sure, a dictatorship would be easier. But when creating Stylus, co-founder Adam Blackbourn and I always envisioned the music review as the beginning of the dialogue, not the end. That’s why we’ve always sought to open up as many different avenues for both writers and readers to express their opinions.

Despite the comments function at the end of each article and review, it’s nearly impossible to hold an extended dialogue on the site, however. And, taking into account the fact that some writers still grouse about ratings and reviews from nearly two years ago, Stylus felt it best to give them (and you) the chance to dredge up some of Stylus Greatest Misses for further review. Non-definitive, of course.

Todd Burns

Bjork - Medulla
[read the original Stylus review]

Like Yoko Ono, to whom she is infrequently compared, Bjork approaches rock from a tourist’s point of view: she doesn’t understand the genre; and it’s impossible for her to understand without judging. What’s with our obsession with guitars and drums? Toss’em! So long as Bjork has subsumed her tweeness to beats either too harsh to assimilate at first listen or put herself in the hands of sympathetic collaborators like Mark Bell and Nellee Hooper, she has recorded stunning albums which rarely quiet down long enough for you to notice that the essential anonymity of dance music and Bjork’s sui generis voice creates a dialectic of unbearable tension. However, in parts of Vespertine and nearly all of Medulla, that voice either just sits there, scats impatiently for a non-existent melody, or rubs up against Rahzel, the Icelandic Vocal Choir or Robert Wyatt in unpleasant ways. These vocalists are every bit as mannered as Bjork, and it’s all too disorienting for a listener with decidedly Western ears like me.

In his original review of the album, Michael Heumann said: “In short, there's a lot here, much of it very eccentric and entirely experimental. Luckily, Björk's still a pop artist, so the experiments never waver too far away from a good hook, strong beat or beautiful melody.”

In my view, Medulla instead wears its eccentricities like a dog wears ticks: they suck the blood out of an artist who was never comfortable with pop anyway. You know an album is in trouble when you praise its experiments at the expense of its listenability. Only “Sonnets/Unrealities” (a slice of shivery, luminous eroticism) and “Triumph of a Heart” suggest the human voice’s ability to “master and control the world.” As for the rest—well. The titles “Where Is The Line” and “Who Is It”, as arch and dreadful as these songs are, contain truths of which Bjork, in her self-absorption, was probably unaware: she crosses the line on Medulla, all right, and we no longer know who this artist is.
[Alfred Soto]

Mclusky - Do Dallas
[read the original Stylus review]

This is why we all wanted to be in a rock band when we were teenagers: Songs called "Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues" and "The World Loves Us And Is Our Bitch". Perfect music for driving too fast, drinking too much and cutting class. Punk rock satire that cuts to the bone and doesn’t let you forget how stupid you, and they, are being. Mclusky somehow manage to walk that tightrope between taking themselves seriously and devolving into a joke, and they have the sense to steal their hooks from the best. There are brains and compassion lurking behind the smirk ("Fuck This Band", "Clique Application Form"), but just because Mclusky can think doesn't mean they plan to grow up. Yet.

And despite all of this, Clay Jarvis had this to say about the album: “holy grails are meant to be possessed as beautiful, eternal inspiration, not worn as a fucking hat”… “transparent, flavourless distillations”… “generic to the point of failure”… “forced, fake and old”… “Why settle? And settling is exactly what you’re doing if you plunk down money for Do Dallas. McLusky reminds of good bands; they sound like good bands. They are not a good band. You don’t use the words “rip-off” or “sucking the teat of” or “Christ, this album pisses me off” when talking about good bands, do you?” And we’re not even halfway through the article. The warmest the sentiment gets is when Clay says that “credit must be given for a child’s handful of good songs”. Ouch.

I happen to love this album (possibly because I’m not as big a fan of Mclusky’s influences as Clay is), but even if you don’t I think it’s a tad unfair to basically lay the blame for every band of poseurs at one act’s feet, even if you think they’re poseurs (and in Mclusky’s case I disagree). If I had to describe Do Dallas in one word it’d be “fun”, and so although I can understand not liking it, I can’t understand coming down so hard on them. This is one of those cases where I’d swear we’re hearing different albums, and we might as well be.
[Ian Mathers]

New Pornographers – Mass Romantic
[read the original Stylus review]

The New Pornographers are the apotheosis of what we generally refer to as "power-pop". Mass Romantic is the aural equivalent of a day spent at a really terrific amusement park, with each song a new ride. The title track opener is like the abrupt take-off of a roller-coaster, the g-force slamming you back into your seat, your breath momentarily gone. As with any good roller coaster, you want to experience it again as soon as you get off, but there's just so many other promising rides in the park to check out. There's the "Slow Descent into Alcoholism" bumper cars; the "Mystery Hours" tilt-o-whirl; the sky-high "Letter from an Occupant" log flume, sure to cool you off from the summer heat once you hit the water below; the "Centre for Holy Wars" ferris wheel. The closer, "Breakin' the Law," is the exhausted ride home, the restless kids in the back demanding the keys to turn the family van around 'cause they want more more MORE. I should know: I've owned Mass Romantic for going on four years now, and I still can't get enough of it.

In his review of the album, Tyler Martin wrote, "Though the songs make a great first impression with brilliant melodies and layered ideas, their appeal does not last, as the songs are quick to reveal their patchwork inconsistencies...One begins to recognize the pop patterns, which are beginning to feel more forced and less authentic. The melody is lethargic and sappy, the lyrics are dull, and the production begins to gnaw at one’s well-being...The New Pornographers seem like a good idea: put five Canadian indie rockers together and see what they come up with, what could go wrong? Plenty of things. Too many misdirected ideas weigh this album down, but that’s democracy for you."

I honestly can't think of a more perfectly contstructed, endlessly listenable pop record than Mass Romantic produced in the last ten years than, say, Electric Version. Of course, it can all be reduced to formula (what can't be?), but it's just such a brilliant formula. Carl Newman is our Brian Wilson, minus the whole hippie thing and the creepy Jesus fixation, Dan Bejar the eccentric avant-gardist milking his pop know-how on the side for all its worth, Neko Case the shifty chanteuse making it sound so damned sublime.
[Josh Timmermann]

The Constantines – Shine A Light
[read the original Stylus review]

Absolutely brilliant. I originally ragged on this a bit for having a weak ending, and I still feel that the fact that “On To You” isn’t the closer is a crime, but even with that, this is an amazingly well put together album. The highlights are just too numerous, from “Poison” and “Insectivora” to “National Hum” and “Goodbye Baby & Amen”. Yes, in some ways the Cons are a band you just have to see live, but Shine A Light is pretty convincing on its own. They are probably the rock band I have the most faith in.

But back when I wrote a review of this, I used the words “strongly, boringly decent”, which still ring in my skull. I was so wrong! Sure, I credited it with “an excellent start”, even said that “up until track 9 the album is remarkably solid” (whilst noting a resemblance to Spoon), then I go ahead and shoot myself in the foot: “the last four tracks are… relatively grey and unappealing… and [show] a true lack of ability to sequence a record effectively”.

I could have sworn I’d given Shine A Light enough time to grow on me, but instead I did what we all dread doing; slated an album just before I realized how good it was. Sure, it was only a 7.4, but if I could go back to that year this album is comfortably within my top ten. Honestly, I’d rather all those people who got into You Forgot It In People had picked this up instead.
[Ian Mathers]

Ashlee Simpson - Autobiography
[read the original Stylus review]

With the possible exception of Courtney Love's excellent America's Sweetheart, there isn't an easier critical target to pick on this year than Ashlee Simpson. Not only is she is saddled with the baggage of being the Jan Brady to Jessica's Marcia, but we've all paid witness, via her MTV reality show, to her makeover from the cute blonde girl seemingly following in her big sis's footsteps to a pissed-off punk princess with a strategically dissheveled mop of freshly dyed dark hair and a stained CBGB t-shirt. Not to mention…Well, you know.

The only problem is that Autobiography is, it turns out, a really good record, and maybe even a great one. What's most initially stunning about it is how, for the most part, it sounds nothing like "Pieces of Me", her nice-enough but slight, radio-ready single. It's an album with that rare ability to catch you off-guard and knock your socks off. On "Love Me for Me", my favorite track on the album, Ashlee sounds angry as hell, tossing off unostentatious throwaway gems like, "My head is spinning but my heart is in the right place / Sometimes it has to have itself a little earthquake". On the title track Ashlee sings, "Right now I'm solo but that will be changing eventually", which is, at the very least, this year's "Haven't you heard that I'm gonna be okay?" and, at best, the most refreshingly optimistic thing I've heard in a pop song in a long time.

In his review of Autobiography, Todd Burns wrote: "Which is why it should be little surprise that much of Autobiography comes off as a teenage girl learning the ropes of music, sometimes succeeding, sometimes embarrassing herself." You think you know me” are the lyrics that open the album, leveling the common complaint of celebrity v. public. The song goes on to metaphorically detail the journey that she’s gone through to reach the heights of stardom....The album ends up suffering from exactly what its first line intimates: after spending more than forty minutes with Ashlee, I feel like I don’t know her any better than I did beforehand. Instead, she sounds like she’s adopting characters and singing their songs, rather than her own. And, for a record with the name Autobiography, it seems like no bigger criticism could be leveled."

Burns's mention of Ashlee "adopting characters and singing their songs, rather than her own" recalls, for me, Thora Birch's character, Enid, in the Ghost World movie. She's not merely making a fashion statement by dying her hair green and sporting an "original, 1977 punk rock" look; as corny as it inevitably sounds, she's attempting to figure out who she is exactly. Ashlee's a 19 year-old girl, and I don't think the fact that—like a lot of girls her age, most of whom, admittedly, haven't been in the unique position of being a pop star's kid sister, but still may know what it's like to live in someone else's shadow—she's clearly struggling with identity issues makes her music any less personal or poignant. At times, it is awkward (the same is true of Nellie McKay, who was also nineteen when she recorded her album), but that's growing up for you. As for bitching about the burdens of stardom, I'll leave that to Ashlee's sophomore follow-up, but here she realizes that she's "better off every day, in every single way." She's smart enough to know how lucky she is, honest enough to admit it, and appealing enough that I'm genuinely happy for her.
[Josh Timmermann]

The Unintended - The Unintended
[read the original Stylus review]

It seems as though this will find its way onto my end of year list; so I felt a revision was in order. The Unintended, a group composed of Canadian indie rock luminaries, created what is to me a short, bewitching mood piece with more reverb than you can throw a cat at. Left unremarked on by most are opener “The Collapse” and “So Long Goodbye” which are both incredibly strong in dosage slow-motion psych rock. Honestly I don’t hear too much country here, but even the slighter songs I like quite a bit, and it’s more about the heft and feel of the album than “songs”.

Scott Reid, in his review of the album in March, said that “…no matter how much individual talent was poured into this, there is little that can belie that only about half of these songs actually work (“The Light,” “The Truth” and “Beautiful Things” being the best of what does; “Controller Aware,” “No Curse of Time,” “Angel” and “Stay Calm” being the least interesting). The thick, organ-propelled atmosphere, encasing the lax, effect-laden guitar lines (not surprisingly, echo is a hot commodity here) and breathy, harmonized vocals—all of which are straight out the same kind of by-the-numbers pot-rock formula thrown around for decades—has certainly been used before to create more memorable music than this, even in recent years.”

Hey, I like “No Curse Of Time” and “Stay Calm”! Again, I come to this record with a different listening history than the reviewer; I own and adore Love Tara and Five Days In July, but am otherwise innocent of records by the various members of the Unintended. I certainly have never heard the Sadies, nor do I feel any desire to do so. But I heard The Unintended being played in a record store and couldn’t walk out without buying it; considering how rarely that happens, that’s the best recommendation I can give this album.
[Ian Mathers]

Wilco – A Ghost is Born
[read the original Stylus review]

If Jeff Tweedy continues to write songs that allow him to belt "1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9!" over a palette of weak guitar hooks, he best be planning on prefacing future live performances with a confident plea to "get up and dance, this is a fun one!". "I'm a Wheel", A Ghost Is Born's peon of choice, beholds one of the more cringe-worthy moments within the disappointing successor to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. The album, despite featuring several quality numbers that incorporate elements not yet explored by Wilco, marks the first time the critic's darlings have taken a step backwards. Unlike Summerteeth and YHF, A Ghost is Born doesn't leave the listener feeling as if nothing could be improved upon. Where as before, the songsmiths stripped somewhat simplistic numbers from their original chassis only to rebuild the songs with lush instrumental landscapes and poetry-acting-as-lyrics—reshaping the good into sheer genius—Wilco settles with second-tier song structuring and layering while desecrating the album with feeble experiments.

