31 January 2006

the lotus eaters - "out on your own" (from the no sense of sin lp, God bless the internet for keeping music like this alive--in other words, good luck finding this album.)

in brief : in praise of minor artists.

there's not a major artist in music history that i haven't heard. that is not a boast : it's a lament. such realizations are always a source of despair for me.


thank the heavens for minor artists, for one-off acts. when one looks to the past, it is always w/ the aid of someone else, it can never, it should go w/o saying, be experienced directly, it is always mediated. it is always, then, w/ rock history as one's guide. as well-intentioned as rock history often is, it tends, by necessity, to reduce, the larger picture is sacrificed in the name of clarity and epoch-trimming. (this is all beginning to sound a bit marxist, but bear w/ me.)

i don't even remember how i stumbled across the lotus eaters. they released one album in 1984 on a small label before breaking up (only to reunite fourteen years later, but that's none of our concern right now). they were, i understand, classified as a new romantic band, but, even in eyeliner and thong underwear, simon lebon could wipe the mat w/ a fellow who sounds like lead-eater peter coyle, and billy mackenzie clearly flounces the epaulets off of him. coyle and his band seem closer in sentiment to the likes of morrissey, but the band's synthesizers clearly mark them out for a good hanging in the town square.

the lotus eaters, then, were clearly a band out of time, but also a band ahead of their time. bobby wratten, if he'd even heard of the band, seems to have borrowed his upper register from coyle, whereas coldplay seems to have taken the rest. "out on your own" is like a warm hand on one's shoulder; its drums could have come from an adam ant record, its guitars know their place, andits ingenious keyboard lines seem to know where you keep your secret hopes and somehow manage to make them seem w/in reach. it's the rare song that reminds you how noble an emotion sadness is; that it's an emotion worth experiencing despite the cost.

despair, too, is worth experiencing, esp. if it drives the listener to seek out bands like the lotus eaters. they received v. little column width, and unless you lived through the times--and even if you did--you're unlikely to remember them. i think over the years that i've been actively listening to music and the arcana that's accumulated on mixtapes and my ipod over the years, i.e. stuff i try to post here. how much richer music history seems when it represents lived experience! and how much richer one's life is b/c of music, music by both the legends and the never-weres.
pretty girls make graves - "pictures of a night scene" (from the elan vital lp, available april 11; click here to the visit the band's matador page.)

in brief : one learns at last the true origin of the band's name.

when i first heard pretty girls make graves several years ago, i thought they were one of these bands who shout a lot and cry in the dark, or vice versa, who sport copious tattoos and wear morrissey t-shirts, but whose music and its ferocity would make steven patrick swoon, in the bad way--the queen is dead, indeed.

based on "pictures of a night scene," i doubt that the band name was from the smiths song, or even from the dharma bums, for that matter. being in a band may be how they earn their keep, but they moonlight and their night job is where their hearts are, pretty girls make graves not so much a reference point as a statement of fact. the song begins w/ the band, like so many young kids these days, channeling u2's boy, all stomping drums and rolling basslines. soon, though, whispered voices ike death's breath intrude, and pianos and bells from some dim beyond lurking between halloween and the exorcist resound and toll. it's a song that v. much reminds one why the band is on matador and not on saddle creek, a song that'll keep you whistling past the graveyard for years to come.

30 January 2006

razorcuts - "sorry to embarrass you" (from the r is for ... razorcuts lp, available for purchase here.)

in brief : more stories of personal embarrassment, naturally, w/ the rhythm of twelve-string guitar.

dedicated readers of these pages may have noticed an optimistic--nay, an attitude verging on triumphalism in last week's evening posts. it was, as usual in these sorts of things, b/c of a girl, a local girl whom i totally dig--a local girl mind, in northern jersey of all places--and who, in turn, i thought dug me, in a romantic kinda way.

like lou reed said, just goes to show how wrong you can be.

for a doctoral candidate in literature, i sure do an awful lot of misreading. should that carry over into and taint my professional life, i may have a future in identifying women who have boyfriends, if a market exists for such a "talent." i won't go into details but, as w/ the sake story, it may find its way into a future posting.

"sorry to embarrass you," then. the razorcuts are one of those bands who sprung up between the demise of the smiths and the rise of the sundays; the razorcuts are a band who deserve to be known so much better than they are, but b/c they never had a gimmick or a beautiful female singer, they tend to get lost in your ipod shuffle. what they did was write beautifully crafted jangle pop, in the c-86 vein, and "sorry to embarrass you" is exactly the song that echoes in your ears along w/ the voiced bilabial stop of the "b" in "boyfriend" as it leaves a beautiful young woman's mouth. if you weren't anxious to flee the scene already, this is music the soothing properties of which will hasten your step while easing your shame.

the road was clear for me to embarrass myself and the other party, but since it involved the embarrassment of a third party, i shifted gears and changed direction. recognizing the need for co-existence, i took the path of least insistence, a path that allowed for a signifcant reduction in the amount of shared awkwardness--or perhaps the awkwardness was just on my side, perhaps it didn't mean all that much to her, perhaps she never knew. regardless, i'm a natural when it comes to resignation, i've an incredible talent for it, and decided to go that route, based on what i knew. it may be the v. reason why i'm an anglophile. it is certainly the reason why i find tracks like this so enticing.
josé gonzález - "heartbeats" (from the veneer lp, available for purchase here.)
the knife - "heartbeats" (from the deep cuts lp, import available for purchase here.)

in brief : comparisons to nick drake are unavoidable when discussing the music of josé gonzález. here's another reason why.

josé gonzález is no stranger to these pages. not long ago, i was praising his cover of kylie minogue's "hand on your heart." w/ his cover of "heartbeats" by fellow swedes the knife, gonzález yet again displays uncanny instincts and interpretive ability.

