Nov 042008

Intro: Well, it’s election Tuesday, and that means that I’ve got a television and a six pack of Sam Adams waiting for me.  I figured I should probably throw my column together before I sat down to survey the political damage.  I also figured that I should steer clear of anything political in case anyone out there wants to stare at some non-election-related for a few minutes.

So here it is, your election-news-free Tuesday Playlist.

Listening: Okay, have you ever liked a Cure song?  In your entire life?  Do you think “Lovesong” was kind of awesome, or maybe think that “Jumping Someone Else’s Train” is sort of catchy?  Maybe, like me, you have a fondness for “10:15 Saturday Night” because it’s a fairly accurate picture of your social life?  If so, then drop what you are doing and go get a copy of the new Cure album.  It’s called Dream 4:13 and I honestly don’t think that Robert Smith & Co. have done an album this great since 1989’s Disintegration.  It’s exactly the sort of dark, melodic New Wave goodness that have made the Cure one of the best bands of the past few decades.

I mean, I’d go on and on about the tracks off of the album to which I’m addicted and which are being spun on constant repeat but, well, that’s pretty much all of them.  I mean, hell, “The Only One” was released as a single back in May and I’m still totally smitten with it.  It’s full of the sort of catchy musical quips that make the Cure so effortlessly listenable and enjoyable.  “The Reasons Why” is a perfect example of exactly the sort of hook-laden, spacey New Wave pop that made most of us fall in love with the Cure in the first place.

Also quite excellent is the the new album Ryan Adams and the Cardinals, Cardinology.  My friend Trevor aptly described it as the upbeat version of Cold Roses. I haven’t gotten too much of a chance to listen to it thanks to the new Cure album taking up near permanent residence in my stereo, but it’s definitely Ryan Adams’ rich, well-crafted rock music, but with a more upbeat aesthetic than a lot of his previous albums.  I’m especially a fan of “Magick” and “Born Into a Light”.

Upcoming: Election day this year will sees the release of new material from Shiny Toy Guns, OhGr, and Travis, among others.  In the following weeks look for full lengh albums from Chris Cornell, Mudvayne, Nickelback, Beyonce, Sammy Hagar, and even a new project by Sir Paul McCarney, called the Fireman.

Thinking: Of late I’ve mostly been devoting mental run cycles to either work or thesis, so no deep, insightful thoughts regarding music.  So here’s a video of Bjork explaining how a TV works.  Hat tip on that one to Ann.

News: You’ve all seen these literally-lyric-ed music videos, right?  If not, then watch them immediately.  The one for “Take On Me” is brilliant, as is the newest one, for Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Under the Bridge”:

Okay, so not really news, but, uh, brilliant.  And new, at least to me. . . .

Right, in REAL news: Snoop Dogg has apparently figured out that he needs decent musicians to prop him up these days and has collaborated on a track with UK Trip-Hoppers Massive Attack.  If you’re undecided even at this late hour but still have the chance to vote, you might want to consider that Akon has announced he’ll leave the US if McCain wins.  So, you know, not saying that on its own is enough to vote McCain, but it certainly does give one something to think about.  Finally, Noel Gallagher announces that he’s already written the next Oasis album and that it’ll sound like the Kinks.

Song of the Week: Here’s another of the singles off of the new Cure album.  It’s called “Freakshow” and I find it to be all kinds of groovy.

Aug 252008

Intro: One note of correction in last week’s column – It’s Beck, the word-inventing psych-rock powerhouse, and not Jeff Beck, the former guitarist for the Yardbirds, that is playing at Bumbershoot. You have my sleep-deprived auto-pilot typing to blame for that and a comment from reader “Zoygo” to thank for the correction.

Listening: Honestly, the few days since last week’s column have been pretty hectic at work. That means that most of my music listening has been Pandora. I’ve found that there’s certainly an art to creating a good Pandora station, and that Pandora doesn’t always seem the commonality between songs that I do. For instance, I had made a station that included Rilo-Kiley, Mary-Lou Lord, Janis Joplin, and a few other acts featuring strong folk influences and female vocalists. Well apparently one of the tags in the Music Genome Project (which Pandora uses to find “similar” songs) is “offensive lyrics”. That made for some interesting and diverse listening. Any station that sandwiches “Some Jingle Jangle Morning (When I’m Straight)” between Amy Winehouse and Rodney Carrington has to be interesting.

