Tuesday, May 20, 2014

First Listen: New Releases for May 20

The good news is that the new releases were a day early this week and have a lot of fun nuggets. The bad news is that at least three of them are well over two hours long. Ah well.

R.E.M. - Unplugged 1991/2001: The Complete Sessions: R.E.M. is far and away my favorite band of all time. Previously only available in bootleg form, and R.E.M.'s contribution to Record Store Day this year, the Unplugged collection is one of those completest things that will be of interest to R.E.M. fans and perhaps fans of the now-basically-useless Unplugged brand, but beyond that it's going to be filled with a lot of songs you probably don't know on the first disc, and a lot of songs you only know if you're a hardcore fan on the second. One thing I always enjoyed about the Unplugged shows were the ways they kind of exposed the songs for what they were - a reason the 10,000 Maniacs session was so solid was because their songs translated well to an acoustic landscape. While the 1991 Unplugged is great because of the folksy nature of a lot of what R.E.M. had been doing up to the point of Out of Time (even beyond the extra b-sides and rarities they played during the session), the 2001 set is really interesting as it largely ignores its most folky effort of the previous decade, Automatic for the People, and relies heavily on the electronic-and-synth heavy Up and Reveal tracks, which really doesn't work. It's also worth noting that the 2001 session was part of the promotional junket for Reveal and is largely not the best time on a whole for the band (nor is Reveal an exceptional album in the R.E.M. catalog). So should you listen to this? It's worth it if only to revisit one of America's greatest rock bands, but don't expect to get a ton out of it unless you're already a fan.

Oasis - Definitely Maybe (20th anniversary reissue): I can't believe this album is 20 years old. I'm old, it's official. While I'm pretty sure the "essential" Oasis album remains (What's the Story) Morning Glory, the fact that the band is revisiting their catalog is not the worst thing in the world, especially if we'll eventually get reissues of their later stuff. As for Definitely Maybe, they didn't spare much on the deluxe reissue, with three full discs of music and pretty much every b-side you can imagine. The album itself still feels like it meanders a bit, but on a whole there's a reason why this is getting a reissue. Worth revisiting at least once.

LCD Soundsystem - The Long Goodbye: Live at Madison Square Garden: I'm a relatively recent convert to LCD Soundsystem, and this album is three hours of their final live performances at Madison Square Garden. I tend to be very down on live albums, but this album's production is really top notch and we get a great feel for how over the top the band went for their last shows. Really great album put together here, definitely great if you're into the band at all, but at three hours long...

Conor Oberst - Upside Down Mountain: On a whole, Conor Oberst has left me a little cold. Never been a big fan of Bright Eyes, his solo stuff has been hit or miss for me, but this specific album is really pretty solid. Has a good folksy twang to it, a lot of understated songs to go along with some solid cuts. This will definitely stay in rotation for a while, worth a listen.

The Roots - ...and then you shoot your cousin: The problem with this First Listen project is that an album like this one requires a few listens to really drill down to what's going on. This is another concept record, different than undun but still musically interesting. There are just a lot of themes I'm sure I missed on the first listen, so I think I'll withhold judgement except to say that, musically, it's worth your time, and at around 30 minutes, it's not a huge investment.

The Brian Jonestown Massacre - Revelation: While I consider myself a fan of The Brian Jonestown Massacre, it's impossible to not judge them in comparison to The Dandy Warhols (an all-time favorite band of mine) thanks to DiG! from nearly a decade ago. The fact that The Brian Jonestown Massacre is effectively doing The Dandy Warhols better than the Dandys as of late is an irony not lost on many, I suspect. With that said, this album is good, albeit flawed. When the songs are on point, they're very catchy and worthwhile. There are a number of interlude-style meanderings throughout, however, that might have made for a tighter record had they been dropped or reduced. Still, a decent release.

The Fault in Our Stars Soundtrack: The movies based on young adult books have continued to kill it over the last few years, although The Fault in Our Stars has more of a Garden State-y feel on its soundtrack than what we've come to expect from the Hunger Games/Twilight soundtracks of late. Everyone is losing it over the Charli XCX track, but the album is actually probably going to be a surprise for many who check it out. Also, read the book. Just do it.

Jolie Holland - Wine Dark Sea: I won't pretend that Jolie Holland is for everyone. Her music can be abrasive, difficult, unpredictable, but that's why I generally enjoy her. Wine Dark Sea is no different in this regard, with some memorable pieces alongside some different stuff along the way. I recommend everyone give her a shot, at the very least, but I don't assume for a moment that it will be your cup of tea, just that you'll love it if it is.

Alana Amram and the Rough Gems - Spring River: I had never heard of Alana Amram prior to today, and her album was a very pleasant surprise. At times reminiscent of the best of Gillian Welch, the album is a traditionally rootsy folk-country album, and not in the Sturgill Simpson way. If you like a little twang in your music, this is absolutely something you need to seek out, it's quite good.

Emma Ruth Rundle - Some Heavy Ocean: Emma Ruth Rundle's new album continues along the line of the ethereal, chamber-like folk music that got me interested in her to start. The new album is appropriately interesting and dark, and really held my interest in a lot of parts. Definitely worth a listen if you're into Marissa Nadler and the like.

Devo - Something Else for Everybody: The story behind Devo's Something for Everybody involves focus groups and a long process to get the album out. This compilation is from the rest of those sessions, and feels like it in some places, but not other. Devo's not as weird as you remember them, but I wouldn't recommend this without listening to Something for Everybody first.

Haley Bonar - Last War: I'm a recent convert to Haley Bonar, and this album is great. It rocks in a lot of places, it knows the highs and lows of an album very well, and it feels like a very complete, albeit short, effort. In a sense I've saved the best for last this week, as this is really a must-listen album. If you have an interest in the sort of indie rock singer/songwriter efforts, definitely give this one a listen, but this is really worth a listen no matter what.

Also out this week:

* Coldplay - Ghost Stories
* R.E.M. - The Complete Warner Bros. Rarities 1988-2011
* R.E.M. - The Complete I.R.S. Rarities 1982-1987

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