Album Review: The Queen Is Dead by the Smiths

British music during the mid-1980s was quite synth-heavy as new wave was the genre that defined the decade. However, a backlash against this style of music would occur which can be seen in bands like the Smiths. The Smiths came out of Manchester in the mid-1980s and released four pretty popular albums, including The Queen Is Dead, their best album in my opinion.

The album cover of The Queen Is Dead

The Queen Is Dead can simply be described as an indie or alternative rock album with its sound being a fusion of the rock music of the 1960s and contemporary post-punk music. It features Morrissey’s melancholic lyrics paired with his unique voice and Johnny Mar’s compositions. Many of the songs are fairly sad as demonstrated by “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out”.

“There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” is a beautiful song about a man by his lover’s (or soon to be lover’s) side. The man wishes to stay by her side forever and even die beside her. “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” is the Smiths’ signature song and one of my personal favorite songs of all time. With its synthesized strings, Morrissey’s voice, and Mar’s guitar, the song is just absolutely beautiful.

It would only be around a year later when the Smiths would break up. They would release another album not long after their breakup, but it’s not nearly as good as The Queen Is Dead in my opinion. The Queen Is Dead is a 10/10 album and you have to check it out!

Extended Play (EP) Review: Jar of Flies by Alice in Chains

Thanks to the unexpected success of Nirvana’s Nevermind, alternative rock (especially grunge from Seattle) became one of America’s most popular genres of music during the 1990s. Many bands saw their heyday during this period, including Seattle’s Alice in Chains (AIC). They were an extremely successful band, but had a variety of internal issues such as lead singer Layne Staley’s heroin addiction. After their 1993 world tour, the band found themselves homeless and then moved into the London Bridge Studio in Seattle where they lived and recorded their 1994 extended play (EP) Jar of Flies.

The cover of Jar of Flies

Unlike the majority of their work, Jar of Flies heavily features acoustic guitars, primarily out of the band’s desire to relax and make music. It still features electric guitars and has elements of grunge. Out of all of the songs on the EP, “Nutshell” has to be my favorite.

“Nutshell” heavily features acoustic guitars and, unlike a good chunk of their songs, doesn’t feature major vocal harmonies from guitarist Jerry Cantrell. Instead, Layne Staley sings his heart out on this gut-wrenching piece. This has to be AIC’s saddest song which has only become more depressing with the 2002 overdose of Staley. The song is now dedicated to him.

Jar of Flies was the first and only EP to top the Billboard 200. It was also the first AIC release to do so and deservingly. All the songs on the EP are amazing and are worth your time. I give it a 9/10. Check it out when you have the chance.

Album Review: Nevermind by Nirvana

During the 1990s, alternative rock (especially Seattle’s grunge scene) exploded to the forefront of mainstream culture. At the head of this explosion was Nirvana’s sophomore album, Nevermind. Released in 1991, it unexpectedly became a massive album that would go on to define the 90s.

The album cover of Nevermind

Nevermind is the quintessential grunge, the sort of hard, alternative rock that came out of Seattle, album. It primarily features harder-edged songs such as the iconic “Smells Like Teen Spirit” that make good use of loud-quiet-loud dynamics, something Nirvana picked up on from the Pixies, another alternative rock band. My personal favorite songs off of the album have to be “In Bloom.”

“In Bloom” starts off with an explosion of sound but then quiets down to the point where Kurt Cobain is singing a tad bit above a whisper. The song becomes loud once again, as it goes with a large number of Nirvana songs. While this song is one of the band’s most popular songs, it makes fun of the sort of people who sing Nirvana songs but don’t understand their meaning.

When Nevermind was originally released, it was not expected to become the decade-defining hit it become. Nevertheless, it did. Nevermind is a classic and for good reason. I give it a 10/10. You have to check it out!

Nevermind by Nirvana is available to check out from the Mission Viejo Library.

Album Review: Document by R.E.M.

The popular music of the 1980s (new wave) is notable for placing a hefty focus on synthesizers. However, many groups wouldn’t follow new wave’s format, choosing to play jangly guitar rock. The most notable of these groups, at least in the United States, was R.E.M. R.E.M. was very mainstream in the 1990s but was primarily relegated to college campuses during the 1980s, at least until they released their breakthrough album Document in 1987.

The album cover of Document

Document is filled with fun and serious jangly alternative rock songs. It’s very guitar heavy and the guitars are heavier than the guitars on R.E.M.’s previous releases. The album also has quite a few hits, such as “The One I Love” and “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)”.

“The One I Love” may seem like a simple love song, but is actually much darker in nature, as seen in the line “A simple prop to occupy my time.” Either way, radio stations helped push this song to number 9 on the Billboard Hot 100, R.E.M.’s first top ten hit. “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” is about just what it sounds like, the end of the world. It’s a great, fast song, one of my favorites from R.E.M. Funnily enough, streams and downloads of the song greatly increased with the start of the COVID-19 Pandemic, a good thing in light of bad circumstances.

After Document, R.E.M. became massive and would reach an untouchable position in the 1990s, becoming an American institution. We can attribute this to Document’s success. I give it a 9/10 as it’s definitely worth your time. Give it a go when you have the chance. You won’t regret it!

Album Review: Are You Experienced by the Jimi Hendrix Experience

The 1960s were a wild period of time. Simultaneously, we’d get some of the best music of all time from the 60s. One artist associated with the time’s counterculture and music is Jimi Hendrix, the best guitarist of all time and my favorite “classic rock” artist. During his short yet influential career, he released three studio albums with his band, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and their debut, Are You Experienced, is one of my favorite albums of all time.

The original album cover of Are You Experienced

Are You Experienced is a psychedelic hard rock album. Hendrix was influenced by many genres of music ranging from R&B to free jazz to blues. We have fun, fast songs and great, layback songs such as “Fire” and “Red House”, respectively.

“Fire” is one of my favorite songs in general and I can see why. It’s very happy, fun, and energetic. It’s influenced by soul, funk, and jazz. “Fire” is also one of Hendrix’s most popular songs. Jimi Hendrix’s bandmates do such a great job of complimenting his guitar work.

“Red House” is definitely one of the bluesy songs on the album with it having a 12-bar blues structure played by the Experience’s bassist. What makes it special is Hendrix’s guitar work which never seems to blow me away.

I own Are You Experienced on vinyl and I have to say, it’s a great listen. It’s a 10/10 album that never ceases to entertain me. I highly recommend listening to it. It’ll blow your socks off!

Album Review: The Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd

In the 1960s, Pink Floyd would hit the London music scene with their whimsical version of psychedelic rock with their former frontman Syd Barrett. He would sadly leave the band in 1968  due to his struggle with mental illness. The band would take some time to find their place in the world after Syd left. They’d get back on track and release their strongest album (in my opinion), The Dark Side of the Moon, in 1973, a masterclass in psychedelic-influenced progressive rock.

The album cover of The Dark Side of the Moon

The Dark Side of the Moon can be described as a work of progressive rock influenced by psychedelia. All the songs flow together very well (even the instrumental ones) and listening to the album in one sitting is an incredible experience. The production is incredible with Alan Parsons (yes, Alan Parsons of the Alan Parsons Project) contributing important things such as tape effects to the album. My favorite song on the album (and one of my favorite songs in general) has to be “Time”.

“Time” starts off with a jarring introduction of ringing clocks. We soon get guitars, bass, percussion, and synthesizers before the vocals come in. Every member of the band is playing at their best, especially David Gilmore who takes us away with an amazing, emotional guitar solo.

I recently bought The Dark Side of the Moon on vinyl, a great purchase in my opinion. It’s easily a 10/10 and is one of my favorite albums. Giving the album a look is a must!

To read about the making of The Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd, check out this book from the Mission Viejo Library.

Album Review: The Stone Roses’ Self-Titled Album

Many people today are familiar with the Smiths, one of the most acclaimed and unique bands of their time. They foreshadowed the Britpop bands of the 90s like Blur, Oasis, Pulp, and Suede, just to name a few. What many today are unaware of is the Madchester movement that happened between these two events. The largest band from this movement was the Stone Roses whose self-titled album is a masterwork of the genre.

The album cover of The Stone Roses

The Stone Roses is a psychedelic, rocking, yet danceable piece of music. There are trippy effects and fast tempos in this album. My favorite songs from the band’s debut album are easily “I Wanna Be Adored” and “She Bangs the Drums”.

“I Wanna Be Adored” starts off with a trippy sound collage which leads into Mani’s bass part. The song itself is very simple with the lyrics just being “I don’t need to sell my soul/He’s already in me/I wanna be adored” repeated throughout the song. “She Bangs the Drum” starts off with a danceable drum and bass part which serves its purpose well. The guitar and vocals are incredible too with Ian Brown’s fusion of Morrisey and Robert Smith’s vocal styles.

I put off listening to this album for quite some time but I’m glad I was able to listen to it. It has to be one of the best (and most influential) albums of the 80s. I give it a 9.25/10 with my only complaint being that the intros and outros can be a tad bit too long. Give it a go; it will surprise you!

Album Review: Juju by Siouxsie and the Banshees

Out of all the English groups of the 1980s, very few are as fascinating to me as Siouxsie and the Banshees. Originally associated with London’s punk scene in the late-1970s, the band, led by frontwoman Siouxsie Sioux, became one of the leading post-punk bands of the era. They would release Juju, a gothic masterpiece, in 1981. Juju has to be their best album and a personal favorite of mine.

The album cover of Juju

Juju, like The Scream and Kaleidoscope, is a product of the English post-punk movement with its tracks featuring a prominent bass line. Unlike The Scream, the guitar in Juju isn’t nearly as abrasive (though it has its moments that’d put a smile on John McKay’s face) and unlike Kaleidoscope, synthesizers take the backseat in this album. My favorite song from the album has to be “Spellbound”.

“Spellbound” is a post-punk marvel. Featuring John McGeoch on guitar, this track is truly exhilarating. McGeoch’s electric and acoustic guitar playing really makes this track unique. The acoustic guitar in particular sounds extremely fresh, even after the 10,000th listen.

Juju definitely is one of the best gothic albums out there and a peak of the post-punk movement. Its influences on the band’s contemporaries cannot be understated. I’d rate it a 9/10. It’s great. Give it a go.

Album Review: It Is What It Is by Thundercat

Last year, I asked a friend to give me some music recommendations. One artist he recommended I look into was Thundercat. Thundercat is a bassist, collaborating with many artists from Gorillaz to Kendrick Lamar. I decided to check out his most recent (and popular) album It Is What It Is. It blew my socks off.

The album cover of It Is What It Is

The album consists of 15 songs and lasts for around 37 minutes. The songs themselves are definitely on the shorter side, not that it’s a bad thing. It Is What It Is can be described as jazz meets R&B with a bit of electronica joining the mix. The bass is incredible which it should be, considering Thundercat’s a bassist. My favorite track has to be “Funny Thing”

“Funny Thing” might just clock in at right under 2 minutes but it’s a very cool song. The bass is very playful and so are the lyrics, describing the peak of a party. It is also a very spacey song with it having an ethereal feel to it. Not only is it my favorite Thundercat song but it’s his most popular too, with “Funny Thing” currently having around 138 million streams on Spotify.
This album was definitely something I didn’t expect to sound the way it sounded. The jazzy, spacey vibe it gave off was incredible. I give it a 9/10, with It Is What It Is being one of my favorite albums that I’ve recently listened to. Give it a go. It’s 100% worth it.

Album Review: Daydream Nation by Sonic Youth

In the 1980s, music was quite commercialized and accessible in addition to being very synth heavy. However, a thriving underground scene would emerge in places like New York City, giving us the Sonic Youth band. Sonic Youth started out as a highly experimental “no wave” band but would soon transition into making more “normal” alternative music after releasing their first two albums. After two new albums, they’d reach perfection with their fifth album, Daydream Nation.

The album cover of Daydream Nation

Daydream Nation can be described as one of the premier alternative rock albums of its time. It’s very noisy, features decently long instrumental introductions, and has unorthodoxly tuned guitars. Daydream Nation is also on the longer side with a run time of around one hour and 10 minutes. The best song on the album is easily its opener, “Teen Age Riot”.

Like nearly all the songs on the album, “Teen Age Riot” starts off with a layback, minute-plus-long instrumental introduction. We then get a very fast, fun piece of music. Thurston Moore’s guitar part is very cool. While his vocals are somewhat deadpan and spoken, I feel like that really helps to make the song.

Daydream Nation has gone down in history as one of the best alternative rock albums of the 1980s as well as one of the best albums ever made. This album is easily a 10/10 with all of the songs being great, although the album isn’t for everyone. It’s 100% worth a listen though!