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”

Aug 062008

Tuesday Playlist for 2008.8.5

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Intro: Okay, well, I’m a little late starting this one (11:53pm), but it’s still Tuesday, so I declare that this still counts as on-time. I’ve got a lot to get through, so I’m just gonna jump right in.

Listening: Well, my progress up through recent musical history’s brought me more or less up to the present. Been listening to some of my favorite 2007/2008 releases (Our Love To Admire FTW!) and even getting around to checking out some new albums and bands to which I’d been meaning to listen.

Speaking of which: why did no one tell me about the Rakes before? Their song “Binary Love” popped up a few times on one of my Pandora stations, so I added it with the hopes of hearing more of their stuff. Well, as so often happens, one thing lead to another and before I knew it, I’d bought Capture / Release and was using it to soundtrack my drive to Helena this last weekend. Honestly, the album isn’t quite as brilliant as I was hoping, but it’s still pretty strong. “Strasbourg”, “22 Grand Job”, and “Work, Work, Work (Pub, Club, Sleep)” are all fun. Also I’m enough of a geek that I’m pretty sure I want “Binary Love” played at my wedding.

I also grabbed The Last Shadow Puppets debut, The Age of the Understatement. It’s more introspective and complex than either Alex Turner or Miles Kane’s previous work. From the lush string parts on “My Mistakes Were Made For You” to the oddly cacophonous vocal counterpoints on “Separate and Ever Deadly” the album’s full of pleasant little aural surprises. I’m not sure what I think of it as a whole quite yet, but I do like it. If you like either complex, novel rock music or are a fan of either Arctic Monkeys or the Rascals, it’s well worth a listen.

I also just picked Conor Oberst’s new self-titled which just came out today. If you haven’t heard the single off it (“Danny Callahan”), it’s available for download here. If you’d prefer to just stream it:

Warning: it’s not exactly a happy tune. It is, however, beautiful and moving. Speaking of the album…

Upcoming: Wow, how did I not know that Oberst’s new release was due out today until I saw it on Amazon’s frontpage? I seriously need some new sources for upcoming release dates. Metacritic is accurate, but woefully incomplete. The Billboard lists are so noisy as to be practically unusable. News sites are, of course, hit or miss, since they all differ in what releases they deem mention-worthy. Where do you folks hear about new releases?

In concert news, Puddle of Mudd are playing Spokane tomorrow (2008.8.6) night, if you’re into that sort of thing. Also, I learn by way of a comment here at the blog that The Shondes are touring this Fall. They’ll be playing several shows over on the coast. (Alas, none here in the Inland Northwest, but that’s nothing new.) If anyone’s interested, I’m seriously considering heading over to catch the Seattle show. Finally, Alt-Country masters Wilco will be playing Spokane on the 21st of this month. They give a GREAT live show, and if I can scrape together the funds, then I’ll definitely be hitting it up.

News: Did you know that Lee Perry is a dirty old man? Neither did I, but his new single “Pum Pum” is pretty much a stoned, dirty old man’s ode to cruising for sex in nightclubs. Wait, why do I say “pretty much”? That’s EXACTLY what it is. It’s also crazy-groovy. The man has a masterful command of the Dub/Raggae side of things.

(Warning: lyrics are not safe for work, beats are not safe for staying still in one’s seat. Download Link. Hat Tip to 3Hive.)

Also, those perpetually catty folks over at PopJustice are right: the new Streets single is pretty disappointing. I won’t go so far as to say that it’s “shite”, as they so eloquently put it, but it’s definitely no “Stay Positive”.

Thinking: So I’m a huge sucker for unique voices. Voices that, after a few listens, anyone could pick out of a audio lineup. Louise Wener, Tom Waites, Robert Smith. I love artists whose voice is entirely their own. It’s a little like hearing an instrument that no one else in the world can play. Paired with a good writing talent (either their own or a partner’s) and the possesors of such voices can turn out some truly brilliant music. (Louise Wener is a great example of that: a fantastic songwriter with the unique voice necessary to really make her songs her own.)

What I think is really interesting is how often these voices wind up either spawning genres or, at least, defying being placed into them. I think that part of the reason that Alt-Country became a big thing is that Billy Bragg and Jeff Tweedy have such unique voices and musical visions to accompany them. Similarly, I think that the current wave of singer-songwriters is thanks in large part to the unique voices of people like Conor Oberst and Ben Gibbard.

I think that the vocal qualities are one of the key things that shapes a new musical movement or genre. It’s why so many singers in the late 90s sounded like bad Kurt Cobain or Eddie Vedder impersonators. In a way, their voices were distillations of what the genre was meant to sound like.

Just a thought that’s been rattling around in my brain of late.

Song of the Week: I’ve been going back to this tune over and over again ever since I got the album. This is “Orphans”, by Beck, off of Modern Guilt: