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Updated: 2015-09-16T16:29:36.005-07:00

 



May The Lines Sag Heavy and Deep Tonight

2006-10-06T03:27:58.036-07:00

The Decemberists - The Crane Wife 3Blood Brothers - Laser Life So it's just ticked past midnight; it still feels like Thursday night to me but I guess technically it is Friday morning. Which means that right now it's my birthday. Honestly I wasn't expecting to feel any monumental change, but now I can officially confirm - 24 does not feel any different than 23. 21 was certainly an exciting year - I could finally legally drink and gamble and took full advantage of both in a boozy Vegas weekend vacation. And 25 seems like an important age. I think that's the age by which I'm supposed to have made some kinds of accomplishments in life. But 22, 23, 24, these don't feel like significant ages. I mean, I guess there are things to be depressed about if you look for them - Bob Dylan wrote "Like A Rolling Stone" when he was 24; when Kobe Bryant was my age he had just captured his third NBA Championship. But really things like that don't bother me much. There's always going to be somebody accomplishing more than you and doing it better and doing it at a younger age (and I long ago made peace with the fact that I am not going to write like Bob Dylan or play basketball like Kobe Bryant). A different (saner?) person might look at my life at 24 and be pretty disappointed. But there are certain small pleasures in life that keep me from dwelling on the negatives for any extended period of time. Things like the new Decemberists' new album.I brought up this album, The Crane Wife, last night in a discussion with a friend who said she wouldn't want to bring a child into this world. Things are fucked up, sure: the Bush presidency, global warming, poverty, disease, racism and all that. But seriously - can a world where this album exists be all that bad? Like that scene in Manhattan where Woody Allen rattles off into a tape recorder all the things that makes life worth living, if I made a similar list it would mostly consist of music. I don't know if "Potato Head Blues" would be enough to get me out of bed in the morning but there's plenty of music that seems to do the trick. In this year alone The Decemberists, The Thermals, TV On the Radio, Lupe Fiasco, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Bob Dylan, Lily Allen, Rah Bras, Aloe Blacc, Figurines, NOMO, Outkast, Love Is All, Beyonce, Justin Timberlake and just the slightest rumor of a Jay-Z comeback album (oh my god. You know how they say men think about sex like every six seconds? That's about how often I think about the new Jay-Z album); all these artists have been enough to make my world a little brighter. Just listen to "The Crane Wife 3", the first song off The Crane Wife, and be depressed. Just try. See, it's impossible. This is as close to perfect as pop music gets. It's ironic of course considering how utterly depressing the story of the Crane Wife is, but this song is so beautiful it's subject hardly matters. I think people focus too much on the "hyperliteracy" of Colin Meloy's lyrics. What makes the Decemberists great is not the lyrics. Who would read a novel that repeated the words "I will hang my head, hang my head low" over and over? But in a song, atop the Decemberists' sublime instrumentation and sold by Meloy's delicate but impassioned delivery, these words soar. Read off a page it may fall flat, but sung I could listen to this refrain forever.But still, I see how people get fixated on the words. It's not often you come across snowy shrouds and boughs unbound in a catchy little folksy pop song. OK shit, it's not ever. And the fact that this is on a major label just makes it so much weirder. Two songs over 10 minutes long, obscure Japanese fables, northern Irish terrorists, watery graves, civil war soldiers? Is this stuff gonna fly on TRL? Probably not. But hopefully with a major label's backing these sermons will reach some people outside the choir. And luckily, for the uninitiated, they'll get to start a love affair with the Decemberists at their most bizarre, most ambitious and most astonishing album yet.And speaking of boundary-pushing bands that are inexplicably on major labels, have you hea[...]



Wake Up it's Time for Work

2006-09-26T06:58:24.603-07:00

Cursive - Dorothy Dreams of TornadosCursive - Rise Up! Rise Up! Date> 25 September 2006To> patrickkilpatrick@gmail.comSubject> Wake Up it's Time for WorkHey there, Patrick...I was thinking about a few things on the way home from work today; one of them being the power that words have to clue us in to new music. In particular I'm reminded of My Morning Jacket who had never interested either of us until "Z" came out. Even though they had other records out (and we've listened to some since) there was never anything in any of their reviews that prompted either of us to check them out. But "Z" was something different. Out of the My Morning Jacket CDs, it sounds the most like one we'd be into. So thank goodness somebody reviewed that record with enough sense to fill in the appropriate Jeff-and-Patrick buzzwords.I was also thinking about how sometimes even a "bad" review will use strange terms and phrases that will pique our interests as well. The quickest example I can think of is the "Castlevania guitar tones" on the latest Mars Volta record. Even if the reviewer is using the term negatively, it evokes something positive for us.So here I am, on day 7 of a nearly incessant Cursive binge and I want to write the review for the latest album, "Happy Hollow," that makes you want to check it out... that lends a pair of fresh ears and new pair of specs. (One's that don't earn the ire of your supervisors, perhaps?) Because beyond if you even end up liking the record, let alone the band, I think this record explores a lot of ideas that you and I have talked about before (and even written songs about.) And maybe it's just me, but I love it when someone 'established' has similar ideas as I do... especially if those ideas are relevant and important. And beyond the lyrical and meta-meanings of the record, I think it sounds absolutely brilliant. (More on that later.)I try pretty hard not to be a typical art-rocker or a closed-minded rockist, as you know. So concept albums are almost always hit-or-miss for me. I have no love affair for "Tommy" or "In Search of the Lost Chord," but if a good album comes along labeled as "concept," I'll admit it. (Note: my closet love affair with Coheed and Cambra.)But Cursive's "Happy Hollow" is a concept record unlike all others. There's some more typical demarkations like the bookending musical themes on the record and repeated lyrics and melodies throughout the songs, but most of it feels like a good dramatic play or movie. Rather than forcing Cursive songs into some conceptual mold in order to make them fit on the record, the band finds fertile and plentiful material in their own self-imposed set-up.I'm not sure if it's because I was forced to read and watch it so many times, but for some reason I hate "Our Town." So it pains me to compare "Happy Hollow" to it, but it's the best I can do... maybe "Our Town" crossed with some French New Wave director who focuses on a few characters in depth rather that telling the story of one archetypal hero... (Can you think of a good example?) But like a genius director, the stories of all these characters combine to form a meaning, a message, a story, bigger than the individual pieces themselves.The cover art is the first clue. Referencing old postcards, the art depicts an anywhere-town that is desolate, boring and completely run-of-the-mill. At first I wasn't sure I'd be able to get into this record as much as "The Ugly Organ" because I can relate to playing in a band, but I wasn't sure about relating to small town life.But "Happy Hollow" is more about the delusions and games that people play in this small town in order to keep going on. (And I've found them relatable to the point of obsession.) I suppose I can relate especially to the struggle of growing up with certain religious truths presented as solutions and never having the chance to objectively see them as diversions.In a lot of ways, this record is about the "culture war" between the Red and Blue states... between the University and the Church, Science and Religion. It's about "N[...]



This Might Be Satire

2006-09-14T03:44:25.336-07:00

Jews and Mexicans - Fk SongRemember Icy Hot Stuntaz, the trio of ridiculous white rappers who became an internet phenomenon?This is funnier.Remember the macho homophobic misogynistic alpha male motherfucker who called you a "fag" in high school? The fratboy jock asshole who watches Bumfights and lights his farts on fire? The one with the backwards baseball cap and the life-size hot wheel car with the GINORMOUS tires?This is his band.If this was a parody it would be at Johann Goethe levels of genius. But I can assure you, this is unfortunately not a joke. This is a real band. And they really are called Jews and Mexicans. This song really is called "Fk Song" (it comes from a burned CD-R entitled "The Fuck Demo"). And yes. Yes, he really did just sing "I popped a boner".Their "manager" gave me the sales pitch over the phone: Imagine Jim Morrison fronting the Stooges, with Robert Plant's swagger, and something about "lyrical decadence and debauchery". I forget the rest. The only reason I remember that much is that I had to hear the same memorized speech about 8 more times after he showed up at the venue I volunteer at trying to get his band a show. He told it to whoever would listen. Obviously he'd spent a lot of time crafting this perfect quote, dreaming of somebody at Rock City News reading it in the band's press kit, and he was proud of himself.A while after he left I found myself bored enough to pop in the CD and find out just how bad it was going to be. I'll admit, I was curious: Would it be laughably bad or just mediocrely boring? I mean, I knew it wasn't going to be good. But honestly I never dreamed it would be as hilariously bad as it is. This is like Right Said Fred kind of so-bad-it's-fucking-amazing.But at first I was ready to turn it off after the first couple seconds. It's basically just a complete rip off of "L.A. Woman" with a guy who wants to sound like Jim Morrison just as bad as any guy working at Guitar Center in West Hollywood and playing at the Whisky-a-Go-Go on Tuesday nights. But then it starts to get a little interesting. Just before the one-minute mark there's a particular vocal phrasing that kept me from hitting stop. It's the two lines that end in "all day" and "your way". The way the singer slurs those words he sounds exactly like Mr. Mackey on South Park. All day, your way, mmmm kay? It made me hesitate for a moment - maybe this is going to get funny. And thank god I hesitated because I was rewarded with a musical moment that was just plain fucking magical:One day I saw you naked and thenI popped a bonerSo hard that it made me shiverOh my god. I rewound that part fourty times before I even got to the rest of the song. I'm listening to it now and I'm still laughing. Will this ever get old? But wait, that's not the only great part of the song. Right after the shiver inducing erection we get into the chorus, which is "I just wanna fu fu fu fuck you. Fu fu fu fu fuck you. I can't wait to fuck you all day and night. Fu fu fu fuck fuck you" repeated over and over. Is this the best stuttering in a song since "My Generation" or what?The next verse after the chorus is also killer. The first line is "Down on your knees so you can suck my cock" and I can't really decipher what he's saying in the second line but suffice it to say, it ends with "we're gonna rock". And as brilliant a lyricist as this guy is (and maybe now would be a good time to mention that according to the band's myspace page the lead singer's name is Baby Rapest [sic] ) he is as equally adept at improvised yelping noises as he is at clever couplets. This song is punctuated by the strangest set of "oh"s, "ah"s, "uh"s, "ooh"s and "yeah"s I've ever heard. After one particularly absurdly strange cracked-voice squeal Baby Rapest tells us that "that's the noise you're going to make baby". If I was ever with a girl who made that noise I think I would be scared.But, actually, I'm not so sure this song is being sung to a girl at all. At one point the singer says "Come on Shane." Granted this is[...]



