Album Review: The Shins “Heartworms” (2017)

“Heartworms” doesn’t stand up to their other albums lyrically but sonically it could easily be their finest

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Review of The Shins’ long awaited new LP titled “Heartworms”

By Carter Bagley

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The Shins have always been one of my favorite bands growing up and I’ve never hidden from anyone that my favorite album of all time is their 2001 debut “Oh, Inverted World”. Singer songwriter James Mercer has this raw talent that I rarely see in other musicians. He is incredibly gifted with words and metaphors and this is why I’ve always had this personal connection to this band’s music. The rest of the band split after 2007’s “Wincing The shins-heartworms-3.jpgNight Away” and he pulled together a brand new team for 2012’s “Port Of Morrow” which was good but not great compared to The Shins’ first three albums. However, I appreciated how Mercer tried new types of music and tried to make a new sound and it worked on much of the album but not so much on other parts. This time around though it seems like he’s perfected these new styles and I’m glad to say that although this is different, it’s still The Shins I fell in love with. “Heartworms” begins with their second single “Name For You” which is a catchy, pretty pop song and a great start to a new album. It shows off Mercer’s vocal talents right off the bat draws you in instantly. The band released many of the song before the release date of the album and I thought all of those songs are great but it’s a few of the songs I hadn’t heard yet that hooked me. Songs like “Painting a Hole” and “Half A Million” recall back to “Wincing The Night Away” while simultaneously adding in some new flavor as well. The effects laden “Cherry Hearts” and “Fantasy Island” were the songs that really drew me in though. Mercer brings in all these new sounds that I haven’t heard from them before and he uses his voice as an instrument to pair with the music. It builds to a volume so high that it makes me wonder how he could possibly reach it. His voice and lyrics are so distinct that you know a The Shins song the moment the lyrics are sung. The third single “Mildenhall” brings in a folk sound that recalls back to their “Chutes Too Narrow” days. It manages to be perfectly nostalgic without being over the top and it may be a new classic from the band. Some of the songs didn’t quite hook me though like “Rubber Ballz”, “Heartworms” and “Half A Million” just didn’t work on every level like many of the other tracks. The lead single “Dead Alive” is fantastic classic sounding The Shins and I loved from the first time I heard it. “So Now What” is easily one of my favorite tracks from the album and I’ve loved it since it was first released way back in 2014 for Zach Braff’s film “Wish I Was Here”. The whole thing closes out with the longer track “The Fear” which uses interesting melodies that seems like they come straight out of the 90’s at points. The album is not lyrically as strong and much of the band’s discography but but seems to focus more on the sounds. Many songs build this huge wall of sound and it’s interesting to hear all of it surround you and listen as they start to fade out one by one at end of each song. James Mercer focused on many different types of music hear and incorporated all of it into this album and at some points in the same song even. I loved it more than I expected and I can honestly say that this album is not perfect but it’s pretty damn great.

Highlights: Name For You, Cherry Hearts, Fantasy Island, Mildenhall, Dead Alive, So Now What

Lowlights: Rubber Ballz, Half A Million, Heartworms

Rating: 8.5/10

Classic Reviews: Oasis “Definitely Maybe” (1994)

“Definitely Maybe” is an excellent debut album that’s cocky, epic, inspiring and completely rock ‘n’ roll.

