September 30, 2018

Coldplay - Ghost Stories (Target Edition) (2014)

*Contains 3 bonus tracks. 12 tracks total.
Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Alternative Rock
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© 2014 Parlophone Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Around the time Coldplay's sixth album, Ghost Stories, was scheduled for release, lead singer Chris Martin announced he was divorcing his wife, the actress Gwyneth Paltrow. In light of this news, it's hard not to see Ghost Stories as a breakup record, a romantic confessional written in the wake of a painful separation. Certainly, the album bristles with references to broken hearts and regrets, ruminations on how the past informs the present, its every song infused with an inescapable melancholy, but the album doesn't play like a deep wallow in sorrow. It is soft, even alluring, a soundtrack to a seduction, not a separation. Much of that feel comes from the record's smooth crawl forward, how it's never hurried and always accentuating its good side, but there's also a sense that Martin, or the band in general, is anxious to a hit a reset button, to slowly recede from the artiness of the Eno-encouraged excursions of the late 2000s and reconnect with the sweet, simple band responsible for Parachutes. Like any attempt to revive the past, it's hard to reconcile that those were indeed different times. As majestic as they sounded in 2000, there was no denying Coldplay were a basic rock band, anchored on six strings and rarely finding textures outside of the confines of an amplifier. Fourteen years later, keyboards are at the group's foundation, a significant shift accentuated by their succumbing to a hallmark of modern production: they have a producer for every track. Coldplay may not be forceful, but within their incessant politeness they do have a distinctive personality, one that shines through whatever tricks individual producers bring to the table. Stars that they are, they can afford to enlist EDM sensation Avicii and R&B stalwart Timbaland to color individual tracks (they're responsible for "A Sky Full of Stars" and "True Love," respectively), giving Ghost Stories a fleet electronic facility that undercuts Coldplay's reputation as a dogmatic rock band without ever suggesting the group is adventurous. It's a nifty trick, a record that skirts any accusation of stodginess yet still feels as comforting as a warm bath, which is why Ghost Stories never feels heartbroken. Often, it feels like the lament of the sensitive soul who just had his heart broken but won't let his pain detract him from picking up that pretty girl at the end of the bar. This may seem a contradiction but it also suits a band like Coldplay, who at this stage of their career quite clearly want to be everything to everybody. If your heart is shattered and you want to slide into self-pity, turn here. If you are feeling free and want to woo a new love, turn here. If you want to just enjoy every soft, supple turn a rock band could do, turn here. Coldplay are here for comfort, as Ghost Stories proves time and time again.

tags: coldplay, ghost stories, target edition, 2014, flac,

Blind Melon - Soup (1995) ☠

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Alternative Rock
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☠: Selected by Lass
© 1995 Capitol Records
AllMusic Review by Greg Prato
Most '90s rock bands who enjoyed massive breakthrough success with their debut album seemed to follow it up with an effort similarly styled to its predecessor, hence guaranteeing repeat success. This proved not to be the case with Blind Melon. It appeared as though the band rejected the jovial spirit of No Rain and focused on much darker material for their follow-up, Soup. While it did not match the commercial success of the debut, Soup proved to be a challenging, gripping record that is just as strong and perhaps even more rewarding. Shannon Hoon was in the throes of drug addiction (which would prove fatal only two months after the album's release), and his experience at a drug detox is clearly detailed in the Zep-groover, "2x4." Hoon's lyrics often examine his growing sense of mortality, as evidenced in "The Duke," "St. Andrew's Fall," and "Car Seat," while "New Life" shows Hoon hoping that the birth of his baby daughter will put his life back on track. The country-tinged "Skinned" is written from the standpoint of notorious killer, Ed Gein, the anthemic rocker, "Galaxie," appears to deal with a troubled relationship, and "Vernie" is a tribute to his grandmother. Some of the tracks prove hopeful ("Walk"), while others are steeped in despair ("Toes Across the Floor," "Wilt"). Soup deserved to be another big hit, but due to MTV and radio's abrupt abandonment of the band, harsh reviews from close-minded critics, and worst of all, Hoon's untimely death mid-tour, all hopes of the album receiving the attention it deserved were extinguished. Soup is one of the most underrated and overlooked great rock albums of the '90s

