30 December 2005

vain, selfish & lazy's top 20 tracks of 2005.
1 r. kelly - "trapped in the closet (chapters 1-5)"
2 bloc party - "banquet"
3 richard hawley - "coles corner"
4 futureheads - "area"
5 maximo park - "going missing"
6 roll deep - "the avenue"
7 the pipettes, "dirty mind"
8 elbow - "forget myself"
9 the clientele - "since k got over me"
10 sugababes - "red dress"
11 robbie williams - "tripping"
12 levy - "on the dancefloor"
13 lady sovereign - "hoodie (alternative medasyn radio mix)"
14 girls aloud - "biology"
15 trembling blue stars - "helen reddy"
16 the go! team - "hold yr terror close"
17 british sea power - "like a honeycomb"
18 the game ft. 50 cent - "hate it or love it (g-unit remix)"
19 art brut - "good weekend"
20 the faders - "no sleep 2night"

top 10 albums.
1 the go! tearm - thunder, lightning, strike (repeat winner!)
2 richard hawley - coles corner
3 maximo park - a certain trigger
4 art brut - bang, bang, rock & roll
5 the go-betweens - oceans apart
6 kanye west - late registration
7 british sea power - open season
8 m.i.a. - arular
9 pernice brothers - discover a lovelier you
10 the new pornographers - twin cinema

favorite live album : kraftwerk - minimum-maximum
favorite reissue : orange juice - the glasgow school
favorite best of : the beta band - best of beta band
favorite bonus disc : lcd soundsystem - s/t
favorite back catalog purchase : lloyd cole & the commotions - rattlesnakes
favorite it's-about-time purchase : the byrds - the essential byrds
favorite i-would-never-have-thought-so-a-year-ago : maria callas - the very best of maria callas
favorite rediscovery : thelonious monk
biggest disappointment : franz ferdinand - you could have it so much better
i loved it, but, wow, not for long : kaiser chiefs - employment
yeah, i bought : coldplay - x & y
get well soon : edwyn collins.

happy new year everyone!

29 December 2005

loud family - "nice when i want something" (from the attractive nuisance lp, currently out-of-print.)

i never listened to game theory either.

i knew the name loud family, but for some reason free association led me to "sunny day real estate," which might not be so wrong considering that i don't know all that much about them either. but a check at amg reminded me that loud family is the project of scott miller, formerly of game theory. game theory : the mention of that band's name--and, indeed, of the album the posted track comes from--reminds me that, despite my own studiousness, intelligence--or, rather, knowledge is never something i actively look for in a band. i made that distinction b/c bob dylan came to mind, who is intelligent, but probably doesn't know a lot about optimality.

scott miller does, though. let's make it clear : i don't hold such things against him. stephin merritt probably knows a whole lot of junk, too. only his references are couched in things i do actively look for in a band, like song structure and melody, things that any fan of power pop, as i understand miller is, should be well-versed in. yet several listens to "nice when i want something" give me v. little to grasp on to--no hooks, no choruses, nothing but a whole lot of guitar noodling, and if i want that, i'll go listen to some other big star fans, teenage fanclub. there are probably intelligent things being said, things learned from reading books, but i'd rather hear a song about reading books, like many belle & sebastian songs, not about the things found in them, and esp. not things found in law books, otherwise i'd have gone ahead w/ law school.

after what i've said, it should at least be clear that i don't want anything from the band, though i would have preferred if i could have said nice things about them. after all, jonhope is a good fellow and a friend to this site; i hope he can forgive me for what i say about loud family, or at least balance out his ire w/ thanks for posting the track. and, you know, maybe this song isn't representative of the band; maybe i'd quite like another of their songs, it being my belief, after all, that every band is capable of writing at least one great song; and maybe i should listen to some game theory. but the statistical probability of that is low.

so i've straightened out the loud family, and that's all settled. ... but who is hunters & collectors?
foreign born - "we had pleasure" (from the we had pleasure single, available for purchase here.)

foreign born, as the band name might indicate, are one of those american bands signed to a uk label that brit crowds seems to like more than the band's native population. they are exactly the kind of band that anglophiles like yours truly are always suspicious of. it's a territorial thing, you see.

that said, i can happily report that the only thing i dislike about this single is the word "pleasure." we all have words that we all find personally abhorrent, and "pleasure" is such a word for me. (so too is "lover.") otherwise, it's all mostly to the good, "we had pleasure" could have been released in 1981 by a bunch of brits w/ funny hair and no one would be the wiser. of course, you'd be the wiser if you give it a listen ...

28 December 2005

slowdive - "catch the breeze (peel session)" (from the just for a day reissue, import available for purchase here.)

correct me if i'm wrong, but few bands have their career-spanning retrospectives named after a song from an ep released before their debut record. this peel version of "catch the breeze"--the song's first airing, predating both the holding our breath ep and just for a day, available only i believe on that recently reissued lp--how intuitive that anthology's compilers were. "catch the breeze" is the template; often, the band would match, rarely would they better it. the diaphanous, keening guitars give one the impression of refuse borne aloft, naturally, by the breeze; the closing maelstrom, perhaps the band's peak, sees that breeze roused to a gale. the listener finds himself stuck in a moment he's in no hurry to get out of, and the bonus material found on the new reissues allows him to tarry awhile.

27 December 2005

wedding present - "california" (from the hit parade 1 lp, available for purchase here.)

i do three impressions well. none of them, it could be said, are really requested, but the least requested is my david gedge.

it has been requested, though, that i write about, or perhaps just post, the wedding present's "california." "california," released in june 1992, was the sixth single released in the weddoes' single-a-month project, compiled on hit parade. it's a a refreshing track, both musically and thematically, coming after the career zenith (and heavygoing) seamonsters. the band have been described as "the smiths on motorcycles," and that's a perfect description of much of their music, including seamonsters; "california," though, like the later "gazebo," is more like the smiths on mopeds, driving along the seaside. it's more acoustic strumming than highspeed riffing, while gedge's vocals are less strained--less, that is, gedgy--and more breathy.

and the lyrics! a discussion i like to have--and, again, there are few takers--is whose ex is the bigger bitch, gedge's or bobby wratten's? "california," though, is hopeful and wide-eyed. after an afternoon romp, gedge pleads for his girl not to get dressed so quickly; he'd like that image to remember the day by. of course, it wouldn't be a weddoes' song if there weren't some clouds on the horizon, even in sunny california. there's the suggestion that his girl might say "no" to his california trip, just as she may one day say "no" to him when he wants to get back together. melodramatic? an unwarranted leap of logic? yes, but that's precisely why one listens to the wedding present in the first place.
... and when i said "requests," i meant to say "reposts." so if something expired before you had a chance to hear it, do let me know and i'll re-up it.

but! i'm glad i misspoke b/c i quite like the idea of requests, and i've had a few. i esp. like the idea of writing about things i've never heard before, so by all means request away.
east river pipe - "i'll walk my robot home" (from the what are you on lp, available for preorder here.)

some things i know about f.m. cornog: 1) we have the same first name 2) we were both raised in morris county, nj 3) lambchop have recorded his songs 4) he used to record for sarah records

what i didn't know was that he still made records; i must have lost touch w/ him along the way. but there's reason to become reacquainted, for he'll have a fine new record out in january. "i'll walk my robot home" is my favorite : it's a bit like xtc, ca. "the disappointed" (and, so, the beach boys); and since it mentions human / robots, i.e. robosexuals, i feel obligated for some reason to mention the flaming lips. no, the sum total, as indie calculus dictates, isn't clouds taste metallic, but rather something a whole lot less forced, much more affecting, and uniquely f.m. cornog.

