July 31, 2018

Death Angel - The Art of Dying (2004)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Thrash Metal
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© 2004 Nuclear Blast Records
AllMusic Review by Eduardo Rivadavia
Leave it to Bay Area thrash metal pioneers Death Angel to name their recording rebirth, 14 years in the making, The Art of Dying. Oh, the irony! Never ones to play it straight, Death Angel, like their first wave of thrash inspiration, Exodus, shocked their aging fans when they courageously shrugged off the years of rust and returned to active metal duty in 2004. And because they were merely teenagers during their first run, most of the band are amazingly still in their early 30s! More importantly, they've done so in style. The Art of Dying, even while bypassing the often Byzantine arrangements heard on the group's first two albums, manages to maintain the songwriting focus of their third (and heretofore last) effort, Act III, while arguably providing a better all-around thrash experience than the latter. The race is a close one, but there's no denying that everything about The Art of Dying's frenetic, scratchy-riffed first track (requisite acoustic guitar intro notwithstanding) "Thrown to the Wolves," as well as the brilliantly concussive highlight "Thicker Than Blood," positively screams "old-school" thrash. In fact, except for a few very discreet trad-metal tricks, and the odd hardcore vocal or two snuck into "Five Steps to Freedom," "The Devil Incarnate," and "Prophecy," so does everything else on display here. The reasons are clear for all to see: as in their previous life, Death Angel's sound continues to be anchored by the intense drumming of Andy Galeon, and the absolutely sterling lead guitar work of Rob Cavestany, who's so damn good throughout, it's almost easy to overlook his always eye-popping contributions. Curiously, Galeon tackles lead vocals (with moderate success) on the sprawling "Spirit" (featuring an uncommonly bluesy bridge section), while Cavestany takes over -- and we mean takes over -- on spectacular closer "Word to the Wise." Not about to be left out, bass player Gus Pepa jumps in with his own lead vocal for the hit-and-miss "Land of Blood," but it's unquestionably lead vocalist Mark Osegueda (often singled out as the band's weak link the first time around) who's benefited the most from the onset of age. Except for sporadic relapses to his irritating past ways during "Never Me" and the wobbly-paced "Famine," where both he and the band get a little lost in the slower momentum, Osegueda's performance on The Art of Dying is stronger, more confident, and more versatile than ever. And while we're taking a roll call here, let it be known that new guitarist Ted Aguilar acquits himself perfectly well in his first outing with the group. In summary, for a band whose potential had seemed disappointingly unfulfilled at the time of their original breakup, Death Angel have ensured that The Art of Dying serves as an act of speed metal closure

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Death Angel - Killing Season (2008)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Thrash Metal
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© 2008 Nuclear Blast Records
AllMusic Review by Eduardo Rivadavia
Killing Season is Death Angel's second collection of brand new studio material since getting back together in the mid-'00s, and many observers may reasonably presume that its timing really couldn't have been better for coinciding with a genuine, worldwide thrash revival. But, ironically, while legions of new millennium kids who were still wearing diapers in 1983 are assiduously trying to replicate that original sonic template to the letter; the original precocious teens of thrash (drummer Andy Galeon was famously just 14 when Death Angel released their first LP) have not surprisingly matured and moved on with their art over the past 20 years. So it should be no surprise that Killing Season, like the group's 2004 comeback, The Art of Dying, is a thoroughly modern heavy metal album, with selected hallmarks of old-school thrash (and a few other musical styles) seamlessly woven together under the watchful eye of highly successful mainstream producer Nick Raskulinecz (Foo Fighters, Velvet Revolver, Rush, etc.). Indeed, Raskulinecz seems to complement Death Angel as well Bob Rock initially did Metallica; editorializing the quintet's instrumental prowess (and excesses) into ear-catching but thankfully still heavy new tracks like "Dethroned," "Soulless," the unexpectedly infectious closing epic "Resurrection Machine," and most surprising of all, "Steal the Crown," which sounds like something that highway groove rockers Fu Manchu might compose. Having said that, even genre loyalists unable to stomach any deviation from traditional thrash aesthetics are catered to via whiplash-inducing afterburners like "Sonic Beatdown" and "Carnival Justice" -- not to mention superlative hybrid offerings like "Lord of Hate," "The Noose" and "Buried Alive," which culminates in some especially serious moshing. At the end of the day, the bottom line is that Killing Season lends more validity to Death Angel's re-formation than would a straightforward rehashing of glories past, and one can only hope that their original fans will accept that, even as new ones are welcomed into the fold by great albums like Killing Season.

