28 February 2006

ray davies - "over my head" (from the other people's lives lp, available for purchase here.)

in brief : girl troubles, it seems, make for great records whatever the age of the singer/songwriter.

"over my head" comes from ray davies's solo debut--which was released this year, in case your were expecting the night to be given over the back catalog fare. it is shockingly vital; the only sign of aging, apart from the use of a wah-wah pedal, is in ray's voice, which sounds bafflingly like john cale's for the first verse or so. give him until the second verse, though, and you'll hear that familiar old instrument, clipped and charmed as ever.

other davies trademarks soon appear as well, even as "over my head" sounds nothing like any kinks song i can recall. it's clever, naturally : for a song called "over my head," it has both a significant deep-end, a bassline one might hesitatingly call "funky" and guitar lines that scrape the ground. it also holds concealed depths : hidden beneath a string of platitudes that makes up the first chorus--"one day a time," "step by step," &c.--is deep-rooted anger, perhaps too a touch of disappointment, that davies expresses through clenched teeth (and, so, trademark british restraint, stiff upper-lip and all that).

returning from the depths to the surface, "over my head" is exceptionally catchy, choruses and hooks hitting their targets directly. a seething, crashing pre-chorus makes way for a chorus that's light as air, but substantial all the same. it's also an incredibly well-paced six minutes, never peaking too soon, carrying the listener's interest until the end. indeed, it's executed so well that, by the end, even the wah-wah seems a good idea. in other words, it's vintage davies.
the broken family band - "alone in the make-out room" (from the balls lp, import available for purchase here.)

in brief : british alt.country band deliver a classic lover's spat; let's call it "fairytale of newlyweds."

no, no, it's not the "ballad of nick & jessica," although threats of strangulation, electrocution, starvation, etc. are probably not uncommon between those two right now, esp. now that nick's going after the fortune. "alone in the make-out room" is more like another famous divorced singing couple, george jones & tammy wynette; this one probably would've been recorded not long after they realized they weren't gonna hold on. "make-out room" is vintage nashville break-up music, equal parts broken bones and broken hearts.

and though the twang and tropes are in place, i can't help but think of another lover's quarrel, "fairytale of new york" by the pogues w/ kirsty maccoll. it never ceases to amaze me how the mention of "christmas day" and the season's spirit of goodwill keep so many people from overlooking so much ugliness in the song. like "fairytale," "make-out room" is grimly humorous, but also like its forbear, it is not unleavened misery; one is reminded that such deep hatred could only be engendered by a greater love. so after the guitar solo, when steve adams sings, "i want to leave you by the side of the road / or out in a field in the rain or the snow / and people walkin' past could come and take pictures," he does so w/ a whisper that suggests, though the hurt is still there, it's overcome by a weariness, a desire to let bygones be bygones. he's met directly after w/ piney gir's hopeful declaration : "i'm gonna treat you the best that i can / cos' i'm your girl and you're my man and / we'll make them jealous with our laughin' and carryin' on." in the end, "alone in the make-out room" is music for when the honeymoon is over, but the love affair still lingers on.

27 February 2006

the violets - "carnival" (from the descend / carnival single, import available for purchase here.)

in brief : more catch-up; by the time "carnival" is through, you'll be caught up too.

at one time or another, angular records, the triple-a ball of british indie rock, has been home to vs&l favorites art brut, bloc party, the long blondes, and luxembourg. the violets are proof that the farm system hasn't dried up just yet.

lead singer alexis sounds not unlike siouxsie sioux, though, on evidence, i'd hate to be the one who had to tell her that, esp. if she found the comparison unflattering. she shouldn't though, b/c i refrain from making such comparisons while those around me succumb to facile claims. the siouxsie comparison rings most true when one realizes that, despite a ferocious band at their backs--the violents is more like it--both women remain the most fearsome element of the group.

indeed, the violets as a band aren't the banshees; they're something else entirely. imagine the pop group playing down the death disco--and, jesus, when was the last time anyone had reasonable recourse to a pop group reference? of course, they're better than that, b/c they're led by a chick. and i say "chick" w/ the utmost respect and regard.
two public announcements :

1 my friend joanna's band, time's tide (yes, smiths fans!), is playing tonight at 10:30 at lit lounge in new york. i think she sounds like alison statton of ymg; find out for yourself why don't you? what else could you be doing on a monday night? ("working"? yeah, me too.)