The Ashes Are Already About Us

2006-09-14T03:43:27.566-07:00

Justin Timberlake - LoveStonedIn the ongoing music nerd debate between rockism and uh, anti-rockism (is it anti-rockism or popism? Either way, if you follow our blog at all it should be clear that this is the side of line we tend to fall on), today marked a huge blow to the rockist's argument. Or, if you don't give a shit about splitting hairs over what music critics think (which let's face it, if you're sane you probably shouldn't) just think of today as a great day for pop music. Today the new Justin Timberlake album came out.Two years after Kalefah Sanneh's "The Rap Against Rockism" article in The New York Times (re)ignited the debate, people are still talking about it. Or at least the kind of people who talk about this kind of thing are still talking about it. And more and more I think it's becoming apparent that, authenticity and rock and roll paradigms be damned, pop music is really fucking good lately. And I mean pop music in the literal sense: popular music. The music that's on the radio, on MTV, in the clubs. The music that normal people listen to. The music that sells millions of records. My inner rock snob doesn't want to admit this, the 13 year old me who sold his entire CD collection because he decided all the bands he liked were sell-outs would probably hate the 23 year old unabashed Justin fan me, but the fact remains - this music is just as good, just as important, just as boundary pushing and sonically interesting as any underground hipster band du jour.Undoubtedly there's still a lot of popular music that sucks. While watching MTV's VMAs this year, I was slapped in the face with the reality of how much a lot of popular music really sucks. Black Eyed Peas, All American Rejects, Panic! at the Disco - these bands are fucking atrocious. I have a co-worker who assures me that Fall Out Boy are a great band. Today a guy at work was blasting this stomach churning dancehall cover of "I Will Survive" (sung by a dude. I think it was Sean Paul) and this motherfucker was rocking out like this was his jam. Yes this makes me die a little inside. Yes I wish more people would buy The Thermals record than the Nickelback record. But when your Billboard chart features albums like Outkast's Idlewild, Gnarls Barkley's St. Elsewhere and Beyonce's B'Day, there is at least some glimmer of hope on the musical horizon.Those albums I mentioned have already been blogged to death so I don't really think I need to write about those. (Fluxblog in particular had a great post on a track from the Beyonce album a couple days ago). Anybody who wanted them would probably have them by now. (And if you didn't, get them - they're all worth it). But I guess I'm hoping that Future Sex / Love Sounds may still be fresh enough that I can catch some people on the fence and push them into buying it.I honestly could write entire posts off each song on the record. But I had to pick one so I figured I might as well let you dive right into the center piece of the record. "Love Stoned" is both one of the best pop songs in recent memory and one of the most completely bizarre. It's a seven and a half minute beatboxing, ass shaking, bloody dancefloor, spage age synthesized orchestral funk/hip hop... thing. And then at some point it morphs into some kind of electro pop gospel R&B ballad. This shit is epic. If Justin was ugly and signed to an indie label he would be so critically acclaimed he'd make Sufjan Stevens look like Fred Durst.I remember just before Justin's first record came out I was reading an interview with The Neptunes where Pharrell said that he and Justin had a lot in common and got along really well. It seemed like a funny comment at the time. I just couldn't picture Skateboard P and the curly haired guy from NSync hanging out together. Now obviously I don't know anything about Justin personally, but listening to this record I think I'm starting to see what Pharrell meant. I think that I could get along with Justin too, at least get along on one fundamental level[...]



I Gots To Get Paid

2006-08-28T16:45:25.496-07:00

Alexi Murdoch - Orange SkyThe idea of an mp3 blog, from what I can gather, is to post songs that are good. Or at least songs that you like. Or maybe just songs you think other people should hear. But what about a song you think people should hear (if they haven't already, which would probably be unlikely for reasons we'll get to in a moment) but you don't necessarily think is good? I'm not sure if Alexi Murdoch's "Orange Sky" is a "good" song or not, I'm on the fence as to whether I can say I like it or not without adding a caveat, but there's something intriguing about it, something that makes me think it's worth posting.In last Sunday's LA Times Calendar section there was an article about the recent phenomenon of DVD TV binging, and I must admit that I seem to fit the profile of a TV binger. Naturally possessing something of an obsessive personality, if I find a TV show that I like (which is becoming less rare lately; either I'm getting dumber or television is getting better) I tend to consume everything I can about it in a short period of time. The first time I saw an episode of Oz I devoured four seasons in as many weeks. It took a couple weeks to get through the first season of Numb3rs, mostly because I kept each disc longer than usual as I tried to convince friends to watch the episodes with me and get on board with how fucking brilliant and subversive the show is. I watched the entire British Office series in a few days, watched the first American season in one day and then spent another reading every season 2 script online (the DVD release date just seemed too far away at the time). Currently I'm 3 discs into the first season of Lost. And recently I just finished season 1 of Prison Break, which if I wasn't desperately trying to get out of this television digression and back to the subject of music I would tell you is the best show on TV and then I would get into all the reasons why. It was in an episode of Prison Break that I first came across the song "Orange Sky".But like I said before I can't tell you if I like the song or not, or even if I liked it that first time I heard it. Obviously I was interested enough to find out what the name of the song was, but I think that had more to do with my interest in songs used on television than in that particular song. I've always been fascinated by what's going on behind the curtain. I'm not just obsessed with pop songs themselves, I'm obsessed with everything about them: how they're written, how they're recorded, how they're used. I love learning the intricacies of copyright law, the finer points of publishing deals, everything that encompasses Industry Rule Number 4080. And perhaps at the heart of this fascination are the ethical dilemmas that inevitably arise when we're talking about a multi-billion dollar industry that revolves around an art form. What grabbed me about Alexi Murdoch's song wasn't the lyrics or the vocals or the chord progression - it was why was I even hearing this song? Why did the producers of Prison Break decide to use this particular song? And why did Alexi Murdoch agree to give permission?Just in case anyone is unclear, music used in film or television is licensed differently than music on record. To oversimplify it: I could record a cover of "Orange Sky" if I wanted to and I don't need anyone's permission. I'm issued a compulsory mechanical license and I can legally record and release a cover of any song I want as long as I pay the set license fee (currently 9.1 cents per record if the song is under 5 minutes long). But to use a song for film, television, video games or any other medium where music is synchronized with images, a different license, called a synchronization license, is required. And unlike a mechanical license, there is no set fee for a synch license - it's entirely negotiable. And it requires permission. So when you hear some horrific cover on the radio, say for example that Used/My Chemical Romance cover of "Under Press[...]



