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Albums you don’t need

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As I’ve been filling my musical archive with moderately positive to downright enthusiastic opinions, you may have gotten the impression that I’m an overly positive person. But that’s not the case – and there are people who consider me overly negative even. The reason for that phenomenon is of course that I prefer to write about stuff I like. And I assume that most others do as well. Which leads to overly positive reviews which, even when coming from normal people, read just like exhilarating press releases, and which you can consume in vast quantities on amazon and other sites.

While having mainly positive reviews will obviously make sense – at least in the short and I’d even say medium term – for people who are mainly trying to sell the stuff, it renders those review instances much less helpful. But even people like myself who don’t have any benefit from albums being sold (heh, perhaps I should start one of those ‘associate’ things – but I just assume that it’s not worth the effort) will prefer recommending things – just because we enjoy them.

And even when indulging in rating schemes like iTunes’ or IMDB’s, I find it terribly difficult to make up my mind which rating to give a particular item and remain consistent among all the ratings I gave over time. IMDB’s rating system has a scale from one to ten which is just too complex. I always tend to think of anything below five as quite bad, so I very rarely used those.

iTunes only gives you five different ratings, but I’m definitely too lazy to fill those in for all my songs, so I ended up giving four or five stars to songs I really like – making a nice smart playlist called ★★★★ which won’t disappoint when I can’t make up my mind what to listen to. Even the distinction between four and five stars seems to heavily depend on my current mood in this. Then, I mark with three stars songs which I quite like and with one or two stars songs which I enjoy or which I just want to be able to see easily in iTunes’ list. Most songs just don’t have any rating at all. A simple number rating is a nice help but not really up to the full job. Of course there’s the theoretic possibility of automatically assinging ratings to songs depending on how often and in which contexts you listen to them, but I assume that their results will be far from perfect as well…

Ahem… Where was I? I guess all I wanted to say is that people prefer to write about the stuff they like. And that any number based rating scales will be very hard to interpret – if only because people interpret the various ratings differently and the scales aren’t used too well – with the majority of votes seeming to be in the upper half or even third of the scale. In addition many of the albums I don’t like probably won’t make it to my home because I’ll listen to some of their songs in the record store and just leave them there (if only we had a good record store here in Göttingen…), so there can’t be any bad reviews for those.

So for a change, I write about a few albums which I wouldn’t recommend. Of course it’d be easy to come up with numerous albums which I wouldn’t recommend just by going through amazon’s best sellers. So that’s not the point. They are rather albums which one might have hoped (but not necessarily expected) to be nice but which weren’t. As I’ve liked a few of those bands a lot, this is a more or less painful experience. Obviously these are also very personal opinions and people appreciating other (or as I’d say ‘the wrong’) aspects of the bands’ music may reach a different conclusion.

Idlewild

Captain Cover Art I’ve really liked Idlewild a lot and counted them as one of the great Scottish bands. While they’ve always had a slight poppy touch, their music had lovely rough aspects as well. In fact, mostly rough aspects when listening to their 1998 EP Captain, say which included the wonderfully short Last Night I missed all the Fireworks and the shouty Captain along with rather crappy cover art.

It was soon followed by the good Hope is Important with songs like Everybody Says You’re so Fragile, When I Argue I See Shapes and, I’m a Message. And in 2000 we got 100 Broken Windows. While sounding a bit quieter and controlled than the previous ones, it has songs like Roseability, Little Discourage and Actually It’s Darkness, which remains my favourite Idlewild song to date.

From then on things went downhill. Just looking at the cover art of their 2002 album The Remote Part strongly suggests that they got new people doing their graphics. While the whole blurred and rough letters style stayed around in a weak way, the whole cover art is much more average and ‘consumer-friendly’ than that of the older albums. Their ‘logo’ has been changed to some ‘artistic’ font and there’s a distinct lack of capital letters outside the album’s copyright information. Oh, and while partially still being recognisably Idlewild music, the songs are rather dull as well. Somehow the album must have sold quite well, though, as people started knowing Idlewild afterwards.

Warnings Promises Cover Art Their current album, Warnings Promises, has yet another style of cover art and logo. While I quite like looking at it, it completly leaves the graphical styles they had before. This one goes even more down the cheesy road than The Remote Part did and I am tempted to say that almost none of the old Idlewild can be recognised on this album. Which is sad, as I really liked the old sound. To close the circle, listen to the track El Capitain an compare it to the rough title song of their first EP…

P.S. The more detailed review at Pitchforkmedia seems to share my opinion. And, amusingly, their back-history of reviews does as well. [Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

Tocotronic

An then there is Tocotronic. A German band that started in the mid 1990s and which I really got into back then. They were among the bands who made listening to music with German lyrics tolerable and perhaps even fashionable again. Cover of Es ist Egal, Aber – Best album cover ever! I just had a tape with 90 minutes out of their first three albums (Nach der verlorenen Zeit; Wir kommen, um uns zu beschweren; Es ist egal, aber) for ages. And only recently I stocked up on the complete records. Fantastic stuff: strange language, a bit of depression, low-fi. I’d say everybody should have it. But as they sing in German and their lyrics are rather central, so you may have to learn German at first. They have also toured the U.S. at some stage and there are a few ridiculously translated English versions of songs. Some of them are on their great 10th anniversary compilation album, which is a good place to start.

