Posted in Album Reviews

Bob Dylan – Bringing It All Back Home (1965)

Bringing It All Back Home by Bob Dylan

Bringing It All Back Home is the fifth Bob Dylan album and continues his departure away from focusing on mainly protest songs.  Another Side of Bob Dylan released in 1964 presented more personal lyrics, here Dylan explores surreal imagery along with a touch of psychedelia thrown in.  Controversially, the first side is devoted to electric songs played with a band while the second side is where longtime fans would find the mainly acoustic songs. 

Dylan gives a nod to the beat poets with a blast of bluesy rock and roll on the opener “Subterranean Homesick Blues”.  His first charting single in the US saw Dylan film a highly influential video for the track where he holds up cardboard cue cards with the lyrics written on them including the classic line, “Johnny’s in the basement, mixin’ up the medicine/I’m on the pavement, thinkin’ about the government”. “Maggie’s Farm” is a furious blast that was recorded in just one take as Dylan spits out the lyrics of working for little pay and no respect while you drive yourself insane.

The pace is slowed down on the love song “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” and the midtempo “She Belongs to Me” that speaks of a bohemian who is “an artist, she don’t look back/she can take the dark out of the nighttime and paint the daytime black”. Side one closes with the six plus minutes of “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream” that breaks down into guffaws before the surreal track talks of the discovery of America. 

Side two opens with one of Dylan’s most beloved songs in “Mr. Tambourine Man” that was later taken to #1 in the US by The Byrds. Originally intended for the previous year’s Another Side of Bob Dylan, the song regularly features on best of lists and countless Dylan compilations. The acoustic side closes with two very different tracks – the first being the seven minute “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”. The intense song is one that demands attention as Dylan tells us that “he not busy being born is busy dying” and that “I got nothing, Ma, to live up to”.  Side two closes with “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”, another track that is widely covered by other artists. Accompanied by the bass of Bill Lee, Dylan’s voice rises and falls with the music as he speaks about a love that is over or perhaps a goodbye to his younger self.

Dylan’s world was expanding during this time period as he met The Beatles for the first time, tried LSD, and in the summer of 1965 of would famously be booed at the Newport Folk Festival. Refusing to be just one type of songwriter that some want him to stay as, Dylan keeps growing and expanding his sound and lyrical inspiration. Bringing It All Back Home is another extraordinary album just three years and five albums into his then brief recording career.

10/10

Posted in Album Reviews

Wolf Alice – Blue Weekend (2021)

Blue Weekend [Softpack]

When Glastonbury changed their format this year due to COVID, they broadcast several bands from different locations around the farm.  London’s Wolf Alice was the first band to feature and pulled off a great set of music that explored all areas of alternative rock from the last 30 years. Blue Weekend is the band’s third album and sees them on the edge of becoming Britain’s biggest band with a sold out UK tour planned for early 2022.

First track “The Beach” is a quiet hum of a song about friendship that builds into a roar.  “Smile” adds a healthy dose of fuzz guitar and menace that mixes Republica with Korn, a few songs later “Play The Hits” is a blast of punk blast noise.  Several songs see the band play with only minimal elements such as “Safe From Heartbreak (if you never fall in love)” and “No Hard Feelings” that are mostly guitar and the vocals of Ellie Roswell but somehow sound bigger than those spare parts.

Where the album really shines is on second track “Delicious Things” where Roswell asks “a girl like me/would you believe/I’m in Los Angeles”.  The inspiring track about living out your dreams in LA uses murmured Billie Eilish like vocals in the verses with a pop blast chorus that makes it one of the more memorable tracks of the year.  It’s no coincidence that the band uses Coldplay producer Markus Dravs to elevate several tracks that will be anthems in concert. Roswell does not have the strongest voice but the use of backing vocals, double tracks and electronic swirls more than compensate when an emotional lift is needed.  Touching on all different parts of alternative and pop, Wolf Alice have released a really great album.