the knife's "heartbeat" was originally issued in 2002, and then again in 2004. it is not a song that many will listen to--and, yes, be sure to listen--and think, "this would sound great on an acoustic guitar," particularly as it sounds so great w/ synthesizers. josé gonzález was such a person, though, and he gives it a different reading, acoustic lines throbbing like a pulse, josé singing to keep from crying. different, i said, not better (and that means you, you middlebrow bores).

that difference is best illustrated through the following exercise. go here and you can see the advertisement for the sony bravia that launched "heartbeats" into the uk itunes top 10, and when you watch it, you'll see that the ad is about color. perhaps it's just my inner synesthete--and the commercial is a synesthete's wet dream, no mistake about it--but the knife version is far more colorful, whereas josé's version draws its strength precisely from being sepia-toned. everything else about the ad--the hushed street, like sunday morning while church is in; the perfect weather; the pace and slow tracking; the cutesy stuff, like the kid and the frog--was surely written w/ josé's version in mind. for the knife, the day would have to be more humid and the balls would have to bounce like kids on pogo sticks.

what all of this demonstrates is that "heartbeats" is both durable and flexible enough to support multiple interpretations, both signs of a great song. josé's made out better w/ it so far, if one only goes by the links above, josé's album available domestically, the knife's as an import. like nick drake, whose ghostfingers never seem too far away from josé's fretboard, josé has gotten a big break from a commercial; unlike nick, josé is in a position to capitalize on his good fortune. let's hope he's able to come up w/ a composition of his own that can support a cover. in other words, let's hope that, moving forward, the compositions that bear his name are as strong, or at least half as much, as those bearing the names of others. at which point, he'll really be like nick.

27 January 2006

sol seppy - "slo fuzz" (from the bells of 1 2 lp, album available in february 2006; visit the artist's site here.)

sol seppy is the nom de rock of a new york-based, australian-raised cellist and sparklehorse collaborator and the bells of 1 2 is her debut record. just as you're thinking "sol seppy?" you find her real name is sophie michalitsianos, and then you realize sol seppy just rolls off the tongue.

... just as "slo fuzz" clings to the ear. titles rarely come more accurate and, in these days of truthiness, it's refreshing. equally refreshing is the my bloody valentine influence--but not the mbv you'd expect. "slo fuzz," and much of her album, seem to take a cue from the mbv of ecstasy & wine and before. the vocals--breathy, coy, sensual--are pushed to the fore, and in the back, as if from a distance, one only hears a whisper of the buzz and roar to come. one hopes buzz is also in sol seppy's future--zane lowe of radio 1 has named her debut 7" single of the week--and that, unlike ecstasy & wine, it's not years before she's discovered.

26 January 2006

scott walker - "sleepwalkers woman" (from the climate of hunter lp, import available for preorder here.)

in brief : if you've slept on scott's post-scott 4 recordings, here's your wake-up call.

jarvis cocker, i've read, has written the liner notes to the reissue of climate of hunter, scott's only album of the 80's. one wonders if he'll include an admonishment familiar to pulp fans : please do not read the lyrics whilst listening to the recordings--which is not a knock on scott's lyrics just as it isn't a knock on jarvis's. i've always imagined that when scott wrote this song, he had coetzee's waiting for the barbarians on the nightstand, "sleepwalkers woman" something of a expressionistic retelling of the punishment that the novel's magistrate underwent. so, thematically, it's fascinating, not the usual domain of the pop singer, and scott's word choices, words w/ multiple meanings like "raw" and "fast," deepen the intrigue.

but once he begins to sing--no, not even that far in. as soon as the orchestration commences, like "boy child" but w/ more depth and complexity, words lose all meaning and the listener is instantly entranced. oh, but once he does begin to sing, you're unlikely to notice the presence of words as you fall under the sleepwalkers spell, so overwhelming is scott's tone. the feelings the record inspires are contradictory : one at once feels on the edge of sleep and yet at the same time one feels as if his or her eyes have never been so wide open. in other words, in roethke's words, one wakes to sleep and, on "sleepwalkers woman," the waking is slow, grand, and majestic.
television personalities - "tell me about it" (from the my dark places lp, available for preorder here.)

my dark places, the first tvp record since 1998's don't cry baby it's only a movie, is a ... well, it's real interesting. at times, the banter over musical tracks suggests dexy's don't stand me down taken to extremes, at other times, i wonder if a band was involved, the music often sounding like karaoke backing tapes. dan treacy is exposed throughout, touching on all sorts of personal matters, reaching a peak w/ "ex-girlfriend club," but rarely is he vulnerable, as on "tell me about it."

it's a sad piano lament--or at least it plays to me as sad. the lyrics, like the album, are all over the place, from imploring ("tell me anything ... tell me i can stay") to humorous ("was your boss shitty as usual?") to warm ("just come into my arms, you know your safe with me") to touching ("tell me anything ... even your shopping list"). what's more amazing still is that these quoted lyrics form a continuous thread, following one right after the other.

the limited range of the melody doesn't require treacy to do much, and yet he still manages to get quite a lot across simply by changing the tone and volume of his voice and by singing off-key occasionally. it's the kind of directness that one might recall from earlier triumphs like "look back in anger" and it's a shame that there aren't more songs like this on the album. but that treacy got himself together enough to record sixteen songs (!)--well, that's a triumph in itself.

