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 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?

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: