Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

New Music Tuesday

By Tim McCall, Collegian Staff

Neil Diamond

“12 Songs”

Columbia Records


Call off the race, it’s been officially decided that Myspace is cooler than Facebook. Facebook may have more members, but at the end of the day it’s the quality of their members that lost the battle. On Myspace you can friend Neil Diamond and hear his entire new album, his first in four years, for free. If that doesn’t kick Facebook’s butt, what does?

Kidding aside, the new Neil Diamond album “12 Songs” is a good album and perhaps could be the best album he’s ever made. Diamond used to carry around too much excess in his songs, but working with rap/heavy metal producer Rick Rubin, there would be none of that.

Rubin put together a very quiet backing band for Diamond to work with, consisting of guitarist Mike Campbell, pianist Benmont Tench and second guitarist Smokey Hormel, along with guest appearances by other musicians such as Larry Knetchtel, Billy Preston and Brian Wilson. Each song was originally recorded while Diamond sung and played guitar. The backing band put some of their own sound onto Diamond’s work.

This idea took some getting used to for Diamond. Diamond may be known for writing songs for bands like The Monkees or his high school classmate Barbara Streisand, but he was originally into singing. Diamond and Streisand were both members of their high school chorus.

Besides being an actual singer/songwriter album, “12 Songs” is also some of Diamond’s best lyrical work in the past 20 years. In the liner notes of the album, Diamond credits Rubin for editing his songs, not co-writing them. This is a similar approach to the one Rubin took with the late Johnny Cash and his last albums, which also brought him a new following shortly before his death.

Fans of Diamond know the man is not one to back off from the duet so it is fitting to know he ends “12 Songs” with one, but this isn’t just any duet. This duet is with former Beach Boy front man Brian Wilson. Wilson and Diamond wrote the song together in the studio and performed it shortly thereafter, creating a really unique, fresh style of the song that matches the overall fresh Neil Diamond.

Kind of Like Spitting

“In The Red”

Hush Records


Kind Of Like Spitting is not always a band. Kind Of Like Spitting is sometimes a singer/songwriter. When it comes down to which sound the name takes, it’s really just up to main member (and sometimes sole member) Ben Barnett’s imagination at the time he writes the song.

On Kind Of Like Spitting’s latest release “In The Red” Barnett combines his acoustic style and his rock ‘n’ roll style of albums past.

It doesn’t really matter much which style Barnett takes for his songs. Barnett is a lyricist first and musician second. Barnett has been around the musical block and worked with many of today’s leading indie musicians such as Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard. Gibbard played drums for one of Barnett’s more rocking albums.

While Barnett and Gibbard are both above-average lyricists, they do have their differences. Barnett is actually different then Gibbard in many ways. Gibbard has more of a melody to his vocal style while Barnett has a whiney undertone in his voice that is easily heard with the acoustic style he often chooses. More times then not Barnett also does most of the instruments himself, except, of course, when he is on stage. Sometimes on stage Barnett has a band, sings by himself or has a string band with violins. Each time is guaranteed to bring emotion out to the listeners in its own way.

“In The Red” is a return-to-form album for Barnett and is overall a mostly acoustic album that isn’t all that bad; in fact it’s quite good. Songs about love aren’t all over the album, but they are frequent in the album’s theme. Barnett occasionally carries some Christian themes in his lyrics, but they aren’t too Christian like Reliant K or music you would hear in church.

The only quarter of the album that is electric has a very rocking feel, similar to early Weezer minus the metal under tones. Barnett’s vocal style isn’t at all whiney when he is singing along to the rocking sound.

“In The Red” is Barnett’s sixth album release in his young career, but from the success of his previous albums, Barnett is now financially secure to record a well-produced album and it shows with “In The Red.”

By Ian Jones, Collegian Staff


“Welcome to the World of…”

Hellcat Records


Looking at the members of Orange, it’s difficult to tell whether they are a bad, Casualties-inspired street punk band or an equally bad Good Charlotte knock-off. Thankfully, they’re actually neither, and they’re really not bad.

Their style actually comes off as being a blend of old punk, right at its roots, and newer punk, such as Hellcat labelmates Rancid – perhaps they sound something like the Sex Pistols might have, had they cared how they sounded. If they come off as vaguely dated, it’s probably because they pay a lot more attention to borrowing from old bands than new. It’s easy to pick out pieces that sound a lot like the Clash or the Buzzcocks as you listen.

This similarity to old English punk bands is intensified by lead singer Joe Denman’s English accent. Although Denman and guitarist Jack Berglund were born in Britain, the whole band grew up in Hollywood. The vocals, though, fit the song, regardless of the authenticity of Denman’s accent.

The real problems with the album are in the lyrics. Some of the songs, notably the first track, “Hollywood” – a half-serious tribute to the town – and “Affirmation Song,” have decent lyrics, but many of them, such as “Orange,” do not. The song’s chorus is, simply, “Orange/Orange/How come nothing rhymes with orange?” A very insightful sentiment.

Some of this can be forgiven simply because they are a punk band – the anthemic “Don’t spit/Don’t slack/Don’t pout” of “No Rest For the Weekend” – but, really, the album is just lyrically weak.

Another complaint is that about halfway through the album, many listeners will find themselves rather bored. The songs really start to run together after a while, due in no small part to the fact that most people who have listened to punk music have already heard many of these things being done by other bands.