23 December 2005

regular service will resume on tuesday, the 27th.

but, truth be told, i have v. little in the reserves.


if you perhaps came a little late to the site, or even if you didn't, i'll fulfill your requests nightly next week, sort of like hanukkah. so reply here or drop me an email, and i'll git-r-done.

merry christmas and happy hanukkah to all who celebrate; to the rest, enjoy your day off.
howling bells - "setting sun" (from the howling bells lp, due out in april 2006; visit the band's website here.)

i feel awful right now--and i've got a lot of presents to wrap and i have to be up v. early tomorrow morning. yet, if there's one thing that soothes my phlegmy soul, it's this song by australia's howling bells. i know far too little about australia, other than that they are a beautiful people--frontchick juanita stein is truly a sight for bloodshot eyes--and that it's summer there now. still, i'm imagining that this is what it might sound like, if one were passing through the red australian desert as the sun sank. the opening is uneasy, there are sounds and voices, a quick reminder that one is in untamed country. but the chorus is stunning , rising and falling, guitars squalling and ringing. the combined effect is a blissful powerlessness in the face of some ancient power. and this is how it might look :

22 December 2005

and if you can't get enough of the christmas music, some more suggested listening :
the platters - "i'll be home for christmas"
the granville williams orchestra - "santa claus is ska-ing to town"
the pogues & kirsty maccoll - "fairytale of new york"
donny hathaway - "this christmas"
slade - "merry xmas everybody"
run-dmc - "christmas in hollis"
the waitresses - "christmas wrapping"
clarence carter - "back door santa"
john coltrane - "greensleeves"
booker t. & the mg's - "jingle bells"
james brown - funky christmas
vince guaraldi trio - a charlie brown christmas
frank sinatra - a jolly christmas from frank sinatra
elvis presley - christmas album
low - christmas
phil spector - a christmas gift for you from phil spector
the beach boys - ultimate christmas
rod stewart - "oh God, i wish i was home tonight" (from the foolish behaviour lp, available for purchase here.)

i had meant to post this the other day, paired w/ "christmas in prison." it's an exile of another sort, and even more tangentially christmas-related. in retrospect, as the last christmas song i'll post before the holiday, "o holy night" would seem to make the most sense, as it is the most timely; but there are political reasons behind the positioning of rod.

"home" is something of a sequel to "you wear it well," but not explicitly so, this time contact initiated by telephone; released during rod's horrible decade (aka "eating it in the 80's"), it's the closest he's since gotten to his peak period. it has everything that ever made rod great : bawdiness, poignancy, fiddles, and the voice--it is, in fact, rod at his roddiest.

two verses stand out, the first, early on in the song, goes :
send me a naked picture by the u.s. mail,
write a pornographic letter and, no, i won't tell.
keep your legs closed tight, keep your body under lock and key,
stay home at night and save all the best parts for me.
meanwhile, the penultimate verse goes like this :
i guess better ring off before the boys get home,
my regards to all your family and everyone at home.
there's a lump comes to my throat and a tear i can't hide,
'cos i want to see you so badly i just can't lie.
the way he strings two interconnected, but at least on the surface, two contradictory impulses together is impressive; the way he sells both--the first sounds like it comes from a faces record; the second, like "reason to believe"--is extraordinary.

in between those two verses, the christmas line comes in. we know from the start that it's december--and a particularly wet and gray one at that. "i could be home in time for christmas if you want me to be," he sings; it's a much different sentiment than "i'll be home for christmas." that it's christmas, as i've mentioned, does lend it a certain hue and throw it into a particular context. BUT! no matter what you might have heard recently, christmas is but a single day--it comes and it goes--while winter is the season things have gone on between rod and his missus, things that go on between couples every day, regardless of what holiday is on the horizon. winter, as rod knows all too well, can be v. cold and last a long time.
the delays - "out of nowhere" (from the rough trade sampler lp, rough trade website accessible here.)

in brief : ... which is precisely where new delays material came from. this time, surprisingly, they rock. (and the choice of band isn't meta-commentary on the fact that it took me until 7 to get something posted ... )

the delays may have gotten lost in the shuffle; "nearer than heaven," w/ a year to reflect on it, is one of the best singles of a decade half-over, and "long time coming," used in a stateside diamond commercial, is not far behind.

the band does pretty real well, aided by singer greg gilbert's enviable falsetto. at their best, they sound like a lost early-80's 4ad band. what they didn't do so well, and why faded seaside glamour was a disappointment when it was released, was rock. good news for the new album, to be released in early 2006 : they've got the knack.

or, rather, they've got early ride ep's. a streaking guitar line guides this one along, while gilbert, shorn of his falsetto, sounds like lee mavers must when people call "there she goes" a boo radleys song. the year hasn't even begun yet and already 2006 is shaping up nicely.

21 December 2005

nat king cole - "o holy night" (from the christmas song lp, available for purchase here.)

... "o holy night," on the other hand, has everything to do w/ christmas day.

it is in my estimation the greatest of christmas songs, lyrically and musically, although "have yourself a merry christmas," "i'll be home for christmas," and "hark! the herald angels sing" aren't far behind (the last mainly for the lines "peace on earth, and mercy mild / God and sinner reconciled" which always does something to me). the only thing i can possibly say against it is how overcooked it can be in the wrong hands. nat king cole, however, is nothing if not cool and reserved--which is not to say "detached" : one hears passion--and not the passion--in every smoky syllable; he is not, like so many lesser singers, attempting to make the song about himself. instead, his version is a mystery and a thing of wonder, like, in its quietest moments, the holiday itself.
beth orton - "shadow of a doubt" (from the comfort of strangers lp, available for preorder here.)

for an artist w/ an amazingly low batting average w/ me, i sure do give beth orton a lot of chances. so far, only "love like laughter" has been a keeper--but what a song. it creates a warm, welcoming environment that glows like a dying fire, amongst whose patrons one feels unusually comfortable. and so i wait.

another reason : the voice. on "shadow of a doubt" from the forthcoming comfort of strangers album, she sounds encouragingly like sandy denny. like the former fairport fairy, orton is able on the chorus to craft incantations by merely stretching her syllables. it's enough to ensure that i'll be around for the next release.

20 December 2005

saint etienne - "i was born on christmas day"
(from the too young to die lp, which you apparently can't buy new anywhere.)

elton john - "step into christmas" (from the caribou lp, available for purchase here.)

"i was born on christmas day" is as much about christmas as ... well, as any other song i've posted so far. it gets the externals so right, though; it's a big city christmas; it's music to negotiate large crowds by, which is never so needed as in new york right now. but, really, it's an english thing, the guitar solo the best homage to "boredom" i've ever heard. taken as a whole, it's as if the trafalgar square tree exploded, lighting up the sky over the thames and ringing all the bells in town.

having heard the wedding present's cover of "step into christmas," i know for a fact that the appeal of this song has little to do w/ the song itself and everything to do w/ the production. (how many abba tricks did elton and gus dudgeon borrow here? or, given that this record was released in 1973, was the influence in reverse? and why didn't abba release a christmas record? never was a band in the history of music more qualified for it.) in contrast to "born," "step" is more like the christmas in one's home, acoustic guitars strumming to the beat of one wrapping presents, piano runs lining the track like strings of light.
the clientele - "st. paul's beneath a sinking sky" (from the it's art, dad lp, available for purchase at shows or at the clientele's website.)

for those who missed the lo-fi sound of early clientele records, they've released a collection of demos from 1991-1996, any number of which could have been album, or even single, tracks. be happy, then, about the unfinished sound, but rue the fact--something that those w/ a temperament for the band naturally possess--that something as incredible as "st. paul's" seems so incomplete. it's almost like dylan cracking up at the end of "she's your lover now." almost. "st. paul's" is every bit as evocative as its title.

19 December 2005

john prine - "christmas in prison" (from the sweet revenge lp, available for purchase here.)

i had told a co-worker that i like sad christmas songs the best; she wondered what i meant exactly. i suggested "i'll be home for christmas" and "have yourself a merry little christmas," and had her listening habits included john prine, who i initially came across b/c he comes directly after "prince," i would have mentioned "christmas in prison."

"christmas in prison" isn't necessarily a christmas song, but it relies upon the holiday in the same way as "have yourself," that is, the kind of sadness it speaks of is year-long, but it's only exacerbated by the holiday. otherwise, it's david ackles's "down river," except still under lock and key--and, for that reason, it's less sad, b/c ackles had his dreams crushed in a heartbeat, whereas prine is free to believe that his girl will wait.

but, make no mistake, it's sad, and if you didn't notice the high-and-lonesome harmonica will clue you in. prine's dylan-esque whine seems to naturally ward off sentiment and defy nostalgia, but the lyric betrays his facade. it ends, "it's christmas in prison / there'll be music tonight / i'll probably get homesick / i love you. good night."

and if that ain't sad, there's always "the christmas shoes."
belle & sebastian - "the boy done wrong again (live)" (from the if you're feeling sinister (live) lp, available exclusively on itunes.)

in brief : yeah, yeah, it's charity--but i also didn't post, you know, "get me away from here i'm dying." and i found $50 on the ground the other day and gave it to the red cross, so.

it's probably apostasy to claim that belle & sebastian haven't made a capital-g great album, esp. given how much some people love if you're feeling sinister. (and while i'm digging a hole, if they've made a great album, it's dear catastrophe waitress.) but don't let me ruin this for you, particularly since this album was recorded to aid asian quake victims.

one of the reasons i don't see belle & sebastian live is, despite how much i love them, they have a surprisingly large portfolio of songs that i really don't want to hear. but! my, when they do play a number i like, the live performance really does make all the difference. according to both itunes and last.fm, "the boy done wrong again" is the least favorite but one ("mayfly") from if you're feeling sinister; for me, it's one of the four songs on that album i'd be happy to hear live.

though maybe "happy" isn't quite the word. indeed, perhaps the reason "wrong" rates so low is b/c it is a complete low; none of the chirpy good humor or irony to leaven what is total heartbreak. w/ a "WOOOO!" from the audience after the first line, and the applause that rounds it out, it all gets incredibly surreal. it has to be heard to be believed, and it can be heard at your local neighborhood itunes.

