Thursday, January 31, 2019

Review of Yes's "Heaven & Earth"

I posted this review about twenty minutes ago on the Sputnik Music website:


Review Summary: Chris Squire's Yes swan song is better than you might have thought.

Heaven & Earth is Yes's most recent studio album, and it's probably their last one (unless the Anderson, Rabin and Wakeman version of the band decides to put one out). It's certainly the late Chris Squire's last studio LP. As such, it's a shame that H&E has been so heavily maligned by many Yes fans. All the more so because, really, it's not a bad album.

Here are some statistics. Released in 2014, Heaven & Earth reached #20 on the UK chart, and #26 on the American Billboard chart. Not too shabby, especially since this was the best performance by any Yes album since 1991's Union LP. Yet its average rating here on Sputnik Music is only 1.7 out of 5 stars, which is .2 lower than the band's immensely disappointing 1997 album, Open Your Eyes. Its sole review on this site, written by a staff member whose opinion I respect immensely, rated it at 0.5, and suggested its existence as evidence that Yes needed to be euthanized. So how do we reconcile this respectable chart performance with the enmity that some have expressed towards this album?

"Lo," you might say to me, were you the sort of person who regularly utilizes expressions such as "lo". "Surely you're not claiming that chart performance equals quality?" And you make a fair point. After all, each of Justin Bieber's studio LPs has reached #1 in the American charts, and a quick glance at the Billboard 200 every week makes me want to blow my brains out in despair. 

But here's the thing: The first time I ever listened to Heaven & Earth, it put a huge smile on my face, and over these last five years, that smile has remained. Don't get me wrong, I'm not claiming it's the second coming of Close to the Edge, or even of Drama. But there's a lot of beauty on H&E, from the opening notes of "Believe Again" through the last throes of "Subway Walls". So why do many Yes fans hate this album so? I believe I can answer that question in two words: Jon Davison. 

Jon Davison has been a rock performer/vocalist for more than twenty-five years. Prior to joining Yes, he played bass in the American psych rock group Sky Cries Mary, and he later became the lead vocalist of the prog rock band Glass Hammer. He seems an unassuming gent, who to the best of my knowledge has never serial killed, R. Kelly'd, or even paid his taxes late. So what's the problem here? Simply put, he's a Jon Anderson-sounding dude who stepped into Jon Anderson's old role without actually being Jon Anderson. Yeah, there are other criticisms that have been leveled at Heaven & Earth. It features a gentler, poppier brand of music than had been featured on most prior Yes albums. Most of the tracks on the album are slow- to mid-tempo. Alan White seemed to have lost a step by the time the LP was recorded, and Geoff Downes was never Rick Wakeman, or even Patrick Moraz. But really, these things seem to be minor issues to most. The real burning hatred seems to be reserved for Davison, who many see as a tribute-band Jon Anderson copycat who has usurped the role of the real thing.

Judge to the LP on its own merits, though -- forget it's even a Yes album, and just listen to the music -- and you might find plenty to like here. Downes actually does some of his best work on this project. I love the playful synth pattern he uses on "Step Beyond", and the mild-but-affable pulsing keyboards he uses for much of the LP's opening track "Believe Again". As for Howe, he's still Howe -- you'll hear his instantly recognizable guitar stylings popping up throughout. And he had at least a hand in writing three of the four best tracks here, including the two I just mentioned, plus "It Was All We Knew". As for the vocals, as even many of the album's biggest critics have grudgingly admitted, they're actually one of the best things on the LP. Davison might not have Anderson's power, or all of his range, but his voice is still quite graceful. And his contributions are more than capably bolstered by Squire's and Howe's backing vocals.

Heaven & Earth is not one of Yes's best albums for sure. But then again, you're talking about one of the greatest progressive rock bands that ever existed, so the bar is pretty high there. Listen to it on its own terms, though, and it's actually better (or at least more enjoyable) than most of the LPs I listened to in 2018. Forget it's Yes. Pretend the name of the band is "No", or "Perhaps". Then close your eyes and just listen to the music. If you give it a fair shot, and focus on what's actually there instead of what (or who) isn't, you just might find yourself pleasantly surprised.


Rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Review of Joni Mitchell's "Miles of Aisles"

I posted this review a short while ago on the Sputnik Music website:


Review Summary: A superior live album that catches Joni Mitchell near the apex of her career.

Miles of Aisles, released in 1974, was Canadian folk singer's first live album. It was recorded during the tour for her Court and Spark album, at a time when Mitchell was arguably at the height of her powers. The album did well, being certified as a Gold album, and reaching as high as #2 on the American Billboard charts, and # 13 on the Canadian charts. 

The double-length LP (which was condensed to a single disc for the CD version), contains 18 tracks, and includes live versions of many of Mitchell's best-known songs, including "Big Yellow Taxi", "Woodstock", "Both Sides Now" and "Blue". However, as nice as it is to have live versions of some of these tunes, it's some of Mitchell's lesser-known tracks that really shine here. Among them are "Cactus Tree", the tale of a woman who is courted by many interesting men, but can't find it in herself to commit to any one of them; "People's Parties", which is something of a portrait of social anxiety and loneliness; "A Case of You", which might or might not be about Mitchell's breakup with Graham Nash; and "All I Want", a fast-paced, exhilarating number about that breathless feeling that comes at the beginning of a possible love relationship. The album also features a pair of live tracks that had never (up until that time) received studio recordings: "Jericho", a song about the difficulty of opening up your soul to another person, which was later recorded on the Don Juan's Reckless Daughter album; and "Love or Money", a clever look at the futility of pursuing someone who doesn't appreciate you, which never received a studio recording.

By the time Miles of Aisles was released, Mitchell's voice was already noticeably deeper than it had been early in her career, to the point where it might even be described at sultry. This lent a certain gravitas to some of the tracks. She was backed on the tour (and on the LP) by the American jazz-fusion group, the L.A. Express.

The biggest weakness here would probably be that a few of the songs are presented perhaps a little too playfully. "The Last Time I Saw Richard" seems to stop and start too frequently, and "Both Sides Now" is maybe a little draggy, and too filled with little musical side comments. Nevertheless, this is a superb live album that catches one of the best-loved folk-pop artists of all time at a high point in her career.


Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Pippin

I first became familiar with Pippin when an aunt (I think) gave me the cast album as a Christmas present. I had never heard of it before, and I had no reason to be particularly interested in it. But I listened to it, and discovered I really liked the music. Ben Vereen in particular, and John Rubinstein were very good, and how cool was it that Irene Ryan (Granny from TV's The Beverly Hillbillies), played Berthe? (And what a set of pipes Granny had!)

Then, interestingly enough, when Denise and I met, I discovered that she had the cast album too, and she also loved it.

