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Allana Mayer’s Musical Decade in Review

Posted by MUSIC_Jake On January - 20 - 2010

By Allana Mayer

Editor’s note: In this MONDOmusic special feature, former music editor Allana Mayer shares her views on the music of the last 10 years, nominating her favourites and some honourable mentions…

Ten years ago I was using AudioGalaxy to download Bjork and Depeche Mode tunes. Now, people use YouTube as a radio. It’s been one long, exhausting decade, and it’s fantastically impossible to keep on top of everything. And yet people (myself included) continue to use the best-of list as a viable format for journalism. Let’s be honest: it’s all about the name-dropping, and not a bit about the ranking… and we like the arguing, too. With that in mind, let’s make some unnecessarily pigheaded blanket statements about the 00s, shall we?

Here is my no-holds-barred, no-discussion, completely-unaccountable list of the best albums of the decade, one per year: Read the rest of this entry »

New Release Tuesday: September 8, 2009

Posted by MUSIC_Jake On September - 8 - 2009

Phish-Joy_bBy Jake Shenker

PhishJoy (JEMP Records)
With this summer’s inundation of 90s band comeback albums — some surprisingly excellent, many predictably forgettable — how could New England jam band Phish be left out of the equation? After a five-year hiatus – initially considered a full-fledged break-up — Phish have treated us to Joy, their newest studio album, along with a lengthy summer tour to promote it. While on first listen Joy sounds like a natural progression from where the band left off, subsequent hearings reveal the true nature of this 10-track opus: Joy is a review of Phish’s entire career, compressing their 25-year musical progression into one flawless set of songs. Album opener “Backwards Down the Number Line” takes a cue from 2000’s Farmhouse; “Kill Devil Falls” is reminiscent of Story of the Ghost’s “Birds of a Feather;” the latter half of “Light” plays like an updated “Bouncing Around the Room.” The unexpected focus of this relatively short disc is partly due to producer Steve Lillywhite, who ensured that Phish’s 5-year hiatus would not leave the band sounding scattered. With a perfectly apropos title, Joy is the product of an impeccably synchronized quartet at their best. Welcome back!

Beatles_Stereo_Box_SetThe Beatles’ Remastered Catalogue (EMI)
A refresh of the Beatles’ compact-disc catalogue has been on every fan’s wish list since it was initially released on lousy sounding CDs in 1987. An event several years in the making, September 9 will mark the release of The Beatles in Stereo and The Beatles in Mono, two box-sets containing the entire digitally-remastered catalogue in your desired format. If you’re any kind of fan, you’ve been following the avalanche of reviews hitting the web since June, so I’ll be brief: this release is good. Very good. Old favourites shine with astounding clarity, revealing detail that was lost in the previous format. Vocals sound crisp, bass and drums sharp, and layered instrumentation unambiguous. If you ever needed a reason to listen to more of the Beatles, this is it.

New Music Tuesdays: August 25, 2009

Posted by MUSIC_Jake On August - 25 - 2009

nrBy Jake Shenker

It’s hard to believe, but they just keep coming back. This week brings us the absolutely unnecessary new release from Collective Soul. At this rate, I expect to see a Chumbawamba album drop in September.

Here’s what’s new this week:

Collective SoulCollective Soul (Roadrunner)
The new record from this 90s alt-rock band really does beg the question “why?” It’s really not bad, I guess — it sounds just like every other Collective Soul album. But two breezes through the entire disc left me with the same feeling I get after watching back-to-back cooking shows on the Food Network: what the hell have I been doing for the last 2 hours? Collective Soul has no standout tracks and no serious stinkers, no departures in style and no surprises. Fans will buy it (it’s selling for 10 bucks — clearly the record execs have high hopes); the rest of us will yawn and ask “who cares?”

Imogen HeapEllipse (RCA)
Ellipse is everything I want from a new Imogen Heap album: a full disc of staggering vocal harmonies, trippy synthesized beats, and damn fine songs. Beyond those superficial features, though, lies a flawlessly-conceived follow-up to Heap’s 2005 breakthrough album Speak For Yourself. Although songs like “First Train Home” would fit in well with Imogen Heap’s back catalogue, new gems like “Earth” and “Bad Body Double” establish the British singer’s uncanny ability to evolve.