16 December 2005

we here at vain, selfish & lazy make mistakes on occasion--though we stand by all of our opinions and judgments. we--meaning i--would like to take the opportunity to correct a few of these and, in the process, post some new music.

the long blondes songs posted the other day was not the a-side "separated by motorways," but rather the b-side "big infatuation." "separated by motorways" can be heard here. it is produced by the ubiquitous paul epworth. b-side wins again in my estimation, but it's a close call.

not too long ago, i posted a radio rip of richard ashcroft's new single, "break the night with colour." you can now here the studio version here.

lastly, the mystery jets song i put up recently, "alas agnes," was from their debut single. it is an earlier and, actually, inferior version when compared to the newly recorded single version, which you can get here.

thank you for your understanding and continued support.

15 December 2005

stevie wonder - "ave maria" (from the motown christmas lp, available for purchase here.)

my favorite version of "ave maria," one of schubert's most beautiful melodies and therefore amongst the greatest things to grace the ear, is by stevie wonder, recorded when he was just 17. just about every singer of repute, both pop and classical, has attempted the song, but none of them are quite so affecting as stevie's. why is this? he tackles it as a child-man, on the verge of becoming a man-child (which, arguably, he's been ever since); he is respectful--listen to the pronounciation! much better than bing's or sinatra's--but he is at the same time resolutely himself. one thing that i find is rarely mentioned when discussing "little" stevie is just how talented of a singer he was, perhaps b/c people were still trying to get their heads around the fact that he was a blind kid who could play the drums, and just about everything else. it is the vocals, though, that impress most, both their tone and the passion he brings to them. he sings like a child, w/ awe and wonder (pun unavoidable), which is precisely the way one should approach a hymn.

... perhaps i don't want to commit to the vocals as the most impressive just yet. b/c then what does one say about his harmonica playing (which never escaped notice)? sublime? well, yes. i don't know whose decision it was to blend blues harp w/ classical, though i bet stevie had something to do w/ it. it is, however unlikely it might seem, a stirring combination. whether it is w/ his voice or w/ his harp, stevie wonder, at such a tender age and w/ such overfamiliar material, exceeds the efforts of singers w/ twice the years and experience by simply being stevie wonder.
mogwai - "auto rock" (from the mr. beast lp, street date : march 7, 2006.)

in brief : the mark of the beast.

mogwai and sigur ros were two bands i used to confuse b/c i really didn't listen to either them in the past. both released debuts in 1997 and both tended toward the sprawling. sigur ros, i now know, are more orchestral whereas mogwai achieve total heaviosity. they also hated blur which really should have counted for something back then.

but things change--liam and damon are apparently mates and i'm listening to mogwai. i would classify "auto rock" alongside the liars track i posted not too long ago, under the heading "seriously spooky shit." it's not that the music is going from quiet to loud; no, the impression i get is of something getting closer, something grand and fearsome. at first glance, there's nothing to fear; as it appears on the horizon, it is a thing of beauty, a lovely piano melody signalling the approach of something benevolent. but then the guitars enter. but it is not the guitars that frighten so much as the beating of those incessant drums; it is like some grand and horrible procession, moving along ineluctably at a slow, steady pace. and that is what is most horrifying about it : the pace. one wonders why don't they just get on w/ it. simply, b/c they don't have to : they know they've got you.

14 December 2005

the royal guardsmen - "snoopy vs. the red baron" (from the snoopy vs. the red baron / snoopy & his friend lp, available for purchase here.)

in brief : ... and the royal guardsmen remind us how profoundly silly the christmas season is.

it's a bit like "fairytale of new york." both involve copious christmas bells; both reference other songs ("galway bay" and "o tannenbaum"); and both feature antagonists who end as friends, or vice versa. happily, "snoopy" does away w/ the slurs in favor of bad german ("merry christmas, mein friend!") and just like "fairytale of new york," the royal guardsmen should be a mainstay of any holiday mix.
long blondes - "big infatuation" (from the separated by motorways single, import available for purchase here.)

the long blondes are another angular recordings band, so think luxembourg, art brut, and the boyfriends (and, really, do think about them!). but also think of the strokes on the modern age ep, before anyone heard of them, and then imagine if they were as open to experimentation then as they have been recently, now that everyone has heard of them, and, really, it's ruined it for you. BUT! imagine if the v. presence of julian didn't keep the band from having a sense of humor; and imagine if they were fronted by a chick, which would make them so much better, and by my math = blondie.

i really wish i had more time to talk about this b-side, how it was, of all things, a professor of mine who alerted me to the band almost a year ago, how it became a bit of a running gag, and how this is really one of the best songs i've heard all year. but my internet was acting up this morning and, well, i've got to get to work. so just let me italicize the important part.

13 December 2005

judy garland - "have yourself a merry little christmas" (from the judy garland in hollywood lp, available for purchase here.)

in brief : sinatra's version is my favorite b/c, well, sinatra's version is almost always my favorite. garland's take, however, is more true, and not only b/c she hems to the original lyric.

sinatra is a happy / sad kind of guy, and he insists on the slash between the two. i mean, this is a man capable of rendering the deepest heartache ever heard on record ... and yet he insisted on having the line altered to "hang a shining star upon the highest bough." for sinatra, i imagine, christmas was a happy occasion, and though he recognized the obvious merits in "have yourself a merry little christmas," christmas must be respected and treated as a joyous occasion.

i can understand, mainly b/c for me too christmas has always been a happy time--indeed, my favorite time of the year. this is, perhaps, why i find "have yourself a merry little christmas," in the original garland version, to be such an unbearably sad and powerfully moving record, regardless of the season. it forces me to confront the fact that there may be a time, and it may not be far off, that christmas, as it once did for my father, may be a time of regret and the remembrance of loss, w/ good times a possibility but not, as it had been, a promise.

sinatra's version is like a pat on the shoulder, the recognition that, though we had some tough times, we've made it through; to give him credit, he doesn't deny that the v. real likelihood of hardship. but, w/ sinatra, the emphasis is on that v. same "we," w/ its implication of community and family, as in "through the years we all will be together" and "here we are as in olden days." judy knows that, ultimately, it's just me and you, kid. she sings, "once again ... faithful friends who are near to us will be dear to us once more," sinatra having inverted the original--but, oh, the difference! witness also his changing of "some day soon" and "next year" to "from now on." again, w/ judy, it's hope for the best, but expect the worst.

and then there is that most famous emendation. hanging a shining star is, literally and figuratively, the culmination of one's good luck. it might have been a long climb to that bough, but, by God, we've made it. judy, less optimistically, suggests that, until we can all be together again, "we'll have to muddle through somehow," a line that, to me, is just about the saddest one in all of popular music, especially when followed by the closing "have yourself a merry little christmas now." it's not ironic; it is smiling through the tears, it's muddling through exactly.
the cribs - "you're gonna lose us" (from the you're gonna lose us single, import available for purchase here.)

as i've said before, the cribs and the libertines are similar bands, but w/ different ways of expression. you get the sense that pete really beat himself up; he's probably done a lot of things beginning w/ the prefix 'self-" (including, on the babyshambles album, self-indulgence). the cribs, on the other hand, really take it out on the listener : shouty choruses; choruses that shout; skronky guitars; impulsive tempos.

like the libs, when the cribs--unintentional rhyme there--needed a boost in profile, they turn to bernard butler to produce a record. (for the record, bernard produced what i would consider the three best libertines records : "what a waster," "don't look back into the sun," and "death on the stairs.) "you're gonna lose us" was originally released as a b-side to "hey scenesters!" but on butler's version the tempo is upped considerably and then, characteristically, is upped toward the end. again, as w/ "don't look back into the sun," it sounds like a farewell, or at least the threat of one. here is a crucial difference between the two bands : recollecting what followed, i really wish "sun" had been the libs's last single; based on what may yet come, i really hope the cribs are just fucking w/ me.

