Sound Selections

TRML’s Sound Selections #28

Reptaliens - Multiverse

Reptaliens – Multiverse

Released just this year, Reptailens’ Multiverse is an album clearly influenced by the pandemic. Feelings of being trapped and wishing for more are weaved together with a shoegazey, psychedelic sound. Dreamy vocals float over whimsical guitars and a groovy bass for a collection of tracks that feels light and airy, but are so much more than simple pop songs. Oh, and if you need assistance taking to the air with the Reptaliens’ excellently breezy sound (which shouldn’t be hard), the album comes with branded rolling papers, which will be of more use to you depending on the state where you live.

My first encounter with Reptaliens was their performance of Multiverse’s opening number “I Feel Fine” on the show Wastoids. On the one hand you had this dreamy song about pandemic-driven lethargy, yet on the other there was a person dancing around in a poodle costume. I didn’t know WHAT to make of it, but my curiosity was piqued and I wanted to hear more, so off to Bandcamp I went. (Mission accomplished, I guess?) Poodle dancer aside, Reptaliens offer a solid sound that is great to put on and chill out. They offer enough substance to keep you engaged, but it’s not too heavy and allows you to float along with melodies.

TRML’s Sound Selections #27

Bob Dylan - Desire

Bob Dylan – Desire

Desire, Bob’s 1976 album, is a very collaborative effort that really encapsulates his creative circle into its every bit. From the collage on the back cover, to the Allen Ginsburg-penned liner notes, to the ensemble of talented musicians on every track, this album is more “Bob Dylan and friends” than anything else. Scarlet Rivera’s distinct violin work weaves throughout Desire’s nine tracks and Emmylou Harris’ iconic voice sings harmony to the point where it’s more of a duet than a backing vocal. It’s a freshly brilliant americana offering from the artist who (arguably) brought folk music to the mainstream.

This era of Bob’s is by far my favorite. Blood on the Tracks/Desire, as well as the Rolling Thunder Revue live album, are, to me, peak Bob Dylan. You might not agree and that’s fine. I’m not discounting any of his other iconic albums (the fact that’s pluralized is amazing enough). Bob has had such a long career with many distinct “eras” that everyone will have different opinions on what era is better than another. For me, Desire is great because it’s an album that has a lot of heart and character. It looks out at the world AND peers inside the soul with a sound that holds you firmly in its grasp throughout both its sides.

TRML’s Sound Selections #26

Japandroids - Celebration Rock

Japandroids – Celebration Rock

Released in 2012, Celebration Rock was Japandroids second album and the one that shot them to indie stardom. It’s a collection of nine tracks that aims to capture the energy of their live performances. While I haven’t seen them live (yet), this album is a firecracker from start to finish. It’s got a solid punk sound tied together with a bit of rock and roll twine for a package that offers a Descendants drive and a Tom Petty jangle. That’s really impressive considering it’s only two guys. For a duo, the Japandroids have a sound that is much fuller than their member count would imply.

I love power duos. I’ve covered others in these weekly reviews and you can safely bet I have more planned. I’m not sure if it has anything to do with my own band-member limitations, but I adore hearing what can be done with only a few people. Japandroids are a shining example of how to create a solid sound with limited resources. There is deceptively little going on in the songs, but they sound full and have an energy that few can capture in the studio as successfully. Each song makes you want to sing along and would kill in a live setlist. It’s well worth a listen and one that deserves a home in your record collection.  

TRML’s Sound Selection #25

B.B. King - Indianola Mississippi Seeds

B.B. King – Indianola Mississippi Seeds

Indianola Mississippi Seeds was B.B.’s eighteenth (!) album. Released in 1970, This album is NOT what you’d expect. Starting off with the stripped down “Nobody Loves Me Like My Mother” it lulls you into a false sense of sameness. “Oh, ok. Pretty straight forward blues…” Then it explodes into the killer “You’re Still My Woman” and weaves and ducks through the remaining seven tracks that sees B.B. deliciously incorporate an orchestra as well as venture into more straightforward rock territory. B.B. navigates these additions and changes with ease, creating an album that’s subtly eclectic yet 100% true to B.B.’s style. It’s no wonder B.B. himself noted Indianola Mississippi Seeds as his favorite release.

I’m probably speaking to the choir here, but B.B. King was a true legend. He was someone that every guitar player is influenced by, whether they realize it or not. His style was studied and imitated by many artists and it’s very likely that your favorite guitarist studied him. I sure have. Hell, I once messed up my shoulder trying to emulate his signature “butterfly” vibrato technique (don’t ask). He was an artist that truly infused emotion into his music and his guitar. George Harrison might have made his guitar gently weep, but B.B. made his truly sing with the whole breadth of human emotion. 