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Death Angel - Relentless Retribution (2010)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Thrash Metal
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© 2010 Nuclear Blast Records
AllMusic Review by Eduardo Rivadavia
Throughout their long and distinguished (albeit temporarily interrupted) career, Bay Area thrash icons Death Angel have always practiced an unusually cerebral approach to the genre (even on their somewhat misleadingly named first effort, The Ultra-Violence); but the striking cover art chosen for their sixth studio album, 2010's Relentless Retribution, suggests that an about face toward wanton savagery is at hand. Well, appearances can be deceiving, because the recently reconstituted group -- only lead guitarist Rob Cavestany and vocalist Mark Osegueda remain from the original lineup -- actually reveals itself just as lyrically considered and musically meticulous as ever here. Perhaps even more so, in light of new drummer Will Carroll's machine-like precision, which is both a positive and a negative turn of events. After all, early thrash was largely about strong "feel" and stronger feelings, so there's a certain amount of humanity sacrificed by the disciplined musicianship and, yes, still very cerebral subjects tackled by otherwise finely crafted Relentless Retribution highlights such as "Into the Arms of Righteous Anger," "This Hate," and the retro-fitted thrasher "Where They Lay." Other forceful tracks like "Truce," "River of Rapture," and "I Chose the Sky" never muck up the works, but don't impress all that much, either, and they all curiously contain odes of self-empowerment penned by Osegueda, like a 12-step program to rebuild one's confidence. Or perhaps his own? In any case, Relentless Retribution isn't without its surprises, including the doom-like grind of "Absence of Light," the half-lame/half-sublime "Volcanic," and the delightfully exotic and impossible to pigeonhole "Opponents at All Sides." But the real wildcard in this deck is most definitely the problematic "Claws in so Deep," which features a game-changing coda provided by popular Latin guitar duo, Rodrigo & Gabriela, but also sees Death Angel tragically transformed into Trivium by that band's producer, Jason Suecof -- a win/lose proposition that will surely divide fan opinions. What can't be questioned is the fact that Relentless Retribution does mosh harder than Death Angel's more song-oriented prior effort, Killing Season (a jack-of-all trades metal album, that one), and that should counter some of the dubious choices and modernizing risks taken within. Time will tell.

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Death Angel - The Dream Calls For Blood (2013)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Thrash Metal
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© 2013 Nuclear Blast Records
AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas
Running strong since the early '80s with only a few moments of hiatus, Death Angel remain a powerhouse of tight and shiny thrash metal on their seventh studio album, The Dream Calls for Blood. Not just pivotal in the development of their genre, Death Angel still sound visceral and hungry decades into their work, a rare case of a band getting sharper as it goes instead of mellowing. Leadoff track "Left for Dead" lulls the listener into a false sense of security with a gentle, spacy guitar figure before blasting into the most caustic thrash riffing and a flow chart of complex time changes, breakdowns, and chugging patterns as brutal as the lyrical content. The title track is another standout, with dry, heavy, painful riffing, unthinkably precise drumming, and some surprising sounds by way of bass grooves and weird interjected sound effect-like samples. Vocalist Mark Osegueda (one of only two remaining original members at this point) bounces between his trademark howl and a Mustaine-like spoken/sneered vocal on tracks like "Detonate." Things slow down for only a moment on the acoustic intro to "Execution/Don't Save Me," but pick up speed and aggression almost immediately before the dust settles. One of the biggest strengths of the songs is their unexpected catchiness. Rather than a blur of anguish and forgettable cast-off riffs, almost all of the tunes sound as inspired as the most classic moments of the thrash/death metal genre, ranking The Dream Calls for Blood in the top tier of extremely inventive and exciting metal albums.

