reviews on blogcritics: July-September

Hey, there. I know it’s been a long time since we’ve seen each other, but I want to you know that I’ve been thinking about you while we’ve been apart. I’ve had a busy schedule this past month, and it has kept me away from you, at least in this forum, and I want you to know that I have missed you very much. I hope you can forgive me for being away so long.

Anyway, I wanted to share some of the things that I have written for Blogcritics in recent months:

The World Is Your Litter Box: A How-to Manual for Cats by Quasi, with Minor Help from Steve Fisher

This book is by no means a serious psychological study of cat behavior or cat-human relationships, but it does provide some insight into the latter. The main thing I took away from this book is that no matter what cats do to irritate humans, most of us easily melt into a puddle of mush when our pets show affection. Think of how much calmer rush hour could be if we all had a purring cat in our laps? [more]

Amy Ray – Didn’t It Feel Kinder

Even though Ray worked with some of the same musicians on Didn’t It Feel Kinder as she did for Stag and Prom, this album has a completely different feel to it. The message is the same, but the medium has shifted. Fans expecting a punk rock album may be disappointed, but I think that Didn’t It Feel Kinder will find its audience among listeners who enjoy the message as much as the medium. [more]

Alū – Lobotomy Sessions

Each of the ten tracks are what some have described as “cinematic soundscapes.” Think of them as an art house film told in three to five minutes. Horror, science fiction, political commentary, drama… whatever your movie type of choice, there is likely to be a track on this album that draws on elements of it. It’s a veritable film festival of sound. [more]

Uh Huh Her – Common Reaction

…don’t go looking for much depth in the lyrics. Although the insert devotes a full six panels to the poetry, it’s by far the weakest aspect of the album. Some of the more uninspired lines are held up quite well with the musical arrangements, so unless you’re paying close attention, you’ll be too distracted by the beats and melody to notice. In any case, it’s slightly better than the drivel on Top 40 radio. [more]

Cordero – De Dónde Eres

Past albums have featured a mix of English- and Spanish-language songs, but regardless of the language of the lyrics, the message was frequently delivered in packages spiced with horns and beats that made it impossible to sit still. De Dónde Eres heightens the Latin rhythms, instrumentation, and mood. Alternating between contemplative, strident, and festive arrangements, the album and the band are unified by Ani’s passionate lyrics and delivery. [more]

Awake, My Soul: The Story of the Sacred Harp (Standard Edition)

Most likely, the audience that will pick up this DVD will already be familiar with shape note singing. However, I think that anyone interested in Early American music should also take the time to view it. The filmmakers, both Sacred Harp singers themselves, have created a piece of work that, much like shape note music itself, is simultaneously utilitarian and glorious. [more]

The Age of Rockets – Hannah

Hannah is designed to be a palindrome of an album. The first five songs reflect the last five songs, with the middle sixth track creating the pivot point. Listening to an album that is half-music, half-mathematical art piece can sometimes be disappointing, but despite (or because of) this structure, Hannah stands on its own as a cohesive and fun collection of delicately blended electronic/organic tunes. Honestly, I hardly noticed the relationship between the songs in the dozen or so times I have listened to this album over the past couple of months. [more]

It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

Until watching it again in this remastered deluxe edition, it had never occurred to me that the film has a structure that allows for that kind of repeat showings. Several of the characters refer to Linus’ past obsession with the Great Pumpkin, and the implication that the same thing happens every Halloween makes it easy to suspend disbelief and watch it anew every year as though you weren’t already familiar with the plot and events. Maybe, just maybe, this year things will be different and the Great Pumpkin will rise out of the patch! [more]

lovers and stars

This EP is long enough to show off Ivey’s range, but short enough to keep the listener wanting more.

cover of Lovers and StarsThe first thing you notice about Melissa Ivey is that this girl has a fine set of pipes. Inevitably, there will be the comparisons to Melissa Etheridge and Janis Joplin, but Ivey can hold her own with a unique voice. She and her band have put together an EP of tight rock tunes called Lovers and Stars, which was released last fall, and should be getting more attention than it has already.

One of the benefits of a five song EP is that the artist can show off their range without having to include any weaker material in order to fill out an LP. Ivey pulled out all the stops for the tracks on Lovers and Stars, leaving the listener wanting more after the all-too-short 22 minutes have passed.

The title track begins the EP with an energetic acoustic rhythm guitar riff that is soon joined by the rest of the band and Ivey's vocals. It's a toe-tapper of a love song that is reminiscent of late-90s pop-rock bands like Sixpence or the Rembrandts.

Ivey follows it up with the darker sounding "Eyes on the Door" with its lyrical and musical theme of unrequited longing for someone who is not there. Something about the chord progression reminds me of Amy Ray's "Tether." I think it's that steady driving rhythm that carries an underlying intensity.

"Everywhere and Nowhere" is a head-bopping syncopated introspective pop-rock tune that provides a nice mid-EP lift.

"Far Far Away" kicks off with the energetic punk-influence grind of electric guitars that supports the lyrical theme of separation and longing to be back home with a loved one. This leads into the quietly introspective final track, "No Ties To Break," that begins with the line "she's been a lot of places / seen so many faces / walked across the borders of time," and continues on with the theme of the traveler and his/her relationships with others. It's an old story, but like a good storyteller, Ivey is able to present it in a fresh way.

Lovers and Stars reminds me of my eighth grade English teacher's description of an essay: It's like a miniskirt — long enough to cover the subject, but short enough to be interesting.

Lovers and Stars is available at CDBaby.com.

josie’s on a vacation far away

The Butchies – Make Yr Life

Years ago, I fell in love with the music created by queer feminist power pop rockers The Butchies (Kaia Wilson, Melissa York, and Alison Martlew). Their first full album Are We Not Femme? is on rotation in the soundtrack of my post-college music experience. Six years later, a more mature Butchies have put out their third album, Make Yr Life; fourth if you count their work on Amy Ray’s Stag in 2001. This time around it’s on Yep Roc Records, rather than Wilson’s Mr Lady Records, as they have done with previous recordings. This has resulted in a polished production that brings out more of the subtleties of the band’s songcrafting.

As usual, I have trouble reconciling the feminine, emotional vocals with Wilson’s gender-bending personal style. She is a political feminist statement from the moment she opens her mouth and the music flows out sounding like “somewhere between The Rocky Horror Picture Show and the suspended time right before your head spins off into orgasm.”[1]

With practiced ease, Wilson and her bandmates are able to shift from quiet intensity to rousing exuberance, often within the same track, without it seeming contrived. In fact, that is one of the style characteristics that have distinguished them from their contemporaries in my internal musical catalog. The song topics have gone from blatantly political to more of the personal-is-political. From the love-struck opening track “Send Me You” (“caught in your eyes / and i’m losing my mind”) to the I’m-over-you “Second Guess” with its repeated refrain, “i don’t need you anymore,” the human experience (or at least the romantic aspect) is played out in hook-filled power pop tunes.

The CD ends with a very satisfying cover of The Outfield‘s “Your Love.” Wilson’s breathy voice and solemn intensity coupled with York and Martlew’s light touch on the drums and bass, respectively (as well as a sprinkle of backing vocals), presents this cover with appropriate reverence. Much like Sixpence None the Richer‘s cover of “There She Goes,” the song takes a 180° shift in perspective. It is paradoxically both a Butchies-type song and not a Butchies-type song. I spent most of the first listen trying to place it, and the countless subsequent listens reveling in the beauty of it.

Take my advice and make room in your CD rotation for Make Yr Life. You won’t be sorry.