THE PEELS – The Peels (2005)

Review by: Jonathan Hopkins
Album assigned by: Jake Myers

I knew exactly what this album was going to sound like as soon as I saw the album cover. They’re an indie-rock quartet with loud, jagged guitars and a female vocalist who looks and sounds just like Nico.

That’s not quite fair. While the opening song, “Only Son” – where she sounds like some sort of Nico android – made me wary, her vocals throughout are actually very good and varied. It’s just clear who her model is. Other than that, The Peels don’t really offer anything particularly interesting here. All of the songs sound almost exactly the same, with the same post-Pixies “quirk-punk” indie guitar tones and bass lines I’ve heard a million times. It’s not bad, and every song sounds perfectly fine while it’s on, but almost nothing really sticks with me.

The only song I care to name check is “I Don’t Know,” the one song on here with a different, warmer guitar tone and a great power-pop riff. This is going to be my one take away from this album, the only thing I’ll probably come back to. I really fell in love with this song, and it was worth it to listen to the album just to gain that.

There really aren’t any other individual songs to talk about, in my opinion. It’s a very short album – actually just an EP – and the only thing The Peels managed to record. Seek out “I Don’t Know,” and if you’re a huge indie-rock fan, you’ll probably enjoy the rest as well.

In conclusion, it’s basically fine, but Wire did everything this album did but better.

Rating: B-
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AQUARIUM (АКВАРИУМ) – Radio Africa (Радио Африка) (1983)

Review by: Franco Micale
Album assigned by: Dinar Khayrutdinov

Disclaimer: All of the lyrics and song titles on this album are in Russian, so for the sake of convenience, I will refer to their English translations. Also, since I am not able to understand what’s being sung, I am aware that there is most likely a lot of critical details that I’m missing out on. Sorry.

Aquarium are an underground Russian group that I had never known about before taking part in this reviewing game. In 1983 they released this album called Radio Africa, and it was a huge deal because they had to bribe the owner to record in a mobile studio and they were super controversial and did stuff and things and they werasijeflamsef I honestly am too tired to think creatively about my introduction, so let’s just get this review started.

To cut to the chase, the biggest flaw of this album is the flat, under-cooked, and half-hearted production that runs through each song. I understand that the group didn’t have the opportunity to record in a luxurious studio, and I can tell that the band really tries to do as much as they could with their limitations, but either way a good amount of the songs actually sound like outtakes you might hear as bonus tracks as opposed to actual finished products. In other words, the production on this album sucks out much of the lot of the sonic depth, texture, or atmosphere these pieces potentially could have had, and although I’ve been able to ignore this on repeated listens, I still can’t help but feel that a better mix would have been a vast improvement to the album.

Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, let’s talk about the music! The good news is that on subsequent listens, almost all of these songs have grown on me. Basically, Aquarium fearlessly dive into as many musical styles as possible, so you get a melting pot of pop, rock, lounge, funk, new wave, ambient, reggae, world, etc. all segued together by shortwave radio broadcasts. In many ways, this album draws parallels to “The White Album”, though I think a better comparison would be “The Who Sell Out”, due to the radio concept behind both albums, or perhaps even “London Calling”, due to the political overtones in the music and lyrics, and also because neither album sounds anything like Wire.

Although, as a whole, the album plays together very well, there doesn’t seem to be much of a consistent musical theme that I can describe in greater detail, so I’ll just talk about a few tracks that I thought were pretty awesome. First, the albums boots off on a really jolly note with “Music of the Silver Spokes”, a fairly straightforward pop tune with a rhythm and melody that just sounds…swell! I can just imagine some happy-go-lucky person whistling this tune while strolling around on a stress-less, sunny day. And man, I don’t understand those lyrics, but they sure sound cool.

Up next, comes my second favorite track on here, “Captain Africa”. Of all the genres that are represented on this album, prog seems to be significantly lacking (along with punk), but this tune is the closest resemblance to that style. What we have here is a funk-jazz-rock-pop fusion number that is fueled by a funky, yet laid-back rhythm, which is mixed in with some delicious saxophone playing and a groovy chorus that will be forever stuck in your head by the second or third time you’ve heard this song.

However, the award for “Favorite Song on The Album” goes to to “Vana Khoya”. A gorgeous, exotic tune that takes you on a journey to a beach along the coast of a small, cast out island, this is the only case on the album where I feel the lo-fi production actually enhances the quality of the music, giving the piece a very serene and breezy atmosphere. I love the beautiful flute that flows in, out, and around the music, the airy guitars that conjures up images in my head of waves crashing against a sandy shore, and the tranquil melody that I can imagine being chanted by some ethnic group of tribal men along a fireside as the sun sets down. Simply put, this is an extremely aesthetic song that I highly recommend you listen to.
Anyways, there is a lot more I could talk about, such as the pretty ambient track entitled “Radio Shaolin” that sounds like Asian Animal Collective, or the fact that “Rock N’ Roll Is Dead” and “The Art Of Being Humble” are both fabulous songs with gripping melodies and intelligent lyrics, or how “To Your Star” is an experimental track that aimlessly goes nowhere, or how “The Time Of The Moon” is so very incredible but has a sad mix that sounds like it was recorded in a basement on a twenty year old cassette tape, however I’m just not in the mood to write anymore. So deal with it B) 

Overall, I find this album difficult to grade, because I would say content wise, this album deserves like an A or A-, but the production lowers it to a B. That’s kinda too bad, because this album shines brightly of potential, and it’s these guys without a doubt were highly talented artists. Maybe it will get better on further listens…Either way, though, I still highly recommend giving this album a chance, especially since I’m sure many of you probably won’t care much about how it’s mixed.

Best track: Vana Khoya

Worst Track: To Your Star

BÉLA FLECK AND THE FLECKTONES – Greatest Hits of the 20th Century (1999)

Review by: Jonathan Moss
Album assigned by: Graeme Oxley

This a very fun album. It’s essentially a mix of bluegrass and jazz fusion. Now I’ve heard some jazz fusion and little bluegrass (unless CBGB bands like The Ramones count) but this wryly titled compilation makes the fusion very appealing.

Since the album is a compilation it is quite varied, with a lot of speedy and virtuosic tracks at the beginning and some slower more atmospheric ones later one. The song Vix 9 sounds quite Yessish and proggish in general but outside of that the album is more poppy, whilst still retaining a jazzy edge. With the exception of the Dave Matthews sung (which is good but would have been better if Colin Newman of Wire fame had sung it) song Communication all the songs on the album are instrumental.   

Of course, the main draw of the album is Béla Fleck who plays banjo the way Frank Zappa plays guitar (okay, I know comparing one good player to another is lazy and doesn’t really encapsulate their style. Just trust me, he’s good). He plays all sorts of fast, bendy lines, although he can also play in a slower more relaxed style. The important thing- as with all truly great virtuosos, in my view at least- isn’t just that he’s really talented musically at the thing but also melodically, playing a variety of fun, quirky riffs.

The rest of the band is really talented as well, though. The whole album is full of tasteful guitar riffs and some really complicated and melodic bass stuff. It’s kind of like Primus, one instrument is the main attraction but the other players are still great.
Something I forgot to mention earlier so will awkwardly do now is that one of the songs (Stomping Grounds) is live. This is a good decision though the song doesn’t sound tremendously different from that studio stuff, except a bit more spontaneous and lively, I guess.

The most impressive thing I can say about this album is that despite all the instrumental talent on display the whole thing sounds very down to earth. I love a lot of prog but I couldn’t really say that about any prog group. On the other hand “unpretentious music for pretentious people” isn’t the most glamorous title so maybe Van Der Graaf Generator had the right idea.

In all seriousness this is an album I’d definitely recommend, and if it wasn’t for the hypocrisy for not doing so myself yet I’d say check their other albums out as well. 

THE ROCHES – The Roches (1979)

Review by: Andreas Georgi
Album assigned by: Jeremiah Methven

I remember the Roches & at least some bits of their first album from “the days” primarily because of their affiliation with Robert Fripp (he produced the album and plays a few guitar parts. Tony Levin plays on it too. Terre Roche did some vocals on Fripp’s “Exposure” album of the same year). Because of this association and also because they played in the downtown NYC clubs they somehow managed to find a place in the punk/new wave / underground music scene, even though their music didn’t fit the mold. Though not “punk” in their sound in any way, listening to this album (and this the only one of their albums I’ve heard), it’s not hard to see why this would appeal to an “alternative” audience.

The music centers around the harmonies of the three Roche sisters. Maggie sings in a surprisingly deep contralto voice. Terre sings in a high register, and Suzzie is in the middle. The lead is mostly alternated between Suzzie and Terre, but it’s not always easy to discern who’s singing what (except for Maggie’s parts). The individual voices are not really outstanding on their own, but the sum is definitely greater than the parts. The harmonies range from sweet and ethereal to (presumably deliberately) off-key and silly, perfectly matching the subject matter. The instrumentation is sparse and perfectly complements the vocals, never getting in the way. Fripp plays a few leads in his signature style. The Fripp treatment is most notable on “Hammond Song”.

The album starts off with the autobiographical “We”, which I guarantee will be a total earworm in your head for days after hearing it (“We are Maggie and Terre and Suzzie”…there it goes again!). The harmonies here are deliberately silly and somewhat childish sounding to match the humorous lyrics. Silly, but fun stuff. The next song, ““Hammond Song” is where they really start to show their chops, and is one of the highlights of the album. The harmonies range from ethereal to an almost avant-garde dissonance which is accentuated by Fripp’s guitar and Frippertronic atmospherics. “The Troubles” makes reference to the then-current violent conflict in the middle of silly lyrics about banalities like “hope they have health food in Ireland”. “Mr. Sellack” for all its witty comments about menial work, is ultimately about abandoned dreams. “The Married Men” is the most endearing song about adultery that I can think of. “The Train” suggests the barriers we put up around ourselves (perhaps necessarily) in public – “Can’t we have a party? Would he rather have a party?/After all we have to sit here and he’s even drinking a beer/ I want to ask him what’s his name/ But I can’t ’cause I’m so afraid of the man on the train” and “Pretty and High” is another highlight, but there are no weak ones. The lyrics are witty and engaging, but never didactic or obvious, as folkies tend to be all too often . They leave a lot of room for ambiguity and interpretation. Overall a definite thumbs up.

EMIKA – Drei (2015)

Review by: Tristan Peterson
Album assigned by: Markus Pilskog

FFO: Sufjan Stevens, Blank Banshee, Deadmau5, Autechre

Emika is an English classical and electronic musician, with Czech heritage, by way of Berlin, Germany.  On this album, Drei, she delivers extremely cold, slightly glitchy textures (mostly Moog created) and beats, but with poppy melodies to carry the songs through.

The glaring issue, which becomes apparent by the second track, is that these songs don’t NEED pop elements and hooks to them.  The foundation she created, especially her glitched-out vocal samples, are strong enough to where her rather generic and monotone timbre detracts from what’s going on in the background.  Now, this isn’t the case with all the songs, but it does happen on most of them.

Like I said earlier, it does have a lot of plusses.  The Moog textures and beats have a very cold, almost paranoid quality to them, and the way she also treats some of her chopped up vocal samples only adds to the atmosphere that she creates behind herself.

Overall the record is rather enjoyable for what it is, though certainly not the best thing in the world. That being said, whoever happens to be reading this should give it a listen.

RATING: 7/10
FAVORITE TRACK: Miracles (Prelude) 
LEAST FAVORITE TRACK: Miracles

TRIANA – El Patio (1975)

Review by: Dinar Khayrutdinov
Album assigned by: Jaime Vargas Sánchez

Abre la puerta niña
que el día va a comenzar…

(Open the door, girl,
The day will begin…)

