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 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
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 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum
The Jesus and Mary Chain
Psychocandy, Darklands, Honey's Dead [reissues]

Rating: 0/10 ?

August 4, 2006
Psychocandy: 8/10
Darklands: 7.5/10
Honey's Dead: 6.5/10

Kieron Tyler writes in the reissued Psychocandy's liner notes that the album "was an instant classic and will always figure in any best-of-the-1980s listings." I'm not so sure he's right, and I think the problem starts at the "instant classic" part. The Jesus and Mary Chain are a band with a self-perpetuating legacy: their debut album went down in the books as a classic because it carried itself like one from Day One, and their influence has spread because they always made their presence known, never failing to give the ravenously hungry British music press fodder for the weekly columns. They're a buzz band whose buzz never died down. Think of them as the 1980s' version of The Strokes: a hyped-from-the-get-go group who distilled a love of scuzzy rock and sweeping hooks (and a huge Velvet Underground fetish) into a heavily influential debut album chock-full of two- and three-minute pop songs.

And just as you can criticize The Strokes for valuing attitude over emotional resonance and stripping the jagged edges from their influences, you can level the same complaints against the Mary Chain. Thousands of listeners and musicians have argued otherwise for the last two decades, however, and Rhino's choice to reissue the band's first five studio full-lengths further cements the music of the brothers Reid's place in the rock canon. Rarely does such a large chunk of a band's back catalogue get repackaged and remastered: even critically-derided and commercially lackluster records Automatic (1988) and Stoned and Dethroned (1994) are now available as 24-bit stereo sound dualdiscs. The albums worth rehearing, reconsidering, and rebuying (or finally checking out for the first time), though, are still the three that have persisted as fan favorites: 1985's Psychocandy, 1987's Darklands, and 1992's Honey's Dead.

As Tyler points out in his liner note essay, Psychocandy's structure has helped contribute to its high replay value. It's set up to function as both a collection of singles (many of the tracks were released as twelve-inches beforehand) and a capital-A Album; the individual songs are punchy, catchy, and great for mixtapes, radio shows, or a quick listen while you're brushing your teeth, but they all capture a similar mood, even though no overarching lyrical concepts or musical motifs tie them together. This is partly due to the music's simplicity: drummer Bobby Gillespie hacks away at his kit caveman style, while William and Jim Reid's guitars match the rhythms with a steady throb of feedback, more texture than melody. The words are devoid of obtuse metaphors or poetic abstractions, and the melodies are stated simply and without the embellishment of harmonies or surprising turns. Psychocandy is as primal as the 13th Floor Elevators and as sticky as a Brill Building production, and it anchors itself with an almost inhumanly static vibe, each song consisting of a few droning chords and varying very little from the one before it.

The rest of the Mary Chain's discography follows suit, with each album finding its own emotional and musical key and never straying far from it. Darklands pays homage to The Velvet Underground's self-titled LP, dripping with hazy comedown guitar jangle and gently reverbed corners. The lyrics run all romantic and mournful, but in spite of their inherent sadness, Darklands is probably the easiest listen in the band's catalogue; if you dig Galaxie 500 and Yo La Tengo's takes on the Velvets' heritage, then it might be your favorite Mary Chain release. Honey's Dead finds the band shifting gears after Automatic's failed stab at crunchy, sex-you-up rock. They tweak the formula a bit here and make it both more troubling and compelling, dressing insatiable male desire and its ravenous gaze up in massive post-Stone Roses drum patterns and grinding Britpop guitars, entering early '90s England's hedonistic dancefloor culture with the dinosauric ego and sexual ethics of '70s arena rock.

While each of these albums' abilities to create and inhabit a mood has helped them to stand the test of time, the Mary Chain also dig their own grave in each case, opening themselves up to same-iness and exposing more deeply-seated imperfections. Instead of contemplating or examining the worlds they create on each album, the band just plods on blithely. There's no humor or levity, no sharp irony, no outside perspective in a Jesus and Mary Chain record; each of their releases is straight-faced and debauched on its own urban cool, never second-guessing its swagger or extending itself towards a ridiculousness that welcomes critique from listeners. If you think oversized sunglasses, bedhead haircuts, and skintight Levi's are as absurd and clichéd as they are pretty-damn-cool, then it's hard to stomach an entire Mary Chain album. The players' lack of expressive, dynamic qualities is also trying. The Reids' have extremely limited vocal ranges and never test their own limits, hedging towards monotone and delivering each line (even pop song staple "ooo"s) with the same self-seriousness. The guitars also feel like one-trick ponies after a while: whether their noisy and biting or spectral and winsome, they rarely do more than hum along in the background, sapping the music of its vitality. There's little struggle between the forces of pop and rock - the feedback's always in check, given just enough rope to maintain the appearance of danger.

With that said, there's something that still draws me to this music in spite of its monotony and problems. As I've said, these records are jammed with great singles, and I think the songs are best consumed as such. And with the popularity of iPods, that method of listening might sit better with American audiences then it did upon these albums' original release. Great places to visit but frustrating places to live, these reissues also make working through the Jesus and Mary Chain's frustrating rockist trappings and pervasive "coolness" more attractive than ever, giving these albums a sonic fullness that earlier, overwhelmingly trebly CD editions lacked and sweetening the deal with added music videos.

Reviewed by Phillip Buchan
A one-time music director at WUOG in Athens, Phillip is into college radio, literature, writing, buying records, going to shows, talking to friends, learning -- pretty much the same stuff that all of us priveledged, (pseudo?)intellectual Americans are into.

See other reviews by Phillip Buchan



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