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Blind Melon - For My Friends (2008)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Alternative Rock
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© 2008 Capitol Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Of all the '90s alt-rockers to hit the comeback trail a decade later, Blind Melon are at once the most and least likely to mount a return. Their end came suddenly when lead singer/songwriter Shannon Hoon died of a drug overdose in October 1995, just a few months after their sophomore effort, Soup, so it seemed like they had a great deal of unfinished business. Unfortunately, much of that unfinished business revolved around Hoon, who was the driving force behind the band, so it seemed like they couldn't continue -- and so they didn't, fading away after putting out a few posthumous albums that tied up some, but not all, loose ends. About a decade later, the group rumbled back to life, defying all odds and finding in singer Travis Warren a dead ringer for Shannon Hoon who nevertheless doesn't seem to be aping the late singer's idiosyncratic quirks. Thanks in part to Warren, the group's 2008 comeback, For My Friends, feels like a continuation of the band's '90s work, reflecting the elastic, loping Blind Melon more than the neo-psychedelic excursions of Soup. To a certain extent, this sound -- lean and rootsy, even when the amps are cranked -- gives Blind Melon a passing jam band feel, and that could very well be where the band might be most comfortable in 2008, as there's a sense that the bandmembers just want to get out and play, so they're reconnecting to the roots that led to their 1992 debut. As such, there's not a feeling of forward movement on For My Friends, but that's intentional: this was designed as a reboot of Blind Melon, something for themselves, their fans and friends, and while it won't win them any new listeners -- everything that the fans loved about the band is here in spades, as is everything that irritated the group's detractors -- it surely does find the band picking up where it left off.

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Aceyalone - A Book of Human Language (1998)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Hip-Hop
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© 1998 Project Blowed
AllMusic Review by Bill Cassel
A hip-hop concept album with a rather broad concept: the main thread seems to be that the song titles all begin with "The" ("The March," "The Vision," "The Hunt," etc.). If A Book of Human Language's 20 tracks drag somewhat at times -- and are weighed down by a bit too much THC-induced profundity -- this is easily forgiven, since it is a relief to hear a rapper rap about something other than his own greatness. Aceyalone wins major points for even trying to tackle weighty topics like life, death, time, and language. The production is organic and rich, but just ragged enough to sound honest. Add in a spoken word excerpt from "Jabberwocky," exceedingly deft rhyming, and a hip-hop answer to Pink Floyd's "Time" ("The Grandfather Clock"), and you have a quite ambitious and pleasing package.

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Various Artists - Project Blowed (1995)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Hip-Hop
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© 1995 Massmen Records
AllMusic Review by Nathan Rabin
At a time when 2Pac and Notorious B.I.G.'s tragically over-hyped beef threatened to give hip-hop a black eye in the public consciousness, the ever-idealistic Aceyalone was attempting to unite the progressive wing of West Coast hip-hop through Project Blowed. Drawing inspiration from the titular open-mic night and label, Project Blowed maps out a bold new direction for the West Coast underground, bringing together wildly diverse acts whose common bond is a shared love and respect for hip-hop coupled with a desire to expand its musical, thematic, and lyrical horizons. A defiantly low-fi, low-budget compilation that makes even underground projects like Rawkus' Lyricist Lounge and Soundbombing series look like the collected lost singles of Puff Daddy, Project Blowed makes up for what it lacks in slickness with creativity, originality, and a strong sense of purpose. Guided by the progressive vision of A-Teamers Aceyalone and Abstract Rude, Project Blowed runs the gamut of far-left indie hip-hop, from the bizarrely literal pimp rap of Tray Loc's "Once Upon a Freak" to Figure Uv Speech's bluntly feminist and black nationalist "Don't Get It Twisted," a remarkably assured blend of jazz, poetry, spoken word, and hip-hop. Executive producer Aceyalone makes his presence felt throughout, reuniting with Freestyle Fellowship for the jazzy give and take of "Hot" and teaming with fellow A-Teamer Abstract Rude for "Maskaraid Part 1 & 2," a characteristically ambitious and conceptual track abstractly criticizing hip-hop's propensity for posturing and role-playing. Project Blowed's lo-fi aesthetic and willingness to experiment may alienate even fans of like-minded but far slicker underground acts like Mos Def, De La Soul, and Black Star. But for those tuned into Aceyalone and company's bohemian, progressive take on hip-hop, Project Blowed is coffeehouse hip-hop at its finest.

tags: various artists, project blowed, 1995, flac,

4 Non Blondes - Bigger, Better, Faster, More! (1992)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Folk Rock, Alternative Rock
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© 1992 Interscope Records
AllMusic Review by Tom Demalon
San Francisco's 4 Non Blondes burst onto the national scene with their massive, neo-hippie anthem "What's Up" from their debut Bigger, Better, Faster, More? Although they failed to recreate the single's success, the album, as a whole, is a fairly engaging mix of alternative rock, quasi-funk, and blues.
The focal point is on lead singer Linda Perry who also plays guitar and was the primary writer of the material. Perry has a powerful set of pipes akin to Johnette Napolitano, but, unfortunately, she tends to cut loose when a little more restraint would benefit the proceedings. However, "Superfly" is a feel good, funky number and "Spaceman"'s yearning lyrics are delivered over a quiet, martial drum rhythm. A solid debut that got lost in the wake of its mammoth hit.

