October 26, 2010

The Thermals – The Body, The Blood, The Machine
punk, grunge, alternative-rock

These guys would have to be one of the most righteously pissed off groups making music today. The Body, The Blood, The Machine is a bombastic, visceral attack on anything and everything that apparently rubs The Thermals the wrong way, delivered via a fantastic blend of poppy punk-rock and old-school grunge tweaks. There’s creationism and Christianity in “Here’s Your Future”, bloodshed in the name of any “greater good” in “I Might Need You to Kill” and a fantastic take on war-for-oil with “Power Doesn’t Run on Nothing”, which stands out as a furiously brilliant protest song, featuring incisive lines like “God is with us and our God’s the richest” and a gargantuan 4-chord close-out. Crucially, though, this isn’t a joyless album – the songs are upbeat and catchy as hell (just try to keep still while “A Pillar of Salt” is doing its The Thermals - The Body, the Blood, the Machinepunk-pop thing), the guitar-lines are big and bright and Hutch Harris’ lyrics are imbued with wonderful, sardonic wit (favourite snippet: God telling Noah “Know I’m your father, remember that no one can breathe underwater” before finally dropping the bombshell “…here’s your future: it’s gonna rain“). Throughout the album, the blistering pace and indignant fury rarely let up – the only breather comes with the mellow centrepiece “Test Pattern” – as The Thermals lay ruin to every single target that falls into their crosshairs.




October 21, 2010

Dinosaur Jr. Farm
alternative-rock, grunge

Beyond was impressive enough. When Dinosaur Jr returned after a ten-year absence, with almost twenty years having passed since the original lineup was together, and dropped that excellent release on an unsuspecting listener-base of fresh-faced newbies and extremely cautious older fans, it was one of the biggest surprises of the decade. Comebacks like that one never seem to work, but the experienced trio defied expectations and created not only one of the best albums of their career, but also a record that sounded totally familiar and very much in continuity with their earlier work, making twenty years feel less like a vast chasm and more like a brief vacation. Farm, which was released two years later in 2009, upped the ante by not only surpassing Beyond, but taking a deserved place alongside early classics like You’re Living All Over Me and Bug as an album that simply has no weak-points. Mascis continues to excel as a sentimental vocalist, tugging at heartstrings with effortless ease, while the music sounds bright and sweet throughout, referencing the alternative-rock of the early-90s as much as the underground 80s movement of which they were such a central component. Dinosaur Jr. - FarmIn terms of highlights, I’m particularly fond of the album’s livelier cuts like “I Want You to Know” and the single “Over It”, which bounce along with infectious grunge-pop flair, plus “I Don’t Wanna Go There”, which crams an awful lot of great stuff into its massive nine minute runtime, including some killer solos. For many, those solos are the biggest drawcard of any Dinosaur Jr release, and Farm doesn’t disappoint in the slightest, as exceptional displays of guitar mastery stretch forever higher, seeming to suggest that J. Mascis simply knows no upper-limits.



October 10, 2010

Beck Modern Guilt
psychedelic-pop, alternative-rock

Upon its release in 2008, it was so nice to have another album by my favourite artist that I could unreservedly say was just all-around great. I definitely enjoyed Sea Change, Guero Beck - Modern Guiltand The Information, but there were always little nitpicky things I wanted to change about them – overlong runtimes, occasional filler tracks, poor sequencing and the like. Not so on Modern Guilt. This is Beck’s most consistent, well-structured, infectious and replayable album since his 1990s prime, and boy have I gotten a lot of mileage out of it. “Replayable” is the keyword, there – Beck, along with producer Danger Mouse, whose contributions are invaluable, is so to-the-point and economical in the way he delivers Modern Guilt’s gauzy retro-pop that it’s often hard to resist restarting it right after it concludes. Through sticking to conventional song structures, focusing on melody and concise lyricism and keeping his artistic indulgences firmly in check, he manages to completely avoid any misguided errors of excess for the duration of the album. The songs rate amongst his career’s best, too – whether it’s the blissful psychedelia of “Orphans” and “Chemtrails”, the chugging guitar lines of “Gamma Ray”, the blasting energy of “Profanity Prayers”, the jaunty strut of “Modern Guilt” or the mellow, contemplative drift of “Volcano”, Modern Guilt delivers again and again. After a few minor stumbles (but, I must say, no falls), it was the shot in the arm Beck’s career had been waiting for.