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Classic Album Review

Album Review: COWBOY BEBOP by SEATBELTS

ALBUM: COWBOY BEBOP (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

RELEASE YEAR: 1998

LABEL: SUNRISE Music

RATING: 8/10

BEST TRACKS: “Tank!,” “Rain” and “Space Lion”

FCC: Clean

*Spoilers Ahead*

“Cowboy Bebop” by Shinichirō Watanabe is one of the most well-known and respected anime of all time. The story follows Spike Spiegel, an intergalactic bounty hunter, through various adventures alongside his teammates. While at first, the series seems lighthearted and action-packed, it quickly takes a darker tone. Throughout the anime, topics such as death, drug addiction, and struggle with gender identity are explored making “Cowboy Bebop” far more than just an action series.

While the plot is unlike any other, it is only a small part of what draws people to this series. Fans of “Cowboy Bebop” are often captivated by the complexities of the characters, its visually stunning art style and most importantly, the soundtrack.

The soundtrack was composed by Yoko Kanno and performed by SEATBELTS, a group Kanno created for the purpose of the series. Overall, it is jazzy, free and chaotic, creating the perfect atmosphere for the story of Spike Spiegel to unfold.

“Tank!” is hands down the most iconic song on the soundtrack as it is the opening track for the series. It is upbeat, jazzy and sets the tone for the fast-paced, action-packed plot of “Cowboy Bebop.” Its sound is almost reminiscent of early James Bond films.

“Rain” is a much more somber tune as it is played during Spike’s reunion with Vicious, a former comrade turned enemy. The vocals on this track are truly haunting which fit perfectly in with the eerie setting during this reunion.

“Space Lion” is my personal favorite track on the album. The way the song builds over its seven-minute runtime is truly captivating. When listening, it feels like the song is telling a story as it layers drums over saxophone over keyboard. It plays at the end of Episode 13: Jupiter Jazz, Part II which is one of the most complex and loved arcs in the series.

In a word, “COWBOY BEBOP (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)” lives up to the hype. Even if you are not a fan of the anime, this album is absolutely worth the listen. All that’s left for me to say is “3, 2, 1… Let’s Jam!”

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Band/Artist Profile Classic Album Review

Is Sheryl Crow Actually Cool?

Most people our age remember Sheryl Crow from when we were kids. She was pretty popular in the early 2000s, I was born in 2001, so that means her last hits were around five years old when I first started hearing the radio. This is the perfect interval for music to feel nostalgic, new enough that we remember it, but old enough that we had absolutely no critical eye to determine who a song was by or whether it was good. When I was old enough to think about music critically, I personally filed Sheryl Crow away in a category I now describe as “Mom Rock.” Yes, we have dad rock, and if no one else has come up with this joke yet, I know claim inventorship of mom rock. This category entails bluesy, spiritual rock music by middle aged white women that was all the rage from around 1996 to 2004, and artists like Crow, Kelly Clarkson, Nelly Furtado’s folky output, Liz Phair’s self-titled album, songs like “Bubly,” “Unwritten” and that one song about feeling the rain I can never remember because it came out when I was like two.

Now, I have personally been reevaluating a lot of mom rock. Partially because a lot of this music was dismissed specifically for appealing to middle-aged women, and I want to give it a fair chance, and partially because it’s a warm wave of nostalgia for me (and most other people our age). So, imagine my surprise when I find that Sheryl Crow was uh… actually really good? Okay, obviously Sheryl Crow was a good artist, she has plenty of classic hits, but Crow’s ’90s discography is good an entirely different dimension than I expected.

As it turns out, all of the songs I remember were from her 2002 album “C’mon C’mon,” which was something of a change in direction. That was a pop-rock album, I might call it a sell-out if it weren’t filled with front-to-back bangers. We aren’t here to discuss that today because you probably already know “Soak up the Sun,” “Picture” and maybe “Steve McQueen.” We’re here to talk about her first two albums, which were, to my eternal shock, alt-rock.