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Blind Melon - Blind Melon (1992) ☠

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Alternative Rock
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☠: Selected by Lass
© 1992 Capitol Records
AllMusic Review by Greg Prato
Managing to be equally mellow and introspective as well as rough and rocking, Blind Melon's 1992 self-titled debut remains one of the purest sounding rock albums of its era, completely devoid of '90s production tricks. While Blind Melon were never the toast of the critics, their self-titled 1992 debut has held up incredibly well over time, resembling a true rock classic. For reasons unknown, the late Shannon Hoon was, unfairly, usually the brunt of reviewers' criticisms, yet his angelic voice and talent for penning lyrics that examined the ups and downs of everyday life were an integral part of Blind Melon's sound, as well as the band's supreme jamming interplay. The most renowned song remains the uplifting hit "No Rain," but the whole album is superb -- the homesick rocker "Tones of Home," the desperate "I Wonder," the epic album closer "Time," and the gentle acoustic strum of "Change," which included lyrics that turned out to be sadly prophetic for Hoon. Other highlights are a song inspired by the homeless ("Paper Scratcher"), "Sleepyhouse," which describes the feeling of isolation the band felt recording the debut in a secluded residence, and the retro (yet refreshing) sounds of "Soak the Sin" and "Dear Ol' Dad." Although the album started out slow sales-wise, constant touring and the success of "No Rain" one year after the debut's initial release proved to be Blind Melon's breakthrough success, eventually almost topping the charts and going multi-platinum

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Ugly Kid Joe - America's Least Wanted (1992)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Hard Rock
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© 1992 Mercury/Stardog Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Ugly Kid Joe's first full-length album reprises the hit "Everything About You" from their debut EP As Ugly as They Wanna Be and delivers a set of similar rockers and a handful of power ballads, including a revamped version of Harry Chapin's "Cats in the Cradle." Listeners who are too far removed from their adolescence to remember the joys of spitballs and Saturday schools won't find America's Least Wanted engaging in the least, but it wasn't designed for them. Ugly Kid Joe rocks for the average high school kid, the one that doesn't think about anything except girls, partying, and metal. On the whole, the band's mixture of fizzy, fuzzy riffs, sing-song melodies, and calculated obnoxiousness isn't that offensive, but it will certainly try the patience of anyone who doesn't find their cutesy vulgarity fun. For fans of the band, America's Least Wanted delivers the thrills.

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Ugly Kid Joe - Menace To Sobriety (1995)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Hard Rock
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© 1995 Polygram Records
AllMusic Review by Leslie Mathew
On their second full-length album, California's rattiest pop-metal scuzzbags let their dim light shine. When they made it big with "Everything About You," everything about Ugly Kid Joe screamed "one-hit wonder," but on Menace to Sobriety the bandmembers prove they're not going to let their 15 minutes go quietly. Forget the pop, Menace is UKJ's metal offering. Out come the Sabbath references, the monster grooves, and the snarly vocals: This is as ugly as they got. The band's schoolyard sense of humor is still intact, and here the Joe backs it up with the ability to bring the noise, big time. Add grunge maven GGGarth's spanking tight production, and Menace is by far the UKJ album with the most bang for your buck. Highlights include the funk-addled punch of "C.U.S.T.," the coiled surge of "Jesus Rode a Harley," and Whitfield Crane's venomous vocal turn on "God." Ironically though, Menace to Sobriety turned out to be Ugly Kid Joe's poorest seller, and the band was dropped by its label, Mercury, soon after. America's Least Wanted, indeed.

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Ugly Kid Joe - Motel California (1996)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Hard Rock, Alternative Rock
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© 1996 Castle Communications
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Motel California is Ugly Kid Joe return to their roots, bashing out grungy metal in their garage and recording it for posterity. Of course, there's a couple problems in this concept. Ugly Kid Joe never wanted to play in the garage, they always lusted after the arenas -- they were just forced into the garage after being dropped by their major label. Surprisingly, Motel California works a lot better than it should, sounding fiercer and more committed. The group still has problems with writing hooks, but they sound better than ever. Ironically, fewer people than ever will hear them now.

