Act II: The Meaning of, & All Things Regarding Ms. Leading (2007 - Digital Album)
Artist: The Dear Hunter
When compared to some of the other crap I've borrowed from the digital service, I was almost prepared to give this album from Boston indie rock group, The Dear Hunter, a glowing review. Musically, it's superb, as it's done in the style of an epic rock opera, with a band that actually knows how to play their instruments and an acceptable level of variety in the songs. The only problem is that the vocals lean towards the whiny side, seeing as how The Dear Hunter is considerd an "emo" band. Though I managed to enjoy this album when I first listened to it, I only got about halfway through a second try when I couldn't take the vocals anymore. Although the songs' styles aren't all exactly alike (some sound inspired by Electric Light Orchestra, others like ragtime jazz), the lyrics are all pretty much depressing/emo stuff, almost entirely about a breakup with the titular Ms. Leading, so that can make multiple listenings a bit hard to swallow.
Edit: I actually revisited this album sometime after originally writing this review and bought it. I apparently got used to the vocals enough that they no longer bother me. The music is certainly interesting enough at times to overlook it.
Aya (2000 - Digital Album)
Artist: Yoshi Mihara
In trying to get away from borrowing nothing but rock albums, I checked out a contemporary jazz album from Japanese artist, Yoshi Mihara. This is the type of instrumental jazz that's more relaxing and closer to New Age in style than the Big Band stuff of the 1920s. It wasn't life-changing, but it was enjoyable and a nice change of pace.
Dragon-i in the House (2011 - Digital Album)
This is a Club/House/Electronica/Dance album with only two tracks that are incredibly long. Unless this type of music in general is your cup of tea, the only purpose I can imagine this serving is for use in night clubs. Strangely enough, however, the tracks didn't bore me, maybe because there are enough dynamic changes to keep things interesting from start to end, and if I had to listen to it again, it probably wouldn't kill me. At least it wasn't as bad as Ames Room, as far as Electronic music goes.
How Sweet it is To Be Loved By You (1965 - Digital Album)
Artist: Marvin Gaye
After listening to this album, which is entirely comprised of love songs, I realized that despite my original reaction to the political and religious statements in What's Going On, I could see where that was the better and more artistic album. Unfortunately, though, after learning the whole story behind Marvin Gaye's death and the loveless relationship he had with his minister father, it gave me even more mixed feelings on What's Going On than I had before. Seems like all the religion he preached in those songs didn't do him any good in the end, and may have even been complicating things. It's all really depressing.
Well, anyway, back to this album. The best part of this was hearing the title song, since I'm much more familiar with the James Taylor version. In short, I really liked this, but I'm still holding onto my reservation that the Marvin Gaye album that will completely blow me away is still out there somewhere.
Hunting High and Low (1985 - CD)
The only album I'm reviewing this month that I actually own, a-ha's Hunting High and Low is best remembered for the one hit they had in America, "Take On Me". This is another situation like the New Radicals' Maybe You've Been Brainwashed Too in that it may have been a one-hit wonder (though a-ha is bigger in their local nation of Norway), but a lot of the other songs on the album are pretty darn good, too. My personal favorite is "The Blue Sky", an emotional lament about being unable to find happiness even when it seems like everyone else around you has. Seriously, despite being coated in a certain amount of 80s hoakiness, the album is more emo than you might expect. (Maybe not to the extent Tears For Fears is, but anyway.)
Weirdest of all is how upbeat and danceable many of the tracks are, while simultaneously having really depressing lyrics. Part of the reason you may not even notice it at first is because Morten Harket's vocals can be kind of tough for a native English speaker like myself to understand at times, but look up "The Sun Always Shines on TV" for an example of a song that has all the trappings of an 80s synth dance-pop number musically, but has lyrics like,
"I Reached inside myself and found nothing there
To ease the pressure of my ever worrying mind
All my powers waste away
I fear the crazed and lonely looks the mirror's sending me these days
Please don't ask me to defend the shameful lowlands of the way
I'm drifting gloomily through time"
Only problem is that I'm not real fond of the eponymous "Hunting High and Low", which boils over with the sentimentality a little too much for my tastes, but it's balanced out with tracks like "Train of Thought", an almost horrifying take on how becoming locked into an everyday working routine can erode your identity, and "And You Tell Me", a short, but curiously pleasant little love song.
Monkey Puss (Live in London) (1999 - Digital Album)
The first true Death Metal album I've listened to is a live album from Swedish metal group, Entombed. Apparently, it contains material from their first two albums, Left Hand Path and Clandestine. It carries a Parental Advisory warning, but if they didn't talk between the songs, it probably wouldn't need to. Despite that they do sing in English, their Cookie Monster vocals are nigh incomprehensible most of the time. All I kept thinking was how Jim Henson said he had to perform Dr. Teeth sparingly because he had difficulty keeping up the harsh vocals required of that character. So, how on earth do these death metal bands keep it up for an entire album-length live performance, I wonder?
The Rough Guide to Irish Music (2013 - Digital Album)
There is a whole series of these "Rough Guide" albums that each focus on a different type of World music or particular artist or genre. This was the first one I ever actually listened to. I was hurting for some Irish folk music after the disaster of that Musica Celta earlier in the year, but now this is what I want from an Irish music album! Fiddles and Irish whistles, not accordion music that sounds like polka. Granted, some of the lyrics in the vocal songs are depressing, but at least they're not so ridiculously over-the-top as the songs on Musica Celta were. I really hate to sound sexist, but I think it also helped to have a female vocalist with a good voice rather than the dull male singers on that other album.
Anyway, my only caveat is that it is very long. The physical CD version is 2 Discs, clocking in at almost 2 hours total, so it gets a bit taxing to listen to the whole thing all the way to the end in one sitting. But at least you get a lot of value, whether you buy it or borrow it like I did.
Survivors (1979 - Digital Album)
Survivors is the debut album from British heavy metal band, Samson, although it sounds more like plain ol' hard rock, as opposed to what one might think of as being heavy metal. As I began listening to it, my dominant thought was that the songs were okay enough, but I really don't like the vocals. Then, about halfway through the album, the same songs started repeating with a different (and much better) vocalist. I looked up some information on this, and apparently what I borrowed was a Bonus Tracks Edition. The original album had Paul Samson on vocals, and even though Bruce Dickinson is pictured in the cover art, he was not actually part of the band at the time of the album's release (don't ask me how that happened). But then after he became the band's lead vocalist, they re-recorded some of these tracks with Dickinson.
Overall, not bad for a debut effort, but if you check it out, I'd recommend getting the Bonus Tracks Edition and skipping right to the recordings with Bruce Dickinson first.
Terminator Salvation Original Soundtrack (2009 - Digital Album)
I haven't seen this movie yet, and it doesn't sound like it's very good from the reviews I've read, but I needed a change of pace from rock albums and seeing as how this was Danny Elfman's work, I thought, "What the heck", and gave it a shot. First off, this is not done in the style that you may be used to from Danny Elfman, composer of such iconic music as the Beetlejuice and The Nightmare Before Christmas scores, and The Simpsons theme song, but that style wouldn't have been appropriate for this movie. Instead, this is a more serious, sweeping orchestral epic with the occasional mechanical tinge as a nod to the movie's machinery-based theme.
Even without knowing what's going on during the songs, it held my attention pretty well, and then ends with the Alice in Chains song, "Rooster", which is a highly-fitting finale. I almost wonder now if this is a better soundtrack than Terminator Salvation was a movie.