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The all-inclusive, ever-changing, and uncomfortably flexible guide to all things music in the 2010's.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Brad Paisley - This Is Country Music: C+

I really wanted to like This Is Country Music, I really did. With modern country music sounding like a parody of itself with goofy artists singing hyper-patriotic songs in embellished southern drawls, it’s strange to say there was a time when the genre could be used for cogent social commentary and the listening spectrum was not always a choice between the strictly conservative and The Dixie Chicks. So I was excited to hear Brad Paisley’s newest album after hearing the praise the man received for 2009’s American Saturday Night. The reviews coming in for This Is Country Music were following suit, so I expected there to be some legitimately intelligent music for me to chow down on.

Little did I know how wrong I would prove to be. Any hope I had that This Is Country Music was going to be anything but shameless pandering was destroyed with the album’s first few lines. “Well you’re not supposed to say ‘cancer’ in a song / And telling people that Jesus is the answer can rub ‘em wrong,” he sings on the title track. “It ain’t hip to sing about tractors, trucks, little towns or mama... But this is country music, and we do.” Now, I will be the first to admit that I am a political liberal, but as a music fan, those lines are insulting. I don’t know what fascist music industry Brad Paisley’s been toiling under the past decade, but I’ve heard tons of songs about mama, little towns, trucks and, oh yes, even Jesus sung by rap, rock and pop artists alike. Paisley saying that country music solely deals with these subjects is not only silly but patently false. And this is the first single for This Is Country Music. The song sets a tone for the rest of the album that it never gets close to shaking.

But what I like about This Is Country Music is probably more interesting to talk about first. As pompous as he sounds on many of the album’s songs, Paisley can have a really clever voice when he doesn’t have the right wing breathing down his neck. For example, “Camouflage” is a cute tune about the titular pattern being the new fashion craze. It’s a good song despite the fact that, as if beamed down by the Gods of Redneck Ridicule, Larry the Cable Guy yells “Git ‘er Done” not once but twice on the track for seemingly no reason. Elsewhere, “One of Those Lives” has a decently executed moral about appreciating what one has and “Toothbrush” wittily describes the stages of love through the objects Paisley brings to his girlfriend’s house.

Also, there is no getting around the fact that Paisley is a masterful guitar player. All over This Is Country Music, the man will go off on great solos that transcend the rudimentary arrangements in which they are placed. “Eastwood”, which features whistle work from none other than Clint himself, is an excellent example of this. It is essentially an instrumental through which Paisley can realize his dreams of being an axe-slinger in a Spaghetti Western, but it’s still quite enjoyable and probably the best track on the album. It seems that, with This Is Country Music, the best voice Paisley possesses is with his six string.

Alas, Paisley’s lyrical faux pas cripple This Is Country Music from being worth the listen. There are some respites, but Paisley generally has the subtlety of a banjo over the head on this album, and it gets tiring fast. Paisley’s celebration of summer feels like sand thrown in the face on “Working on a Tan”, that hackneyed phrase is relentlessly repeated like it’s unique in the Blake Shelton duet, “Don’t Drink the Water” and we know that Paisley and Carrie Underwood really love fucking each other in the ode to gratuitous PDA, “Remind Me”. But for all the blatant attempts to be mawkish and curt, This Is Country Music gets quite lazy, defecting to boring ballads and a chorus like “Wish I could be the lake that you’re swimming in,” by its end. There’s a theme established in the first song that completely disappears in the album’s second half only to reappear on the very last track. This all makes the album sound thoroughly half-assed, pushing aside storytelling for rote sentimentality and common denominators. In the context of most of the mainstream country we have had to put up with, This Is Country Music will sound above average, but it is a genuine disappointment to find that Brad Paisley is an artist just barely better than the worst.


Friendly Fires - Pala: B

A turkey on the cover would have been more appropriate.