Surf Will Tear Us Apart (Again)

2006-08-22T19:38:58.456-07:00

Mister Loveless - Family JewelsMister Loveless - A Prison BreakFirst off - Hi, How are you? It's been a while. These blogs can be so strangely surreal and completely awesome at the same time. Getting email from some of my musical heros and other artists I've covered is one of the coolest perks I could have asked for. And beyond that, sometimes you get to hear from voices thought long in the past. When I made a passing remark about my first kiss, the other guilty partner in our middle school rite of passage actually found the post and wrote me a little email... and even posted a comment on the blog. (Which I'm about to hyperlink in one sentence.)Back in May, I mentioned briefly my first musical phase involving the Beach Boys. I'm still a little unclear why I sought out Surf music or even more specifically the Beach Boys but surfing was definitely cool and I'm thinking one of my friends must have had a Beach Boys tape. And in thinking long and hard about the subject, I'm pretty sure I convinced Aaron to let me stay the night at his house just so I could listen to his tape some more. (And I think he said he had one more tape at home too... and maybe I could listen to that as well!)Like most kids, he had a greatest hits compilation album. But some time later, I convinced my mom to let me buy a tape from the local Alpha-Beta. Tell a friend. (If that means nothing to you, it's because Ralph's later bought Alpha Beta and I never saw thier Richard Simmons-like spokesman again.)I remember my dad taking exception to the little note on the cassette's cover: Due to time constraints, some songs from the original album may not be contained on this cassette. I remember he said, "I wonder what songs you don't get to hear." Or something to that effect. But I was a kid and didn't really have any clue about what an 'album' really was, in fact, I don't think I was really clear on the concept of what a band was either. In the fourth grade, at the peak of my Beach Boys infatuation I got to see them play live. You would think I would have been totally excited and amazed to get to see my idols live, but I remember being sort of bored. (Especially when Chicago was playing first.) I remember being more excited about seeing an Oldies cover band at the Pear Fair in Walnut Grove. I mostly recall being totally pissed that we had to walk around the fair and couldn't just stay and watch the band. I really remember that...I was super pissed. I don't think there's any way a 10 year old can rationally express that kind of resentment.So a few weeks ago, I went ahead and bought the Beach Boy's first three albums. I think I have a fairly solid grasp on 'albums' and 'bands' now and I'd like to re-listen to these songs without having to resort to old, well-loved cassettes.I may sound like a total moron here, but I had no idea the Beach Boys actually played surf-rock. I guess I always just thought they came up with their folk-inspired and surf-inspired music naturally in Southern California. But apparently the aging county fair mainstays started out recording versions of "Miserlou" and "Let's Go Tripping." I think maybe all the instrumentals got cut from the cassette versions. Somehow my whole vision of the band's early days has shifted. I started to wonder if the real surfers listened to instrumental stuff like Dick Dale and thought adding vocals was a mainstream, sell-out move.Don't get me wrong, I think the Beach Boys vocal arrangements are true genius and no doubt molded my impressions beyond repair. (It's an easy segue from Beach Boys to The Queers, Screeching Weasel and all that pop-punk I love and have loved... and even to Essex Green or Mates of State.) But I was amazed how much the music had affected me as well. I didn't know in the fourth grade who played guitar or bass, or even who the lead vocals were on which song, but somehow the music still got through. After hearing "Surfin' Safari" and "Help Me Rhonda" thousa[...]



Crass Crass Revolution

2006-07-18T00:05:09.920-07:00

Chris Robinson - Bata MotelCrass was the band that changed everything for me. The Sex Pistols were the first punk band I ever heard, a barely audible radio station in Berkeley played "Anarchy In The U.K." when I was sitting at the train station on a family vacation and I took note that this sounded like something I needed to own. The Clash were the first punk band that I really really loved, where I bought their T-shirt and wore it nearly every day. A friend in junior high supplied me with tapes pilfered from his neighbor across the street - Black Flag, the Misfits, Minor Threat. These bands were important to me, the first time hearing each one of them ("Nervous Breakdown", "Bullet", "Filler" in that order) are moments crystal clear in my memory. But if I'm going to level a compliment as heavy as "life changing" I don't think I can honestly say any of those bands fit the criteria. But the first time I heard Crass it was more than just the sound, it was more than the lyrics, it was more than the imagery. A lot of bands sounded great, or had interesting things to say, or looked really cool, but Crass managed to single handedly make me feel less alone in the world.Back in the summer after 8th grade a lot of things were changing for me. I was a couple months shy of my thirteenth birthday, about to become a teenager, music was becoming a lot more important to me, I was drifting away from the straight laced A students that I shared honors classes with and hanging out more with the "bad" kids who smoked cigarettes after school and went to punk rock shows at hockey rinks. It was a very awkward, corny time in my life. (It was the time in my life when, to borrow a phrase, everybody in my suburb was a sellout.) And it was the first time I started to think that I wasn't quite normal. Kids in my class would talk about sports and pussy and cars and MTV and I couldn't fucking relate to any of them. People would talk to me about religion and tell me about Jesus, people I thought were my friends would try to get me to go to church with them and I thought they were completely insane. In class I would learn about government and economics and it all seemed stupid to me. I wanted really badly to fit in, I tried going to church with those friends and I wanted to believe because I didn't want to go to Hell, I told myself I wanted to be good at sports, I tried to pretend that I liked normal things... but still deep down inside I really just wished I could find someone who was weird like me. And then I got a Crass record. It was the first time I'd ever heard anyone saying anything bad about Jesus. And they did it repeatedly. And I thought, "finally."Back then I picked out records based on the number of T-shirts and patches I'd seen. A lot of people seemed to have Crass shirts so I thought they must be pretty good. Little did I know The Feeding of the 5000 was going to have every thought that I had been trying to suppress in my head, screamed out in words squished together to fit over manic punk rock beats. It was music that sounded as angry and confused and naive and anti-social as I felt. And it was comforting. Someone else on the planet was thinking these same things, even if we were seperated by 20 years and an entire continent. I can't say that I still listen to Crass that much anymore. That copy of Feeding is sitting in my parents garage somewhere, but I still love them. Just for different reasons now. A lot of people overlook the fact that Crass had a sense of humor, or the fact that their music was actually really good (listen to how awesome some of those bass lines were. Jeff and I have talked for years now about starting a funk Crass tribute band where we only played the danciest Crass songs. We're thinking of calling it Crass Crass Revolution), or the fact that some of their ideas are still resonant. "Jesus sucks" may not sound as ground breaking as it did to me 10 years ago[...]



How Much Art Can You Take? (Or There's Something About That Blue)

2006-09-14T04:03:56.486-07:00

The Thermals - No Culture IconsCursive - Art is HardArt Brut - Modern ArtAs I'm sure you've realized by now, I place a tremendous importance on music in my life. I gain strength through solidarity, learn lessons vicariously and internalize and empathize with the similar ideas and emotions. My first google after being released from a two week stay in the hospital and discovering I had diabetes was "diabetic punk." There had to be some sort of anthem out there from a garage band sans working pancreas. I mean, Keith Morris, what are you doing nowadays anyhow? But I never found one and had to write it myself. ["(Who Put) The Beat (In Diabetes)"]So when I hear a new song that is about or references something I'm into, my ears prick up and sometimes I fall in love. And while I've never heard a song about Graphic Design, I get excited when I hear Maximo Park reference A4 paper because I'm a big design nerd and know that's the equivalent of Letter size, or 8 1/2 x 11, in the UK. Perhaps I'm easy to please or am totally willing to admit that I enjoy a self-serve ego stroke time and again.But when a band manages to write a great song about something I'm thoroughly passionate about, like Art, I usually have to change pants. Luckily, I have Cacophony and Coffee as an outlet or I would have to make sneak appearances to my art school alum and hand out mixtapes with accompanying essays. There could probably be scores of more posts from me in the future about art school bands, or even just RISD bands, but I'm not talking about artists making music or music as art, or anything like that. I'm talking about songs discussing art in the same way there are countless songs about love or being in love or being loved or the one that you love. Sure there are some classics like "Pablo Picasso" by The Modern Lovers, or maybe "Good Sculptures" by The Rezillos, but those don't really address the subject like I had in mind.I discovered The Thermals "No Culture Icons" via Yahoo! Messenger when a friend of mine back in NYC (whose blog was recently condemned by AP official policy) recommended, neigh implored, that I go out and at least get the No Culture Icons EP. Well, since she's responsible for me and my Black Eyes (on a few levels?) I had to take her recommendation seriously and even shelled out the four or five bucks and the hours of download time to get the EP from iTunes that night. And I wasn't disappointed; I was even more impressed than she probably anticipated.Not only does "No Culture Icons" possess a priceless 4-track-D.I.Y. warmth and charisma, it has some of the sharpest, layered and clever lyrics of all of The Thermals material. Subtle changes in phrasing create new meanings and often phrases mean two things at once. It's like taking all your art professor's rhetoric, all the post-modern academic buzz, and distilling into a perfect melody. But The Thermals don't just regurgitate their critique-speak professors; they offer commentary on the whole experience and question the whole notion. What is art besides "more stained paper"? And half of the song is dedicated to Thou Shalt Nots; it's hard to know where the sarcasm ends and where the artist's voice begins. The message is far from stable and open to the viewer just like good art. Maybe I've become too entrenched with academic art to realize how much of this song needs explanation to those outside our little niche, but I'm pretty sure you can at least recognize the word play if not grasp the full level of art references. And who knows, maybe I'm totally reading it wrong, but it's a catchy little number full of lo-fi charm even for you MBAs out there.Cursive's "Art is Hard" doesn't neatly fit into my narrow category I specified earlier. It's pretty close to being the thesis of Cursive's The Ugly Organ, a self-referencing album about a tragic 'emo' singer. But the idea of sacrificing one's own happiness[...]