25 January 2006

gene - "i can't decide if she really loves me" (from the to see the lights lp, available for purchase--oh, who am i kidding; the only thing less hospitable to gene than the critics is the marketplace.)

is there anyone left alive who remembers gene? and where do old brit-pop stars go when their careers die?

oh, gene. how we laughed at the time--but that joke isn't funny anymore.

still we laugh. but, believe it or not, time has been kind to ... this particular track, at least. and a b-side no less! i admit, i've a constitutional weakness for mellotrons and guitars that sound like organs, but this really is a compelling little record.

it's interesting how often our interpretation of a record and what is meant by the artist--the intention, if i may be so bold--are so often at loggerheads. for instance, i've no idea what martin rossiter is going on about here, slight variations on a theme of being slightly ill and committed to bed rest, and a girlfriend who keeps telling him, you know, sorry about the bruises, old chap, but i've got to run. how is there even a doubt that this girl doesn't love him? (or is this irony? ooh.)

anyway, the best part of the record, the highest point in the gene catalog--attaining olympian heights, one might say--is the middle eight. the title phrase is repeated six times, w/ building intensity. such force is put behind this idea that irony really goes out the double-decker bus. which says another thing about pop records : we always use them, not as they were intended, but for our own greedy, selfish little purposes.
hot chip - "over and over" (from the over and over single, available for purchase here.)

hot chip are the kind of band that speak in code; and so when they say "laid back," you know they mean the band that sang "white horse," and when they say "joy in repetition," it's a reference to prince. indeed, hot chip, w/ an ep under their belt called down w/ prince, sound like a more muscular prince w/ dfa on production. it's probably everything the press had you believing har mar superstar was.

the bridge of the song--which sounds like pacman gobbling pellets, another point of reference--has a voice spitting out letters, like a human speak & spell. it goes :
for clairity and precision, it's right up there w/ "dance music sex romance" as a statement of purpose--though i've no clue what a "boke" is--and just about all you need to know about the band.

24 January 2006

john cale - "paris 1919" (from the paris 1919 lp, available for purchase here.)

john cale's paris 1919 albums is one of the few i can think of that could come w/ annotations.

that said, on the title track, i don't think one needs to know what "paris 1919" refers to, if there was a william rogers, and what--or where--beaujolais is.

the song begins, "she makes me so unsure of myself." right there, one has something to latch onto. the first verse is about a confounding woman, who may or may not be a ghost, a striking figure who appears and disappears at her whim and never quite says or does what one might expect. the chorus is a singalong, cale claiming that he's a bishop, come to claim the ghost in the name of the church. metaphor, then.

the music reminds one of cale's classical training, violins sawing away as a brass figure undergirds the track. combined w/ the theme of the lyric, "paris 1919" becomes a march, a search for the grail, one perhaps quixotically trying to find a sacred icon and steal it away. as i walk around lately, i often hear this song matching my step, as i bear my chalice safely through a throng of foes.*

*james joyce, "araby," 'dubliners' (new york: penguin, 1993) 23.
rumble strips - "motorcycle" (from the "no soul / motorcyle" single, import available for preorder here.)

this band really excites me.

recently, i've been hearing acts who remind me of dexys : arcade fire, the concretes, early hot hot heat, &c.

this band, though, sound like dexys, the singer himself reminiscent of the boy rowland.

the sound is a bit thin--for now. the singer is a bit of a one man gang, still searching for the young soul rebels; the band has at least one horn, though a full brass section can't be far away.

the boy is not only searching for a gang, he's searching for a girl. he wishes that his bike was a motorcycle b/c that would solve everything. it's a bit like hearing the other side of a shangri-las song, jimmy or bobby or johnny in his own words--and he's far more sensitive than one might have thought.

all in all, it's a bit like a prequel, dexys issue #0--or a cameo appearance in another title. it's a thrilling little record that promises much, and i believe in my soul that the rumble strips won't let me down ...

23 January 2006

richard thompson - "i feel so good" (from the action packed : the best of the capitol years lp, available for purchase here.)

b/c i do.

what? more? v. well.

this track, my favorite of richard's solo work, features three things you might never have expected from him : 1) richard singing lines about half-naked women jamming their tongues down his throat 2) richard singing in falsetto 3) richard, well, feeling good. it, of course, has the stinging guitar work you look to him for, and lyrical bite for that matter. the refrain goes, "i feel so good i'm gonna break somebody's heart tonight." which is an odd sentiment--but perhaps one we've all felt at some point. it's not often that i have recourse to the south park movie-- though in a perfect world it would be--but big gay al expresses it well in his big production number. (4) parallels being drawn between richard thompson and big gay al.) "i'm so sorry, mr. cripple," he sings, "but i just can't feel too bad for you right now"--something that the socially conscious amongst us, and i know there must be a few of you, may not be comfortable voicing themselves. but this is exactly why we have big gay al ... and richard thompson, of course.

so, me? i'm super. thanks for asking!
i'd like to draw your attention back to the delays' track. i was running late for work that day, so i gave it exceptionally short shrift. it's actually my favorite song of the right now. further reflection has led me to conclude that it starts out moroder/summer before transforming into richard x/rachel stevens. it's like a studio-generated, controlled whirlwind of sound and glamour, esp. on coda. it's a bold move for a band best known for its indie jangle. but, quick! it expires tomorrow!
mark gardener - "magdalen sky" (from the these beautiful ghosts lp, available for purchase here.)

you know, someone had to write the tunes in ride. after both hurricane #1 and his stint in oasis, andy bell doesn't look like the likely party. w/ the animalhouse now safely in the rearview, mark gardener emerges, releasing his solo debut ten years after the ride breakup, and makes a strong claim that his was the voice that drove ride.

gardener's move into soft, but by no means bland or mor, acoustic music is similar to what neil halstead has done in mojave 3 after the slowdive split. backed by british country-rock outfit goldrush, gardener evokes all of the boyish charm that he displayed in his old band, but it's tinted by a world-weariness that suggests the interim years haven't been entirely kind. like "ox4," it's another oxford song, and w/ its gentle strumming and subtle brass, it makes a poignant contribution to my visions of an imaginary england. one can, indeed, almost hear how ride might have treated this song--spectral harmony vocals, keyboards, keening guitars--and the wistfulness of the song is indirectly increased as one dreams of what might have been. even w/ all of these nu-gaze bands popping up daily, it's nice to have one of the originals back, esp. when he sounds this vital.

and a good thing too, b/c i wasn't quite prepared to believe that loz was ride's genius-in-residence.