That having been said, “Welcome to the World of…” is worth giving a listen to. It’s all been done before, but they pull it off better than a lot of other bands do; certainly, their sound is not entirely derivative. Most importantly, they are a lot of fun to listen to, despite their flaws.

By Nick Romanow

The Stooges – “The Stooges” and “Fun House” – Elektra Records / Rhino Records


Like any landmark debut album, the self-titled release from the Stooges had a brilliant opening salvo. A young Iggy Pop infamously set a timeless scene of youth alienation and boredom by simply telling it like it is: “Well it’s 1969, okay/All across the USA/It’s another year for me and you/Another year with nothing to do.” Pop and his band did have something to do, however; they advanced rock ‘n’ roll far past the 36 years it’s been since they appeared. Their dirty, swaggering rock was wildly influential and completely ahead of its time. The Stooges still stand as the definition of punk, even though they preferred bleary-eyed, fuzzed-out riffs to the average punk model. But, then again, The Stooges were anything but average.

Fast forward to 2005 and, even after countless imitators, The Stooges are still one-of-a-kind. The double-disc, remastered reissues of the band’s first two albums, “The Stooges” and “Fun House,” are historically necessary and musically pleasing to no end. The self-titled debut seems like track-after-track of the most important, and best, songs of the early punk movement – the aforemen
tioned “1969,” “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” “No Fun” and “Real Cool Time” are all brilliant tracks. “We Will Fall,” a song that Pop himself recognizes as a love-or-hate track, is, nonetheless, light years ahead of most of the Stooges contemporaries and is still far beyond the realm of most rock and punk music today.

“Fun House,” similarly, will amaze anyone that hasn’t heard it before. Pop’s sexed-up lyrics in “Loose,” Ron Asheton’s excellent guitar work on “T.V. Eye” (though Asheton’s guitar stands out on every song) and the furious ending of “L.A. Blues” will astound the listener. The sax solo that closes out “1970” shows far more innovation then most people would have expected from a pack of Detroit gutter-punks.

The supplemental discs should be more then enticing enough to people that have heard these albums hundreds of times. “The Stooges” contains most of the original, scrapped mix of the album, done by the Velvet Underground’s John Cale. The disc is rounded out by a few alternate takes and excellent, extended versions of “No Fun” and “Ann.” The “Fun House” extras consist almost entirely of alternate takes, although two unreleased tracks, “Lost In The Future” and “Slide (Slidin’ The Blues),” also make their way onto the disc.

The real target of these reissues, however, should be those that never owned these albums. The Stooges were ahead of their time when they arrived and they sound just as brilliantly out-of-this-world today. If these reissues make one thing clear, it’s that no matter what the calendar says, it’s still 1969, okay?

By Nick Romanow

Sigur Ros – Takk… – Geffen Records


Every year brings a handful of surprise success stories, but when Sigur Ros, an Icelandic band known for ambient-leaning post-rock, had a breakthrough album with 2002’s luminous “( ),” they brought with them something that was actually exciting and new. Three years later, Sigur Ros find themselves releasing a highly-anticipated, major-label follow-up in the form of “Takk…” – which translates to “Thank You.” Perhaps even more surprising is that the band found a way to upstage themselves; while the band’s previous efforts have seen Sigur Ros valiantly and seemingly effortlessly reaching new heights, there was never this much pressure on them. But from the twinkling drone that introduces the title track that opens the album straight through to the end of the disc, Sigur Ros never lets up, sculpting landscapes, skies, seasons, and colors and projecting them through sounds both massive and subtle.

While Sigur Ros has not lost their touch for quieter, more delicate moments, the most surprising and powerful moments of “Takk…” come in bursts of sheer volume, such as the astounding climax of “Glosoli.” Sigur Ros hasn’t become a slave to convention in any way; refusing to rehash the same albums they have released while rejecting any mainstream compromise. The arrangements are even more complex than before; for instance, the commanding strings of “Hoppipolla” and the band sounding completely united in making huge, compelling and generally brilliant music that wouldn’t sound out of place bursting out of the sky at any given moment of natural bliss.

While people more in tune with straight-forward music might be weary of eight and 10 minute songs – though “Takk…” has more songs under five minutes here then on any of the group’s other albums – Sigur Ros demands to be heard. They have firmly taken their place as the first great, and perhaps best, band of the 21st century and one of the most important bands to arise in an even longer span of time. And while “( )” had long passages of pure atmosphere, “Takk…” takes to creating a whole new universe with fresh techniques. While the band’s standard instruments and strings are still the center of Sigur Ros’ world, there is focus on horns, toy pianos, and what sounds like a dying piece of electronics at the start of “Se Lest,” a song that perhaps best exemplifies the bright-eyed playfulness that encompasses most of the album.

Indeed, while the world Sigur Ros creates can melt into whatever the listener desires, it often feels like the band has discovered and recorded the sound of the sun on “Takk…” and, despite what narrow-minded rock-n-poppers might think, this is a record that works best when played loud. Sigur Ros is the definition of exhilarating and their music practically leaps out of speakers and soars through the air.

The pure existence of Sigur Ros seems like a phenomenon; the level of popularity and mainstream success they have is unexpected, but it’s the fact that they are still elevating themselves to new stratospheres, even after reaching past the sky on their prior releases, that makes “Takk…” a must-have record for anyone that wants to hear the sound of a band transcending time, space, and themselves.

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