Coma Cinema - Blue Suicide: B+

Well, it’s been two days since summer unofficial started, so how’s it been going so far? Feeling excited? Hopeful? Well fuck that! Because the reviews are in and Coma Cinema’s third album is going to depress the living shit out of you! Good weather? Fuck it! Good friends? Fuck it! Summer love? Fuck it, man! Don’t you know that the only permanent thing about true love is the pain you feel when it goes? I hope you weren’t planning on leaving your weeping bunker for the next three months, because your sorrows are ripe for the wallowing and Coma Cinema’s got the Kleenex!

But in all seriousness folks, Blue Suicide, the third album by one-man-band Coma Cinema, has the potential to really get to you. It’s one of those records that is so consistently morbid, you’d have to laugh it off to keep yourself from shrinking into a fetal position. The album was made in a nomadic way; main man Matt Cothran scrounged around towns in South Carolina for abandoned musical equipment so he could intermittently record his two-minute shame spirals, so you can imagine how downtrodden the guy was feeling throughout the album’s making. Not only is this ragtag setup conveyed in Cothran’s lyrics, but in Blue Suicide’s production, which seems to shirk wide ambitions for tape fuzz and Elliot Smith-like acoustics.

However, you may be surprised to find that, despite its back-story, Blue Suicide is remarkably cohesive. True, the double-time drums of first track “Business As Usual” sound like pure shit, but it’s not like there are inconsistent moments of high fidelity juxtaposed with moments of low, something I had assumed upon entering the album. Most likely as a result of the restrictions on the album’s making, the lengths of Blue Suicide’s tracks are quite short (only about half exceed the two minute mark). However, it doesn’t feel like Cothran’s just recording single ideas onto analogue tape, which is what the album’s making would imply. Instead, each track of Blue Suicide is complete and has a distinct identity, a great testament to Cothran’s ability to write full songs despite his limitations.

And then there’s Cothran’s crushing pessimism. The album that first comes to mind when listening to Blue Suicide is Titus Andronicus’s The Monitor. However, instead of having some ballast like a group chant of “You’ll always be a loser,” Cothran refuses to stop obsessing over death, ultimately concluding that living makes him feel like a whore. So the safety net of Blue Suicide isn’t so much missing as it is made out of barbed wire.

Cothran’s diatribes against himself are worded cleverly, so rarely do they come off as self-pity although that is essentially what they are. “I am willing to eat what the vultures will not,” he informs on “Greater Vultures”, and his acoustic guitar sounds so frail and his voice so defeated it’s borderline transcendent early into the album. When I listen to Blue Suicide I end up chuckling at how colorful Cothran’s cynicism can get, but the album’s worth listening to if only to hear a well-executed expression of an emotional extreme.

So if Cothran was hoping to make a really miserable record, then slap a blue ribbon on Blue Suicide, because it’s a winner. However, I would still recommend allowing the album to ruin the flow of at least one of your days while you’re trying on bathing suits and setting up the slip-n-slide. Blue Suicide is very well made, regardless of its circumstances. It gives hints of a Coma Cinema that can be truly transformative through that oft-abused sentiment of grief. But, wait a minute. Is that a violin I hear in the title track just before the album ends? Well then, perhaps things are looking up.


Couldawouldashoulda: May 2011

Hello all and welcome to the May 2011 installment of Couldawouldashoulda, where I rattle off the five albums that just barely didn’t make the cut for my top 50 albums of 2011. You may have noticed that I neglected to make a Couldawouldashoulda for April, and this was because I had finals and put off blogging during that time. So, making up for that, here are the April Couldawouldashoulda’s described briefly using clever burger metaphors.

Earth – Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light Pt. 1

Shit that burger took FOREVER to eat. Could have used more seasoning, though. Or any condiments. Or a bun for that matter. Now that I mention I, they just basically gave me a big plate of boneless ribs. Still good though.

Nicolas Jaar – Space Is Only Noise

Listen, this is good, but I’ve been to a lot of burger joints recently that have made a similar burger much better.

The Low Anthem – Smart Flesh

Are you sure I ate this burger? It looks nice on the menu, but I don’t remember eating it. I feel full though. And a little sleepy.