When I haven’t been plugged into the wonderfully random loop that is Pandora, I’ve been listening to a lot of Harvey Danger. Not much to say there, other than that if you like good music and/or clever lyrics, then you owe it to yourself to own King James Version.

Upcoming: Honestly, I’ve had my head in the sand a little too much to notice any exciting new upcoming releases. Upcoming on this space you can look forward to a review of the Oasis and Ryan Adams show that I’ll be hitting up tomorrow night, as well as one or two exciting developments that I’m in the final stages of working out. oooOOOOooo, mysterious! And hopefully awesome.

News: Nothing very interesting I’m afraid. I’ve seen a few of the raggier music news sources going on about the thing between Joel Madden (of Good Charlotte) and Mary-Kate Olsen (of…uh, actually what has she done? She’s been in some movies, right?).

On the more interesting side, a sheriff’s deputy drew his sidearm during a stop of a certain Mr. Diddy. Sir McCartney is going to play Israel for the first time since this band he used to be in (the Beatles or someone) got banned.

Also, Rock is apparently kind of political sometimes. Who knew?

Thinking: Not much of anything, actually. One music-related thought did manage to flit under the radar and poke it’s head up in amongst all the work that’s been crowding my brain, however. Isn’t the notion of an “underrated” song or album sort of a funny one? I mean, for all the noise in modern times to the effect that there’s no objectively good music, it seems funny that we’d be sort of okay with the notion that a song might be rated more poorly than it deserves. It seems to be inherently dissonant to both say that “good music” and “music that I like” are synonymous phrases and to allow for the idea that people don’t laud a song as highly as it deserves.

And yet it’s become (in many circles) anathema to say that some music is objectively better (or more valuable or better crafted or possessing of more artistic merit etc.) than other music. By this reasoning, the “Hokey Pokey” could be considered every bit the equal of Bach’s Mass in B Minor. And yet we hear all the time that a particular song or album is “underrated”. (It bears noting that a parallel argument can be made for things that are considered “overrated”).

Thoughts? Can songs really be “under-” or “overrated”? Is (heaven forfend!) musical value really just a measure of how much we like whatever it is we’re listening two? Is it at all possible that both are the case, or am I right in thinking that to concede both leads to some sort of contradiction?

Song of the Week: This popped up on my Pandora the other day and I’d forgotten how much I love this song. They apparently surgically removed the singer’s accent in post-production, since he sounds a lot less Australian on the album version. Which is sort of unfortunate, since this live version is kind of amazing. Here’s Thirsty Merc performing “I Wish Somebody Would Build a Bridge (So I Can Get Over Myself)”, live at the Dusty Days Festival in the wonderfully named Wagga Wagga, Australia:

Aug 142008

Intro: Greetings all and welcome to the Olympics edition of the Tuesday Playlist. I say that, like it’s going to be all about the olympics, but really, they just get passing mention in one paragraph. Well, two paragraphs if you count this one.

Right, well, in this issue of the playlist, I talk about the new Conor Oberst album, admit to an irrational dislike for terminal punctuation in song titles, and poke fun at the music media in an oblivious and possibly ironic fashion. Let’s get to it, shall we?

Listening: It’s been interesting to hear the way music gets used in the Olympics. It’s been used to soundtrack several events (notably the floor gymnastics events), and while it’s been interesting to hear some of the songs chosen, it’s even more interesting to see how little the athletes seem to respond to it. One gets the impression that the floor routine, for instance, would look the same whether or not there was a peculiarly national folk song or cover of an American pop tune sound-tracking the proceedings.

On a more domestic note, I’m really digging the new Conor Oberst album. If Cassadega was Conor Oberst discovering Country music, then his new self-titled is Conor discovering Mexico. Spanish lyrics and references to Mexico and hispanic themes abound. And while the references are occasionally awkward or forced (“El cielo es azul”, no, really Conor?), they’re typically the sort of well-crafted lyrics that Oberst fans have come to expect. Particularly strong tracks include the classic Oberst purgative “Moab” and the rowdy, noisily fun “Souled Out!!!”.

And while the album is mostly Conor in top form, there are a few disappointments. One random short track of bellowing noise (“Valle Mistico (Ruben Song)”) seems to exist only to give the listener’s “Skip Track” button a workout. One track, “NYC-Gone,Gone”, is the first minute of a raucous, energetic Alt-Country tune which I, for one, would really like to hear. All things considered, however, despite the two short, frustrating tracks and a few moments of earnest Oberst pretention, the album is a solid 9.

Also in new(-ish) music, I recently grabbed The Soho Dolls’ Ribbed Music for the Numb Generation and Washington Social Club’s Catching Looks. Of the two, I’ve mostly been listening to Catching Looks. By which, of course, I mean that I’m in the habit of putting “Modern Trance” on repeat and dancing my arse off.

Upcoming: Brian Eno and David Byrne have apparently collaborated on an album that’s due out next Monday. With two fevered music imaginations like that, the odds are that whatever it is, it won’t be boring. It’s called Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, which says to me that David ByDrne won the naming rights for the album (knowing those two, likely by being the victor in a drug-fueled pillow fight.)

Also coming up next week is the physical release of the new Dandy Warhols album, Earth to the Dandy Warhols. I’ve only a few of the tracks off the album, but they’ve been all kinds of funky goodness. It turns out, however, that all the tracks on the album are available for streaming (scroll down a bit and you should see the track listing with a play button by each tune) from the Dandy Warhols website.

The next couple of weeks also promise releases by The Stills, Loudon Wainwright III, and, if you swing that way, Fiery Furnaces. Of special note is the 26th of this month which might as well be called Official Music Industry “They’re Still Alive?” Day with releases by Blues Traveler, Slipknot, The Verve, and BB King.

The King album actually should be pretty cool. It’s called One Kind Favor and it’s King doing covers of songs by his early influences.

News: I’ve had my head buried in the sand (read: work) for the past couple of weeks, so I’m a bit out of touch with industry news. Fortunately a quick glance at the front page of Music-News.com tells me that it’s been a slow news week. For those too lazy to click links: Paul McCartney goes camping! Bono the Pretentious snorts salt water! Victoria Beckham is rich and spoiled! Also, in music news, sound is carried by vibrations in the air!

Thinking: Random personal annoyance – I dislike song titles that include terminal punctuation. I got to thinking about this when listening to “Souled Out!!!”, one of the tracks off the new Conor Oberst album. First of all, as any good Middle School graduate should know, exclamation marks are “one or none” affairs. Secondly, putting terminal punctuation in your song titles just strikes me as somehow tacky. Not quite sure why, but it seems to say “your sentence ends with this song title!” It always looks awkward to me to put titles like “Fit, But You Know It.” in the middle of sentences. The period just screws the whole thing up.

Is anyone else bugged by this, or is it just me being finicky?

Song of the Week: Well, the song of the week WAS going to be Washington Social Club’s “Modern Trance”, which is catchy as hell and been stuck in my head for days, but I can’t find an easily shareable version of it on the intarwebs. It’s on Last.fm, but I can’t get it to play. So here’s “Souled Out!!!”, off of Conor Oberst’s new self-titled which, despite its redundant exclamation marks, is an awesomely groovy tune:

Jun 132007

Sorry the review was a few hours late this week – it’s up now. And, in our first non-tie in several weeks, my fine readers picked out the new Queens of the Stone Age album, Era Vulgaris for the next review. I will acquire it posthaste and get to listening.

In the meantime, our experiment in music review democracy continues apace. This week your options include the Aliens, which is a new project from members of the Beta Band, and new material from Bon Jovi, Mandy Moore, The Polyphonic Spree, and White Stripes.

The Aliens, Astronomy for Dogs
Bon Jovi, Lost Highway
Bryan Ferry, Dylanesque
Mandy Moore, Wild Hope
The Polyphonic Spree, The Fragile Army
White Stripes, Icky Thump

Jun 132007

Artist: Paul McCartney
Album: Memory Almost Full
Label: Hear Music
Release Date: Tuesday, 2007.6.5
Score: 8.5 / 10

The latest release from Sir Paul McCartney does a great deal to show why he’s had such staying power in the music industry over the years. The album is a combination of tried-and-true McCartney (Wings-era, especially) sounds with enough new flourishes and modern pop ideas to be appealing to contemporary ears. It also winds up being an interesting blend of masterful pop craftsmanship and the unique kind of saccharin twee that only a talented musical veteran like Paul McCartney can really get away with.

