Let me fill you in if you don’t know. Lala.com is a music website in the vein of Pandora. The difference is that, where Pandora creates a personalized station of music similar to your selection of a band, song, or genre, Lala lets you find and listen to an entire album, from start to finish. Once. After that you get to listen to 30-second samples, or you can buy the album on MP3, or at a very reduced in-site price and listen to it on Lala.com as much as you want. It’s been over a year since a friend of mine told me about this site, and I used it a lot at first, but then wandered away to other things (namely my phone and iPod).
Well, now Lala.com has been purchased by Apple and will be shut down at the end of May 2010, much to the dismay of many users of the site. When I first heard of this a couple weeks ago, my reaction was, “that sucks. Oh, well.” But since then I’ve been at the site every day, finding albums to listen to–new ones I’ve never heard, old ones I’ve never heard, ones I used to own, ones I’ve always meant to buy but never did–and I can say I’m really upset it’s going away, too. But there’s no stopping the bulldozer that is Apple, so I’m just taking in as much as I can before it’s gone.
And boy, have I. I’ve been listening to some great stuff (and some not-so-great stuff, too). In honor of the last days that we’ll have this awesome site, I’m going to share some thoughts on the albums I’ve heard on it. There will be at least 25 altogether, but spread out over 4 entries, each of which will focus on a different, personal categorization. I’ll talk about ones that are new, ones that are old that I finally got around to listening to, ones that I used to own years ago and compare what I think now vs. what I thought then, and then finally just six extra, because it’s my blog and I can do that.
Since I’m the kind of guy who likes to get his salad out of the way so he only has his steak and potatoes left to enjoy, I’m starting with the six miscellaneous entries. These are ones that either don’t fit into those other three categories, or did, but just didn’t make the cut (whatever that cut was).
1. Razia’s Shadow: A Musical–by Forgive Durden (and guests) I’m tempted to hold this album aloft and call it pure creative genius. It is truly a musical. It’s a complete fantasy story, with a cast of characters and a narrator all played by different singers, and that seems so unique and original. But that’s not entirely the case. Of course, concept albums have been around since the 1960’s, and The Who took that a step even further and made entire operas. So I settle on understanding that the true uniqueness of this album is that it feels more like a musical than it does a rock album. I’m blown away by the idea and the execution of Razia’s Shadow. The authors and composers have dared to step out of the safety of writing just rock songs and I think they’ve really shown how greatly talented they are, and I get the strong sense that the cast (played by the vocalists from a number of other bands) had a great time participating. The story’s a bit out there, and a single listen (which is all I’ve really had) isn’t enough to grasp the whole thing. I might end up with this one in my collection someday, but it is a little low on the list. I think I can easily say that my favorite song is Doctor Doctor, featuring Shawn Harris of The Matches, because he is the only person that seemed to dare to be completely in character. Incedentally, I did listen to an album by The Matches because of this album, and I didn’t care too much for it. Maybe I wasn’t in the mood.
2. Kingwood–by Millencolin The Swedish pop-punk quartet Millencolin was my favorite band for a few years around the turn of the century. I had every last line of their first three albums (Tiny Tunes (renamed Same Old Tunes when I got it), Life on a Plate, For Monkeys) memorized. I counted down the days to the release of their 2000 album, Pennybridge Pioneers, and loved it. Then, within a year of that album being released, my entire CD collection was stolen. That “tragic” event coincided with a change in my prevailing musical tastes, so I’ve only ever re-bought Pennybridge Pioneers, only doing so years after the fact, and have only listened to it a handful of times. But even though I headed in a different direction, Millencolin kept putting out albums. This was their 2005 release . . . and it sounds exactly like I expect it to. Just like years before, they have plenty of hard-edged guitars, catchy lyrics, well-executed vocal harmonies, and predictable rock beats, but they’ve all but abandoned their more obvious pop-punk and ska-punk roots. It’s not bad at all. Had this album been the one released in 2000, it would have been just as good to me as Pennybridge Pioneers. But I have to say there’s not much for me here anymore. And I find that a little sad.