When Denise and I decided to get married, it took us awhile to pick out a wedding song. We talked about "Love Song" by The Cure, but decided it was a little too stalker-ish. We also considered "Wild Is the Wind" by David Bowie, but then our friend Bruce and I made a few too many fart jokes about it, and that kind of spoiled it for Denise. We came really close to picking "I Can't Help Falling in Love With You", the UB40 reggae version (because neither of us are really Elvis fans). But then, one night a few months before the wedding, the 1981 TV version of Pippin, featuring Ben Vereen amd William Katt, came on television. It reminded us both how much we liked this play in general, and the song "With You" in particular. And although the way they use the song in the play is ironic - it's sung during the period when Pippin tries to find meaning in his life through a series of sexual romps with different women - we both knew right away that this beautiful tune was going to be our wedding song. (We were both familiar with the cast album for years before we saw the play, so I think by the time we saw how cynically the song was used in the show, we were both already in love with it.)

The first time we ever saw Pippin live was a production by the Cultural Arts Playhouse back when it was still in Bethpage on the Saturday night before the famous 2000 hanging chad Presidential election. And in 2013, when the show was revived on Broadway with the role of the Leading Player played by a woman (Patina Miller, who won a Tony Award for her performance), Denise bought me tickets for my birthday.

So, as you can see, I've loved this show for a long time. Say what you will about Sondheim, but after Andrew Lloyd Webber, my favorite composer for musical theater is Stephen Schwartz, who in addition to Pippin, also composed the music to Godspell and Wicked. (Although Sweeney Todd is still pretty cool.)

As regular readers of this blog probably know, one of the ways my daughter and I have bonded over the years is through a mutual love of musical theater. We saw Wicked together on Broadway (her Mom had the fun of taking her to see The Phantom of the Opera) and a number of great musicals at theaters here on Long Island. And one of the things I've learned about her taste is that she has a strong preference for musicals that have a happy ending. (As much as she loves The Rocky Horror Picture Show, she still usually turns it off before the last segment where they kill Frank N. Furter and Rocky). This is funny to me, because she also loves the goriest of horror films. But horror films often don't make you care much about the characters, whereas musical theater shows usually do. Because of her love for musicals that turn out happily, I've always felt that she'd enjoy Pippin. So when I saw that the CM Performing Arts Center was putting on a production, I asked if she and her boyfriend would like to go, and they both said yes. (Denise decided to pass this time.)

Now her boyfriend doesn't have a lot of experience with musical theater. But nevertheless, he was psyched to go, and I was glad to take him, because it gave us a little bonding time together.

So today, we left the house a little later than planned, but still reached the theater in time for the opening curtain of a matinee performance. And there, we were treated to a really powerful production of one of my favorite musicals.

The CM Production of Pippin stars Mikey Marmann as the title character and Nicole Fragala as the Leading Player, with Jennifer Demopoulos as Berthe, Emily Edwards as Catherine, Sari Feldman as Fastrada and Douglas Vandewinckel as Charles. Ashley Nicastro is the director and choreographer.

Marmann is especially strong as Pippin. He has a strong and very appealing voice, and is pitch perfect as the character. I had some doubts about Fragala, which I'll explain in a moment. However, she's super talented, and her characterization grew on me as the show went on.

Here's the deal -- I was never fully sold on changing the gender of The Leading Player from male to female to begin with, primarily because Ben Vereen was so damned good. And really cool, right up until the very end, when he starts to lose it. However, Patina Miller's performance was also engaging -- she was interesting enough to sell me at least partially on the whole Leading Player as a woman thing. She played the role sort of like a singing version of Danai Gurira's Okoye character in the Black Panther film -- there was something fierce about her. However, Fragala's characterization is somewhat different. I almost felt as though she was playing the character of Maureen Johnson from Rent playing The Leading Player.

I'll admit, it might even be at least partially a race thing. I was never the most flexible person with change to begin with, and at 61 years old, I'm certainly not getting any better at that. The other day at Weight Watcher's, some woman sat in my regular seat, and it drove me crazy throughout the meeting. (And no, I will not start referring to Weight Watcher's as "WW", or the meetings as "workshops", the way the company wants to. Why can't you people just leave s*** alone!?) ... See what I mean about how well I do with change? So maybe I was able to handle changing the Leading Player from a black man to a black woman OK, but changing from a black man to a white woman was just a bridge too far for me.

In any event, I noticed that by the second act, especially in The Leading Player's interactions with the character of Catherine, Fragala's interpretation of the character started to work for me. All of which is just a long-winded and roundabout way of saying that Fragala is probably really good, and I'm just a mental patient.

Speaking of Catherine, this was another interpretation I had an interesting reaction to. In the beginning, I found Emily Edwards' version of the character a little annoying. Not that the actress was making bad choices, just that the character herself, as presented by Edwards, was annoying. I could see why it took Pippin a little while to warm up to her. Ultimately, though, I found that I liked and attached to the character more powerfully than to any of the other versions of Catherine I've yet seen. There was something immensely sympathetic about her, and quietly brave, that I reacted to very emotionally. So kudos for Ms. Edwards for creating such an effective characterization.

The rest of the cast was all quite good. There were a few minor mic problems throughout the afternoon, but nothing catastrophic.

I also need to say a word about the choreography here. I'll admit I'm far from an expert on dance. Like, pretend that I'm here on Earth, and being an expert on dance is on Pluto. (Which is a frickin' planet, by the way! That's another change I don't accept!) That's how far I am from choreographical expertise. But Pippin was originally a Bob Fosse-directed show, so the choreography is really important here. And for a relatively small regional theater, I found the choreography here super impressive. Also, the 2013 revival really upped the stakes on the players performing circus-quality acts of derring-do. And while the acrobatics and magic tricks here weren't quite as superb as they were on Broadway, they were still way more extensive than I had expected.

So overall, I have to say that this was an enjoyable and extremely satisfying version of Pippin. As for my daughter and her boyfriend, they both loved it. My daughter's boyfriend particularly mentioned enjoying the song "Extraordinary", and singled out the performances of Fragala and Vandewinckel as especially noteworthy. My daughter liked the sex cage segment. (Don't ask.) I just found several of Marmann's songs to be exquisite, including "Morning Glow", "Corner of the Sky" and, of course, "With You".

Pippin has three more scheduled performances at the Noel S. Ruiz Theatre in the CM Performing Arts Center in Oakdale: Wednesday, January 30 at 7:30 PM, and Friday and Saturday, Feb. 1 and 2. at 8 PM. I recommend the show highly.


Tom Ashton, Iridesense, This Island Earth

About a week and a half ago, my wife forwarded me an invitation she'd received from Tara Eberle of Iridesense, to a 25th Anniversary Show for the band This Island Earth at the Revolution Music Hall in Amityville. Back in the day, TIE used to play often with Iridesense and Early Edison as part of a collective called Pop Conspiracy Productions, so I wondered if all of those bands would be playing together again for this show. Sure enough, when I went up on the Revolution website, Tom Ashton of Early Edison and Iridesense were opening the show for This Island Earth. We forwarded the invite to some friends, and put the night on our calendar.

Now regular readers of this blog know that I have a special love for a style of music I like to call alternapop - a style of rock music that features alternative rock leanings (often with '80s new-wave roots), and strong pop hooks. Rick Eberle of Iridesense has another term for this kind of music - pop-core. And together with some like-minded musical friends, he tried his best to storm the walls of the music industry back in the late 1990s-early 2000s.