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September 29, 2018

Blue Murder - Blue Murder (1989)

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Hard Rock
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© 1989 Geffen Records
AllMusic Review by Eduardo Rivadavia
After helping singer David Coverdale reinvent Whitesnake both sonically and aesthetically for the image-conscious American market, guitar hero John Sykes acrimoniously left the group when it became apparent that there was only room enough for one overblown ego in it: Coverdale's. Hardly ones to let a good thing slip away, though, the executives at Whitesnake's label, Geffen Records (specifically A&R super-guru John Kalodner), immediately signed Sykes to a new development deal and proceeded to aid and abet him in founding his own supergroup, Blue Murder, with veteran bassist Tony Franklin and nearly geriatric drummer Carmine Appice (whose career probably started before Sykes was even born!). Released in 1989, the power trio's eponymous debut was produced to pompous perfection by none other than Bob Rock, whose golden ears for bombastic yet consumer-friendly '80s metal were truly second to none at the time -- other than the one and only Mutt Lange, of course. And perhaps more than any of Rock's jobs prior to his hook-up with Metallica, Blue Murder proves it, thanks to songs ranging from muscular power-chord hell-fests like "Riot" and "Blue Murder"; to blues-inflected fare like "Jelly Roll" (whose video was soon all over MTV); to the all-important, overly lush (and frankly not all that good) power ballad "Out of Love." But the album has also become rather dated over the years, because of its frequent indulgence in the same sort of unchecked, peroxide-fueled "Bad Zeppelin-isms" that were then being shamelessly appropriated by bands like Kingdom Come and Sykes' own former boss, David Coverdale, and the reborn Whitesnake. As such, prime offenders like the gratuitously preening "Sex Child," the impressively epic "Valley of the Kings," and the disappointingly tepid "Ptolemy" abused this ethically flawed (if unquestionably effective, from a sales standpoint) gimmick at its most grotesquely histrionic -- but no more so than any of the other groups cited above, really. And because Blue Murder's songwriting was relatively consistent and their musicianship beyond reproach throughout, it's easy to understand why this album has endured far better than most similarly styled heavy metal albums of the era.

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Mary J. Blige - No More Drama (2002 Reissue)

*Reissued in 2002 by MCA Records with a new cover and a different track list. Contains 17 tracks total.
Country: U.S.A.
Genre: R&B
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© 2001-2002 MCA Records
AllMusic Review by Liana Jonas
Mary J. Blige has come a long way since 1992's breakthrough, What's the 411?, and that's made very clear on this solid disc. The singer/songwriter has blossomed into an all-out R&B diva -- with a hip-hop edge -- full of soul and command. Her songs on this recording exude the wisdom of a woman who's seen it all and has found her center. The woman's voice is truly inimitable. It's husky, strong, soulful, and full of maturity. She can still flow like no one's business, too; just check out the bouncy album opener "Love." While love is a common theme, No More Drama is essentially a personal journey through evolution and spirituality. The final cut, "Testimony," best summarizes the album's theme: finding what's real in life. For Blige, that's self-love and God. Blige has a killer instinct for penning lyrics that people can relate to and creating gritty, thick, and soul-infused R&B fare. Her music is more than heard. It is felt, and audiences would be hard-pressed to not surrender to her groove. [No More Drama was re-released in early 2002 with a handful of different tracks.]

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Sadus - Chemical Exposure (1991)

*Originally released in 1988 independently by the band under the title "Illusions" It was released officially by R/C Records in 1991 under the title "Chemical Exposure" Contains 10 tracks total.

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Thrash Metal
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© 1991 R/C Records
AllMusic Review by Eduardo Rivadavia
Although it is often mistaken to be Sadus' second album, 1991's Chemical Exposure is actually their first, having been released independently by the band back in 1988 (under the title of Illusions) -- before their association with Roadrunner led to its renaming and reissue three years later. In every other respect, however, the two LPs are one and the same, but let's backtrack a bit. Produced by Metal Church guitarist John Marshall, Chemical Exposure was initially and understandably considered yet another Bay Area thrash metal album -- though a very accomplished one at that, and bolstered by an unusually clear sound for an independent release. Yet, in retrospect, the album stood balanced on a knife's edge between the already fading (though few were aware of it) thrash scene and the death metal movement about to replace it. Indeed, much like Sepultura's similarly transitioning (and astonishing)  Schizophrenia LP of 1987, key Chemical Exposure tracks like "Certain Death," "Torture," "Fight or Die," and even the rather funny "Sadus Attack" still played by the former style's unfailingly frantic, break-neck speed rules, rarely ever slowing down to preempt the latter's greater dynamic diversity. But the young Sadus players' already awesome technical abilities clearly belonged with the next generation of post-thrash deathsters, and their jaw-dropping displays on additional offerings like "Torture," "Illusions," and the title cut boasted a slew of escalating songwriting and performance complexities that were quite beyond the earlier Bay Area scene's limits. Actually, if there's any one thing hindering Sadus' inclusion with the next wave, it would be Darren Travis' screaming/spitting lead vocal style, which, though hardly musical in nature, still derived from earlier thrash frontmen such as Slayer's Tom Araya and Kreator's Mille Petrozza (see the very Kreator-like "Hands of Fate," another old demo reworked), instead of the Cookie Monster growl typical of death metal. Nevertheless, and regardless of all this mostly academic, cross-subgenre debate, the fact is Chemical Exposure was a very fine debut -- fine enough to merit two releases obviously.