After those early days they released K.O.O.K. which was still fine and had a fun CD K.O.O.K Variationen coming after it with electronic remixes of Tocotronic songs. Their 2002 album Tocotronic was when I started being really disappointed. Most of the charm of their first albums seemed to be gone. Only the strange lyrics remained. But all of the sudden those trickily assembled texts started feeling complicated and trying to be intellectual rather than just existing naturally as they used to. To be fair, the album has a few moments… but the only song I’d recommend is Hi Freaks.

Pure Vernunft darf niemals siegen cover art And early this year their new album Pure Vernunft darf niemals siegen – ‘Pure reason must never win’ was released. With the first single Aber Hier Leben, Nein Danke being up for download around christmas. It wasn’t remarkable but tolerable. Much better than the rest of the album which makes Tocotronic sound like they turned into dullards like Blumfeld. Music with too much (social scientist) brain and too little music.

P.S. I put in iTMS links in many places above for your convenience to listen at songs. I had forgotten that there is a much better way to legally get at Tocotronic music online. Their label, the wonderful L’age D’Or who are the label for many other great bands like Die Sterne or The Robocop Kraus, Superpunk, Von Spar &c, have an online music store as well. At 96 cents per track (at least for Tocotronic) they beat iTunes on the price and with a lack of DRM as well as higher bit rates, their advantages outweigh the extra effort of using a web browser. Apparently they’re also selling Ogg encoded files for whoever can tell the difference. [Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

Little Barrie

We are Little Barrie cover art On the first sight, Little Barrie’s first album We are Little Barrie is quite sweet. Nice and simple cover art which looks both old-fashioned and modern to my eyes and a brilliant opening song, Free Salute which I had on heavy rotation for a whole week or so. Quite addictive.

Intermezzo: If you haven’t heard about the band before, just stop reading on and listen to that song and tell me which country they are from.

Just as the cover, their music sounds both modern but also 1960s style. Quite amazing. Kings of Leon for the 1960s I’d say. But it seems a bit more artificial, un-authentic if you wish, than the Kings of Leon and more boring. So while the music isn’t terribly bad, I can’t help feeling that they’re just trying too hard. A shame. And a good album to use online stores on.

P.S. When first hearing them, I thought their sound was clearly American. But they’re from England. What did you think? [Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

Turbonegro

Party Animals Cover Art This one is a bit of a joke, I guess. I had the impression that a lot was written about Turbonegro and their Turbojugend fan clubs, which really seem to exist even for the most minor of places. From what I had read about it, I already guessed that their music isn’t exactly my cup of tea, expecting it to be a bit too far on the ‘heavy’ side. So I decided to listen to their new album Party Animals just to know what all the fuss is about.

My impression is that it sounds much too friendly for proper metal, despite songs having charming names like All My Friends Are Dead or City of Satan. And it sounds exactly like the stuff there was in the 1980s or even AC/DC. Hmm, perhaps I shouldn’t be saying that as I don’t know too much about the whole metal scene, the closest I came to it being my neighbour as a teenager having Iron Maiden as the first band he was a big fan of and another friend in England who introduced me to exciting bands like Dimmu Borgir.

And compared to proper Norwegian Black Metal, Turbonegro just sound very tame and lame. Music for kids, I guess. Music that comes in dangerous looking sleeves and that is played be people who look like clowns. Hmm, I better shut up now before the local Turbojugend comes around my flat to disagree… [Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

The Coral

I first stumbled across The Coral on a compilation CD a friend sent me. It included Dreaming of You of their self-titled first CD which I considered good enough to warrant further investigation into their slightly old-fashioned music that lives somewhere between the 1960s and pop. In 2003 followed Magic and Medicine with a lot of old-fashioned goodness and including the nice and Simon and Garfunkel-esque Liezah.

Last year we had Nightfreak and the Sons of Becker with yet more pleasing and different old fashioned songs, ranging from the slightly psychedelic Song of the Corn to the more energetic Auntie’s Operation to the strange Lovers’ Paradise which keeps reminding me of Annie Lennox’ Keep Young and Beatiful. What’s strange about these records is that despite being a bit odd, not being particularly rock’n’roll and very few favourite songs coming from them, I like them and think they’re really nice to listen to.