Review of the debut classic album from seminal Britpop band Oasis

By Carter Bagley

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Coming from Manchester, these lads were always meant to be a massive rock band. Everything about them from their look, their sound, their relationships, and most importantly the sibling rivalry between lead singer Liam Gallagher and guitarist/songwriter Noel Gallagher screamed rock band. In 1994, right from the gates they exploded onto the britpop scene with a massive, loud, and straight-up amazing debut album. “Definitely Maybe” came out four years after the band had officially formed so it sounded like an experienced band who already knew exactly what they were doing. Noel and Liam Gallagher weren’t even the founders of the band originally titled Rain, but after joining it was obvious these two were the superstars of the group despite the others 61-8ceflawlcontributing their own big talents to the music. It was always these brothers who transcended it. After the dying grunge scene left listeners depressed and wanting inspiration Noel penned 11 songs that totally redefined 90’s music after the state it was in. It kicks off with the gorgeously cocky “Rock ‘N’ Roll Star” that’s in the same vein as The Stone Roses’ “I Am The Resurrection” in the sense that these nobodies were declaring that they were rock ‘n’ roll stars. The funny thing is they didn’t have a whole album before it to prove it, it was the first track . Although with Liam’s completely unique vocals and Noel’s kickass guitar riffs in addition to Tony McCarroll’s drumming, this song is all the proof they needed. The song “Shakermaker” was the album’s second single with I really don’t understand because despite it being a good song it’s still unnecessarily long and drags on quite a bit. However, it’s not until “Live Forever” begins that you see this band truly blossom into the brilliant band they were. Every single aspect of the song is amazing beginning with the instantly noticeable drumming, the beautiful acoustic, the simple piano keys, the rocking electric and bass and Liam’s revolutionary snarl on the opening lines “Maybe, I don’t really wanna know”. Liam Gallagher’s voice really was one in a million and although you could hear it slowly get worse over time, there’s no taking away the fact that back in the mid-90’s he had the best voice on the planet. There’s always songs you skip like “Up In The Sky” and “Bring It On Down” and “Columbia” is good just a couple minutes too long. Though none of that takes away from the album because as a whole even those song work into it’s brilliance. The latter half of the album is where it gets spectacularly consistent. The band’s debut single “Supersonic” has nonsensical lyrics but an attitude that only the Rolling Stones could rival and Liam’s voice shines on it to make it a nearly perfect and likable single. “Cigarettes & Alcohol” is a rocker with some epic lead guitar riffs and lyrics that perfectly show the mood of their home city of Manchester at the time. The album concludes with the epic rocker “Slide Away” coupled with the acoustic song of “Married With Children”. The former is one of those songs that should’ve been a single over “Shakermaker”. Liam’s vocals are some of the best on the album and the chorus drills into your head and let’s not mention the kick-ass guitar solos. “Married With Children” shows a sassier side to the band and it gives off a slight reflective tone; it’s a great simple end to a great epic album. There’s not much that hasn’t already been said about this album, but I will add that Oasis is extremely underrated for the fact that many people slack them off these days, but they embody rock ‘n’ roll just as much as any band and they actually stood for something. Liam Gallagher might have been the best leading man we’ve seen in decades and Noel always was a very talented songwriter. Though they may be broken up these days, back in 1994 Noel & Liam Gallagher said that they were gonna live forever, and live forever they will.

Highlights: Rock ‘N’ Roll Star, Live Forever, Supersonic, Cigarettes & Alcohol, Slide Away, Married With Children

Lowlights Lesser Highlights: Up In The Sky, Bring It On Down

Rating: 10/10

R.E.M. Series: “Collapse Into Now” (2011)

R.E.M. caps off their legendary career with their swan song “Collapse Into Now”

Review of the final album from legendary alternative rock icons R.E.M.

By Carter Bagley

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My first artist series comes to an end with the review of R.E.M.’s final album fittingly titled “Collapse Into Now”. The legacy of this band is going to be that of legend someday, compared to most bands their discography is huge and pretty flawless despite a few missteps. Either way back in 2011 R.E.M. knew they made a great record with “Accelerate” and knew it was time for the long-running group had to come to an end. They decided to make one final album to go out on and it had to a good one if it was going to be the last from a band that brought us “Murmur”, “Document”, and “Automatic For The People”. I’d say in many ways they succeeded and ended up delivering an album that’s entirely enjoyable and emotional. It start off strong with the one-two punch of the energetic and exciting opening songs rem-2.jpg“Discoverer” and “All The Best”. At this point the record is similar in tone and sound to “Accelerate” which gives it a fun opening vibe.The album isn’t all the way like that as the previous R.E.M. albums have had a hard time blending themes and emotions together like their earlier albums did so well. “Accelerate” may have been fun and enjoyable but it sort of lacked a depth while other albums like “Up” and “Around The Sun” were just too slow and overdramatic at a lot of parts. “Überlin” is a highlight on the album and sounds like something off one of their older classic albums with proficient vocals and lyrics from the band. The album continues to be extremely impressive with the lovely performed and melodic “Oh My Heart” and “It Happened Today” which are both very good songs. “Every Day Is Yours To Win” isn’t quite as good as some of the others but the way Michael Stipe delivers the vocals coupled with the beautiful instrumentation makes it have a real emotional vibe. The songs “Mine Smell Like Honey” and”Alligator_Aviator_Autopilot_Antimatter” are probably the worst songs on the album but they’re still very listenable power pop. The latter is pretty much lyrical nonsense almost in an Oasis “Supersonic” way but not done nearly as well. “That Someone Is You” is very melodic and pop rock sounding almost more like Better Than Ezra and Gin Blossoms than R.E.M. though that’s not a fault. Stipe’s lyrics are the best on the songs “Walk It Back” and “Me, Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando and I” with the latter sounding like lyrics from early R.E.M. albums that make little sense but still convey a real point to them. The final song “Blue” does an amazing job at closing this album and caps off the career of one of the greatest and most consistent rock bands of all time. The album mixes celebratory fun with sorrow and that’s what makes it so good. The entire album feels real and genuine and mixes together many R.E.M. sounds and qualities from past and present to give a strong goodbye to their entire career. As R.E.M. collapsed into now they left one final great album that many people should give their attention to, for it deserves all of it.

