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Animal Collective, Snoop Dogg, Bob Seger and More

By Brian Baker · December 16th, 2009 · I Shall Be Released

After making a big deal out of dipping into the 2009 archive to find titles that didn’t make the listening stack the first time around, I actually have a week of all new reviews. That won’t happen again until sometime in January, though; for the remainder of the month, the release sheets are thinner than Tiger Woods’ alibi.

And since I brought it up, how is this news? Young guy with almost unfathomable fame, impossible amounts of money and a job where he travels constantly is bedding women outside of his marriage. This is breaking news on par with “Scientists Discover Link Between Not Breathing for 30 Minutes and Death” and “Left Shoes Work Best on Left Feet.”

It would be news if Tiger wasn’t screwing around on his wife. It’s idiotic “news” like Tiger Woods playing his long game somewhere other than his home course that distracts us from real news, like Wall Street enjoying record profits after the bailout and planning to pay its executives billions in bonuses this Christmas instead of paying back the government (i.e., us) on the loans that allowed them to survive. Can we get the newsdogs of the world to cover that particular story on the front page and let TMZ and Extra follow the unfolding Tiger scandal? In the meantime, you can calm yourself with these new releases.


Animal Collective is assembling the kind of catalog that will drive rock genologists to the brink of madness. Over the past decade, the rotating membership of the Baltimore unit has eight full-length albums, a quartet of EPs, a pair of live albums, eight singles and over a dozen solo/duo/other releases under various banners. The idea is clearly that Animal Collective doesn’t want to be constrained by any single way of operating or even a particularly stable lineup, a methodology that allows them to pretty much do whatever the hell occurs to them at the moment.

Fall Be Kind, the Collective’s latest EP, isn’t exactly a new set of songs; three of the disc’s five songs date from 2007 when the band was crafting material that would ultimately comprise their last acclaimed album, Merriweather Post Pavilion, released early this year. Those three tracks — the AltPop carnival jaunt “Graze,” the hash-glazed Eno Pop textural travelogue of “On a Highway” and the orchestral vocal loop construction of “I Think I Can” — were deemed darker and less connected to the direction of Merriweather and were held back.

The other two songs are relatively new. “What Would I Want? Sky” is an electronic Indie Pop workout that dates from Merriweather but was finished much later and features a sample of the Grateful Dead’s “Unbroken Chain,” the first ever licensed Dead sample. “Bleed” is a droning Noise Pop hymn that the band put together for their last tour.

The five songs definitely hang together as a group, but their purported darkness tends to lighten as the songs progress — “What Would I Want? Sky” is uplifting and quirkily joyous in a Bono-fronts-Phish fashion, while “Graze” thumps like “Tusk” if Fleetwood Mac had been into African Folk and if Lindsey Buckingham had preferred mushrooms.

As usual, Fall Be Kind fits Animal Collective’s established identity by being unique, experimental and utterly open to blazing new sonic trails while maintaining foundational elements that are both solidly grounded and airily diverse.

There were so many strange stories surrounding the making of the new 30 Seconds to Mars album, This Is War, that it was beginning to sound like a Wes Anderson script about a fictional album that Jared Leto was filming rather than an actual album he was recording. Tibetan monk vocals, a Kanye West cameo, a chorus made up of a thousand fans during a get together the band called The Summit. Factor in the four-year gap since the band’s last album, 2005’s A Beautiful Lie. Then there was the legal wrangling between EMI and Leto (he wanted to take the album to another label, EMI sued him for breach of contract, they made nice and Leto re-signed with the label). The fact that advance copies of the album were unavailable also helped give the distinct impression that This Is War was headed for the bottom faster than the Titanic.

And while This Is War may not be a groundbreaker or Leto’s staggering masterwork, neither is it the disaster that seemed to be foretold by the aforementioned palm reading. The album’s lead single, “Kings and Queens,” is an expansive five-minute epic that showcases all of 30STM’s strengths — Leto’s stratospheric Billy Corgan-meets-Bono vocals, the Edge-like guitar ministrations of Leto and second guitarist Tomo Milicevic, the hammer-of-the-gods drumming of Shannon Leto, the band’s collective ability to craft muscular and irresistible anthems.