One of the things that used to happen (and maybe still does) on Long Island during that time period was that a promoter would get a certain date for a club, and book four or so bands together to make a night of music. Sometimes the promoter tried to think about what bands would go together naturally. But as often as not, they'd just throw any four bands on a bill, and expect the bands to each promote their set. Unfortunately, what would happen is that a band would show up and play in front of their friends and fans. They might be a an alt-rock band. They'd finish their set, and the next band would set up. Maybe they'd be a metal band. And as soon as the second band played their first three chords, all of the first band's friends and fans who had remained in the building would immediately run for the doors. So bands were playing in front of the same crowd all the time, instead of being exposed to new audiences who might enjoy their sound.

The concept behind PCP was simple, but brilliant. Three hard-working and well-respected Long Island pop-core bands formed a business cooperative. They would put together shows where they'd invite a fourth, similar-style band to play with them. (I remember the band Halfmanwonder playing several times as the fourth band, to particularly good effect). They'd book a large club (often it was Mulcahys in Wantagh), and each band would not only promote the hell of it, but would encourage their friends and fans to hang out for the full night and hear some other bands they'd be likely to enjoy. This had the benefit of cutting out the middle-man promoter who sucked up a good portion of the money, so the bands could invest that money back into their music business. But more importantly, it created kind of a buzz that these original music bands could fill a club like Mulcahys on a regular basis.

At the time, there were a number of Long Island emo bands that had started to make it on the national scene. The biggest of these were probably Taking Back Sunday and Brand New, but bands like Bayside, Straylight Run and The Sleeping, among others, also broke nationally. And when a Long Island alternapop band, Nine Days, also broke nationally, it seemed like they might just be the first of many from that genre to also make it over the wall to national fame.

Of course, it didn't work out that way. While each of the three PCP bands got various nibbles from the music industry, none of them actually got signed to a national label. And Nine Days, whose 2000 The Madding Crowd album did make a dent nationally, wound up getting so screwed by the record industry that the next album that they recorded still has never been officially released (although you can find downloads of it online).

Eventually, after years of knocking on the door only to be disappointed, This Island Earth and Early Edison broke up. Iridesense has stayed together over the years, and they still play five or six shows a year and make new music. But these days, I'm sure they do it more as a project of love than out of any belief that they're going to break it big nationally in the music scene of the 2010s. (And it probably hasn't hurt their longevity that they're essentially something of a family band -- Rick and Tara are brother and sister, and Rich the drummer is Tara's husband, so three quarters of the band are going to be kind of a unit anyway. Rob the guitarist is the only one not related by blood or marriage. And after all these years together, I'm sure that he feels that he might as well be.)

Denise and I saw Iridesense as recently as two years ago, opening (kind of) for The B-52s and Mother Feather. But it's been awhile since we saw any vestiges of Early Edison, and This Island Earth hasn't played together for fifteen years. So we were pretty psyched to get out for the night and catch these three excellent acts once again.

We arrived at the club at a few minutes before 8PM. We quickly staked out some seats in this little area with a bench and a few tables facing the stage that I had scoped out over the summer, when I'd seen Tigers Jaw at this same club. The area sometimes serves as a VIP area when there are national bands on the bill (which is why I was sitting all the way back in the Ozzy Room for Tigers Jaw). However, I was pretty sure the club would let us sit in this section tonight, and when I checked with the bartender, I discovered I was right.

When I went to the bar to get some drinks and put in a food order, I saw several of the members of Iridesense mulling about nearby, so I went over to say hello. Rick told me that a number of old-time scene people were planning on coming out for the show, including Mike Ferrari of Aural Fix and Roy Abrams of The Island Zone. Both had worked hard over the years to put Long Island music on the map, and both had been especially supportive of the PCP project.

After I returned to my table, Denise and I waved to Peter McCulloch of TIE, who did a take when he saw us. He and wife dropped over to say hello and catch up a little. They're living somewhere in New Jersey these days.

Not too long after 8PM, Tom Ashton took the stage. The first time I saw Tom and Early Edison play was in the final round of the 1995 (I think) Long Island Music Festival. They had played a blazing show that night, and I'd been sure that either they or Reckless Abandon were going to be crowned the winners of the night. As it turned out, EE came in second, and Reckless Abandon finished out of the top four (This Island Earth and my old friends The Basals came in 3rd and 4th, although I forget in what order.) I'm blanking on the name of the band that won right now -- no disrespect to the band, my old brain just doesn't work like it used to -- but I remember being so outraged that Reckless had been shut out that I'd penned an angry letter to poor John Blenn at Good Times Magazine, who was running the fest. Of course, I eventually wound up writing for Good Times, and was involved with the festival myself for most of the years of its existence after that. (Whoa, the synapses just fired! It was the country rock band Quickdraw who won the festival, and drew my ire that night. Sorry about that, guys! In retrospect, you were a good band too. I just hadn't expanded my taste yet to the extent that I learned to once the Long Island Music Coalition came along.)

Anyway, tonight, Tom Ashton was playing as part of a duo, although unfortunately, I didn't catch the name of the musician who was supporting him. I didn't get to focus on his set as much as I'd have liked, as I was wondering around the room for part of it, saying hello to people and grabbing our friend Rich the Drummer, who had just arrived, and bringing him back to our section. Tom played a relatively short set -- maybe half an hour. I didn't recognize all of the songs, although I remember there was an early Beatles cover in there. (But I'm blanking on which one, as that was right when I was over at the bar finding Rich). I did hear a couple of my favorite Early Edison songs, though, including the excellent "Alice" (which I remember Roy Abrams used to play regularly on his Island Zone show) from EE's self-titled debut album, and "Burn the Boats" from an EP they'd put out that had also contained their popular Christmas specialty song "Waiting for George Bailey". It was great to see Ashton play again, although I was sorry that the full band hadn't gotten back together for the show.

Next up was Iridesense. These guys have always been one of my favorite local bands. I first saw them at The Raven, an "underground" club run out of a warehouse in Lindenhurst, and I loved them from that first night. Eventually, I even became their first record company, putting out a small number of copies of their debut album Cool Dream Tomorrow, along with Try This by Denise and Rich's old band The Slant, and Soundings and Fathoms by John DiBartolo (of Fathom)'s first band, Blue Abyss. I've always regretted that I wasn't able to keep Rock Diva Records going -- I'd love to still be putting out albums today.

Iridesense has always prided itself on writing catchy, accessible pop-rock songs, and on the strong vocal harmonies of the sister-brother team of Tara and Rick Eberle, and those two elements were once again on display at tonight's show. The last time I'd seen them, they had done a set comprising a lot of their older songs that I knew from back in the day. Tonight, they concentrated on a lot of newer material -- the only two songs I was really familiar with were "Right Next to You", and their popular set-closer "Holiday". But their whole set sounded terrific, and a couple of the newer songs that jumped out at me were "Life Isn't Easy", "Take Some Action" (which apparently is so new that this was only the second time they've performed it), and "Got It Good". Sadly, this was another case of age starting to catch up with me -- as they played "Holiday", I sang along and bopped my head, and when the song was over, I discovered that the head-bopping had actually made me a little dizzy -- there were some inner-ear issues going on there. Pretty sad. (Denise had a good chuckle when I told her that.) But in any event, it was terrific to see Iridesense again, particularly in such good form.