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Death Angel - The Evil Divide (2016) ☠

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Thrash Metal
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☠: Selected by Buccaneer
© 2016 Nuclear Blast Records
Review by Matt Collar for Allmusic.com
Recorded in Sanford, Florida with producer Jason Suecof, who worked on 2010's Relentless Retribution and 2013's The Dream Calls for Blood, the Nuclear Blast-issued Evil Divide is the veteran Bay Area thrash metal outfit's eighth studio long-player. Relentless, malevolent, and decibel-crushing, standout cuts like "Moth," "Cause for Alarm," and "Lost" prove that after three decades in the business, Death Angel can still snap necks.

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Grip Inc. - Power of Inner Strength (1995)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Groove Metal, Thrash Metal
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© 1995 Metal Blade Records
AllMusic Review by Vincent Jeffries
Led by ex-Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo, Grip Inc. released this debut on the Metal Blade label in 1995. Joining Lombardo on this progressive thrash opus are Gus Chambers (vocals), Waldemar Sorychta (guitars, keyboards), and Jason Viebrooks (bass). More than just a guitar player, Sorychta performs double duty on Power of Inner Strength as the record's producer. Fans of Lombardo's work with Slayer will enjoy the drummer's double bass work and overall aggression throughout the disc. Standout drum tracks "Cleanse the Seed" and "Toque de Muerto" deserve special mention for their rhythmic power and originality. Extended bridges featuring Lombardo's drumming afford Chambers the luxury of picking his vocal spots, and the singer deftly uses his allotted space to maintain the record's intensity. Viebrooks and Sorychta also do their part and stay inside Lombardo's massive groove. The three chase each other through progressive metal shifts and turns, displaying a musical commitment rare among their '90s metal brethren. Listeners fond of music that is both technically demanding and extremely heavy should bask in the considerable heat generated by Power of Inner Strength's prog metal fire.

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Grip Inc. - Nemesis (1997) ☠

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Groove Metal, Thrash Metal
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☠: Selected by Buccaneer
© 1997 Metal Blade Records
AllMusic Review by Vincent Jeffries
The second release from this power-metal quartet offers more of Grip Inc.'s relentless riffing plus a little bit extra. Bandleader and metal legend Dave Lombardo delivers all the massive drumming fans should expect while his fellow musicians Gus Chambers (vocals,) Waldemar Sorychta (guitars, keyboards,) and bassist Jason Viebrooks push their progressive metal to new textural extremes. Chambers turns up the intensity on tracks like "Portrait of Henry" with his searing voice while Sorychta adds his own colorful guitar trickery and even some smooth keyboard work on choice cuts "The Summoning" and "Rusty Nail." Of course, Lombardo's crushing drum work takes center stage on this 1997 Metal Blade release, with the closer "Code of Silence" putting an emphatic punctuation on what is yet another demonstration of the musician's -- and his band's -- technical and creative metal mastery.

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Grip Inc. - Solidify (1999)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Groove Metal, Thrash Metal
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© 1999 Metal Blade Records
AllMusic Review by Vincent Jeffries
On this their third release, the Dave Lombardo-led Grip Inc. seem to be reaching beyond the thrash and power-metal relentlessness of their first two recordings. Joined by new bassist Stuart Caruthers, ex-Slayer drummer Lombardo, vocalist Gus Chambers and guitarist/producer Waldemar Sorychta, deploy a more open, but still aggressive approach on Solidify. Drummers can again marvel at Lombardo's expressive and technically excellent tom work on cuts like 7"Bug Juice" and "Lockdown." More room is give to Chambers on mellower numbers like "Human?" and "Griefless" and the singer gives accordingly dynamic performances. While Grip Inc. move slightly away from their all out aggression on Solidify, they maintain their highly progressive flavor without ever confusing the musical issue. The resulting material may have a more song-driven feel, but on Solidify, the LA band never compromise their dense musicality or fiery message.