A Real Motherfucker Of A Gentleman

2006-07-06T23:20:29.783-07:00

GoGoGo Airheart - Death On Two LegsThe Blood Brothers - Under PressureMelt Banana - We Will Rock YouThe other day at about 11 in the morning (which is pretty damn early for me) I woke up to the bombastic sounds of Queen leaking up through the floorboards from the stereo of my downstairs roommates. It’s not a bad way to wake up. It was deep into side two of the Greatest Hits record by the time I got dressed and stumbled down to inquire why my roommates were up so early (if 11 is early for me, it’s practically unheard of for them) and why they chose to wake up and immediately turn on Queen at full blast. Richard’s explanation didn’t really answer either of these questions but it kind of made perfect sense: “these guys” he yelled over the stomping of “We Will Rock You”, “were fucking geniuses.” A few years ago San Diego’s Three One G released a compilation of Queen covers that served to pay tribute to that genius. These types of records are usually destined straight for the bargain bin; cheaply assembled gimmicks to market a label’s roster and tap directly into an already existing demographic. But Three One G’s Dynamite With A Laserbeam is different. The problem with most tribute records is an over reverence to the originals. We understand that these are great songs and that you like them. That’s why you recorded a cover. Take a fucking chance and do something different. That was especially important in this case. The last thing the world needs is another Queen cover by someone who will never ever sing as well as Freddie Mercury. Anyone who’s accidentally stumbled across American Idol on Queen night, or heard the abomination that is “Queen with Paul Rodgers” can attest to that. The artists on Dynamite With A Laserbeam seem to grasp this. A lot of the singers here can’t sing at all in the conventional sense, let alone sing like Freddie Mercury. But all the bands have no reservations about deconstructing and disassembling these classic songs and reforming them in their own image. The albums sub header “Queen As Heard Through The Meat Grinder of Three One G” is a pretty accurate description. Some of the results are throwaway listens, funny the first time or two as hilariously bad karaoke, but some of the tracks manage to attain a greatness of their own distinct from how great the original songs were.The recently defunct GoGoGo Airheart’s “Death On Two Legs”, my favorite track on the album, is fascinating in that it is definitely one of the songs that stands on its own, but it also illuminates how interesting Freddie Mercury’s songwriting was. Doesn’t this song sound like it was written specifically to be a slightly off-kilter arty indie rock song? If I didn’t know this was Queen I would never guess, it doesn’t sound like a Queen song, it sounds tailor fit for GoGoGo Airheart. And yet, if you listen carefully, not much is really changed. The singer is obviously very different but structurally and instrumentally the song remains untouched. I was always impressed by how Queen could adapt to various styles – “Another One Bites The Dust” was a funky dance song, “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” was passable rockabilly. But who knew they could master a song in a genre that hadn’t even been invented yet? (Check out You Tube for a scathing live Queen performance of this song in 1977.)One of the other great things about Queen is that not only do these songs stand the test of time so remarkably, but they have withstood more than their fare share of embarrassing misappropriations. No matter how many times I hear “Bohemian Rhapsody” on the radio or watch Wayne’s World, I still love it. “We Are the Champions” and “We Will Rock You” both still kick ass despite their being played in sports arenas around the world. And a lesser song would crumble in[...]



The Discreet Charm of My Boy Jay-Z

2006-06-29T16:48:53.480-07:00

Jay-Z - Friend or FoeJay-Z - Friend of Foe '98Dr. Dre - The WatcherJay-Z - The Watcher 2Sequels, according to Oscar winning screenwriting guru William Goldman, are always about the money. It's not about further character development or exploring things you didn't get to in the first one, it's about milking as much money out of the same idea as you can. And while I can think of at least a couple films I think are exceptions to this rule, these words of wisdom generally seems to ring pretty true in Hollywood. But of course, this is a music blog, so what's the comparison to movie sequels in pop music? Sequel songs used to be popular in the early days of rock and roll. Hank Ballard and The Midnighters' "Work With Me Annie" spawned both sequels and at least one major hit answer song. Chubby Checker seemed to build his whole career on singing sequels to "The Twist". (Which, coincidentally was also written by Hank Ballard.) But in modern times song sequels come in a broader sense of the word. Half the pop songs on the radio sound like sequels, the same formulas rehashed, with slightly different lyrics and a few notes rearranged. A producer like Lil John may as well be the musical equivalent of the Friday the 13th series. So today I want to talk about Jay-Z, an artist who for his 10 year career managed to avoid the pitfalls of writing carbon copy regurgitations of his hits, but also knew his way around writing a great sequel song. The genius of Jay-Z, and one of the reasons he has managed to become an icon in a genre notorious for the short shelf life of its artists, is that he hardly ever retraces the same steps twice. How easy would it have been after his breakthrough single "Hard Knock Life" to have tried that Broadway-sample trick a couple more times hoping for another hit? But "Hard Knock Life" doesn't sound like anything else, neither does "I Just Wanna Luv U", "Izzo", "Bonnie and Clyde", "Excuse Me Miss", "99 Problems". There's no "Izzo 2", no "100 Problems"; when Jay does write a sequel song, it's not what you'd expect."Friend of Foe" is one of my favorite songs on Reasonable Doubt. Even though it's the shortest song on the record, and not usually one of the tracks mentioned on an album full of classics, I think it's the point on the record when you realize that Sean Carter is something special. No one can touch Jay when it comes to switching up their flow. On "Friend or Foe" he spits in short, stunted lines, funny and menacing at the same time, sounding completely different than he does on the rest of the album. The song contains some of his best lines: although a little dated now "Chances slimmer than that chick in Calvin Klein pantses" still makes me laugh every time; the delivery of "Don't do that/You're makin' me nervous/My crew, well they do pack/Them dudes is murderers" is perfect. And in 1 minute 50 seconds (at least 20 seconds of which is an opening skit) he creates a story and characters more captivating than a lot of 2 hour films I've seen.Despite my personal affections for "Friend or Foe" it seemed like an unlikely candidate for Jay to revisit on his next album. "Ain't No Nigga" was the hit, "Can't Knock the Hustle", "Dead Presidents", "Politics as Usual" were the instant classics. But it's "Friend or Foe" that gets the "motion picture shit" treatment. Jay abandons the unique sputtering style of the original and opts for a more conventional flow, but the cinematic storytelling and humor remain and the beat is another killer. "Friend of Foe '98" suffers a little bit from the law of diminishing returns, but as far as it's place in the small canon of sequel songs it's at least better than "Twistin' U.S.A." or "Twistin' Around the World". "The Watcher 2" from Blueprint Vol. 2 is more succesful as a sequel. Technically it might be better categorized as an answer song since[...]



It Takes Time To Get It Together

2006-06-26T13:06:03.770-07:00

(image)
The Figurines - The Wonder (Video)

Hey Everybody. Be sure to swing over to Pitchfork Media today and check out their interview with The Figurines. Remember you heard them at Cacophony and Coffee first!

Don't you wish your band could be state-sponsored as Cultural Ambassadors!

And enjoy this great video that mixes parts Un Chein Andalou and Michel Gondry. Classic!

Pitchfork Interview: The Figurines



Bastard Pop Will Eat Itself

2006-08-31T15:45:19.930-07:00

The Silence Xperiment - Wannabe My Badd BitchThe Best Mashups In The World Ever Are From San Francisco. I don't think it's necessarily true, but it's a helluva name for a compilation. Mashups are something we haven't really touched on at Cacophony and Coffee, but Jeff and I are both big fans of the genre. If you too like to get your bootleg on, The Best Mashups In The World Ever Are From San Francisco 2 is a pretty solid release. Unfortunately I couldn't really point you in a direction to buy it since the only information on the CD other than the tracklisting is "2006. no label. for promotional use only." The legal issues surrounding the bastard pop movement are part of what makes it so intriguing. It ensures that embarrasing mainstream appropriation of the genre (see Jay-Z and Linkin Park) is kept to a minimum and the fledgling movement has a chance to grow and thrive underground. And mashups have come a long way since the simple A+B equation that I first heard on Freelance Hellraiser's "A Stroke of Genius" a few years ago; pioneers like Go Home Productions are stretching the limitations of working exclusively with pre-existing songs. Several of the artists on TBMITWEAFSF2 weave together multiple songs in complicated beat and tempo matching arrangements that should bury the notion that it doesn't take any talent to be a mashup DJ. But I must confess that my favorite mashups are still the ones that keep it simple, and the stand out track for me on TBMITWEAFSF2 is The Silence Xperiment's "Wannabe My Badd Bitch".You may already be familiar with the Silence Xperiment; they were the DJs responsible for Q-Unit, the Queen/50 Cent mashup experiment. "Wannabe My Badd Bitch" is proof that Q-Unit was no fluke, and these are two DJs to watch. Continuing with the idea of taking two artists as disparate as possible and squishing them together, Silence Xperiment taking the backing track and a few vocal snippets from the Spice Girls' "Wannabe" and marry them seamlessly with the acapella of Mike Jones and Ying Yang Twins' "Badd". It's easy to take two good songs and put them together, and "A Stroke Of Genius" was the template for taking one good song and putting it over a crappy pop song - but how about taking two songs that I don't like and morphing them into one perfectly danceable gem? That takes some skill. "Wannabe" was a song that haunted me in my sleep in 1996; it was horrible, nonsensical and annoyingly inescapable. And "Badd" is substandard even for the Ying Yang Twins (which is saying a lot). Although Mike Jones is always great, this is a pretty weak verse for him, lacking most of the sense of humor that makes him so listenable. He doesn't even give out his cell phone number.And yet somehow The Silence Xperiment make it work, and it works beautifully. Keeping with my tradition of listening to a song on repeat while I'm writing about it, I've listened to this song over a dozen times now and my foot is still tapping furiously against my desk. If I could stand and type I'd probably be dancing my ass off right now. Maybe I was missing something in the Spice Girls all these years because this mashup has me thinking this track is actually kind of awesome. And that of course is the sign of a good bootleg. Not only making both songs sound better but bringing out qualities you didn't even know existed in those songs. In "Wannabe My Badd Bitch" it sounds like these songs were meant to be together. Mike Jones may have been laying his verse down over Mr. Collipark's boring-by-numbers crunk beat but I think he might have had "Wannabe" in mind all along.(If you're in the Bay Area look for The Best Mashups In The World Ever Are From San Francisco 2 at your local independent record store.)[...]