Last up was the amazing This Island Earth. Now the first time Denise and I saw This Island Earth was in an earlier round of that same Long Island Music Festival, at The Crocodile Club in Bayside, Queens. (Which was convenient, since we were still living in Flushing at the time.) We had gone there to support a friend's band, the fine LI reggae unit Inity. However, we were both taken with This Island Earth's set, so much so that Denise switched her festival vote and voted for TIE instead of Inity. (It was clear that Inity didn't have anywhere near a large enough crowd there to place in the top two that night, though, so it wasn't as big a betrayal as it might sound like.) Patrick of TIE somehow saw that Denise had voted for them, and started talking with us, and we became friends after that. And TIE and Reckless Abandon won the night, and the right to move on to the LIMF finals.

On this night, Peter, Patrick, Dean and Chip were playing with their original drummer Wayne (who had come up from his current home in North Carolina for the show). And for a band that hasn't performed together in 15 years, they sounded so much better than they had any right to. They did most of their old favorites, including "All for Love", "Up and Down", "Christina's World", "Punch Clock Man" (another song that got regular airplay on The Island Zone show) and "Undertow". The highlight of the night, however, had to be "Hero (I Don't Wanna Be)" from their superb 2002 Welcome to the Merry-Go-Round album. Finally, manly chest-hair abounded, as they closed their set with their entertaining cover of Tom Jones' "It's Not Unusual".

As we left Revolution, a mob of twenty-somethings lined up to enter for what I guess was club night and canned music, but they had missed the best part of the evening. For a couple of hours, all of us were twenty years younger, enjoying some of the best alternative pop music there ever was. So, many thanks to Tom Ashton, Iridesense and This Island Earth for making us all feel young (well, young-er, anyway!), and for transporting us back in time for a night, to a time of great musical hope and anticipation. I wish all you guys had gotten famous. You deserved it.







Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Betty Who, Two Feet and Panic! at the Disco

The end of last year, for my daughter's birthday, I had to choose between Panic! at the Disco tickets, or taking her to a Supernatural convention. Now Panic! had played the Nassau Coliseum last summer, and when my daughter learned that she'd missed them (and that her younger cousin had seen them), she was a little bummed. So as much as I love Sam and Dean Winchester, I decided on the Panic! tickets.

Then, shortly after her birthday, she started going out very seriously with a guy who had previously been a friend. So seriously, in fact, that she went to Maine for the Christmas holidays with him to meet his mother. I figured I'd wait to make sure the trip went well, then tell her it was OK with me if her boyfriend took her to the concert instead of me. But she surprised me (and made me feel good) by telling me that in spite of the new relationship, she still wanted me to take her.

So last Wednesday, we headed out to the  Ronkonkoma LIRR station to take the train into Brooklyn for the show. We got there early, and grabbed a couple of seats on the train. And shortly thereafter, my daughter spotted my niece through the window, and vice versa. My niece (the little show kid, who's about to turn into the teen show kid) was traveling with two friends (sisters). They were being chaperoned by their Mom, who I'd met at my sister-in-law's house on Christmas Eve.

It was a jolly train ride, full of teens and tweens, all headed to the Barclay Center with their Moms or Dads. At one point, the girls in our little group broke into a Panic! song that sounded vaguely familiar to me, although I couldn't name it if my life depended on it. My daughter was happy, not only because she was going to the concert, but also because my niece's party had brought a pizza onto the train, and they were kind enough to share.

We all scooted across the platform and changed trains at Jamaica, but the train to the Atlantic Terminal was so crowded that I had to stand for the twenty-minute ride. I was feeling pretty good, though, so I didn't mind. (Although there was a twenty-something soy boy on the train dressed like Brendon Urie who took up an extra seat with his poster, which implored Brendon to pull him up on the stage. Secretly -- well, maybe not secretly, since I shared the thought with my daughter -- I hoped that Urie would pull him up on the stage and just slap him silly!)

When we arrived at the station, the mob around the staircase going up into the terminal was immense. But some pleasant little girl wearing an Islanders jersey who goes to Barclay all the time for the hockey games led us to another stairway that no one seemed to know about. We climbed the stairs up to the street level, only to pass two homeless women who were loudly discussing a problem one of them had with their private parts. My niece's two friends looked at one another with eyes wide in surprise. This was their first concert.

When we got out onto the street, I saw a bright building, and confidently declared, "There it is!" The letters on the sign glowed brightly. "B-A-M!" Whoops! Brooklyn Academy of Music. Never mind.

We soon found the right direction, and headed the two blocks to the building. By this time, I wasn't feeling so great. The hot train ride with my coat on, plus the twenty minutes standing on the train from Jamaica, plus the run up the staircase at the Atlantic Terminal, followed by the two-block jaunt in the cold to the Barclay Center was starting to wear on me.

We got inside through the metal detectors, and I regretfully left my niece's party behind (as they were sitting a level higher up than we were). By this point, I desperately needed three things -- a restroom, something to drink, and to sit down.

We found the restrooms after a longer walk than I would have liked, then found a concession stand labelled "Cocktails" that had no line. I bought us a pair of Barclay Center's bargain-priced (ha!) $7 bottles of water. (My daughter later informed me that beers were $15 a can.) Then, when I went to pay, I discovered that my money was no good there. Literally! Apparently, one of Barclay Center's wonderful little innovations is what they call the "cash-free" concession stand. It's credit card, or die of thirst. I grumpily pulled out my card for the disinterested girl behind the counter. (I guess "legal tender" is a foreign term in Brooklyn.)

Then, we headed for our seats. As we walked out into the arena, we passed a double row of unoccupied handicap seats. I asked the young usher if they were all taken, and he told me I'd have to walk to Section 12 to the hospitality center to get permission to use them. (Fool, if I could walk to Section 12 without passing out right now, I wouldn't need a handicap seat!) However, it turned out that our seats wear only two rows up, and the seats were wide and comfortable. And the usher for this section, who was one of those friendly, funny guys who likes to dance with the kids at these kinds of shows, promised me that if there was a problem with the seats to let him know, and he'd take care of it.

At this point, we settled in for the show. It was a pretty festive mood as the crowd filed in. In the section to my right, a group of young girls started singing a Panic! song together. Our usher playfully threatened them, telling them there was no singing allowed in his section.

At 7 PM the lights went out, and the opening act came on. I had no idea who they were, since they weren't listed on the ticket. It was a pop singer singing to canned music, with two male backup dancers. I mentioned to my daughter that the guy looked like Bowie, and she laughed at me. Turns out it was a girl. Welcome to the age of androgeny.

Eventually, near the end of her set, I learned that her name was Betty Who. (Doctor Who's niece, no doubt.) From her accent, I correctly guessed she was Australian. Some of the kids in the crowd seemed to know her, and seemed excited that she was there. The only real ripple of interest I had during her set was when, amazingly, I recognized her next-to-last song. No wonder. I looked it up later, and it was a '90s cover, of Donna Lewis' "I Love You Always Forever". She was alright, I guess, but I hate this new trend of opening acts singing to canned music. (They did the same thing at the Twenty One Pilots concert last year.) And having a couple of dancers didn't make up for it. Not to be mean, but honestly, I'd just as soon that they'd have cut her out of the show, started at 8 PM, and gave my daughter and I enough time to get dinner beforehand.