And indeed, listening to this album felt very much like opening the door to a new and exciting world – the world of Spanish prog rock. You know, that 70s genre with mellotron solos and a dozen of time signature changes per song? However, this record is a far cry from ELP, Genesis, King Crimson and the like, and not just because it was recorded in a different language. Indeed it incorporates some of the classic prog elements (most of them borrowed from Triana’s British counterparts, I guess), with particularly some guitar and keyboard solos sounding really proggy. But thankfully complexity for the sake of complexity and instrumental prowess for the sake of instrumental prowess are not the purpose of this album. This was obviously recorded by very skillful musicians, but they’re not here to show off, they’re here to take you to some otherworldly version of southern Spain (my first guess was Andalusia, and Wikipedia tells me I was absolutely right – Triana are an Andalusian band), the one with passionate minstrels in large hats singing flamenco serenades for hot Spanish ladies standing on their balconies in long silk red dresses. Which brings me to the subject of the second important musical element of this album – the flamenco. It is indeed hard to imagine an English or American band recording such an album, or at least making a convincing rendering of specifically Spanish cultural values and motifs (similar to the fact that something like Selling England by the Pound could never have been recorded by any band but a British one). And this is obviously the greatest strength of this record – it effectively merges progressive rock with inherently, authentically Spanish folk music, and not in an overtly experimental way, too – this is in fact a very accessible and easily enjoyable record with a pleasant, melodic sound and strong, emotional vocals from Jesús de la Rosa Luque. So, it’s basically 40 minutes of lovely flamenco guitars, great singing, hooks, authentic Spanish atmosphere, more hooks, more awesome singing, as well as slightly trite and very vague but never in the least way bad lyrics (obviously I don’t understand the language, but I found the translations). What’s not to like here?

My only real complaint would be a lack of diversity. The seven songs present here are all beautiful, but even after 5 or 6 listens I have a problem separating most of them from each other – they have very similar melodies, similar arrangements and even similar lyrical matter. However, two tracks still stand out from the rest. The opening song, Abre la puerta, is probably the most proggy number here, and it isn’t one bit worse than the best British prog-rock cuts of that era. Amazingly, it is also the longest track on the record – however I find myself never growing tired of its numerous vocal hooks and great instrumental solos. And the chorus, referenced in the quote above, is EASILY the most memorable thing on the album. The second great song is En el lago, which struck me as a somewhat ‘psychedelic’ number, with a nice interplay between melancholy keyboards and powerful singing creating a pretty unique atmosphere. The weird-sounding ‘schizoid’ ending of the song, when guitars, keyboards and drums culminate in a hurricane of sound, is really cool too. The rest of the songs are also pretty good, it’s just they are not nearly as memorable.

Summing this up – this is a truly great album that made me want to dig into Spanish rock more. It has all the vibe of a 70s prog album, yet in the end offers so much more, because it is not trying hard to be ‘progressive’ or experimental while it does attempt to be heartfelt, sincere and authentically Spanish, and gloriously succeeds.

PASSENGER OF SHIT – Passenger of Shit 7 (2011)

Review by: Syd Spence
Album assigned by: Franco Micale

This is hardcore. Well, one of the numerous variants that only anal retentive speed freaks care about.

This is House music and Hip Hop’s delinquent offspring. As the years rolled on, clubs and club music began increasing the tempo of that disco beat. The primary cause of increasing the tempo was of course the popularity of stimulant drugs and well, this is the end result. Manic, intense electronic BOOMBOOMBOOM BWAH. Music that is impossible to dance with a party with, but excellent for having a seizure to. To use rock terms, House music is the Beatles and this type of music is Agoraphobic Nosebleed.

That is the history? How about the music. Well, it’s fast, intense and fun. Passenger of Shit does the great hardcore trick of periodically breaking up the intense BOOBOBOOBBOBOpm with melodic slower bits that bring up video games and what have you. This makes the intense bits more fun. I will say the chief strike against this album is a bit of the periodic screamed vocals and the sophomoric humor. I mean sometimes it’s funny and absurd, but it quickly gets annoying. I mean screaming profanity can only get you so far.  

Overall, it’s good at what it does, but I’m gonna be honest here, I doubt I’ll ever put this on again. I’m getting to the point in my life where I’d rather have a developing interesting rhythm in my electronic music and not the machine gun BOOM BOOMs of hardcore. I have a feeling I would have loved this record in my youth and played the fuck out of it to annoy my square peers. So should you get this? Is your veins coursing with dopamine and testosterone? If the answer is yes! this album is great. As for me, I’m gonna put on some reggae.