I Keep the One I Love in the Freezer

2006-08-31T15:44:53.143-07:00

Love Is All - Aging Had Never Been His FriendLove Is All - Busy Doing NothingI'm not sure why we do it, but whenever a band comes from someplace other than our hometown, we feel the need to draw comparisons with that locale's major exports. Perhaps it's a holdover from Elementary School reports about some country and we'd just grab whatever we could from the Encyclopedia. (I wonder if that's different now that we have the internet?) Maybe after writing so many reviews and blogs about music, we latch onto anything that sets this band apart. I could see that being the case for mainstream magazines, and blogs where the music covered never strays too far from one genre, but I don't think we should be able to get away with that here at Cacophony and Coffee. If Patrick had made some link between Chicago's famous architecture and Dwayne Wade... or even worse, some far-fetched comparison with Mrs. O'Leary's cow, I would have called him on that shit. (Not in a public forum... but he'd know.)Lots of great stuff comes out of Sweden like Volvos and Muppet Chefs and Gummi Fish candy and my family-name. Lots of reviewers mention these things whenever they're discussing a band from Sweden. If they're lucky, the band warrants an Abba comparison, and then the writer can call it a day.But I have a genuine comparison. Love Is All is Ikea in reverse.Ikea provides affordable (read: cheap) furniture for those of us who have a little taste and just a little money as well. Ikea looks pretty nice and well-designed, but that's all on the surface. Closer inspection (and the fact that you put it all together with hex-bolts and Allen wrenches) reveals that this not investible, classic furnishing; it's a cheaper simulation.Love Is All give it to us backwards. The recording is lo-fi and full of warmth and good old overdrive distortion. But the "cheap" veneer does not immediately reveal the intricate layers or musical complexity LIA is putting down. Their debut full-length could have been recorded with all the sound perfectly mastered and balanced in the vein of Yngwie or countless Praise bands, but I'm sure I wouldn't be as into it. The lo-fi quality is far from a pandering-to-the-crowd maneuver akin to Smashing Pumpkins "indie debut" either. It's the proper production for these songs. (And I'm already curious to hear how further records will be produced as well as how LIA might sound live with "professional engineering.")Love Is All profess a strong affinity for Eno-era Roxy Music and the comparison is apt. Beautifully written pop songs are given an airy, experimental, almost atmospheric treatment that remains tight, nearly claustrophobic at times. The brilliant melody remains intact but the typical pop song clichés are avoided by throwing in a dash of distortion and 'skronky' saxophones. (And, of course, the production itself.) Every chance to take a wrong turn is missed; every decision seems to be the right one. Love Is All has all the right stuff to be a perfect band: punk veracity, pop hooks and melodies, an avant-garde edge, and an exotic foreign origin.Of course, if you read Pitchfork daily, you've probably been after this record since their glowing review when the record wasn't even available in the States. But those of you who aren't obsessed with being hip or don't have some time to kill at work on a computer to keep up with the latest, take a listen to Love Is All. It's definitely been one of my most-played in the weeks since we've on hiatus. Maybe it'll be one of yours too.(Buy Love Is All Nine Times the Same Song at Amazon.)[...]



Chi-Town Stand Up

2006-08-31T15:42:32.340-07:00

(image) Kanye West - Soulful

Guess who's bizack? I'm not smelling any blow in my clothes but I am back nonetheless after an inadvertent hiatus. The main reason, in case you were wondering, that I've been disconnected (literally and figuratively) from the internet lately is I've been working six days a week on a constantly fluctuating schedule that usually leaves me too tired to have any inspiration left for writing. But I got some inspiration tonight, from a most unlikely place. In tribute to Chicago native Dwyane Wade (if you don't follow basketball let me be the first to prepare you: get ready to hear that name a lot) who a couple hours ago just wrapped up one of the most incredible performances in NBA Finals history, here's a song from another Chi-town native with a strikingly similar will to win. Apologies again for being gone for a minute, but you can go ahead and start checking back regularly again. And thank you if you if you're reading this right now; thanks for keeping the faith.



My Baby Does the Water Damage

2006-08-31T15:41:05.673-07:00

Rah Bras - "Poisson"Rah Bras - "Bus Stop"Rah Bras - "The Fifth Allen"Rah Bras - "Skin=Chronized"One of the things I used to do in between bands at shows was try to count up all the shows I'd been to. I can still remember the show when I realized I could no longer count them up. I had started going to shows pretty regularly and I just lost track somewhere along the way. I remember the band playing was called fLUF and they were just about the worst thing I had ever heard. Maybe they aren't so bad, but I certainly never gave them a second chance. I stepped outside to the patio at Old World and started to mentally go over the shows I'd been too. (I think it was partly because some of the first shows I ever went to were at Old World and it put me in a contemplative mood.) I felt slightly proud of myself for getting out so much and by the time I was done reminiscing it was time to try and grab a spot close to the stage for the next band, Jawbreaker.It's hard to narrow it down to a favorite show ever, but that came pretty close. Despite fLUF's awful contribution, I can remember the other opening was called Blacktop Special or something like that (not Blacktop Cadence) and they had a rootsy sound and garage bin lids for cymbals. Goddamn... Blacktop something or other. At any rate, flash forward a few years and I'm discussing memorable shows with a co-worker and he brings up his first show ever: Jawbreaker at Old World. I reply with the standard, no, really? But deep down inside I want to say, "Aha, bitch! That was the show when I couldn't count up how many shows I'd been to... condescending asshole." But I don't say a word about it.... instead I soak in my own self-gratification like one-man reach-around. And like Colbert said, "That's a difficult thing to do, but worth it." (About the one-man reach-around, mind you.)But what even trumps Jawbreaker for me was the time I saw Rah Bras at Che Cafe. Che's at least an hour and half away from where I live, but sometimes, when the bands were important enough, my friends and I (or sometimes just me) would head down to the UCSD campus for some 'intimate live music.' Back then the Che was really chill and there weren't any Security or professional booking agents; volunteers ran it all and they did a phenomenal job. I never had or saw any trouble at the Che.When the Rah Bras played at Che, The Locust opened (or headlined) so some of my 'other' friends were there too. See, Locust is hard enough to balance out the 'weird' for these folks. They were more interested in Zeke's favorite Taco Bell items than what time signature or vintage synth The Locust were using. So when these squares were actually impressed with the Rah Bras, I knew they had something special. (Rah Bras, that is.) I think my friends were most impressed with the band's closing number, a cover of Ginuine's "My Pony." Whether or not my friends knew it was a cover is unclear, but they did enjoy the ridiculous lyrics and the way the drummer acted out the song.Most impressive for me was the fact that the Rah Bras could completely pull off their insanely arranged songs. The layered and strange sounds all made their way to the stage that night. It was like having their songs spelled out for you and you're still in utter disbelief. They made all that sound with their mouths, a bass, keyboard and drums? And even more phenomenal, the drummer recreates his off-kilter beats with the technical precision of a fine craftsman. He totally rocked "Poisson" live like you couldn't believe. To this day I have no idea what he was playing on "Water Damage," but he managed to reach down to the floor, pick up this washboard-type-thing, and give it one hit, put it back down, [...]



