singles bands are used to release; they’re far from essential, but it’s always a joy to see them around every year. No real song stands out from this collection, since most of them are less than 3 minutes long, and therefore, the most notable cases would be those guest appearances by the likes of Glen Hansard on Sleepless Nights and Cat Power on Tonight You Belong to Me. And if I had to choose one among them, I would have probably done the same as the band and chosen Sleeping by Myself, a track included on their upcoming album.

Some Old Reviews: Can – Tago Mago

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Unfortunately, I have gone back to classes, and I’ve found myself with little to no time to keep writing on my blog. However, every once in a while I do feel like writing and I just need a little incentive to do so. Well, right now I have lacked that so-called incentive and therefore, in order to keep my blog alive and active, I’ve decided to share a pair of reviews I’ve written for another page. Sorry if the context is sometimes not very understandable, but feel free to join the rateyourmusic.com community in order to find out. They’ve just updated their image, and I’m still having trouble keeping up.

Well, here we go, the first review is about the German Krautrock pioneers Can and what is considered by many to be their Magnum Opus, 1971’s Tago Mago:

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The last I time I wrote a real review, exclusively for this site, Obama hadn’t been reelected. The last time I wrote a review, I still couldn’t rate individually each track on an album, nor did the album pages feature credits beyond the name of the band. Back then, movies’ titles were not in orange font, and back then, I used to rate every movie, the moment after watching it. Back in the day, I also use to own a paid RYM account, which I believe I had only paid for a month or so, but which was gifted to me, until recently, when I discovered my RYM pages change from black to the purple of the commoner.

What’s curious about this story, is that I really can’t pinpoint why I started to discontinue the use of this site. I could almost say it seems to be a thread in my generation of users. Maybe it’s a judgemental perception, based entirely on my personal experience. Site statistics could tell me if I’m wrong. Still, I had been wondering how to get back on board, and the best possible way I could think of, was simply to fulfill my Go Review that Album assignment, due over a year and a half ago. This seemed like a rope thrown out to me, drowning in open sea, however, this rope turned out to be barbed wire, covered in grease.

Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not about to question the legacy and classic status of this album, it’s just things would have been somewhat easier with a more accessible record. By now I’ve heard Tago Mago a decent amount of times, and it’s hard for me to recall a melody line, mainly though, because it seems to be more rythm oriented; better filled with grooves than with choruses. The first two songs work together for me, since I put the record on, and I always seem to have skipped track 2. Oh Yeah changes things a little bit, and it’s a psychodelic nightmare all trough the end. Inside this double album we can find the whole essence of that thing called Krautrock, and inside these 7 songs, we can hear how this band influenced numerous acts to come. I especially hear a lot what Radiohead is all about inside Tago Mago.

The record is long and dense, however after a couple of listenings, I was surprised to learn it was actually a double album, since you don’t normally think of 7 songs spread across four vinyl sides. B-side opener is the go-to song of the album. It obviously works better as a whole, but that’s a good representative in case you don’t have 73 minutes of free time. The following 2 songs, are commonly regarded as the shit in the caviar, almost thirty minutes of progressive wankery. That’s how many people see it, and I can understand their judgement, however, I don’t agree entirely, since I take it as part of the cake, and it maybe doesn’t affect me as much, since I always seem to be doing something else while listening to the album; like writing this review for instance.

And so, however hard this album might be to grasp, I feel it has been a rewarding experience, other Can records feel way more accessible, but Tago Mago seems to have been a good trigger for a newfound Prog Rock revival in my current life, although not such a good lifesaver to get back in the RYM boat. It’s been over a year, but I’m glad to say I’m back on board.

Fast Tracks: Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories

One of the things I didn’t repent telling the game show producers was that I had a Computer Technician degree. Of course, I had heard they asked things regarding with your life, but let’s face it, I got a medal for the being the best of the class, and yet, today, I wouldn’t be able to program a stoplight in Visual Basic. Still, I guess I remain familiar with some of theory and terms used; basic ones at least. Nowadays, I’ve been so much left behind with tecnology, that it’s hard for me to properly handle a Blackberry (let alone a Smartphone), or even the MacBook Air my mother just bought. Anyways, I knew from the get-go what Daft Punk new album’s title refer to, that part of computers which triggers the actions, without storing anything (hell, I can’t even properly explain it).

Anyways, these two French guys have been the embassadors of electronic music properly blended with rock since the 1990s. Ever since their debut, Homework in 1997, they crafted good songs accompanied by amazing videos, like Around the World, or a personal favorite, Da Funk. Homework is a solid album, but it’s a tiddy bit too long and it works more  like a sampler than an actual record. Most people (if not everyone), would agree with me that their most accomplished achievement was their 2001 release Discovery, a record I used to own on my second music phase (MK II). I even remember that was the last record I bought during MK II, a phase ruled by MTV and my favorite nu-metal acts like Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park XD. Then, a friend of mine really liked the album and I gave it to him, he then lent it to another friend who had the ability to constantly dissapear things lent to him. Anyways, I would probably have to rebuy that album if I ever come across it again, it’s a good record which most of my generation might recall from the animated videos, all included in the film Interstellar 5555.