The Coral, The Invisible Invasion Cover Art That’s why I was looking forward to hearing their next and current record, The Invisible Invasion. And I found it quite disappointing. The ‘magic’ that the other records had and that made me want to listen to them despite not being obviously exciting is gone. I can’t find it at least. It’s not that the music is horrible but the songs are unremarkable and I consider it unlikely that I’ll ever come home and feel like I have to listen to this record. [Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

Wir sind Helden

Von Hier An Blind Cover Art I hate to say this. Particularly as my previous Wir sind Helden entries found a lot of interest. But I am not particularly impressed by Wir sind Helden’s new album Von Hier an Blind. Sure the first two singles Gekommen um zu bleiben and Nur ein Wort are all right. And even their lyrics continue to be interesting. And their front-woman hot. But musically I don’t find the album quite boring.

I have to admit that I wasn’t too much of a fan of the music on their first album. Not the stuff I’d usually listen to. Too much 1980s in there. But together with their power and their lyrics it was easily good enough. The new one seems to be more pop and less action with too much focus given on the singing. [Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

The Raveonettes

Pretty In Black Album Cover I had a mixed start with The Raveonettes. They didn’t show up for a gig but their first EP Whip it On was just fantastic. Things went downhill from there on. Not only do they keep sending me stupid spam messages, the unsubscribe link in which doesn’t work, more significantly their first full album Chain Gang Of Love failed to match Whip it On quality wise – but it has still a few decent songs and at least it’s done in b-flat minor.

Their new album Pretty in Black looks like it’s a kitsched-up version of what there was before. Gone is the cool black-and-white styling. And in comes – pink! Quite a change. B-flat minor also seems to have been replaced with more cheerful stuff and – once again – I find the album a bit on the dull side. All the fantastic power they exhibited on Whip it On seems to have vanished. [Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

June 11, 2005, 23:38

Tagged as lang:de, music, wir sind helden.

Comments

Comment by tristan: User icon

mmhmm, idlewilds ‘warnings / promises’ was a big dissapointment. idlewild are one of my favourites, and i havn’t even bothered to buy it =(.

June 14, 2005, 7:22

Comment by ssp: User icon

It’s really a shame… but you could go and get Patrick Wolf’s new record. If only because it’s got a song with your name.

June 14, 2005, 10:57

Comment by jetfuel: User icon

I really, really like the newest Wir Sind Helden. And I don’t even understand German, so it can’t be because of the lyrics. :D

December 4, 2005, 10:47

Comment by ssp: User icon

Be sure to check out the Wir sind Helden pages then. They include translations of all lyrics.

December 4, 2005, 10:55

Comment by mt: User icon

whatever dude, i love the new tocotronic records. they have so much texture & the melodies are gorgeous. the only beef i have with tocotronic is their drummer…his playing is sort of blah compared to everybody else’s instrumentation. i think they did their US tour around the year 2000. i wish they’d come back. i know they probably never will, though. stupid monolingual country.

December 14, 2005, 10:13

Comment by turbojugend: User icon

Fuck You!Asshole!

December 27, 2005, 0:22

Comment by AJiN: User icon

I thought little barries album was both clearly english and totally kick arse. I love every song on the CD, its like every one could be a single. I may be biased because I love the blues so much, but I havent heard anyone do it so well in so long. And saying they tried too hard is such a cop out. Its obvious they are just doing what they love.

January 23, 2006, 14:43

Comment by d.w.: User icon

Just an aside, but I imagine the Little Barrie album cover is an homage to this one.

January 24, 2006, 21:21

Comment by ssp: User icon

Thanks for that pointer Dave. Not that would’ve known about that record myself…

January 25, 2006, 2:27

Comment by d.w.: User icon

That Love album is a fantastic record, BTW. Some claim that it’s one of the best of the 60s, and I’d certainly count it as one of my 10 favorites from the decade.

January 25, 2006, 16:19

Comment by Bon J.: User icon

I wholeheartedly agree with you about the new Tocotronic album. The whole point of their aesthetic seemed to be simplicity and the resultant mockery of shit like Pure Vernunft….. However, I still kinda like it, in and of itself. It’s just not Tocotronic.

On the other hand, Wir sind Helden’s new album is amazing. For me, their whole reason for existing is the lyrics, along with Judith’s beautiful voice (amongst other things). The music is purely their own, and sounds like noone else, and yet on this one it’s more low-key and lets Judith come through more. I saw them live in Innsbruck in October and I was surprised when I liked the new songs better than the old. I still fall over however, at “Du erkennst mich nicht wieder”.

I would put these two bands out there, as the best lyrical bands of the present day, in any language. Only Ton Steine Scherben are better, but they’re long past their prime.

Ich möchte Teil einer Jugendbewegung sein! (but I’m too old) Bon

July 22, 2006, 23:34

Comment by ssp: User icon

While I’m still not a big fan of Wir sind Helden’s Von hier an blind album, I keep being surprised how good many of its songs are when seeing them play live :)

I guess I’m more of a Die Idee ist gut, doch die Welt noch nicht bereit person.

July 22, 2006, 23:55

Comment by Turbonegro Fan: User icon

Suck my Dick !!!

April 17, 2007, 19:28

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