12 December 2005

the band - "whispering pines" (from the band lp, available for purchase here.)

in brief : a way into the band for those who may be on the way out.

the band is aptly named for my purposes tonight, since they are exemplars of the band i needed a rosetta stone to get into. i thought finally digging dylan would really open the lock, but no. not really, even though their playing at the albert hall and on planet waves show what a dynamic pairing the two make.

so, for me, the first song to work was "it makes no difference," followed by "up on cripple creek" and "the night they drove old dixie down" (i can't even bring myself to count "the weight" since it's almost public domain at this point. oh, and "whispering pines." i think, for me, the quality of a the band song is directly proportional to how sad it is, w/ the major exception being "tears of rage."

so, "whispering pines"--another one of the songs i'd like played at my funeral. what it seems to deal w/ is how one can possibly exist when the one they love no longer loves them back; but more than that : how can one exist when they are no longer an object of thought for the one they love. it really is enough to make a guy want to die, but the church organ and the bolstering harmonies get our man back on his feet. i'm trying to think of a song exactly like it and the nearest analogue i can come up w/ is a hymn; it even cribs from "amazing grace," w/ the beautiful line, "with you in sight, the lost are found." if the first things you think of when you think of the band are daguerrotypes and sepia tones, this should change that.
guillemots - "trains to brazil" (from the trains to brazil single, import available for purchase here.)

guillemets are quotation marks( << >>); a guillemot is an auk. the spelling of the one is often mistaken for the other.

as far as quotation marks go, "trains to brazil" borrows from "jets to brazil," and it seems to be a tribute to a type of girl who wouldn't have been out of place in breakfast at tiffany's. it's also a bit of a rarity in british indie right now, sounding as it does like mid-period aztec camera. it's a brash, brassy, bouncy thing that i found today is a nice piece of music to get out of bed to.

as far as birds, the auk flies, but it doesn't fly well (guillemots fly a little better). or, rather, it flies w/ great difficulty. there are some hints of strain, particular in the singer's voice, as he moves from section to section, but once the song takes flight--ah, it is quite a thing to hear.

so, in conclusion, i don't know which it is--bird or punctuation. but guillemots are a fascinating young band, and "trains to brazil" is a wonderful way to start a cold winter morning.

09 December 2005

liars - "it fit when i was a kid" (from the it fit when i was a kid ep, import available for purchase here.)

i never listened to the last liars record b/c it seemed to be universally hated by anyone whose opinion mattered to me. it could have sounded precisely like this record, but i don't know. certainly, it doesn't sound like the one song--it had a really long name--from the first album i liked. "it fit when i was a kid" sounds something like a mix between a black mass and the turtles's "you showed me," and one wonders if they'll go after liars like they went after de la soul.

i'm not quite sure if this record is good; it may actually be beyond good and bad. it's worth listening to, though. one thing that it isn't, however, is beyond good and evil. yes, it's worth listening to, but w/in the safety of your own home; should you be out somewhere, anywhere, and you hear this music, it might already be too late for you.

08 December 2005

john lennon - "old dirt road" (from the walls and bridges lp, available for purchase here.)

in brief : say what one will about solo lennon--and be nice today--but could any other beatle have been represented by an album track?

i actually didn't know that until i put on the radio. q104, new york's classic rock station, is dedicating the entire day to the celebration of his memory.

i was never a big lennon guy; i have the requisite hits collection. my favorite solo beatle album : all things must pass; favorite singles artist : ringo; favorite song : "maybe i'm amazed." but listening to "old dirt road"--the closing refrain of which, "keep on keepin' on," is perhaps how lennon himself would address the faithful gathered at strawberry fields--on the drive home tonight, especially the weepy, muted guitar, which has to do something to you, made me reflect on the man, while the interview bits that the station ran in between songs--often better than the songs--made me realize how much was taken from the world w/ his passing.

lennon's voice, whether speaking or singing, is something, i realized, that i'd really like to hear today. what he had that none of the other beatles came close to possessing--and, except dylan, no one in his generation had--was gravity. he thought a lot about the world, literally and figuratively, and the world thought a lot about him--even the crusty, cantankerous howard cosell seemed close to tears as he announced the death on monday night football. w/ his death, and its twenty-fifth anniversary, i don't reflect so much upon the absence of new material in the album racks; rather, it's almost like there's a place missing at the dinner table. that is to say, lennon was more than a recording star, he was an important voice in the public discourse, and what grieves me most is that it's a voice--a popular entertainer who believes art can change the world--that no longer has much of a say.
the spinto band - "mountains" (from the nice and nicely done lp, available for purchase here.)

mississippi's spinto band--that's right loyal readers, a band from the good old u s of a--sound a bit like ... well, actually, they sound a lot like (america's own) pavement, ca. terror twilight. except here, you have a band that's new and energetic and full of ideas, rather than one enervated and wondering if the name on lp jacket should be "pavement" or "malkmus," which is all the more remarkable when one realizes that the spinto band, having just released their debut this year, have been together as long as it took pavement to go from formation to disbanding. one of the those ideas is harmony vocals like something from a huey lewis record--which is good; the other is a glockenspiel--which is better. if you liked "carrot rope" and "spit on a stranger," but hated the rancor, the spinto band offer it up w/ bonhomie. one hopes they'll release at least one more album before breaking up, and before they next decade.

07 December 2005

freddie scott - "cry to me" (from the cry to me : the best of freddie scott lp, available for purchase here.)

in brief : more unfairly forgotten soul.

if you're familiar w/ "cry to me," it's probably in versions by the stones or, as heard in dirty dancing (which really was a great soundtrack), by solomon burke. the stones were still learnin' the blues when they recorded "cry to me", and it says more about them--look at us! we're competent!--than about the song itself. king solomon's, on the other hand, is assured but not smooth; it's a brotherly slap upside the head that asks, "wtf is wrong w/ you?" freddie scott, though, poor freddie scott, slows the song down to a sub-crawl. i've never heard anything w/ a pulse this slow live to tell the tale--but by the sound of it, freddie probably wishes he hadn't.

freddie sounds like he's singing directly to the mirror, tears streaming down his face. it's the mid-60's and he's already showing that it's okay, if not necessarily cool, for a man to cry. his tone on the bridge is just about the most tortured thing i've ever heard, and when he screams, it's like you've overheard your neighbors having a terrible fight; you feel bad, but you also feel really uncomfortable--and maybe somehow implicated. voyeuristic soul? call it what you will, just be sure to listen, and never mind the guilt.
mystery jets - "alas agnes" (from the alas agnes single, import available for purchase here.)

finally, i hear what others have heard in the mystery jets since their debut single. a little structure is never a bad thing, and here the jets have made theirs out of the coral, "lola" by the kinks, and dexys ca. too-rye-ay, or in other words it's like kevin rowlands down on his knees beggin for a transvetite to get back w/ him, as banjos and mandolins and overalls dance around behind him. dont' let me be misunderstood, though; "alas agnes" doesn't have the pop nous of "come on, eileen"--few songs do. more realistically, "alas agnes" is like the decemberists if they got their noses out of books more often, which is a good idea from time to time, and a v. good idea for the mystery jets.

06 December 2005

leonard cohen - "take this longing" (from the new skin for the old ceremony lp, available for purchase here.)

in brief : a friend said, "you need to be listening to new skin right," and so am i. and so should you.

once upon a time, i remember reading that stephin merritt was contributing music to the audiobook versions of series of unfortunate events, written by friend and magnetic fields contributer lemony snicket, aka daniel handler. i thought that that was a v. neat idea, and it suggested an interesting way forward for the audiobook, as staid a format as there exists. when one adapts a book into a film, there are necessary changes made; why shouldn't that be the case when made into sound?

tonight, listening to new skin, it occurred to me how leonard cohen, as literary a singer/songwriter as has ever existed, perfected the form some thirty years earlier. not w/ songs of, where john simon's orchestrations are a bit too much, but w/ john lissauer on new skin, john lissauer whose work w/ cohen here and on various positions would be his only high-profile production work (much as one anticipates merritt's work on handler's books to be the extent of his audiobook work.)

it is an ideal partnership, and perhaps this is so b/c lissauer didn't go out applying his touch to everyone w/ an acoustic guitar. there's the barest hint of saxophone and organ, and backing vocals like angel's breath, all enhancing--not overpowering--cohen's recitation. for his part, in addition to his usual shattering, painfully acute poetic observations, cohen contributes an actual guitar riff, the acoustic guitar as raw as an autumn tree stripped bare, w/o the benefit of snow to protect its exposed skin. the friend who suggested new skin didn't say i should post "take this longing"; that it has often soundtracked my way of thinking about her--particularly the "shattering" and "painfully acute" parts--make me hope she's not reading this. it is, all told, an amazing reading, nonetheless, inspired cohen.
franz ferdinand - "sexy boy" (from the walk away single, import available for purchase here.)

and now for something completely different, franz ferdinand covering air. (actually, that might not be such a bad change of direction after you could have it so much better.)

truth be told, when i saw air several years ago, "sexy boy" wasn't so dissimilar from this, only it was taken at twice the tempo, w/ a thrash-out at the end.

it's december; be prepared for the frivolous.