But, unlike many other perfectly serviceable pop albums that have come out lately, Memory Almost Full is far from homogenous. While the classic pop theme is audible throughout the entire album, it’s accompanied and superceded by other styles and themes. The opening single “Dance Tonight” is a straight forward, joyful folk tune which centers around a kick drum and Sir Paul’s jaunty mandolin. The plodding, bluesy “Nod Your Head” ranges in sound from psychodelia to power pop. “Mr. Bellamy” features lush horn arrangments and some absolutely great keyboard hooks which combine to lend it a dark, synth-pop-esque sound.

But as easy as it would be to write this off as “merely” well-done pop music, there are a lot of great lyrical and musical ideas here that show that Paul McCartney can still be fairly innovative. (“Vintage Clothes,” for example, is a listenable, understated comment on the tension between new and old – “Don’t live in the past / don’t hold onto something that’s changing fast / … / What went out is coming back.”) But more than just showcasing his pop talent and innovation, there are some songs here that really show exactly why Paul McCartney has had so much success in influence in modern music. “The End of the End” is the most endearing song about death I’ve heard in years. It is also a perfect example of Paul McCartney’s extraordinairy talent and experience as a songwriter and musician.

In fact one of the few things that rubbed me the wrong way about this album is that “The End of the End” is only the penultimate track. The track that follows, “Nod Your Head,” is plodding blues-rock bit of psychodelia which, compared to some of the other songs on the album, is fairly unimpressive. It lacks the feeling of closure and completeness of “The End of the End” and doesn’t represent the album thematic nearly as well. This may be nitpicking based solely on personal taste, but I think that the final few tracks would listen a lot better if they pointed towards “The End of the End” rather than “Nod Your Head.”

While there is a lot to love in Memory Almost Full, there are a few times when the force Paul McCartney’s musical talent aren’t quite up to the task of totally masking how trite his lyrics can be on occasion. “Gratitude”, for example, isn’t nearly musically interesting enough to cover for the fact that it’s basically an extended collection of clichés. “That Was Me” features some interesting lyrical images (I’m stuck, in particular, on the awesomeness of “sweating cobwebs”) wrapped in a repetitive lyrical structure with a fairly uninteresting chorus (“And when I think that all this stuff / can make a life, it’s pretty hard to take it in”).

Memory Almost Full is, without a doubt, an excellent album. Fans of McCartney’s solo work and work with Wings will hear enough musical similarity to induce at least a little bit of nostalgia. Fans of his work with the Beatles … And, though I find it hard to believe that this class of people might exist, anyone who isn’t familiar with McCartney’s music should seriously consider taking a chance on this album. If nothing else, there’s enough variety on the disc that if you don’t like the song that’s playing, there’s a good chance you’ll like the next one. And, just so you don’t have to buy the album totally on my word alone, there are audio samples of all the tracks available on Paul McCartney’s website.

I leave you with the music video for the first single off the album, “Dance Tonight,” since it’s definitely one of the coolest videos I’ve seen in a long time. Directed by Michel Gondry (of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind fame) and starring Natalie Portman and Mackenzie Crook:

Jun 062007

Well, after record low voter turn out we have a three-way tie for next week’s album. So, invoking my VP-like powers of deciding vote-casting, I’m pitching the vote in favor of Paul McCartney’s Memory Almost Full. (Also note, I fulfilled my review obligation for the week; my review of Maroon 5’s It Won’t Be Soon Before Long is up.)

On the issue of low voter turn out: It seems like sometimes the voting pool gets kind of noisy. So for the next few weeks I’m going to try a little experiment and narrow the voting options down a little. I’ll select albums that I think will appeal to the readers, with an eye towards trying to get a mixture of genres and new/well-established bands. Sound like a reasonable plan?

So here, with fond hopes for more voting interest this week, are your (pared down) options for next week:

Datarock, Datarock Datarock
Fabolous, From Nothin’ To Somethin’
Enrique Iglesias, Insomniac
Toby Keith , Big Dog Daddy
Queens Of The Stone Age , Era Vulgaris
The Takeovers , Bad Football