To be clear, Sheryl Crow was not making grunge. She fit in more with the rootsy acoustic side of alt-rock, with her auditory aesthetic being more akin to a pumped-up Hootie and the Blowfish or a less dense REM. Crow’s take on the genre is still recognizably her own though, mixing in her country fusion, eccentric songwriting, and an eye towards pop hits with the typical REM formula. Her first two albums had a combined 4 hits, none of which I have ever heard. Maybe I’m alone in never hearing Crow’s ’90s output, but I suspect that a number of you haven’t either, so check out her self-titled album. The music isn’t just good, as a lot of her music is, but was, as the title suggests, actually kind of edgy and out of the ordinary. She went way too hard for even the alt-iest of alt-country, but too grounded and feminine for alt-rock, so I do not know how much credibility she had at the time, but to me, it sounds pretty awesome.

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Classic Album Review

Album Review: D>E>A>T>H>M>E>T>A>L by Panchiko

ALBUM: D>E>A>T>H>M>E>T>A>L

RELEASE YEAR: 2000

LABEL: Independent

RATING: 10/10

BEST TRACKS: “D>E>A>T>H>M>E>T>A>L,” “Laputa” and “Stabilisers For Big Boys”

FCC: Clean

Panchiko’s story began, or should I say resumed, during the Summer of 2016 when an anonymous 4chan user uploaded a couple of tracks from their demo “D>E>A>T>H>M>E>T>A>L” to the internet. The tracks uploaded were heavily wracked with disc rot but that did not stop listeners from realizing their potential. As the number of listeners grew, so did their curiosity, which eventually lead to an internet-wide wild-goose chase for the demo’s creators.

It didn’t take long for Panchiko’s listeners to track down one of the original band members, Owain (he chooses to keep his last name private), via Facebook. According to an interview with the band published on Bandcamp, they were extremely surprised when they were contacted, as only 30 copies were ever pressed.

Since the band’s re-discovery, the four original members, Owain, Andy, Shaun and John, have come together to re-record “D>E>A>T>H>M>E>T>A>L” which they did in 2020. In addition to this, the band published around twenty of their unreleased tracks.

The first track on the album shares its name with the album title: “D>E>A>T>H>M>E>T>A>L.” It is Panchiko’s most listened to song on Spotify which it is absolutely deserving of. The track is lush, dreamy and slightly electronic, making it heavenly to listen to.

“Laputa,” my personal favorite song on the album, comes in as their second most listened to track. Its lyrics and overall sound were heavily inspired by Hayao Miyazaki’s 1986 film “Castle in the Sky.” In the film, the main characters are on a mission to reach Laputa, a far-off forgotten land in the sky that can only be accessed by someone with native blood. The lyrics “Laputa was all we knew, and/ How we got there, how we flew up/ Heaven’s doors are miles away/ ‘Cause you’re stuck to the ground, you have to stay” describe the characters’ struggles throughout the film.

“Stabilisers For Big Boys” is probably their most abrasive track on the album. However, it’s still fits in with the overall shoegaze dreamscape that the album fabricates. It’s energetic and upbeat unlike the rest of the album, which tends to be more somber.

Overall, “D>E>A>T>H>M>E>T>A>L” by Panchiko is a perfect encapsulation of the late ’90s/early 2000s shoegaze sound and every second of it is worth the listen.

Categories
Classic Album Review

John Prine – In Spite of Ourselves

John Prine died last year, and since then his star has risen dramatically. He was already a legend in alt-country circles, but his wider legacy hadn’t been secured until the honestly surprising wave of attention given to him after his death. He’s rapidly joined the ranks of Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash as one of the handful of country stars it’s cool for indie kids to say they like. I’ve seen him tributed by country legends, indie critics, and even the Viagra Boys (can’t believe that happened), which spurred me to check out more of his back catalog. Long story short, he deserves the hype, and I strongly encourage you to give both his first and final albums a listen.

But today, we have an album from the dead center of his career, 1999’s “In Spite of Ourselves.” The album has neither the sarcastic wit of his early career nor the darker ambiance of his later career. In fact, this album is probably one of the corniest things I’ve ever heard. It’s is a full duets album with several women of various levels of fame, and almost to a one, every song is a pun-laden and silly as possible.