05 December 2005

low - "starfire" (from the secret name lp, available for purchase here.)

i'm looking at this

and hearing this, my favorite non-christmas low song, a song incredibly intimate yet as vast as the night sky.
the strokes - "electricityscape" (from the first impressions of earth lp, available for preorder here.)

in brief : belongs on the radio, indeed.

you know, not enough bands emulate blondie. certainly, there have been scores of bands of guys w/ hot chick singers, but that captures only a small part of the appeal (and considering that debbie harry's appeal is extraordinary, perhaps you get the sense of the esteem in which i hold the band's music). many of my favorite moments on the last strokes album sounded as if they could have been extra tracks from the recent reissues of blondie and parallel lines, "12:51" only the most obvious. the guys have now worked their way up to eat to the beat--and first impressions is as patchy as that album--and what they've learned from that record is on display on "electricityscape."

not sure what it's about, but i'll suppose it's a love song, as i like to suppose that all things are love songs. julian sings, "you belong on the radio," the line coming across as a compliment as worthy as telling someone they belong on the stage or screen, and it leads directly into a guitar break that solidifies his meaning. it surges and looms large like a skyline; it provides the sort of charge that one receives when hearing a favorite song on the radio or when catching someone's eye from across the room. it's all v. "union city blue" and it's further proof of why i think nick valensi and albert hammond jr. are the finest guitar duo going right now. now if they'd only do "heart of glass" ...

02 December 2005

girls aloud - "wild horses" (from the chemistry album, import available for purchase here.)

in brief : pop brilliance down to a science.

a cursory glance at song titles like "long hot summer," "no regrets," and "wild horses" and one begins to fear the worse; as w/ what will the neighbours say?, we have more cover versions imposed by either charities or soundtracks.

w/ no small measure of relief, i'm happy to report that this is the case on none of the aforementioned tracks, and girls aloud's "wild horses" couldn't be more different from the stones's. it starts w/ a surprise--which is, really, how all girls aloud records start--and it's a surprise that gives it something in common w/ another stones hit; the opening fifteen seconds sound like a medieval hymn, only to give way to the 21st century at the flip of a switch ... or maybe to 1989, as it kicks off w/ a rap not unlike neneh cherry's "buffalo stance." after that, it takes on the momentum of a runaway train--the whistling, too.

the concept on chemistry is loosely about science; and so the train whistles on the chorus of "wild horses" change in pitch, in a remarkable demonstration of the doppler effect. they sing, "it's taken a long time" at a lower pitch; they then sing, "get out of town and take your lazy dog w/ you" at a higher pitch, indicating that the train is nearer. you might say i'm giving xenomania--in tandem w/ the girls, the most potent producer / performer team since tim & missy--too much credit. i'd say that, right now, that's impossible.

01 December 2005

shack - "comedy" (from the h.m.s. fable lp, import available for purchase here.)

in brief : you'll laugh so much you'll cry--and vice versa.

i tend to think that the release of oasis's be here now in 1997 marked the end of britpop, while embrace's "all you good good people" demonstrated that the genre as it was couldn't go any further.

shack's "comedy" was released in 1999; the joke, unfortunately, was on them.

i don't know what "comedy" is about; only one line sticks w/ me, and that goes, "when you cry it pulls me through." often i hear a song and it makes me feel a particular way and i have no inclination to do an exegesis and find myself contradicted. when i think of this song, the word "ice skating" comes strangely to mind. there is precision and grace, and, indeed, austerity--the opening line contains the word "belies," after all. oh, and it's chilly, is it ever. which may explain why an audience, in such a populist era, never really took to the band.

there is, though, a moment--between 4:18 and 4:24--when the aforementioned line is sung w/ uncharacteristic effusiveness, like the old facade being disturbed by emotion. it's a pop music version, then, of an old champion having a slight spill during their routine, a reminder of the humanity behind the construction. this is classy, bachrachian pop of the highest order, whose heart is nearer the surface than it'd like you to know.
nick cave & warren ellis - "the rider song" (from the proposition original soundtrack, available for preorder here.)

"the rider song," if i understand right, is the end-titles music for the proposition, the first movie that nick cave has written. i believe he has said that the film is so violent--shock! i wonder if it's also biblical!--that he wanted people to go home w/ a nice, gentle melody to hum along to.

"the rider song" is such a song, then. it's a collaboration w/ warren ellis, whose violin always has a way of undermining the nice and gentle. the lyrics, wherein the sun, the moon, and the stars are personified, tell a tale of something like the odyssey, only really really abridged, w/ some psalm 23 thrown in for good measure--it's a bit "sheep may safely graze," actually. the sun, though, isn't apollo, nor the moon artemis; one gets the sense that there are no gods in cave's tale, and that there's a God is v. much a subject of doubt. this is, of course, where ellis's violin comes in. it is the only element of the song that conveys to the listener just what the movie might be about; it likely plays this role throughout the entirety of the soundtrack. death, destruction, and chaos, and warren fiddles.

sounds like a movie!

30 November 2005

blueboy - "sea horses" (from the if wishes were horses lp, available???)

in brief : i hope you all won't hate me for posting a song so defiantly springtime, esp. when there are so many other reasons to hate me, like abbreviating "especially." to make amends, i include a mortifying story of personal romantic heartbreak.

this is blueboy. dollars to donuts, they're named after the orange juice song. i mentioned them last night in connection w/ harvey williams. no, this blog isn't turning into six degrees of harvey williams, but the scene is so incestuous, and its sound insidious, that when i put one twee record on, the concatenation begins, the dominoes fall, and soon i'm listening to the sea urchins. (a question : does anyone know if there's a box of this stuff? i feel as if i'm only scratching the surface.)

a couple of years ago, i made a twee mix for a girl i liked and this was on it. i know i wrote liners, but i can't remember what i said about this song. so much of it defies description; if pressed, i'd say it makes me, a grown man, want to skip; it makes me hope for rain, so i could go through the motions of running outside w/ an open umbrella, only to close it and embrace the rain. i'd want someone to see me doing these things, which hints at the performative aspect of the music, or at least to my connection w/ it.

after a nice dinner, and a subsequent retreat to a coffeehouse to extend the night, it also made me want to play footsie w/ this girl. i was under the influence of her charm ... and sake. have i ever mentioned here that i don't drink? well, there it is--and there she went. and so i'm firmer now in my decision, and wish that i had stuck to it that night. even now, i'm known to sigh when i see the name of the publisher she worked for on the spine of a book. twee songs--no, twee bands, whole subgenres, have formed from lesser disappointments.

"sea horses" is not, however, a record of disappointment--indeed, it is an inspiring, pulse-quickening record! it will make you want to have your heart broken! it's not too late!
belle & sebastian - "another sunny day" (from the life pursuit lp, available for purchase soon.)

"another sunny day" is the most retrogressive track on an album that makes progress by drawing influence from the past, namely from the midnight special and am gold. this period seems precisely chosen b/c it marks a time when all of the perceived influences of belle & sebastian have either broken up, or haven't yet formed. what makes "another sunny day" unique, then, is that it sounds like belle & sebastian of days past--in particular, in sounds like, yes, another sunny day.

"another sunny day" is, as far as i know, the first time belle & sebastian have named a song after a band--no, "the boy with the arab strap" doesn't count--instead of just referencing them in the liners or paying homage to them through the music. they do the latter here also; the sheer amount of guitars approaches "you should all be murdered," though the lack of an electric guitar is notable though hardly shocking. the lack of animus, too, separates them from asd, its spirit more in line w/ that band's "i'm in love with a girl who doesn't know i exist."

my favorite belle & sebastian songs ("slow grafitti," "if she wants me") have stuart singing in a high pitch; the higher he sings, the more keening and poignant his voice becomes; an ironic tone becomes difficult to maintain when one has to worry about just hitting the notes. such a tone is put to good use here, as each stanza presents a snapshot of a moment in a courtship. in the last, he sings, "so what went wrong, it was a lie, it crumbled apart," and his voice appropriately crumbles. it's a four seasons sort of a song--the weather, not the band--and though it ends stormily, one feels assured that another sunny day is as inevitable as the vernal equinox and as close at hand as the "repeat" button.