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Sadus - Swallowed In Black (1990)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Thrash Metal
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© 1990 R/C Records
AllMusic Review by Eduardo Rivadavia
For their second album, 1990's Swallowed in Black, death-thrashers Sadus decided to lie back a little and tone down their rampant speed and aggression somewhat -- yeah right! Fact is, for any but the most radical and perceptive of metalheads, Swallowed in Black still rages with seemingly endless stores of hate and hostility and, thanks to blazing opener "Black" and numerous short-and-sweet bursts like the riff-tastic "Last Abide" or the self-explanatory "In Your Face," probably still holds a few land-speed records even now. But it also sees the Bay Area quartet indulging in a far greater variety of tempos (see the slow and atmospheric buildup to "Man Infestation," and the wildly varied, extended tour de force "Arise") and introducing additional doses of melody, with guitarists Darren Travis and Rob Moore expertly intertwining many a clean guitar figure into their reliably manic and restless rhythm playing. If there is anything that remains perfectly status quo in comparison to their first LP, it's the way Sadus manage to stand poised, right on the borderline between thrash and death metal. The former, older style's hallmark staccato assault still drives tracks like "The Wake" and the notably Exodus-like "Powers of Hate," even as those oft-slower tempos, Jon Allen's abundant double bass-drum heroics, and the crustier disposition of Travis' lead vocals also qualify for inclusion under the new metallic order. Finally, even though he was hardly invisible on the band's impressive debut, here fretless bassist extraordinaire Steve DiGiorgio truly begins to stand out from his nearly as accomplished bandmates. With his blinding and intricate contributions throughout, but especially in "Good Rid'nz" and "Oracle of Obmission," DiGiorgio effectively makes his case for the high demand he would enjoy as an extreme metal session player in years to come. As for Sadus, the band, their standing as favorite sons of the first death metal wave remains secure, thanks to fine efforts like Swallowed in Black.

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Sadus - A Vision of Misery (1992)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Thrash Metal
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© 1992 R/C Records
AllMusic Review by Eduardo Rivadavia
After two fine albums straddling the stylistic transition between thrash and death metal, Sadus pretty much committed to the latter with their third, 1992's A Vision of Misery. Really, they had no choice, given thrash metal's increasing obsolescence and death's simultaneous rise. Still, this move nevertheless resulted in one of two conclusions: at best Sadus sacrificed the key thrashing component that had helped make them special and somewhat unique; at worst it exposed them as carryovers from the bygone generation. Under either assumption, A Vision of Misery was hardly some kind of failure, with new compositions such as "Through the Eyes of Greed," "Machines," and "Echoes of Forever" epitomizing technical death metal, while not exactly measuring up to genre standard-bearers like Death and Morbid Angel. And, although they certainly lose some of their sharp claws due to the overall denser guitar sound chosen here, it's actually the band's increasing reliance on mid-paced tempos and repetitive riffs that winds up dragging down other selections like "Slave to Misery" and the way overlong but otherwise solid "Facelift." Even so, for fans of Sadus' habitually inventive arrangements and sharp dynamic shifts, there's plenty on offer here. And note to the Steve DiGiorgio fan club: his mind-boggling bass licks and impossible tricks are still regularly splattered all over these tracks, even if often crushed deeper in the mix. Unfortunately, DiGiorgio soon accepted an offer to go off on tour with the far more lucrative Death, leaving Sadus in limbo for the next half-decade.

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September 28, 2018

Bitch - The Bitch Is Back (1987)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Heavy Metal
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© 1987 Enigma/Metal Blade Records
AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson
Outrageous and provocative, L.A. heavy metal band Bitch earned a small but loyal following in the early '80s with its humorous odes to bondage/S&M. Though lead singer Betsy Bitch's portrayal of the dominatrix from hell was very tongue-in-cheek, the band had its share of critics -- who ranged from feminists on the left to Christian fundamentalists on the right. By the time The Bitch Is Back was released in 1987, the headbangers had come to feel that the S&M element was overshadowing their music, and toned their lyrics down a bit. Though the album contains fewer references to whips, chains, and handcuffs than Bitch's previous releases, Damnation Alley (1981) or Be My Slave (1983), the band was still gutsier and much more arresting than so many of the "corporate metal" outfits dominating L.A.'s metal/hard rock scene in 1987. When Betsy (who still came across as a much wilder version of Pat Benatar) tears into a heartfelt cover of Elton John's "The Bitch Is Back" and bombastic originals like "Fist to Face," "Skullcrusher," and "Hot and Heavy," she makes it clear how brutally fun real metal can be.

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Rock City Angels - Young Man's Blues (1988)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Hard Rock
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© 1988 Geffen Records
Review by "the newt" for Ear of Newt.com
Fans of Guns N’ Roses should seriously consider checking out this double-disc debut because it sports the same brand of raggedy, Aerosmith/Dolls-influenced ’70s rock that has made GN’R such a big deal these days.
here’s plenty of excellent boogie on the fast-paced tunes like “Hard to Hold”, “Our Little Secret”, and “Hush Child”. And the gritty, under-your-skin funkiness of “Beyond Babylon” and “Rough ‘n’ Tumble” makes those songs standouts on the same level as “Sweet Child O’ Mine”.
Expect to hear a lot from these guys in the near future.

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Blonz - Blonz (1990)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Hard Rock
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© 1990 Epic/Imagine Records
AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson
This self-titled album has all the trademarks of late '80s/early '90s pop-metal and hard rock -- big hair, big guitars and a big, glossy production. Bands like Poison, Warrant, Bon Jovi and Winger were selling millions of albums at the time, and some labels reasoned that one way to make a quick buck was to sign bands that went out of their way to emulate the popular hard rockers of the day. A lot of generic, faceless bands got signed to major labels, and Blonz was an unfortunate example. There's nothing wrong with commercial arena rock as long as you have the right hooks and some degree of originality -- contrary to what many rock critics believe, not everyone has to be as deep and meaningful as U2, Tori Amos or Nirvana. But Blonz (not to be confused with 4 Non Blondes) fails to provide any memorable hooks, and no traces of originality are shown on knee-jerk, contrived numbers like "Sexy Ride," "What's On Your Mind" and "Skintight" (not to be confused with the Ohio Players' funk classic). Blonz is about as generic, insincere and faceless as it gets.

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Notorious B.I.G. - Ready To Die (1994)

*Original first pressing. Contains 17 tracks total. A photo of the disc is included in the RAR file.

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Hip-Hop
Style: Pop Rap, Gangsta Rap
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© 1994 Bad Boy Records
AllMusic Review by Steve Huey
The album that reinvented East Coast rap for the gangsta age, Ready to Die made the Notorious B.I.G. a star, and vaulted Sean "Puffy" Combs' Bad Boy label into the spotlight as well. Today it's recognized as one of the greatest hardcore rap albums ever recorded, and that's mostly due to Biggie's skill as a storyteller. His raps are easy to understand, but his skills are hardly lacking -- he has a loose, easy flow and a talent for piling multiple rhymes on top of one another in quick succession. He's blessed with a flair for the dramatic, and slips in and out of different contradictory characters with ease. Yet, no matter how much he heightens things for effect, it's always easy to see elements of Biggie in his narrators and of his own experience in the details; everything is firmly rooted in reality, but plays like scenes from a movie. A sense of doom pervades his most involved stories: fierce bandits ("Gimme the Loot"), a hustler's beloved girlfriend ("Me & My Bitch"), and robbers out for Biggie's newfound riches ("Warning") all die in hails of gunfire. The album is also sprinkled with reflections on the soul-draining bleakness of the streets -- "Things Done Changed," "Ready to Die," and "Everyday Struggle" are powerfully affecting in their confusion and despair. Not everything is so dark, though; Combs' production collaborations result in some upbeat, commercial moments, and typically cop from recognizable hits: the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back" on the graphic sex rap "One More Chance," Mtume's "Juicy Fruit" on the rags-to-riches chronicle "Juicy," and the Isley Brothers' "Between the Sheets" on the overweight-lover anthem "Big Poppa." Producer Easy Mo Bee's deliberate beats do get a little samey, but it hardly matters: this is Biggie's show, and by the time "Suicidal Thoughts" closes the album on a heartbreaking note, it's clear why he was so revered even prior to his death.

