TRML’s Sound Selections #58

TRML's Sound Selections 58: The Dismemberment Plan - Change

The Dismemberment Plan – Change

With the release of Change in 2001, The Dismemberment Plan reached the height of their popularity and solidified their spot in the pantheon of indie rock. Largely smoothing out the edginess heard in their previous albums, the band opts for a more complex yet laid-back sound that’s less art-punk and more psych rock. That isn’t to say the songs are lethargic. No. Most of the 11 tracks on Change is driven by energetic drums that push the songs forward as the guitars chime and ring out while singer Travis Morrison sings in his unique and then newly-honed singing style, which soars significantly more than it used to on the Plan’s three previous albums. It’s a winning combination that brought them into the spotlight and onto college radio stations across the country (that and opening for Pearl Jam). It’s also the sound they chose to retire on. Well, at the time we thought they were finished as they played their farewell show just two years later in 2003. They returned, however, in 2011 for a live album then released a fifth studio album in 2013, but have unfortunately been quiet since.

The Dismemberment Plan was huge in my friends circle in the early 00s. Their sound was perfect for our little arty group of nerds. They put forth enough of a punk aesthetic to not be seen as “sell outs” but also had enough of a serious side to them that we could name-drop them when trying to sound hip (every teenager needs a stable of bands to name drop to sound cool to the college kids). They were and still are great listening for late-night car rides home from concerts, when you’re tired and your ears are still ringing and you just want something to bring you down slowly. The D Plan’s sound hasn’t aged a day and even though they’re likely not coming back (please, Travis, prove me wrong), we still have five excellent albums to play back and enjoy over and over again. 

TRML’s Sound Selections #57

TRML's Sound Selections #57: Cheap Trick - Dream Police

Cheap Trick – Dream Police

When Cheap Trick released Dream Police in 1979, they had just broken into international stardom thanks to a massively (and surprisingly) successful live album. That album, Live at Budokan, did a better job of capturing the energy of these Illinois boys than their previous studio albums did. (Compare the live and album versions of “I Want You to Want Me” and you’ll see what I mean.)  They changed that with Dream Police. This album brings the energy of their live shows and expands their sound, emphasising the “power” in “power pop.” It’s heavy AND catchy and definitely takes some inspiration from the hard rock and metal scenes, with killer hooks expanding into nine plus minute hard rock anthems. It’s an album by a band that has figured out their sound and learned how to kick butt.

Being from Illinois myself, Cheap Trick was textbook listening growing up. They are one of those “hometown heroes” bands EVERYONE from that area knows. Every big city has them (yes, even in Iowa) and it’s always an event when they play their home town. Cheap Trick is a legendary band with an iconic sound and a lead guitarist who asks “How many necks CAN I fit onto a guitar?” They’re a band that when their song comes on the radio, you have no choice but to crank up the volume, because music this good needs to be played LOUD. 

TRML’s Sound Selections #56

TRML's Sound Selections 56: The Cure - Pornography

The Cure – Pornography

Despite what the title might imply, this is not a saucy album. In fact, The Cure’s fourth album is one of the darkest, most bleak albums you’ll ever hear. A reflection of Robert Smith’s mental state at the time, Pornography is full of nihilism and macabre imagery. But in this darkness there is beauty. Sonically the album is the most full and lush sounding of the band’s output at the time, which creates this gothic garden of sounds that broods as it blooms and, like any beautiful garden, must be taken in slowly and in full. This album isn’t one you can skip tracks or drop the needle on the hit single. No. If you put this album on you’re in for the long haul to relish the darkness of it all from start to finish.

As anyone who knows me is aware, I’m a huge Cure fan. Despite being the grandfather of goth rock, Robert’s music covers so much ground that there’s a whole album for any mood you’re in. This is probably why they have stuck with me so consistently. It’s not a matter of being “in the mood” to listen to the band, but rather which album I’m feeling at the time. That’s a very rare thing for a band to accomplish in my books. It just goes to show how good of a songwriter Robert Smith is and how he’s not going to let himself be pigeonholed into one style. The Cure are a band that needs to be represented in every music collection, be it just the greatest hits or a whole collection of studio albums. It’s timeless music that resonates through every new generation and sounds just as fresh today as it did when it was first released.

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.