Highlights: Überlin, Oh My Heart, It Happened Today, That Someone Is You, Me, Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando and I

Lowlights Lesser Highlights: All The Best, Mine Smell Like Honey, Alligator_Aviator_Autopilot_Antimatter

Rating: 9/10

Track Review: The Shins “Dead Alive” (2016)

The Shins’ new single brings new and old sounds that show a lot of potential for their upcoming album

Review of the brand new first single from The Shins’ upcoming 5th album

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The Shins are easily amongst my favorite bands of all time with their very distinct and recognizable sound. The master behind it all, James Mercer, who’s the lead singer and songwriter of the group has been teasing this new album and specifically this single for months now. Originally supposed to be released in July and the album supposed to be the-shins-dead-alive-1477493035-640x640released this fall, something happened to where it got pushed back for legal purposes or something like that. But just last week Mercer finally revealed the band’s brand new single and I must say that I’m very impressed. Their last album “Port Of Morrow” was good but didn’t match the quality of their first three albums. However this song really reminds me of something from that album mixed with their “Wincing The Night Away” sound and it works amazingly well. Mercer is one of my favorite songwriters as he uses so unconventional lyrics and metaphors that are strange but always so appealing. The rest of the band shows up to with very fascinating instrumentation. There’s also a very well made music video to accompany the song. After 15 years they band still seems fresh and creative and this shows potential for a fantastic upcoming album.

Rating: 8/10

Stream the new single “Dead Alive” anywhere and watch the music video on The Shins’ VEVO page.

R.E.M. Series: “Accelerate” (2008)

“Accelerate” had a lot to prove and manages to be the first album since 1998 good enough to be called a R.E.M. record

Five years after the annoying “Around The Sun” R.E.M. returned with an album that proved they weren’t done yet

By Carter Bagley

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After their unlucky 13th album “Around The Sun” it seemed that R.E.M. had officially burnt out. With a rich history behind them and a bleak future most fans were done with them and moved on to all the other great bands making music at the time. However Michael Stipe, Peter Buck, and Mike Mills knew that they had more in them. They weren’t going to be done yet so they booked a tight recording schedule and producer Jacknife Lee to make another record based on demos they worked on earlier that year. Recorded and 5e32dab6c788d54e590ce5874c7e58a9.1000x1000x1.jpgcreated in only three weeks forced the band to have an edge they hadn’t had in years, and thus we had a new fantastic R.E.M. album. “Accelerate” truly is a highlight in their career and considerably better than many of their albums including ones I personally love like “Monster”, “Out of Time”, and “Green”. From the beginning of “Living Well Is The Best Revenge” to the end of “I’m Gonna DJ” they give an energetic and vibrant performance that they haven’t had in well over a decade. It’s paced out wonderfully though as songs like “Hollow Man” and “Until The Day Is Done” are beautifully slower compared to much of the other songs. The lead single “Supernatural Superserious” is catchier than a STD and possibly their greatest song since Bill Berry’s departure and one of the best R.E.M. songs period. It seems almost unreal how proficient they are on this album as it works pretty much on all cylinders. “Hollow Man” is worth mentioning too as it’s slow but manages to be short and expertly written. The chorus is also explosive and catchy and has become among my favorites on the album. “Mr. Richards” is a track that’s very underrated and one I haven’t heard mentioned very often. The band also learned that to they had to shorten up many of the songs and that’s exactly what they did. The pace on this record is incredible as the whole albums plays together perfectly and is a continuous good time. That’s not saying this album isn’t short of flaws however. The longest track on the album titled “Sing For The Submarine” also happens to be the least interesting. The whole time Stipe just makes references to past R.E.M. songs like “Electron Blue”, “High Speed Train”, “It’s The End of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” or “Feeling Gravity’s Pull”. The fact that a lot of it is just Stipe taking a trip down memory lane rather than crafting a cohesive song coupled with the shift in rhythms at different times makes it difficult to sit through. It’s not entirely bad however and I have heard more annoying on previous albums. In fact, the song on this album that’s worse than it is the next song “Horse To Water” which isn’t bad but the verses are very annoying to sit through and it’s utterly skippable. Besides the last few songs which get kind of annoying the first two thirds are very capable and better than R.E.M. has been in years. “Accelerate” had something  to prove for R.E.M. and I’d be damned if I said that it didn’t do it. This is the first time it seems the band really found it’s footing as a three-piece band. It also made a lot of people regain respect for these alternative pioneers and though they were aging they still had something to prove.

Highlights: Living Well Is The Best Revenge, Supernatural Superserious, Hollow Man, Mr. Richards

Lowlights: Sing For The Submarine, Horse To Water, I’m Gonna DJ

Rating: 8/10

R.E.M. Series: “Around The Sun” (2003)

“Around The Sun” isn’t good, but it’s also not entertainingly bad. Instead it’s boring which is the worst thing an album could do.

Review of the most underwhelming installment in R.E.M.’s legendary discography

By Carter Bagley

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Here we have an album that both fans and the band alike have considered a mistake. By 2003 R.E.M. were in the lowest and the most misguided point in their career. After their previous album “Reveal” which was a commercial failure compared to other R.E.M. albums and although it wasn’t necessarily bad, it was no doubt disappointing. They DWAR_78422__39034__01152009115659-8482.jpgneeded something new and hard-hitting to revive their career and from the first few songs on “Around The Sun” it sounds a little like that, however that isn’t the case. The slow and fantastic “Leaving New York” opens the record and instantly I love the song. It’s a low key ballad that has a deeper meaning than the majority of “Reveal” and Michael Stipe again writes like he actually has something personal to say. “Electron Blue” isn’t necessarily the same but it’s sung well enough and has enough original and interesting instrumentation to hold your attention. However most of the songs are too straightforward lyrically and instrumentally than the R.E.M. we all love. “Make It All Okay” is a fantastic example as to how they could still craft lovely melodies and harmonies but lyrically they landed in cheesy hallmark card territory. Lyrically I’d even say that “Around The Sun” is worse than it’s predecessor in many ways but instrumentally it’s considerably better. They almost completely abandoned the over-produced digital sound they grew fond of over the few albums that came before this. This was a great decision as their natural sound is something I always loved about R.E.M. “Final Straw” is a highlight amongst the album and it’s protesting and Stipe proved he had many things to say during Bush-era America. It’s not as vibrant and loud as it could’ve been but it’s undoubtedly a song that’s worth listening to. After this the album just goes right back to where it was however and it fools you into kind of liking the songs on first listen but then when you listen to them more they appear hollow and meaningless. “Wanderlust” is a decent upbeat jangly pop song though and I actually quite enjoy it. Stipe sounds energetic with his vocals which is something this album really lacks compared to early-R.E.M. Something this album does improve on though compared to “Reveal” is the length of the songs. Most of them are shorter which is good for a song that really doesn’t have much to say. “Boy In The Well” although is the only exception and at five and a half minutes long mixed with an unwelcome country sound it’s almost abysmal to sit through. The rest of the album that follows is just boring and almost puts me to sleep. The thing is this record obviously isn’t a good one, but it’s also not so bad it’s funny (like this year’s Desiigner single “Panda”) and instead it’s just meaningless and boring. To be honest I can’t think of anything that’s much worse that that, because if there’s one thing rock music shouldn’t be it’s boring.