Well, the promotion for their new album started some months ago, very sudden and very cleverly made. Sure, there was a sometimes an annoying aura of mystery around its release, but hell, maybe all releases should create as much anticipation as Random Access Memory, their first record since 2006s Human After All, such a bad release I didn’t even find out until this year about its existence. They only released snippets of one of their songs, Get Lucky, during the Super Bowl (or was it SXSW??), featuring a whole roster of guest appearances from Julian Casablancas to Giorgio Moroder. Then the album came out, Pitchfork gave a “Best New Music” tag, but my circle of friends who are interest in music had diverging opinions.

Obviously, it lacks some of the coherence and nostalgia that surfaces when listening to Discovery and one of those meaningful songs like Digital Love or Something About Us.  As you might see by now, I’m more on the fan side. Its a good record, takes time to grow in you, even if by today’s half of the year standards, it might barely make it into my top 10.

The record is well paced. It starts slowly and takes its time and no pressure to grow, and the best songs are pretty much on its second side (sad spoiler, Get Lucky is RAM at its catchiest). I like how loungy and free spirited it all starts. Give Life Back to Music and The Game of Love are gradual growers; the latter one being one of the band’s attempts to hit across a new “Something About Us”. One of my favorites is track 3, Giorgio by Moroder, which samples an interview with the Italian producer with synth sounds from the era. The sounds are catchy and it’s a bridge across a generational gap, a salute from today to the people who were living in the future back in the day. Most songs have its charm, take Instant Crush for example, with the gust appearance by The Strokes Julian Casablancas (though you wouldn’t know if I didn’t tell you), and then we have another interesting guest spot by Animal Collective´s Panda Bear on Doin’ It Right.

Well, bottom line Random Access Memories is not the lifechanging affirmation that you might have thought this guys would bring, judging by the anticipation they were creating. It’s simply a good record, and where guys like Moroder in the 70s or Guy Manuel de Homem Cristo and Thomas Bangalter 20-15 years ago, seemed to be making music of the future, the truth is, that that future is now.

Fast Tracks: Neil Young – After the Gold Rush

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If you’re an audiophile, like I consider myself to be, then it’s quite possible that you’re familiar with a term like “listening projects”. Being the music universe such an amazingly big and diversified place, it’s sometimes hard to choose where to move. Even when having amassed a big collection of music, it’s sometimes hard to figure out what to revisit and listen back. Obviously, lists are one great tool, especially those developed by a group of writers, such as the Pitchfork’s editors, who by now have chosen a 100 albums for each of the last 4 decades (60s just got a 200 songs version). Back in 2004, the process started with a list of 100 of the 70s most essential records. Scrolling through the list, I can count only around 20 albums I lack, and therefore, decided that was a good starting place.

The list starts us off with Brian Eno’s 1977’s Before and After Science, a great record, an a perfect example of how something might have been overlooked due to my collectionist/accumulationist tendencies. The record guarantees an entry of its own, but this entry deals with another great one. Legend Neil Young is probably my favorite singer-songwriter. His guitar beats Dylan’s pretentious lyrics by a mile, and on album’s like decade turning After the Gold Rush, emotions overflow. Simply put, the guy’s a genius. He started a run of classic albums in the 60s with Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, and all through the 70s, starting with this, Neil got one good record after another. Even though his later work suffers from inconsistency, he managed to pull out a truly competent record, with last year’s Psychedelic Pill.

Now, talking about After the Gold Rush, wish I believe was partly made as a soundtrack to a movie never made. As I said on my welcoming post, I’ve stopped documenting myself on the album’s background before writing each entry. Still I can tell this is a step away from his previous effort. The only real rocker here is Southern Man, and what a hell of a rocker. Probably the record’s best known track, a tale of slavery, a characterization of the South, that Southern Rockers Lynyrd Skynyrd famously called back on one of their most memorable songs, Sweet Home Alabama. The guitar here gives me goosebumps, and makes my back feel whiplashed.

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Then we have the lovetorn ballads, like opener Tell Me Why (“I am lonely but you can free me all in the way that you smile”), Only Love can Break Your Heart (supposedly written about the breaking up of guitar player Stephen Stills relationship with Joni Mitchell), and probably my favorite track, an overlooked song on Young’s repertoire, the wonderful Birds (“When you see me fly away with you, shadow on the things you know).

Bottom line, the whole album is great, from start to finish, and it’s only 35 minuetes long, so there’s really no reason on why you should not welcome my recommendation, and who knows, maybe you as well might become a Neil Young fan and further adventure into his vast discography, which holds other gems like the before mentioned Everybody Knows…, Harvest, On the Beach or Rust Never Sleeps.

Plus, you can listen to the whole thing through Youtube: