Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Grab Bag: April '18

A new series has arrived in the form of Grab Bag, a fun monthly list that finds me listening and reacting to ten random songs from the depths of music's annals. There's no prerequisites, no regulations self-imposed. Anything can make this list if the site I'm using to discover these songs, RateYourMusic's random release generator, spits them out. This is a great way to discover new music with no attachment to something in your catalogue. Or, a dark reminder that truly horrid music exists in droves.

The positioning is based on the order in which I discovered them. The rating system similar to what DoD already enforces, in that 5 / 10 is average, not bad.

Linda Ronstadt - Hurt So Bad
Mad Love | Soft Rock | 1980

Linda Ronstadt's forte includes numerous genre combinations I couldn't care less about. Country Rock, Adult Contemporary, Pop, etc. However, on 'Hurt So Bad' she proves that, with engaging vocals and a broken heart, success can be had despite the self-imposed limitations of the music. Granted, there'd a lid on praise considering 'Hurt So Bad' was originally a Soul ballad writing in the 1960's, making Ronstadt's version a cover. Nonetheless, her seething vocals and an unexpected mid-track guitar riff that's on the fritz in the right way help 'Hurt So Bad' to stay afloat even when the other instrumentation, and the single's conventional structuring, aren't anything to admire.

4 / 10

Richard Skelton - Fold
Marking Time | Ambient | 2008

As I end up doing with most meandering Ambient, after the first minute or so of Richard Skelton's 'Fold' my patience wore thin and I sought out the Internet for an aimless browsing session. Unlike most other genres, I don't feel bad placing Ambient as a secondary source. It is, after all, meant to service the lulls in life. 'Fold' does just that. It's a peaceful, string-driven Drone that intends to ease your concerns in the least offensive way, much like Brian Eno's efforts like 1975's Discreet Music or 1985's Thursday Afternoon. That being said, when 'Fold' faded out into nothingness, I was left unfazed. Being one to judge music on its merits, there isn't much Skelton gave me to sift through. It just intends to exist.

2.5 / 10

Kenny Loggins - Footloose
Footloose | Pop Rock | 1984

Having not seen Footloose, with no intention of doing so, my first thoughts here were: "Is that thee Kenny Loggins? And is this thee Footloose?" The answers to both are yes. I do recognize the chorus, so at one point 'Footloose' must've passed through my ears. It's undoubtedly catchy, and supremely kitschy, but at the same time immensely difficult to take seriously. It is rife with mid-80's cliches, when Pop was an amalgamation of the worst elements of Rock, Dance, and New Wave. Those synths in particular, my god are they excessive and devoid of an artistic input. There's even a jaunting bit of Rockabilly in here, which means yes, Country's present to some degree.

4 / 10

Grace Jones - Victor Should Have Been A Jazz Musician
Inside Story | Art Pop | 1986

Beyond all else, including 'Victor Should Have Been A Jazz Musician,' Grace Jones' iconic look that dabbles in stilted edges and a progressive, androgynous look is what truly fascinates me. This has been a recent embrace thanks to Young Fathers and their cover for Cocoa Sugar, one that bears strong resemblance to her work. That's all to say, as an artist I respect Grace Jones. As a singer, if we're to use 'Victor' as the sole background, not so much. Her startling look that presents vivid forms of photography doesn't translate to the music, as 'Victor' is a slow-moving Art Pop piece that overstays its welcome. That being said, Inside Story, the album on which 'Victor' appears, was towards the end of her career so whose to say 1981's Nightclubbing, for example, wouldn't be more intriguing.

5 / 10

Blut Aus Nord - Our Blessed Frozen Cells
The Work Which Transforms God | Black Metal | 2003

In the first few seconds of the eight-minute 'Our Blessed Frozen Cells,' it was clear Blut aus Nord's epic wouldn't be my cup of tea. Normally, I'd say anything with Black Metal in the title, but the genre has shown to harbor atmospheric value. At times, 'Our Blessed' gets close, but tends to focus too much on primal emotion centered around guitars, drums, and guttural singing, of which I doubt I'll ever become a fan of. After a mid-track dissolution, the second half comes in with greater force and actual, established melody. Here, 'Our Blessed' reigns hellfire and is mildly enjoyable, even though it tends to sound redundant of stereotypical Black Metal acts. At times, it sounds like video game boss-level music, akin to Doom, Quake, or any violent turn-of-the-century shooter.

