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Classic Album Review

Revisiting “Zeros” by Declan McKenna

For several years, “What Do You Think About the Car?” by Declan McKenna was my favorite album of all time. So, in September of 2020, when he released his sophomore album, “Zeros” I was nervous to listen, and put it off an entire month. I wrote a song-by-song review in my notes app as I listened, but I’ll spare you that and share my overall takeaways:

“Okay so overall, a good album. Definitely more experimental with instruments and stuff, but the songs mostly follow the same layout where it starts off kinda normal and then by the end it’s either really instrument heavy/ or he’s screaming or both; which is fine but it kind of makes it sorta predictable. I'm also not a huge fan of releasing SO many singles before the album’s out but that’s just me. He definitely chose a PERFECT opener and closer. The songs definitely are all good on their own and I know I said they’re kind of repetitive but it doesn’t feel as cohesive as his first album was. Honestly, I think it’s a case of sophomore album syndrome (where the second album an artist puts out just doesn’t compare to the first). Also, none of the themes of the songs stuck out to me that much, but that could just be because I'm listening to it in a car with headphones turned all the way up as my dad blasts music on the radio so I couldn't hear the lyrics that well. this all sounds super negative but overall it’s a good album and definitely worth the listen.” — October 11, 2020

The following are my thoughts on this album one year later. I definitely appreciate this album a lot more for what it is now; I was expecting a part two to his first album and this wasn’t that, but it’s still a good album. However, some of what I said stands true. This album is ten songs long, but four of the songs were singles, that is entirely too many. Releasing 40% of the album months before the rest of it comes out is just not my preference as a listener.

My favorites on my first listen were “You Better Believe!!!” and “Emily,” but nowadays I’m more partial toward “Twice Your Size” and “Sagittarius A*.”

Overall, it’s solid indie-pop, and I’m glad I gave it a chance.

Rating: 8/10

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Classic Album Review

Classic Album Review: “Fantasies” by Metric

I’ve written on this blog before about the way I often favor a heavily curated over listening to individual albums after one listen. This is because in judging a body of music one of the biggest factors I weigh is consistency. A playlist full of songs I know will hit beats an album with a minute and a half interlude which brings everything to a screeching halt. There are exceptions to this rule, though, with perhaps the album I listen to the most on its own being Metric’s 2009 album “Fantasies”. And in honor of Metric featuring on the upcoming Rezz album, I want to talk about what just might be the most consistent LP I’ve ever heard.

Consistently good, that is. There are a lot of rough albums where one track was no less awful than the last, but beyond just having an unvarying quality, the quality on “Fantasies” is also really high. Vocalist Emily Haines is the gateway into Metric’s universe, able to go from slow and sensual to opening up the floodgates and surfing on a guitar line to hurtle the listener forward like the first plunge of a roller coaster. And this is all just on “Gold Guns Girls”, she’s able to bring this versatility and creativity to all ten tracks on here.

The name Metric is a really appropriate one for this band, because their instrumentals feel perfectly measured and precise, almost machinelike. Riffs methodically drive the song forward over a drumbeat that can go from a whisper in the background on “Collect Call” to pounding and abrasive, setting the tone early on “Stadium Love”, a very memorable song about the animal kingdom engaging in an armageddon-like fight, “angel vs eel, owl vs dove”. But there’s a ghost in that machine, every note adds to the often tense and desperate feelings of the songs. The world of “Fantasies” has danger lurking around every corner. Iconic opening track “Help I’m Alive” comes to terms with the crushing weight of expectations and how they threaten to devour the song’s narrator. “I tremble, they’re gonna eat me alive” are the first lines Emily Haines sings on the album, ironically delivered to the very crowd causing her heart to beat “like a hammer”.

Earlier I made the claim that this was the most consistent album I’ve ever heard, and that’s a claim I stand by. It’s not just that every track on the album has found its way onto a playlist, and I can count on one hand the number of albums that have done that. It’s that from beginning to end this album fills a very particular niche, walking a very thin line between overblown arena rock (though they would tour with Imagine Dragons six years later) and thoughtful indie to create an album that is both punchy and forlorn, while never wavering from the same tone from the declarative swells of “Sick Muse” to the drawn out sighs of “Collect Call”. The characters that inhabit songs on “Fantasies” are all flawed but hopeful, ready to get out into the world yet already jaded. 

“You’re gonna make mistakes, you know” sends off the subject of Gimme Sympathy, whose chorus evokes two of the most iconic bands of all time with “who’d you rather be, The Beatles or the Rolling Stones?” Ordinarily this would sound like a lazy name drop, but when the material is this good, the album as strong in it’s closing line as its first few drumbeats, the comparison really does feel earned.