tags: notorious big, b.i.g., ready to die, 1994, flac,

Various Artists - Barbershop: Music From The Motion Picture (2002)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Hip-Hop, R&B
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© 2002 Epic/Sony Music Soundtrax
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann
At the time of its release, the various artists collection containing music from the motion picture Barber Shop boasted two tracks, Fabolous and P. Diddy featuring Jagged Edge's "Trade It All Part 2," and Ginuwine's "Stingy," that were rising on the R&B Top 40 charts, which seemed to bode well for this collection of rhythmic urban music. Typically, not a note of Terence Blanchard's score to the film was included, but there were three tracks on the album, Best Man's "I See You," Jordan Brown's "Better to Leave," and Collin's "Baby, Baby, Baby," not actually featured in the film, and P. Diddy and the Family's "And We" was presented in a different version from the one contained in the film. That last track was one of several marred by awkward and not very deceptive "clean" edits that managed to mangle the songs' rhythms without actually obscuring the vulgar intent of the lyrics. Much of the album, however, consisted of romantic ballads, and the package concluded with two old-school favorites: Marvin Gaye's "Got to Give It Up (Part 1)" and the Staple Singers' "I'll Take You There." The album opened and closed with dialogue excerpts from the film that suggested it was a comedy keyed to the questionable macho wisdom that might be overheard in an establishment largely frequented by men.

tags: various artists, barbershop soundtrack, barber shop, ost, music from the motion picture, 2002, flac,

Various Artists - Ultimate Dance Party 1997 (1996) ☠

*A photo of the disc is included in the RAR file.
Country: U.S.A.
Genre: House, Freestyle
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☠: Selected by Lass
© 1996 Artista Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Ultimate Dance Party 1997 contains many of the biggest dance hits of 1995 and 1996, including Quad City DJs' "Come On and Ride It (The Train)," La Bouche's "Be My Lover," Ace of Base's "Beautiful Life," Everything but the Girl's "Missing," Los Del Mar's "Macarena" (which is not the version with English lyrics), Annie Lennox's "No More I Love You's," Real McCoy's "Another Night" and Nicki French's "Total Eclipse of the Heart," among several others. All of the songs are presented in their original hit versions, which means the album is a very enjoyable dance and party record, as well as a good indication of the state of dance-pop in the mid-'90s.

tags: various artists, ultimate dance party 1997, 1996, flac,

September 27, 2018

Julieta Venegas - Bueninvento (2000)

Country: Mexico
Language: Spanish (Espa√Īol)
Genre: Latin Rock, Pop Rock
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© 2000 BMG Entertainment Mexico, S.A. de C.V.
AllMusic Review by Jason Birchmeier
Julieta Venegas made a remarkable debut in 1998 with Aqu√≠, an album of enormous breadth and boldness. Her follow-up, Bueninvento, is no less bold, though it is more stylistically consistent from beginning to end. The piano songs that characterized the second half of Aqu√≠ are nowhere to be found on Bueninvento, as Venegas instead delves headlong into the style of driving rock en espa√Īol exemplified by "De Mis Pasos," one of the two singles from Aqu√≠. Like "De Mis Pasos," the songs of Bueninvento are driven by drums (often programmed), accordion accents, electric guitar, and compelling choruses. There's also a lot of keyboard, which becomes evident immediately, on the album-opener, "F√©," which sounds like an amped-up rewrite of "C√≥mo S√©," the other single from Aqu√≠. The second song on Bueninvento, "Hoy No Quiero," makes evident the degree to which guitars play a large role in driving these songs with aggressive forward momentum. In fact, the entire opening stretch of songs showcases the qualities of Bueninvento; for instance, "Casa Abandonada," the third song, opens with a minute-long solo accordion riff, while "Enero y Abril," the fourth song, is richly layered with programmed beats. As Bueninvento progresses, the variations in mood and intensity from song to song become the most noticeable aspect of the album: downbeat songs often follow upbeat ones, and loud choruses often cut through the calm opening verses, with a chaotic finale capping off most songs. A few songs toward the end of the album stand tall: "Bueninvento," which rattles along on a nervy beatscape and erupts with strings toward its close; "Ser√≠a Feliz," the successive song, which mesmerizingly seems to sway back and forth; and then "Instant√°nea," which opens with a couple minutes of tense acoustic guitar strumming and fragile singing, then ruptures gloriously. Despite the many standout songs, Bueninvento plays like one long 14-song suite. The songs themselves have their unique characteristics, to be sure, yet end up seeming like sequenced movements when the album finally comes a close after 54 tumultuous minutes. While this can make the album difficult to penetrate at first listen -- make no mistake, this is not pop music -- Bueninvento is a deeply rewarding album, one that is rich with tension and intensity and one that reveals itself a little differently with each listen.