This isn’t really an indictment, the album is not going for high art. In fact, it works as a neat refutation of some of Prine’s more self-serious folk revival work. This is not aimed a bougie college students from Brooklyn who want to listen to protest folk singers, this is shameless middle-aged country music for people who want to listen for fun, not to feel smart. The title track, In Spite of Ourselves, has the structure and style of a straightforward Dylan love song, it could almost be mistaken for “Love Minus Zero” or “It Aint Me” if you ignore the words. If you pay attention, you’ll be treated to such lyrical miracles as “He ain’t got laid in a month a Sundays, caught him once and he was sniffin’ my undies,” and “She thinks all my jokes are corny, convict movies make her horny.” This is where I would like to inform you that Dylan himself called John Prine and his writing “Pure Proustian Existentialism.”

Sure Bob.

The utter lack of dignity on the record has a direct function though. The album opener “We’re not the Jet Set,” draws the explicit connection between the self-serious pretension folkies like to shroud themselves in and class. Prine is writing to working people, which sometimes means he uses complex metaphors for serious topics, but just as often it means saying that your wife is hotter than the Easter Bunny (the highest bar one could possibly set). The point of this isn’t to discredit the invariably northern liberals who have somehow come to be the dominant tastemakers in Southern folk music, Prine himself made no secret about being anti-war and he was originally championed by Yankee critic Roger Ebert. The point here is to uplift elements of country music that usually get a bad name, its corniness, its sincerity, its preoccupation with small-town pride.

Criticism of country music is very often valid, especially in a modern context, it can be horribly jingoistic, misogynist, and often painfully lame at the same time. But when these criticisms take a more general turn, we can sometimes fall into a kind of rank elitism, often classist snobbery, at the music of ‘white trash’ for not being “serious” enough. I’m guilty of this at times too, so let me tell you nothing will break you of that sense of self-impressed judginess quicker than listening to John Prine sing about putting ketchup on scrambled eggs.

This is not Prine’s best album, but it is the one that has changed the way I look at country music the most. A lot of young people South try to distance themselves from rural America as much as possible, but on “In Spite of Ourselves,” Prine hints that maybe we reveal more about ourselves by hating country than by just admitting this is who we are.

Categories
Classic Album Review

Album Review: Let the Sun Talk by MAVI

By Silya Bennai

ALBUM: “Let the Sun Talk” by MAVI 

RELEASE YEAR: 2019 

LABEL: New York Lab / UnitedMasters 

RATING: 8.5/10 

BEST TRACKS: “Eye/I and I/Nation,” “Self Love” and “Sense” 

FCC: Explicit

“Let the Sun Talk” leaves no room for personal thoughts during its thirty-two-minute runtime, but it seems as if MAVI may have already read our minds through the exploration of his own. Human truths presented as personal ruminations, MAVI’s debut album is a bright light of pro-Black, anti-capitalistic poetry wrapped in smooth, flowing instrumentals. 

Born Omavi Minder, MAVI spent much of his childhood and adolescence locally; Charlotte, North Carolina, to be exact. The 21-year-old neuroscience student showcases a clear influence from American rapper Earl Sweatshirt, but brings a fresh and introspective taste of youthfulness to the ever-altering subgenre of alternative hip-hop. 

“Eye/I and I/Nation”, the second track of the thirteen-track album, captures the struggle of loving and being loved while simultaneously figuring out who you are as an individual and community member. This track was my personal introduction to MAVI and I still find myself coming back to this line: “I got puddled pride and troubled eyes ’cause I’m an artist.” MAVI is able to both highlight the truth behind the “tortured artist” stereotype while casting a shadow of irony on the inherent narcissism of the self-identified creative. 

The fourth track, “Self Love”, boasts the most listens of any of MAVI’s solo songs and for good reason. The warm and full beat is accompanied by MAVI’s breathy and constant flow of self-doubt and reflections on familial love. Perhaps no one worries like a mother does for her child, and the resulting comfort and guilt of this fact is present on this track as MAVI explores it from the child’s perspective. 

“Sense”, which includes production from the aforementioned Earl Sweatshirt, is one of the shorter tracks from the album, but proves impressive upon every listen. MAVI’s dexterous lyrical flow is especially evident on this tightly crafted, and of course, introspective track. If anyone ever asks you what kind of songs MAVI makes, look no further than “Sense”. He says it best himself on this track: “I make the kind you gotta read, baby.” 

