Eight Discs That Are Blowing Up My CD Player This Month:
Mew; And the Glass Handled Kites (2006)
There are two absolute stunners on this CD, and they happen to be back-to-back: "Special" and "The Zookeeper's Boy." Unfortunately nothing else on the album shines quite as brightly as those two tracks and Mew often wander off into Sigur Ros territory, where atmosphere takes precedence over actual songs (I can't stand Sigur Ros, by the way) but overall, the album flows together nicely in a nearly uninterrupted wash of gorgeous ethereal sonics and triangular chunks of razor-edged guitars and odd-metered rhythms. J. Mascis makes an interesting cameo. Somehow this band is on Sony/BMG.
The Mary Jane Girls; Best Of (2001)
I've only just gotten wise to the MJG in the last couple of months and I don't know how I've lived without songs like "In My House" and "All Night Long" in my collection all this time. Some of these tunes are impossibly seductive. If you're a fan of disco divas, big beats and handclaps, you won't be disappointed. Svengali Rick James assembled this all-girl combo in the early 80s and apparently named them in honor of his own fondness for weed.
LCD Soundsystem; self-titled (2005)
LCD Soundsystem is basically the dayjob of one James Murphy, a guy who peddles punky, lo-fi electro grooves to the indie rock masses. Lyrically, Murphy's always taking the piss out of himself and everyone else in the game, in songs like "Daft Punk Is Playing at My House" and "I'm Losing My Edge" ("I'm losing my edge...to better-looking people...with better ideas...and more talent....and they're actually really nice!") and it's one of his strongest attributes.
I can't wait for LCD's new album -- I've already pre-ordered a copy, and I salivate with anticipation every time I hear the single "Someone Great" (drool, drool).
The Pixies; Doolittle (1989)
I don't know why but I only just bought Doolittle a couple weeks ago. The Pixies have already been discussed and dissected and fussed-over by all the rock critics so I'll leave that to them. Suffice it to say, they were a really fearless and distinctive band with truckloads of great songs.
Slayer; Christ Illusion (2006)
At this point in the Slayer saga, nearly a quarter century after the foursome crawled out of the primordial soup of LA's thrash-metal scene, they aren't exactly delivering any surprises. But what's amazing about them is the level of undiminished intensity they've maintained to this day. Slayer aren't as terrifying or exhilarating as the first time you heard them, naturally. But they still go at it with feral abandon, sounding as if they're trying to tear a hole through the music.
Furthermore, they never betrayed their original vision; even in the 1990s, while most metal bands were making self-conscious attempts at grunge, industrial and (worst of all) rap, Slayer continued to record brutal, uncompromising death metal records (like the underappreciated Divine Intervention). Metal may have been unhip for the moment, but Slayer were never in it for hipster cred. They only wanted to demolish people.
Today, guitarists Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King sound no different than they did twenty years ago, and they are still indistinguishable from one another. Tom Araya is still screaming his head off about war, religion, violence and the devil (they even get a few "hail satans" in for old time's sake!), but hey, has there ever been a time when this subject matter was more relevant?
Notably, Christ Illusion is Slayer's first record with original drummer Dave Lombardo since 1990's legendary Seasons in the Abyss, and, while the band have made many fine platters in his absence, there is absolutely nothing like Slayer with Lombardo behind the kit. It's so great to have him back.
Big Audio Dynamite; Megatop Phoenix (1989)
Get it? Big Audio Dynamite is blowing up my CD player, heh-heh. Anyway, this is probably my favorite B.A.D. record; it's so much fun, the songs are great, the whole vibe is really fresh and bright and inspired. And although B.A.D. sounds technically dated today, the band were genuine forerunners, melding rock, funk, pop, hip-hop, reggae, soul, ska and punk rock -- not to mention samples, found-sounds and bits of movie dialogue -- into a bold, kaleidoscopic sonic hodgepodge as early as 1986, when they dropped their first album. I wish Mick Jones and Co. were still making records. This one's nearly 20 damn years old!! Aaackk!!
Kasabian; Empire (2006)
The title track is deadly! Indeed, "Empire"s transition from straight eights in the verse to the swinging triplets of the chorus is as arresting and attention-getting as Franz Ferdinand's now classic tempo downshift in "Take Me Out." Kasabian throws together alot of Primal Scream, a healthy dash of the Chem Bros, perhaps some Kula Shaker and an apparent worship of Led Zeppelin's song "Kashmir." The tunes are dancey and exotic, dappled in mirror ball light and wreathed in hooka smoke. Some of the lyrics could use a little work, but overall, really cool stuff.
The Cure; The Head on the Door (deluxe reissue, 2006)
THOTD is one of my alltime favorites and, like all of the Cure's 80's releases, it's been way overdue for a remastering job. This refurbished version of the '85 classic sounds fantastic, and the material, as we all know, is top-shelf, some of the very best of the Cure's long and interesting career.
But what about that extra disc of bonus tracks? Well, it's a mixed bag. If you've already got the Join the Dots B-Sides and rarities box set (as I do), then you've already got all the essential Cure ephemera and, past that, there's not much left to pick over. Robert Smith's sketchy instrumental home demos of "Inbetween Days" and "Push" are hardly the kind of thing that'll make you want to hit the rewind button over and over. And the live bootleg material at the end is inferior to most of the other bootleg stuff I've already got.
But what's truly interesting here are the band's pre-production demos of songs like "Screw," "A Night Like This" and "Kyoto Song," where you can hear the songs getting refined further toward the diamond-like perfection that would ultimately be achieved on THOTD. During this intermediate phase, you can hear bits of Smith's lyrics floating around interchangeably in the songs like puzzle pieces that haven't been put together yet.