We are in the throes of it now my friends…new music mayhem. Every Tuesday brings a veritable plethora of new releases and possibilities, some that will be contenders for the best of the year and others that won’t even come close.
Thom Yorke – The Eraser
I don’t go negative on this blog very often, if at all, but I’ve got to start by dispensing with the biggest disappointment of the year, the new Thom Yorke solo album. All hope that I had for Thom and Radiohead to ever return from the brink of ambient disaster back to greatness is lost. The Eraser, Thom’s surprise solo outing, sounds like Amnesiac Part 2, or something worse. There are no great songs, melodies or hooks and no indication that he even has the ability to rock anymore. It’s an album of ambient swirls, blips and beeps with his vocals washing in and out. No power, no passion and no energy. Those first 3 Radiohead records were so good, so brilliant, it makes you wonder what happened to them…could this be the same guy that sang and wrote the songs on The Bends and OK Computer? I can’t explain the sudden drop or loss in style, creativity and songwriting ability…it really boggles the mind. Don’t worry though, Spin and Rolling Stone will still rave about Thom’s album and anything Radiohead does with 4 and 5 star reviews because that’s what is considered cool, artsy and hip. Never mind the fact that it’s just meandering ambient noises with no real songs and not even a hint of what was or what could have been.
Pure Reason Revolution – The Dark Third
The online descriptions and reviews that I’ve read for this new UK band all mention “prog” and “Pink Floyd”, but neither really comes close to describing their style and sound. Yes, those elements are present, but this is more of an orchestrated progressive pop and rock sound with some vague Floyd and Genesis comparisons in there, but I also hear things that sound like Delirium as well. The band's bio says, “Astral Folk? The New Prog? Beach Boys harmonies laced with speed metal slam downs, pure pop melodies and space rock explorations? What exactly have we got here?” Good questions. Imagine a sound with layered vocals, lush production, beautiful melodies with some progressive rock instrumentation. As many of my friends and blog readers know, I’m not a big fan of most female lead vocalists. I don’t want to sound sexist, but it just works out that way. This, however, is an exception to that. The vocalist fits so well within the band's sound and they mix in male leads every now and then to break it up, so it works for me. I think the vocals are one of this group's strongest attributes. The Dark Third is a brilliant start for a band that really defies categorization. Once again I owe this musical find to the king of new music, my friend Andre Salles. His weekly music column www.tm3am.com is not to be missed.
Roger Joseph Manning Jr. – The Land of Pure Imagination
Roger’s output since his days with Jellyfish (one of the greatest bands of all time) has been spotty at best. Moog Cookbook was fun as a novelty but Imperial Drag was kind of an alt-rock drag. The highlight for me was Logan’s Sanctuary, a soundtrack for an imaginary sequel to the 1976 sci-fi film Logan's Run. I think he’s a talent, but he’s living under that huge Jellyfish shadow that looms large and he just hasn’t delivered any really good material. Which brings us to his new release, The Land of Pure Imagination, easily the best post-Jellyfish music he’s done. It’s his most cohesive solo material yet, and also the most Jellyfish-esque. The songs and production still aren’t quite what they could be, but there are some great power-pop moments here. There’s very little information about this album out there but it is available for download on iTunes. It appears to be almost the same album as the Japanese-only release Solid State Warrior from earlier this year, with just a slightly different track listing. The title track opens the album and starts off slow but the chorus and the breaks are amazing. These songs are full of great hooks, quirky arrangements and brilliant keyboard touches from the master of the analog synth. There’s a lot going on here musically that make it a great power-pop release and a must for Jellyfish fans.
Sufjan Stevens – Avalanche
Sufjan exploded last year with the release of his critically acclaimed Illinois album, a project of amazing scope often compared to Brian Wilson’s masterpiece Smile. Now he releases Avalanche, which says right on the cover “Outtakes and Extras from the Illinois Album.” It was assumed these would be alternate versions, demos and songs that were not fully realized, but that’s not the case. Oh, that accurately describes about 10 of the 21 tracks, but the other 11 tracks are excellent, fully realized songs, some of which rival the best that Illinois had to offer. There in lies my frustration with this album. Just under half of it is actually *too* good. These 10 songs (especially 5 or 6 of them) simply do not belong on an “outtakes and extras” album. The first three tracks, “Avalanche,” “Dear Mr. Supercomputer” and “Adlai Stevenson” are, in my opinion, among the best he’s ever written. These are fully produced songs with wonderful quirks and melodies, layered vocal harmonies and horns. He should have released a 10 song album and let it stand on it’s own and not muddied it up with the alternate versions of older songs and the more experimental noodling here. By mixing in those songs this record gets too long and takes away from the listening enjoyment of the fully realized tracks. He should have made this 2 separate projects, a brand new album of the 10 best songs and an EP of the alternate versions and outtakes from Illinois. Who cares if these songs were recorded at the same time as Illinios or if they were originally intended for that release? They shouldn’t be marketed as extras when they’re as good or better than much of what he’s released in the past. That’s just my personal beef with Avalanche but it’s still a must have. Sufjan is apparently an artistic genius. If these are outtakes, I can’t wait to hear what he comes up with next!