-Erie

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Classic Album Review

Classic Album Review: “Pool” by Porches

There is a lot of music dedicated to the concept of transience and that resonates due to its exploration of the moment slipping away. And as the saying goes, life imitates art. There’s something poetic about a band who introspectively details attempts to capture the moment doing the same thing artistically. Here that band is Porches, and that moment is Feb. 5, 2016, the release date of their masterpiece “Pool”.

I want to start off by saying that Porches have been and remain a very solid band and I’ve enjoyed their albums released since that day. It’s just that “Pool” was lightning in a bottle and from “The House” onward, there seems to be an effort to recapture what made that album so special.

“Pool” was Porches second studio album and it marked a major departure from the style of the first. 2013’s “Slow Dance in the Cosmos” is a fun indie rock record with light, jangling guitars and lyrics drenched in liminality. In hindsight the sonic departure Porches would take was a logical evolution of “Cosmos”, but hindsight is of course 20/20. In the three years that passed between it and “Pool”, lead singer and bandleader Aaron Maine would record the album out of his apartment and reshaped Porches from a rock band to a synthy electronic outfit. The result was an album that was at once polished to a sheen and beautifully flawed.

The instrumentals are the star of the show here. Every track glistens like the surface of the titular pool. The synths on “Glow” add a distinctive bounce, turning a meditative track that could have dragged a little into a breezy experience that gets in and out while leaving a lot for the listener to chew on. Pacing is a huge focus, other than a slightly awkward 30-second outro on “Be Apart” there’s not an ounce of fat on this album. The structure of the songs never get in their own way; choruses aren’t distinct entities but instead bleed out of the verses they follow. The aforementioned “Be Apart” might be my favorite song on the album and the way the instrumentals melt around “cause I want to be apart” along with the way the “I” is drawn out across for syllables has imprinted this chorus into my memory in a way few have.

There are a lot of unlikely lyrics that somehow work perfectly with their surroundings. Over a shimmering synth line and skeletal drums Aaron Maine turns “Hi there, Franklin underwater” from a Frankie Cosmos reference into a triumphant nexus for relationship swan song “Underwater”. Porches detractors have called Maine’s vocal deliveries “flat” and complain that they drag down the music but I couldn’t disagree more. His voice is so distinctive and the way it blends with the instrumentals on this album evokes a swimmer bobbing up and down through waves.

On this album is an important qualifier because, like I said earlier, this really was a high water mark for Porches’ output. Something was missing from later albums that really made this one soar, and while they were still standout tracks like “Find Me” and “Back3School”, these stood out because of how they felt like “Pool” castoffs rather than a genuine advancement of the band’s sound. I think there has been some improvement here; 2021’s “All Day Gentle Hold!” was my favorite album of theirs since 2016 and I snapped up tickets to their April 15 show at Cat’s Cradle as soon as they dropped. But “Pool” was one of my favorite albums of the last decade, such a weird and wonderful collection of songs, that anything short of that feels like Porches aren’t reaching their true potential, and are instead stuck looking in the rearview mirror. Here’s hoping they can find the way forward again and deliver a masterpiece for the 2020s like they did for the 2010s.

-Erie

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Blog Classic Album Review

Classic Album Review: “We Have the Facts and are Voting Yes” by Death Cab for Cutie

"We Have the Facts and Are Voting Yes" album cover
Death Cab for Cutie’s “We Have the Facts and Are Voting Yes” album cover

Death Cab for Cutie are synonymous with metaphorical songwriting and thought-provoking guitar work. Not thought-provoking as in so experimental you’ll think about music differently, more like sitting back and providing a canvas for the listener’s imagination to take over.

And while “Transatlanticism” and “Plans” are certified classics of the 2000s, it can be argued that their album that takes these strengths to the greatest extent is actually “We Have the Facts and are Voting Yes”, an album that came out a couple years before the band really blew up. It’s tied together conceptually with themes of breakup and modern urban life, specifically through a loosely-defined story of a hip Seattle couple and how their relationship slowly falls apart.

A defined concept album suits lead singer Ben Gibbard’s unique songwriting style perfectly. Verses are less of a defined set of lines and more of a section of a longer story arc. “Little Fury Bugs” is a winding tale of a road trip filled with uneasy friend group dynamics, while “For No Reason” makes powerful moments out of a barely raised voice. “Tracing the plot finds, skin touching skin” is an understated chorus with a lot of heart in the small vocal inflections. Meanwhile “No Joy in Mudville” reimagines a classic poem about baseball as a swan song of hipster life. 

