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Ah get born, keep warm,
Short pants, romance, learn to dance,
Get dressed, get blessed,
Try to be a success.
Please her, please him, buy gifts,
Don't steal, don't lift,
Twenty years of schoolin'
And they put you on the day shift.

Welcome! Please share your favorite hipster album with us! Find previous reviews on the "Memories" page; they are archived there.

Aug. 7th, 2004 @ 01:05 pm David Gray: White Ladder
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Album Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

At WXPN, the University of Pennsylvania radio station, the DJs and the listeners vote on the best albums of the year for a countdown to the new year with the best albums played in their entirities. Every one of the DJs, who have been on Philadelphia radio since the early 70's, voted for this album -- that's how good it is! David Gray covers emotional ground on this album that no artist has touched since Van Morrison in the early 70's. Gray has Morrison's lyrical gift and lonely voice, but instead of fusing folk and jazz like Morrison, Gray plays around with a folk-ambient-techno hybrid -- but it's mostly folk!

If you're looking for uplifting, uptempo music, look elsewhere. This is love-sick, world-gone-wrong, melancholic folk-guitar music at its best. Gray breaks your heart on this album, and it's beautiful. It also includes his first popular hit "Babylon," after almost a decade of unrewarding work -- you can appreciate why his music is so wonderfully dreary. Somehow, even on the first track "Please Forgive Me," Gray sings over fast synth-drum:

"Throw a stone and watch the ripples flow
Moving out across the bay
Like a stone I fall into your eyes
Deep into some mystery..."

and you feel an overwhelming urge to fall apart. His lyrics are so eloquent with so many emotions colliding on so many different levels that you don't know how to think. Many of his lyrics are very mysterious. One of my favorites is on "We're Not Right," a song that when I first heard it, I thought it was Beck. He sings, "Can't tell the bottle from the mountaintop, no, we're not right...."

There is something wonderful and memorable about each of the tracks on this album, but unfortunately, the songs on either end are somehow a little more memorable that the ones in the middle. Probably, there are too many mid-tempo songs with sparse guitar and piano in the middle that a set of ears can't hold attention that long, but that doesn't mean the songs are throw-aways. These lyrics from "Silver Lining" are some of my favorites on the album:

"Step into the silence
Take it in your own
Two hands
And sprinkle it like diamonds
All across these lands
Blaze it in the morning
Wear it like an iron skin
Only things worth living for are
Innocence and magic, amen."

After the title track is when the album starts building to its climatic ending, and you realize that, all of the sudden, you're listening to a concept album. I can't tell you exactly what the concept is, it has something to do with the nature of love and life ("There is no rhyme or reason to love, this sweet, sweet love..."), but you can't deny that the last four songs tie every other song on the album together, somehow. You'll have to give it a listen for yourself!

It's possible that this was the first timeless masterpiece of the new millenium, and hopefully people will continue to enjoy it for many, many years. The emphasis here is lyrical rather than instrumental. It is the perfect blend of highly accessible and deeply emotional.

Aug. 7th, 2004 @ 01:04 pm Counting Crows: August and Everything After
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Album Rating: 3.75 out of 5 stars

Man, is this a tough album to review. On its own, considering that it was released in 1993, it is a gem. But if you take into consideration how much the band has improved since its release, this may be the Crows' worst. Part of me wants to give it three stars, because I'm such a huge fan of albums like This Desert Life and Hard Candy, but the other part of me hears songs like "Rain King," "Mr. Jones," and "'Round Here," songs that almost anyone who listened to pop music in the mid-nineties can sing off the top of their head, and says that this is a hands-down five-star album. So I almost compromised and gave it 3.75 stars.

I don't advertise for the band, but if you love the Counting Crows, you need this album. This is the debut album that threw this Los Angeles bar band into the national pop-culture spotlight. What's ironic is that one of the major themes of this album is the desire to be famous, but when band lost all privacy and became stars, they discovered stardom was the last thing they wanted. All of the crows radio hits and live-show staples (like "Omaha" and "Raining in Baltimore") are on this album. But that's not all: this album contains some of Adam Duritz's most thoughtful and poignant lyrics on songs like "Anna Begins," a sometimes-frightening, stream-of-consciousness-like song about the nature of human affection, and "Time and Time Again," one of his most heartbreaking and emotional rockers. "Time and Time Again" (or maybe "Rain King") is probably the song on this record that most resembles the music that the Crows make now. Unfortunately, there are also a few songs that miss their mark, which is rare for a Crows album. Many fans will tell you that "Ghost Train" is by far the worst song the Counting Crows ever recorded. "Sullivan Street," "Omaha," "A Murder of One," and "Perfect Blue Buildings" can get dull, too, if you're not in the right mood.