Here’s to reading songs, 

Silya Bennai

Categories
Classic Album Review

Album Review: “More Adventurous (U.S. Release)” by Rilo Kiley

ALBUM: “More Adventurous (U.S. Release)” by Rilo Kiley

RELEASE YEAR: 2004

LABEL: Warner Bros. Music, Brute/Beaute Records

RATING: 9/10

BEST TRACKS: “Portions for Foxes,” “Accidntel Deth,” and “It’s a Hit”

FCC: Explicit

The early 2000s were a time in which much indie music was being created, and in my opinion, this is some of the best of it. With singles “It’s A Hit,” “Portions for Foxes” and “I Never,” this album is chock-full of indie rock bangers. Rilo Kiley, a California-based band, has a very beachy sound, which can best be seen in tracks “A Man / Me / Then Jim” and “The Absence of God.”

Band members Jenny Lewis and Blake Sennett are responsible for the writing of all eleven tracks on this 44-minute-long album, and they did an excellent job. They juxtapose a happy major-key sound with sad and poetic lyrics. Two of the album’s tracks, “Ripchord” and “It Just Is” are about the then-recent and tragic passing of singer-songwriter Elliott Smith.

There are moments where the lyrics feel kitschy and awkward, as they try to be political but at some points just fall short, but not enough that it ruins the listening experience of the album.

Jenny Lewis’ vocals carry this album, as Blake Sennett only did vocals on a couple tracks on this album, unlike in Rilo Kiley’s previous works. Her vocals particularly shine on “I Never” and “More Adventurous.”

“Portions for Foxes,” the strongest track on the album, is used consistently in the television series “Grey’s Anatomy.” Other tracks, like “I Never” and “Ripchord” were also frequently featured in various soundtracks in the 2000s.

Overall, this album feels like an embodiment of 2000s indie pop/rock, and is one of my favorite albums of all time.

Until next time,

Caitlin

Categories
Classic Album Review

Retro Review: Freedom Flight by Shuggie Otis

ALBUM: “Freedom Flight” by Shuggie Otis

RELEASE YEAR: 1971

LABEL: BMG Music Entertainment

RATING: 10/10

BEST TRACKS: “Sweet Thang,” “Strawberry Letter 23” and “Purple”

FCC: Clean

Even though Shuggie Otis isn’t a name you probably know off the top of your head, his famous song “Strawberry Letter 23” sure is. After being covered by the Brothers Johnson in 1977, the song’s popularity skyrocketed. However, despite its success, many forget who the original artist was.

From an early age, Shuggie Otis showed incredible talent. His father, Johnny Otis, would let him perform with him at clubs when he was just a teenager. He released his first album, “Here Comes Shuggie Otis” at only 16 years old. His second album, “Freedom Flight,” which contains the original “Strawberry Letter 23,” came out only a year later.

I can’t even imagine being 17 years old and producing such a sophisticated album. If Jimi Hendrix and Prince had a lovechild, it would be Shuggie Otis. Not only did Otis have unreal chops on the guitar, but his songwriting, singing, and production skills were incredible too. “Freedom Flight” is a dream-infused journey through OG rhythm and blues.

Even though Shuggie’s claim to fame is “Strawberry Letter 23,” the rest of “Freedom Flight” is just as rich, if not more so. It starts off with the funk ballad “Ice Cold Daydream,” an upbeat, layered track with a hint of Otis’s young yet confident vocals. Where things really start to pick up is with the sultry song “Sweet Thang.” The way he layers the bluesy guitar with the piano is exquisite, creating a slow yet funky atmosphere. He twangs a similar mood in “Purple,” a fantastic instrumental. “Me and My Woman” and “One Room Country Shack” really drive home the liveliness of the blues. The second to last song, “Freedom Flight” is a jazzy, psychedelic epic that’s sure to send you into astral projection.

Though Shuggie Otis is far from being forgotten as one of the pioneers of classic R&B, he definitely deserves more recognition. “Freedom Flight” is an amazing album with unreal range.