TRML’s Sound Selections #24

Gerald Casale

Gerald Casale – Jihad Jerry & the Evildoers

“Believe what you will… But do not make others eat from your plate…” With those words and tongue firmly planted in cheek, Gerald Casale embarks on a “war on stupidity” via his character Jihad Jerry. Being a founding member of Devo, Gerald builds on his years spent in that band and gives us an album that questions modern times via witty observation and parody. You have songs like “Army Girls Gone Wild” that parodies “red-blooded American” ideals via the infamous soft-core video series. Then you have songs like “Find Out” which do away with parody and take a more direct approach to call out those who will tell you what to think about subjects they really have no business speaking on. All this is done through a sonic landscape not unfamiliar to fans of Devo, albeit much more guitar-driven with a fuller sound that includes backup singers and various horns among the army of instruments Devo-tees are used to.

I’ve been a fan of Devo for quite some time. I saw them live back in ’04 and it was a sight to behold (yes, it included costume changes). Their sound is unique and highly influential. Gerald had a big hand in crafting that sound and his solo effort was a no-brainer to pick up. I hadn’t even heard it prior to grabbing it on Record Store day a few years ago, but I knew it was going to be interesting. I was not disappointed. It’s out there, as one would expect from a founding member of Devo, but it’s also thought-provoking and the issues it critiques are unfortunately still prevalent 16 years later. Maybe it’s time for Jerry to return to his war on stupidity? I don’t know if that’s in the cards, but I do know that this album is a fun and engaging listen and I’m glad it was rereleased, albeit briefly, to be discovered by a new generation of fans.

TRML’s Sound Selections #23

Placebo - Sleeping with Ghosts

Placebo – Sleeping With Ghosts

Sleeping with Ghosts was Placebo’s fourth studio album and was a major turning point for the band both lyrically and sonically. Prior to SWG, Placebo skewed towards angst-driven lyrics with a punky glam sonic aesthetic. However, their 2003 release saw a new, more mature direction for the band with romantic lyrics (not romantic I love you, but more romantic as in looking at and trying to understand love) coupled with a more sonically diverse-yet-cohesive sound. They dabbled in this on their previous release, Black Market Music, but here we see Brian and the crew expertly balance guitar driven rockers with synth sounds not dissimilar to the sound of the new romantic bands of the 80s. 

Here in the States Placebo are not nearly as big as they are in Europe, which is a shame. I first heard of them, as most Americans did, when Pure Morning was the big hit on alternative radio. (I distinctly remember the DJ on Chicago’s Q101 station make the lame joke “Placebo, or Play-sah-bo as the folks in Indiana call them.”) I had at some point also picked up (or borrowed, my memory is hazy) the deluxe edition of Black Market Music (the one with the excellent Bowie collab bonus track), but SWG was the album that really made Placebo click for me. Perhaps it was the more mature lyrical content and writing style or perhaps it was the new sonic directions the group were taking. Either way, I was hooked. I look forward to the day when I can see them live in-person. Until then, however, I’ll just have to enjoy their excellent tunes on the turntable.   

TRML’s Sound Selections #22

Local H - Hey, Killer

Local H – Hey, Killer

Before the White Stripes and the Black Keys broke onto the scene and made power duos “cool,” Local H was busting eardrums with their heavy-hitting riffs and earth-quaking drums. Hey Killer, a newer record of theirs (2015) is a good example of the sound these gents are known for. Drop the needle and you’re greeted with a distorted guitar drone that swells into the intro riff of “Last Picture Show in Zion,” building the energy and heralding what’s to come. What comes next is almost 50 minutes of pure Local H goodness. I don’t mean that in a general sense, I mean they have a certain sound and are VERY good at consistently producing music within that framework without sounding redundant. When you hear a Local H song, even if it’s a simple acoustic number or even a cover, you know who you’re listening to because of the sonic consistency they’ve built.  

I will never forget my first experience with Local H. It was back in 1999 and I saw them play at a festival in Chicago. Back then it was just the two guys on stage and they absolutely blew me away with their performance. Up until then I had never imagined two people could rock SO HARD. It was also the first and (until I see them again in a few weeks) last “reach-around” guitar solo I’ve ever seen. (A roadie came up behind the frontman, Scott, during one of the songs, reached around him and played the rhythm part on his guitar while he did the solo, then ran off the stage when finished.) It’s a sight to be seen and is just one of the many reasons this band is legendary and well worth a spin on your turntable and a ticket to their show.

