“Heartworms” doesn’t stand up to their other albums lyrically but sonically it could easily be their finest
Review of The Shins’ long awaited new LP titled “Heartworms”
By Carter Bagley
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 Night 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
“You and I were gonna live forever” the Gallagher brothers once sang. This new documentary shows just how true that statement might be
Review of the new documentary about the seminal britpop band Oasis from the producers of “Amy” and “Senna”
By Carter Bagley
Oasis are no doubt one of my all time favorite bands. It seems that lately that’s kind of an uncool opinion to have as the endless sibling rivalry between lead singer Liam Gallagher and lead guitarist and songwriter Noel Gallagher has been their most defining trait for their entire career. Ever since their 2009 split they haven’t spoken to each other and even though there’s been rumors of a reunion nothing has happened yet. Despite being a bit washed up, back in the mid-90’s they were the greatest rock and roll band on the entire planet, and I firmly believe that. So it only makes sense that the guys who made the
amazing documentary “Amy” along with director Mat Whitecross would tackle such subject matter like Oasis and that’s exactly what happened with “Oasis: Supersonic”. Starting as a poor family from Manchester living alone with their mom and their older brother, Noel & Liam Gallagher were never fit to be anything other than rock stars. Noel was always the quiet, independent thoughtful one who wrote and played guitar while Liam was always the cool, funny and confident one with the better looks. They didn’t don’t go well together at all but for some reason their relationship is what makes Oasis work so well. The film follows them from when Noel was a drum technician for the forgotten madchester band Inspiral Carpets and Liam was doing lead vocals for a band called The Rain. Noel happened upon one of their gigs and showed them a bunch of songs he wrote and pretty soon he was in the band under the name Oasis. What followed the next few years is complete madness and the stuff of legend. The way Whitecross approached this film is very interesting as it doesn’t have any scenes where it shows them interviewing someone and it’s not just a biography. It opts instead for an in depth look at the band’s biblical rise and takeover of the British music scene. Noel and Liam both gave great insight on the times depicted in the film and the crew got their hands on a surprising amount of quality footage to use for the film. Fueled with interesting behind the scenes stories, fantastic interviews and plenty of the band’s genre-defining songs to give you an experience as if you were truly witnessing these crazy frenetic years in the lives of one of the world’s most phenomenal, brash and tumultuous rock bands. It’s easy to write off the band as just a forgettable 90’s act but seeing the impact they had on an entire continent and listening to their early albums it’s almost impossible to deny that these guys created some truly amazing songs. It all leads up to the legendary two-night concert at Knebworth where the band played to 250,000 people in one of the most hyped concerts of the past quarter century. Liam and Noel say some amazing lines that really give the film a personal and sentimental feel as if they’re talking in the same room together, however they were interviewed separately. Ironically these are the guys who poetically sang the lines “Don’t look back in anger, I heard you say” yet it seems they’re the ones who do it the most. “Oasis: Supersonic” transcends the genre of the average rockumentary to instead tell an inspirational and epic tale of brotherhood, self-fulfillment, and it captures the moment and the impact these guys had perfectly all to the sound of some great definitive rock songs. If you’re a fan of Oasis, documentaries, rock and roll or just epic stories in general than you should definitely not miss this film.