Next up was an act named Two Feet. I never heard of him before I bought the tickets, but he has a hit song that my kids are familiar with called "Go F--- Yourself!". He played this show as part of a duo -- he had an electric guitar, and there was a keyboardist/computer operator onstage also. As it turned out, the guy is a talented guitarist, but he was a weird-ass choice to open for Panic! at the Disco. Panic! does what I consider very theatrical rock music, in the vein of bands like Queen. Two Feet turned out to be a very staid classical blues guitarist. He's an excellent player, but his brand of slow blues music kind of sucked the life out of the room.

To make things worse, my daughter left early in his set to go use the Ladies Room. And a combination of a long line (due to the mostly female crowd) and a shorter-than-expected set led to him playing his one hit that she knew while she was still in the bathroom. (She said she could hear it pretty well in there, though.) He did get a decent hand from the crowd at the end of his set, possibly because he was a self-proclaimed native New Yorker playing to the hometown crowd.

In between sets, my daughter informed me that she'd taken a peek at the merch stand, and they were predictably overpriced. So she used her phone to go up on Amazon to score herself some Panic! swag. (She's a funny kid!) She also mentioned that she was excited that the two seats next to her had remained empty. Alas, two seconds before the next set, the couple who was sitting in them arrived.

Next up was Panic! Now I don't know Panic!'s music that well. My daughter has one of their (his, really, since these days Panic! is just Brendon Urie) albums in her car. And I've listened to it when I've needed to borrow her car because mine is in the shop, because it's either that or sludge metal. And to prep myself for the show, earlier in the day, I did give their most recent album a listen on YouTube. But my point is, this is a band whose music I was largely unfamiliar with.

The crowd went crazy as they raised Urie and his band through the floor and onto the stage. As it turned out, the band was pretty large. In addition to his core group of himself, a guitarist, a bass player and a drummer, he had a 3-piece all-female string section and a 3-piece all-male brass section who helped him out as needed throughout the night.

Right from the beginning, all of the teenyboppers in the crowd were up and dancing. This was unfortunate for my daughter, who likes to sit and enjoy a show like I do. Because there was a pair of dancing duos in front of us, blocking her vision.

Nevertheless, she still seemed to be enjoying herself. Now my daughter is a pretty stoic kid. (Well, young woman now.) Many's the time I've taken her to an event and not been sure if she was enjoying it or not (because her expression seldom changes), only to learn much later that it was a night that she loved and always remembered. But for this show, I could tell she was enjoying herself, because she sang along for almost all the songs. And about halfway through the set, my friend the usher came up and asked us if we'd like to move down to two empty handicap seats where her view wouldn't be blocked. We jumped at the opportunity, and she got to watch the rest of the show unimpeded.

I have to say that not being a big Panic! fan, and not being familiar with their music, I actually found the show very entertaining. Urie is a high-energy performer with a bit of dance-pop panache, and the show was nicely arranged to keep it interesting. For example, at one point, surrounded by security, he sang his way into the crowd, and all the way to the sound table near the back of the floor. There, he mounted a small platform with a piano on it. And as he played a slow, quiet piano song, the platform was slowly lifted up into the air and carefully pulled over the crowd's head and then lowered back down to the stage. (I did mention to my daughter that as much as I was sure those cables were strong, I was glad I wasn't sitting in one of those seats with a full-sized piano gliding over my head. My daughter agreed. We've both seen The Phantom of the Opera.)

We watched the rest of the concert, then slipped out quietly during the last song. She had to get up early the next morning, and there was no way we were going to miss that 11:20 train back to Ronkonkoma.

A little later, my niece and her squad appeared on our train. They'd had fun, although I think my niece was a little disappointed that her seats were so high up this time. The Barclay Center has video screens, but they're not huge. And I heard her say that the players looked like ants.

As for me, I liked the show a lot, and wasn't a bit bored during Panic's set. And I really relished how much my daughter enjoyed the show. Thanks Panic!, and Barclay Center, for showing my hard-working daughter a good time. And next holiday, don't tell her, but I just might score her those Supernatural Convention tickets as well.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Review of The Buggles' "Adventures in Modern Recording"

I posted this review a short while ago on the Sputnik Music website:

Review Summary: Although it's the lesser of The Buggles' two albums, this LP is still something of a treasure.

A while back, I reviewed the Buggles 1980 debut album The Age of Plastic, which featured their one big single, "Video Killed the Radio Star." Shortly after that LP's release, in as improbable a turn of events as one could imagine, the new wave duo of Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes suspended The Buggles in order to join the progressive rock giants Yes. They took part in the creation of the Drama album, then toured as part of Yes through the rest of 1980. When Yes dissolved (temporarily, as it turned out), Horn and Downes began to record a new Buggles album together. However, a month or so into the recording, Downes left the band in order to form a new supergroup, Asia, with former Yes bandmate Steve Howe. Horn then pulled together a group of studio musicians, and continued to record what turned out to be The Buggles' final effort, Adventures in Modern Recording.

Unsurprisingly, given Adventures' hectic origins, the album is a bit of a mixed bag. It does contain some of Horn's best-ever vocal work. It also features a number of very strong tracks. The highlight would definitely be a leaner electropop version of the song known on the Drama album as "Into the Lens", retitled here as "I Am A Camera". While the Yes version is magnificent, it's also maybe a little overblown. Here, the track is sparser, allowing the words (and the song's theme of trying to capture a moment of reality and hold onto it forever in photographic form) to come through more clearly. Which adaptation of the song is the superior one is really a matter of personal taste. Personally, I'm glad that we have both of them.

The album's title track is also a winner. "Adventures in Modern Recording" is a bit autobiographical, as it has fun with the fact that The Buggles were solely a studio act that never played a live show until they performed some reunion shows several decades later. The track features a canned audience cheering wildly throughout, even as Horn sings of his fictional rock star wannabes "They're not playing/They're not playing/They're just having/Adventures in modern recording." The synth line on this one is quite fetching, and creates a sense of excitement, even as the multiply overdubbed vocals demonstrate that we're obviously not listening to a live track.

"Lenny" is another strong number. I've never quite been able to figure out who it's about, but it seems to be a British political or religious figure. In any event, it's a quirky, but quite dramatic, track, about a leader who is decidedly anti-science. ("When you say that the sun does not move/Did it show you the answer?/When the ships do not fall off the world/Does it mean there's a wall there?"). And "Beatnik", the second of the LP's nine songs, is silly, but kind of fun.

On the other hand, unlike Age of Plastic, there are a few entries here that fall fairly flat. "Vermillion Sands" isn't bad in the main body of the song -- it's quiet and a little foreboding -- but then it shifts into a synthesized simulation of swing-band music that is nothing but annoying. And "On TV" is kind of goofy -- it sounds like a caricature of Joe Jackson's "Sunday Papers".

It should be noted that in 2010, the album was re-released with ten bonus tracks, two of which are of particular interest to Yes fans. They're the original demos of the first and second parts of what was eventually reworked into the title track of Yes's 2011 Fly From Here album.

Adventures in Modern Recording was mostly favorably received by the critics at the time of its original release. The album, however, was a commercial failure, which led Horn into terminating The Buggles, and walking away from his career as a performer to concentrate on his new passion, musical production. Nevertheless, the album can be considered something of a flawed treasure, cherished all the more because it was one of the only two albums this underrated eighties band ever released.


Rating: 3 of 5 stars

Friday, January 11, 2019

Top 20 Songs of 2018, Part 2

I'm so excited to be posting my lists this early! OK, let's do this thing. Yesterday, I posted Part 1 of my Top 20 Songs of 2018 list. Here, in reverse order, is Part 2:


10. Johnny Marr - "Hi Hello" Johnny Marr - Hi Hello

I'll be honest - it's not that Morrissey hasn't written some good songs as a solo artist, but Johnny Marr's solo career really reminds me that Morrissey mostly only wrote the lyrics for The Smiths' songs -- it was Marr who wrote most of the music. The man has an ear for catchy-yet-intelligent pop. And this is just the latest example.


9. MGMT - "She Works Out Too Much" MGMT - She Works Out Too Much

Speaking of clever ... some people have glossed over this funny little track that opens the Little Dark Age LP on the way to singles like "Me and Michael" and the album's title song, but this cunning little number won me over right from the first listen. The back-and-forth interplay between lead singer Andrew VanWyngarden and the workout instructor is delightful throughout, as he declares that "She works out to much," and she laments that "The only reason we never worked out is/He didn't work out." Brilliant!


8. When We Land - "Wait" When We Land - Wait

I had never heard of this Minneapolis indie rock band before this year, but their debut album, Introvert's Plight is actually quite good. And the opening track, "Wait",  is particularly tasty. It's a mid-tempo number with a sense of longing, maybe even a desperation, to it. Good stuff.


7. Red Lama - "Perfect Strangers" Red Lama - Perfect Stangers

I found myself in the mood for a lot of psychedelic rock this year, and this Danish band's second LP, Motions, was the best of it. They're a seven-piece with a killer lead singer named Johannes Havemann Kissov Linnet. The keyboards and bongos made me feel like I was back in the sixties. "Perfect Strangers" is the first, and best, track from the album.


6. Of Montreal - "Paranoic Intervals/Body Dysmorphia" Of Montreal - Paranoic Intervals/Body Dysmorphia 

This was the year I first discovered this strange but excellent Athens, Georgia band, although they've been around since the late nineties. Their latest album, White Is Relic/Irrealis Mood does this weird thing where every track on the album is actually two different songs run together. I was first drawn to this track because of the first part, "Paranoic Intervals", wherein lead singer Kevin Barnes tries to convince his paramour of the benefits of monogamy. After a while, however, I began to enjoy the "Body Dysmorphia" part of the track as much or more. They're both trippy little numbers.


5. Jaguwar - "Lunatic" Jaguwar - Lunatic

Jaguwar is a 3-piece noisepop band from Berlin and Dresden, Germany. They combine dreamy vocals that are reminiscent of bands such as Lush, with a fairly boisterous musical background. (In some ways, the remind me a little of The Joy Formidable). The contrast between soft vocals and hard music makes them kind of interesting. This is my favorite track from their album, Ringthing.


4. They Might Be Giants - "When the Lights Come On" They Might Be Giants - When the Lights Come On

This is another one of those bizarre tracks from this band where you don't know quite what's going on, but whatever it is, it's weird, kind of funny and somewhat horrifying. It's hard to determine just what's happening there in the dark, but whatever it is, the song's protagonist is now missing a kidney and part of his left hand. Nevertheless, he's pretty optimistic that it's all going to work out when the lights come on, even though he has a concussion from someone (or some thing) throwing him down a staircase. God, I love these guys!


3. Tonight Alive - "Crack My Heart" Tonight Alive - Crack My Heart

This isn't the first time this Australian band has made one of my year-end lists, thanks in large part to the talents of lead vocalist Jenna McDougall. This is just a good old hook-laden driving alternative rock song. It's from their latest album, Underworld.


2. Snail Mail - "Pristine" Snail Mail - Pristine

Snail Mail is the solo project of singer/songwriter Lindsey Jordan. I'll admit I didn't like her debut album Lush as much as a lot of the critics did, but I do love this track (in spite the fact that it's a classic example of what my daughter derisively refers to as "chicks singing about their feelings"). The style is folk-based indie rock.


1. Alvvays - "Plimsoll Punks" Alvvays - Plimsoll Punks

Alvvays (pronounced "Always") is a Toronto-based female-fronted indie-pop band. The song recounts a belligerent encounter with someone who is probably a boyfriend (or ex-boyfriend). It has a sound that's part sixties girls' groups and part nineties Britpop.

So that's it for my Best Of lists for (mostly) 2018. I hope you enjoyed them, and that maybe you discovered some new music.

I expect to be getting back to some album reviews soon enough, with a write-up of The Buggles' Adventures in Modern Recording. I'll also be doing the fourth part of my My Favorite Artists series, this time covering prog-rockers extraordinaire Yes. And I'll be attending my first concert of the year next week, so I'll have that to write about as well.

Onwards to 2019!


Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Top 20 Songs of 2018, Part 1

This is the earliest I've ever completed my Top 20 Songs list, so I'm pretty happy with myself. It was kind of an off year. I'd say the music was respectable, but not great. I wound up choosing my 20 Songs with a little less hand-wringing that usual.

As usual, I'll give you numbers 20 through 11 in this post, then post 10 through 1 tomorrow or Friday.

I wasn't going to do honorable mentions this year, but I've relented on that, and I'll give you a few. So here we go.


Honorable Mentions: These are in no particular order. They're the songs that just missed making my Top 20 list. The one that missed by the tiniest amount was "Melba" by Jeff Rosenstock. It's typical Rosenstock -- high energy, catchy, a bunch of guitar feedback. It's everything he does well. I also really liked "Double Cross" by Jersey pop-punkers Senses Fail, which is another hard rocking song; that one guitar lick that opens the song and gets repeated throughout is particularly fetching. The next pick is kind of weird. It's "God Knows Why" by the Australian avant garde artist Lack the Low (aka Kat Hunter). I really didn't like the album at all, but this one track is quite pretty, and a lot more accessible than the rest of the album. Another one that really grew on me over the course of the year was "Threaded", the title track from Jeremy Gilchrist's new EP. It's a haunting track, written with the kind of naked sincerity that I've really come to appreciate in Gilchrist's music. And last but not least, I give you "Super Position" by Young the Giant, from Mirror Master, their best album since their debut effort.

And here's Part 1 of my Top 20 list, in reverse order:


20. Loreena McKennitt - "Ages Past, Ages Hence" Loreena McKennitt - Ages Past, Ages Hence

The funny thing about this Canadian new age artist's latest album, Lost Souls, is that these are all supposedly misfit songs -- songs she wrote awhile ago, that didn't fit on any of her previous albums. This one is typical Loreena -- delicate, ethereal and very beautiful.


19. Rachael Sage - "Spark" Rachael Sage

There were quite a few really good songs on Sage's latest album Myopia, but this is the one that stood out the most for me. It's a catchy and upbeat little ditty about human relationships, and strangers who connect in the night, and it features some really nice piano and strings.


