Sep 292008

The Shondes and Peter Parker @ The High Dive, Seattle, 2008.9.19

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Thanks to leaving late and the Freemont Neighborhood being slammed for an Octoberfest celebration (which seemed a bit premature to me, it being September) I missed most of the opener (a group called Ms. Led and arrived just in time to see them start clearing the stage to make way for the Shondes.

Let me just say right off: if any of you get a chance to see the Shondes live, do so. They put on one of the most energetic, talented, and charming live shows I’ve seen in a long time. It’s rare to find a band who is so obviously skilled at and passionate about making music, and a real treat to see them live.

Elijah Oberman makes the violin sound like it was made for rock and roll, which is quite a feat. Temim Fruchter drums with tons of exactly the sort passion and intensity that makes rock drumming great. Ian Brannigan, while the least animated on stage, laid down some truly epic guitar lines. Louisa Solomon lead the band with grace and wit, sang with beautiful intensity, and backed it all up with some thunderous, infectious bass lines.

The Shondes are really one of those bands that sounds better live than on their album. Post production takes a lot of the edge of their musical sound and saps some of the emotion from Louisa and Elijah’s exceptionally evocative vocals. The few parts of the Red Sea which sounded forced or strained on disc sound natural and effortless in person.

Their set, while shorter than I would have liked it, was well-planned, hitting some of the best cuts off of their album and including enough new material to get fans (or at least this one) excited about the prospect of a new album. They had the sort of stage presence that many bands with twice their time in the industry and orders of magnitudes more fans can’t even hope to match.

In short: go see them. The High Dive, a good venue though it may be, was too small for the Shondes. They’re a great and important band who really deserves to be playing the nations top venues.

The truly amazing Shondes, however, weren’t the only band to deliver a great set that night.  After they’d cleared the stage, Seattle local act Peter Parker took the stage.  Before I arrived at the high dive, I had never heard of them.  This, I quickly found out, was my loss, because they are easily one of the best noise-rock bands I’ve heard in quite awhile.  Their fuzzy, guitar-and-drum-driven sound was energetic and fun.  The band were musically tight and were exceptionally professional and confident in their stage presence, despite some technical difficulties.

Being both well-skilled and local, they came equipped with their own cheering section.  This was a nice touch since I can think of no place I would rather be then a local rock show, listening to awesome music from a passionate band, surrounded by people who also would rather be nowhere else.

So impressed was I with the four-piece noise-rockers that as soon as I got a chance, I tracked down copies of their two LPs, which available as CDs through J-Shirt Records or digital downloads via the band’s MySpace.  As an aside: their first album, Migliore!, is all kinds of awesome.  I would tell you how many times I’d listened to the track “Goldenstate” in the past week, but I’m not sure numbers go that high.

Simply put, this show was one of the best I’d attended in quite awhile.  Both bands that I had the pleasure and privelege to hear (and I’m sad that I couldn’t hear the other two that played that night; I also had to leave before the last band of the night played, so that I could down to my brother’s place at a reasonable hour) gave absolutely stellar performances and are highly recommended to anyone who gets a chance to catch one of their shows in the future.

One last note: for any who are interested, there are some pictures up on my flickr account.  Unfortunately I continued my near-perfect record of forgetting my camera, and so they were taken on my phone.  As a result, they are not only dark but also marred by that stupid little Helio watermark which I loath which an almost super-human passion the likes of which is rarely seen outside H. P. Lovecraft villains.  (Most are also a bit blurry, but that’s mainly owing to the fact that it’s difficult to take pictures whilst in the process of dance one’s ass off.)

Sep 242008

Tuesday Playlist for 2008.9.23

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Intro: There’s nothing quite like a rock show after a long hiatus to get me excited about music again.  The Shondes show this past weekend was brilliant (as was an all-too-short weekend in Seattle with friends and family).  I’ll have a full review up in the next couple days, but in the meantime, your regularly scheduled music column.