“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
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 created 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
“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
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 needed 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
“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
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 strengths 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
“Up” may be too long for what it delivers, but it still features some fantastic R.E.M. songs
Review of the often forgotten first album in R.E.M.’s post-Berry catalog
By Carter Bagley
For most bands it wouldn’t change much if they lost or replaced a member, but I always looked at R.E.M. differently. They worked as a unit 100% and unlike most bands didn’t have one member that was far and away better than the others. They’re sound was a culmination of all the members doing what they do best and combining it and that’s why they’ve released so many albums and stayed together for such a long time. So when Bill Berry left the band after “New Adventures in Hi-Fi” they were obviously going to be a tad bit different. Their follow up album “Up” has been largely forgotten about by the public and it’s almost a completely different sound for the band than what we’re used to. The opening track “Airportman” is instantly a completely different sound than their previous stuff. It uses a drum machine which is a huge contrast in sound which is a direct result of Berry’s departure as their drummer. It’s very quiet and calm but it’s a good song though not the greatest opener to an album. The second song is called “Lotus” and was the second single for the album which was a bad decision for the band. It’s alright at best though for how little it has to say it drags on way too long and the “Hey”‘s at the beginning are extremely annoying. “Suspicion” sounds more like the opening the track and it’s complete with good lyrics but after a while gets kind of boring. The vocals are nice enough and it has a lovely instrumentation I just think it could’ve benefitted if it were louder. The next song “Hope” uses a lot of electronic instrumentation but it’s used in a good way and actually turns out to be the best song on the album so far. It keeps your attention which is something I can’t say about the previous songs. Though it’s quickly topped by the brilliant, beautiful, and uplifting “At My Most Beautiful”. This song is truly lovely and amazing in pretty much every way and one of the most underrated songs in R.E.M.’s entire discography. It’s also probably one of my personal favorites and Stipe’s vocals are great and sincere especially when coupled with his distinct and mysterious lyrics.The piano and the tone of the song in general is very reminiscent of some of their other songs like “Nightswimming” and that is nothing but a compliment. “The Apologist” follows this sudden fantastic streak nicely and the instruments are fantastic and the vocals are great like always. The same goes for “Sad Professor” which is probably even better than the previous song and it’s really soft at the beginning but expertly performed. The loudness of the chorus perfectly balances out the slow verses unlike this album’s opening songs. The next few songs continue the album greatly as well and “Up” turns into a surprisingly great record. “Walk Unafraid” is worth mentioning because it’s actually one of the songs on the album that I enjoyed the most on first listen. It’s catchy and simple but after numerous listens it’s actually “Why Not Smile” that has topped it for me. It’s a slow burn of a song but one that grows on you with it’s interesting instrumentation. “Daysleeper” was the lead single for the album which makes a lot of sense and it’s a great rock song and a great R.E.M. song. The chorus is great and the guitar is almost too simple but it gives it a nice easily-digestible sound. It’s followed up by the 6 minute and long titled song “Diminished/I’m Not Over You (Medley)”. It is a ballad that may not have all the substance to require the duration but it’s definitely enjoyable for what it is. “Parakeet” is kind of bizarre and I don’t really see the point to it. It’s not bad whatsoever it’s actually performed really well just I think it has the same sound as many other songs on the album and doesn’t do it as well. The chorus is catchy and Stipe sings it with an intensity that kind of sounds odd when you listen to the goofiness of the lyrics. The whole thing comes to a close with “Falls To Climb”. It’s very beautiful and Mike Mill’s and Peter Buck’s instrumentation is slow building and emotional. Stipe sings like we cares about what he’s saying and in turn makes me care. It’s a great way to end an album that has a lot of potential to it but could’ve been edited down much more. The problem with “Up” is that it’s a lot of the same sounds and some of the songs don’t need to be on here. For an album so simple with it’s instrumentation and calm sound there’s no need for it to be more than 12 songs long. It focuses more on it’s lyrics than it does on Peter Buck’s guitar or Mills’ bass which is an odd idea for the band and one they haven’t tried before “Up”. Despite being too long I still find quite a bit of enjoyment in this album and some of the songs in it are truly phenomenal.