18. Sting & Shaggy - "Just One Lifetime" Sting & Shaggy - Just One Lifetime

A lot of people have taken shots at this collaboration between the former front man of The Police and the Jamaican reggae/hip-hop artist, but there's a lot of good stuff on their 44/876 LP, including this fine track. The lyrics are borrowed from Lewis Carroll's narrative poem "The Walrus and the Carpenter".


17. John Gorka - "Tattooed" John Gorka - Tattooed

Folk artist John Gorka has been making albums since 1987, but I just discovered him this year. This is my favorite song from his latest album True in Time. This particular track is stark, and maybe a little ominous. The line I especially love from this one: "Losing hurts worse/Than winning feels good". I tend to agree.


16. Milestones - "Paranoid" Milestones - Paranoid

For the unfamiliar, this is a British band. I'm not necessarily the biggest pop punk fan in the world, but I do appreciate a good power-pop anthem once in awhile, and this is one that I really like. It's fast-paced and fun.


15. Three Days Grace - "The New Real" Three Days Grace - The New Real

This is another band that is often maligned, undeservedly, probably because they're kind of a quasi-Christian band. They rock pretty hard, and I find a lot of their songs to be catchy and well-written. I don't like their new album Outsider and much as 2015's Human. But this track in particular grabbed me.


14. Frankie Cosmos - "Duet" Frankie Cosmos - Duet

This is admittedly a strange choice for a Top Songs list, because it's so abbreviated that it's more of a songlet than a full song. But a lot of the Vessels album is the same way, and it's kind of charming. I love Greta Kline's voice here, and the dreamy quality of the music. The lyrics are pretty simple young-girl-in-love kind of stuff, but they're pleasingly genuine.


13. Waterparks - "Peach (Lobotomy)" Waterparks - Peach (Lobotomy)

I'll admit, I was disappointed with the new Waterparks album Entertainment, especially because I really liked their two 2016 efforts, the Double Dare LP and the Cluster EP. But they definitely know how to craft a good pop song, and this one is first-rate. I especially liked their use of whistling on this track.


12. Haley Heynderickx - "Drinking Song" Haley Heynderickx - Drinking Song

I had this classy folk-pop track on my list all year, then almost eliminated it at the last minute. The reason is that although it's from her new 2018 LP I Need to Start a Garden, I realized near the end of the year that there was an earlier recording of the song released on her 2016 EP Fish Eyes. But it really is a new version here, a little slower than the original. And in the end I just liked it too much to exclude it.


11. Chvrches - "Graffiti" Chvrches - Graffiti

Love Is Dead was my favorite album of the year, the one where I feel that Chvrches really came into their own as a first-class alternapop band. And this was my favorite track from the album. It's a mid-tempo young-love-gone-wrong track (possibly because the young lovers died -- at least that's my take on the song). As I said in my Top 10 Albums list, I feel as though with this album, lead singer Lauren Mayberry became this decade's Hayley Williams.


So I think we're off to a lovely start here, how about you? When we come back in a day or two, we'll get into the real nitty-gritty, my Top Ten songs of the year.


Monday, January 7, 2019

Top 10 Albums of 2018

Moving right along from yesterday's list, today I present my Top 10 Albums of 2018 overall.

A brief reminder of the rules as to what constitutes an "album": It has to be an LP of seven songs or more, or at least 30 minutes in length (so EPs are ineligible); and it has to be all by one artist -- no compilations allowed. As I stated yesterday, once again this year, digital-only releases were allowed. 


Also, a reminder to my blog readers: While I always post my CD reviews on the Sputnik Music site first, and post them here afterwards, for reviews of live concerts and shows, and for my end of the year lists, they're released first here on my blog. Later, they're usually posted (albeit in a much more abbreviated form) as a list on Sputnik Music.


The first honorable mention I'll give you this year is an album that looked like it was going to make my Top 10 all year, then barely missed out when I reassessed things over this past week. It's the album Motions by the Danish psychedelic rock band Red Lama. Two others I'll throw in are Dionysus, the new album from Dead Can Dance, and Honey, the latest effort by Swedish pop singer Robyn.


So, let's see how many of our albums by local artists from yesterday's list made this one also. Here they are, in reverse order:



Top 10 Albums of 2018:



10.  Tom Bailey - Science Fiction


Tom Bailey is the former frontman of the '80s new wave band Thompson Twins. I saw Bailey live this summer, and enjoyed him a lot. So when I learned he'd released his first-ever solo album I picked it up, not really expecting a lot. But it's excellent. It still has an '80s dance-pop vibe, but some of the tracks here also bring in Latino rhythms. It's like Santana does post-punk. My favorite track: "What Kind of World". Tom Bailey - What Kind of World



9. Beach House - 7

I have loved this female-fronted dream pop duo since I first heard them, so I'm happy to see them make one of my Top 10 Albums lists for the first time. The vibe is laid back, the vocals are slow and pretty, and the hooks are sharp. My favorite track: "Drunk in LA". Beach House - Drunk in LA



8. Johnny Marr - Call the Comet


Ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr released another excellent solo album this year, proving that all that bastard Morrissey ever did was hold him back and hold him back. (Not really, but you know what I mean.) Marr has proved that he has a great talent for crafting catchy pop rock songs. I'm not sure I like this one better than his 2013 album The Messenger, but it's damned close. My favorite track: "Hi Hello". Johnny Marr - Hi Hello


7. The Republic of Wolves - Shrine


OK, so now you have an idea about how many of yesterday's bands are going to make this list as well. (Answer: several of them). This is the second time this Long Island band has made my Top 10 list. My favorite track here is still "Dialogues", but I'll give you a different linked track for the sake of a little variety. The Republic of Wolves - Colored Out



6. Belly - Dove


I'll be honest - I liked this band back in the '90s, but I bought this album out of nostalgia. I never expected it to make my Top 10 list. This being their first album in 23 years, I was blown away to discover that this is the strongest and most consistent album they've ever released. But Tanya Donelly is in great form here, and the band has crafted some great alt-pop songs. My favorite track: "Mine". Belly - Mine



5. MGMT - Little Dark Age


I pretty much said it yesterday -- I always looked at this band as a lesser Passion Pit. But they got the last laugh, not only breaking into my Top 10 for the first time, but doing so at a very respectable #5. Well played, gentlemen. Well played. My favorite track by far is the very clever number I listed yesterday, "She Works Out Too Much". But I'll hook you up with another of their best, about cell phone obsession: MGMT - TSLMP



4. Matt and Kim - Almost Everyday


When I first heard these guys a few years ago, I thought they were the musical equivalent of Beavis and Butt-head. (I didn't realize that Kim was a girl. Guess I'm the butthead.) But their 2015 album New Glow made my Top 10 list, and this one does too. My favorite track on here is "Youngest I Will Be". But try this one as well, yet another musing on life and whether it's still worth living: Matt and Kim - Forever



3. Frankie Cosmos - Vessel


As I mentioned yesterday, this album confused me a little at first, but grew on me as the year wore on. I love Greta Kline's breathy vocals, and the sparseness of the arrangements. My favorite track is "Duet", but a close second is this one, the album's opening track: Frankie Cosmos - Carmelize