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Grip Inc. - Incorporated (2004)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Groove Metal, Thrash Metal
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© 2004 SPV, Steamhammer Records
AllMusic Review by John Serba
For their fourth album, Grip Inc. has solidified into a terrifically cold and destructive metal machine. While a lot of underground acts in the early 2000s strived to emulate the increasingly popular medieval torture devices (so to speak) of Scandinavia's finest, Incorporated is thoroughly modern, an impressively clinical and precise record, fully industrialized and loaded with razor-sharp riffs, ballsy vocals, and thunder drums. European producer and guitarist extraordinaire Waldemar Sorchyta is Grip Inc.'s main creative force, but on-again, off-again Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo gives the band a chilly technical edge that is uniquely the product of the mind-bogglingly influential skinsman. Add in vocalist Gus Chambers' powerful, full-bodied vocals -- refreshingly, there are no affected death growls here, just a deep well of a throat that refuses to shy away from a thick melody -- and Incorporated successfully bucks many of metal's genre-specific trends (i.e., mindless death metal brutality, mosh-happy retro-thrash, grating black metal scrapes, boneheaded hardcore grunt'n'shoves). The album is simultaneously mechanistic and tribal, at times flavored with Middle Eastern melodies and electronic flourishes, Sorchyta's steamroller mix blotting out the sun and meshing perfectly with compellingly twisty arrangements. The guitarist's artery-bursting riffs churn, bubble, and boil during precision speedsters "Curse (Of the Cloth)" and "Endowment of Apathy," while midtempo march "(Built To) Resist" spotlights Lombardo's in-the-pocket prowess (he inarguably has the best feet in metal) while piling on, fugue-like, a vaguely sinister string arrangement and dense melodic layers, eventually building to a mountainous, weighty climax. Point being, Incorporated is a collection of top-flight riffs smartly choreographed into 11 spot-on tunes highlighted by performances brimming over with personality (although Lombardo reins in the experimentalism of weirdo Mike Patton project Fantômas and his solo work) and chops to spare. It's another impressive effort -- like 1999's hopelessly overlooked Solidify -- for Grip Inc., whose increasingly impressive discography has been met with a collectively indifferent shrug from too many metal aficionados. Here's hoping Incorporated enlightens more to this well-seasoned, pseudo-supergroup collective, which seems disparate on paper, but truly is greater than the sum of its parts.

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July 30, 2018

Death Angel - The Ultra-Violence (1987) ☠

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Thrash Metal
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☠: Selected by Buccaneer
© 1987 Enigma Records
AllMusic Review by Eduardo Rivadavia
Though they were immediately pegged as the runts of the Bay Area thrash metal scene for barely being old enough to drive, Death Angel quickly silenced most critics with their ambitious first album, The Ultra-Violence. Technically on par with many of their older peers, the album still showed a lot of room for growth, however -- especially in the songwriting department. "Evil Priest" and "Kill As One" thrash out convincingly enough, but "Mistress of Pain" and "Voracious Souls" are the only somewhat fully realized songs on the album. And at over ten minutes, the yawn-inducing multi-part title track is the best example of the group's desperate desire to impress with quantity, instead of quality. Thankfully, the band would continue to improve, and subsequent efforts saw them gradually fulfill their promise

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Death Angel - Frolic Through The Park (1988)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Thrash Metal
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© 1988 Enigma Records
AllMusic Review by Eduardo Rivadavia
Death Angel's second effort, 1988's Frolic Through the Park, found the band improving on its technical thrash formula, as their developing musical ability began to do their ambitious songwriting some justice. "Why You Do This," "Devil's Metal," and "Confused" are prime examples of the band's intricate sound, which, unfortunately, tended to sacrifice concise hooks and melody for overblown song structures and arrangements. The only exception turns out to be the album's strongest cut, "Bored," which shows a rare sense of humor and musical restraint. Also of note is the excellent playing of guitarist Rob Cavestany, who holds everything together with his tasteful and skillful axe work.