TRML’s Sound Selections #21

Switched-On Bach

Wendy Carlos – Switched-On Bach

Switched-On Bach is one of, if not THE most important synth album of all time. Released in 1968, it proved to the world that synths weren’t mere expensive toys for the weird experimental artists to play with. As the name implies, Switched-On Bach sees Wendy take the revered works of Johan Sebastian Bach and reproduce them in an electronic medium, specifically on Moog synthesizers. It might sound gimmicky, but as soon as the record starts you know that’s not the case. Every track on this album is expertly crafted to where it can easily stand with other full-orchestra classical albums, and the (now) legendary (in no small part thanks to this album) Moog synth sounds really add a special kind of character to these dusty old classics. 

If it weren’t for this album convincing the world synths are not silly gimmicks by selling millions of copies and winning THREE Grammys (back when winning a Grammy actually meant something), it’s obvious we wouldn’t likely have many of the electronic acts of today. Hell, if not for this album it’s hard to believe Kraftwerk would have gained the traction they did, especially in those very early experimental/classical leaning days. Wendy set out to prove synths were the real deal and succeeded. Wendy saw the future of music and used the past as a gateway to a musical revolution. And while some might despise the idea of electronic music (to which I say grow up), I can’t imagine a world where this album never was made and we never got to hear acts like Kraftwerk or, hell, even last week’s Sound Selections pick. It’s an important piece of music history and one everyone should listen to at least once.

TRML’s Sound Selections #20

Bright Eyes - Digital Ash in a Digital Urn

Bright Eyes – Digital Ash in a Digital Urn

2005 was a big year for Bright Eyes. They catapulted into the mainstream with not one, but TWO albums released on the same day on the legendary Saddle Creek label. The two albums were polar opposites of each other, with I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning’s folk stylings countered by the dark electric sounds of Digital Ash in a Digital Urn. A departure for the band, D.A.i.a.D.U. pairs Conor Oberst’s melancholy romanticism with near industrial song stylings. Along with heavy textured beats (often a combo of live kits and a drum machine) and sweeping synths, you’ll find horns and new wave-like guitar work weaving through twelve tracks that can sound both upbeat and dark at the same time. Hope and death vie for control of Conor’s world and the listener is there to hear the struggle play out.

Like I mentioned in my review for Danse Macabre by fellow Saddle Creek band The Faint, the early 00s were a golden age for that record label. I discovered Bright Eyes through the little catalogue the Saddle Creek included with all their releases and thought, “well, I like all this other stuff from them, I bet I’ll like this too.” Spoiler: I did. And my introduction to Bright Eyes was this album as well as its release companion. Admittedly, at the time, I was more interested in D.A.i.a.D.U. Its textured electric sound was more in line with my interests then, but hearing it side-by-side with I’m Awake… showed me that you can, artistically speaking, have your cake and eat it too. Conor was able to successfully transplant his melancholy folk out of the organic world of acoustic and into the electric black light of the synth realm. Many artists have tried to transplant their music into other genres and failed, but Conor proved that it can seem effortless when you understand what makes the music “yours.” If the heart and brain of the song is the same, the body they’re wrapped in can be a mushy human or a metallic cyborg and still deliver a recognizable message to the listener.  

TRML’s Sound Selections #19

Stevie Wonder - Innervisions

Stevie Wonder – Innervisions

One thing comes to mind when listening to Innervisions: Legend. From start to finish the album flows with an energy brought on the wings of Stevie’s soaring vocals and funk beats. Also, with a few exceptions, he played ALL the instruments AND wrote and produced the entire album himself! In 1973, that was a very rare thing to encounter, let alone from someone with a disability. Opening with a hi-hat slurp on the funky “Too High” and seamlessing segueing into the beautiful “Visions,” Innervisions takes the listener on an audio journey through Stevie’s world in the early 70s. You feel like you KNOW Stevie after listening to this album, which is hard for any artist to do, proving this entire album is truly a masterclass in thoughtful writing and powerful performance.

As a suburban white kid, my introduction to Stevie Wonder was The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ cover of “Higher Ground.” That being the case, Innervisions, which contains that song, was my first foray into his music. But what an introduction it is! You’ll find every bit of Stevie’s varying sounds contained in these nine brilliant tracks. It’s a record that’s influenced thousands and there’s a reason it’s always included on all those “top 100” albums of all time. It’s a classic in every sense of the word and a gift from Stevie to the generations who have heard it and the ones yet to discover it.