2 friend to this website loaded knife has released their second single, "normal teenager / berwick street." john peel called them "a courageous step into the unknown"; i call them the crossroads where negativland and double-dee and steinski meet. best of all, you can hear both of their singles right here.
tv on the radio - "hours" (from the return to cookie mountain lp, here is the band's 4ad page b/c i can make neither heads nor tails of their official site.)

in brief : it's a good thing i don't have to convince you to want new tv on the radio b/c this is going to be all over the place.

this weekend, i was reading ian mcewan's first love, last rites--yes, never good when the music reviewer mentions that he reads, but bear w/ me. the narrator of the opening story, "homemade," reveals on page one that this is a story about "virginity, coitus, incest and self-abuse"; as difficult as this would seem to forget, fifteen or so pages in, i did, and only when he did get it on w/ his sister did i remember and think, "oh, right, right--i mean, wrong."

or how about this : frank sinatra's "come dance with me" begins w/ some fingersnaps and frank dooby-dooby doing the song's melody a capella, and so even before it's begun, the listener knows precisely where it's going to go, but is quickly thrown off the scent by the extravagance of billy may's orchestra.

the influence of fifties vocal music should never be discounted when discussing tv on the radio--and i hasten to add that incest is always a non-factor--but perhaps classical music best exemplifies what goes on in "hours," but i've yet to feel comfortable talking shit about classical, esp. when it comes to technical terms. what i'm trying to express here, in a roundabout way, is my incredulity at how i failed to notice, after the first listening, the magnificence of this song. tunde begins by singing a wordless refrain, and v. soon this refrain finds its way to other parts of the song, even as the vocals change. the bass keeps it alive; later, the horns keep it alive; later still, the keyboards. the whole record is spectacularly undulant, but it's kept from going totally asea by the firmness of the drum track. when i listen to tv on the radio, this is exactly the sort of thing i want to hear; lucky for us, there's a lot more like this on the record.

24 February 2006

sondre lerche - "minor detail" (from the duper sessions lp, released march 21, available for preorder here.)

in brief : sondre lerche returns w/ the musical equivalent of a drawn breath.

"minor detail" is a minor detour for sondre lerche, away from classic pop and back to pop standards. lerche's been at this sort of thing a long time, since he was 18 ... which was only five years ago, but before norah jones, michael buble, jamie cullum, etc. although the cover of the album looks like the capital records studio, ca. 1955, lerche is naturally more of a songwriter than a singer, taking after the cole porters and jerome kerns of the world. it's the kind of song in which the "minor" in the title denotes the key and the piano is our hero's date, just like they used to write them.

the lead single from the forthcoming duper sessions, "minor detail" is early morning music, though it isn't wee small hours kind of music. instead, it's music for the hours many of us keep during the week, seven a.m. showers and crowded commutes. it's music to soundtrack the lamentable return to full consciousness and for the wiping away of cobwebs and other things.

23 February 2006

the honeycombs - "have i the right" (from the have i the right : the very best of the honeycombs lp, available for purchase here.)

in brief : british invasion pop just as likely to blow your mind as to set your toes tapping.

joe meek, for the uninitiated, was like the british phil spector, if phil spector were really into science fiction. actually, w/ his flair for the melodramatic, he was probably more like a hybrid of spector and george "shadow" morton. his production of the telstars' "tornado" was the first single by a british act to to top the u.s. charts, effectively launching the first salvo in the british invasion. he was pioneering and accomplished like spector, but their personal lives, too, had unfortunate parallels. in 1967, when spector might have been in the productio booth pointing a pistol at some poor artist, meek had pointed a gun at himself, taking his own life at the age of 37.