29 November 2005

another sunny day - "you should all be murdered" (from the london weekend lp ... um, ebay, maybe?)

in brief : when it's raining and cold and you're doing holiday shopping, and one has such thoughts, it's nice to have something to hum along to.

harvey williams was something of the forrest gump of the twee-pop scene, playing in the field mice, saint etienne, blueboy, and trembling blue stars. before all of that, he played in his own band, another sunny day, whose records are v. much of a muchness w/ others on the legendary sarah records label. it's a bit like the field mice, then, except colder and meaner.

the sound and theme of the record seem to be equally informed by the idea that all the people one likes are those that are dead and that one should be bludgeoned in one's bed. uncharitable, then, but another sunny day has a way of taking the edge off of even the hardest truths. harvey and the band sound like they have an inexhaustible array of stringed instruments at their disposal; the final product is as windswept as "william, it was really nothing" and as stinging as "index." they're less obdurate than either lawrence or morrissey--one imagines the sentiment presented here is but a moment of anger and not a worldview--which does make them less iconic, but they remain influential nonetheless ...
jenny lewis w/ the watson twins - "born secular" (from the rabbit fur coat lp, import available for preorder here.)

in brief : no, no, no. no fucking way are you getting the wilburys cover. not here at least. it shouldn't be too hard to find, really.

i put on the jenny lewis album last night while i'm eating my dinner. my dinner, mind. three-quarters in, and its totally offensive, and conducive to digestion. track eight begins and my ears prick up, thinking that the byrdsian guitar intro could be well suited to miss lewis, all the while thinking that this sounds a bit familiar. jenny sings and then i realize it's "handle with care." i'm still thinking this is a good idea. anyway, it's harrison's part and jenny outsings him--which is a blurb if i ever heard one; put it underneath the "11 out of 10" from the nme.

but then things got v. bad. v. bad.

me, i sing pretty good, but i wouldn't want to come w/in sniffing distance of anything roy orbison ever sang. if asked, i would kindly turn the individual down. but, of course, i probably also wouldnt have named my band "death cab for cutie." now that i've given you a substantial clue, who do you think sings the orbison part? right, BEN GIBBARD, for fuck's sake. did i mention that i was eating dinner? i was eating dinner, yes. oh, but there's more. conor bastard oberst is on here, too, creepily singing dylan's part, fearing that some people have missed the comparison. also: m. ward. who has never inspired me to say anything either way. i mean, this is the most mismatched nightmare collaboration since the new german government.

and what you are getting? "born secular" is a great tune, like something off of the new cat power--only if chan were the type to look at herself in the mirror more often. i've got nothing against vanity; where would pop music be w/o it? where would i be w/o it? and, after all, it was poe (not the band) who said that nothing was more intense, elevating, and pure than contemplating the beautiful, which jenny surely is, and that melancholy is the most legitimate of poetic tones. so, jenny sings, "God gives and then He takes," pauses, and then finishes in falsetto, "from me," and, over a sparse backing of church organ and drum machine, it is the most lonesome sound in the world. one could argue that it goes on for too long, but let the girl cry, i say.

28 November 2005

richard ashcroft - "break the night with colour" (from the keys to the world lp, import available for preorder here.)

in brief : normally, i'd post this sort of thing in the morning; this though is a (good) radio rip, so caveat auditor.

one has to wonder if this is a historical moment for richard ashcroft. it's been three years since human conditions, not an album that left most w/ bated breath, but his performance of "bittersweet symphony" w/ coldplay was a highlight of live8, and now he'll be touring w/ the band, whose lead singer proclaimed him the greatest songwriter ever and lord of all he surveys. and he's v. optimistic about this record, the best stuff he's ever recorded and such. but, then again, he's always v. optimistic about his records, isn't he? not one to say something like, "the album's shit, but i've become accustomed to a certain lifestyle."

based on "break the night with colour," i'm a little dubious. the familiar, comforting tropes are there; richard is still something of a lone seeker of truth, a solitary man. the track, though, sounds suspiciously like "boulevard of broken dreams," only w/ harpsichord. ashcroft, for his part, sounds more and more like neil diamond w/ the passing of the years. who better, though, to take up the role of the solitary man--"lord i've been trying" from the last record was pure beautiful noise--which might explain why the whole band thing didn't work out.

what he doesn't have here--and, if you think about it, he's never really had it--is neil's sense of chorus. what "break the night with color" does have is a nagging "oooh, oooh," an insidious little hook that burrows deeper w/ each listen. hardly the thing to build a comeback on, especially when one recalls how his best records had at least five or so different hooks. i still want to believe, and i'm sure i'll find something on the album, but i didn't find what i was looking for here.
ryan adams - "night birds" (from the 29 lp, available for preorder here.)

in brief : on 29, ryan adams begins to mature as an artist.

another month, another ryan adams album, the title referring to the number of records he's released this year.

well, not quite. nor does it refer to his age, but it is filled w/ the kind of melancholy and dread that i'll doubtlessly feel at that age, which looms bold and stark for yours truly. what the album is, as opposed to the last two, is a ryan adams solo record, and that becomes apparent early on, and especially on "night birds."

from the opening piano chords, you'll know whether or not this is for you. me, i'm a sucker for this kind of thing : meditative, funereal, resolutely blue. i'm not sure that the song rises to the chords, but it's a triumph of mood--and when he wants, adams can still sing 'em pretty. actually, i think the best thing i can say about "night birds" is that my first reaction was "ryan adams record," and not u2, morrissey, springsteen, van morrison, moby grape, &c. i've been sitting here trying to come up w/ some comparisons; this is what i've come up w/ : late springfield / early solo neil young ; tim buckley's blue afternoon ; big star's third. "night birds," and the album as a whole, wouldn't sound out of place in a playlist comprising these records. BUT! neither does it sound wholly like them. so ryan adams is starting to assert himself as an individual singer / songwriter. or i'm just unable to come up w/ comparisons, my memory faltering w/ advancing age.

23 November 2005

headlights - "tokyo" (from the enemies ep, available for purchase here.)

in brief : just what did bill murray say to scarlett johansson at the end of lost in translation? headlights have ideas, and "a unique niche for themselves that falls nicely between my bloody valentine and the postal service," say the label. but is that a good idea?

headlights better enjoy their grace period while they can; perhaps they understand this, and thus the ep title. w/ clear influence drawn from two of the most overconsumed indie products of recent times, they can expect to catch hell shortly. w/ its stuttering drums, keyb squiggles, and boy / girl vocals, the music track of "tokyo" sounds something like an organic postal service record; the lyric, w/ lines such as "so many little red lights, it's so alive here," seems to have been written while in thrall to lost in translation.

somewhere, the arcade fire is breathing a sigh of relief.

BUT! it's naught to do w/ indietronica or pink wigs, really. it happily resists the temptation to reduce it to its constituent parts by being, well, v. unhappy. one could v. easily imagine that this is the music charlotte listens to as she sits on the window sill contemplating tokyo in its grandeur and immensity, and it becomes all the easier as the din of the guitars intensifies, approximating the tones of kevin shields found on the soundtrack. charlotte would perhaps have found greater solace in the refrain of "tokyo" than she did in those self-help tapes. "another broken heart," it goes, "another town you must take in stride."

