Oct 282008

Intro: Well, fall is in the air, the rock shows are moving inside, and the hipsters are trying to decide which kafia best compliments their boxframe glasses.  It also means, unfortunately, that I was well due for my semiannual illness, hence my missing last week’s column.  Again, my apologies for that.

Listening: Fall for me also means digging out old albums that I haven’t listened to in awhile.  Whether this is because fall makes me nostalgic or because the record companies are hoarding all their promising releases until Fat Sacks of Money DayChristmas is probably even odds.

Most recently, I’ve spent a lot of time listening to the two Loudermilk full-length albums.  Now, I will fully admit that I like the Loudermilk albums more than they deserve.  Man with Gun Kills Three and The Red Record are great albums.  But for me, they’re both the sort of albums that I could only in good conscience give a 10 to if we were talking about a 5-point scale.  The Red Record in particular is one of the best rock albums I’ve ever heard.  That the first rock show I ever went to was a Loudermilk show, or that I spent most of my formative years desperately wanting to be Mark Watrous probably has nothing to do with it.

Another such disk is an EP by a Portland-based band called PDeX, which has been soundtracking my drive to and from work the past couple days.  I’m actually working on a post/review/essay thing about that EP, so I’ll say no more about it for now, other than that it’s another fine example of music from the halcyon days of my youth.

On a more modern note, I became one of the last people in the world to acquire a copy of Carnavas by Silversun Pickups.  It’s awesome.  The single off of it, “Lazy Eye”, is pretty representative of the album both stylistically and quality-wise.  So basically my review is this – listen to the below and if you think you’d like that plus 10 more tracks kinda like it, well, then you should probably grab Carnavas:

Upcoming: New albums out today by Ryan Adams and the Cardinals, The Cure, and Kaiser Chiefs.  Next week sees the release of new material from Sarah Brightman and Travis, as well as the US release of the entire Stereophonics back catalog.

Thinking: Honestly, I’ve been a little too busy to do much music-related thinking of late.  Most of my mental energy has been work- and/or thesis-oriented the past couple of weeks.  That being said, I had an interesting conversation a few weeks ago with my friend Becky about certain similarities between art (particularly music) and religion (particularly sacraments).  Now, it bears mentioning that I go back on forth on why, exactly, we make music and what it is we’re doing when we listen to it.  I do, however, think that at some level it’s about communicating important parts of the human experience which can’t be relayed any other way.  I mean, I could tell someone what Leonard Cohen meant by the lyrics in “Hallelujah”, that would, in a way, totally be missing the point of the song.  If I really wanted to communicate to someone what the song was all about, I think I’d have no other recourse than to just sit them down and play it for them.

And in this communicative aspect, I think, lies the core of the sacramental nature of music: in listening to music, we’re recipients of a message which transcends words.  It’s a level of communication which is entirely beyond normal verbal transactions.  At the moment, I’m pretty sure that that’s why we listen to music.  Each song is a message that cuts deeper than language, right to some deep and important structure of what it means to be human.

News: Island Records is turning 50.  Which in some circles is synonymous with saying that music itself is now a half-century old.  Island’s been responsible for a large portion of the good things to happen to the music industry in the past 50 years (though on the downside they’re also responsible for U2).  I mean, everyone from Led Zeppelin to Tom Waits released on Island at one point or another.  So, from Fifty-Two Tuesdays, happy birthday, Island!  I sincerely hope I’ll get to say the same in another 50 years.

In sadder news, Levi Stubbs, the lead singer of the Four Tops, died awhile ago.  If anyone ever wonders what Motown was about, they need look no further than Stubbs and company.  Here’s perhaps the defining tune of the whole Motown phenonemon, “Reach Out, I’ll Be There” by the Four Tops.

Rest in Peace.

Song of the Week: But on a happier note, what do you get when you combine Gosling (formerly Loudermilk) and David Bowie?   Pure, uncut awesome, that’s what.  Here they are doing “Cat People (Putting Out the Fire)”, originally by David Bowie:

Oct 242008

Well, between being sick, catching up from being sick, and getting a spot of disheartening bad news this week (nothing serious, just a minor personal setback), I never did get around to finishing my column.  Apologies for that.  I’ll hopefully get it bashed together and up tomorrow.

