Robert Plant & The Strange Sensation
[Sanctuary Records; 2005]
This is an astonishing late-career masterpiece from the former Led Zeppelin frontman. It was somewhat overlooked at the time of its release in 2005 because it came before Plant’s cultural resurgence in 2007 through his one-off Led Zep reunion and the more commercially successful but less musically interesting Alison Krauss collaboration Raising Sand. Recorded with his excellent touring band, the Strange Sensation, Mighty Rearranger is a musical tour de force that updates the proggy midperiod Zeppelin with flourishes of electronica and a continued interest in Middle Eastern rhythms. Plant’s voice is rougher and earthier but still instantly recognizable, as he turns in affecting performances on “Shine it All Around,” “All the King’s Horses,” “Let the Four Winds Blow,” and others. Mighty Rearranger is a standout album in Plant’s underrated solo pantheon, at once doing the Led Zep legacy proud and forging a completely new cultural presence for Plant.
Regina Spektor has always had albums that were “not quite there”, but always showed promise and even slivers of brilliance. Far is not her masterpiece, but it’s easily her most consistent and enjoyable album to date. She finds that middleground/sweet spot that Tori Amos and Kate Bush have been trying to hit with their last couple records, but slightly missed the mark. Far starts off with “Calculations” which might just be the catchiest song the album. It’s not a single yet, but it will be. Don’t be fooled by the upbeatness of the song, as the album really varies in mood from upbeat to somber. In contrast, “Machine” sounds very dark and moody, and sees Spektor singing “I”m hooked into Machine” – “I’m downloaded daily”. The song offers a bleak look at how an artist might feel, as all their work eventually becomes digital. “Laughing With” (the first single off the album) takes a dark look at peoples faith in God, and does so with chilling results. “Folding” is also a great tune, and has rolling guitar and piano that leaves you smiling. As a whole Far does a great job keeping things interesting. Spektor could have taken the easy route, and made a full album of upbeat pop songs (and she can write a mean pop song) – but instead she goes for substance and variety. The album will have you dancing, thinking and by the end of it all, you will realize that she has a great ability to switch moods on an album seamlessly.
– Brent Koepp
Graham Lambkin & Jason Lescalleet
Last year was an excellent time to be a fan of the experimental realms of underground music. Strong, personal releases just kept coming thoroughout those months, from the No Fun and Hospital noise camps to the smaller yet very creative circles such as Weird Forest and Scott Foust’s Swill Radio. John Abbey’s Erstwhile label based in New Jersey spared no expenses themselves with the release of The Breadwinner by the team of Graham Lambkin and Jason Lescalleet. Before this major work, both Lambkin and Lescalleet self-released their own highly emotional, superbly constructed solo works, “Salmon Run” (on Lambkin’s Kye) and “The Pilgrim” (on Lescalleet’s Glistening Examples). The two of them working together on The Breadwinner is a match made in heaven. The pieces, made in Lambkin’s upstate NY residence, capture a brilliant flow of both musical and non-musical sounds. Ghostly, sampled vocals from a Casio SK-5, layers of looped crackle, unidentifiable rumblings, field recordings, slowed-down tape processes; all these elements expertly mixed and edited by these two masters into a record of sheer beauty and ambiance. An album packed full of wonderful surprises that has fantastic staying power. Bravo!
– Rob Galo
The Good, the Bad and the Queen
As Blur prepare for their re-union tour following the shaky happenings during the Think Tank sessions in 2003, it can often be easy to forget the solo feats of front-man Damon Albarn. Whilst The Good, the Bad and the Queen never reached the same height as the band that originally projected him to fame (or even that of his animated side-project, Gorillaz), the self-titled album is one that should not be forgotten in the Albarn’s canon. Originally marketed by the NME as a supergroup of sorts (comprised of The Clash’s Paul Simonon, The Verve’s Simon Tong and afro-beat pioneer Tony Allen), the renowned nature of each member never entirely became the house-hold name that Blur, Gorillaz and the Clash became to be. Simply enough, it was pinned as a concept album, with Albarn attempting to encapsulate modern life in London. However, as modern as the album intended to be, it is musically shrouded in a sense of sombre musical nostalgia, which can partially be attributed to the production of Gnarls Barkley’s Danger Mouse. Pessimistic in his approach, Albarn comments on the restrictions of living in London, questioning how to improve on himself as a person if he “…can’t be anymore than [he] sees.” The apocalyptic theme is one that resonates through out The Good, The Bad and The Queen, from the very title of “The Kingdom of Doom” to numerous references of Armageddon, and the constant terrors of war. However, chaos and destruction are best encapsulated in the closing and title track, which starts as a chiming piano ballad, but implodes within it self as guitars squeal and drums shatter, as the listener gets the feeling that Albarn is the only man standing in a London in ruins.
– Aidan Galea
We Are Scientists
With Love and Squalor
With Love and Squalor was We Are Scientists’ first major label release and refined and perfected the sound they had been making on their previous self-released efforts. The songs are mostly of an up-tempo, indie-punk nature with angular guitar lines and fast-paced drumming which propels them onwards and gives them a jerkiness that’s ideal to dance to. The slower songs stand out just as well, often of a reflective nature they help to pace the album and give you time to catch your breath before the next burst of energy is unleashed.
The lyrics are all of an amusing, self-deprecating nature which may not be as meaningful as lyrics found on other great albums but they have their own charm. The album is full of sing-along choruses and one-liners that will make you smirk.
Basically, With Love and Squalor is one of the catchiest and most fun albums of the last few years, there is not a single weak song in the bunch and clocking in at about 37 minutes there is no reason not to give a try.
– Rob Hakimian