8.5/10

Posted in Album Reviews

Japanese Breakfast – Jubilee (2021)

Japanese Breakfast: Jubilee Album Review | Pitchfork

“After writing two albums and a book about grief, I feel very ready to embrace feeling” is what Japanese Breakfast’s Michelle Zauner told Pitchfork earlier this year when describing the Jubilee album released in June. And feeling she does on the first few songs that are a masterclass of alterna pop.  “Paprika” uses a marching band drum, horns and a wonderous chorus where she exclaims “oh, it’s a rush!”  “Be Sweet”, the first single, is another upbeat gem that asks “be sweet to me, baby”.  “Kokomo, IN” is a misty eyed indie pop song along the lines of Camera Obscura that adds strings to provide a sense of longing with a tinge of country.

Those first three songs are near perfect so it’s hard for the rest of the album to match those heights but a few songs come close. “Sit” uses tension in the verses whereas “Savage Good Boy” uses humour to speak of the villians in the world who make far too much money. Not only has Michelle Zauner recently released this album, but the Korean-American also published her first memoir in April that is already a New York Times bestseller. An incredible body of work in just the first half of the year.

7.5/10

Posted in Album Reviews

Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago (2008)

For Emma Forever Ago

There is a great mythology around the first Bon Iver album, For Emma, Forever Ago. After watching his former band break up then contracting mono and a liver infection, Justin Vernon moved away from Raleigh, North Carolina and back home to Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Like a Jack Kerouac type figure, for several months Vernon stayed at his Dad’s cabin in the woods and worked on the songs that would form this debut album. The album was self released in 2007 then later re-released by Jagjaguwar in early 2008.

“Flume” is the track that turned Vernon’s music career around. Working with an acoustic guitar and experimenting with a falsetto for the first time, it opened up more possibilities to be vulnerable with an added effect of tracking his own vocals to sound like a choir. First single “Skinny Love” sees Vernon tell a partner “I told you to be patient….and I told you to be kind” in a relationship that doesn’t have a lot of weight to it. “What might have been lost” turns “The Wolves (Act I and II)” into a mantra of sorts. Both “Lump Sum” and “Blindsided” feature memorable guitar hooks while “For Emma” adds a nice addition of horns.

For Emma is mostly an acoustic album and one that is added to by the story surrounding it.  It can feel claustrophobic at times but also celebratory as a young man works through the troubles in his life alone. Justin Vernon has gone on to work with James Blake, Kanye West and most recently with Taylor Swift while also curating a music festival in Wisconsin. A lot of that success started with this album that is included in Rolling Stone magazine’s most recent top 500 albums of all time. It is a lowkey standout album from the first decade of the 2000s.

8.5/10

Posted in Album Reviews

St. Vincent – Daddy’s Home (2021)

Daddy's Home

The cover of St. Vincent’s new album features Annie Clark in stockings, lingerie, and dyed blonde hair looking seductively at the camera with the title Daddy’s Home in a 70s font.  The reality is far from the fantasy being presented. The title is a reference to her father returning home after being in prison for several years for fraud.  On the title track, Clark turns visiting her dad in prison into one of the more intriguing tracks on the album where she “signed autographs in the visitation room/waiting for you the last time, inmate 502”.

On her sixth album, St. Vincent presents several soulful funky tracks. “Down and Out Downtown” is a laid number about coming home the morning after the night before. It does a better job than the opener and first single “Pay Your Way in Pain” that strives to sound like Prince but it’s electro-funk comes up short. The album gains some steam towards the end with “Candy Darling”, a quick two-minute ode to the Andy Warhol actress.

The songs that work best are the ones where Clark looks inward. On “Somebody Like Me” she asks over an acoustic guitar “Does it make you a genius or the fool of the week to believe enough in somebody like me” and adulthood hits on “My Baby Wants a Baby” where she wonders “what would my baby say, I got your eyes and your mistakes”. 

“…at the holiday party” is intended to be a modern take on the The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”. While it is not as great as that classic, it is a really cool track about the pharmacy that some have in their purses. There are a few bright spots on “Daddy’s Home” as St. Vincent is far too talented not to show her skills but the sub funk/R+B tracks are not the area where she excels. Co-produced with Jack Antonoff, Daddy’s Home is a rare miss for both.

6.5/10