Songs take on instrumental arcs as well as just narrative ones. “Title Track” starts with a narrow soundscape to fit the themes of weariness and cigarette filters before opening up with rich hi-hats and a strong bassline.

The narrative climax of the album, though, is the two-part epic “Company Calls” and “Company Calls Epilogue”. It goes from a rant about a relationship that is “so tired” with yells about crashing a “party line” to spiraling further into crashing an exes’ wedding, tying up the themes of the album with powerful metaphorical imagery.

All of this sounds heavy, and lyrically it is, but this is where Death Cab for Cutie’s breezy instrumentals come in. The lines that would be hard to listen to sound weightless when on top of a tight, minimal rhythm section and atmospheric guitars. All of this combines into an album that is the definition of a grower: you don’t even notice when you repeat “Title Track” for the fifth time in a row or whisper “what ghosts exist behind these attic walls” to yourself over and over.

-Erie

Categories
Classic Album Review

Doing Our Thing with Pride: Long Lost SC Soul Act Finally Gets a Reissue

Bandcamp can be hit or miss, but boy do I have a hit for you today. As part of their ‘Album of the Day’ series, Bandcamp has released a long-since out of print record from the disco era. “Doing Our Thing with Pride,” is the 1977 sole studio album from Greenville SC soul outfit The Al-Dos Band. Until literally last week, you could not listen to any of these songs without dropping literally thousands of dollars on Discogs. You can check the Bandcamp page for more information on the reissue, but today, we’re just going to give this thing the straightforward review it deserved 45 years ago.

The Al-Dos band skirt the lines of many retro styles. This was very common the 70s, when black music hit the mainstream and interesting experiments were, at least briefly, rewarded. The sound is clearly influenced by the contemporary trends in dance like funk and disco, but the core sound is more traditional. The best term is probably ‘country soul’ as the Al-Dos band have the most southern of soul aesthetics, at times bordering on gospel influence. It’s a fusion that was surprisingly rare in the decade following Sly and the Family Stone. The music is clearly steeped in the tradition of the black church, while remaining light, danceable, and sensual.

The lyrical themes are probably easy to infer from the album title: “Doing Our Thing with Pride.” The songwriter clearly wanted to continue in the tradition of “Say it Loud I’m Black and Proud,” or “What’s Going On,” writing songs that aren’t so much pollical theses as they are statements of intent and empowerment. Accordingly, much of the album isn’t political at all, instead taking themes of heartbreak and loss that transcend the era. The result is an album that is about as quintessentially 1977 as it gets, without ever becoming dated.

Music nerds like to think the best music will always eventually rise to the top, but the long-term obscurity of small-label wonders like the Al-Dos, screwed over by industry, geography, and happenstance, challenge that narrative. So much wonderful music remains out of print in our modern era. So, if you’re tired of buying blockbuster albums on vinyl for extortionate prices, take this album as your lesson to buy something for $5 from a band no one remembers. You might just find the next big discovering in record collecting.

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Classic Album Review

“The Execution Of All Things” by Rilo Kiley (Album Review)

ALBUM: “The Execution Of All Things” by Rilo Kiley

RELEASE YEAR: 2002

LABEL: Saddle Creek

RATING: 10/10

BEST TRACKS: “The Execution Of All Things” “A Better Son/Daughter” “Spectacular Views”

FCC: None

I first heard “The Execution of All Things” at some time during the simultaneous infinite expanse and blip of time that was quarantine/lockdown in 2020. Instantaneously, it became one of my favorite albums of all time and solidified Rilo Kiley as one of my favorite bands ever, although this was the first project I ever listened to by them. 

Jenny Lewis’ voice was made for indie-rock. I’ve tried listening to other projects of hers, but Rilo Kiley will forever be my favorite. Blake Sennett and her made magic with Rilo Kiley, and not much will ever compare in my opinion.

“The Execution Of All Things” is one of those albums that makes me wish I was a teenager in the early 2000s, instead of being just a mere year old at the time this album was released. It makes me envy those who were able to be angsty and mad at the world at the turn of the millennium. 

“The Good That Won’t Come Out” is one of my favorite introductory album tracks, ever. It sets the gather-round-the-campfire nature that seems to float in and out of the record with grace. The album touches on themes like failed love, anger at the government, hopelessness, California, anxiety and friendship.