Listening: The new Amanda Palmer album (Who Killed Amanda Palmer?, Roadrunner Records) is pretty awesome.  It’s a lot like the Dresden Dolls material, but it focuses a little more on lyrics and is even more keyboard-heavy.  Also to say that the album is “a bit Freudian” would be to submit a strong contender for “Understatement of the Year” award.  The album is completely dominated by themes of sex and death. And while the presentation may be a bit gratuitous for some people, Palmer definitely gives off the vibe of being completely comfortable with her subject matters.  It’s rare to find someone who sings effortlessly about such taboo topics as rape, abortion, and murder.

If such topics don’t throw you off, however, and you like a dark, piano-heavy sound, it might be worth checking the album out.  Palmer’s vocal work is largely pretty good (though a few tunes get a bit overly warbly for my tastes) and the writing and musicianship is superb.  (The album features work from musical guests Ben Folds, East Bay Ray [Dead Kennedys], and Zoë Keating [Rasputina].)  So if you’re a fan of the Dresden Dolls, or like dark, jangly, well-crafted tunes with a decidedly Freudian bend, you should definitely give Who Killed Amanda Palmer? a listen.

The other album I picked up recently was Costello Music (Fallout Records), by the Fratellis.  I had never heard the Fratellis before “Henrietta” (the opening track to Costello Music) popped up on Pandora, and I was immediately hooked.  The whole album is full of noisy, jazzy pop tunes.  “Henrietta” serves as the perfect opening for a fantastic pop cabaret.  The whole album is energetic with fun guitar hooks and infectious rhythms.  I strongly recommend this album for anyone who listens to music at all.  If you have ears, you owe it to yourself to give this album a spin.  I guess I can’t guarantee that everyone will love it as much as I do, but if it doesn’t get you dancing in your chair, or at least tapping your foot, then you should consider consulting a physician, since you may well be dead.

Upcoming: So I come to find out today (from the lovely Ann) that Jenny Lewis (Rilo Kiley, the Postal Service, and numerous side projects) has a new solo album out?  It’s called Acid Tongue and there’s stunningly little information about it on the interwebs.  It was apparently released earlier this month, but it flew well under the radar getting there.  So scads of new albums out today and in the next few weeks.  I’m personally curious to hear the new Thievery Corporation album that hit stores today.

Also those mad genius in the Flecktones are coming out with a Christmas album.  I’m generally not that big on holiday albums, but if anyone can make a non-annoying version of “Jingle Bells”, it’s probably these folks.  Or at least a version with a few awesome solos.  (Seriously: Viktor Wooten could play John Cage’s “4’33″” and still manage to fit in a bitchin’ bass solo somewhere.)

And of course, there’s the new Oasis album, Dig Out Your Soul, which it seems like I’ve mentioned pretty much every week for the past few months.  October 6th needs to hurry its ass up.  Not that I’m excited about it or anything…

One other veteran release to look forward to is the 13th studio album from The Cure, which hits shelves (both physical and digital) on the 14th of next month.

Thinking: Oh man, it was so good to get to go to a proper rock show again.  A tiny college bar, crowded right up against a tiny stage, dancing my ass off to some truly awesome rock.  It was amazing.  As I said, I’ll write a more complete review in a day or two, when I get a chance, but suffice it to say that I’m still grinning about it.  And seriously, if any of you ever get a chance to see either the Shondes or Peter Parker live: GO!  You won’t regret it.

It got me thinking, though, that there’s a huge difference between going to a concert or a festival and going to a rock show.  Rock shows in local venues have a certain intimate feel to them that you just don’t get when you see a big-name band in some mega-venue.

Part of it is just the difference in physical space.  At the Oasis show I went to a few weeks ago, I would have been hard-pressed to be able make the stage with a thrown bottle.  At the Shondes show, I was pressed right up against the stage for most of the set.  (In fact, the venue was so small that people were afraid of getting too close.  It took some coaxing from Shondes singer Louisa Solomon to get people to actually get right up to the stage.)