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Death Angel - Act III (1990) ☠

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Thrash Metal
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☠: Selected by Buccaneer
© 1990 Geffen Records
AllMusic Review by Eduardo Rivadavia
San Francisco's precocious Death Angel finally reached musical adulthood (though some band members were still barely old enough to vote) with 1990's Act III. Their first album to benefit from major-label distribution and a truly top-notch production courtesy of Max Norman, it also witnessed the continuing development of lead guitarist Rob Cavestany, who literally dominated the album with his impressive chops and superior songwriting. Coupled with his generally well-thought out lyrics (sung by the still mediocre Mark Osegueda), songs like "A Room With a View," "The Organization," and especially first single "Seemingly Endless Time" seemed to confirm the band's destiny as apparent heirs to intellectual thrashers Anthrax, then in swift decline. Sadly, a number of external (sparse promotional support, the genre's dwindling popularity) and internal forces (bandmate squabbling) would make this the band's final album. At least it served as a fond farewell and remains the ideal starting point to the Death Angel discography.

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Eric's Trip - Love Tara (1993)

Country: Canada
Language: English
Genre: Grunge, Indie Rock
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© 1993 Sub Pop
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares
Their full-length debut, Love Tara, introduced this lo-fi pop band to the world with beautiful and noisy tracks like "Smother." This record was also one of the first to mark Sub Pop's journey from the Seattle grunge scene to a lighter, more melodic form of music.

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Eric's Trip - Forever Again (1994)

Country: Canada
Language: English
Genre: Grunge, Indie Rock
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© 1994 Sub Pop
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares
At 17 tracks, the group's expansive follow-up, Forever Again, could be considered too long to hold attention, but Eric's Trip's power to soothe and seethe at the same time remains captivating. Tracks like "New Love" confirm that the band's sound is a study in contradictions: It's instantly catchy, but it sounds like it was recorded on an answering machine; it's punk rock, but it's dreamy, too. The sound effects on the album -- a rainy day and a busy street -- heighten the album's entrancing mood.

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Eric's Trip - Purple Blue (1996)

Country: Canada
Language: English
Genre: Grunge, Indie Rock
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© 1996 Sub Pop
AllMusic Review by Brian Way
Belying the Sonic Youth redux implications of their band name, Halifax, Nova Scotia's Eric's Trip (the title of a track from Daydream Nation) were more the epitome of Superchunk's noise-pop aesthetic. On their third official album, Purple Blue, shades of Dinosaur Jr., Sebadoh, Eleventh Dream Day, Pixies and Sugar all creep in periodically, but that's merely in line with the sound of most '90s indie rock across the continent, from Seattle to Chapel Hill. The Rick White songs are definitive noise-pop: short, concise, and roughed-up with distortion and occasionally eruptions into the Neil Young style of guitar pyrotechnics favored by J Mascis, while the Julie Doiron songs have the quiet-loud-quiet dynamics and sweet sing-songy vocals favored by Kim Deal and company. This is not to say the band is derivative, but a cursory listen to Purple Blue should allow even an amateur musical historian to place this album in context. The only anomaly is the "medley" "Introduction into The...Parts 1 to 4," an ill-advised song suite that's in reality a muddled hodgepodge consisting of an opening blast of feedback followed by an acoustic ditty sung by White, a dreamy ballad sung by Doiron, a fuzz guitar and brushed drums shoegaze samba, and a slow-motion piano-dappled dreamscape, all tied together with smidgens of lackluster audience applause that only serves to confuse the listener, especially as it's the album opener. The remainder of the album sets forth the band's blueprint of psych- and noise-tinged anthemic pop with just enough dissonance and dynamics to keep the mosh pit moving. It spans the gamut from My Bloody Valentine-esque waltz-time dream pop like "Universal Dawn" to driving motorik like "Sixteen Hours" to rollicking stompers like "Spaceship Opening." It's a fine effort, and in reality not as formulaic as one might think. And with most songs around or under the three-minute mark, if one track doesn't inspire there will be another one just around the corner. It will be a shame if history doesn't remember Eric's Trip in the same canon as their more illustrious peers, but the U.S.'s little brother Canada often seems to get the short end of the stick.

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Selena - Ven Conmigo (1990)

*A photo of the disc is included in the RAR file.
Country: U.S.A.
Language: Spanish (Español)
Genre: Tejano, Cumbia, Pop
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© 1990 Capitol Records, Inc.
*No professional reviews available for this release.

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July 29, 2018

Dave Matthews Band - Remember Two Things (1993)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Rock
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© 1993 Bama Rags Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Although the Dave Matthews Band's debut album, Remember Two Things, is hindered by a number of long-winded jams and an unfocused production, the record is an impressive showcase for their instrumental prowess.

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Dave Matthews Band - Under The Table & Dreaming (2014 Reissue)

*Reissued in 2014 by Bama Rags Recordings. Contains 3 bonus tracks. 15 tracks total.

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Rock
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© 1994-2014 Bama Rags Recordings, LLC
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
On their major-label debut, Under the Table and Dreaming, the Dave Matthews Band is helped by the lean production of Steve Lillywhite, who manages to rein in the group's tendency to meander. The result is a set of eclectic pop/rock that is accentuated by bursts of instrumental virtuosity instead of being ruled by it. That also means that the Dave Matthews Band is capable of turning out pop songs, and as the hit single "What Would You Say" and "Ants Marching" illustrate, they have a flair for catchy hooks.

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Dave Matthews - Crash (1996)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Rock, Alternative Rock
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© 1996 RCA Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Under the Table and Dreaming, the Dave Matthews Band's first major-label album, was their popular breakthrough, bringing their mildly eclectic sound to a mass audience. Although the group appeals to the same audience as Blues Traveler, Hootie & the Blowfish, and the Spin Doctors, the Dave Matthews Band has more influences than their peers. Fusing together folk-rock, worldbeat, jazz, and pop, the band is arguably the most musically adept of all their contemporaries. However, they have trouble coming up with engaging hooks, as their third album, Crash, proves. Although the band continues to get better -- their musical cross-breeding is effortless and seamless -- they often don't have an attractive frame for their skills. Strangely, the lack of memorable melodies doesn't particularly hurt the album -- it actually emphasizes the band's instrumental talents. Nevertheless, since there's a lack of strong pop hooks, Crash is an album that will please fans, but not novices

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Dave Matthews Band - Before These Crowded Streets (1998)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Rock, Jazz Rock
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© 1998 RCA, BMG Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
The Dave Matthews Band made their reputation through touring, spending endless nights on the road improvising. Often, their records hinted at the eclecticism and adventure inherent in those improvisation, but Before These Crowded Streets is the first album to fully capture that adventurous spirit. Not coincidentally, it's their least accessible record, even if it's more of a consolidation than it is a step forward. Early Dave Matthews albums were devoted to the worldbeat fusions of Graceland and Sting, but his RCA efforts incorporated these influences into a smoother, pop-oriented style. Here, everything hangs out. Old trademarks, like jittery acoustic grooves and jazzy chords, are here, augmented by complex polyrhythms, Mideastern dirges, and on two tracks, the slashing strings of the Kronos Quartet. Some fans may find the new, darker textures a little disarming at first, but they're a logical extension of the group's work, and in many ways, this sonic daring results in the most rewarding album they've yet recorded. The Dave Matthews Band haven't completely vanquished their demons, however -- songwriting remains a problem, especially since relying on grooves, improvisation, and texture allows them to skimp on melody, and Matthews' lyrics can be awkward and embarrassing, especially if he's writing about sex. Still, these are minor flaws on an album that relies on tone and improvisation, both of which are in ample supply on Before These Crowded Streets.

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Dave Matthews Band - Everyday (2001) ☠

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Alternative Rock, Rock
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☠: Selected by Lass
© 2001 RCA, BMG Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
The fourth proper studio album by the Dave Matthews Band had a rough birth, as the group jettisoned a set of sessions recorded with their longtime producer Steve Lillywhite, starting afresh with Glen Ballard, the mastermind behind Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill. Ballard has a tremendous influence on the resulting record, collaborating with Matthews on every track and changing the direction of their sound. To a certain extent, the change is welcome, since Before These Crowded Streets suggested that the group was running out of steam, but the sudden shift toward measured maturation and slickness is jarring all the same, since it emphasizes Matthews' melodies and leadership over the group interplay that is the group's calling card. It's not that the music is now simplistic, since there are still some tricky rhythms and shifts in tone, but the group doesn't have much room to stretch in Ballard's precise arrangements. In a sense, they sort of benefit from this increased focus, since the group's instrumental excursions can be a little flabby, but it still robs them of much of their character. Also, Everyday sounds like it was the product of a difficult birth, and wouldn't have gelled if Ballard hadn't been involved, pushing Matthews toward completion. It does result in a record that's more cohesive than its predecessor, but it's far less engagingly loose-limbed than DMB at its peak. Perhaps that's just a byproduct of maturation, but Everyday feels like forced maturation, a record that suppresses the group's best attributes in favor of a moderate, self-consciously classy stab at adult pop. That it works pretty well at that level is a testament to Ballard's skills, but it feels more like a weirdly abortive solo project by Matthews than a full-fledged DMB effort.

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Dave Matthews Band - Busted Stuff (2002)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Rock
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© 2002 RCA, BMG Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
The Dave Matthews Band may not have released the Lillywhite Sessions -- the semi-legendary soul-searching album recorded in 2000 but abandoned in favor of the heavy-handed, laborious Glen Ballard-produced Everyday -- but they couldn't escape its shadow. Every review, every article surrounding the release of Everyday mentioned it, often claiming it was better than the released project -- an opinion the band seemed to support by playing many numbers from the widely bootlegged lost album on tour in 2001. Since they couldn't run away from the Lillywhite Sessions, they decided to embrace it, albeit on their own terms. They didn't just release the album, as is. They picked nine of the best songs from the sessions, reworked some of them a bit, tinkered with the lyrics, re-recorded the tunes with a different producer (Stephen Harris, a veteran of post-Brit-pop bands like the Bluetones, plus engineer on U2's All That You Can't Leave Behind), added two new songs, and came up with Busted Stuff, a polished commercial spin on music widely considered the darkest, most revealing work Matthews has yet created. Remarkably, these songs not only retain their emotional core even after they've been cleaned up, but they perhaps even gain more resonance in this setting. After all, Steve Lillywhite is hardly Steve Albini, and while the initial versions of these songs were raw, it was as much because they were not quite finished as they were Matthews exposing his soul. Here, these songs have been completed, not just in the writing but in the arrangement and production, so they sound just as personal to Dave Matthews, but also sound like fully realized DMB songs. And while they do jam a bit -- in, surprise!, a song called "Kit Kat Jam" -- that's not the emphasis of their performances; in these slow, moody pieces, they provide supple support to Matthews' elliptical, winding melodies and searching lyrics. The band sounds unified, and so does the album; one of the new songs, "Where Are You Going," sounded dull on its first appearance on the Mr. Deeds soundtrack, but here, it's part of the fabric of the album, equally effective in sustaining the reflective, not depressive, tone of the album. Here, there's none of the loose-limbed, frat-boy funk from DMB's previous albums, none of the smirking jokiness that has plagued their up-tempo jams, while the heartache and yearning that once seemed affected in their ballads is palpably real. It's not so much a departure as it is an unexpected twist in their career. By leaving behind the key elements that defined their music, DMB has revealed that they can hit a deeper emotional chord and, in the process, deliver what's unquestionably the best album of their career.