This album received the highest rating we can award at Stylus: a perfect 10. The reviewer compares the album to its unquestionably ingenious older sibling, stating A Ghost Is Born "is even more brilliant" than Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. The album, he says, thrives within a "unifying theme" and then via "the casual descent of beauty into chaos." The lead guitar work—which contributes to the chaos and is uncharacteristically prevalent in comparison to previous Wilco records—is revered by the reviewer and said to illuminate "shimmering", "primal" licks that "hurt so good". Wilco is also given props for not settling with their "pretty, NPR-approved" alt-country, but expanding their musical boundaries. According to the reviewer, A Ghost Is Born is not just a great American album, but a sorely missed "Great American Album" that was composed by the minds of the most "uncompromising and adventurous American rock band of our generation."

Giving A Ghost Is Born a precious 10.0—the same rating presumably we would have proffered on Abbey Road, Pink Moon, and VU's self-titled album—seems a tad overblown when we consider the relative progressions that the group makes here. One of the "risks" the band takes is a ten-minute recycled keyboard theme and an extended guitar feedback/ white noise solo—maneuvers that have already been tried, and perfected, by countless Krautrock and no-wave bands, respectively. Few of Wilco's risks live up to the word. Perhaps a better descriptor would be “gimmicks”. As far as the guitar work within the album, Neil Young has contacted his lawyers and will be with Tweedy shortly.

Wilco has distanced themselves from their own personal creativity, opting to apply the ingenuity of others into their once flawless song-writing. In many respects, A Ghost Is Born is a step back, rather than a step forward for the band, a compromising move in a forced effort to be more brilliant.
[Kyle McConaghy]

Madlib – Shades of Blue
Jaylib – Champion Sound
Madvillain - Madvillainy

[read the original Stylus review (1) (2) (3)]

One reason why All Music Guide has reason to exist is that they are very careful at rating artists’ work against each other, and if AMG’s power as ultimate tastemakers is admittedly dangerously high, the highest-rated albums in an artist’s discography do generally seem to be the best entrance points to their work. And it is this problem that brings me to correct Mathers, De Young, and…De Young again, on their reviews of Madlib’s recent works, Shades Of Blue, Champion Sound (Jaylib), and Madvillainy (Madvillain). As things currently stand, these albums are ranked Madvillain, Jaylib, and Blue in descending order of greatness.

Which is, of course, wrong. Blue, Madlib’s impressive invasion of the Blue Note catalogue, combines remixes with remakes by Yesterday’s New Quintet, with special, overdue recognition of the 1970s greatness of Donald Byrd his partners in fusion, the Mizell brothers (“Distant Land,” “Stepping Into Tomorrow” and “Please Set Me At Ease”). The YNQ material takes some missteps, particularly on a painful rendition of “Footprints,” but Shades Of Blue remains a better, badder, funky Blue Note remix album than the inconsistent The New Groove.

The Jaylib project, which arbitrarily alternates Jay Dilla tracks with Madlib rhyming and Madlib tracks with Dilla rhymes, needs not just a re-sequencing, but also real rappers. The lyrics aren’t just continually dumb, they take away from some red hot beats: just listen to the astonishing Dilla seduction song “Starz” and imagine a romantic verse by Common, say, rather than Madlib’s incoherent ramblings about…cooking?

And Madvillainy? The best hip-hop album of 2004, period. MF Doom and Madlib are a match made in heaven, and have an album bursting with ideas, amazing tracks and MF Doom’s most clever rhymes yet to tie it all together. De Young basically sees no flaws in the album, nor do I. His rating just needs bump-da-bump-da-bump-bumping.

Opinions are like assholes: everyone needs to clean theirs up every now and then. Madlib’s albums are like shoes: everyone needs to own at least two of them. This article is like Roy Jones Jr.’s career: done.

Original Ratings
Shades Of Blue: 6.8
Champion Sound: 9.1
Madvillainy: 8

My Revised Ratings
Shades Of Blue: 8
Champion Sound: 7
Madvillainy: 10
[Josh Drimmer]

By: Stylus Staff
Published on: 2004-11-01
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