20 January 2006

the sunshine underground - "commercial breakdown" (from the "commercial breakdown" single, import available for purchase here.)
the sunshine underground - "commercial breakdown" (from the my army ep, out-of-print)

in brief : "commercial breakthrough" is more like it.

the first version of the song, the remake, was released monday; the second version, the original, was released in october 2004. i almost posted this the other day until i realized what i had was the original. this is what i had to say about it :
true to form, sixteen days into the new year, and the nme has proclaimed "commercial breakdown" by the sunshine underground to be the track of the year (and its b-side to be the second best track!)

this posting, then, is in the public interest--and not necessarily to my interest, but not to my disinterest either : the bassline sounds like it's going to break into the pale saints' "sight of you," which is good, and there's a chest-thumping, throat-ripping chorus, but. for some reason, i'm not really getting into it.
now, the re-recorded version, while fundamentally the same song, is exceptional, and proof positive o what a little judicious editing can do. now, the song gets to the opening verse in half the time; the bassline has been submerged, while a jangly guitar line is pushed to the fore; the tempo is just a bit quicker; and the song ends w/ a newly-written coda. all that, plus the song is sixty-five seconds shorter. it's as if the band had allowed enough time between recordings so that they knew what the good parts were and, w/ more experience, how to best isolate them and promote them.

so, yeah, believe the nme for once.

19 January 2006

the birthday party - "the friend catcher" (from the hee-haw lp, available for purchase here.)

the birthday party is, as nick cave sings on "the friend catcher," a prison of sound. contrary to what one might have seen on the hit fox show jailbreak, prison proved incredibly difficult to get into--indeed, in terms of accessibility, the party made the bad seeds seem like the queue for donating blood by comparison.

nick, as you and harold pinter know, is a literary guy, but he rarely lets it get in the way of the music (though, hands up, who remembers "a wicked wind whipped up the hill," from "love letter"?) the lyrics to "the friend catcher" are already fractured when they were recorded but, put through the sluice of rowland howard's guitar, they're just barely recognizable through the magnificent din, though one does hear nick holler the words "HEE HAW" and "CHOO CHOO" a lot, which is almost enough on its own to merit the position as my favorite birthday party track. it's the performance of the band, though, that puts it over; drums, bass, and guitar are all on the one, releasing a riff that is as alarming and foreboding as a siren.

a prison of sound, yes, but like the best prisons, it's difficult to escape once they've sucked you in.
electric president - "snow on dead neighborhoods" (from the electric president lp, available for purchase here.)

electric president are going to be big in 2006. and b/c they're going to be big in 2006, they're going to be compared to other bands who were big in previous years, viz. the postal service. b/c he leads w/ his adenoids, singer ben cooper will be compared to ben gibbard; b/c they employ electronics, they'll be lucky to get away just being compared to postal service--hopefully no one mentions that fucking oberst album.

ben cooper, though, sounds like a lot of people aside from gibbard, a veritable who's who of indie rock : sam beam, wayne coyne, isaac brock, &c; in other words, he has one of those voices. as for the music, it's a specious claim to compare the two bands; it's like saying, well, the dave clark five played guitar-bass-drums, and so did the birthday party, and therefore they = same. the postal service dynamic pitches gibbard against the machines (and the machines win more often than not, which is why i like the service and not the cab). electric president, the name a bit of a giveaway, embrace their robot parts and, like the great synthetic tamers of the past, learn to humanize them. there's nothing "natural" sounding about "snow"; the music swoops in and out like a gale, but cooper sounds unaffected. insetad, music and vocal form a gestalt, w/ no telling where man ends and machine begins. the total effect is of peering down a city sidestreet covered in snow, the streetlights reflecting gold off of it, the chill balanced w/ warmth--a fine description of the band itself.

18 January 2006

shop assistants - "it's up to you" (from the nme c86 compilation--does anyone know if it was ever collected elsewhere?)

the shop assistants were a part of the legendary 53rd & 3rd record roster that included acts like talulah gosh, bmx bandits, the vaselines, and beat happening. now, w/ that bit of context ...

i'm really tired tonight, and this song sounds like a good place to pass an evening. it twinkles and soothes, while singer alex taylor sings in hushed tones, real close to your ear, scratching your head as you drift to sleep.

now, if you excuse me, i have a date w/ the repeat button, and a reservation in dreamland.
arctic monkeys - "a certain romance" (from the whatever people say i am, that's what i'm not lp, available for preorder here.)

yes, we're nearing the point of monkeys overload, but unlike that other track i posted, this one is actually really fucking good. if i were to tell you, "hey, this is the longest track on the album," you'd probably say, "that means it sucks that many more times than any of their other tracks, the degree of suckiness depending on a certain ratio between the lengths of the two songs."

but i think it's like this : "a certain romance" is the last song on the record. so, what they're really saying is, "listen, we know that everything before this one is shit, but, you know, we're really trying here. we wanted to keep your expectations low and wow you w/ the last track, to give you the sense that, b/c it's the last track, it's also the most recent track we wrote, which means that this, and not the rest of it, is the Shape of Things to Come."

i do hope so, b/c this is a band to get excited about. sure, the lead singer still sounds like the guy from maroon 5 but english, but he gets off some great lines about how, in this part of town, there's only music so people can have new ring tones. and you know what he says? he says, "there ain't no romance around [here.]" i like everything about that line, right down to the phrasing. the band, for their part, try to conjure a little romance, throwing off misty-eyed guitar parts left and right, recalling better days in english guitar pop, before building to a thundering climax that really lets you know how they feel about their surroundings.

perhaps i've been too harsh on the monkeys; perhaps they do have a certain something after all.