tags: dave matthews, busted stuff, 2002, flac,

Dave Matthews Band - Stand Up (2005)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Rock, Alternative Rock
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© 2005 RCA Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Given the slew of live albums that clutter its discography, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that the Dave Matthews Band hasn't cut all that many studio albums. Just five in ten years, in fact (2003's Some Devil was a solo side project by Matthews), and two of those were made in the aftermath of the unreleased 2000 Steve Lillywhite sessions -- a set of heavily bootlegged recordings that most serious DMB fans consider among the group's strongest work. The brouhaha surrounding the Lillywhite recordings and, particularly, their polished, mannered Glen Ballard-produced 2001 substitute, Everyday, may not have affected the group's sales, but it sure wreaked havoc on the psyches of the band and its fans, who questioned the band's direction after Everyday. But all of that turmoil disguised a problem that the group faced: they still could captivate fans in concert, but as a recording unit, the Dave Matthews Band was having some serious problems figuring out where to go next. They pulled it together on Busted Stuff -- a de facto do over for the Lillywhite sessions that also functioned as a tidy apology for the Ballard debacle -- but that album was essentially a holding pattern, since the songs were older than those on Everyday, which makes 2005's Stand Up the first album of new material since that 2001 album, and it finds the band right back where it was after Before These Crowded Streets: the guys don't know what the hell to do next.
Five years ago, Matthews initially responded to that puzzle with a set of soul-searching songs, but he abandoned them in favor of a collaboration with Ballard, a producer so meticulous, each of his projects is given a similar sheen that's mainstream but not quite pop. Having tried that approach, DMB decided to team up with a very different producer this time around -- Mark Batson, who made his bones with modern R&B and hip-hop records by the likes of India Arie, Joe, Beyoncé, and Seal. This doesn't result in an extreme makeover -- which, quite frankly, would have been more interesting -- but instead a gentle gloss on the band's sound that renders it sleek, muted, and rather lifeless. Batson produces the DMB as he would any other record: he keeps the mixes relatively spare and open, cutting up the rhythms in the computer, polishing it all so it glistens. It may not be as robotic as Ballard's approach -- it's much warmer actually, even if all the emphasis is on the surface -- but it still doesn't play to the group's strengths as a band as a performing unit. Too many of the cuts appear pieced together in the studio, never once capturing the energy of a band playing live. And when the group does lay into a groove, as it does on the title track or "Old Dirt Hill" (never has a song struggled so hard to sound breezy), the music sounds stiff and stilted, a faltering attempt to replicate what came so easily to the band a decade ago. But the fault should not be placed at Batson's feet, as he pulls out all of his tricks to save a set of moribund music. Matthews pulls away from any of the progress he made as a writer on both Busted Stuff and Some Devil. His ballads regain their sense of static, turgid monotony and he often resorts to the smirky humor that plagued his earliest work. To top it all off, Matthews sounds ragged, his voice breathy and torn to shreds. It's immediately distracting on the opener, "Dreamgirl" -- which romanticizes a "good, good drunk" -- and that scratchiness never goes away, providing an appropriately worn, tattered center for an album that is directionless, ham-fisted, consciously classy, and ultimately bland, the kind of record that could make longtime fans doubt about sticking around from this point on. Not only does Stand Up fail to solve the central question of where does the Dave Matthews Band go next, it suggests that even though they are aware of the problem, they haven't really pondered what to do about it, or what it means for them in the long term.

tags: dave matthews band, stand up, 2005, flac,