but how does one segue out of that? perhaps by saying that such volatility, when sublimated, made for truly awesome works of art, like the honeycombs' "have i the right." the single is something of a missing link between del shannon and early slade singles, a conclusion that might make more sense after listening to the record. it's inspired weirdness, from the alien organ rolls to the muted pong emitted by the drums on the chorus. the most fascinating element of the song is the guitar : it doesn't sound so much like an instrument as an organic, living, breathing something, bouncing and slinking around the studio. a well-trained something, though, and that's something worth mentioning, for despite how bizarre it all is, there is a method behind it. for an example, just listen to the guitar and drum fills in the breaks between stanzas. it's as well-regulated as a spector session.

one might concur, then, that the honeycombs were a studio creation, under meek's thumb completely. that would, however, do grave injustice to vocalist dennis o'dell, who is far removed from the standard faceless studio hack. indeed, if meek is a bit, well, eccentric, o'dell is positively mad. against such a controlled setting, o'dell comes off like gene pitney w/ frankie valli's capacity for scenery-chewing. it is an inspired performance, his growl leading into the choruses rivalling even meek's guitar sound.

this may sound merely like a record collector's dream, a relic lost to the ages, but i hasten to add that this was a top 5 single. granted, all things british were in vogue, but it does the heart good to think how welcoming pop audiences can be, how they can take something so forward-thinking to heart, so long as a record is placed in the right context and given a proper introduction. (i can only hope i've done the same here : the legacy of joe meek deserves nothing less.)
the harrisons - "blue note" (from the blue note single, import available for purchase here.)

in brief : like the jam, only w/o the fussy politics, coming to a lager commercial near you--but don't hold that against them.

more appropriate band name : the wellers, as they sound nothing like beatle george. less appropriate band name : the style council : this is "modern world," all mod cons-era jam, probably w/o the haircuts and jackets. of course, if this really was the jam, the reference to alcohol would be all about how the working man drowns his sorrows and the "beautiful days" could be about, i don't know, the prague spring.

happily, this isn't the case! this is the kind of music that strikes something so essential that i don't really mind that they overuse the chorus or that they're not up to much. b/c, basically, they have a drummer and he knows the beat i want to walk to when i get out of work. file under : 5 o'clock world.

22 February 2006

jackson browne - "late for the sky" (from the late for the sky lp, available for purchase here.)

in brief : jackson browne? no, it's okay to like this one b/c it was in taxi driver, and you like that movie.

because jackson browne is a Lyricist, there is a tendency on the part of some critics to do a really in-depth exegesis of his work. of course, if the lyrics mattered all that much to me, i would like more jackson browne songs than ... well, just this one. i'd rather focus on the music, myself, b/c i think that's what would help you to get past the fact that this is jackson browne, a name that might summon up the worst of easygoing, made in the shade, mid-70's california singer / songwriters.

to begin w/, "late for the sky" is anything but easygoing or easy listening. it goes down easy, if only b/c the music is so spectacular, so let me say something about that music. there's little filigree; the instruments all seem to know their parts and stick w/in the limits. it's a largely earthbound production, which is right for so many reasons, organs and pianos that are structural more than anything else. a lone guitar pokes around, mostly just smooth lines that occasionally threaten to spiral upward but just end up sounding like the most lonesome thing ever recorded. it's almost like a "what if," as in "what if the coda to 'layla' had a coda?" answer : it might sound as exhausted and broken as this. and then this coda to a coda has its own coda : at the v. end, the song finally seems as if it will reach a crescendo, the organ swells, the guitar plays chords, jackson browne is passionate--and it all just falls away. it's like sitting by the ocean, waiting for the wave to hit your feet ... only for it to, not only pull back, but pull back for good.

