Sound Selections

TRML’s Sound Selection #55

TRML's Sound Selections #55: The Dandy Warhols - ...The Dandy Warhols Come Down

The Dandy Warhols – …The Dandy Warhols Come Down

While the Pacific Northwest was fertile ground for the grunge movement in the early Nineties, by the middle of the decade there was another musical movement blossoming where grunge was wilting. The new psychodalia movement was well under way when The Dandy Warhols released their second studio album “…The Dandy Warhols Come Down.” Greatly expanding upon the sound of their first album from two years prior, the Dandys stretched out into more refined power-pop and combined it with sprawling psychedelic jams. The songs maintain the signature catchy hooks and balance of humor and the serious, but now they gel together in a fluid and sometimes trippy fashion. Pulsing drone guitar ebbs and flows and mutates into jangly riffs punctuated with bouncy synth lines as Courtney Taylor-Taylor’s chameleon-like vocals bid the listener good morning or raunchily describe their love interest in Minnesota. It’s a winning formula that has carried this band through all these years.

I’ve been a fan of The Dandy Warhols for decades and have long sung their praises. They are definitely in the top five bands I listen to most out of my massive music collection. I just find myself coming back again and again to their sound like an old pair of jeans. It’s comfortable and it has been there through many phases of my life. Even their new output slots right in with the songs from 20+ years ago and brings that sense of comfort, which isn’t something every band can provide. This isn’t to say their sound is stale, far from it. If anything I’d say it means they know how to stay fresh without constantly reinventing the wheel each album. It’s a skill that makes for a great listening experience for the veteran fans and the ones discovering them via beloved album reviews like this one.

TRML’s Sound Selections #54

TRML's Sound Selections #54: My Morning Jacket - Z

My Morning Jacket – Z

Z, My Morning Jacket’s fourth album, was a departure from their previous alt-country efforts that veers into more psychedelic territory. Jim James’ signature heavily reverberated vocals are still there, but the loss and replacement of two members, along with utilizing a producer that WASN’T also the lead singer, put the band on a path towards what would become their defining sound. Z was MMJ’s best-selling album to date when it came out in 2005 and it’s easy to see why. Like many famous psychedelic albums before it, Z incorporates a wide variety of influences and packages them up in 10 well-crafted tracks (11 tracks if you have the vinyl). You have the ever-catchy radio-friendly single “Off the Record” on the same side as the whimsically eerie waltz “Into the Woods.” It’s a trip that takes you on quite a few twists and turns but gets you there in the end with a feeling of satisfaction in a journey well travelled.

While I had been a casual fan of My Morning Jacket since their third album, It Still Moves, it was Z that really solidified my fandom of the band. At the time it was a sound that really jived with my interests and it stuck with me. Aside from their live album “Okonokos,” Z is the album of theirs I listen to most. There’s just so much to love here, and each listening yields something new to enjoy. Z is an album that is not just listened to, but is EXPERIENCED. It’s an excellent jumping-on point for the band and highly recommended if you want an album you can really sink into and enjoy.   

TRML’s Sound Selections #53

TRML's Sound Selections #53: One Year Anniversary

One Year Anniversary

That’s right! It has been one full year of my weekly bite-sized album reviews. Although “review” is a bit of a misnomer, as I’ve not so much critiqued these albums as I have told you why you should listen to them because ALL OF THEM ARE GOOD. With that in mind and to celebrate this auspicious anniversary, I tortured

tasked myself with picking the top five tracks from the past year of TRML’s Sound Selections. This was no easy task! There are so, so many amazing songs across the 52 albums I’ve written about. These five are my personal favorites and are songs that exemplify a range of inspiring songwriting.5) Jonathan Coulton – Glasses

In my opinion, no song better encapsulates adulthood than Glasses. Jonathan Coulton perfectly distills the adult-with-kids experience into a tight 2 minutes 47 seconds. It’s catchy, a little funny and, most importantly, it’s RELATABLE. I feel that last bit makes it one of his best songs overall, as it dispenses with forced humor or nerdy whimsy to deliver a song that is an excellent snapshot of many listener’s daily lives. 