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Classic Album Review

Retro Review: Master of Reality

ALBUM: “Master of Reality” by Black Sabbath

RELEASE YEAR: 1971

LABEL: Vertigo Records

RATING: 10/10

BEST TRACKS: “Sweet Leaf,” “Solitude” and “Into The Void”

FCC: Clean

The year is 1971. The “flower child” era is coming to a close, the Vietnam War is raging on and the people’s distrust in their governments grows stronger by the day. The music that arose at the beginning of the 1970s was no doubt fueled by this cultural shift. Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin had already begun to pave the way for a new, heavier version of rock, and Black Sabbath took it to the next level.

Today, “Master of Reality” is heralded as one of the earliest, and most prolific, metal albums to ever have been released. Sabbath’s first two albums could be considered the true beginning of heavy metal, but “Master of Reality” was an obvious turning point for the band in terms of sophistication. Unlike their earlier releases, it was recorded over the span of a luxuriously long three months. This gave them time for experimentation and re-recording.

The range on this album is impeccable. Part of what made Black Sabbath’s sound so unique was guitarist Tony Iommi’s finger injury, which he got while working at a sheet metal factory. To make playing less painful, he created fake fingertips that made a rich, heavy sound on his instrument. In “Master of Reality,” he also down-tuned his guitar to make it easier on his injured fingers. The result was otherwordly. Filled with the sludgiest sounds you can imagine, the album proved to be a staple of stoner metal with its leaden riffs.

But Iommi wasn’t the only standout. Singer and frontman Ozzy Osbourne truly came into his voice in “Master of Reality.” Ranging from high-pitched screeches in the classic “Sweet Leaf” to a soft, melancholy croon in “Solitude,” he really pulls out all the stops.

“Into the Void” is a six-minute epic with so many rhythm changes it’s impossible to sit still while listening. Iommi’s guitar solo in the last minute of the song is absolutely insane. “Children of the Grave,” another classic, is a powerful ode to the needless tragedies of the Vietnam War.

“Masters of Reality” stays true to its name. Sabbath’s goal was not to keep the carefree and idealistic visions of the 1960’s alive, but instead reflect the harshness of a new era with power and force.

Categories
Classic Album Review

Album of the Week: Death – The Sound of Perseverance (1998)

You already know that Death is one of the original Death Metal bands out of Florida, and you already know that they are one of my favorites (and one of the “OG’s” Top Five Favorites)! The Sound of Perseverance is Death’s seventh and final studio album, released August 31, 1998 by Nuclear Blast. You really can’t go wrong with any of the Death records, and I’ve already reviewed my favorite (‘90s, Spiritual Healing) and rated it 10/10!! But The Sound of Perseverance is different and special.

So, Chuck Schuldiner (vocals, guitars) IS Death, and just about every album has a different line-up (except for Leprosy [1988] and Spiritual Healing). Here, Chuck is joined by Shannon Hamm (guitar), Richard Christy (drums), and Scott Clendenin (bass) for one Hell of a performance. When Chuck signed with Nuclear Blast, he agreed to do one last Death record before moving on to his new project, Control Denied. And what a Swan Song The Sound of Perseverance is for Death. 

If you’re paying attention, you’ll notice the evolution of the band Death, but also the man, Chuck Schuldiner, as you listen to the Death discography. From the stunning first record (‘87s, Scream Bloody Gore), where Chuck breaks new ground in Metal, to The Sound of Perseverance where it all culminates in a technical, melodic masterpiece. His vocal patterns, lyrical content, and voice (itself) changes as you move through Death time-space. But the musical content progresses also, from pure Death Metal in the first three albums, to a serious challenge to the status-quo during the next three (Human [‘91], Individual Thought Patterns [‘93], and Symbolic [‘95]), and finally to the high and lofty tones of The Sound of Perseverance. 

Marked by Death’s signature tempo changes, soaring guitar solos, thunderous rhythm sections, and in your face (yet, clean) lyrical content, The Sound of Perseverance is the perfect closing recording for a truly great band.

Song Listing of the 1998 release:

  • Scavenger of Human Sorrow 
  • Bite the Pain
  • Spirit Crusher
  • Story to Tell
  • Flesh and the Power it Holds 
  • Voice of the Soul
  • To Forgive is to Suffer
  • A Moment of Clarity
  • *Painkiller (Judas Priest cover)

Rating: 10/10!! Just a great record!

Favorite Song: I could just point to the list above, but Spirit Crusher is my favorite (though it is not “better” than any other on the album)! 

Stay Metal,

THE SAW

Categories
Classic Album Review

Album Review: “breathe” – Tiny Moving Parts

ALBUM: “breathe” by Tiny Moving Parts

RELEASE YEAR: 2019

LABEL: Hopeless Records

RATING /10: 8 

BEST TRACKS: “Medicine”, “Vertebrae” and “Soft Spot”

FCC: explicit language

Tiny Moving Parts’ album “breathe” was released in September 2019 and it has become a classic Midwest emo album in my eyes ever since. The band’s style is a blend of math rock, emo and pop-punk, and it’s moving further away from typical Midwest emo with each album. The cathartic release found in their previous albums “Swell” (2018) or “Pleasant Living” (2014) is still at the core of their song-writing, but this time with the “mindset to keep powering through”. Lead singer Dylan Mattheisen’s experimental screaming mixed with his emotional singing, the insanely good guitar riffs and the powerful drums rhythms: everything about this record makes for a refreshing dose of Midwest punk music. Dylan is scared of death, struggles with anxiety and heartbreak all at once — and each of his personal struggle is reflected in his lyrics. The title of this album couldn’t have been more on point. Sometimes, his breathlessness is a metaphor for drifting apart from his lover: “I tried to breathe in our love / Ended up coughing blood” (“Vertebrae”). When he’s not having his heart broken, he’s asking his lover to become one with him: “Let’s breathe each other in.” (“Soft Spot”)

Dylan feeling powerless in his own body is another recurring theme through the album. In “Medicine”, the most famous single off the album, he sings: “I swear my legs, they function / But I’m assembled to crawl”, which is similar to the lyrics in “Vertebrae”: “My trembling vertebrae is bound to snap / Never helped me stand up straight”. In “Bloody Nose”, he describes a scene where his nose starts bleeding in the shower, and he thinks he’s about to die. I know, not the happiest song you could ever think of, but I promise the album is not as dark as it seems. “All I could think, my insides gave up, they’re ready to go / I’m not ready to go I wanna live forever, I’m not ready to go”. You’d have to be very scared of your own mortality and fragility as a human being to jump directly to the conclusion that a bloody nose means imminent death, but I’m absolutely not here to judge. As powerless as Dylan feels most of the time, he wishes to be saved as much as he wishes to be loved. When he sings “I can’t do this alone / Someone please open the door” in “Icicles (Morning Glow)”, or “I want to exist in your heart just a little bit” in “The Midwest Sky”, you can tell that his screams perfectly mirror his hurt and confused internal state. What I like about this album is that it recounts very accurately the duality of mental health struggles, which affect equally both the mind and the body.

The only breath of fresh air that Dylan can truly hope to access is through nature: “I want to seek some unforeseen color / Please get me outside with sunlight / Reflecting off a waterfall” (“Medicine“), but sometimes even nature won’t cooperate: “I want to jump off of this bridge / Headfirst into the water and swim / But this lake is clearly frozen” (“Vertebrae”). There are many references to the tundra and to Midwest on the album — the first song on the album is literally called “The Midwest Sky” — and they seem to be at the core of Dylan’s inspirations. I like that the band is taking their Midwest origins so seriously and turning them into poetic metaphors that make for very inspiring lyrics.

Dylan’s vulnerability when it comes to his mental health struggles is just another example of why I’ve always found comfort in emo and punk music in general, because the song-writing is often so raw, vulnerable and dark, no matter the exact genre or melody. As someone who used to struggle with mental illness a lot, I relate to this album on a very deep emotional level. “breathe” is already a classic in my eyes, and I’m glad the band was able to sign to Hopeless Records (one of my favorite pop-punk labels) in 2019 to make this album. Tiny Moving Parts were supposed to play at Cat’s Cradle on Mar. 25, 2021 in Raleigh — needless to say that I can’t wait for venues to reopen, so I can see them play the album live.

— Lise Nox