Perhaps the best (or at least my favorite) aspect of this project is that it is tied together with a song called “And That’s How I Choose To Remember It.” Fragments of the song punctuate the end of “So Long,” “My Slumbering Heart,” and “Spectacular Views.”  Fans have strung it together, but it was never released as an individual track. The lyrics focus on Lewis’ childhood, her parent’s divorce and how to process that all. With production sounds like a lullaby or a dream, it perfectly reflects what it’s like to remember childhood.

Anything else I say will be repetitive and I’ve written plenty about my adoration for this band, so instead I will leave you with a collection of my favorite lyrics from the album:

  • “You’re weak, but not giving in / And you’ll fight it, you’ll go out fighting all of them” — “A Better Son/Daughter” 
  • “And it’s become just like a chemical stress / Tracing the lines in my face for / Something more beautiful than is there” — “My Slumbering Heart”
  • “And I hope that you close your eyes / Block out the pain of a thousand lives /I hope that you die tonight / Just close your eyes, there goes the light / Smile, I’ll brave it while you wave your hand” — “Three Hopeful Thoughts”
  • “You never knew why you felt so good / In the strangest of places / Like in waiting rooms / Or long lines that made you late / Or mall parking lots on holidays” — “Spectacular Views”
  • “Then you ask / “What’s a palisade?” / And if we’re too late / For happiness” — “Spectacular Views”
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Classic Album Review

Hercules and Love Affair – Album Review

Some genres have a pretty short shelf life. Indie music has this problem, but far more forgettable is straightforward dance music. Barring Donna Summers, Skrillex, and a few others, straight up club-friendly dance music produces few household names, and the music tends to be buried after less than a decade. EDM is the first dance genre I can remember, and I don’t think I’ve heard a single thing from the breakout genres of the 2010s for 8 years.

So, today I’d like to introduce you to one of the most critically acclaimed and beloved dance albums of the 2000’s which I, and likely you, had never heard of, “Hercules and Love Affair.” The eponymous band, if you can’t tell from the name, works in some of the gayest styles of dance known to mankind, namely house and nu-disco, but they stand out for a heavy emphasis on songwriting. The beats are as immaculate as the words, and the singing is… well let’s talk about the singing.

Hercules and Love Affair, like many dance acts, is one guy, Andy Butler, with a rotating cast of supporting musicians. Butler is a talented songwriter, both in the musical sense of constructing melodies and structures, and in the lyrical sense. This talent means he was able to pull some of the best singers in indie, namely baroque pop singer Anhoni, another name that’s been slightly obscured. Anhoni started as a collaborator with Lou Reed and Bjork, before fronting her own band, Antony and the Johnson’s. She’s a solid songwriter as well, but her voice is untouchable, and combined with the music on “Hercules and Love Affair,” she has an emotional power that is near transcendent.

If you only have time to listen to one song off this album, the choice is clear. “Blind,” was a dance hit in multiple countries, and despite being virtually forgotten now, ranked in the top five songs of 2008 in the majority of publications that year. The song is a pure example of what Hercules and Love Affair are about, it’s the kind of desperate and soul-searching party music that has taken over queer music lately, and Hercules and Love Affair do it better than anyone.

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Classic Album Review

Album Review: Breath From Another

ALBUM: Breath From Another

RELEASE YEAR: 1998

LABEL: Sony

RATING: 9/10

BEST TRACKS: “That Girl,” “Superheroes,” “Country Livin’ (The World I Know)” and “Lounge”

FCC: Clean

“Breath From Another” by Esthero is an album that grew on me slowly but surely. It took me at least a month after discovering it to sit down and listen all the way through. However, even before I gave it a chance, it is an album I would visit at least once a day. My love for this record began with “That Girl,” then spread to “Superheroes,” then to “Country Livin’ (The World I Know),” and eventually the whole album.

As I mentioned in my previous blog post “All I Listen To Are Lady Voices,” I am captivated by the classically 90s sound of feminine voices layered over electronic tracks. I am not exactly sure what to call the genre but “Breath From Another” encapsulates the sound perfectly.

The album as a whole fits into the downtempo electronic category while still incorporating elements of jazz and pop making it enjoyable for a wide range of music enthusiasts. If you enjoy artists like Opus III and Morcheeba, then this album is for you.

Click HERE to check it out on Spotify.