tags: julieta venegas, bueninvento, buen invento, 2000, flac,

Julieta Venegas - Sí (2003)

Country: Mexico
Language: Spanish (Espa√Īol)
Genre: Latin Rock, Latin Pop
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© 2003 BMG Mexico, Ariola
Review by Matt Collar for Allmusic.com
Julieta Venegas is happy. First there was the outpouring of words like "poetic," "enigmatic," and "intense" among critics raving about the accordion-playing Tijuana native's 2000 release, Bueninvento. Then came her memorable contribution to the Amores Perros soundtrack and subsequent collaborations and appearances with major rock en espa√Īol artists like Jarabe de Palo lead man Pau Dones and Cuban balladeer Silvio Rodr√≠guez. And not incidentally, judging from the cover of S√≠, which features Venegas cavorting in a wedding gown on a cotton candy pink background, somewhere in the intervening three years a question got popped. For every complex and moody fan alienated by what proves to be an unapologetically, even relentlessly perky recording, the airplay and buzz following S√≠'s November 2003 launch suggested it generated plenty of sunny new converts. Indeed, the ten songs, all written by Venegas or co-authored with Argentine composer, session musician, and co-producer Coti Sorokin, offer much to like. Venegas flirts with folkloric stereotypes in norte√Īo-lounge numbers like "Andar Conmigo" and "Oleada," weds them to hip-hop in "Lo Que Pidas," and commandeers the dancefloor at the reception in shameless disco salutes like "Donde Quiero Estar" and "A Tu Lado," making joyous use of a voice that's sounding as assured and uncluttered as that of Aterciopelados' Andrea Echeverri. The 35 minutes of total play time might seem scant and the lyrics more than a little love struck, but don't lump Venegas in with other passing fancies. Sometimes love is meant to last.

tags: julieta venegas, si, si album, 2003, flac,

Julieta Venegas - Limón Y Sal (2006)

Country: Mexico
Language: Spanish (Espa√Īol)
Genre: Latin Rock, Latin Pop
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© 2006 Sony BMG Music Entertainment
AllMusic Review by Jason Birchmeier
A couple years removed from her mainstream breakthrough album, S√≠ (2002), and its string of perfect pop hits, Julieta Venegas returned with a similar album, Lim√≥n y Sal. It's difficult to fault her for doing so. Certainly, her earlier rock en espa√Īol work -- Aqu√≠ (1998) and Bueninvento (2000) -- was critically acclaimed and remains well regarded. Her partnership with super-producer Gustavo Santaolalla for those masterstrokes vaulted her into the esteemed company of rock en espa√Īol revolutionaries of the time like Caf√© Tacuba and Aterciopelados. But it didn't equate to mainstream success, as that music was generally rough-edged and could be downright confrontational. S√≠ and Lim√≥n y Sal are a different story altogether -- upbeat, sunny, and just plain lovely albums of well-crafted pop songs that demand adoration, thanks partly to key collaborators Coti Sorokin and Cachorro L√≥pez, who serve as producers as well as producers. Neither S√≠ nor Lim√≥n y Sal is particularly long -- 35 and 45 minutes, respectively -- nor is either all that ambitious. Sure, the songs showcase a stylistic m√©lange, embracing the occasional hip-hop beat or accordion accompaniment. Yet a steady acoustic guitar strum is always omnipresent, as is a firm pop song foundation highlighted by a singalong chorus. In a way, it's a little unfortunate that Venegas has put the Sturm und Drang of her youth behind her; Aqu√≠ and Bueninvento were truly brilliant and bold. Her newfound knack for more universally appealing music is itself a blessing nonetheless, for these new songs are easy to enjoy and, relative to much contemporaneous Latin pop (think RBD), superlative in craft. Highlights here are abundant -- you can pick any track, practically -- but like its predecessor, Lim√≥n y Sal kicks off with a few true gems: "Canci√≥nes de Amor," "Me Voy," and "Primer D√≠a," the latter notably featuring a rap by Dante Spinetta of Illya Kuryaki and the Valderramas fame. Even during the sad songs, like the spare "√öltima Vez," a genuine joie de vivre burns brightly, making it clear for the second album in a row that Venegas is moving her music into a new direction. That this new direction has brought with it greater popularity is an added bonus.

tags: julieta venegas, limon y sal, 2006, flac,