3. Deja Entendu–by Brand New This album defines the band Brand New to me. They are incredibly talented, they will rock your face off, and I cannot stand them because they’re so freaking arrogant. Okay, maybe it’s mostly or only Jesse Lacey that’s the arrogant one, but that’s enough. Pride and self-assurance just oozes out of these songs like pink slime from the Manhattan Museum of Art, and while I might look at that and think, “wow, cool!”, I still don’t like going near it. You know . . . I know of other groups that I understand to be just as cocky, and they don’t bother me the same way these guys do, or the way this album does. How nearly paradoxical. I’m honestly not sure if I’ve never marked this album among my all-time favorites because it truly doesn’t grab me, or because I won’t let it. If you just listen to (what I think is the best song, however generic that is), “Sic Transit Gloria–Glory Fades,” you might be able to hear what I hear. It is an incredible song that just gives the listener such energy, but the tone of the vocals (not the lyrics) just say to me, “I’m so much better than you at everything and I pity you when you think otherwise; the same way I pity a squirrel that ran under my car right before I ran over it.” Maybe I’m being too harsh, but I’m so perplexed by how I react to this music that I just have to keep talking about it!
4. Long Hair in Three Stages–by U.S. Maple There is a classic Alkaline Trio lyric in the song “Bleeder” that says, “Remember last April when we saw U.S. Maple? Some how the singer showed the fireside exactly how I feel!” That line alone made me want to listen to these guys, and had I ever found one of their albums around that time, I would have got it. But I’m not so sure how much I would have liked it. I won’t dare call this album “bad,” but it is most certainly different. U.S. Maple is part of a sub-genre of rock called “Math Rock,” which is charactarized by . . . well . . . weirdness? The drums and bass seem to have typical roles in the songs, but the guitar is more for texture than notes and lead, and the singer sounds to me like a Tommy Victor (Prong)-meets-Black Francis (The Pixies) that just doesn’t care. I certainly think these guys deserve to be lauded for their uniqueness, but I’m not entirely sure it’s something I could handle without trying for a long time. I certainly might try someday, but not any time soon.
5. Quadrophenia–by The Who I wish I could say that I’m a huge Who fan, but when I’m honest, and truly express my opinion rather than try to appear like someone who loves well-loved music, at best I can say that I like The Who, and love many of their songs. I really have to be in the right mood to get into their other stuff. For some reason this album doesn’t get as much attention as their other works (especially in the shadow of Tommy, their other rock-opera), so I was always nervous to just outright buy it. Yet don’t let that sway you as it did me; this is a really good album, especially for The Who. I think if someone who isn’t immediately drawn to late-60’s, early-70’s British rock to keep in mind that this is more art than it is rock, they will be able to appreciate it more; I know it helps me. As cheesy at it may sound, it feels to me that Townsend paints with his guitar and his notes. My own songwriting is always marred by my constant desire for more musical complexity than I can accomplish, so I’m always amazed when someone who is more capable of complexity than me has no problem alternating between two chords for over a minute in the middle of a song. I could really go on about all the subtle things I caught in my two listens (once in my early Lala days, once as I was writing this section), but it’s really something that’s best left to someone if they care to check it out.
6. Year of the Black Rainbow–by Coheed and Cambria Of course there’s going to be a Coheed and Cambria album somewhere; let’s get it out of the way early so it looks like I listen to a variety of music. This is actually the album that got me back onto Lala, since I wanted to hear the new album to wash away my experience from the concert I had recently seen (and subsequently, the reviews of this album on Lala are what primarily inspired my last music entry). Not long after this album came out, a friend of mine texted me to let me know he got it and added, “It does not disappoint.” No, it does not. It’s really early for me to give a full assessment of Year of the Black Rainbow, since I need to fully digest Coheed to reach an honest conclusion, but early on I can say I’m thoroughly impressed, yet again, by how amazing these guys are. The one thing that’s standing out in my memory from the single, full listen I’ve given this is the song “Pearl of the Stars,” simply because it doesn’t sound anything like Claudio at first. Just to bring this to a quick conclusion: the important thing about liking Coheed and Cambria is learning to appreciate them for what they are, not what we think they should be based on radio d.j.’s and rock magazine reviews. If you are among those of us that understand Coheed and Cambria are more than the owners of some catchy hard rock songs that came out several years ago, then this album is fantastic.