I don’t think that’s the whole picture, though.  There’s a difference in energy and general feel as well.  There’s a particular kind of intensity and atmosphere at local shows that is almost never replicated by bigger bands playing in bigger venues.

News: So apparently John Lydon’s shilling butter now?  I guess he’s really running out of ways to surprise and offend.  I mean, it makes a certain kind of sense: you’ve basically made a profession out of shocking people, but after being part of the most controversial band in history, personally offending pretty everyone you’ve ever met, and making a stunning array of racist, hateful, and politically inflammatory statements, what can you do to really catch people off guard?

Sell butter.

My hat’s off to you, Johnny Rotten, I really never saw that coming.

But you know what surprised me even more?  Trent Reznor working to save cute, fuzzy animals.  (I’ll leave “Closer”-inspired, animal-related jokes as an exercise for the reader.)  Wonders never cease, I guess.

Song of the Week: This tune’s way too fun not to share.  Here’s “Henrietta”, by the Fratellis.  It’s the opening track on Costello Music and it’s all sorts of awesome:

P.S: There are not words to express how much I want Jon’s hat.

Sep 192008

Five of my favorite b-sides, in no particular order:

Pulp, “Deep Fried in Kelvin”

Loudermilk, “Pancake Batter”

Arctic Monkeys, “Bigger Boys and Stolen Sweethearts”

Oasis, “The Masterplan”

The Smiths, “How Soon Is Now?”  (Yes, believe it or not, it began life as a b-side.  It was one of two for the comparably forgettable single “William, It Was Really Nothing”.)

So how about it: anyone care to share a few of their favorite songs from the back sides of singles discs?

Sep 172008

Tuesday Playlist for 2008.9.16

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Intro: Back from the hiatus.  Sorry for the delay in this week’s column.  In this installment there are ramblings about opening tracks and radio stations and another sad note of passing for a musical great.

Listening: So I have a working radio in my car for the first time in several years.  (Rather than replace the radio I went the slightly more expensive route and replaced the car; the dealership through in the radio for free.)  I had forgotten how much I enjoy having a constant stream of singles at my fingertips.  And while radio ads and announcers are as annoying now as they’ve ever been, I love the feeling of suddenly stumbling across a brand new tune that I’ve never heard before.  (Perhaps this makes me a bit strange but I think the words “here’s the new single from…” are some of the best in the English language.)

So in the past week I’ve heard new material from Ben Folds, Puddle of Mudd, and a few other bands I remember from my last stretch of radio listenership.  It’s also spurred me to renew my old habit of keeping a notebook in my car so that I can write down the name of bands and tunes I like.  (There’s an interesting story about how I learned the importance of waiting until I got where I was going before trying to write, but that’s perhaps left for another column.)

It’s also interesting just how little some of the stations I remember from my youth have changed.  97 rock (97.1 in the Tri-Cities area) still plays all the big names of late-90s rock, and not much else.  The NPR affiliate out of WSU still favors Smooth Jazz over Bop and has a fond affection for the Delta Blues.  All the Christian Rock stations still think that playing POD makes them “hip”.

Upcoming: So the new Amanda Palmer (of Dresden Dolls fame) album is out, and it’s supposed to be brilliant passing unto sublime.  I haven’t heard it yet, but I’m planning to snag a copy first chance I get.  Also out this week are a live Avenged Sevenfold CD/DVD combo and new albums by Nelly and the Pussycat Dolls.  Also coming soon is new material from Kings of Leon, Mogwai (who apparently think that hawks howl, strongly indicating that none of them have ever actually heard a hawk), and Thievery Corporation.

Also, apparently Tom Morello has already already tired of his “The Night Watchman” alter-ego, as his next solo album will be released under his own name.

Of course all of this pales in comparison with the release on Oct. 7th of the latest album from one of my all-time favorite bands: Dig Out Your Soul, by Oasis.

Thinking: I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it is that makes a good single and what makes a good opening track.  Opening tracks have always been particularly interesting to me, since they can easily make or break an album.  While singles go a long way towards selling an album, the first track on the disk goes a long way towards coloring the listener’s impression of the album as a whole.