At the same time, there is a chilly distance on a good many of the album’s tracks, from the moodily quiet storm of “Hurricane” to the whispered confession of “Alibi.” Even some of the more bracing moments on This Is War — the Gary Numanesque alien soundtrack atmosphere of “Stranger in a Strange Land,” the guitar-and-orchestra swell of “Search and Destroy” — have an arm’s length quality about them that, in fact, dovetails with the album’s themes of isolation and reflection and is the perfect vehicle for Leto to return to the Prog roots of 30STM’s eponymous debut album.

This Is War is not Jared Leto’s definitive musical statement, but it is solid proof of his potential for cranking one out.

It’s been an eventful 17 years since Snoop Dogg walked out of a California prison after a three-year stretch for cocaine possession.

The former Crip scored a track on a mix tape that came to the attention of Dr. Dre who auditioned Snoop and ultimately collaborated with him on a number of tracks on his 1992 solo debut, The Chronic. The following year, Snoop dropped his own debut, Doggystyle, which went quadruple platinum on the strength of the ubiquitous singles “Gin & Juice” and “What’s My Name.”

Since that auspicious beginning, Snoop has recorded for six different labels, been embroiled in various legal problems and become a high profile marijuana advocate, pimp, porn mogul, film and television actor, youth football coach and a perpetually busy product endorser (particularly for his own line of shoes and clothes). Along the way, Snoop’s sold a skadillion albums and has become something of a cultural icon, an unlikely turnaround for an ex-gangbanger. How many guys do time right out of high school and have an action figure of themselves a decade and a half later?

Snoop Dogg has made his rep in Hip Hop by delivering his gangsta hype in an almost offhand way, perhaps a natural by-product of his blunt intake. Snoop’s soft-spoken flow is perfectly suited to his innate musical abilities, as he seems equally at ease turning out deep Dub atmospherics and textures, hardcore Hip Hop beats or smooth R&B grooves.

Snoop’s 10th album, Malice N Wonderland, is his first for the recently resurrected Priority label (Snoop was hired by EMI to be the label’s new chairman), and it finds him doing what he’s always done best — rounding up a talented slate of producers and performers and putting together a conceptual extravaganza.

And while Snoop is treading extremely familiar musical and lyrical waters on Malice, it’s also true that very few of his fans are looking to him for innovation within the genre. Snoop’s collab with Lil Jon, “1800,” is a sizzler, and his West Coast spin on the old Romantics’ hit, “Talkin’ in Your Sleep,” here retitled “Secrets” and slowed to a ballad with Kokane, is a fun diversion. The album’s first single, “I Wanna Rock,” throbs with intensity, “Two Minute Warning” displays Snoop’s formidable mic skills and “Upside Down” (featuring Nipsey Hussle & Problem) is a great hybrid of new and old school.

Snoop’s taking a ton of shit for the presence of Soulja Boy and The Neptunes on Malice N Wonderland and for working in more radio-appropriate grooves and phasing out the hardcore stuff. But it hardly seems like legitimate criticism. Snoop Dogg has always found a way to combine what’s hot with what’s Snoop, and Malice N Wonderland is the next logical take on that formula.

Long before Bob Seger wrote out deposit slips in 15 minute intervals every time Chevy uttered or printed the words “like a rock” and became as rich as God as a result, he was an above-average bar band rocker working the Midwest circuit from his Detroit base, humping his own equipment and putting heart and soul into every performance and every recording. And there were a lot of recordings; by the time Seger nabbed the brass ring and launched his platinum career with Beautiful Loser in 1975, he’d recorded seven albums which had spawned a handful of moderately successful regional and national singles (“2 2=?,” “Heavy Music,” “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man”). For those who know Seger only through his astonishing commercial success, the songs on his new archival release, Early Seger Vol. 1, will be something of a revelation.