MatisyahuLight (JDUB)
I’m over the shtick. Back when Youth came out, everyone was fixated on Matisyahu, the Hasidic Jew who rapped and sang reggae music about God and religion. Putting aside the persona, Youth was an impressive album with a chunk of memorable songs. But Matisyahu’s newest disc, Light, is a step in the wrong direction. Abandoning the minimalist reggae sound of Youth in favor of more polished in-da-club-style hip-hop production, songs like “Smash Lies” and “We Will Walk” are neither fresh nor catchy, and border on irritating. Matisyahu’s once endearing faux-Jamaican singing accent has been replaced with high-pitched rapping and monotone speech. Although standout tracks like “So Hi So Low” and “I Will Be Light” echo the favorable sound of Youth, Matisyahu’s own lyrics articulate the main problem with this disc: “I’ll say to you / this is nothing new.”

It’s hard to believe, but they just keep coming back. This week brings us the absolutely unnecessary new release from Collective Soul. At this rate, I expect to see a Chumbawamba album drop in September.

Here’s what’s new this week:

Collective SoulCollective Soul (Roadrunner)
The new record from this 90s alt-rock band really does beg the question “why?” It’s really not bad, I guess – it sounds just like every other Collective Soul album. But two breezes through the entire disc left me with the same feeling I get after watching back-to-back cooking shows on the Food network: what the hell have I been doing for the last 2 hours? Collective Soul has no standout tracks and no serious stinkers, no departures in style and no surprises. Fans will buy it (it’s selling for 10 bucks – clearly the record execs have high hopes), the rest of us will yawn and ask “who cares?”

Imogen HeapEllipse (RCA)
Ellipse is everything I want from a new Imogen Heap album: a full disc of staggering vocal harmonies, trippy synthesized beats, and damn fine songs. Beyond those superficial features, though, lies a flawlessly-conceived follow-up to Heap’s 2005 breakthrough album Speak For Yourself. Although songs like “First Train Home” would fit in well with Imogen Heap’s back catalogue, new gems like “Earth” and “Bad Body Double” establish the British singer’s uncanny ability to evolve.

MatisyahuLight (JDUB)
I’m over the shtick. Back when Youth came out, everyone was fixated on Matisyahu, the Hasidic Jew who rapped and sang reggae music about God and religion. Putting aside the persona, Youth was an impressive album with a chunk of memorable songs. But Matisyahu’s newest disc, Light, is a step in the wrong direction. Abandoning the minimalist reggae sound of Youth in favor of more polished in-da-club-style hip-hop production, songs like “Smash Lies” and “We Will Walk” are neither fresh nor catchy, and border on irritating. Matisyahu’s once endearing faux-Jamaican singing accent has been replaced with high-pitched rapping and monotone speech. Although standout tracks like “So Hi So Low” and “I Will Be Light” echo the favorable sound of Youth, Matisyahu’s own lyrics articulate the main problem with this disc: “I’ll say to you / this is nothing new.”

New Music Tuesdays: August 18, 2009

Posted by MUSIC_Jake On August - 17 - 2009

thirdeyeblindursamajorBy Jake Shenker

This is definitely the summer of ’90s alt-rock comeback records, and here’s yet another new release I didn’t expect to see. This week’s Big Shiny Tunes-style nostalgia is coupled with piano-rock guru Christopher O’Riley, who has thankfully included some ’90s rock on his record and given me this beautiful tie-in. Enjoy.

Here’s what’s new this week:

Third Eye BlindUrsa Major (Sony RED)
It’s impossible to approach the first new album in six years from an arguably one-hit-wonder band without bias, so let me be the first to say it: Third Eye Blind’s new album surprised the shit out of me. I always dug the singles that ruled the airwaves in the ’90s, but I can’t say I ever Read the rest of this entry »

New Music Tuesdays: August 11, 2009

Posted by MUSIC_Jake On August - 10 - 2009

FLCR019By Jake Shenker

How is it possible that summer is two-thirds over and I haven’t been to the beach yet?