which leads to the lyrics, i guess. this is the end; and no easy rhymes here : that other person you see is anything but a friend, you hardly know them, but then you also know them far too well. imagine the worst date you've ever had; then imagine finding that person in your bed the next morning and they never leave. it's worse than that, though, really b/c this person once meant so much and now you're living in postlapsarian times. me, i've always though jackson browne something of a dick, and he admits to it here basically. but then he sings, "now for me some words come easy / but I know that they don't mean that much / compared with the things that are said when lovers touch," and that's worth some sort of redemption right there. he knows how little his way w/ words, his cleverness matters when compared w/ an unaffected tenderness; he understands that that there are things that matter more than being right all of the time and just how much it would be better if he was all right.

but he's not, and so the end result is his own blood on the tracks ... before there was a blood on the tracks. moreover, since he was never dylan, and doesn't come w/ dylan's weight of personality, "late for the sky" isn't impenetrable or impersonal : it's a song that the every man can relate to (and everyman, too, scorsese having used it to score travis bickle's breakdown). and though few men would willingly relate to such a song, w/ the attractiveness of the music and the sweep of the melody, "late for the sky" makes breaking up a little less hard to do.
man man - "van helsing boombox" (from the six demon bag lp, available for purchase here.)

recent acts like wolf parade and clap your hands say yeah have received comparisons to tom waits, either b/c of a frog in the throat or a vague sense of the carnivalesque. man man, though, man man here is the guy.

at this point, we also might as well bring beefheart, zappa and all of the other occupants of the avant-ghetto, which is an overly fussy way of saying that man man will never be popular (on the plus side, though, they won't face a strokes / franz ferdinand / arcade fire backlash). but that's not to say that they're inaccessible : "van helsing boombox" is downright hummable, w/ verses, chorus, and a string part. indeed, like the best of beefheart, somehow a title that on the surface seems incomprehensible makes perfect sense after a few listens. in the refrain, vocalist honus honus vows to learn a forgotten language; amidst drums that thump like barn doors in a twister and what seems for all the world to be tap dancing, the listener feels as if he's passed on that knowledge. "van helsing boombox?" precisely.

21 February 2006

the chameleons - "nostalgia" (from the what does anything mean? basically lp, available for purchase here.)

in brief : it'll leave a mark.

"nostalgia" starts like a ticking clock and closes like a door shut for the last time.

from this, their v. first single, the chameleons were masters of a burly, muscular sadness, embodied by refrains like, "tomorrow, i'll remember yesterday." i often truck w/ a more feminized kind of sadness, the sort early '80s peers of the chameleons specialized in, but, really, there are so many times one can take to his or her bed over romantic disappointment. sometimes, you want to meet it head on w/ a tear in your eye and a fire in your heart. this attitude is present in every syllable mark burgess spits, his voice sinewy and commanding; the song ends w/ a restatement of the title, already one of my favorite ploys, but when burgess bellows it, and the band rages like u2 if their first album were called men, i also feel like pumping my fist or something. surely, nietzsche would approve.
trespassers william - "i don't mind" (from the having lp, released february 28, available for preorder here.)

if you're new to the band, trespassers william is a socal act that really sounds so ca. '90 uk (see bonus track for further proof). the band's socal roots show b/c they sound like mazzy star, only w/o the capes (mazzy star always struck me as esp. florid; add in the late-60s influence and i can totally see them in capes, hanging around castles and shit). both acts tend toward languor, but that's more down to tempo : they've different ways of making the most of their guitars. trespassers william takes long, slow cliff dives, w/ splashes like sonic booms. this is music that slows time, music made for lovers lying side-by-side.

BONUS! if you're catching up w/ the band and what a sense of where there head is at, here is their cover of ride's "vapour trail" from their debut. keep in mind that they use guitars more than they do here; perhaps it was wisest to refuse the anxiety of influence and not follow ride directly.