The primary difference between this album and the Crow's most recent work is Adam's delivery. Adam had never been in the studio to record a whole album before August, so, like every artist, he has to make the transition from performing to recording. His unique expressions are somewhat garbled here, compared to other albums. That is not to say that this album is devoid of emotion. That's wrong -- this is a very emotional album and Adam's passionate singing which he is known for is here in full force. But it is not perfect the way it is on other albums, and it takes some getting used to.

One other minor drawback to this album is that the band decided to leave off the brilliant title track, although rumor has it that there exists a studio recording, and some of the lyrics to "August and Everything After" are even written on the cover art. This song has become the ultimate rarity to fans, but on 12-12-03, Adam played the song in concert. It is truly an incredible song, although there is reason to believe that Adam is not too fond of it. You can download the live version of it here.

So, for the first time, I am unable to give an accurate review of an album. This album is so unique, although it has aged considerably, but it is full of classic mid-nineties hits, and if you are a fan of that musical era, then this is the album for you.

Aug. 7th, 2004 @ 01:02 pm Trey Anastasio: Plasma
About this Entry
Album Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

One of the most common comments from a fan of Phish and its side projects is that their live albums fail to truly capture the live atmosphere. Well, the search is over -- it's been done on this album. Having been to several of Trey's shows since 2000, I can honestly say that the musical performances on this album are as energetic and musically precise as they are live.

Trey Anastasio Band (TAB) began as a stripped down bass-drum-guitar trio in the late 90's, playing simple groove tunes and old classic rock favorites like "Ooh Child" and "I Can See Clearly Now." In winter 2001, a horn section was added, but they had difficulty connecting, and the shows were mostly a musical outlet for Trey's incredible guitar skills (so needless to say, there are some bootleg performances that are worth finding). Trey composed a number of songs for the band (some of which Phish recorded as well) and, surprisingly, TAB toured again in summer 2001. They had improved considerably and pulled in a few more members. During the shows, Trey actually began conducting the band as he played, demonstrating hours of band practice. He began to shift from being the musical focal point of the band, limiting his extended solos, to a band member himself, creating a musical texture acting as a unit. In 2002, they released Trey Anastasio and toured yet again, improving considerably on the last tour. Plasma is a compilation of selected songs played in late 2002/early 2003, after which Trey went back on tour with Phish.

The only song that Plasma shares with 2002's Trey Anastasio is "Night Speaks to a Woman," which is so stretched-out on Plasma that it is unrecognizable. "Night Speaks" opens up the second disk of the album, which consists of four "jams." Unlike Phish jams, TAB jams consist of Trey leading the band through a series of key changes and tempo adjustments, a number of connected grooves and riffs. Fortunately, there are enough musicians to keep this approach fairly interesting, but there are a few moments when the riffs become recognizable, even in the context of different songs. All in all, this disc is worth every penny of what it's worth, especially some of the dark, disturbing moments during "Sand."

The first disc plays more like a studio album with fairly concise songs and jamming which focuses on one instrument at a time, rather than on the band as a whole, like the second disk. Some of the songs that Trey uses as filler in concert, he uses as filler on this first disk, like "Small Axe." It's a nice instrumental, and it breaks up a live set very nicely, but on this album is just disturbs the flow. Some of the extended jamming on "Curlew's Call" is similiar. Fortunately, songs like "Plasma," "Magilla," and "Mozambique" make up for these relatively boring moments, which are why the album gets 4 instead of 5 stars. TAB has been playing some of the songs on the first disc for years ("Mozambique," "Small Axe," "Every Story Ends in Stone") but this is the first time they've been released. These songs, along with the other newer ones, comprise a unique listening experience which is worthy of praise from a musical community where great live albums are rare.

Aug. 7th, 2004 @ 12:59 pm Grateful Dead: Europe '72
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Album Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

It took me a very long time before I appreciated this album as the monumental addition to the Dead's repertoire that it is -- it took about 4 years.