On a related note, here’s what’s new this week:

Black MoldSnow Blindness is Crystal Antz (Flemish Eye)
This record is what I would imagine music would sound like if I took dangerous amounts of hallucinogenic drugs. Black Mold is the new alter ego of Calgary-based singer/songwriter Chad VanGaalen, and his debut album is, in a word, trippy. Loaded with electronic soundscapes, Snow Blindness is Crystal Antz can at times be overwhelming: “Tetra Pack Heads,” for example, features a convoluted and disorienting percussive groove, punctuated by sweeping electronic pulses and African-inspired marimba melodies. But elsewhere, VanGaalen’s unique electronic cobbling succeeds in producing engrossing grooves and Read the rest of this entry »

New Music Tuesdays: August 4, 2009

Posted by MUSIC_Jake On August - 3 - 2009

nrBy Jake Shenker

Honestly, I’m sorry. Summer months are surprisingly busy, and though the new releases are less plentiful, they still pile up. Here’s a short selection of this week’s best, and a promise from me to keep bringing you new release reviews every week.

Here’s what’s new this week:

Bygonesby- (Sargent House)
Frankly, this album scares the crap out of me. Bygones — comprised of singer/guitarist/bassist Nick Reinhart and singer/drummer Zach Hill — have created an incredibly weird disc that escapes absolutely every musical category in existence. Tracks like “Cold Reading” and “Fool Evolved” are like a less heavy, more confusing grindcore, while “Click on That (Smash the Plastic Death)” bears a palpable resemblance to some of Frank Zappa’s heavier work. I haven’t yet formed an opinion about by- because, well, I don’t understand what I just heard. There are definitely some great performances on this album, but Bygones’ disordered style of songwriting definitely takes time to digest.

Tides of ManEmpire Theory (Rise Records)
There’s a nice musical alchemy going on with Tides of Man. Sure, they give off an emo-rock vibe — I cringed at the predictably dirty opening of “Not My Love” — but something in their sound is worlds above your average pop-rock act. Read the rest of this entry »

New Music Tuesdays: June 30, 2009

Posted by MUSIC_Jake On June - 30 - 2009

mondo1By Jake Shenker

I generally like to review three or four new releases, but after listening to Rob Thomas’ new album, I had to destroy my stereo system.

WilcoWilco (The Album) (Nonesuch)
Really, is there such a thing as a bad Wilco album? Depending on your preference, sure there is, but I can’t imagine a music fan who won’t appreciate Wilco’s newest effort. Wilco (The Album) is a carefully crafted, painstakingly well-written record that shines within an already impressive body of work. These guys have always written great songs, but these eleven tunes are, without exaggeration, the best they’ve ever put forth. Add to that the impressive, glossy-yet-organic production (think In Rainbows) and the surprising (and welcome) addition of singer Feist on “You and I” and I wouldn’t hesitate to call Wilco (The Album) one of the best new records of the year. Seriously. Read the rest of this entry »

New Music Tuesdays: June 23, 2009

Posted by MUSIC_Jake On June - 23 - 2009

mondo2By Jake Shenker

Some weeks it’s hard to find time to pore over new releases — I have a day job, you know.

Here’s what’s new this week:

The LeamonheadsVarshons (The End)
What, you don’t care about the Lemonheads? If nothing else, they get my accolades for their awesome 90s version of “Mrs. Robinson” (think Wayne’s World 2), but frontman Evan Dando is in fact a pretty excellent songwriter. Of course, his writing doesn’t shine on Varshons, an entire album of cover tunes. Dando and company continue the great work they did in the 90s with smart covers of some obscure, some well know, and some hilarious tunes. Among them: a driving folk rendition of Gram Parsons’ “I Just Can’t Take it Anymore,” a melancholy arrangement of Leonard Cohen’s “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye,” and a country-western version of Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful.” Pretty hip stuff. Read the rest of this entry »

New Music Tuesdays: June 16, 2009

Posted by MUSIC_Jake On June - 16 - 2009

nr1By Jake Shenker

A special greatest hits package, a confusing 8-bit indie record, a fantastic modern jazz album, and Spinal Tap? No two things are alike on this bizarre New Release Tuesday.