4) Elvis Costello – Indoor Fireworks

Indoor Fireworks is NOT a happy song. It’s about a couple’s argument and Elvis, clearly drawing from his recent divorce, offers some of his best wordplay to describe this dissolving relationship. Comparing an argument to a firecracker is a perfect and delicious analogy and this song is a prime example of why he’s such a legend.

3) The Mountain Goats – Younger

For an album about role-playing games, you might not expect as much depth as you find in the song Younger. But then again, if you’re not expecting that, then you’re not listening to the Mountain Goats.  Younger not only portrays an interesting situation in an engaging way, it also expertly shows the depth players put into their tabletop game characters, as not only is the character in the song looking back at his younger self, John Darnielle is too by reusing a chord progression from an old song. This kind of meta songwriting is why, out of the HUNDREDS of songs he has written, Younger is, for me, one of John’s finest.

2) Stevie Wonder – Living for the City

Simply put, Living in the City is a very, very powerful song. So powerful that it can move someone who has not even remotely experienced what this song is talking about. Stevie was already well respected when he wrote Innervisions, but he solidified his status as a master songwriter with this song. Living in the City is not an easy listen because it’s disturbing, but that’s entirely the point. The spoken audio bits as a young man’s life is ruined is an important and powerful message and is part of what makes it so incredibly good.

1) Iggy and the Stooges – Search and Destroy

Search and Destroy is, bar none, the BEST album intro song of all time. Right away it grabs your attention by your sensitive nether region and drags you through what Iggy and the band are about. It’s songwriting 101 for a mission statement song and one that is well worth a study for any aspiring songwriter. It certainly influenced me as I’ve learned so much from these simple three and a half minutes. That’s why it’s number one in this list and in my list of favorite songs of all time.

Phew! There you have it. the top five songs from the first 52 Sound Selections. Next week it’s back to normal with more album picks you need to hear or, if you’ve heard them already, albums you need to hear again. Thank you all for sticking around this last year and I hope you continue to enjoy this little pet project of mine. I’ve got plenty more albums to write about! You might see a few alumni pop back into the Selections, but that’s because you need to hear those albums too! Although I do promise to keep it to one album per artist per year, so I’m sorry to say it won’t be four months straight of Lou Reed albums. (I know, don’t threaten you with a good time.)

Thanks again for reading and see you next week!

TRML’s Sound Selections #52

TRML's Sound Selections #52: David Bowie - 1.Outside

David Bowie – 1.Outside

David Bowie was a musical chameleon who never shied away from the weird. He reached his zenith of “weirdness” in 1995 with the release of 1.Outside (or just “Outside” or, if you’re feeling long winded “1.Outside – The Nathan Adler Diaries: A Hyper-cycle”), which is a dark and twisted art-crime rock opera. It’s like Columbo, but with incredibly brutal murders portrayed as art. It’s very obviously inspired by Twin Peaks and it perfectly fits with the mid-90s “grimdark” aesthetic. Originally a much more experimental double album (which can be heard on various places on the internet where legality is not ensured), the commercial album we now know and love is a dense and ever-changing soundscape. It veers from extremely heavy almost-techno (Hallo Spaceboy) to thoughtful ballad (the reused Buddha of Suburbia track “Strangers When We Meet”) with creepy character segues in between (all voiced by Bowie, who clearly had WAY too much fun with the voice modulation software). Every track has tons of layers and tiny bits thrown in to discover like clues at a crime scene, making it a fun and surprising listen, especially on headphones.

This album is one of my all-time favorite albums, hands down. I’ve purchased it four times over the years and I STILL find new things to love about it. Yes, it can come off as slightly pretentious in its overt weirdness, but that’s part of the fun. It revels in the grimdark trend of the time (which is something I could write a whole book about) while both looking back at David’s career as well as forward. It’s a perfect capsule of the mid-90s aesthetic and a MUST for any music collection.   

