Opinions on Tool, Lana Del Rey & More, Farewell to Ric Ocasek & Daniel Johnston


With an influx of new music, Jim and Greg decide it's time for a review roundup. They share their opinions on records by Tool, Lana Del Rey, Common and more. They also pay tribute to the late Cars' frontman Ric Ocasek and solo artist Daniel Johnston.

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Fear Inoculum Tool


The cult favorite progressive metal band Tool is back with its first new album since 2006, called Fear Inoculum. Led by singer Maynard James Keenan, the group rewards longtime listeners with long, complex instrumentals and intricate, non-traditional metal lyrics. While neither Jim nor Greg are hardcore fans of the band, they both have some admiration for what they do and for the unique, world beat influenced drumming of Danny Carey. Greg appreciates the band's conviction to maintain their point of view, particularly Keenan's self-awareness of his aging. However in the process, he focuses too much on the message and not enough on the overall musical picture. Jim has problems with this band. While he agrees that diehard fans will dig Fear Inoculum, he's not buying Keenan's philosophical lyrics.

Norman F*#$%&$ Rockwell! Lana Del Rey

lana del ray

Lana Del Rey released her sixth studio album, Norman F*#$%&$ Rockwell! at the end of this past August. While on the surface, Lana's persona of retro pop doom-and-gloom has purveyed much of her music, over the years she's evolved into so much more. Both Jim and Greg agree that this album is her best by far. She's dipping into a more Laurel Canyon sound, and lyrically diving deeper to sing about serious world problems from politics to the environment. Jim appreciates her self-awareness and finds this album to be rather enjoyable. With each listen, Greg says he finds something new to dissect and enjoy. This record is complex and layered but rich and accessible.

Let Love Common


Earlier this month, Chicago-bred rapper Common released his 12th studio album, Let Love, which was produced by jazz drummer and hip hop beat maker Karriem Riggins. Jim and Greg agree that the younger Chicago rappers like Kanye West and even Chance the Rapper would likely not have made it onto the national stage without his trailblazing 1990s records like Can I Borrow A Dollar and One Day It’ll All Make Sense. Jim applauds the fact that Common, who also acts, continues to "release substantive albums" (citing 2016's Black America Again), while some other rappers who've turned to acting have not been able to sustain recording success. However, Jim says that he "would not recommend Let Love as the place to start to appreciate [Common]", but rather "that one two punch of Like Water for Chocolate in 2000 and Electric Circus, his alternative hip-hop album from 2002." Greg notes that many reviews of Let Love toss around adjectives like "coffee-shop jazz production" to describe the album, but he says this album showcases with tracks like Memories of Home that he is "unafraid to be vulnerable," an evolution witnessed by both Jim and Greg.

Jaime Brittany Howard


Jaime is the debut solo album from Alabama Shakes frontwoman Brittany Howard. Jim is inspired by the group's backstory of going from a high school garage band to festival headliners. But Greg was quick to point out that anybody "who thought this was going to be sort of an 'Alabama Shakes Revisited' record is in for a big surprise." The record is her most personal work, dealing with topics of religion, love, and her role in society. Greg adds that at times it sounds like "D’Angelo's Voodoo"… "there's a depth to it." Jim says that this is a "record of experimentation… I think that there's some of it that works really really well." He continues, "Short And Sweet is almost entirely based on her vocal. I think Run To Me, where she's doing some kind of weird almost show tune take on a song like Stand By Me, is a failed experiment, but I applaud her for trying." Both he and Greg agree, though, that "on the whole it's a really exciting record."

The Highwomen Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby, Maren Morris & Amanda Shires


The Highwomen are a country supergroup self-consciously riffing on The Highwaymen name donned by Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Kris Kristofferson in the 1980s. Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby, Maren Morris, and Amanda Shires formed The Highwomen as an attempt to address the lack of female artists being played on country radio. Their self-titled debut album was produced by Dave Cobb, "the hot hand in Nashville" as Greg puts it.

Jim is effusive in his praise for the album, pointing out the authentic collaboration evident in the songs and the tough topics broached lyrically. Both Jim and Greg credit Shires for pushing the group to realize her vision, and for the moments of humor she adds to the album. Greg does find the production very "straight down the middle" and wonders if it's an intentional move by Cobb, daring country radio not to play these songs.

Ric Ocasek

Ric Ocasek

Ric Ocasek rose to prominence in the music world in 1978 with the release of The Cars' self titled debut album or, as Greg suggests it could be called, "The Cars Greatest Hits." After toiling away in a variety of groups for more than a decade, Ocasek took inspiration from Roxy Music in creating the futuristic rock and roll pastiche of The Cars. Jim points out detractors saw the New Wave movement of bands like The Cars as an opportunistic attempt to cash in on the popularity of punk, but finds it an unfair put-down. Greg assert The Cars were a cool band and claims their first three albums as classics.

Ocasek has an almost equally impressive body of production work, ranging from Suicide to Bad Brains to Weezer to D Generation and many many others.

Ocasek died September 15 at age 75.

Daniel Johnston

Daniel Johnston's mural in Austin, Texas / Photo by Lorie Shaull

Daniel Johnston was an outsider artist beloved by indie rock fans of the 1980s and '90s. As much as Jim dislikes the "outsider" term, he concedes it is unavoidable with Johnston, a prolific visual artist and songwriter. Raised in a large fundamentalist family in West Virginia, Johnston dealt with mental health issues beginning in his late teens. His boombox recordings found their way into the hands of indie musicians, some of whom helped Johnston find a place in the industry. He released one major label album and was featured on the soundtrack to the film Kids in the mid 1990s, but is still probably best known through other artists covering his songs like Yo La Tengo, The Pastels, Mary Lou Lord, Wilco and Beck and his visual art, most notably the "Hi, How Are You?" mural in Austin, Texas.

Johnston died September 11 at age 58.

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