Here’s what’s new this week:

IncubusMonuments and Melodies (Epic)
What’s that, a new Incubus album? Think again. Monuments and Melodies is one of those irritating greatest hits albums that record companies release when a band is on hiatus. This 2-disc set, however, is pretty well put together. Disc 1 features the obvious radio singles and a couple of mediocre new tracks, but disc 2 is a compilation of b-sides, soundtrack cuts, and remixes that are mostly unreleased (or at least not readily available). While it won’t gain Incubus any new fans, this release will at least prevent Incubus fans, with their pea-sized attention spans, from forgetting about the band. Incubus are expected to release a proper new album in 2010.

Math the BandDon’t Worry (Slanty Shanty)
This bizarre duo sound like your average indie band on acid, making music with an original Nintendo, and a drumset. Their music is fast and ridiculous, but somewhere in the frenzy of double-time programmed drums and 8-bit synth is a friendly, endearing quality that makes Math the Band’s newest record worth hearing. Frankly, Don’t Worry is a record that actually can’t be accurately described — visit their myspace and form your own opinion.

Spinal TapBack From the Dead (The Label Industry)
Has it really been 25 years since Spinal Tap, the immortal 80s hair band parody film? It has, and the hilarious Spinal Tap — comprised of actors/musicians Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer, and Michael McKean — are releasing this special package to commemorate the anniversary. Back From the Dead features re-recorded, remixed, and often rearranged versions of Spinal Tap songs, chronicling the fictional band’s entire career. For this disc, you’ll definitely need to crank your sound system to 11.

Christian McBride & Inside Straight Kind of Brown (Mack Avenue)
One of the best modern bass players is back, and he brought some friends. Christian McBride has played with everyone from Chick Corea and John McLaughlin to Sting and DJ Logic, and he does it all with an unparalleled joy and finesse. Kind of Brown features McBride’s new quintet, Inside Straight, and explores just about every kind of jazz you can imagine. Vibraphonist Warren Wolf shines on the Modern Jazz Quartet-tinged “Brother Mister,” while the fast-paced, funky head of “Theme for Kareem” has a more modern sound. This is one of those rare new jazz releases that brings a new style to a very old genre, sounding alive and fresh while still respecting the foundations of jazz.

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New Music Tuesday: June 9, 2009

Posted by MUSIC_Jake On June - 9 - 2009

nrBy Jake Shenker

Depending on your disposition, this week either brings you a bunch of records to stay far away from, or a big shopping day. Try and figure out what I’ll be spending my money on this Tuesday

Here’s what’s new this week:

Black Eyed PeasThe E.N.D. (Interscope)
The only way I can express myself about the Black Eyed Peas is through a haiku:
Why must you come back?
Fergie’s “Humps” were bad enough,
Please leave me alone.

Mos Def The Ecstatic (Downtown)
Mos Def is certainly one of the best modern MCs, and his newest effort is as vibrant as his earlier work. With a broad variety in beat styles, there’s something for all kinds of hip-hop fans on The Ecstatic: from the heavily rock-infused “Supermagic” to the afro-beat percussion of “Casa Bey” and the big bass vibrations of “Wahid,” Mos Def runs the gamut of styles on this surprisingly succinct record. With producers galore — including Madlib, J Dilla (from beyond the grave?), and Oh No — it’s no wonder The Ecstatic covers more ground than a typical band’s greatest hits album.

PlaceboBattle For the Sun (Vagrant) and Sonic YouthThe Eternal (Matador)
I group these two albums together because I was damn surprised to see both these bands with new records out this week. So, what’re these guys doing to keep their existing fans happy and ensnare new, hip listeners? Not much. These records aren’t bad, per se, but they’re not fresh. If you’re a fan of either band, go enjoy their new album. If you didn’t like them before, these releases definitely won’t convert you.

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New Music Tuesday: June 2, 2009

Posted by MUSIC_Jake On June - 2 - 2009

newBy Jake Shenker

This week sees new releases by three of my favourite artists. Sorry ’bout the severe biases.

Here’s what’s new this week:

Dave Matthews BandBig Whiskey and the GrooGrux King (RCA)
I think I might be the only person who still cares about the Dave Matthews Band. Their last truly excellent album came out in 1998, and in the meantime they’ve released three unacceptably mediocre albums. But now, 11 years since Before These Crowded Streets, DMB has done something good. Big Whiskey isn’t your classic, acoustic-driven Dave Matthews Band: it’s full of electric guitars, glossy production, and succinct tunes. While it might piss off some diehard fans, it’s an undeniably well-made, enjoyable record.

RancidLet the Dominoes Fall (Epitaph)
Rancid is one of the few modern punk bands who have — arguably — never released a disappointing album. Well, their newest effort is much better than “not disappointing” — it’s fantastic. Let the Dominoes Fall has all the energy of previous albums — and its share of double-time drums and scream vocals — but it allows the aging band to explore some new territory. While tracks like “This Place” and “Up to No Good” maintain Rancid’s heavy punk and ska elements, “Civilian Ways” is a truly gorgeous acoustic tune, complete with slide guitar and mandolin. To top it off, the deluxe edition of the record comes with a bonus 12-track disc of acoustic versions of select new songs. In all, a very impressive effort.

Jeff Buckley - Grace Around the World DVD (Sony)
This eagerly anticipated DVD set chronicles Jeff Buckley’s live performances in promotion for his debut album, 1994’s Grace. Though many of these performances have been circulated on bootlegs, Grace Around the World is the first official DVD to compile them, along with previously unreleased videos. If you’re not sold yet, check out the special 3-disc edition of this set, which comes with a CD soundtrack of the film and — the coup de grâce — the as-yet unreleased documentary, Amazing Grace, which documents Buckley’s life and career, pre- and post-Grace, culminating in his untimely death.

Next week: a haiku about how much the Black Eyed Peas piss me off.

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New Music Release Tuesday: May 26, 2009

Posted by MUSIC_Jake On May - 26 - 2009

imgBy Jake Shenker

Yes, it’s that time of week — New Release Tuesday! This week, MONDOmusic introduces a new weekly feature designed to help you spend your hard-earned paycheck on shiny new CDs (or digital downloads, if you run with the cool crowd).

Here’s what’s new this week:

Grizzly BearVeckatimest (Warp)
These guys opened for Radiohead last summer, and despite that ridiculously high-profile exposure, I couldn’t help but feel bad for Grizzly Bear. They did their best and put on an interesting show, but the cutthroat Radiohead fans were having none of it. Grizzly Bear got booed, they got ignored, and I’m pretty sure someone chucked something at them. Do these guys a favor and check out their Arcade Fire-flavoured record — they’ve earned it.

Marilyn MansonThe High End of the Low (3D)
That’s right, a fresh new way to scare children and another album on which to blame senseless violence. The High End of the Low is an earnest effort to sneak Marilyn Manson back into the mainstream, and… it’s actually not bad. You’ve got the usual Manson sound, but a good chunk of this record is infused with a classic Nine Inch Nails-meets-Beck sound. If that comparison just blew your mind, go give this record a listen.

PhoenixWolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (Glassnote)
I’ll be honest, there’s nothing here I haven’t heard a hundred times before — Phoenix’s new record is another album full of potential background music for iPod commercials, but that doesn’t make it boring. If you like The Kooks or Jet, go have a listen.

Next week: I shower undue praise on the new Dave Matthews Band album.

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MONDO is a non-profit, weekly, Toronto-based, online magazine that focuses on arts, culture, and humour. We’re interested in art of all kinds (music, theatre, visual art, film, comics, and video games) and the pop culture that we inhabit.The copyright on all MONDO magazine content belongs to the author. If you would like to pay them for more content, please do. To contact MONDO please email us at editor@mondomagazine.net

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