In the meantime, here are 5 tracks that are awesome for road trips:

Peter Parker, “Goldenstate”

Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Road Trippin'”

Bishop Allen, “Middle Management”

Bruce Springsteen, “Radio Nowhere”

Post Stardom Depression, “Pasadena”

Oct 222008

First off, for the two other people in the world who got the Kate Rusby reference: congratulations on joining me in the land of Epic World Folk Nerddom.

At any rate: this week’s column (and a review I’ve been working on of the new Oasis album) are late due to illness.  I’ll get them up as soon as my lungs start behaving and I stop having fever dreams about Regina Spektor playing me like a Steinway.

With any hope that will be either tonight or tomorrow.  For now, though, more sleep.

Oct 202008

Bob Lefsetz: Right on, well, everything

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Sometimes I seriously wonder why I don’t just redirect my URL to Bob Lefsetz’s blog and just say “yeah, what he said.”  Case in point, Lefsetz on the corporate vs. the artistic aspects of music and the current power shift the industry’s going through:

“The business has not evaporated.  More people than ever are making music.  More music than ever is being acquired.  People are listening to music on their iPods and going to see it live.  They don’t care about the label, the old institutions, only the music.  We’re in a wrenching transition period.  Wherein power is wrested from old men who believe incorrectly that they’re the talent and is being redistributed to those who are truly responsible and those who protect and shepherd the careers of these titans.”

It’s a long-ish post, but WELL worth a read.  If you want to understand why Clive Davis had the industry all wrong and Peter Grant had it right, you need look no further.

Oct 182008

Friday Five

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Inspired by a conversation at the bar last night, it’s…

Five Songs I Wish I’d Written:

Nirvana, “Smells Like Teen Spirit”

Leonard Cohen, “Hallelujah”

J. S. Bash, Mass in B Minor (Yes this counts.  We argued about it at the bar and the coversation devolved onto topics of presidential dismemberment, but we agreed that, for the purposes of this list, I get to count it as one song.)

Led Zeppelin, “Stairway to Heaven”

Gosling, “Mr. Skeleton Wings”

Oct 142008

Tuesday Playlist for 2008.10.14

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Intro: Well it’s been a pretty crazy week here, and I’m beat, so the column may be short this week, but it’ll be on time.

Listening: Okay, so the new Oasis album, Dig Out Your Soul.  I’m not going to go into too much detail, because I’m hoping to post a couple of proper reviews on it later this week.  One will be by yours truly and the other by my long-time friend and total Oasis fanboy Trevor.  (Some readers may remember Trevor from his review of the last Jimmy Eat World album.)  Spoilers: I really like the album, Trevor’s not such a fan.  Basically, I think it’s a hell of a good Rock album and, while it’s certainly not the best Oasis album, it’s their best release since (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?.

I’ve also gotten a chance to give Everything Is Borrowed, the new album by the The Streets a spin, and I was a bit taken aback by it.  It’s much poppier and whimsical than the previous records.  I’m a fan so far (just got it a few days ago), but anyone expecting the gritty sound and smirking, self-aware, satirical style of Original Pirate Material or A Grand Don’t Come for Free will be be surprised.  Mike Skinner’s still making good use of his sharp wit and his accented-yet-agile vocals.  The highly-syncopated aesthetic is still there, but minor tonality has been swapped out for major and themes of the highs and lows of everyday street life have been replaced with more abstract themes and a more symbolic style.

A great example of this new direction is the hoppy, keyboard-heavy “Heaven for the Weather”, the chorus which is, at first blush, Mike Skinner’s take on the conundrum of hell sometimes seeming the better place to end up in the afterlife.  (The chorus observes “I wanna go to heaven for the weather and hell for the company.”)  In classic Streets fashion, however, there’s some depth to the song, which is also about temptation and discerning the right thing to do.

