I’m listening to more music, but I’m writing fewer reviews. Between my monthly eMusic allowance, discoveries on the Evil Sharing Networks and releases by artists I already like, my playlist tends to average two days’ worth of listening. As of this writing, it’s 53 hours long.
At the same time, I find it harder to write very many featured reviews. In the early days of the site, I would try to dash off three reviews a week. These days, it’s an effort to finish seven in a month.
And that’s how it should be. The bar ought to be set pretty high for reviews that take up their own entry. If not, I could conceivably find myself playing more Mad Libs with these reviews than I already do.
So while I have an "On the playlist" feature that lists the new stuff I’m listening to, I’m starting an "Off the playlist" feature to showcase albums that deserve mention but not quite their own featured review. There will be obvious overlap between the two. It differs from "The Slush Pile", which features albums I just won’t explore after a few first listens.
Now let’s clear a few things off the playlist.
ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION, Imada Minu Asu ni
This six-song EP isn’t conceptual like World World World, and the band’s reliable emo sound is pretty much in full force. In short, nothing surprising. Fans who want more of the same will get their wish. ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION is better than most at throwing a few things into their music — a dance beat here, a half-time break there — to keep things interesting, but the band doesn’t overreach. On one hand, it makes their releases a bit homogenous. On the other hand, they don’t pretend to be what they aren’t and play to that strength well.
Kien reigns in the sprawl of Migi mo Hidari mo Shihaisuru wa Kyoo mo Niku wo Kui Yodare wo Tarasu, clocking in at a compact 32 minutes. At this point, BLEACH albums run a pretty predictable course — one really tuneful track ("Psycho Caravan") amidst a collection of really tortured wailing. Kien falls somewhere between the melodic appeal of the self-titled album and the psychotic fantasia of Migi mo Hidari mo … There’s nothing surprising here, either, but man, does listening to BLEACH really do a number on the psyche.
The last two albums for Sony found CHARA being introspective. Her first two albums for Universal find her quite out-going. UNION may have struck some listeners as not uniform in its production, which honey seeks to rectify. But the album lacks the kind of appealing singles on UNION — nothing really sounds as tuneful as "Sekai" or "Crazy for you". It’s nice to hear CHARA emerge from her quiet cocoon, though.
METALCHICKS, St. Wonder
Buffalo Daughter doesn’t give Sugar Yoshinaga much opportunity to shred, so thank your deity of choice for METALCHICKS. As evidenced by the duo’s SXSW 2007 performance, Sugar can trade num-heavymetallic riffs with the best of them. St. Wonder shows a bit more spillage from Buffalo Daughter, with organs, synthetic effects and minimal vocals coursing through the heavy guitars. Even the longer song lengths are more akin to Buffalo Daughter. The self-titled album, on the other hand, pummels hard thanks to some mighty drumming from DMBQ’s Yoshimura Yuki, and the brisk pace means a more compact work. It clocks in at 30 minutes, compared to St. Wonder’s 51. METALCHICKS opted not to perform at SXSW 2008 to work on a new album.
Mirah, Advisory Committee
Mirah was listed in the Gay.com Rock Out archive, and she was one of two artists in that archive that appealed to me. So I downloaded Advisory Committee from eMusic, and I have to say, she has a wonderful lo-fi orchestral sound. It’s not surprising to learn Phil Elvrum of Microphones produced the album, and if anything, he does a better job with Mirah than he does on his own albums. (I don’t like Microphones.) "Cold Cold Water" is a stunning opener, with slow transformations that somehow feel abrupt. Mirah’s pixie-ish voice could have easily been used for all kinds of alt-rock evil, but in these atmospheric confines, they’re put to terrific use.
Sigur Rós, Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust
After a series of successful, tightly-programmed albums, Sigur Rós needed to record something a bit more down to earth. They almost succeed with Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust. The first half of the album shows the band uncharacteristically extroverted. "Gobbledigook" has some great syncopated rhythms, while a real beat drives "Inní mér syngur vitleysingur". As the album progresses, Sigur Rós normal modus operandi assumes control, till finally, the band ends up where it usually inhabits. It would have been nice to hear Sigur Rós shelve the introspection and go balls out, because the first half of Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust is quite encouraging. But the quartet knows what it does well, and the album’s slower moments have no less grandeur than past efforts. The dual nature of Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust prevents me from giving it a ringing endorsement.