17 January 2006

dennis wilson - "river song" (from the pacific ocean blue lp, out-of-print to capitol's continuing shame.)

in brief : the highlight of the too-brief solo career of your favorite band's favorite beach boy.

capitol seems fond of reissuing beach boys' albums. if this is still the case, let me make a suggestion : release a double-disc, priced as a single, that has all of dennis wilson's best beach boys contributions on one disc--which, to tell the truth, could probably fill two discs worth w/ relative ease--and reissue and remaster pacific ocean blue as the second disc. i honestly can't believe that one can't hear this album--not honestly, at least, which is why i bring you one of the highlights this evening.

dennis, for those who don't keep up w/ these things, was the only real beach boy amongst the beach boys; he was the surfer, the carouser, the golden boy pin-up, the drummer, and a man of soul. like david berman, he might have slept w/ your girlfriend--he did have four wives, after all--but he would feel really bad about it later, and you'd feel bad that he felt bad; you might even ask him how he was holding up. dennis, then, is the lovable beach boy, and the beach boy who might have loved you back. if you've ever seen concert clips, dennis gives his heart, soul, and ragged voice to the crowd, and when he leaves the stage he is absolutely spent.

if brian's style was complex and ornate, dennis's was lumbering and immense. the harmonies have the beach boys hallmarks, only at ten times the size; symphonic ebbs and flows hint at dennis's appreciation of classical music; and, yet, above it all, is that voice, a voice that embraces its limitations, a voice that can make the most leaden line teem w/ life and passion. dennis's voice, more than almost any singer i can think of, is a complete and total projection of the man himself. to hear him sing is to know immediately who he is; to hear him sing the words, "it breaks my heart to see the city," is enough to have your own heart break.

and if only pacific ocean blue was the most heartbreaking thing of all, but, sadly, such an epithet can only describe dennis's death at the age of 39. in a tragic bit of irony, dennis drowned. if he had to choose a way to go, though, one might imagine that drowning might be near the top of the list, though not at such an early age. (if we can take any solace, it might be from the old saying that drowning is the easiest of deaths.) bear w/ me. on "river song," the opener to pacific ocean blue, one hears precisely that heart, soul, and voice put in the service of one of dennis's favorite causes, protecting the environment. "oh mighty river," he sings, "i would love to be like you," and at least one knows that, if he could not be like the river in life, he became one w/ it in death.
the delays - "valentine" (from the you see colours lp, import available for preorder here.)

well, this is certainly a change of pace. the first single from the delays' sophomore album begins w/ a juddering electro bassline before rocketing off into the starry night; one gets a sense of relentless forward motion. the guitars feint and strike like peak-period duran duran and has a pop coat of paint that makes it shimmy and shine like, of all things, a sugababes single. of course, simon lebon, bless him, never sounded like greg gilbert, who is at his choirboy best here, as if auditioning to play the role of your valentine this year.

16 January 2006

james brown - "there was a time (live)" (from the say it live and loud - live in dallas, 08.26.68, available for purchase here.)

the moment here occurs at 3:55.

but you can't skip right to it. that would be like reading the last page of the book--or, more to the point, like sex w/o the cathexis. listen; get the groove, driven along by two drummers; dance along, doing your best mashed potato. and then wait--count down, if you must--for the ground to fall out from underneath you, and for the screams of the women in the audience to reach their climax. (again, this is v. sexual.)

two things i wonder : what the hell does james do to elicit such screaming? but, more importantly, how exactly does the band fall back into line like that w/ such seeming ease? i always heard about the apollo '63 show, but was let down when i heard it, feeling that one really needs to see the imagery to really get it. this '68 show, w/ the band translating james's kinetic motion into music, is the nearest, apart from the t.a.m.i. show, any of us who were born too late will get to james brown in his prime and at his peak.
¡forward, russia! - "twelve" (from the twelve single, import available for preorder here.)

"¡forward, burma!" is more like it--or myanmar, if we're being au courant--as "twelve" is frighteningly, and hearteningly, similar to conley, miller & co. ca.vs.. hell, there's even a reference to einstein. i've brought in my m.o.b. albums into work to play for a co-worker who's into a bunch of young bands, a new one every week it seems, who really couldn't exist w/o the blueprint laid out by the mission. "that's when i reach for my revolver" comes on; he recognizes it; later, he admits that he prefers the moby version. well, ¡forward, russia! may be a missing link band : the vocals are just that much louder and the guitars slightly, but only slightly, more jolting. ¡forward, russia! really is more like it, a u.k. band taking its influence from postpunk america rather than from the sounds that originated on their own shores. "i hope you're aware that people will notice the forgery," the vocalist sings, w/ perhaps some degree of self-awareness; on the evidence, though, one is hard-pressed to call it an outright forgery. startling similarities, to be sure, but it's hard to care about the influence when the results are so arresting--and easy to appreciate this band.