All in all, though, despite its wit, the album isn’t on par with Skinner’s earlier works.  Skinner seems musically out of place without growling samples and gritty, tongue-in-cheek recollections of urban life.  The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living was not only satirical, incisive, and quick-witted, it was also musically rich without the music distracting in any way from the lyrical focus of the songs.  Skinner obviously knew how to weave his unique vocal stylings in with his Garage-influenced Electronica sound.  With a lighter, more pop-oriented sound, his gruff Mockney accent seems out of place, as does his stuttering cadence.  The result is a sort of aesthetic dissonance which, in places, doesn’t the album a real disservice (especially on track like “The Way of the Dodo” and “The Strongest Person I Know”).

Diehard Streets fans will certainly find some stuff here to like.  There are still clever turns of phrase and some nice beats to be found here and there.  Unfortunately the album is often too disjointed and stylistically dissonant to make for a very rewarding listen.  (E.g. the clash between the light, folksy piano lines and Skinner’s unmelodic, nasally, heavily accented voice on “The Strongest Person I Know” is almost cringe-inducing.)

Upcoming: If you like foppish Mope-Rock, there’s a new Keane album coming out.  If you like overwrought pop versions of Christmas songs, then Sixpence None the Richer has your covered.  If neither are really your thing, well, next week you can get new albums from Kenny Chesney, Electric Six, Brett Dennen, or Of Montreal.  There’s also an EP from Matisyahu due out.  And if none of that appeals to you, well, maybe new music just isn’t your thing?

And they just announced an album by some old timey rock back.  The band’s called Guns and something?  Roses, maybe?  Oh well, their album Chinese Democracy (which has been “in the works” for over a decade) is finally out in November.

Thinking: So all of you need to carve out 90 minutes of your day and listen to this twopart, 90-minute interview with Lester Bangs.  Bangs was THE rock critic 70s and early 80s.  If you want to understand the formation of modern rock music, listen to this interview and then go get a copy of Main Lines, Blood Feasts, and Bad Taste: A Lester Bangs Reader.

The interview is essentially 90 minutes of Bangs’ random musings on the state of the music industry at the turn of the 1980s.  He dwells quite a bit on what’s good and bad in punk/new wave and why they’re important.  It’s a must-listen for Stooges and Velvet Underground fans for that reason if for no other.

News: Björk, Yorke, and Pitchfork, Oh My!  Turns out that Nordic songstress (I use the term loosely) Björk is teaming up with Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke on a new single.  The song, “Nattura” will be released next Monday and Pitchfork Media (who broke the story) are already creaming themselves over it.

Of course, they’ll have tough competition, from that 7-year-old who’s tearing up the charts in the Europe and Asia.

From the “It’s About Damned Time” file, the last venue played by Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valen’s is being declared a Rock and Roll landmark by the Rock and Roll hall of fame.

I think that’s about it.  Oh, save for the stunning news from the EU that loud music  still bad for your hearing.

Song of the Week: Well, it’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of John Lee Hooker.  I ran across this recording of him playing “Serves Me Right to Suffer” a few days ago and I haven’t been able to get it out of my head since.  The man was definitely one of the greats.

Oct 122008

The ever-amazing Ann clued me in a few days ago to the lineup for this year’s Freak Night.  Oh man, it’s gonna be amazing.  I mean, the three headliners are Paul van Dyk, Moby, and The Crystal Method.  Let me repeat that, just so the awesome has a chance to fully sink in.

Paul van Dyk.

Moby.

The Crystal Method.

That I can’t be there has suddenly become one of my great regrets in life.  But fear not, I’ll soldier through and survive this epic disappointment.  But YOU my brilliant, hip, and beautiful readers, need to be there.  It’s in Seattle on the night of October 31st at the Wamu theater and it’s going to be absolutely brilliant.

Oct 102008

Friday Five

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Well, I’m off to see The Mathematicians at the Empyrean.  But before I scamper off . . .

Five Covers That I Like More Than the Original:

The Killers, “Why Don’t You Find Out for Yourself?” (Morrissey cover)

Nirvana, “The Man Who Sold the World” (David Bowie cover)

Johnny Cash, “Hurt” (Nine Inch Nails cover)

Jimi Hendrix, “All Along the Watchtower” (Bob Dylan cover)

The Cure, “Creep” (Radiohead cover)

Oct 072008

Tuesday Playlist for 2008.10.06

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Intro: Hi folks.  The Tuesday Playlist is back after an unintentional week off.  I’d like to say that it’s back and better than ever, but I’d probably be lying.