22 November 2005

a-ha - "birthright" (from the analogue lp, import available for purchase here.)

in brief : a-ha is so good right now and you don't even know it.

it is our promise here at vs&l that when a-ha releases a new record, we will be right on top of it.

ok, so lifelines was a bust, but don't let that make you forget that "summer moved on" is one of the twenty-or-so best singles of this young century. "birthright" is of similar temperament, but it's far less urgent. (the barometer for these things is the pitch morten harket's falsetto reaches. robert christgau formulated a similar idea about mark e. smith's squeal and the quality of fall records.)

indeed, one could say what "summer moved on" was about, whereas "birthright" presents a number of challenges for the would-be explicator. it matters little, though, when your vocalist can tear into a vowel the way morten does, e.g. the "ee" in "take on me"; the "ay" in "summer moved on"; and now the "oo" in "birthright." twenty years down the line, how does he continue to pull off melancholy so convincingly and w/ such ease? it's easier to envision for types like robert smith and morrissey, but w/ such a voice and such looks as morten harket, it's rather astounding. this is as close to a sigh as pop music gets; in the end, the listener is left gazing out into the middle distance, trying his or her best to look forlorn and world-weary, knowing all along that he or she won't pull it off the way the boys--or should i say men--in a-ha do.
so, um, painfullyawkward.com is a pretty popular site, huh?

well, i've reupped the mp3 you're looking for, levy's "on the dance floor"; i've got some others here. enjoy!

levy - "on the dance floor" (from the rotten love lp, available for purchase here.)

i don't know much about levy, other than that they're a new york-based band led by james levy; based on "on the dance floor," though, i certainly would like to know more, and hope that fate will be so kind as to make that unavoidable.

there's no way that the opening chords to this song could have been composed in waking life--indeed, this is the stuff of a shoegazer's wet dream (think catherine wheel or ride). i could quite happily listen to the opening on repeat for quite some time, only then i'd miss out on what else the song has on offer. levy himself sounds somewhat like the younger ian brown, only w/ a bellow. he sings: "she said, 'i will take you home if you want to,' but i got scared, didn't say yes, she went home with another boy instead." it's like an expansion of the bridge to "how soon is now?", w/ the suggestion that perhaps one leaves the club on their own for other reasons besides a lack of takers. certainly, w/ a song this striking, it should only be a matter of time before levy's dance card is full.
[edit : download link fixed!]

the automatic - "recover" (from the recover single, import available for purchase here.)

the automatic combine elements of three of the bigger british press darlings of this young century--the white stripes, the vines, the rapture--and, on paper, it's easy to see how these three could have combined into a perfect storm of bad.

but it doesn't! it's groovy, driven, and massive; a seven nation army would be too small too unleash such an attack : you'd need, like, a coalition, a coalition of the THRILLING, led by the dance commander-in-chief. the chorus goes, "GET! UP! RECOVER! CUZ YOU'LL NEVER DANCE AGAIN!" you'll find that it's the kind of song that you'll have played ten times in a row w/o having noticed. what you will notice, though, is how easily thing might have gone awry. it's like how if the rate of expansion one second after the big bang had been smaller by one part in one-hundred billion, the universe would have collapsed by now. the margin for error is just about that slim, which should demonstrate the kind of skill involved here.

21 November 2005

lloyd cole & the commotions - "rattlesnakes" (from the rattlesnakes lp, available for purchase here.)

if i could write pop songs, i'd try to write one just like this, b/c this is exactly the kind of girl i usually fall for (and we all know that girls and pop are inextricably bound up); and, my, anne dudley's string arrangement really does flesh her out. i doubt, though, i'd have the gall to pronounce "saint" after the french, so that it rhymes w/ "waterfront"--but i'm glad lloyd did. this is the song i'm playing more than any other right now, and i hope i know why.

18 November 2005

serena maneesh - "drain cosmetics" (from the serena maneesh lp, import available for purchase here.)

in brief : norwegian rock comes of age.

serena maneesh marks a step forward for norwegian rock--at least, temporally. unlike many of their forebears, their record collection extends through the end of the 1980's. as such, "drain cosmetics" is under the influence of spacemen 3, the slashing, direct riffs recalling "take me to the other side" (even the first words are "take me ... "); the boy / girl dynamic and the occasional odd chord turn recall my bloody valentine ca. isn't anything.

of course, if that were all, it'd all be v. black rebel motorcycle club or the raveonettes; and that's hardly progress. unlike those two bands, they also don't sound as if they were consciously (or self-consciously) to trying to sound like someone else. serena maneesh also impress w/ the deftness of the synthesis, and show moments of true originality elsewhere on the self-titled album. those tracks, however, are more of a piece. moreover, they lack the amphetamine kick and pure rush of "drain cosmetics."

17 November 2005

willie hightower - "walk a mile in my shoes" (from the willie hightower lp, available for purchase here.)

in brief : more unjustly neglected soul, brought to you by astralwerks, of all people.

though written and performed by joe south, the version of "walk a mile in my shoes" i knew best was elvis presley's, from that's the way it is. from "the ghetto" to "if i can dream," late-period elvis was on the look out for songs that meant something. "walk a mile in my shoes" is such a song, but coming from the king, the man w/ the most famous first name in the world, it seems to be more of a call for personal empathy than social understanding; to demonstrate how much the song's theme was a leitmotif for elvis's later life, the compilers of the box focusing on his 70's output named it after the song.

coming from a black man from alabama, though, the message comes straight on through. the king's shoes are, indeed, hard to fill, but hightower, w/ his apocalyptic tone and apoplectic style, is more than capable. the nearest comparison i can think of, though he himself is somewhat obscure, is freddie scott; more mainstream, dennis edwards of the temptations might sound like hightower if his voice was pitched slightly higher. at first, i resisted the slowed down tempo, but ultimately the stronger groove helped to compensate. hightower rides atop it expertly, showing that he doesn't need the wings he asks for in the song. what he did need was some open ears, but, recording in the early 70's, he came along at the wrong time for that. compared to the re-evaluation work done on james carr, the willie hightower project still has some work to do, but, on evidence, it is work one hopes get done.
morning after girls - "slowdown" (from the prelude : ep's 1 & 2 lp, available for purchase here.)

in brief : aussie band is the missing link between slowdive and mojave 3.

you know, neil halstead could have given us some warning. in retrospect, though, i suppose the major difference between slowdive and mojave 3 at first was, for the most part, an absence of tunes. the morning after girls happily cleave closer to slowdive in that respect, and also in the way they treat a guitar, while observing the folksiness and down-home manner of mojave 3. in other words, this is music that's just as fine for crossing midwestern plains as for navigating the contours of one's navel. along with the engineers' debut, the morning after girls' collected ep's--featuring mark gardiner of ride on one track!--place them at the forefront of what one hopes is a budding nu-gaze movement.

16 November 2005

james carr - "i'll put it to you" (from the my soul is satisfied : the rest of james carr lp, available for purchase here.)

in brief : b-side to 1971 atlantic single, the only one he recorded for the label. yet another instance of "what could have been" where the mercurial and supremely gifted james carr is concerned.

ten years ago, i'd have wondered, when it came to "the dark end of the street," how many different artists would be adduced before james carr's name would be mentioned. (he had the first hit version of the song, going top 10 r&b in february 1967.) now, it seems as if even lesser-known songs like "pouring water on a drowning man" have become standards. so well has his re-establishment in the canon been going that, last year, kent released an odds & sods collection, the rest of james carr.

that set features his sole single for atlantic records in 1971, of which "i'll put it to you" was the b-side. if someone knows why he only recorded one single for atlantic, i'd love to know; clearly, it's not down to the quality of the material or of his voice. like the joe tex and mable john tracks posted earlier this week, the producers of atlantic throw a wall of horns behind carr. i don't know what it is exactly--perhaps it's that the timbre of brass matches the soul singer's voice so well, but God damn, it sounds so good. i mean, i have no idea what it means to "put it" to someone--listen and you'll know it's not sexual--but it sure sounds like the ideal way to do right by someone.

what impresses most is, quite simply, the pristine nature of the recording; the band is ace and the production is top-notch. it's regrettable that carr never met w/ such sympathetic conditions again, although w/ the recent reclamation jobs on solomon burke, howard tate, and bettye lavette, it may not yet be too late. but, for those who are familiar w/ carr's sad story, the talent has never been the thing in question.
clearlake - "it's getting light outside" (from the amber lp, import available for preorder here.)

in brief : plucks from the air the enthusiasm, bitterness, and anxiety that make this an astonishing time of year.

this is surely reflects on me personally rather than being a verifiable fact and is another sure sign that i'm in the throes of the affective fallacy, but, gee, this record sounds a lot like a christmas record. that a clearlake record should sound wintry comes as no surprise really. this is a band, after all, whose first two singles were called "winterlight" and "don't let the cold in," and whose two most recent albums will have been released in season. still, there's nothing in the lyric to justify such a conclusion; the music is something else entirely.

the ridiculously buoyant bass drum is like phil spector channeled through low. everything else about the record is abrupt and anticipatory : clipped guitars, charging chords, slicing strings. and i've not even mentioned the sleighbells yet.

no, this defies the general categorization of "christmas record"; this is instead music for the two weeks before christmas. this is what the city sounds like when you're just trying to squeeze through the sidewalks, when you're waiting on line to purchase those last gifts as time ticks away inexorably. it is a joyful anxiety, though; there is a reason for it all. "it's getting light outside!" jason pegg cheers, and though the days are still getting darker at this point--and people have forgotten how to walk, and the christmas music is driving you insane, and the commercialization is too much to bear, and, and--one can't help but think that he's onto something.

