Archive for June, 2009

Hum – You’d Prefer an Astronaut (1995)

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You have probably heard Hum and may not even know it. They had a relatively popular single when this album first came out that was all over WHFS. At the time, I was striving very hard to pretend I didn’t like most of the stuff HFS would play because I was definitely too cool for all that commercial crap, but I secretly loved Stars and hoped the band would fall out of radio rotation. Which it did. Of course, if you don’t remember the radio play of 1995 – entirely plausible – you likely have still heard Stars. Its bad-ass guitar breakdown is featured prominently in that Dr. Addison Montgomery-Shephard car commercial where she asks, “When you turn your car on, does it return the favor?” Yes, so racy. And there it is – Hum, hammering the point home.

In hindsight, I’m really shocked this band every made it on to the radio, though. The music is way too introspective and legit to garner mass appeal, but I guess there was a brief period of indie curiosity in the mainstream at the time (see Nada Surf, Superdrag, and Mazzy Star). Anyway, when I finally got up the nerve to get the album for myself, I was treated to a rich delightful album full of skilled music-playing and contemplative lazy-voiced lyrics.

Tracks 1 and 2 are respectable and in no way bad or wrong except for the fact that they stand between me and track 3 – the aforementioned Stars – which is among the most standout songs (for me) of the ’90s. So, I encourage you to skip straight to 3 (let the album loop back around to 1 and 2 if you want) and crank your volume. It is totally worth it to hear the quiet intro without straining your ears and it makes the oncoming crash of sound that much more intense. Seriously, if your heart doesn’t skip just a little bit at that transition, you simply are not listening right. This song is the perfect combination of nerdy space vocals and just enough guitar feedback goodness. Following that, the next noteworthy song is The Very Old Man, which actually comes off a little out of place on this album. It’s a little bit folksy – very simple – but is beautiful in its earnestness. It has the feel of that Hey There Delilah song that’s so popular with the kids, but without the suckage. It has been guilty of making me cry a little. Why I Like Robins is an excellent zone-out kind of song – and apart from a slight overdependence on the old phaser pedal is perfect for taking you to a think place if you’re feeling pensive. I Hate it Too is sad and sweet and gorgeous. The lyrics “She don’t hold me right, she’s never gonna get me there,” could be the anthem of vulnerable rock and roll boys – arguably the best kind of boys.

This cd is a great one, lovely for summer – especially late at night. In fact, this would be exactly the right album for party wind-down mode where it’s only the close friends hanging around, not ready to say goodbye.

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The Distillers – Sing Sing Death House (2002)

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The Distillers were described to me as a band that plays like Rancid with a girl that sings like Courtney Love. So obviously I was intrigued. And the description was delightfully accurate. The likeness to Rancid probably has something to do with the fact that at the time this album was released, the singer, Brody, was married to Tim Armstrong. And this does not sound incredibly feminist of me, but I have my suspicions that although she is credited with all of the songwriting, he probably had a hand in it. Either way, it’s for the best. Sing Sing Death House is a great album.

The album is punk at its simplest. Fast, loud, crashing cymbals, intricate bass lines (actually, the bass on this album really stands out, ringing clear and driving the songs), and of course, angry lyrics peppered with loads of swear words. I totally love when chicks swear in music.

Sick of it All kicks off strong and includes the A+ lyric, “I’m anorex cuz I won’t fucking eat.” I Am Revenant starts slow, but gets singalong-able towards the middle with cheer-esque chorus. The Young Crazed Peeling has fun lyrics, but is not the most interesting song musically. Bullet and the Bullseye has great shouting backup vocals. But City of Angels is the album’s single, and in this case I agree that it is clearly the best, most representative song. There is a completely appropriate use of cowbell (more cowbell!) and kind of an underlying flute behind the chorus. Very good for shouting along with the top down. And I love the way Brody’s voice cracks during it. The rest of the album kinda plugs along after that – not bad, but not remarkable – until Lordy Lordy. I think this song is super fun, and feels very punk in its sincerity. A great way to close the album.

Sing Sing Death House is a great summer album. Not a big think type album, but not candy coated boringness, either. I particularly enjoy listening on my ipod by the pool while reading trashy magazines. I recommend it.

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