Early Seger focuses primarily on Seger’s work in the early ’70s, featuring a half dozen songs from a trio of albums from the period — Back in ’72, Smokin’ O.P.’s and Seven — as well as a quartet of previously unreleased tracks. True Segerites already have the albums in question, although the songs have been beautifully remastered while one — “Long Song Comin’ ” — was almost completely re-recorded by Seger for this album. Seger’s take on “If I Were a Carpenter” from Smokin’ O.P.’s (Seger’s covers album — O.P.’s stood for Other People’s) is incredible. His powerful, expressive, soulful voice weaving Folk/Jazz melodies into the classic while Skip Knape’s monumental organ fills give the song all the trappings of a Midwestern version of a Traffic classic. Seger gives a similarly inspired treatment to Gregg Allman’s “Midnight Rider,” injecting the song with Rock Gospel fervor, while “Get Out of Denver,” long a showstopper in Seger’s live sets, shows more of his Chuck Berry roots in the song’s studio introduction on Seven, and his love of the Blues comes through clearly on the same album’s “U.M.C. (Upper Middle Class).”

Early Years’ unreleased tracks all date from Seger’s post-breakthrough period, although “Gets Ya Pumpin’,” written in 1973 but recorded in ’77, retains the raw Rock edge of his earliest work. The other three, all recorded in 1984, are Seger in his more commercial vein with the rough edges sanded a little cleaner. “Star Tonight” was covered by Don Johnson on his 1986 Heartbeat album but Seger reclaims it authoritatively here. “Wildfire” is Seger at his expansive Rock ballad best, although it’s really a slightly different take on “Roll Me Away.” “Days When the Rain Would Come” offers a similarly translated vision of “Against the Wind.”

For true Bob Seger fans — and in the spirit of full disclosure, I’m one (I saw Seger in those early years, and I was in the audience at Cobo Hall in Detroit when 1976’s Live Bullet was recorded) — there are no surprises on Early Years. Although the truly early songs sound spectacular in their remastered versions, the unreleased tracks are good but not essential. The interesting aspect here is the Volume 1 designation, and the fact the album is released not on Capitol but on Seger’s own Hideout Records. Perhaps this bodes well for a Volume 2 that will include Seger’s great but forgotten string of regional hits from the ’70s (“Noah,” “Lucifer,” “Lookin’ Back”) and perhaps a few lost studio nuggets from that period. Until then, Early Years Vol. 1 will suffice.

Seattle multi-instrumentalist Barbara Trentalange — formerly a fixture fronting Spyglass and a utility player with Crooked Fingers, Calexico and Head Like a Kite, among others — made her solo debut two years ago with Photo Album of Complex Relationships, an atmospheric and textured work that suggested Radiohead’s sonic shadow plays, Peter Gabriel’s moodier moments and Nick Cave’s less murderous balladry, following it up in 2008 with the equally compelling Awakening Level One.

Trentalange’s dark vocals smolder with the passion of Annie Lennox and the quiet thrum of a sedated Exene Cervenka and she writes songs that adhere to no standard musical format and consistently touches listeners on a visceral level. Trentalange’s latest release is B-Sides, a 19-minute EP featuring a quintet of tracks that didn’t make either of her solo albums. Don’t judge them on their absence there or their appearance here —all five are prime examples of Trentalange’s impressive abilities.

“In This Darkness” and “Lover” have the quiet pulse of a Lennox tribute to Portishead. “Way Down Where the Wind Blows” shimmers and sighs like Patti Smith at her most romantic produced by Nick Cave. “Changed Love” has an off-kilter sonic sway that is simultaneously jarring and soothing and “Time” chugs and churns like X playing Punk chicken with a string quartet.

B-Sides is slight but it’s a perfect appetizer until Trentalange decides to grace us with a fresh full-length. In the meantime, there’s no need to wonder exactly what Trentalange sounds like, because she’s offering B-Sides for free download for a limited time; take a virtual stroll over to trentalange.bandcamp.com before January 1 and grab a gratis copy to experience her indescribable talents.

 
 
 
 

 

 
 
 
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