The Girls All Say You're A Wornout Star

2006-08-31T15:38:22.630-07:00

Bob Dylan - Summer DaysThe first official day of summer may not be until June 21st but here in southern California it's so miserably hot I'm already dreaming of the fall. I don't deal well with hot weather, I guess it's the Minnesota in my blood. I hate summer clothes, shorts and tanktops and sandals, I hate the beach, I hate sweaty and sticky and smoggy. The only thing I do like about summer is the songs. Summer always inspires great music, or maybe summer just makes certain songs better. There's something about 90 degree weather and driving with the windows down and the AC up that elevates songs like "Hot In Herre" by Nelly or "Summertime" by Fresh Prince and Jazzy Jeff (two artists I don't exactly regularly listen to) into blissful territory. I'm already anxiously anticipating what the summer anthem will be this year. Will Jay-Z step out of retirement again to hold us down for another summer? But while I'm waiting for that song to drop, here's one of my favorite summer songs from another guy with Minnesota roots.I felt a little weird in my last post, talking about Bob Dylan and not posting a song by the man himself, so here's an attempt to rectify that. "Summer Days", in addition to being my favorite track off Dylan's last studio album Love and Theft, perfectly captures a wonderful muggy July rockabilly barbeque vibe. Love and Theft was given generally positive reviews when it was released in 2001 but perhaps the fact that it came out on September 11 of that year led to it not really getting the critical analysis that it deserved. The basic consensus seemed to be that it was another decent Dylan album, fun to listen to but not as good as Time Out Of Mind, and of course not as good as his 60s output. But music critics are mostly idiots, so while the rest of the world is waiting for Dylan to write another "Like A Rolling Stone" I'd prefer to focus on what he's doing now, because I find it just as exciting and important as any other point in his career.Dylan left plenty of clues for the critics to understand what he was doing, the album is called Love and Theft after all, but I don't think most people got it. While any of his contemporaries that are still alive are putting out crap albums and then touring on the coattails of hits written decades ago, Dylan is still trying new things and still writing great songs. Love and Theft is a postmodern tour of American music, stealing bits of blues, folk, gospel, rock and roll and fusing it together with Dylan's ever cantankerous wit. People that think Dylan doesn't write as well as he used to because he's not writing about political issues or psychedelic drug metaphors aren't paying attention. The lyrics of "Summer Days" appear simple and direct but each line is drenched in subtext. And the delivery of course is key. Dylan wasn't exactly blessed with the prettiest voice in the world, and years of smoking have ravaged an already rough tone into a weird Muppet-ish scratch, but he knows how to use what he's got. He can't do any melismatic runs, but he can sneer a clever line better than anybody. Listen to the winking "She said you can't repeat the past/I said you can't?/what do you mean you can't?/Of course you can" and tell me this man is not still a genius.That line in particular was plucked out in a lot of reviews, but the point was always missed. Dylan's repeating the past alright, but not his past. He's never going to repeat his past no matter how badly old hippies and baby boomers want him to. He continues to do whatever he wants and he could care less what the rest of the world's expectations of him are. And maybe I can get down with Dylan's newer work because I sense his[...]



1998 Looked Great On Plain White Paper

2006-08-31T15:37:35.696-07:00

Braid - The New Nathan Detroits Texas Is The Reason - The Magic Bullet Theory One Hundred Words For Snow - Collide I don't think 'dissatisfied' is the right word; maybe I was just bored with the same old psuedo-political discussion in the punk I was listening to. Maybe I was getting over the boy-meets-girl, boy-losing-girl anthems of my favorite pop punk records. Maybe I was through with high school and trying to assemble a soundtrack to the larger campus with ashtrays known as Junior College. And while I must credit Dr. Frank of Mr. T Experience and Joey from The Vindicitives for starting the fire, I started looking for clever lyrics that weren't just about the same old stuff. I started getting more into, gasp, Boris the Sprinkler because say what you will, his lyrics and delivery are unlike anything else. But dude, how many songs can I listen to about Pabst Blue Ribbon while I'm reading Buckminster Fuller and Kierkegaard? And while the bands that I gradually discovered certainly aren't on academic levels of T.S. Elliot or Walt Whitman, they seemed to encapsulate that same sense of being an American. It seems like saying anything about being an American is loaded nowadays. But I simply use the term as a means to reflect a common experience or culture. (While there exists MANY American Experiences, doubtlessly, I refer to some romantically vague notions of collected consciousness.) The concerns and values of 'mainstream culture' are radically different than they were 10, 20, or 100 years ago, but when we encounter artifacts that capture their time, we react. Some say that the history of art is simply each generation improving upon the last, taking what they like, and damning the rest. Each generation has its voice. And for me these were the Ginsbergs and Kerouacs of my time. As much as I Iove to read Beat work, it feels like I'm engaging in fantasy; these bands were talking about me, right now. Their lyrics were challenging and poetic; and after listening to an entire album I felt like I knew what it was really like in Kansas or Chicago. And far from being preachy or straightforward, I found myself attempting to unpack and decipher the meaning in the lyrics like I was still in English class. Eventually, a few of these bands ended up on a compilation called "The Emo Diaries." I wish I could say where I first heard the term emo, but I'm pretty sure it was a friend of mine making fun of another friend's new boyfriend. "Yeah, he's emo," Alan said," That means he listens to Jawbreaker and smokes Chesterfields." I took a mental snapshot of this emo-stranger's dress and pins and patches in an attempt to find out more. (Besides, I really liked Jawbreaker... where did that leave me?)But the next time I encountered the emo-beast was at a One Hundred Words For Snow show at Koo's cafe. Redwood Records put on a veritable emo-fest spanning two-nights, and apparently 100 Words, another band I really liked, fit the bill. Guests could even purchase limited pressings of records with an "Emo Inside" cover that parodied Intel's most likely forgotten identity campaign. That night I took in all the t-shirts and stickers on guitar cases feeling like I'd entered a whole new world. I felt like I was alive and a part of something that was happening now. Luckily, I met some cool folks at work who clued me in to Moss Icon and Rites of Spring before I got too heady over this new 'emo' stuff. And the more I thought about it (and the more clues I was given), I began to see similarities with artists who were on comps with Born Against. (Let's face it, I never would have bought an Ebullition record if it didn't have that Bo[...]



I Disappear A Lot

2006-08-31T15:36:28.636-07:00

Nico - I'll Keep It With MineRainer Maria - I'll Keep It With MinePage France - I'll Keep It With MineI've always been impressed with people who can write songs, and especially those songwriters who seem to just have songs flowing out of them constantly; those two-album-a-year kind of songwriters. And the kind of prolific songwriters who have such an abundance of great songs that even their outtake throway songs become classics? Well that seems to be a category where Bob Dylan stands alone. "I'll Keep It With Mine" is a nice little tune, written by Dylan around the Another Side period where the personal was starting to outweigh the political in his work. It would have fit nice and snug on that album, next to something like "To Ramona", but unfortunately he didn't bother to record it until the Bringing It All Back Home sessions and obviously by that time he was about a million miles and a trip on a magic swirling ship beyond such a simple and straightforward song.But, according to legend (and to Wikipedia) he never really wrote it for himself anyway, it was intended for Nico. But Nico wasn't a recording artist in 1964 so first dibs on the song slipped through her fingers. (Although, whether Nico ever really became a recording "artist" is debatable. But, hey, while I'm in the parenthesis here - how excited are you to see Anakin Skywalker play Bob Dylan in that Factory Girl movie?) Judy "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" Collins ended up being the first person to commercially release the song; her version is pretty forgettable, but somehow the song went on to attain cool-unknown-Dylan song status and seems like the song you cover if you're a hip indie band who wants to let people know that you still think Dylan is god and everything, but you're not a fat ad exec with a ponytail and a minivan who once wrote a paper in college about the transcendental message behind "Just Like A Woman". By covering "I'll Keep It With Mine" you're basically letting people know that your Bob Dylan is better than their Bob Dylan.What can I say about the Nico version, from 1967's Chelsea Girl? You know what she sounds like, there's no surprises here: she sings like a tone deaf, transexual, German horse. You either hate that or you find it so odd that it's kind of endearing. If you're of the latter persuasion and you're not familiar with her "I'll Keep It With Mine" it's definitely worth a listen. I don't usually give a shit about things like guitar tone, but I wish I could make my guitar sound exactly like this record. And the violins are killing it on this track.If you're looking for a similarily Velvety but less braying version of "I'll Keep It With Mine", the Rainer Maria cover practically out-Velvets the Velvet Underground in the best possible way. Their whole new record, Catastrophe Keeps Us Together, captures that hypnotic chanteuse vibe perfectly but with a shimmering pop sense that keeps it from getting boring. I think I was misinformed somewhere along the way that this band was "emo". Whoever told me that was an asshole. Props to Jeff for burning this for me. "I'll Keep It With Mine" has been covered by a lot more bands than I'm covering in this post, everyone from Fairport Convention to a late-80s throat-cancer-voice Marianne Faithfull. (80s as in the decade, not her age. She was about a thousand years old when she recorded it.) But, other than the actual Dylan outtake, the one on the Bootleg Series not the one on Biograph, my favorite version of the song is an semi-unreleased bedroom recording by Page France. After the lush instrumentation of the Nico and Rainer Maria versions, it's nice to[...]



