Oct 142008

Tuesday Playlist for 2008.10.14

Uncategorized Comments Off on Tuesday Playlist for 2008.10.14

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 072008

Tuesday Playlist for 2008.10.06

Uncategorized Comments Off on Tuesday Playlist for 2008.10.06

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?

Sep 172008

Tuesday Playlist for 2008.9.16

Uncategorized Comments Off on Tuesday Playlist for 2008.9.16

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”