I was thinking about this today when, after a particularly long Monday, I got home and put on Harvey Danger’s Where Have All the Merrymakers Gone?.  The opening track, “Carlotta Valdez” is an energetic, groovy pop-rock tune that makes great use of Sean Nelson’s unique voice and clever way with words.  It sets the listener up for a lyric-driven, guitar-heavy aesthetic with a solid pop aesthetic, and that’s largely what the album delivers.  If the same album had been reshuffled to start with a slower, more shoe-gazing track like “Problems and Bigger Ones”, the listener would be presented with a track that, while good, is simple unrepresentative.

Or take the brilliant single-and-opener “Radio Nowhere” off of Bruce Springsteen’s magic.  It’s chock full of the sort of effortlessly catchy rock hooks that The Boss is known for.  It’s a perfect Springsteen song and a fantastic opener.  (In fact it’s, in my opinion, the best track on the album.)  It’s perfectly tailored to stick in the listeners head.  By the time it’s done, Springsteen and his E Street Band have completely hooked the listener not only on the tune itself, but on the album.  That the rest of the album is quite as engaging as the opener is unfortunate, all the songs on the disc are likely to get a more favorable response, since they were preceded by an exceptionally good opener.

News: Well, more sad news to relate this week: Richard Wright, one of the founding members of Pink Floyd, has passed away.  Wright was an excellent musician and composer and his talents will be greatly missed.  Rest in Peace,  Mr. Wright.

“Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd

Two of the bands that my brother Bruce introduced me to at a young age that have had a huge effect on my musical aesthetic were Yes and Pink Floyd.  The three members of Pink Floyd who have always captured my imagination are Syd Barrett, Roger Waters, and Richard Wright.  And while none of them have done anything particularly noteworthy with their music in the past few years, it’s sad now that two of those three (Barrett passed away a couple of years ago) are gone for good.

Song of the Week: One more for Wright and Barrett – “Shine On, You Crazy Diamond”

Sep 162008

Apologies

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Sorry folks, I’m gonna be a day late in finishing my column this week.  I didn’t get it done last night as planned and I’ve got early meetings to get to out in the valley.  Apologies for my suckitude.

In the meantime, here’s the video for the new single from Ben Folds (and featuring the fantastically talented Regina Spektor).  It’s called “You Don’t Know Me”:

Sep 102008

Had to Miss One Eventually

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Hello folks.  THere’s not going to be a Tuesday Playlist tonight, since I’ve had a LONG day today and it’ll be another long one tomorrow.  And Thursday, in fact.  So no Playlist tonight and it looks unlikely that I’ll have time this week to put one together.  Sorry about that.

To make up for it, here’s a video of Gosling playing an acoustic version of their b-side “Pancake Batter”:

Sep 082008

File in the “Awesome Covers” Bin

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I love some of the things that the internet turns up.  For instance, I had absolutely no idea that the late, great Link Wray had done a cover of Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”:

Absolutely brilliant!

Sep 032008

Interview: Elijah Oberman of The Shondes

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The Shondes are a four-piece rock combo out of New York City who have been making waves recently with their first full-length album The Red Sea which is available from all the usual sources.  I recently got the chance to correspond with violinist Elijah Oberman and ask him a few questions about the band, their music, and the tour upon which they have just embarked.

Fifty-Two Tuesdays: First of all, thank you for taking time to answer my questions. Your debut full-length, The Red Sea, has been met with a largely positive critical response.  There are a lot of people saying not only that it’s a good album, but that it’s a unique one (e.g. calling it “genre-breaching”, “the only music that truly matters”, etc.)  How do you feel about the reception the album has received and does it surprise you at all to see it be praised in the ways that it has been?