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Classic Album Review

“Stranger in the Alps” Album Review

ALBUM: “Stranger in the Alps” by Phoebe Bridgers

RELEASE YEAR: 2017

LABEL: Dead Oceans

RATING: 8.5/10

BEST TRACKS: “Funeral” “Smoke Signals” “Scott Street”

FCC: Explicit

Released in 2017, “Stranger in the Alps” is Phoebe Bridgers’ debut album. This record was a remarkable launching point for Bridgers, and is everything a debut album should be. With themes ranging from loss, loneliness and depression, the album is sad, honest, but not overly cynical.  The album’s title is in reference to “The Big Lebowski,” and the way a line of the movie was edited for the TV (clean) version of the film; irony is clearly never lost on Bridgers and her humor peeks its way through her lyricism throughout the album.

On tracks “Georgia” and “Motion Sickness” she lets her vocals shine, although they stand out on every track. As I said on my “Best of Phoebe Bridgers” blog post, Bridgers’ “diary-like storytelling, sorrowful disposition, smooth vocals, and folky melodies combine to make top-tier indie music.” 

Bridgers, no stranger to collaboration, worked with Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes on this album. Track 9, titled “Would You Rather,” contains vocals from Oberst, whom she later would collaborate with on Better Oblivion Community Center. She keeps her inspirations and predecessors tangible in her work, with references to the deaths of David Bowie and Lemmy Kilmister in the record’s first track, “Smoke Signals.”  The penultimate track of the album “You Missed My Heart” is a cover of a song by the same title originally by Mark Kozelek, released in 2013 on “Live at Phoenix Public House Melbourne.”  

“Stranger in the Alps” is sonically and thematically cohesive, although sometimes it does fall victim to repetitiveness. Totaling 11 tracks and clocking in at 44 minutes, the album feels like a good length and tends to be more refreshing than it is redundant. The final track of the album, “Smoke Signals (Reprise)” ties the album together with a callback to the first track.

Although I definitely prefer her sophomore album “Punisher,” which was released in 2020 (be sure to check out Lise Nox’s review of it), “Stranger in the Alps” certainly gives that album a run for its money.

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Classic Album Review

My Favorite Albums, 3 Years Ago

Long ago, my main interest in music heavily focused on pop music. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, (stuff is usually popular for a reason) my music taste has really strayed away from that as I’ve gotten older. I recently found a picture of an old journal entry from when I was 16 that chronicled my favorite albums from the time, and I wanted to reminisce on them and share how I feel about them nowadays.

My journal entry from June of 2018.

“Gone Now” – Bleachers

I still deeply love this album, and revisit it annually, but it’s no longer in constant rotation like it used to be. Bleachers was a gateway into more of the “indie” music that I am into nowadays. This album will forever be my favorite thing that Jack Antonoff has put his magic touch on.

“Shawn Mendes” – Shawn Mendes

This journal entry is from June of 2018, and that album came out in late May 2018. I most likely last listened to that album in August of 2018. It was definitely a temporary love, but I remember it being good pop music.

“The Human Condition” – Jon Bellion

This album definitely is a product of its time. It just feels very 2016. It was one of the first albums I ever deeply fell in love with, and eventually even went on to see Jon Bellion in concert. It’s definitely not something I would still listen to nowadays, but it meant a lot to me back then.

“What Do You Think About The Car?” – Declan McKenna

This is still one of my favorite albums of all time. If you like “Brazil,” the most popular song off of this album, then you should definitely give the rest a listen.

“Death of a Bachelor” – Panic At the Disco

This isn’t even their best album (in my opinion their first album takes the cake). Again, definitely not something I currently listen to, but it was important to me back then.

“Oh Wonder” – Oh Wonder

This is an extremely underrated pop album. While I rarely ever revisit nowadays, I still love it dearly. Maybe the nostalgia I have associated with this album makes me see it through rose-colored glasses, but it was the first album I properly listened to from beginning to end all on my own. 

“Conscious” – Broods

This is another underrated pop album, and I don’t think nostalgia is fueling my views this time. Broods’ 2019 release “Don’t Feed The Pop Monster” is an album I revisit more often than this one, but both are amazing and in my opinion, stand the test of time.

“Melodrama” – Lorde

This is the best pop album of the 2010s. I felt that way then, and I still feel that way now.

“+” – Ed Sheeran

I remember wanting to make both sides of the list even, so I kind of added this one as a last-ditch effort. I loved this album in 2013, but I seldom revisited it when I wrote this entry 3 years ago and don’t now.

“Dream Your Life Away” – Vance Joy

What I said about “+” applies here, except I do revisit this one nowadays.


There isn’t anything wrong with the albums I don’t listen to anymore, they just belong in that period of my life. I can’t help but wonder what I’ll think of my current favorite albums three years from now. Only time will tell.

Until next time,

Caitlin