2. Reed & Caroline - Hello Science


This is another album that grew on me more and more over the course of the year, until finally, I realized it was one of my very favorite albums of 2018. It's sad that almost no one has heard of these guys, and that when they opened for Erasure, a lot of the '80s-loving crowd found them mystifying. But I love them, and you can too! My favorite track is "Before", but this slow, dreamy, beautiful tune is also one to hear: Reed & Caroline - Entropy



1. Chvrches - Love Is Dead


I knew that this Scottish electropop trio had real potential, but this is the album I always hoped they were capable of. This is their most mainstream album to date, and by far their most consistent. Lauren Mayberry's voice has never been better, and the hooks are there on almost every track. For me, Mayberry is this decade's Hayley Williams. My favorite track is the opener, "Graffiti". But really, they're all pretty good. Chvrches - Graffiti



So that wraps up my Top 10 Albums of 2018 list. The list is especially heavy on alt-pop and electro-pop this year, but that's just the way it worked out. I hope you'll give some (or all) of them a listen. 


I'll be back in a day or two with the first part of my Top 20 Songs of 2018 list. Some of them I've listed already, but many of them will surprise you. I'll also be back to writing CD reviews as soon as I can. I've been inundated by my new responsibilities on my job, but I've got plenty of great (and also some lousy) albums to write about in 2019. I've also got some concerts coming up that I'll be telling you about soon. So until then ... as Austin Powers would say, "Oh, behave!"


Sunday, January 6, 2019

Top 10 Local Albums of 2018



Happy New Year, everybody!

I've actually gotten my Best Of lists for 2018 finished earlier this year than ever before. So as I did last year, I'm going to start with my Top 10 Local Albums of 2018 list.

Just as a reminder, here are my rules. What is eligible: It has to be a full-length album of at least 7 songs (unless you've got one or more epic-length songs). No EPs. It also has to be all by one artist -- no compilations. And as last year, although I still prefer CDs, I have once again allowed digital-only albums to be considered. 

As much as I promised myself to listen to fewer new albums this year, it didn't happen. In fact, I actually listened to more albums this year than I did last. Once again, I tried to listen to a variety of genres, but my tastes are what they are. So the vast majority of the albums I listened to tended to be culled from the fields of alternative and indie rock, progressive rock, folk, pop rock and pop, with a little bit of hard rock and pop punk thrown into the mix.

As for the definition of the word "local", I try to keep it very loose. For the purposes of picking a Top 10 Local Albums list, here's what I consider "local": 1. Long Island, for sure; 2. The 5 boroughs of NYC (especially Brooklyn, where a lot of Long Island bands have run off to); 3. Sometimes Jersey or a little ways upstate, if the mood takes me. (I'm not giving away money or anything, so I kind of get to make up the rules as I go along). Also, if a band or artist spent a decent amount of time living on and playing on Long Island or in the City in the past, they get to qualify, even if they've moved to another area of the country.

For me, 2018 was an OK year for music -- not the best, but not the worst either.

I don't usually do honorable mentions, but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the one album that just missed this list this year, the album Marauder by the New York City-based band Interpol. It's the best album they've put out in quite a few years, and I'm sorry to have to leave it off the list. But it was just barely beaten out by the 10 LPs I'm now going to discuss. 

As an added bonus, this year, I'm including a link to my favorite track from each album. So without further ado, here, in reverse order, are my Top 10 Local Albums of 2018:


Top 10 Local Albums of 2018


10. Jeff Rosenstock - POST

This is the third time that Rosenstock has made one of my Top 10 Local Artists lists, and although I consider this the weakest (or at the least the most inconsistent) of his three solo albums, it's still pretty damned good. Like all of his work, it's noisy, and punky, and pretty fun. My favorite track: "Melba".  Jeff Rosenstock - Melba


9. Senses Fail - If There Is Light It Will Find You

This is a delightful pop punk band from Ridgewood, New Jersey. Again, while the album isn't as consistent as I'd like it to be, when it's strong, it's very strong. My favorite track: "Double Cross". Senses Fail - Double Cross


8. John Nolan - Abendigo

This is the latest solo album by John Nolan, of Taking Back Sunday and Straylight Run fame. He did a really nice job with this one, and does some nice mixing and matching of styles. My favorite track: "Outside of This Tragedy". John Nolan - Outside of This Tragedy


7. Cassandra House - The Roam

I reviewed this album earlier in the year. House is a local Long Islander who works in the country/folk/Americana genre. She has quite a bit of vocal talent, when it comes to singing with expression, and she's a decent songwriter as well. My favorite track: "Little Flower". Cassandra House - Little Flower


6. Rachael Sage - Myopia

This is another album I reviewed earlier in the year. Sage is a New-York-based singer-songwriter whose style contains just a touch of cabaret. She's a former dancer and show-kid, and it shows. Myopia is her 13th studio album, but while I had heard of her before this, I never actually heard her music prior to seeing her opening live for Howard Jones late last year. I'm sorry it took me so long. My favorite track: "Spark". Rachael Sage - Spark


5. The Republic of Wolves - Shrine

This is the second time this Long Island alternative rock band his made this list. This album is dark, wonderful and just a little heavy. My favorite track: "Dialogues". The Republic of Wolves - Dialogues


4. MGMT - Little Dark Age

This one was kind of a surprise to me. I've been very unimpressed by the last couple of LPs from this Brooklyn duo, and if it weren't for the word of mouth, I probably wouldn't even have checked this one out. But they're back to playing electropop, and here, they do it quite well. My favorite track: "She Works Out Too Much". MGMT - She Works Out Too Much


3. Matt and Kim - Almost Everyday

On the other hand, I've really been enjoying the most recent output from this Brooklyn-based duo, and this album keeps up with that tradition. It's not exactly experimental, but there is a bit of innovation going on here musically, and Almost Everyday finds the band at its most serious, as they write about themes of age and mortality. My favorite track: "Youngest I Will Be". Matt and Kim - Youngest I Will Be


2. Frankie Cosmos - Vessel

This band is fronted by Greta Kline, the daughter of actors Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates. They play a very loose style of indie pop, with short, jangly pop songs that are very loosely structured. At first, the loose structure bothered me, but the album has grown on me as the year has gone by. My favorite track: "Duet". Frankie Cosmos - Duet


1. Reed & Caroline - Hello Science

This album really grew on me -- it went shooting up my favorites list at the end of the year. Reed & Caroline are an electropop duo that seems to like to write a lot of songs about scientific concepts and principles. The music features pretty, ephemeral female vocals and interesting electronic stylings. They remind me in some ways of Future Bible Heroes, but their songs are less tongue-in-cheek, and they don't have Stephin Merritt's biting sense of humor. I was supposed to see them open for Erasure this past summer, but alas, traffic on the LIE made us late for the show, to my eternal regret. My favorite track: "Before". Reed & Caroline - Before


So that's this year's list. Thanks to all of you who took the time to read it, and maybe to check out some of the music.

Coming up in a day or so (workload pending) will be my overall Top 10 Albums of 2018 list. Will some of these entries be there? You'll have to read it to see.