13 January 2006

mates of state - "think long" (from the bring it back lp, album available march 21; visit the band's official website here.)

on "think long," mates of state sound like a pre-teen cheerleading competition, the fall w/ electric pianos, and playground bullies--little then has changed for their debut on barsuk. they remain too much of a good thing; i wonder if i picked the opening track b/c i like it best or b/c exhaustion set in as the album progressed. they're a wee bit precocious--think the kids from 'zoom' all grown up--and close to being too clever for their own good--witness the opening chords from "don't stop believin'" burbling under the song's coda--but at their best, as heard here, they're finger-snappin' catchy and you'd want them playing at your next sleepover. you'll either love it or think it sounds like kidz bop. in which case, you might still love it.

12 January 2006

dion & the belmonts - "my girl the month of may" (from the king of the new york streets boxed set, available for purchase here.)

"my girl the month of may" is unique in the dion canon, and the finest doo-wop / rock hybrid ever recorded. youngsters like the futureheads and tv on the radio have experimented w/ a similar sound but haven't been as successful, and not just b/c dion isn't in those groups. the vocals on "my girl" ring and resound like a clarion call. sure, dion may be joshua, but the walls of jericho wouldn't have come tumbling down by his trumpet alone. combined, the reunited belmonts make a most joyful noise, all in the service of celebrating a girl too wondrous to be of flesh & blood. but she exists! as dion says in the liner notes, in 1963, he married her. the song was written about her, and the extraordinary force and vibrancy of the record must have been enough to have shaken her from her seraphic perch. (forty-plus years later, through as many downs as ups and still together, it must truly be a marriage made in heaven.) the sentiments expressed in the song, and the vigor and commitment w/ which dion & the belmonts approach it, attest to a love, and a talent, not of this earth.
richard ashcroft - "words just get in the way" (from the keys to the world lp, import available for preorder here.)

not since evan dando sang about being bad w/ names have truer words been sung by a rock singer. skilled w/ words? not really. good at sloganeering? yes, see "bittersweet symphony," "the drugs don't work," "history," "this is music," "see you in the next one (have a good time)," and so forth. another thing that gets in the way : verses. "words just get in the way" is nearly 2/3 chorus. me, i'm not one to complain about a meal that's 66% dessert, esp. when the chef is someone like mad richard, working here on urban hymns form. "words" is loping, string-soaked, singalong goodness. i've made the neil diamond comparison before, and, boy, does it ring true, but another comparison is prince, an artist out of step w/ the mainstream, who recently made a comeback on seemingly nothing but goodwill from a nostalgic public and massive respect from his fellow musicians. as w/ musicology, one might complain that the fare isn't as substantial or nutritive as past offerings, but it's quality ashcroft and it fills a gaunt, sallow void, esp. when you feel as if nobody's singing to you now.

11 January 2006

roxy music - "a really good time" (from the country life lp, available for purchase here.)

"a really good time" takes me back a really long way. in college, when i was first becoming educated in the ways of the net, portions of the song featured in my .sig file; had i been listening to roxy music in high school, a year earlier, less techologically adept, i might have written the words in the margins of my notebook.

the song is arguably a corollary to the previous album's "mother of pearl," in which bryan ferry bears his soul to his vanity mirror. on "a really good time," the music begins harsh and imposing, w/ hints of the germanic tones found several songs earlier. ferry proves masterly at finding faults in others, pulling back the curtain and exposing what ails them. the music gradually softens as one senses that he's not singing about anyone but himself; he drops the curtain in the fifth stanza, a particular favorite of the eighteen year-old me : "you know i don't talk much except to myself / cause i've not much to say and there's nobody else / who's ready and willing and able to know me, i guess."

just as important to the impressionable, young me as the lyric was the music and the ferry persona. the music is elegant, by turns distant and sympathetic; it was and remains, to an extent, unlike anything else i'd heard (the disciples get the haughtiness, but little of the heart). bryan ferry himself is a figure still much emulated--in my secret life, i'm vetting half-naked women for album covers--sharing as i do his interest in tin pan alley, cultivation, and supermodels. at the end of the day, i'm probably closer to brian eno--and a brian eno w/o a feather boa, at that--but songs like "a really good time," while recalling teenage gaucheness, suggest that glamour and sophistication are still w/in arm's reach, if only in one's daydreams.
the open - "forever" (from the statues lp, import available for preorder here.)

the open are about as 4ad as a band can get w/o actually being signed to 4ad. not only does simon raymonde produce their records, but vaughan oliver will be designing the sleeves for their singles and forthcoming album. the music wouldn't have shocked a 4ad fan either, though it has more in common w/ once upon a time labelmate talk talk. indeed, it sounds a bit like sade singing over laughing stock--or what i remember laughing stock sounding like the last time i heard it, several years ago now. what i mean is that it's jazzy, expansive, and builds to a climax, although not to resolution. it's long, too; not quite "forever," though it is exceptionally paced. it's also quite beautiful, though w/ an undercurrent of undefined menace, as if one is potentially following a siren's call to one's doom. it is, despite the risks, a sound worth following.