How to Fix Oldies Radio

2006-08-31T15:35:07.976-07:00

Junior Walker - Cleo's MoodBooker T & the MG's - Boot-LegLink Wray - RumbleTomorrow is my College Graduation so I went out and got a haircut. Maybe some day in the future I'll do a whole post on just haircut songs, like Smoking Popes "Brand New Haircut," Brent's TV "Hairdoo," Mars' "Hairwaves," The (international) Noise Conspiracy's "United by Haircuts," or Pavement's "Cut Your Hair," but today I want to talk a little about mods.While I was downloading pics of The Jam for Wednesday's post I realized just how cool these lads looked. I can admit to a certain affinity for that clean and tidy Carnaby Street look for a good few years now and it just seemed like the appropriate move to make. College, which was a near decade long excursion for me, is coming to an end and I have a new job. Just seemed like I needed to make a clean break and so I cut off a good 6 or 7 inches of hair. Maybe nobody else out there puts as much symbolic significance on his or her haircut, but for me it says a lot.Generally my rule for a good haircut is to take a style from the repertoire of The Beatles. There's a lot to choose from. I sometimes go for the Abbey Road era longer hair, sometimes I'll bring back the Cavern rock-and-roll look, but I seem to go back to the Ed Sullivan mod cut. I first cut my hair that way after a life-changing live show by The Makers the summer after I graduated high school. To a big music geek like me, having a 1960s garage haircut, or even British Invasion coif, seemed to draw a line of continuity to my little pop punk band through rock-and-roll history. Then The Locust came around and it seemed like everyone was into the longer bowl cut. It was bizarre when Justin Pearson finally razor cut his locks and suddenly ever person in front of you at their shows now had a palmade bird's nest protruding off the back of their heads.So I sit down in the stylist's chair and she says, "Let's figure out what we're doing." I think my keywords were "clean cut but not too clean cut," "still long on the top but short in the back," and "mod." She showed me some pictures and I picked out the one that looked closest to what I wanted. And since I'm already writing an entire blog about it, I don't mind telling you, she did an excellent. In fact, I almost went into a post-art-school diatribe about the need for contrast in order/randomness and how the shears represent order and clean lines, where the razor shears really make it all work with their element of randomness. But I just said, "Wow that razor thing really makes a big difference."So on the way to and from work today I listened to my Live Jam album I had out from the other day. It was great to sing along to their classic originals and even more fun to hear their versions of classic 'mod' pieces like "Move on Up" (maybe you know it as the sample from "Touch the Sky,") and "David Watts." So I felt like maybe I'd give the blog a sort of mini-soundtrack for my new haircut.So, if you consider the mod movement an outgrowth of the International Style or modern art or design, there are some certain tenants that prevail. In keeping with the idea of internationalism, a lot of best tracks are instrumental. Without lyrics adding a level of cultural meaning, a great floor stomper can get feet moving in Osaka and Oxford. And there's something very anti-nationalist about middle-class UK kids recreating or replaying the soul records produced in the impoverished (read: soulful) parts of the US. (Maybe it's like how kids today latch onto those strange card-game-based anime.)But beyond all that, what the mods did was dig d[...]



My Clothes Are Black But My Bread Is Brown

2006-08-31T15:33:34.230-07:00

(image) Gloria Jones - Tainted Love

Gloria Jones - Come Go With Me

Gloria Jones - Heartbeat

While Rihanna's brilliant, "Tainted Love"-interpolating, early pop song of the year contender (definitely best pop song since "1 Thing") "S.O.S." is still topping the charts, and with such a perfect set up mention of Northern Soul yesterday, now seems like a good time to talk about Gloria Jones. As you may already know, Gloria Jones was the first artist to record "Tainted Love" for Motown back in 1964, even though she didn't achieve nearly the level of success that Soft Cell had with their synth heavy new wave cover in the 80s. But if you never bothered to look further than her one non-hit classic, or if you've never even heard that song, her catalogue is definitely worth paying attention to.

There was an episode of The Simpsons I caught on a rerun a couple weeks ago, the one where Homer gets his own show to replace Krusty's and he has a discussion group with Moe and Barney and some of the other Springfield regulars. At one point one of the guys in the group complains about oldies. His complaint is "where are the new oldies?" The joke is that it's supposed to be an oxymoron, but I kind of see his point. Can we get an updated playlist on the oldies stations already? I love "My Girl" as much as the next guy, but there were more than five artists on Motown you know. And it seems that obscurer artists like Gloria Jones never get their time to shine.

Because it's not just being obscure that makes Gloria Jones cool, it's not just that music nerd one-upsmanship where you pretend to like someone just because the average person has never heard of them. Gloria Jones is just as good as any other Motown artist and it's a travesty that her singles can't be found on most generic Motown compilations. She's a little rawer than what some Motown fans might be used to though, maybe that's why she's not as nationally beloved, but to me it's what makes her so exciting to listen to. She seems to bridge a gap between two of my favorite 60s genres, Motor City soul and garage rock.

It makes a lot more sense when you take in to account that "Tainted Love" was written by Ed Cobb, who went on to produce L.A. garage legends The Standells. The singles from her classic mid-60s period like "Tainted Love", "Come Go With Me", "Heartbeat" share plenty of DNA with those suburban kids banging out "Louie Louie" in their parents garages; three chord guitar figures, simple driving drum beats, swirling organs, fuzzy strained vocals. If Gloria Jones had been a white boy who played guitar she could have been on Nuggets.

Then the musical degrees of seperation game gets even weirder, after being dropped from Motown she married Marc Bolan from T. Rex and actually joined the band for several years in the mid 70s, singing back up vocals. They had a son together, Rolan Bolan, and she was driving the car when she got into the accident that killed Marc Bolan in 1977.

Insert your own "tainted love" joke here.



I Feel This Burning Pain

2006-08-31T15:32:03.290-07:00

Martha Reeves and the Vandellas - (Love is Like a) HeatwaveThe Jam - (Love is Like a) Heatwave (Live)Unlike Patrick, I remember just about everything (aside, of course, from when my passive aggressive tendencies tend to rear their ugly heads.) The first girl I kissed was Laura Welzig on May 5, 1991 in the IMAX theatre at The National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC. Maybe I forced myself to remember or maybe it’s just easy because it’s Cinco de Mayo. But a lot like Patrick, if a song or band is tied to a moment, the two are inseparable and unforgettable. One bad example comes from the summer a few years after that first kiss. I can distinctly remember lying on a cot during our summer family vacation with my new portable CD player and the few CDs I had. One of my newer CDs was U2's Zooropa. Now maybe you can make a case for Joshua Tree or Rattle and Hum but you can't really say anything redeeming about Zooropa can you? I know a buddy of mine who I really looked up to was way into U2 and I wanted so desperately to like that CD. (Plus the $16 price tag was like a fortune to me then... wait, how much was a CD in 1993?) But there I am, on that cot with the hot smell of Northern California Summer in the air, realizing that I really didn't like this album. Then I can remember getting upset because I knew that whenever I thought back on this summer vacation I would remember that insipid, 'don't think, don't drink, don't drive, don't stink,' song that the guitar player spoke/sang. (Yes, I know his name is Edge, but I thought I'd sound cooler if I feigned ignorance.)The very first song I can remember ever is "Let's Hear It For The Boy," by Deneice Williams, made popular by (and played on the radio a lot due to) the Footloose Soundtrack. I'm not sure exactly why that song stuck in my fragile little head, but I can remember a little story about my dad and me. (Which actually might sum up where my twisted sense of humor and music come from, as well as point out that I was always little 'different from the other boys.') When I finally got the Red Butler doll from Rainbow Brite I had pined after for what seemed like years, I was very excited to show my dad when he got home from work. Maybe I was conscious of the fact that this was a girl's toy or maybe I just couldn't communicate through all the excitement, but I ran up to my dad and said, "I got the boy! I got the boy!" I can remember his smile on a face that seems foreignly young now, as he replied, "Oh really. Like, 'Let's hear it for boyyy' ?" and sang out the melody.Flash forward about half a decade and one day at recess my three friends and I decide that The Beach Boys are cool. Not based on the music, I don't think, I'm pretty sure that this was what we thought the surfers listened to, and we sure did think those surfers were cool. Now my dad didn't have any Beach Boys tapes so I borrowed his gas station compilation entitled Summer Surf. It had an orange and blue cover and a lot of great songs. It was definitely the coolest thing my parents owned. (The Sgt. Pepper vinyl hadn't entered in yet.) Needless to say I played that tape until it wore thin.One of the songs on Summer Surf was "Heatwave" by Martha Reeves and The Vandellas. It's also, as you might know, one of the hand full of songs played on the Los Angeles oldies station. So I definitely got more than enough chance to learn all the words, and according to my mother, attempt to sing the lead parts and backing parts at the same time, resulting in a mish-mash of lyrics.Flash forw[...]



Don't Know What A Slide Ruler's For

2006-06-26T23:08:07.033-07:00

(image) Otis Redding - Wonderful World

I was running late for work yesterday, and I'm the kind of person that doesn't like to be late. So I was a little frustrated, nervously fidgeting and staring at the time on my cell phone, cursing every driver on the road who was going the speed limit. I was all set for my running behind to set the precedent for a bad day. And then "Wonderful World" came on the radio. And in three glorious minutes it reassured me that everything was going to be alright.

For those of us who are in love with songs, it can be difficult to articulate just how much power they hold in our lives. I'm not talking about people who like songs, I think everybody likes songs, most people enjoy music on some level. I'm talking about people who love songs, whose pivotal moments in life are remembered with a soundtrack, who can write pages of words every week day about why a song is great. I can't for the life of me recall the name of the first girl I ever kissed when I was a freshman in high school, but I can remember in every detail the exhiliration I felt the first time I heard the Misfits, which incidentally happened on the same day. Strange (or sad) as it may sound, hearing a warbly cassette tape copy of Walk Among Us seems, in retrospect, like the more earth shattering event.

