Friday, July 29, 2011

Syd Barrett - The Madcap Laughs

★★★★★ Tracks:
Love You
Dark Globe
Here I Go

Syd Barrett felt like he might just be one bad trip away. While Pink Floyd was the soundtrack to the fun, hallucinogenic trips of my high school days, Syd represents what happens after you indulge too much. Paranoid, delusional trips that you can’t escape, engulfing six or more hours of your life at a time. Things you never even thought might bother you begin to itch and claw at your mind, leaving you paralyzed and helpless. Syd knows all about it, but unlike most of us who stay away from the stuff after a bad trip or two, he kept at it, damaging his already unstable psyche stemming from his adolescence. And it’s no wonder Pink Floyd was so worried about Syd’s decaying frame of mine and its effects on the band, he was the best songwriter the group produced to this day.

The Madcap Laughs is a difficult and depressing record, but it shines brilliantly. Even the more upbeat tracks have an undertone of deep isolation and paranoia. “Here I Go” is a little swing track which is somehow eerily up-tempo, almost as if the notes being played by the guitar are hiding an undercurrent of madness. Syd Barrett is heartbroken by a girl he likes who doesn't like his songs, preferring the big band he was once in. On “Love You” Syd Barrett uses strange and incoherent wordplay mixed with a bizarre, carnival-like piano line to capture his feelings for a woman.

For the most part though Syd plays slow, wandering guitar lines and sings in suggesting riddles, as his melancholy songwriting bleeds out unto the microphone capturing his loneliness in space and time. “Dark Globe” is especially heartbreaking as Syd pleads, “wouldn’t you miss me at all!” to a successful band that no longer needs him. But the best song just might be the opening track, as Barrett wittingly sings of two fish in love.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Taking Back Sunday - Where You Want to Be

★★★★★ Tracks:
Set Phasers to Stun
A Decade Under the Influence

I remember buying Where You Want to Be at Best Buy in the $9.99 section soon after it came out. It hit #3 on the Billboard charts in the first week, signifying emo’s takeover of the mainstream, an unthinkable feat to me at the time. But with the look of all these sensitive gloom-rockers, their black-painted nails, black-bobbed haircuts and black eyeliner, they were essentially the natural next step in manufactured boy bands. I always dug this type of music though, it’s typically not your typical 3-chord 4/4 rock in a major scale, and it’s refreshing to me to hear groups try and break out of the status quo. But then emo turned itself into the status quo of the early 2000s, churning out countless dopey teen rockers taking themselves entirely too seriously; rock’n’roll is supposed to be fun after all. And so a trend being a trend, MTV latched on and that marked the death knell of the ‘M’ ever being associated with the ‘TV.’

The first couple of tracks on Where You Want to Be I can’t help but still like. I never make it through the entire album though, and I’d rather disassociate the music from the images. However that would be untruthful. They are who they are.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Taking Back Sunday - Tell Your Friends

★★★★★ Tracks:
Cute Without the ‘E’
Timberwolves at New Jersey

Third-wave emo; when the more pop-oriented singing and songwriting of groups like Jimmy Eat World and Saves the Day were combined with the screaming hardcore of Refused or Shai Hulud. It's an attempt at a fresher and more economical take on the downtrodden genre. Resonant, reverby clean tone abruptly gives way to distorted power chords and palm muting on most everything here, the quiet/loud dynamic established in the 90’s very much at play. I’ve grown out of most of it but loud music is harder and harder to come by these days. Taking Back Sunday, their cutesy teenage lyrics aside (“Everything I know about breaking hearts / I learned from you / It’s true” is one of the many gems), are up to the task, and Tell Your Friends has a couple of great songs, although I cant help but cringe to videos like this.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Talking Heads - More Songs About Buildings and Food

★★★★★ Tracks:
Thank You for Sending Me an Angel
With Our Love
The Good Thing
Artists Only
Take Me to the River

More Songs About Buildings and Food is easily my favorite ‘Heads record. The group is still in its rock’n’roll phase, but their sound is greatly enhanced with Brian Eno at the helm for the first time in what would prove to be a long, fruitful relationship between band and producer. Eno, still very early in his musical career, and riding the success in helping to shape the sounds of Bowie’s “Berlin Trilogy,” had a keen ear for the direction in which the ‘Heads were attempting to take their music. On Buildings and Food he doesn’t want to fiddle much with the sound but rather tinker with the way it comes to your speakers. He tightens up their studio sessions and therefore the quality of the songs themselves, he gives the guitars a bit of a mechanical feel, and allows the spastic, nervous energy the band creates to seep through the recording. The results are fantastic; 11 of the weirdest, grooviest tracks to come out of the 70’s. “Thank You For Sending Me an Angel” is the perfect opener, but “With Our Love” is the ‘Heads’s mission statement; a computerized, rinky-dink guitar charges ahead while David Byrne neurotically sings of the strange complexities of relationships between male and female.

The album culminates in what might be the best track of the album, a cover of Al Green’s “Take Me to the River.” The Talking Heads slow it down, strip it of its brass section, add a little synth, and Byrne adds his eccentricities to perfection. Alongside "Remain in Light" and "Burning Down the House," "Take Me to the River" would end up being one of the most recognizable songs the 'Heads ever produced.