Concept: Starring Michael Cera.

Sound: Story hour, guys and dolls. Once upon a time, some independently produced records began to experience moderate success again. Producing your own music became a fad. Then the industry got in on “indie” as some kind of snapshot genre, mimicking and processing to hell the sounds and aesthetic of the seminal bands, and this sound and aesthetic in turn influenced independent artists, until it was unclear what distinguished them from each other or what was done in jest or artistic earnest and “indie” ate itself and died in its own stomach as all counter-anythings seem to nowadays, and its corpse continued to perform base bodily functions for the next several years, giving us crossover hits in various corners of culture like Napoleon Dynamite, Pitchfork, MC Chris, Girl Talk (whom I hate myself for listening to), cookie-cutter pseudo-DIY music videos with the band holding flipbooks of itself performing or construction paper puppets with permanent marker slogans, which somehow got 60% of all corporate ads employing the same snotty feeble strategy, which is pretty much the definition of a first world humanitarian crisis, and always, always neo-retro special needs kindergarten fashion sense, hair cut with a lawnmower blade and a cereal bowl during a tsunami and plaid flannel chullos and sloganized tees against sloganized tees and glasses with rims at least twice the thickness of your femur and the bleeding-ears-loud wallpaper tights under jean skiiiiiirts wauuuuggghhh. In short, we became the world’s Japan, since Japanese culture is no longer recognized as something of this earth.

No.

Newest king of the hill in the incestuous orgy pile is Sleigh Bells, with harmless sex-kitten vocals buried under blaring keyboard guitars performing every radio trope you never wanted to hear again. That’s it. That’s Treats, its “energetic” “riffs” and “beats” hoisted on high as the #1 guilty-pleasure of the summer among critics by the power of reverse psychology, i.e. the novelty of its redundancy. I will admit nobody has ever been this rehashed in this way. If that’s genre-bending, I quit. No, I don’t care if M.I.A. likes it. Before the horrifying disappointment which was /\/\/\Y/\, M.I.A. actually sounded good once cranked through the studio, in total contrast to her embarrassing live act and in total contrast to everything Sleigh Bells does. The catch is that allegedly if you turn the music all the way up it sounds completely different. Since I gave the benefit of the doubt to noise band Sunn O))) way back when I was unaware this gag actually existed, I gave it now. The result was an honest-to-goodness headache that lasted the entire day. I caught some more keyboards dicking around than previously thought. Way to hide the only semblance of a redeeming quality in your instrumentation beneath a mile of garbage, Sleigh Bells.

Lyrics: Behold the cheerleading stylinz of twee, the equivalent of wetting your pants as a joke, which sort of jives with Sleigh Bells’ stage presence in the first place. “Have a heart, have a heart, have a heart/ sixteen six six six like the Pentagon /… / we form a tarot pack/ and I’m aware of that/ but we could fist fight drunk like the parent trap/ keep thinking about every straight face yes/ wonder what your boyfriend thinks about your braces/ we never blink see/ and you can see me/ we fell asleep in the middle of the fury/ so this is it then?/ you’re here to win friends/ click click saddle up see you on the moon then/ you’re all alone friend/ pick up their phones then/ ring ring call them up/ tell them about the new trends“. Quitting before you start so you can’t fail hasn’t worked for any lyricist since the Beatles, when the majority of the Western world was too busy sitting on a handknit blanket in a mud pit staring at the spirit colors flowing from their hands to remember what languages they spoke. What’s your excuse?

Quick And Dirty: I’m adding an extra star to buffer against my venomous prejudice against this stupid junk. (♦♦)

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Concept: The only existing Nu Metal band with a sense of dignity manages a seventh album to replace its unreleased sixth, out of respect for their former bassist who is currently in a coma. As the unreleased album, Eros, allegedly returns to their aggressive earlier sound, Diamond Eyes is presented as ecstatic and celebratory.

Sound: Ever since their sophomore release, Deftones have displayed a peculiar but attractive combination of hip-hop, metal, and ambient pop. The third is where their proficiency lies, and the drift of hazy, erotic vocals in contrast over pounding, growling eight string guitar is their trademark. This formula still seems to work for them, but their eerie electronics and alternately infectious and majestic drumwork are lacking this time around. Furthermore, there’s a dangerous new element at play. The majority of tracks feature multiple bridges, interludes, or cuts into different time signatures. That sounds like close to an absolute benefit, but it’s executed terribly half of the time, most blatantly on their second single, Rocket Skates. Each piece of it sounds good, but it’s slapped together in a disjunctive, stunted circuit, and then grossly overdrawn. Deftones has always drifted, and with the coupling of this habit to more complicated formats they come across as indecisive and dissipating. Other songs, most notably Prince and Risk, bear the recycled traces of earlier hits in an attempt to remedy this. Taming looser time signatures into pop format serves them well on three occassions by adding sweep to the chorus of the titular song and swagger on You’ve Seen The Butcher and the verse of the album’s noisiest track, CMND/CTRL, which very well may be the best of the lot.

Lyrics: Frontman Chino Moreno’s lyricism has made a noticable decline over the last two albums, and not only because it has become more repetitive. He’s losing his ability to paint a picture and cranking out tactless, seemingly unrelated phrases more frequently. That is especially a problem when your lyricism’s content consists almost entirely of attempts to elegantly conflate sex and death.  Luckily, some of it still fits together, and he can still align his words with the emotion of the music to dramatic effect.

Quick And Dirty: Both less original and less listenable than their previous work. If you’ve never listened to Deftones before, this might be a nice sampler of their range of riffs, but speaking as a fan it only proved disillusioning. (♦♦♦)

Concept: Oh, what a delightfully obscure reference! Now, Thom Yorke’s coming over, so this is the best thing since Hearing Damage from the Twilight soundtrack or else nothing is sacred anymore, okay?

Sound : It must be emphasized that without good speakers or headphones this album is not half of what it can be. It is literally not a very accessible album. There are certain requirements for physically experiencing the finer touches and picking out the extra sounds that bump this up from just another hip-hop mash. Cosmogramma isn’t just a glut of classy and diverse samples. It’s been recorded and produced to feel like the real thing, if not better, since it gives a sort of parallax experience of all its contents, like you’re onstage walking back and forth among the players. If Flying Lotus had decided to drop a pin, you’d hear it under the bubbling jazz bass, videogame trills, and shuffling percussion. The influences certainly don’t end there. I’m not sure where they end. In this respect, the album’s the real deal, the next big thing for hip-hop. If you’re using your iPod earbuds for this though, as I first did when the album came out, you are likely to be very underwhelmed by many tracks, although some still refuse to have their excellence ignored.

Lyrics: Scatting, crazed laughter, oohs and ahs, whoever Laura Darlington is she rocks you, Thom Yorke needs a hug.

Quick And Dirty: One of the very best hip-hop instrumental/sample albums, right up there with DJ Shadow and The Avalanches. I do feel a good sound system is so integral to the album that I’m putting down two ratings for the two ways to hear it. One way or the other, you know what to do. (♦♦♦♦♦ or ♦♦♦)

Concept: An eclectic/random assortment of compositions by a local artist.

Sound: Competent if conventional easy listening jazz progressions, choral arrangements, and a closing industrial rock track for the SJU football team. The range of vocal talent is apparent but overwrought with compositional bravado. Grace notes and tremolo ahoy.

Lyrics: Somebody kill me. Overdetermined musical-style lyricism and embarrassing airbrushed heartbreak doodles. When You Said Goodbye gets two consecutive renditions for maximum torture. The arrogant, nearly sacrilegious tone of What Will You Do, God, When I Die? is repellant.

Quick And Dirty: Musician for hire at http://www.georgemaurer.com. (♦½)

Axe To Fall

Concept: Thrash metal group comes back from some brainstorming with several guests from similar acts.

Sound: Although the majority of the tracks are up-tempo and under three minutes, the album feels slow. The mixing puts the elaborate lead riffs in the back, and the rhythm guitar filler is pretty conventional. The comfortable fit for cameo vocals and guitar from Hatebreed, Neurosis, Genghis Tron, Pygmy Lush, The Red Chord, Blacklisted, and others only emphasizes the monotony of the genre, and the distinctions each group could present only push Converge further and further into the background of the album.

Lyrics: Doom and gloom cliches that somehow fail to cooperate. Even though the album quickly wears itself out, no central point is exposed.

Quick And Dirty: Despite every conventional indicator of a ‘big break’ for a successful and enduring act, this album lacks any enduring sound or image. (♦♦♦)

Wheeeee!!!!

Concept: Dylan redoes the Holiday standbys for charity.

Sound: Please, God, no. People say they appreciate Dylan’s voice; what they mean is they appreciate its attachment to his material. This is not Blonde On Blonde; this is a panicked sprint through the ‘classics’, and Dylan’s voice paints a blood-soaked nightmare with the up-tempo polka rendition of Must Be Santa among other “delights”.

Lyrics: Chestnut Jack Frost Reindeer Presents Goodwill Jesus  Sleighbells Snowfall

Concept: Not all Christmas songs suck; let me make this clear. There are many good holiday tunes which are unfortunately overlooked for their religious emphasis, most of which can be found in the hands-down best Christmas album EVER — The Bells Of Dublin by The Chieftains. All we get here is the greatest songwriter of our time succumbing to some of the very worst. The sound of his voice on these songs is only a fraction as bad as the fact that he’s singing it. You might as well buy a video of your mother kissing Saint Nick — privilege or atrocity? Maybe both. Sounds like Christmas to me. (♦½)

Can you hear me now?

Concept: Rock band plays rock music.

Sound: The guitarist and bassist are pretty frantic, with nice effects to match their playing style. As with most bands starting out, the problem is the vocalist. The frontlady is looking to mimic Gwen Stefani, but she does not have the pipes at all, and is always falling flat and just not giving a very convincing ‘punk’ vibe. There is a huge, awkward contrast between what she’s doing and what the rest of the band is trying to accomplish. Every transition is poorly executed. They could all stand to be a little tighter, too. There is much better album waiting to develop when the male vocalist steps forward and produces childlike lyricism with bluegrass snaps and bizarre ambience, as on Kenneth, or when the band simply resorts to jamming.

Lyrics: Society=bad.

Quick And Dirty: Fit to make major labels, open for Green Day, and go down in flames. Lose the vocalist and we’ll talk. (♦♦½)

Look what my camera can do! Dude, quit touching it, this cost $60.

Concept: The second to last album for the 90’s indie rockers.

Sound: The guitarists are pretty worthless, as are the vocalists, but the bassist and drummer have taken off the white gloves and are beating the ever-loving hooey out of this recording. As a band they sound like they’ve lost the ambition to be anything besides Talking Heads rip-offs. Scratch the majority of potential audiences.

Lyrics: Just bad. Blunt, tactless, and trite. They’re trying to be political, but they achieve the same threadbare points as any hackjob punk group using three times as many words.

Quick And Dirty: Should you play in the rhythm section of a local band, this might give you a fresh take on the same old same old. Otherwise, there’s just no point to this album. (♦♦♦)

Dude, reverse the 'r's. Makes it edgy and stuff.

Concept: Welsh political rockers release their first album to feature lyrics exclusively by rhythm guitarist Richey Edwards, who has since vanished.

Sound: There’s an 80’s arena rock feel to the melodies, although the backing instruments would beg to disagree. Manic Street Preachers have a tight grip on their hooks and know how to use them, as well they should after fifteen years in their craft. This is perhaps the strongest statement on the album; the accomplished musicianship here is a sign of gratitude towards Edwards, and relies on this positivity.

Lyrics: The lyrics of this band are perhaps some of the most overrated in modern music. While forthright, the observations are far from analytical or enlightening or even funny. They often appear to be no more than convoluted puns (Mommy, what’s a sex pistol?/Overjoyed, me and Stephen Hawking, we laugh./We missed the sex revolution/when we failed the physical,) and individual songs often have such discrepancies in topic that the only sane conclusion is that there is no connection, save for the tone of rebellious commentary. This is not typical of their material, but there was never any particular wit in their work to begin with, and this album’s meanderings only uphold the group’s reputation for honesty because they seem innocent in a senile way. Maybe I don’t get it. Maybe the guys who wrote this are political geniuses.

Quick And Dirty: If you enjoy their work, this is some of the very best of it, and a subtly emotional conclusion to their struggles behind the scenes. That’s a context that the album itself doesn’t explicitly contain, though. I maintain that the overt messages are as awkward as the music is catchy. (♦♦♦)

Exactly.

Concept: Brendan O’Brien gives grunge godfather Vedder a pop makeover.

Sound: If nobody else is going to say it, I will — Pearl Jam is getting old in every conceivable way. The only thing fresh about this album is the energy in Vedder’s voice, and that is forced to carry every. Single. Song. The “rock” songwriting is like something out of a Dropkick Murphy’s scrapbook. O’Brien’s glossing of strings and Springsteen piano staccatos do absolutely no favors. Beneath the drum mixing, you can hear the band beating its head against a brick wall.

Lyrics: Eddie was a very good lyricist in his prime. Whatever happened? This stuff provides rhythm to the tunes, but it’s poorly executed themes are 1) ‘I’m not cut out for this stuff anymore’ and 2) ‘Yeah! Alright! Woah!’ It’s Jimmy Buffet meets The Hives!

Quick And Dirty: One of the most forgettable albums I’ve listened to this whole year. Sorry, guys. (♦♦)