I can't exactly remember the first time I heard "Wonderful World", it's one of those songs that was always on the oldies station growing up, but I always liked it. The first time I ever bothered to learn who sang the version I was most familiar with, the Sam Cooke version, was when a history teacher in high school played it while handing back our first test. ("Don't know much about history..." get it?) While the other students in class were worried about their test grade, I was more curious about the song. I talked with my teacher about it after class and after that the War of 1812 seemed pretty unimportant compared to the copy of Sam Cooke's Greatest Hits that he let me borrow.

I don't think normal people have memories so vibrant about things like this. But I think I'm glad I'm not like normal people. I'm glad music can be such a trasformative experience for me, I'm glad it can make bad days seem a little brighter. I'm probably going to be running late again today, since I'm sitting here writing and leisurely enjoying my afternoon coffee instead of getting ready for work. But I'm listening to Otis Redding's take on "Wonderful World" (after years of discerning listening I must confess a preference for Otis) and, yeah it's a little corny, but I'm telling you, the world really does seem kind of wonderful when I hear this song.

(Click here to buy Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul on Amazon.)



Take a Bow

2006-05-21T14:38:59.070-07:00

Run!!! - Two SongsRun!!! - Bendy (Can't Wait)I can admit to certain advantages to 'going out' to see a band. Some are taken for granted, like being to able to watch to your favorite musicians belt it out right in front of you, like experiencing the music with a group as it is created, or simply being able to finally hear the songs as loud as you'd ever hope for. Then when the music is over you get to go home and someone else cleans up after you. On the other hand, of course, is the trauma of trying to find parking, the drama of asymmetrical haircut cliques, and the barf-o-rama (sorry) of overheard conversations.I can remember a letter written to Profane Existence that said something to the effect of, "I no longer hope to achieve a complete social revolution; now I focus my efforts on carving out a space for myself and people like me to exist." And while that certainly has a shadow-side sentiment of elitism or isolationism, the idea of creating a sort of 'safe space,' was something that resonated with me. A few years later I found AAA Electra 99 in a strange office complex right next to John Wayne Airport. An artist co-op/museum/gallery that seemed to literally be a space carved out of a landscape littered with office buildings, Electra offered space to whoever wanted it and was willing to pay a small lease every month. That location has since been turned into a parking lot and Electra was forcibly removed and relocated to Anaheim. (Trust me, that's the short version.) The new location allowed Electra to focus more on bands than they had before and it became the only venue I'd ever really go to. Nowadays I usually stop by at least one night every weekend.Over the course of the five or six years Electra has been in Anaheim I've seen a lot bands come and go. I've seen a lot of terrible bands and a lot of really strange bands and a few really good bands. There's some bands who build up their chops on Electra's homemade 'stage,' (created out of discarded shipping palettes and recycled carpet) and then move on to be 'too big' to play a 55-occupancy warehouse next to the dump. But, seriously, good for them. Some end up in films by your favorite director and some trudge along endlessly without ever finding that big break. Some bands disappear as quickly as they came.Run!!! was the greatest band that nobody got to hear. Consisting of two bassists, a drummer and a singer, Run!!! consistently kicked the shit out me every time they played. Fronted by an enigmatic singer who sounded like a schizophrenic evil Elvis or overly anxious Glenn Danzig, Run!!! delivered hard-hitting music with a strong arty bend. One bass player would typically lay out the melody or chords and the other would completely go off with the best use of effect pedals I have ever witnessed. I can't describe what it was like to see the straight-laced, white button-up, short-cropped-hair young main, affectionately dubbed "The Mormon" by the front-room crowd at Electra, open up his suitcase full of pedals and completely annihilate everything I thought about how a bass could be played. He kept a second set of strings already strung on his bass, but duct taped to the back, for a quick and easy string change at a moment's notice. Yeah, he played that hard. When you listen back to their recorded work, it's almost impossible to figure out the instrumentation used, but most often that strange sound you can't quite pinpoint is coming from his bass. And it never sounds like Guitar Cente[...]



Makin' Me Hella Randy And Shit

2006-06-26T23:00:16.403-07:00

(image) Gravy Train!!!! - Hella Nervous

I should have posted something about Gravy Train!!!! right after my Rappers Delight Club and Bratmobile posts. It would have made a neat little thematic thread. Little girls rapping + riot grrrl = Gravy Train? Something like that. I would have had a more eloquent essay to make the connection, but I kind of messed the order up and now I'm rushing through this as it is. I trust you guys are smart enough to fill in the blanks.

I first saw Gravy Train at a Bratmobile show and despite having a very different approach to feminist politics, the things that made me love Gravy Train are the same things that drew me to Bratmobile. The political bands that I like, the ones that I still find myself listening to well past my crusty punk phase, seem to all have one thing in common - a sense of humor. Fronted by a full figured Mexican girl ordering guys to suck her "muff like a vaccuum cleaner", kicking rhymes about sex and eating (and sometimes both at the same time) in simple but clever couplets, Gravy Train may push the humor to the forefront but the ideas are still there.

And even if you can't get down with the vulgar in-your-face lyrics, you're gonna find it hard to resist the beats. I defy even the most prudish of listeners to not want to shake their ass to "Hella Nervous". It's glitchy and homemade on cheap Casios and drum machines but it's ridiculously catchy. I've seen Gravy Train live a couple times and it's basically a non-stop dance party. I haven't seen them in years but I bet when they play this song, shit still gets out of control.

Not only haven't I seen Gravy Train in a couple years, but I haven't really kept up on their releases much either. A few months after I saw them open for Bratmobile, and bought their self-released four-song EP with "Hella Nervous" on it, they got signed to Kill Rock Stars and put out a record called Hello Doctor. "Hella Nervous" was still the best song on it. I think they've got a few more releases now and I heard somewhere that they went through a line up change or two, but I'm still content to keep replaying this song. The drawback to Gravy Train is that they're kind of a one-trick pony; there's only so many songs about burgers and bouncing titties you can listen to before the novelty wears off. But if you haven't heard them before, download this song because the one trick is fucking brilliant here.

(Click here to order Hello Doctor from Kill Rock Stars.)



I Should Be So Lucky

2006-06-26T22:58:17.056-07:00

Maritime - Tearing Up the Oxygen Let's dispense with the obligatory statements right up front. 1) Maritime consists of Davey von Bohlen and Dan Didier (formerly of The Promise Ring), and Eric Axelson (formerly of The Dismemberment Plan). 2) We, The Vehicles is a more focused and successfully rendered album than their debut, Glass Floor. 3) The majority of indie-kids and punk-rockers really don't want to be called "emo."You can get any one of those points (and often, all three) from just about any review of Maritime; all three can be disputed or rebuked.While Maritime was founded by two members of Promise Ring, this fact is just about as useful as knowing Davey was also in Cap'n Jazz. I suppose to a degree, if you are a fan of his writing, or just curious to see how he turned out, you might want to know that Davey is writing lyrics and music for this new project. But the vocal delivery is so developed and refined on We, The Vehicles, that one might have a hard time even believing this the same singer. It gives hope to those of us who cut our teeth with shredded vocal chords.And sadly, Eric Axelson, well regarded as one of the best bass players in the indie scene today, has left Maritime. He cited a longing to stay home rather than tour and didn't want to hold the band back. Whether or not he'll appear on future records is anyone's guess, but it does make We, The Vehicles more essential. Axelson's basslines manage to be both humbled and humbling; they are neither showy nor simplistic. They add another layer of melody while laying the foundation for von Bohlen's sharp counterpoints and stripped-down-to-necessity arrangements.Now I can't really weigh in on the first album versus this one; I haven't heard Glass Floor. I'm only writing about Maritime now because Patrick shared "Parade of Punk Rock T-Shirts" with me a few months back. (I believe the blog he downloaded it from has slipped our collective memory.) Seems a good number of internet trolls point to Wood/Water as an indicator of We, The Vehicles and deride the lazy reviewers' attempts to suggest the The Vehicles is a quantum leap from anything any of the band members have done before. (But other folks think Wood/Water was an experimental mistake akin to Glass Floor.) You'll have to make up your own mind... just wanted to let you know.Finally, if 'emo' means Rites of Spring or even Promise Ring, hell yeah, I listen to emo. (I don't think I'd say I AM 'emo,' but that's ridiculous high school stuff and mostly semantics.) I suppose somewhere between genuine, sincere expression and hardcore kids growing up, emo became another fashion and ultimately ended up another mold to fill. That doesn't mean I won't sing out "Oh Amy! Don't hate me!" or "I don't know Billy Ocean. I don't know the ocean floor," driving down the freeway or alone in my apartment. Busted. I'm emo.But Maritime really has nothing in common with 'emo,' unless you use too broad a definition. It's cheap way out of really reviewing a song. Next thing you know, the writer has told you all about the people in the band and their history without giving you much description of the actual music. Sort of like I just did.(Buy We, The Vehicles at Amazon.)[...]