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Sonic Boom: Pirate Guide, November 2009

A new monthly feature, with actual reviews of new records!


A reader writes in:

dude… are u supposed to be, like, reviewing music, reviewing HOW you review music, or chattin’ up da scene in general? cos brah, i am corn fused…imo, simply reviewing a variety of music is, you know, sufficient. yeh yeh, i know ur all like, witty and shit…i’m just sayin…

Yes, a real, living, breathing reader! Now, as you might imagine, it stings a bit to be confronted with such harsh criticism, but what really hurts is, this reader—dubious grammar aside—happens to be exactly right.


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Since its beginnings, I have said that “Sonic Boom” is a conversation about music; a running discussion about the myriad obsessions, annoyances, pleasures and diversions that come with giving over to music a significant portion of one’s life. And while that conversation can take many forms, one of the forms it has not taken is…a review of a variety of music.

Till now.

Because now, dear reader, “Sonic Boom” introduces a new monthly feature, one wherein I, your narrator, will do nothing more—and nothing less—than critique a selection of new records. With “number” grades and everything. Because why? Because sometimes, you don’t need a 900-word dissertation on the new Julian Casablancas record—not when 105 words and an easy 7/10 will do. Because I have a lot of great music on my desk, and in my iPod, and I want to write about all of it. And, most of all, because you demanded it.

This new feature will be called “Pirate Guide”—an open tribute to the monthly “Consumer Guide” written by the great rock critic Robert Christgau. I don’t pretend to be on Christgau’s level, as either a writer or a listener, but I love his work, and I especially love his “Consumer Guide,” and he’s been a tremendous influence on me, and…I don’t know. I guess I might change it at some point. I’ll let you know. But for now, it’ll do. Anyway, let’s hear some music!

44sonic_julianJulian Casablancas: Phrazes for the Young (Cult/RCA)

The Strokes’ last record, First Impressions of Earth, was better than advertised—yes, it was bloated and overproduced and frequently lifeless, but the songs were there for two-thirds of the damn thing. Is that enough? I think so. The classic:filler ratio of Phrazes for the Young—the debut from Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas—may not even be that good. Of the eight tracks here, I count three absolutely essential keepers (the first three cuts, conveniently enough), and when I say essential I mean essential. After that, things get shaky, but it all breezes by before you notice, and by then you’re hitting “repeat” again anyway. [7/10]

44sonic_weezerWeezer: Raditude (Geffen)

These days, Weezer are less of a band, more of a punch line. Or a punching bag. And lord, they deserve it. The disgusting ingredients cooked into (shudder) Raditude add up to a malevolent stew of stinking trash—Promotional Snuggie? Kenny G? That album cover?—but if you’ve got the stomach to pick out the good bits and hold your nose at the rest, this could be Weezer’s best since Pinkerton (not exactly a high standard). “I’m Your Daddy” is as disturbing as its title would imply, but Weezer pull off the sicko-pervert stuff better than they do the earnest glop that has been their calling card since the execrable “Green Album.” Across the board here the tunes are catchy, and the high-gloss production has some kick, and while it’s easier to diss than it is to admire, it’s a heck of a lot of fun to listen to in the privacy of your car, played loud. [6/10]

44sonic_btsBuilt to Spill: There Is No Enemy (Warner Bros.)

You know who’s having a good year? All those ancient and unfashionable indie rockers favored by douchey college professors and hippies. Pavement announced a reunion tour and made mad loot; meanwhile, bands like Dinosaur Jr, Sonic Youth, Yo La Tengo and Flaming Lips released some of the best records of their careers—careers which go back to, like, the Civil War. Right? Well, add Built to Spill to that list. If we were ranking such things, There Is No Enemy would place second to Dinosaur’s Farm—but that’s still pretty high praise, because Farm is a world beater in any year, among any competitive field. There Is No Enemy, then, is just a career best—all those squalling, sprawling guitars and nonsensical lyrics seem to have a new sense of purpose; not just rock, but rock songs. “Life’s a Dream” is a weeping willow of electric sound, guitars as Fourth of July fireworks, like the Beach Boys backing Neil Young doing The Temptations. But just saying that sounds so old. This doesn’t sound old. [8/10]

44sonic_slayerSlayer: World Painted Blood (Sony)

I don’t much like one-trick-pony legacy bands past their initial surge of creative discovery (see 90 percent of the careers of Bad Religion, Mötorhead, The Ramones, etc.) but Slayer still sound exactly like Slayer—like nothing has changed, like not a day has passed since that cassette copy of South of Heaven was scaring my parents into sending me to the school psychologist—and they still sound totally amazing. World Painted Blood is swell companion music for adolescent rage or heavy exercise or angel dust. The guitars are like speeding 18-wheelers veering into oncoming traffic, the vocals are like the feral, furious howls of a starving coyote, the drums are like some sick death machine, oiled and perfect amid this brutal dust storm of rage and hatred. Same as it ever was. Just as good. Great, actually. Just great. [8/10]

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