Elijah Oberman: Thanks for taking the time to interview! It feels really good to see fans and music critics get excited about the album and appreciate it. It’s so affirming to read quotes like those because it’s about something we poured our hearts into, and it’s also really humbling because we just put something out there and now people are making it their own and having their own experiences with it, owning it, so it starts to feel less “ours” if that makes any sense. Because it was our first record I think it’s been easy at times to focus on all the things I wish I/we did better, so I think it’s good to remember that at a certain point, you have to let go. I’m so glad that that people can be moved by what we’re doing and find it musically interesting, and I just hope I’m lucky enough to get to keep doing it for a long time.

FTT: One of the things that a lot of reviews hit on is the diverse set of influences that you draw on in your music.  This seems to invariably lead to the reviewer either labeling it with a genre and adding qualifiers (e.g. Jewish indie punk) or eschewing genre labels all together and declaring it genre-defying.  Do you think that either of these is an appropriate way to look at the music that the Shondes are making?  Do you think that there are genre descriptors that are appropriate to apply to an album like The Red Sea?

EO: Ha! So true. I think at the end of the day I usually just call it Rock music because I think that has a lot of space in it. Which isn’t to say that the qualifiers aren’t helpful because they are, but it can also be counterproductive to focus on trying to find the perfect genre name rather than just listening to and getting something out of the music. I think from the beginning, the way that our various musical influences have showed up in our songs has felt pretty effortless, which is the “genre-defying” part I guess, because it’s not about attempting to create a “Jewish indie punk” sound, but just about working with and cultivating what comes naturally which is why you can hear a lot of different influences depending on what you’re tuned into.

FTT: The past few years have been time of significant change in the music industry.  Indie record sales are up, the internet is opening up the market and making it easier for new bands to be heard, and ever larger numbers of albums and songs are being purchased online.  How have these trends effected your development as a band and your entry into the music industry?  What effect do you think these changes have on bands which, like The Shondes, may not easily fit into any of the more conventional genres?

EO: It certainly is a shifting landscape. In a lot of ways it’s just meant that it’s easier for us and other bands to put our stuff out there, which is great. It’s been my experience that people who love music are always excited about finding new bands that they love and that move them, and while they might have certain tendencies in the kinds of music they like, they’re not necessarily that fixated on genre. People like us who like lots of different music.

FTT: Many people have commented on the band’s political work with groups like Jews Against the Occupation.  What is the role of these political activities in your songwriting process and would you consider politics a major motivation for your music?

EO: I think I’d just say that life is a major motivation for our music and that our politics are about how we live and how we experience the world, so that they’re woven into our songs in a lot of subtle ways, as well as the kinds of musicians we connect with and the kinds of shows we like to play. In addition to that, it feels important to try to use our art to support groups that are doing great work that we believe in, to try to get more people to know about the work they’re doing. It’s important to me to use whatever leverage we have to raise money for groups like JATO or the Sylvia Rivera Law Project who are making positive change happen in the world, and I hope that our music can be a part of people’s lives who care deeply about working for a just world- whether through inspiring, supporting, making you think of new ideas or just getting you through hard times or the day to day.

FTT: On the other side of the coin, how do you see your music fitting into politics and what role can music play in shaping a political issue?

EO: I think music can play a great role! There have been a lot of times where listening to music has changed how I felt about something politically, or just surprised me or shifted something or exposed me to a new way of thinking because I respond to it from a really personal and emotional place, and I’ve witnessed that same thing happen for some people at our shows.

FTT: Of more immediate interest: You have a heavy tour schedule lined up for the Fall with shows all over the country, are you looking forward to the tour?  Are there any shows that you’re particular eager for?

EO: I really love touring and I’m so excited that this is our biggest one to date (about 2 and a half months). There’s just nothing like the feeling of getting to play almost every night and get so tight with each other musically. I’m especially excited for our show in Seattle, where we’ve had a great time in the past, and also for our show in New Orleans, which is a place I adore and we haven’t gotten to play for two years.

FTT: And finally: what comes next after the tour, is there another album in the works, or is it too early to say?

EO: We’re definitely already thinking about and planning the next album and we’re well on our way. We’ll be playing a lot of new songs on the tour, getting a feel for them, solidifying them and trying to figure out how to put together the next record. I think when we come back we’ll probably dive headfirst into some more intensive songwriting and start making decisions about recording.

FTT: Thanks again for your time, and the best of luck to you on your tour. I’ll see you at the Seattle show on the 19th!

Sep 022008

Tuesday Playlist for 2008.9.2

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Intro: Well, happy post-Labor Day.  I hope my readers one and all enjoyed their holiday weekend.  I had a fairly ironic Labor Day (spent it working).  Tonight will be a short column for two reasons.  1.)  I have early meetings tomorrow.  2.) I have A Super Secret Special Interview to edit for tomorrow.  So enjoy the shortish column for tonight and tune in tomorrow for the first ever Fifty Two Tuesdays Interview.

Listening: Been on a Raconteurs kick lately, broken only by the occasional listen-through of The Wallflower’s Breach.  (My friend Trevor’d never heard the album, so I introduced him to it on our way out to Seattle last week and a few of the tunes have been stuck in my head ever since.)

Two preference questions for the audience: Broken Boy Soldiers or Consolers of the LonelyBreach or Red Letter Days?  Personally, I think that Consolers of the Lonely is the better overall album.  It’s more cohesive, better written, and more musicall mature.  That being said, Broken Boy Soldiers DID have “Steady, As She Goes” and “Hands”.  On the Wallflowers side, I think that Breach takes the cake.  It’s a much more expressive album, and Jakob Dylan’s songwriting and vocals are best when they’re emotive.  Red Letter Days has some groovy tunes on it, but I think it lacks the emotional punch of Breach.

Upcoming: New albums out today from Jefferson Starship, Olivia Newton John & Friends, and New Kids on the Block, making it a perfect “wait, they’re still around?” trifecta.  (I’ll leave to the audience any snarky observations of irony regarding a band called “New Kids on the Block” coming back after 14 years to release and album called The Block.)

Next week new albums from…Well, just about everyone, really.  Michael Franti, Calexico, Joan Baez, Gym Class Heroes, LL Cool J, Jessica Simpson, Okkervil River, Dar Williams, Metallica, Joan Osbourne,…

Thinking: …no, wait.  I’m sorry, I just can’t leave a reference to Metallica’s new album to slide casually by.

Dear Metallica,

PLEASE stop making albums.  Every time you release a new album, it only serves to remind people that you used to be influential, energetic, and listenable.  St. Anger was an album too far.  I mean, I wasn’t even that big a fan of ReLoad, but okay, fine, I was willing to give you one last go after such an illustrious career.  But seriously, guys, you’re becoming the Bono of metal music.  When was the last time anyone gave a rat’s ass about what Bono was doing musically?  If you said “right around the last time he took off those ugly ass shades of his”, you’d be perfectly right.  You’re becoming That Guy of the hard rock scene!  (Except that, you know, there’s four of you.)

Now, I was a fan of Load, and your self-titled, and some of the early stuff.  I even like some of the covers you did on Garage, Inc.  But the most influential thing you’ve done in the past decade was to sue Napster and we still haven’t forgiven you for it.

C’mon guys, it’s time to hang up the recording equipment.  You can still tour, still play in the garage of any of the four dozen mansions that you have amongst the lot of you, but we really don’t need to hear it.  St. Anger was bad enough, anything else is sure to just damage the memory of what was, ultimately, a good an important career in modern music.

Yours Cordially,

A. M. Brown

Thanks, had to get that off my chest.

News: Rock stars are strange, strange people.  A short sampling:  Axl Rose is creepy, dirty old man, despite being chronologically younger than I thought.  Pete Doherty gets his (apparent) wish and dies, only to have some meddling paramedics intervene.  Jack Black is a strong contender for “Most Boring Addict In History“.  And Amy Winehouse has another mind-altering influence in her life.

Song of the Week: The Wallflowers, “Letters from the Wasteland”, off of Breach.