4 / 10

Black Sabbath - Children Of The Grave
Master Of Reality | Heavy Metal | 1971

Easily the most popular artist I've gotten for Grab Bag thus far. Black Sabbath are known far and wide for creating Heavy Metal, and therefore, being the proverbial precursor to a myriad of spawns. Likely one of the top five most influential bands of all-time, and with 'Children Of The Grave,' I can see why. Their reckless embodiment of the underworld comes out fires blazing, with Ozzy Osbourne's unmistakably vile vocals and Tony Iommi's guitar riffs giving Black Sabbath their relentless punch. It's basically Hell incarnate. When it comes to Metal I'm certainly out of my element, yet here, I feel it's possible Black Sabbath could be an opportune starting point. Their talents as musicians just cannot be denied.

7.5 / 10

Black Tape For A Blue Girl - Given
As One Aflame Laid Bare By Desire | Darkwave | 1999

There was lots of promise here. From the band's name, to the album title and cover, to their genres, to even the various song lengths that hinted towards a group with artistic complexity. However, as unfortunate as it is to say, 'Given' is a bore. While the aura of Darkwave is most certainly present, Black Tape takes a more linear approach to neoclassicist romanticism with Celtic inspiration. Sam Rosenthal bears resemblance to Kate Bush at her most poetic - and least theatrical - which is a style that never appealed to me. In all honesty, it reeks of forced, medieval romance akin to a fantasy novel where the writer's only tie to love is in the fiction that they compose. Pass.

2 / 10

Mick Softley - Can You Hear Me Now
Sunrise | Psychedelic Rock | 1970

Sunrise, the 1970 album on which 'Can You Hear Me Now' marks the opening of, is described as Contemporary Folk and Singer/Songwriter. This song is neither, and it's wonderful because of that. Likely used as an energetic defibrillator before Mick Softley's true intentions emerge, 'Can You Hear Me Now' bears a stronger connection to Psychedelic Folk, Soul, and even early elements of Funk. The latter can be seen in the background vocals, which feel partly inspired by Sly And The Family Stone. As for Softley himself, his midwestern-styled vocals (even though he's British) work perfectly over the excitable parlay. With the brisk nature of the track accounted for - failing to reach the three-minute mark - 'Can You Hear Me Now' excels at drawing listeners in with a heartwarming tune and message.

8 / 10

Rhiannon Giddens - Julie
Freedom Highway | Progressive Bluegrass | 2017

The various genres Rhiannon Giddens associates herself with are seen in a curious light by me. That's because I've never decidedly dabbled in any, but experienced all through artists transgressing by experimental means. Animal Collective's Sung Tongs dotting traditional Folk, Portishead's Third teasing Bluegrass, even clipping.'s Splendor & Misery conceptualizing Gospel are just some that come to mind. That left me worried over pure American Folk Music without a catch, but Giddens managed to minimize those concerns through thorny and thespian banjo and some piercing gorgeous vocals. Seriously, you'd be hard pressed to find someone with sturdier vocals, even at the hollering peaks, than Giddens. For that alone, 'Julie' deserves commendation.

7 / 10

Jimmy Eat World - Futures
Futures | Alternative Rock | 2004

Now that's a name I haven't heard in a while. Jimmy Eat World, for those not growing up in the early 2000's, were one of the pivotal Emo bands for teenagers fed up with this world. I was never apart of that group, only hearing Emo occasionally when a single took over the charts, like Jimmy Eat World's own 'The Middle.' Which, in retrospect, isn't even Emo, it's thinly-veiled Alternative Rock. As for 'Futures,' there isn't much to be impressed by. Jim Adkins' vocals are muddy and, at their worst, painful to listen to, while the production abuses every rudimentary Alternative Rock measure. For anyone whose heard a fair deal of modern Rock, I see no purpose in listening to his. There's approximately zero ounces of originality. A decade past and this style has already aged horribly.

1.5 / 10

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