Listening: In the past couple weeks I’ve pick up both Chris Walla’s solo album, Field Manual, and the new Thievery Corporation release, Radio Retaliation.  The short of it is: get Field Manual, pass on Radio Rataliation.

The longer version is as follows.  Walla, the multi-instrumentalist and producer who most people know from his work with Death Cab for Cutie, is a creative and evocative songwriter.  Combine this with his years of experience on both sides of sound board and you have the makings for a truly awesome album.  Between evocative, boppy pop ditties like “Geometry &c.” and more pensive, emotive songs like “A Bird is a Song”, Walla demonstrates an impressive command of a wide variety of musical styles.  And those who fear that Field Manual might be a Death Cab for Cutie album minus Gibbard et al., need look no further than the noise-pop, politically concious “Archer v. Light” to disabuse themselves of that notion.  Admittedly, the strains of Death Cab are all over the album, but whether they are representative of what Walla took away from the band or what he brought to it remains an open question.  In all, the album is easily one of the best of the year.

As a long-time Thievery Corporation fan, I wish I could say the same about Radio Retaliation.  Unfortunately it lacks the sexiness of Richest Man in Babylon and the musical maturity of Mirror Conspiracy.  What’s left are beats and themes that any Thievery Corporation fan has heard dozens of times before along with pseudo-reggae crooning of political lyrics so dry they might as well be written on a debater’s note cards.  Admittedly, even at their worst, Thievery Corporation still lay down some pretty cool tunes.  The title track is about as good as the album gets.  It features the sort of chill, laid back beats and rhythmic lyrics at which TC really excel.  Unfortunately, even at it’s best the album is less-than-spectacular and at it’s worst it’s not exactly cringe-inducing.  Thievery Corporation fans won’t find any “Lebanese Blonde” or “Meu Destino” on this album, but at least they won’t find anything to really shake their love for the band’s work.  At least that’s something, I guess.

Upcoming: Now before anyone asks – no, I’m neither ill nor have I been replaced by a body snatcher.  I DID, in fact, order the new Oasis album.  I opted for a physical disk, however, so I have yet to receive my copy.

So if you buy one album this week, it should probably be the new album by The Streets.  Mike Skinner makes Brit-Hop that puts most of the Hip-Hop on this side of the pond to shame.  Few artists manage to be as simultaneously intelligent and base as Skinner.  I just grabbed it off Amazon, so you’ll all no doubt hear next week what, exactly, I think of it.  Alternately, if a member of the mullet-and-‘vette set, you can pick up a copy of Tesla’s new CD.

In coming weeks, there’s new material from Keane, Brett Dennen, Kenny Chesney, Lucinda Williams, Ludacris, and Matisyahu and a Christmas albums from Sixpence None the Richer.  AC/DC are also releasing a new album, which will be available only at Wal-Mart, indicating that AC/DC has a pretty keen understanding of their target audience’s shopping habits.

Thinking: I recently went and saw Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist.  It’s highly recommended.  It’s a smart, music-centric love story about a couple of indie kids in New York City.  Well worth the cost of admission.  Plus it’s got a pretty awesome soundtrack.

In other news – I really need to restring my guitars.  Anyone got recommendations for good acoustic strings for playing folk/pop and strings for playing rock, industrial, and punk on a Strat?

News: Nick Reynolds, one of the founding members of the Kingston Trio, passed away this past week at 75.

And honestly, that’s all I got for this week.

Song of the Week: Chris Walla covering “Shattered Dreams” by Johnny Hates Jazz – does it get any more music-geek adorable?

Oct 072008

Q Awards Announced…

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…and provide strong evidence for the need for immediate mental help for the people passing them out.

Coldplay in the Best Act in the World?  Seriously guys? I could name dozens of acts off the top of my head that are more musically and professionally worthy of the name.  Hell, I’ve seen bands play to 100-person standing-room-only local venues that were better than Coldplay.

Here’s just one of the many Coldplay-superior bands gigging and recording these days.  This is Nine Inch Nails performing “The Great Destroyer” last year in Stockholm, with added footage from the rest of their European tour: