Jackie Listens to: God is an Astronaut’s All is Violent, All is Bright (2005)

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I like post-rock and I like God is an Astronaut.  Post-rock is generally instrumental, and I like to listen to it while I write, though when I write I usually don’t listen to whole albums (just a playlist I have on random) or pay attention much to what I’m hearing. This is the first time I’ve listened to this album all the way through.

What is post-rock?  Wikipedia has a long page on it and it’s origins, but the best description I can come up with is that it’s a form of experimental rock, usually without vocals, that uses instruments associated with rock music but using them in “repetitive build-ups of timbre, dynamics and texture.”

I really liked this album.  It’s ambient and meditative, while still being moving and emotional, all without the use of lyrics.  Now as a writer, I have a certain affection for words, so much so that to be able to move me without them is an admirable feat.  All is Violent, All is Bright is a coherent, masterful album that stretches the boundaries for what rock music can be.  It is at times beautiful and relaxing, at others stirring and moody, and each song builds and diminishes in intensity, taking you on a ride of sound. The lack of lyrics really makes you focus on the music itself, which is complex and layered in such a way that you don’t feel like you’re missing out on anything.

Notable tracks for me were All is Violent, All is Bright, Fire Flies and Empty Skies, and Suicide by Star, though the whole album is great from beginning to end.  I recommend this album heartily to anyone who likes instrumental music, ambient music, and people who can see the endless possibilities of the rock music genre.

Jackie Listens to: Nine Inch Nails’ Pretty Hate Machine (1989)

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A blast from the past, to be sure!  This was one of my most favorite albums in high school along with The Downward Spiral.  I was a nut for Nine Inch Nails and had a whole wall of my teenage bedroom dedicated to NIN clippings and pictures.  So this review may be colored by those past experiences (just a touch.)

There are so many people I remember listening to this album with!  There are so many times I remember looking to this album for solace!  I was in high school when The Downward Spiral came out and I loved it so much I just picked up Pretty Hate Machine just to get more Trent Reznor.  I was instantly hooked.  These albums came to me at an impressionable age, and one where I sorely needed an angry, angsty outlet, and this album really hit the spot for me. Screaming out the lyrics to Head Like A Hole (and most of the album) was entirely cathartic, and I can still feel that running through me today.  I’d still rather die than give you control, damnit.

Notable tracks?  For me, it’s everything.  This is a great, classic industrial album.  My favorites of them are the sexy Terrible Lie, the poignant and self-depreciating Something I Can Never Have, which heard many plays at my lovelorn teenage fingertips, and Ringfinger, which is the track that probably means the most to me emotionally.

Listen to it.  Pretty Hate Machine is a great album that stands up to the test of time.  I am a bit biased because of my history with the album, but I sure did enjoy listening to this album all the way through again.  It’s been a long time.

Jackie Listens to: Slowdive’s Souvlaki (1993)

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This is a first listen through for me, and it was a fun ride.  Shoegaze has always been recommended to me because I like My Bloody Valentine but haven’t delved much further into the genre, so I decided to dive in with this album, a classic recommended to me by many kind strangers of the internet.

I love what I’ve heard of dream pop and shoegaze, it’s so… dreamy and atmospheric.  The shoegaze album I am the most familiar with is My Bloody Valentine‘s Loveless, and while I love LovelessSouvlaki is a much quieter, gentler album.  It’s much more ambient and ethereal, sometimes almost relaxing.  No one song really seemed to disturb my eerie sense of calm while listening to it, and it all seemed to be part of one musical journey, one soundscape of feeling.  Notable tracks for me were Sing, which I read has Brian Eno in it, which is cool, I also really liked Souvlaki Space Station, and can’t seem to stop listening to the emotional Dagger, but most of all I just enjoyed listening to it all the way through.  As soon as it was over, I started it again.  It was all really good, just overall a great album.

Do I recommend it?  I do.  I really enjoyed it.  Shoegaze is not for everyone, so your mileage may vary, but you should give it a shot if you’re interested in the genre.  I hear it is essential listening.  If this is what shoegaze has in store, I’m ready for more.

Jackie Listens to: Tori Amos’ Little Earthquakes (1992)

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Speaking of Tori Amos, oh, how I love Tori Amos.  When I was in high school my best friend and my sister were both obsessed with her and I didn’t see what the big deal was until years later.  In high school I tended to be on the darker and more metal side of music and rarely branched out into other genres, almost anything with a piano was too “light and hokey.” Ah, the pitfalls of youth.  I discovered that Tori Amos’ work was more emotionally and musically complex than anything else I was listening to at the time, and by college I started really paying attention.  Most of her work has taken on a very personal slant for me since, especially her early work.

Little Earthquakes is not my favorite Tori Amos album (that’s Boys for Pele) but it is a good contender, which is quite a thing for a debut album.  The songs on this album are all solid, unique and emotional tracks and I now know them all inside out and backwards.  This whole album is full of masterful piano playing, angsty and passionate vocals, and timeless themes.  Notable tracks? I would say all of them are worth a listen, but ones that stand out especially to me are Winter, an icy, beautiful meditation on relationships, China, a love song about distance and yearning, the stripped-down Leather, raw, honest and sexual, and the eerie, emotional and triggering Me and a Gun, about rape.  Tori Amos pulls no punches in her subject matter or lyrics, and it makes for a terrific album (and career) full of honesty and pathos.

This is a must listen.  Just go do it, already.

Jackie Listens to: Kate Bush’s Lionheart (1978)

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Kate Bush has another album in my Top 25, so I wanted to hear all of her albums.  This is the first I’ve heard of Lionheart, and I have to say I am constantly impressed with her work, but didn’t love this album.

An old boyfriend introduced me to Kate Bush since I expressed interest in Tori Amos, and it is an apt comparison.  Kate Bush‘s raw emotion and musical chops shine through on everything she touches, much like Tori Amos, and that is certainly true on this album, but Lionheart doesn’t seem to hold together as well as some other Kate Bush albums I’ve heard.  I love Kate Bush so much and I feel like this just isn’t her best work possible, which you don’t and can’t get all the time.  So it goes.

Standout tracks? I liked the classical lilt on Oh England My Lionheart, and the slow, understated In the Warm Room, but that was about it.  It just didn’t have that many memorable moments for me.  Wow stood out for all the wrong reasons, and it’s repetitious chorus left me more annoyed than enchanted.

Kate Bush is great.  I love her voice and musicality, but I give this album a pass unless you are so into Kate Bush that you just need more after listening to her other work.  I would recommend Hounds of Love or The Kick Inside.

 

Jackie Listens to: The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers (1971)

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This one is chock full of hits.  Where do you even start? I guess the best place to start is at the beginning, because this one is full of gold.

Right off the bat, this album begins with Brown Sugar, one of the Rolling Stones‘ biggest hits, and that opening riff really sets the tone for the album.  Second up is Sway, a solid rock song.  Then, bam!  Here come classic rock heavy hitters Wild Horses and Can’t You Hear Me Knocking.  This album is just that amazing, it’s hit after hit.  My favorite tracks are probably the somber, slow Sister Morphine and the lyrical powerhouse Dead Flowers, but this entire album is killer.  There were other times in my life where Bitch or I Got the Blues might have been more emotionally pertinent to me, but not at this point in my life.

I’m trying to remember the first time I heard this album, or any song from it, but was there really a time in my life before I knew the Rolling Stones?  I remember really picking up the Stones in high school, and my appreciation just grew from there, but it was far from the first I’d heard of them.  I imagine it would have been quite a thing to hear this album when it was new, especially on vinyl, with headphones.  Oh, bliss.

So basically, I recommend this album.  Does it make the Top 25?  I’m not sure.  I’m trying to think of a Stones album I like more than this one, and I know there is one that I can’t put my finger on.  I will say, as of this posting, Dead Flowers is my favorite Stones song, so that’s gotta count for something, but that favorite song is constantly changing.  That’s the magic of the Stones and all really great (or at least prolific) musicians, they seem to have a song for every mood and occasion.

Jackie Listens to: The Cure’s Disintegration (1989)

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This one was a request from a fan.  Another album I haven’t listened to all the way through before, though I wore out the hits like Lovesong and Lullaby in my youth.  The Cure has always spoken to my depression, and when I am depressed I need bands like The Cure to help buoy me to this world, to know my pain has been felt elsewhere and has been expressed.  This album absolutely fills that void for me.  Each and every song is a well-executed, heart-wrenching romp.  Robert Smith’s voice is perfect angst and hopelessness, perfect for the tortured teenage soul, as I came to this.

Lovesong is one of my favorite songs of all time, it’s so hopeful and pining, so comparatively upbeat to the rest of the album, and one of The Cure‘s biggest hits.  It would be hard to review this album without making a special note of it, and to admit I used to tearfully listen to it on repeat in my lovelorn teenage years.  However, this album is full of great songs, hypnotic rhythms that hook you, and real feelings that suck you in. Other noteworthy tracks are Plainsong, which opens the album beautifully, Pictures of You, which makes me feel like I’m in my gut-wrenching, heart-throbbing college days again, the moody, atmospheric Prayers for Rain, and the driving, titular Disintegration.