Toro Y Moi – Underneath the Pine

Alright, this burger is slightly more thought out than the last one they gave me, but a dry burger’s a dry burger, dude. I’ll pass.

Within Temptation – The Unforgiving

I’m liking it, but did they have to put so much cheese on it? Why does this burger have so much cheese on it?

And that’s that. Here are the Couldawouldashoulda’s for May 2011:

Big K.R.I.T. – Return of 4Eva

Original Review Here

While still great, Return of 4Eva was hardly the masterpiece I was expecting after last year’s debut, K.R.I.T. Wuz Here. The album certainly shows K.R.I.T.’s craft maturing, but I don’t think that necessarily warrants him completely disavowing the wildly successful cheap thrills of his past like K.R.I.T. Wuz Here’s summer smash, “County Shit”. I wanted to hail Return of 4Eva as K.R.I.T.’s magnum opus as much as the next guy (and apparently every publication that has reviewed it), but I simply cannot bring myself to do it. It’s just an above average rap album.

Tim Hecker – Ravedeath, 1972

Original Review Here

In which Paul attempts to parse meaning from distant piano melodies and simmering atmospherics. Tim Hecker’s seventh album is great fun if you like to watch your own house burn down; it’s fraught with haunting ambient textures and bits of cacophony are sprinkled in like walnut pieces in grandma’s famous pumpkin bread. As a listening experience, though, Ravedeath 1972 does an excellent job of conveying terror brewing just over the horizon if not the apocalyptic undertones other critics have cited. Sometimes, the album finds itself on the wrong side of my tumultuous relationship with ambient music, but it’s worth your time nonetheless.

Thursday –No Devolución

Alright well this was going to have to come out eventually. You will not find a review of Thursday’s seventh album, No Devolución, on Check Your Mode because I forgot to take notes on it and a couple other albums. I rated them but, like a moron, I completely forgot to do anything with them. So as a primer, here are the albums I have overlooked:

The Skull Defekts – Peer Amid

Magic Pie – The Suffering Joy

Panda Bear – Tomboy (probably the most notable of the three)

Sorry about that. Anyway, No Devolución shows the New Jersey sextet (?) taking a centrist approach to their post-hardcore sound. While that’s admirable, I find myself counting far too many missed opportunities on the album as a result of this compulsion for balance. When the group goes positively apeshit in the three choruses of “Past and Furious Ruins” with distorted screams and jagged riffs, it almost feels like a fever dream, because it leaves as quickly as it arrived, the group pretending it didn’t just sonically kick you in the face as they go into the soft tumble of the verses. There aren’t nearly enough moments like that on No Devolución. While it’s a great album regardless, I would suggest the group bring out the chains and whips next time around...

Sic Alps – Napa Asylum

Original Review Here

For what should have been an unremarkable lo-fi record, Napa Asylum has had legs since its late January release. The San Francisco group’s third album is just a collection of two-minute guitar pop exercises. The chorus of “Eat Happy” literally goes, “Eat eat eat eat eat eat eat eat eat eat eat eat eat happy,” for example and yet it is captivating in ways that will make you feel ashamed of yourself. The album’s so simple you’d almost wish it would just go away, but it has adamantly refused, and I must say it makes a rather convincing case for itself. Alright Napa Asylum, we’re cool. Just don’t drink all my Pib, OK?

Colin Stetson – New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges

Original Review Here

Pretty elaborate title for an album that’s basically a guy wrestling with a saxophone for an hour. Pretty prophetic Laurie Anderson poetry for an album that’s namesake doesn’t speak a word. Is New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges overblown? You’d think so, but it actually earns every one of its elitist signifiers because Colin Stetson can play a bass saxophone like he’s giving birth to a heaving, enchanting demon. At least with his instrument, Colin Stetson has conceived a masterpiece that warrants all the artsy bullshit that comes with it, the placental nourishment if you will for that festering brilliance kept in Stetson’s utero for what feels like centuries. These graphic birth metaphors doing anything for ya? No matter. Get this album, because, if you don’t, you may need an epidural for the pain you’ll endure for not forgiving yourself.