Highlights: Leaving New York, Final Straw, Wanderlust

Lowlights: Make It All Okay, Boy In The Well, High Speed Train, The Worst Joke Ever

Rating: 4.5/10

R.E.M. Series: “Reveal” (2001)

“Reveal” is an album that has some real beauty and clarity inside despite being surrounded by blandness

Review of the album that brought R.E.M. into the 21st Century

By Carter Bagley

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By the time the Twenty-First Century rolled around, R.E.M. were not the same band whatsoever. Their sales also reflected that as their previous two albums sold much less than 1994’s “Monster”. They were still interested in making albums however and they haven’t been hurting for money for decades; their core fanbase was also still strong enough to warrant their continuation. So they churned out their twelfth studio album in 2001 titled “Reveal” and the end product we received is not nearly as stellar as what the band previously gave us. Michael Stipe is missing that edge to his songwriting and no longer delivered those evocative lyrics he once penned. The drum machine is still prevalent which isn’t necessarily a bad thing it’s just the album lacks a sense of effort and genuinity that less electronic instrumentation would’ve given. There is some definite reveal.jpgstrengths though and it’s no doubt miles better than some of the other dumpster fires we got in the year 2001 (Smash Mouth, Creed, and Nickelback come to mind). Though when an innovative rock band hands you holy grail after holy grail of alternative albums for years it’s very disappointing to hear something that’s just– okay. They still have a never ending knack for melody and catchy performances but the songs themselves just have a dull meaning. Many of the songs on this record are nice easily listening and sung and played very expertly but the lyrics and the inspiration just aren’t there. A big example of this is the song “Beat A Drum” which on shallow listening is nice and pretty but after further inspection you realize the lyrics are amateur and cringeworthy. Many of the songs are pretty decent like the opening track “The Lifting” along with others like “She Just Wants To Be, “Chorus And The Ring”, and “I’ve Been High”. The problem with some of the songs though is if they were under 4 minutes they’d be perfectly enjoyable in a way that Weezer’s “Green Album” was. That album paled in comparison to Weezer’s earlier albums but the songs were short and sweet and easy listening pop. Though on “Reveal” R.E.M. extends songs like “Chorus And The Ring” and “Saturn Return” to a bloated four plus minutes. “She Just Wants To Be” even goes on for five and a half minutes which is way too long for a song that’s simply listenable. They must’ve thought that the album was on the same caliber as their earlier songs and we wouldn’t mind if the songs were longer. “Man On The Moon” is five minutes but no one cared because it’s an outstanding song. Even a song on this album “I’ll Take The Rain” is nearly 6 minutes but it fits in fine because it’s one of the best songs on the album. With that song they crafted an 80’s sounding perfectly performed and written ballad that could sit easily among most of R.E.M.’s albums. There are couple other saving graces on this album that force it from falling flat completely. “Imitation Of Life” may be the best song on the album and it’s vibrant and shows the aging band still had energy in them and had hope in their future. Other songs like “Summer Turns To High” and the album’s big single “All The Way To Reno (You’re Gonna Be A Star)” are also very enjoyable pop rock songs that I return to every now and then. They didn’t ever burn out like some bands, as this album still has greatness in it somewhere, they were just misguided and lacked inspiration that they previously had. The whole albums ends with the cheesy and the abysmally written “Beachball” which makes me wonder exactly what they were going for. “Reveal” concludes as a very disappointing and lacking album but shows real moments of beauty and melody within it’s runtime. I’d say if you’re a big R.E.M. fan you’ll find enjoyment in it to some extent. Other than that, looking at all the other fantastic albums that came out the same year like The Strokes “Is This It”, The Shins “Oh, Inverted World”, and Ozma “Rock and Roll Part Three” I don’t understand why a regular person would’ve bothered with this album.

Highlights: All The Way To Reno (You’re Gonna Be A Star), Imitation Of Life, Summer Turns To High, I’ll Take The Rain

Lowlights: Disappear, Saturn Return, Beat A Drum, Beachball

Rating: 5/10