Disintegration is the absolute tops, some of The Cure‘s best, passionate and introspective with great songs throughout, highly recommended to everyone.

Jackie Listens to: Bat for Lashes’ The Bride (2016)

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Bat for Lashes is Natasha Kahn, and I love her voice.  It’s otherworldly.  She could sing me a dinner menu and I’d be happy.  I am a big fan of her early work but this is the first time I have heard The Bride, especially as a full album (like I said, I usually listen to music frenetically, on random, following my passions, as it were.)  The Bride is meant as a concept album about a woman who loses her fiance to a car crash.  It tells a story and explores the concepts of love and loss, which is right up my alley.

The album is beautiful and cohesive, but has fewer stand alone tracks than Bat for Lashes’ previous albums, which isn’t a bad thing.  The album itself seems to be one grand statement, and though the tracks don’t flow into each other necessarily, it does tell one story.  The album takes on a more somber tone about halfway through, which makes sense from the concept.  Songs that I enjoyed especially were Joe’s Dream and I Will Love Again, but pulling out individual tracks from this album doesn’t seem to fit.  It is best listened to as a full album.  In the end, it is a well executed concept in Bat for Lashes’ signature style, ethereal and mystical.

In my humble opinion, it’s a good album but it’s not as good as her other albums, though it is ambitious and interesting, well worth a listen.  Check out some older stuff and if you’re into all that, you might dig this one too.  I do think it requires some interest in Bat for Lashes’ style to digest this album.

Jackie Listens to: Violent Femmes’ Violent Femmes (1983)

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I have a certain affection for this album, and was totally in the mood to listen to it, so I picked it.  It’s my blog and I’ll do what I want!

Anyway Violent Femmes always makes me feel saucy.  The first time I heard them that I remember was on an episode of My So-Called Life, with Blister in the Sun, an instant favorite.  After that, I bought the album and listened to it over and over.  It seemed to capture something in my feelings that couldn’t be expressed any other way in my late high school years.  The album was an anthem of sorts throughout my college years too, all of this a painful time full of awkwardness, sexual frustration, anxiety, and loneliness. I’ve stayed up late listening to Please Do Not Go during a breakup more than once, thumbed my nose at others with Kiss Off more than once, chanted the chorus of Add It Up with more than one person on my mind, cried listening to Confessions, they are that enduring and endearing, that’s how much this music helped combat those problems.  The emotions are so raw, so palpable, even now they are effective.  I love this album, and every song means something to me.

This is an essential album for me, for sure, maybe a top 25 albums of all time level, I will check with my list, ever shifting, but I’m pretty sure this one is on it.  It’s definitely had a radical effect on who I am now, I love every song on the album (to varying degrees, like all albums), and I never get sick of it.

Jackie Listens to: Jimmy Page and Robert Plant’s No Quarter (1994)

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Part of the reason I wanted to do this wacky experiment/blog was to root out a lot of live music, because it is not my favorite most of the time and I have a let a lot slip through over the years.  There are, however, exceptions to this rule, and this album is (generally) one of them.  While I am not a huge fan of How the West Was Won and other Led Zeppelin live albums, a lot of the Jimmy Page and Robert Plant live stuff hits the spot sometimes for some reason I haven’t figured out yet.

I like when artists take something that is so known and try to do something different with the sound or the lyrics when they play the song live.  This album is a great example of that.  Every song seems to be altered in some way from the original. The flute solo at the beginning of Friends is a beautiful new introduction to the song and Yallah and City Don’t Cry are inspired tracks, not to mention that I have a soft spot in my heart for Since I’ve Been Loving You.  Songs I didn’t care for?  Well, I don’t love the titular song. No Quarter sounds like it was mixed wrong, and feels like it’s missing something.  Probably that driving bass line that is somehow absent.  Overall, the album is solid though, with some Zeppelin hits with some unexpected sounds in familiar tunes.

It is a great, but imperfect, live album, but isn’t that what is so loved about live performances?  The imperfections?  The times the artist went off book?  One of my favorite live albums (because I do have favorites despite my preferences against live music) is Counting Crows’ Across A Wire: Live In New York City, where whole sections of the lyrics are altered from the original, and it makes the songs take on exciting new meaning, it breathes new life into something you’ve heard a million times over.  That’s one of the virtues of live music, I guess.

This album is an essential to me because it has essential tracks on it, top being Yallah and City Don’t Cry (neither Zeppelin standards)but overall as an album, I only really listen to it rarely, and this was probably the first time I listened to it all the way through despite enjoying some of the tracks immensely.  The best stuff here is the stuff you can’t get from a Led Zeppelin album, the new stuff, the differences, and most of them work, but when it comes to my go-to Zeppelin, I usually prefer their albums to anything live.