TRML’s Sound Selections #51

TRML's Sound selections #51: Deltron 3030 - Deltron 3030

Deltron 3030 – Deltron 3030

The turn of the millennium was a great time for music. As I’ve previously mentioned, the year 2000 was part of an era of great experimentation and ground breaking in the music world… It was also the perfect time to release a concept album about a futuristic rap warrior fighting against an oppressive regime. Deltron 3030, a supergroup consisting of Del Tha Funkee Homosapian, Dan the Automator, and DJ Kid Koala, did just that. This album’s concept is dark, but never quite takes itself too seriously with Del lacing things like Gamera references into his signature in-the-pocket rhymes in between segues which include a mutant’s review of the movie Strange Brew. All of this is over Dan and Kid Koala’s slick beats and choice samples. It’s like The Terminator, but while on acid and with rap battles. Oh, and a concept album of this caliber wouldn’t be complete without some choice guest stars, including Damon Alburn, Sean Lennon, and MC Paul Barman to name a few.

Anyone who has heard Gorillaz’ hit single “Clint Eastwood” has heard Del Tha Funkee Homosapian. That’s where I first heard him and that now-iconic performance is what led me to discover his music and this album. His blend of humor and nerdy subjects, which he delivers without pandering, is right up my alley and his killer rhyme delivery is some of the smoothest you’ll ever hear. This album is unique and a perfect jumping on point for his music as well as essential listening for anyone who wants something fresh and fun in the hip hop genre.   

TRML’s Sound Selections #50

TRML's Sound Selections #50: Pavement - Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain

Pavement – Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain

While 1994 was arguably the beginning of the end for the Grunge music boom, it was (also arguably) the start of Indie music’s rise to prominence. It was also the year Pavement released one of, if not THE greatest Indie albums of all time. Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, Pavement’s second album, refines their sound to a winning mix of dissonant chords, just the right amount of feedback/distortion, and frontman Stephen Malkmus’ unique vocal delivery. It’s a sound that is both complex and attainable. It keeps you guessing yet never feels inaccessible or like you’re missing some high-concept nuance in the dissonance. It all works perfectly well together for a record that has not aged a day in almost 30 years.

Fun fact: I bought this album having never heard of Pavement. Back in the day, Borders bookstores had album sampling kiosks in their CD sections. You could scan the UPC on an album and listen to 30 seconds of a few tracks. I did this with Crooked Rain after grabbing it off the shelf based on its Fluxus-style cover art. After 30 seconds of Silence Kid (not Silence “Kit,” which is something I only learned this week) my mind was blown. It was a revelatory experience. I immediately bought the album and was enthralled with Pavement and the Indie scene. This led to discovering many other bands (like New Pornographers and LCD Soundsystem to name a few) and a whole new world of sound was open for me to explore. I’ve had a few musical revelations over the years and hearing this album was certainly one of the biggest. That moment is etched into my memory and something I remember fondly. So if you haven’t yet heard Crooked Rain, Crooked rain, do yourself a favor and listen to it. Right now… Right after this sentence… OK, off you go. Enjoy!   

TRML’s Sound Selections #49

TRML's Sound Selections #49: Tim Curry - Fearless

Tim Curry – Fearless

To celebrate his 77th birthday this past Wednesday, this week I’m going to talk about an album by the legendary Tim Curry. Did you know before he was a Hollywood icon, a young Tim Curry tried his hand at rock and roll? He did! With his 1979 album Fearless (the second of three albums he’d release), Curry decided to up his game and get into songwriting after having released a full album of cover songs. Curry teamed up with Dick Wagner to write six of the nine tracks on Fearless and every track, even the Joni Mitchell cover, oozes Curry charm with his signature style front and center. He’s not hamming it up and the music isn’t cheesy. (Well ok, “Do The Rock” is… But it works!) The sound of the album is late-stage glam rock with hints of disco and soul sprinkled throughout. Altogether it creates a sound that might not have stood out much back in 1979, but has become an interesting and enjoyable listen in 2023.