10 January 2006

kitchens of distinction - "the 3rd time we opened the capsule" (from the capsule : the best of kod 1988-1994 lp, available for purchase here.)

first, thanks to thomas for introducing me to the kitchens of distinction, via a top 10 singles list of the 90's he had compiled some time ago.

i had "drive that fast" playing one day when my sister was around. she asked who the band was. i said, "kitchens of distinction." she said, "WHO?"

unfortunately, this is a far too common reaction, not just that people have never heard of the band, but that the band name is too much. if i had said "the smiths" or "the jones girls," it would have been a different reaction; if i had said "u2"--w/ whom the band shares that wonderful musical trait, exuberance--she might have asked for a copy, not thinking how dumb the name "u2" must have sounded once upon a time. (a side note : i was playing "last night i fell again" by moose at work tonight and a co-worker asked who was playing. "WHO?" ah, yes, but if they were famous, would one react that way? yes, yes, hoobastank, but are they really that famous anymore?)

lead singer patrick fitzgerald might have been "too much," as well, given that he was openly gay a few years before that became really cool to do. fitzgerald is a fantastic singer, like grant from the go-betweens if he was as florid as bandmate robert. guitarist julian swales is more than his match. together the two pull off a piece of pop magic that i'm quite fond of. i've gone on before about how appropriate and poignant i find it when a singer, unable to find the right words, reverts to "la la la"s. along those lines, i equally love it when a band runs out of words entirely, as when fitzgerald sings, "the third time we opened the capsule, everything went ... " and julian fills the void, swooping and swooning, picking up where thought ends and music begins.

a friend of mine once said to me, "i envy you, always able to explain why you like something." what she misses, what the eye fails to see, is the work that goes on, how difficult it is for me to do the reverse of what the kitchens of distinction do here, that is, turning music into words. i always hope to find myself slackjawed and speechless, dazed from listening to or gazing at a work of art, feeling little but wonder and amazement. it passes, but i always hope for its return. "take my words and take my language," fitzgerald sings--happily, if one can but hear a song such as this.
devics - "if we cannot see" (from the push the heart lp, album to be released in february on filter us recordings, official band website here.)

the devics are a los angeles duo currently based in italy. sensibly, the girl usually sings, but on "if we cannot see" the guy takes the mic unaided, for the first verse at least. he sounds like tom waits, five years before closing time; she sounds like, well, a lot of people, specifically girls w/ more breath than voice in their singing--a good pairing, in other words. the song features rolling piano and chiming guitar and is a bit c*ldpl*y, but more like the c*ldpl*y of "warning sign" : exhausted, barefaced honest, restrained (relatively speaking). "if we cannot see" is the kind of song perfect for the end of a film in which the male and female lead race around looking for love, only to realize that it was right in front of them the whole time. or! a film in which the male lead is gone for a long time and returns home, and he's tired and no questions are asked, only silent relief is expressed. cinematic and anthemic, then, w/ only a mild aftertaste of c*ldpl*y.

09 January 2006

zumpano - "the party rages on" (from look what the rookie did lp, out-of-print.)

zumpano was the group carl newman was in before the new pornographers; it was his tenure in that band that provided his credentials, that allowed the press to label the new pornos as a supergroup. they're talked about far less than destroyer, and, indeed, it's not newman's name that gives the band its name (he's sort of like the teddy pendergrass to jason zumpano's harold melvin--both of them drummers!) but at their best they were, yes, a super group, and "the party rages on" shows them at their peak. what separates this from his later work w/ the new pornos is the impotency of it, if you will. the new pornos are a muscular group, thudding and crashing, while "the party rages on" flops like the fringes on the band members and bounces like the kids pogoing in the crowd. still, even a cursory listen to the record demonstrates that newman had no gestation period or latency phase--in other words, he's had a way w/ words and tunes way before anyone knew who he was. the only giveaway is the closing harmonic breakdown, which tips its hat a little too generously to the band's power pop forebears. but that's just a peccadillo : "the party rages on" remains after all of these years one of newman's best compositions and an "i will survive" for the poptopia! crowd.
fariña - "island of hotels" (from the allotments lp, available for preorder here.)

the first thing you notice about fariña is that they earn that tilde over the "n." from a distance, you'd think you were flying over the balearic islands, what w/ the trumpets and tropical sway. it's only when you land that you realize it's actually the isle of man. fariña, then, are a bit like an english calexico w/ a helpful dollop of go-betweens. indeed, "island of hotels" sounds quite like "bye bye pride" had it been recorded in la brisa de la palma. "don't need a crystal ball / to see the future at all," the chorus goes, "don't need to know who to call / to know where to find me," and where the go-betweens used three-part harmony, fariña increase that number exponentially. it's incredibly bright and buoyant, reminiscent of the balmy effects of the guillemots. the trumpets, meanwhile, do suggest calexico, but they also call belle & sebastian to mind--which in turns brings one to love, both band and feeling. the world is at your feet and la brisa is at your back, and it's an unseasonably warm one for england.

(when you go to pre-order the album, be sure to check out the other mp3's, esp. "she radiates." i've come to think that it's a superior track to "island of hotels," but it's also far less immediate.)

06 January 2006

carrie - "cat power" (from the honey blue star lp, available for preorder here.)

i don't believe this song by carrie, aka laura becerra, is about cat power, aka chan marshall--although it might be one of those extended metaphors that i've heard english types prattle on about. at any rate, it probably hopes you know who cat power is, but such knowledge is not essential to enjoy this little ditty. indeed, this song would exist w/ or w/o the existence of chan, sounding as it does like juliana hatfield, ca. blake babies, being produced by kieran hebden, aka four tet. "cat power" slinks like a feline, and moves w/ the same slow, deliberate purpose, digging its way into your subconscious like so many claws into flesh.