15 November 2005

mable john - "your good thing (is about to end)" (from the stax story boxed set, available for purchase here.)

i'll venture to say something somewhat ridiculous (which is nothing new, really, apart from the preface) : damn, i would've liked to have pissed off mable john. "your good thing" is some cold shit, but mable makes it steam. just listen to the way the horns slink behind her on the chorus, and how she elongates the words "real" and "good," filled w/ the delight that can only come from getting out of a bad relationship w/ the upper hand. she's the kind of woman that made joe tex write a song called "hold what you've got," the kind of woman to inspire isaac hayes & david porter to outdo themselves and pen this absolute classic.

some other things i can tell you about mable john :
1 her brother was little willie john.
2 upon graudating high school, she ended up working for bertha gordy's insurance company.
3 a pre-fame supremes sang back-up on her early records.
4 she sings a song called "don't hit me no more" which opens w/ the line "i'm so sorry you had to slap me."

i'll tell you one final thing, more amazing than any of this : "your good thing" only hit #95 pop, and it was the closest thing she ever had to a hit.
wilco - "misunderstood (live)" (from the kicking television : live in chicago lp, available for purchase here.)

in brief : an unlikely singalong.

wilco in 2005 is opening their live album w/ "misunderstood." true, they opened being there w/ the song, but in 1996, by comparison, it closed the show. it is the only song that they play from being there--it should go w/o saying that there's nothing from a.m.--and they get it out of the way at the start. listening to both the performance and the crowd's reaction seems to make this clear.

being there was their classic classic rock double-album, their exile in main street, but what "misunderstood" sounds like is nothing so much as mott the hoople. perhaps tweedy lacks ian hunter's bonhomie, but the vocal similarities are there, and i would think that a band should be flattered by the comparison. the crowd is into it, for sure, singing the opening lines, then erupting into applause and shouting the lyric : "YOU STILL LOVE ROCK 'N' ROLL!!!" surely, radiohead doesn't have to put up w/ such a thing. now that's the band, i'd imagine tweedy & co. would rather be compared w/, yhf their okc, a ghost is born their kid a.

"misunderstood" as opener strikes one as a particularly yorkie move : yes, the length and pace, but also the key lyric. as rock show openers go, "i'd like to thank you all for nothing at all" is hardly "hello chicago!" (but they'll get that w/ "via chicago.") on record, this section lasts about twenty-eight seconds and is chopped up so that tweedy doesn't sing "nothing" more than five times in a row. on kicking television, it's extended to just shy of a minute, w/ tweedy screaming "nothing" some thirty-odd times consecutively. it's like your cd player has gotten stuck on the word; it's also like sideshow bob & the rakes in the "cape feare" episode or brian griffin holding his knee and squirming in pain--you wonder how long it can possibly go on, and you also wonder if it's funny. the crowd is trying to answer the same questions, as they whistle, cheer, groan, and ultimately REALLY get into it. one understands just what the band is up to : it's the opening of the show and they know the crowd will put up w/ just about anything. it's going to be a good night; and no one is going to request "creep."

14 November 2005

joe tex - "the love you save (may be your own)" (from the very best of joe tex lp, available for purchase here.)

in brief : joe tex amends the book of love on this elvis costello favorite.

joe tex is all things to all people: disco fans remember "ain't gonna bump no more (with no big fat woman)"; tarantino cultists know "i gotcha"; beat junkies are well aware of the opening to "papa was too"; golden age soul lovers doubtlessly know all the words to "hold what you've got." he remains, alas, a minor figure--indeed, despite casting such a wide net, how many people even recognize the name? even amongst the soul lovers, how many remember "the love you save (may be your own)"--not the jackson 5 song, though it would've been a hoot to hear a young michael tackle this--a number two r&b hit from 1966?

elvis costello does; in fact, he put the song on his artist's choice mix, a compilation of tracks that inspired and influenced him. i haven't seen the liners, so i don't know what he says about it, but i bet he wishes he wrote the lyric (written by tex, as almost all of his records were, "fat woman" notwithstanding). for what it's worth, it contains one of my favorite verses in pop music : "i've been pushed around / i've been lost and found / i've been given 'til sundown to get out of town." love is imagined as an ungrateful town; one begins to picture tex as gary cooper in high noon.

it's much more than the lyric, though, and i bet e.c. acknowledges it too. i know the words are joe's, but i don't know who's responsible for the arrangement. before the first chorus, the track features a wobbly trombone; in tandem w/ the 12/8 piano, it gives the impression that joe's been kicked out a bar after last call--the trombone could be the footsteps of the pink elephant, the xylophone chiming after "stop!" could be the church bells in the square marking four a.m. after the chorus, though, it changes: the trombone is accompanied by its fellows in the horn section and together they keen quietly behind the vocal. suddenly, joe doesn't sound like the town drunk; instead, his words resound like those of a prophet : he is the man, he suffered, he was there. typically, joe's vocals are hardly less thunderous than those of moses on sinai, but here he's restrained, content to test his lower range. it too wobbles, like the trombone, but it's a heartening sound : a prophet he may be, but he also has feet of clay. joe tex is looking out for you, if you would but listen.
the futureheads - "area" (from the area ep, import available for preorder here.)

in brief : da doo-doo, da doo-doo, da doo-doo, da doo-doo, da doo-doo, da doo-doo, da doo-doo, da doo-doo.

for wags like me, who were caught saying things like, "yeah, the futureheads debut lp is all right, but it's nothing compared to their debut seven-inch. what? 1-2-3-nul!? no, i mean their first, self-released seven-inch, w/ songs like 'park inn.' you didn't hear it? figures"--for folks like us, the new futureheads ep returns to that original sound. (what? you didn't &c.)

oh, i liked "decent days & nights" as much as the next modern rock fan, but it didn't necessarily have to be a futureheads song (it could've been, the wags said, a knack song--not by me, though: i'm not that waggish). the futureheads, as i understand them, are different from the bloc partys and kaiser chiefs of the world, although either of those bands would happily trade their copy of return the gift for a hook as infectious as the "da doo-doo, da doo-doo, da doo-doo, da doo-doo, da doo-doo, da doo-doo, da doo-doo, da doo-doo" that runs through "area." no, the 'heads are a bit like late early wire: crammed w/ fully-developed ideas in half the run time of other bands; an aural assault from all directions (by longitude and latitude--or length by width, even). and b/c they're not early early wire, they're always going to be a little less popular than those aforementioned bands--which is fine for types like me, for whom obscurity is half the fun, but w/ its mix of hooks and experimentation, it should play well w/ general audiences, if given a shot.

11 November 2005

i admit it : i've got nothing today. this week has been ... something else, allowing little time to listen to new music.

so, um, in honor of my three month anniversary yesterday, here is a repost of the first mp3 i posted, roll deep's "the avenue," a song i enjoy even more today. this is a link to the original posting.

oh, and, if you go here, and if you click on the third box on the upper right-hand side of the page, you can hear the new futureheads' single, "area," from the forthcoming ep of the same name.

10 November 2005

toni braxton - "love shoulda brought you home" (from the ultimate toni braxton lp, available for purchase here.)

in brief : uptown soul from the turn of the 90's, w/ an opening to set the night aflame and a vocal to stoke the fire.

"love shoulda brought you home" has one of the most amazing openings of any pop records i've heard in the last twenty years. that piano glissando is like the sound of a city skyline lighting up, a concatenation of incandescence. the rest of it--the piano vamping, the backing vocals, the strings--reminds me of nothing so much as the four tops' "baby i need your lovin'," the feeling it gives off of something beginning.

what was beginning, exactly, was the career of toni braxton. right, the anita baker comparisons--click the link and you'll see even amazon implies them, by linking this album w/ the best of anita baker. not entirely w/o merit, but, w/ all due respect to anita (and that's a lot of respect), i've never heard her this fiery. what's most amazing about the performance is how toni is able to display two seemingly contradictory emotions: giddiness and indignation. the indignation is in the lyric, it's there in the growls; the giddiness comes through in the gusto w/ which she takes to the song, as if she too senses that this is her big break.

what it signalled the end of was exactly this kind of song and songwriting thriving anywhere except on adult contemporary. it's jazzy, it has a bridge, it's organic--it's like v. little you'll hear on radio today, period. (an aside : does anyone know what daryl simmons did exactly?) this is one of babyface's best songs, and one is left to wonder if he took it too far, if he overreached and, for corrective measures, urban radio went all the way to the other direction. what that opening also inspires is optimism, and hope that this kind of music, this marriage of performer and song, perhaps learning a lesson from the music that's thrived while it's been in the wilderness, will thrive once more.