As someone who is very familiar with Tim Curry’s acting career, I couldn’t believe it when I first heard he had a music career back in the day. In hindsight it makes perfect sense (Rocky Horror, anyone?), but at the time I was shocked and quite excited to hear his music. I ended up tracking down all three of his albums and legitimately enjoy them on a regular basis. His charm really does shine through on each track and some of his covers are quite interesting (his cover of ” I Put A Spell On You” on his third album, Simplicity, is perfectly on-brand). These albums are well worth seeking out because they are more than just a curiosity; they’re fun and they rock and they deserve a spot in your collection.

TRML’s Sound Selections #48

TRML's Sound Selections #48: Milemarker - Frigid Forms Sell

Milemarker – Frigid Forms Sell

At the turn of the millenium the world was ready for something new. Everything from fashion to fine art to music was changing and looking to the future. Milemarker was no exception to this creative evolution. On their album, Frigid Forms Sell, Milemarker took their previously (fairly straightforward) hardcore sound to a whole new level by adding synthesizers to the mix, creating a unique futuristic punk sound that turned quite a few heads on the underground scene. Songs about the terrors of technology and insect mating are formed with diodes and wires welded to the bones of hardocre punk. The addition of singer/keyboardist Roby adds a haunting quality to many of the numbers as they sway from ethereal to heavy and back again. It’s a juxtaposition that would serve them well over the next few years as they became staples of the underground punk scene.

I’m a longtime fan of Milemarker, especially this period in their career. At the time their sound was nothing like I’d ever heard before and their live shows were highly energetic and something to experience. Unfortunately their output has slowed considerably over the years since and they haven’t released a new album since 2016, but their electro-hardcore punk sound can still be heard today in countless acts, both mainstream and underground. They might not have been the first to plug in a synth in a punk band, but their brand of electro-punk sure left a mark on the scene. 

TRML’s Sound Selections #47

TRML's Sound Selections #47: Girlschool - Screaming Blue Murder

Girlschool – Screaming Blue Murder

Back when metal was largely dominated by oversexed men with an increasing interest in hairspray and makeup use, Girlschool kicked in the doors to the heavy metal boys club and made themselves at home. Their third album, Screaming Blue Murder, is chock-full of thick bass and powerful drums with raw, fiery guitar and vocals/lyrics that are pure attitude. Clocking in at a tidy 31 minutes, Girlschool brings a somewhat punk energy to their brand of metal, keeping the songs tight and powerful with no wasted time on extended solos or overly-long intros. Just pure fist-pumping, floor-stomping heavy metal.

I first heard Girlschool on the split EP they did with Motohead, which was included on one of the re-releases of Ace of Spades. I found them interesting because they were a rarity on the metal scene of that time and helped pave the way for acts like Lita Ford (who would release her solo debut the year after Screaming Blue Murder) and many others. Girlschool is a group of hard-hitting ladies who know how to bring the house down and are a must for any metal fan’s collection.

TRML’s Sound Selections #46

TRML's Sound Selections #46: The Mountain Goats - In League with Dragons

The Mountain Goats – In League with Dragons

With the release of the Dungeons & Dragons movie this week, I thought it might be a great time to highlight The Mountain goats 17th album, In League with Dragons. Inspired by tabletop games like D&D, In League with Dragons incorporates a lot of fantasy references as well as references to playing these types of games, wrapped up in an incredibly lush presentation. Every track is chock full of interesting lyrics and diverse instrumentation that together build a very full-bodied listening experience. John Darnielle’s full-band albums are obviously going to be much bigger sounding than his lo-fi solo efforts, but Dragons is possibly his most sonically dense effort to date. This is accomplished not only by choice use of strings/horns/etc., but even the “simple” songs sound HUGE with some expert use of reverb, giving them something of an ethereal quality. It’s an excellent example of songcraft and production and well worth repeated listens.

With a band as prolific as The Mountain Goats, it’s hard to pick a jumping on point. There are so, so many excellent albums to choose from. But I feel In League with Dragons is one of the most fun albums John and the group have released. This makes sense because of the reference material for the album. Something as fun and social as tabletop gaming requires a joyful and rich listening experience. In League with Dragons more than delivers this and is a great place to start if you’re looking to take a deep-dive into the cavernous collection of Mountain Goats music.