So, before I posted this I had to check the top 200 artists on AM to confirm a suspicion I had. Indeed: my two least favorite artists of those 200 are Janet Jackson and Animal Collective. Imagine my annoyance – no, make that fear – when Brad, in his infinite cruelty, decided to unleash both on me in one single week. And last week we had such a great start! Perhaps listening to these artists again made me appreciate them more?
Wishful-thinking. No, I did not like Sung Tongs and janet. I am very much for being honest about what you like and don’t like and why, so both reviews of the albums are honest reflections, but if you don’t like reading too much negativity on either of them, you should probably skip them.
8. Animal Collective – Sung Tongs
Pretty much all kids get a lot of fun out of making silly sounds. Also, many kids, when wanting to get attention scream and shout or make other noises that won’t be ignored. Listening to Sung Tongs today I was struck by the notion that the general sound of the album is based around these childish sounds. So perhaps your appreciation of this one (and much of Animal Collective’s other output) depends on your tolerance for the less inhibited noise output by kids. My tolerance for it is very low.
This album is a terrorist attack on my nerves for almost it’s complete 55 minutes. As per usual, the Collective use a conventional pop song structure as their basis and then overlay it with every annoying sound they can think of, creating a sort of clusterf*ck of guttering, bubbling, splashing, spitting, slurping, clicking, clacking, cracking, croaking, wailing, shouting, screaming and whatever you would like to call the sonic crime that is Avey Tare’s voice. Is it experimental? Maybe, but to me it is mostly grating, the musical equivalent of someone scraping off your skin with a cheese slicer. At least once every five seconds they produce a sound that makes me want to punch my Bluetooth speaker in retaliation. Not in the least because I cannot abide sound of slurping in real life.
I was surprised to learn that fans of this album see it as a feel-good album, something I never would have guessed. Maybe this is because it reminds them of the play of children. I guess I’m not a kids person.
7. Janet Jackson - janet.
Yes, I have criticized Janet Jackson enough on this forum, but what am I to do if she keeps popping up in games like these, where I have decided to review every album I come across?
No, I did not like this album. It captures everything what befuddles me so about her status. When listening to janet. I have the feeling that there simply is nothing there. Most of these tracks have less presence than the average piece of elevator music and are certainly less fun. With Jackson I only rarely hear something resembling a melody. Her voice has neither power nor character and adds nothing to the music. When something does seem to happen it is usually for the worse. So Throb may have a noticeable hook, but damn is it a bad song. Ironically, the song that works best as a pop song is what was originally a hidden track: Whoops Now. That sounds like a throw-away Spice Girls song and manages to be the worst thing here.
Or is it? Is it worse to be annoying or to be a vacuum? That question came to mind thanks to these three songs that follow each other: Where Are You Now, The Body That Loves You and the seven minute Any Place, Any Time (of course with interludes in between them, because this is the nineties). These three songs are so soft, have so little forward momentum, have so little happening that they seem to specifically be designed to lull me to sleep. In a rare act of self-awareness she follows these three songs with the question: “Are you still up?”, followed by “Sweet Dreams”…
That’s not all, because this is a R&B album of the 1990’s, which means that it lasts for 75 minutes! That’s probably the longest anyone ever took to say absolutely nothing. Now you might want to point out to me that Janet Jackson did have something to say, as she wanted to make a statement about her gender and especially on her own sexuality. Yes, it’s there in the lyrics (which are hardly poetry), but because she brings them with such a total lack of urgency or personality I don’t get the feeling that these themes are really important to her. And that is the heart of my problem with Janet Jackson: she never gives me anything to make me think she cares. Why is she making music? Even worse artists give me the feeling they are performing for a reason.
All right, just like The Velvet Rope had one good song in Together, this one has This Time, which does actually feel alive. But it’s too little on such a long album.
6. The Mutton Birds – Salty
The second time I listened to this one was on a bright Sunday morning. That’s how it probably works best. The singer might sound like Michael Stipe, but these guys are mostly a subdued version of their contemporary countrymen Crowded House. Gentle pop that doesn’t get itself worked up too much, but always sounds pleasing to the ears. It’s always pleasant to listen to and every now and then they stumble upon a truly good tune or write some interesting lyrics. For the most part, though, it is nothing more than pleasant and maybe the length allows for too much filler. Still, songs like The Heater, In My Room, There’s a Limit and Anchor Me (the only one that sounds like an actual R.E.M. song), make this worth a listen.
5. Section 25 – From the Hip
From 1984, this is still a rather early electronic dance record, in the style of New Order. No surprise there, as New Order’s own Bernard Sumner was producing this record. The drums on Program for Light sound very much like on Blue Monday. Luckily this isn’t all derivative work and it still sounds quite fresh 35 years later. What helps is the variety of sounds here. While keeping things firmly rooted in the electronic stylings of the day, there are various moods here, opening with the magisterial The Process and ending with the uplifting Inspiration and going through some other motions, of which I liked the dark Beneath the Blade the most. From the Hilltop is the classic here, although I was unfamiliar with it. That’s a fine track for the dancefloor, but not my personal highlight.
4. Grimes – Art Angels
I have heard this album a few times now, but haven’t quite made up my mind about it. In a way it captures my mixed feelings about Grimes, in that at this very moment it feels like it captures Grimes in flux (of course, in a way every album captures an artist in development, but let’s not get into such things now). I liked Visions a lot, clearly more so than Art Angels. That one put me in a sort of dreamworld, twisted into Grimes’ alternately dark and peppy vision. By the time Art Angels arrived, much of the dream had left and the word ‘peppy’ was moving towards ‘poppy’. Recently she released the single We Appreciate Power, a clichés and in my opinion not particularly well executed pop song that missed every unique spark of the Grimes of Visions. If that is the road she is going to take (and since We Appreciate Power is going to be on her new album that is likely her road) than indeed Art Angels marks the intersection of arty Grimes and pop Grimes.
But does it capture the best of both worlds? Not quite. I need to say here that I don’t dislike a single song on Art Angels. All of them are at least worth a listen. Still, I feel there are only a few real highlights. I wish the whole album was as freakish and hell-bent as Kill V. Maim, my favorite Grimes song up till now (a complete album like that would really be something unique). And there is the run Realiti > World Princess II > Venus Fly, in which I finally feel like I am getting back into the world of Grimes. But most of the album sounds like a bit too poppy for me. Just a little more idiosyncratic than normal radio affair, but not enough to really grab my attention. Flesh Without Blood and California are usually seen as standouts, but I don’t think they are all that interesting.
We’ll see were Grimes will go from here. I’m not as confident that she will be the daring, leading voice that some forumers here are happy to already to declare her, but Art Angels is still worth the attention, even if I don’t consider it a masterpiece in the end.
3. My Morning Jacket – Evil Urges
Z by My Morning Jacket is one of those albums that has already made at least two appearances in Moderately Acclaimed Albums, including last year. I like that album a lot, but I never went further into My Morning Jacket’s discography. Evil Urges is the follow-up to Z, not counting live album Okonokos. Whereas Z was very uniform in style and substance, Evil Urges sounds more like the guys of My Morning Jacket had a big discussion about where to go next with their sound. Instead of making a choice, they decided to put all options into one album. There a big sprawl of sounds and styles here and it is a small miracle that it all works together so well. I mean, Highly Suspicious sounds exactly like a Prince song, including in vocals, but still it somehow finds a place between the more country- and rock-like songs that make up the bulk of the album.
What makes this album mostly though is simply good songwriting. These people were on the top of their game and just knew how to make a memorable tune, with appealing singing and some good lyrics. It’s more expert craftmanship than deep inspiration, but that is not a bad thing here. There are a few real gems on Evil Urges, especially the title track, Sec Walkin’ and personal favorite Librarian. And there are no weak tracks. I certainly would like to here this again in the coming rounds, but sadly it’s competitor is even a little better.
2. Ravi Shankar – Shankar Family and Friends
Ravi Shankar gets his family and friend over to make some great music together. The first part of the album isn’t even all that great. Admittedly, part of that is that the particular way of singing by Indian women sounds rather shrill to me and just doesn’t have any appeal to me. I’m equally not particularly fond of such overly religious lyrics as you find on I Am Missing You, which appears in two variations here. The playing on these early songs is good, though.
The album really gets on a higher plain in it’s second half, structured as Dream, Nightmare & Dawn. There still seems a religious element here (although perhaps it’s just my Western ears that immediately interpret Indian sitar sounds as spiritual), but here it is almost completely played out in instrumentals. The playing is deep and highly skilled. Besides, the idea to play around with dream, nightmare and dawn allows for a lot of variety. Festivity & Joy feels exactly like that; it is a surprisingly giddy track. In the following Love, Dance Ecstasy, this giddiness becomes, well, ecstatic and a little wild. Things take a turn for the dark after that, but eventually we get to the well-named Awakening, where chants and a slower pace bring you back to Earth, or send you to some Hindu heaven. The final track seems to start a new circle, even if the title suggests more of a real ending.
So the first few songs have their moments, but my vote is more based on the second part, which is longer anyway and functions as a sort of mystic concept album. Great discovery!
1. Elton John – Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy
I’m rather big on Elton John during his classic early seventies period and this album is no exception. Some even say it was his last hurrah before devolving into a self-parody. Perhaps, although there are still later tracks that I love. Regardless, this is a good record although one I had to get used to initially. Someone Saved My Life Tonight is one Elton’s best songs, with that wonderful moody piano line, but otherwise these tracks tend to be less immediate than we are used to with Elton. The album itself was a big success, but it is not particularly known for its hits (I long thought that Philadelphia Freedom was part of the original album, but it was a later bonus track). Yet after listening to this album more and more it did show there is a lot of magic happening. More subtle, more lived in than Elton usually presents us, in the end it becomes very rewarding. And sneakily, there are some earworm after all.
A simpler overview of my votes:
1. Animal Collective - Sung Tongs vs. Grimes - Art Angels
2. Janet Jackson - janet vs. Elton John - Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy
3. Ravi Shankar - Shankar Family and Friends vs. My Morning Jacket - Evil Urges
4. The Mutton Birds - Salty vs. Section 25 - From the Hip
Last edited by Rob
on Wed Apr 10, 2019 6:32 am, edited 1 time in total.