Babel Reviews

Album Reviews from a Music Lover with Resolution

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Spoon – Kill the Moonlight

Background
Spoon - Kill the MoonlightReleased in August 2002, Kill the Moonlight is Spoon’s second independent release via Merge Records. The album put the band’s disastrous major-label tenure at Elektra Records firmly in the rearview mirror, scoring them their first real (if untraditional) hit with “The Way We Get By.” In lieu of wall-to-wall radio play, the song was licensed to a variety of TV shows and films — including The O.C., Shameless, Stranger Than Fiction, Mean Creek, The Puffy Chair, and Hustle — significantly growing the band’s fanbase while validating their in-through-the-back-door mentality. Kill the Moonlight was featured on “Best of the 2000s” lists from Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, and Rhapsody as well as Blender’s “100 Greatest Indie Albums” list.

Why I’ve Been Avoiding It
Discovery fatigue. When I first got into Spoon, I got into them HARD, mainlining Girls Can Tell, Gimme Fiction, and Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga within a week, then listening to pretty much nothing else for the next month. It was one badass month, but at the end of it, the last thing I wanted in my ears was more Spoon. They Want My Soul got me jonesing again, but I just never got around to Kill the Moonlight. Now, with the band’s new album, Hot Thoughts, right around the corner, I’m finally ready to cross this one off my list. Continue reading

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Fantasy Albums: Say Anything – In Defense of the Genre (Single-Disc Version)

Say Anything - In Defense of the GenreOne of my major musical pet peeves is the modern double album. Before the 1980s, the format was a necessity, as you can only cram so much music onto a vinyl record before the quality starts to suffer. But today, when you can fit 80 minutes onto a CD and an unlimited amount of music onto a digital release, the entire concept of the double album has become self-indulgent in and of itself. You’re telling me you have two full hours of mindblowing tunes that you just HAVE to put out right now? Sorry, I can almost guarantee that you’re full of shit. And don’t even get me started on triple albums. (I’m looking at you, Green Day.)

That said, any artist who feels the need to release a double album was certainly touched by the hand of inspiration, which means there is often a good to great one-disc record buried somewhere within the filler. And now, with the advent of playlisting, we can futz with an overlong album’s track listing to our heart’s content in an effort to separate the wheat from the chaff. I’ve been doing this for fun for a while, and it’s helped me develop a newfound appreciation for a variety of double albums over the years. Continue reading

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The Menzingers – After the Party

Rating: B+

The Menzingers - After the PartyNostalgia is a powerful thing, and The Menzingers evoke it aggressively on their new album, After the Party. Everything from the cover art to the album title conjures memories of good times gone by, and the band even kicks things off with a chorus of “where are we gonna go now that our 20s are over?” But lead singers and songwriters Greg Barnett and Tom May are after something more than a simple, “Hey, remember the good ol’ days?” Instead, their songs aim to capture the fragmented nature of memory to paint a portrait of thirtysomething life and love, all wrapped up in a punk-rock package perfect for those who aren’t ready to stumble home from the party just yet.

Musically, the album takes most of its cues from Springsteen-indebted punk bands like The Gaslight Anthem, with hard-charging guitars, classic rock-inspired leads, and steady drums. But early-2000s emo and pop-punk also make their presence felt. The guitar riff in “Midwestern States” bears traces of Blink-182’s DNA and suggests what might have happened if that band had matured along with its listeners, while “Thick as Thieves” kicks off with the kind of too-clever-for-its-own-good poetry (“I held up a liquor store demanding top-shelf metaphors”) that has long been Fall Out Boy’s stock in trade. However, The Menzingers’ gift for melody and way with a hook transcend the fact that there really isn’t anything new going on here. The choruses of “Lookers,” “Midwestern States,” and “Your Wild Years” are serious earworms, and the pithy mission statements of “Tellin’ Lies” and “Charlie’s Army” are sure to inspire raucous singalongs at many, many live shows to come. Continue reading

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Japandroids – Near to the Wild Heart of Life

A Portrait of the Artist as a Thirtysomething Man

Rating: B+

Japandroids - Near to the Wild Heart of LifeJapandroids are a band that thrives on the edge. They nearly broke up before their first full-length album, 2009’s Post-Nothing, could even see the light of day. Then, after wrapping a massive tour behind their masterpiece follow-up, 2012’s Celebration Rock, they disappeared altogether for nearly three years. Now, with Near to the Wild Heart of Life, band members Brian King (guitar, vocals) and David Prowse (drums, vocals) are back with an eye toward sustainability, both in music and their personal lives.

Named after an iconic quote from James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Near to the Wild Heart of Life picks up where Joyce left off, with the protagonist leaving his stifling hometown behind on the title track. As the most traditional Japandroids song on the album, it’s a perfect starting point for long-time fans, not to mention a powerful anthem for aspiring musicians with its battle cry to get “fired up to go far away and make some ears ring from the sound of my singing.” Continue reading

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Friday Playlist – 1/27/17

Happy Friday, friends! It’s been a great first week for Babel Reviews, with our piece on The Smiths‘ Strangeways, Here We Come leading to some great conversation over on our Facebook page. Highly suggest you check it out and get involved in the discussion!

To celebrate, we’ve put together a playlist of some of our current favorite tracks, including cuts from The Smiths, our band of the hour, as well as Arcade Fire, Japandroids, LCD Soundsystem, Spoon, Zack de la Rocha, and Lowlight, New Jersey’s finest folk-rock-with-keys band. Hope you enjoy, and have a great weekend! Continue reading

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