Highlights: At My Most Beautiful, The Apologist, Sad Professor, Walk Unafraid, Why Not Smile, Daysleeper, Falls To Climb
Lowlights: Lotus, Suspicion, Parakeet
“New Adventures In Hi-Fi” is a tragically underrated catchy, moody, and carefree goodbye to Bill Berry
Review of R.E.M.’s underrated final album with drummer Bill Berry
By Carter Bagley
After three massively successful albums in the early 90’s R.E.M. was one of the biggest bands in the world. By 1995 they were touring in support of “Monster” and started to write and record a new record while on the road that was much different than their last three. It was titled “New Adventures in Hi-Fi” and was released in 1996 to critical acclaim but commercially was less of a success than the previous. The fact that they were on the road gave the songs a natural rustic and sprawling sound to them, something that was definitely not featured in “Monster” and to much less effect on “Out Of Time” and “Automatic For The People”. The album starts with the slow burn opener “How The West Was Won And Where It Got Us”. It’s slow and effectively sprawling and a fantastic start to a fantastic record. The lyrics are expertly written although are nonsensical and strange in typical older R.E.M. fashion. The second song “The Wake-Up Bomb” is kind of a bizarre song overall with very obscure and random lyrics and Michael Stipe also sings them in a very eccentric way. It has a sense of charm to it though but has a different tone to it than the majority of the album. However track 4 “New Test Leper” is far and away my favorite song on the album and I think it’s an underrated masterpiece. The arrangement of the entire thing is beautiful and Stipe’s catchy and melodic vocals along with his perfect lyrics make this song a masterwork. Peter Buck’s lead guitar and Mike Mills’ bass blend perfectly together creating an emotional and heartfelt sound and Bill Berry’s drums are light and back it all up well. “Undertow” is decent and has a very southern sound to it but the verses are dragging and slightly irritating it but the chorus is effective enough to make the song listenable filler. “E-Bow The Letter” was the lead single for the album and it sounds like early 90’s R.E.M. and the lyrics are greatly written and Stipe recites them almost like poetry. It’s a nice song and a good hint at what the whole album would hold. The catchy and simple lead guitar is what interests me the most about this track and I find myself humming it after I listen to it a few times. The next track “Leave” is very melancholy and the acoustic and backing instruments to the beginning of the song is heartbreaking without even giving us words. It then breaks into a very produced louder sound reciting the guitar we heard in a powerful aggressive way. Stipe sings terrific lyrics in a lovely sad fashion and you almost instantly fall in love with the song especially once Stipe hits the loud notes of the chorus. After the long duration and sadness that was “Leave”, the band counters this with the loud, short, and explosive “Departure”. It sounds like something off “Monster” but not in a bad way and it’s very catchy and has fast-spoken word verses and a catchy chorus. A definite highlight from this album is the single “Bittersweet Me”. It consists of great lyrics, an energetic vocal performance from Stipe and jangly guitars from Mike Mills and Peter Buck. Bill Berry’s drums are also present and give the song a very good rhythm. The album follows the high that was the last song with “Be Mine” and it is easily as good if not better than “Bittersweet Me”. Buck’s guitar is probably the best thing here which perfectly backs up the soft vocals delivered by Stipe. There isn’t really much to the song than those two elements but about halfway through the song picks up in steam and adds more established drumming and bass. “Binky The Document” isn’t quite as good as what comes before as the lead vocals and lyrics seem kinda uninspired but the guitar is ringing and attention-grabbing. “Zither” is a short instrumental track with nice simplistic southern sounding instrumentation. It’s a little interlude of sorts to the albums final songs. “So Fast, So Numb” is a sadly overlooked song from this album and their catalog in general. The lyrics are as good as anything else on this album and the chorus is meaningful and catchy and gets stuck in your head. Everything about this song says single to me and I wonder why they chose some of the singles they did over this. Whatever the reason, it’s still a fantastic song that any fan 0f R.E.M. should check out. Peter Buck also gives a brief but memorable power guitar solo that which is a plus. “Low Desert” is shorter compared to most of the other songs on this album and has a recognizable southern rock sound to it. The lyrics are alright but as a whole it’s a good listen in an album full of great songs. The song that closes the album is the single “Electrolite”. It features a nice and well performed piano by Mike Mills and the lyrics are sweet and clever and it’s a great way to end an album. In fact it’s probably one of the better songs on the album with it’s carefree nonchalant yet sweet feel to it that counters the more grimy southern feel of the previous track. As a whole “New Adventures In Hi-Fi” is a tragically underrated record in R.E.M.’s catalog and is a lovely goodbye to longtime drummer Bill Berry. It’s the end of R.E.M.’s second era and with it having lengthy album-oriented tracks as opposed to poppy singles I can understand by casual fans weren’t as enthused to go purchase this record compared to the previous three. However none of that takes away the fact that this album is catchy, moody, carefree, and has an amazing on the road sound to it that I haven’t experienced in many other albums ever. With 14 songs, most of which being on the longer side, this could count as the band’s first and only double album and definitely one to check out.