In '70, after the release of American Beauty/Workingman's Dead, the band's reinterpretation of American folk music, they didn't go back to the studio until late '72/early '73 after their European and American summer/fall tours. They released two live albums in the meantime: what has become known as the "Skull and Roses" album in '71 and, in '72, Europe '72. Both include mostly material that was not previously released, nor was it ever reinterpreted in the studio during the band's career. In other words, these two albums are the only documents of the band's development during that era, debatably the band's most productive era. Unlike the "Skull and Roses" album, Europe '72 is unique in that in contains twelve songs written or arranged by the Dead, whereas "Skull and Roses" contains five. All the others are covers of songs by other artists. Only 6 of the 17 songs on Europe '72 ever were fortunate enough to have a studio interpretation, although the remaining songs are by no means peripheral.

The addition to the newest chapter of American folk music that the Dead were in the process of creating at the time is much more subtle on this album than on previous albums. During this period, Jerry was making the transition from his "Captain Tripps" persona of the late 60's to the soft-voiced storytelling bard of "Scarlet Begonias" and "Terrapin Station" of the mid-70's. Although his expressionful, storytelling voice highlights tracks like "Brown-Eyed Women" and "Ramble On Rose," the acoustic strumming of American Beauty/Workingman's Dead has already given way to the jazzier, less twangy sound of the rest of their career.

The album begins with a rollicking interpretation of the Workingman's Dead centerpiece "Cumberland Blues." The band stretches the tune out a bit and showcases newly-added band members Donna and Keith Godchaux, who would stay with the band through the late 70's. "He's Gone" is a peppy reinterpretation of an old folk song, sung by Garcia, and it is weaker songs like this one and "Mr. Charlie" which keep the album from the full 5-stars. "You Win Again" and "Hurts Me Too" and two covers that highlight Keith and Pigpen, respectively, and show that the Dead can play the blues with the best of them. Other highlights include the classic heartbreaker "Jack Straw" and the first (of many) "China Cat --> Rider's" to be included on a live album. The band's reinterpretation of Weir's "Sugar Magnolia" with the addition of Keith and Donna is wonderful, but my personal favorite on the latter half of the album is Garcia's "Tennessee Jed." This is about as Dylan-esque a Hunter/Garcia tune can be, and the wit and charm of the lyrics blow me away every time I hear it. After "Jed," the Dead take an excursion to their "special" place for "Truckin' --> Epilogue --> Prologue --> Morning Dew." The first half of this monumental jam is better than the second half, but I personally prefer "Truckin'" to "Morning Dew." Nevertheless, the Dead's unique jamming is in full force here, and it is excellent.

Perhaps on first listen (and second and third), this album may sound bland compared to previous live efforts by the Dead (Live Dead and "Skull and Roses"), but it is can pull its weight just as well as the others if you can step back and view it as the next step in the Dead's evolution from acid rockers to American folkies to jazz-rock-folk fusion kings. It is a huge and beautiful step, and it contains many of the Dead's most developed and mature songs.

Aug. 7th, 2004 @ 12:58 pm (no subject)
About this Entry
Album Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Some claim that this is Floyd at their best, and I may agree. But their musical brilliance on this album is not consistant. The album consists of 5 tracks, but only 4 songs. Basically the 3 middle tracks are sandwiched by the Floyd classic "Shine On You Crazy Diamond," the band's salute to their ex band member and current crazy man Syd Barrett. Floyd proves that they are the 70's kings of space-rock on "Shine On." You can't ask for a better, more engaging example of an entire genre of music than this. Unfortunately, the 2 of the 3 songs that it bookends aren't of the same quality. "Welcome to the Machine" and "Have a Cigar" are rants about negative aspects of the recording industry in the 70's, and while bits and pieces catch your attention (like some incredibly spacey keyboards in "Welcome" and an awesome groove in "Cigar") they fail to hold your attention. Then, suddenly, when you think you can't take it anymore, some noise after "Cigar" fades into quiet, almost imperceptable voices. There is a soft sound of an orchestra on acid, then a crackley guitar beings to play one of the most recognizable riffs in classic rock, a must-learn for any beginner guitarist. It is "Wish You Were Here," the centerpiece of the album. It is one of the most heartbreaking, one of the most beautiful, one of the best songs to come out of the 70's, and it makes the album worth almost every penny of the nearly $20 that you pay for it these days. The song fades away into the wind and the second half of "Shine On" drifts in from the ether, and after about 10 minutes, the album is over. Of course, for any collector of psychedelic/classic rock, this album is a must-have, but unfortunately, 2 of the 4 songs it contains can nearly be dismissed as filler.