05 January 2006

silver jews - "random rules" (from the american water lp, available for purchase here.)

on the car ride home tonight, "the heart of the matter" by don henley came on. this is v. likely my favorite song by an artist i despise. i had thought that "random rules" would take the crown should don henley somehow prove incapable of fulfilling the duties of his office. but i don't hate david berman.

some people do, i know, and not w/o good reason. david berman doesn't just have a non-voice; he's strident in making sure that you know he has a non-voice. one might argue similarly that his music is nonmusical, which is probably my biggest problem, w/ any band, really. lastly, he seems like the sort of guy who would sleep w/ your girlfriend and not use a condom.

but, there's much to love about "random rules" : the opening line; the horns and flute, though i liked it better when i thought the flute was a whistle; the fact that you think "random" is an adjective, but it's really a noun; the line "you look like someone i used to know" in context; the line "nothing can change the fact that we used to share a bed," particularly in the context of the orange juice song--and in just about any other context too. totally subjective and personal, and therefore incapable of swaying you, the jew agnostic : it reminds me of downtown new york at night, of walking through the tangle of sidestreets as daylight wanes and street lights take its place.

so, yeah, "random rules" is probably my favorite song not by a band by i despise--that'd only happen if he slept w/ my girl--but by a band i otherwise have no use for.
the early years - "all ones and zeros" (from the all ones and zeros single, digital single available for preorder here.)

has another band ever used peter hook's bass sound? besides new order and monaco, i mean. there's practically a cottage industry in the edge's guitar tone, but hooky seems neglected. the early years, another hot band for 2006, recently signed by beggars banquet, have noticed this and are getting in on the ground floor.

it's noisy and hypnotic, a bit motorik--so, neu! order, then. oh, and it's all v. promising, so promising that it finished at number six on 2005's festive 50 broadcast, from which after some crafty editing this was ripped (despite the fact that the single isn't released until january 16! that peel--cutting edge from beyond the grave!). i know some of you have grumbled for more sugababes or girls aloud. well, how about this : hooky brought his patented sound to the gwen stefani album--two degrees of separation! one, at least, hopes it's a patented sound; if that's the case, hooky stands to prosper from this new act. in fact, all sensible fans of music do.

04 January 2006

essential logic - "fanfare in the garden" (from the fanfare in the garden lp, available for purchase here.)

watching rose bowl. suspect it's now over. still, time left; can't count young out. here, for you, essential logic. more like essential rhythm guitar. best rhythm part ever, nolen and rodgers excepted. natch.
arctic monkeys - "when the sun goes down" (from the whatever people say i am that's what i am not lp, available for preorder here.)

this is the fortchcoming arctic monkeys single. you don't need me to tell you whether or not you want to hear it.


i'm going to turn this around on you, dear reader. i want you to tell me why i should give it more than one listen. and i want you to do so w/o using the word "libertines."


03 January 2006

orange juice - "tenterhook" (from the very best of orange juice lp, shamefully only available as an import, though purchasable here.)

though i should probably shun it professionally, personally i absolutely adore songs that begin w/ prepositions. certainly, there's a sense of voyeurism, of espying another's dirty laundry. my superego, though, prefers that i think about it in terms of being a selection from a much longer story, an invitation to extract some universal from a particular.

but that's not all that "tenterhook" begins w/. prior to edwyn's grammatical indiscretion, the guitars uncoil and slowly mutate, from a roy orbison ballad into a similar style from lynyrd skynyrd into richard thompson. i wish i could call it "recognizably orange juice," but they did this sort of thing far too infrequently. (one thing it's not is recognizably velvet underground; similarities exist, true, but it'd be overly simplistic to reduce it so.) it's almost a 12/8 ballad, but it's actually a kitchen sink drama, and it all centers around the idea of laundry.

tenterhooks, fresh laundry, clean sheets--it all leads back to the bed, w/ apologies to the kitchen sink, the center of most romantic dramas. it is the source of intense pleasure and deep loss and grief, which just about sums up "tenterhook." edwyn narrates in the past tense, his voice in fine fettle, hitting some of the highs and many of the lows. fit as a fiddle ... and ready for love? no, not love, but it's opposite. "fit as a fiddle but so noncommittal," he sings, doing his best to stifle a smile. he and his girl could have changed the world; now they won't. sad, a bit; regrettable, yes; silly--that too, as all our youthful hopes must one day seem, when one reaches the proper perspective.

"tenterhook" is an extraordinary thing--indeed, the most extraordinary thing orange juice ever recorded, at least from where i stand. the mixing of memories and desire, of happy and sad, is an accomplishment; so, too, is the mingling of the clever and the affecting, a rarity in pop, at least pop outside of the orange juice oeuvre. oh, and i can't forget about the guitars : what makes this once again an extraordinary thing, and a rarity for orange juice songs, is that it's just as good w/ edwyn as it is w/o him. the song ends on a bed of guitars that unfurl out into the distance, much like i can see the oft-cruel month of january opening up before me. it is songs like "tenterhook" that make that prospect not entirely unpleasurable.
oh, and i'd like to bid a fond farewell to nylpm--and an even more fond hello to tom ewing!--as it closed its doors on the final day of 2005.

though not my best work, here are the two pieces i wrote there that generated the most disgust and hatemail, both from 2001 : my lecherous appraisal of mandy moore and my vitriolic assault on weezer.

vain, selfish & lazy would not have existed w/o nylpm, for sure, and the role that it played in my music, writing, and internet life can never be understated--nor can tom ever be thanked quite enough.
the fields - "song for the fields" (from the song for the fields single, more info at the band's myspace site.)

the fields, i read, are one of the most hotly-tipped bands for 2006. if this is indeed the case, then 2006 will take up where 2005 left off (!) and continue to be in deep smit w/ the shoegaze sound. (what is this shoegaz i mention so frequently? a good introduction is feedback to the future, a title which never seemed so prescient as it does now.)

there are a handful of slowdives and rides marking the scene but, apart from serena maneesh, nary an mbv in sight. the fields's press clippings promise to remedy this, but it's not on display on "song for the fields" at least. oh, but let not your heart be troubled! "song for the fields" has a strong chorale influence, like ride at their best; guitars that buzz like michael karoli's; and more than a passing resemblance to classic uk freakbeat like the factory. promising stuff, then. but kevin shields fans--continue to hold your breath ... or listen to his go! team remix!