20 February 2006

kelley stoltz - "ever thought of coming back" (from the below the branches lp, available for purchase here.)

in brief : i fucking love this song. how's that?

i've been sitting on this far too long. the album's been out two weeks now. you own it, right?

if you answered "no," here's reason enough to reconsider. "ever thought of coming back" is like a carl wilson demo for 20 / 20--stoltz even sounds exactly like carl, ca. wild honey, particularly the high notes that end the even lines in the verses. "demo" only refers to the recording quality : he's another one of these bedroom genii. "ever thought" is a-side quality all of the way. "carl wilson," meanwhile is no slight : we all know the man could sing : his voice on the choruses even makes "kokomo" go down easy every once in awhile. carl, however, also penned "feel flows," "long promised road," and "trader" and, following brian's taking to his bed, he's the reason the band kept from becoming a mike love museum piece twenty years early, keeping the band on the charts w/ his production of "i can hear music."

but, yes, this is about kelley stoltz. the titular question is posed cheekily enough to jesus and, in so doing, he makes "ever thought of coming back" an apt companion to that neko case song from not too long ago. it would seem, after all, that it's not george w. bush who's inspired musical creativity, but the fetishization of end times by one of his biggest supporters, american evangelicals. on this evidence, i say bring on the rapture! rapture again? ah, yeah, again and again!
maximo park - "trial and error" (from the missing songs lp, released february 21, available for preorder here.)

in brief : the only error here would be if you, jo(e) america, continued to ignore maximo park.

i'm not sure why maximo park aren't better known in the states. i wonder if it's the name, not so much crap--bloc party and the kaiser chiefs are surely worse--but rather sounding a bit middle-of-the-pack. the killers do basically the same thing, only more pedestrian (but also more photogenic and more "gender-bending"), but, you know, they're called the killers. i was thinking about this v. same thing w/ r/ t/ the manic street preachers, who i think would be huge here right now if they were young again and from nebraska.

but maybe that's it, the british thing--and not the british thing so much as the accent thing. paul smith's is not the kind of accent we accept over here, being neither liam gallagher nor keith flint. so, maybe lines like "i sleep with my hands across my chest and i dream of you with someone else" or "i used to stay here all the time, watching your feelings pass me by" from "trial and error" which should be lighting myspace ablaze are instead being lost to impenetrability. it seems pretty straightforward to me ... but then i remember that when i watch the office w/ friends i have to put the subtitles on.

so, for those that get it, and esp. those of us in the states, "trial and error" is more bruising, misty-eyed goodness from paul smith & co., taken from missing songs, a collection of b-sides and a certain trigger demos. listening to this collection, the verses in "trial and error" in particular, i'm often reminded of squeeze, which is not something i picked up on their debut; it's w/ ease that i can hear glenn tilbrook singing, and writing, such lines. high praise, then, but also a bit damning :after all, how well did squeeze do in the states when paul carrack wasn't singing?

BONUS! here is the field music remix of current maximo single "i want you to stay" entitled "stay." now, this is really british, like something from the first wave of the british invasion. you know, when americans were really into britpop.

17 February 2006

the veronicas - "everything i'm not" (from the secret life of the veronicas lp, available for purchase here.)

in brief : max martin presents twenty-year old australian identical twin sister lovers.

okay, not sister lovers, that might have been too good to be true. but! they were born on christmas day! (jesus christ!)

which either engages your bullshit meter or plays into your love of a band's mythobiography. and then you see they look this ...
... and you've either closed this page or are willing to reserve judgment.

still here? good. b/c this is a fantastic little song. you might be sick of the max martin beat by now--tss-tss-THOPPP, a bit like the pumpkins' "1979"--from all of the times you've listened to "since u been gone," and all of the times you should've listened to the backstreet boys' "just want you to know," but, take heart, you can't sing "since u been gone" over this one! instead, it has a really appealing minor-key chorus melody and it's not nearly as dour as most radio rock records w/ minor keys feel they have to be these days. plus! it makes you want to jump up and down on your bed!

the veronicas acquit themselves nicely. they're a bit like the duff sisters, if they were a credible rock act, which will never happen no matter how many smiths records hilary listens to; they're also a bit like t.a.t.u. w/o the accents and psychosexual drama, though a chorus of "'cos the girl that you want / she's tearing us apart" raises an eyebrow (as does "because of you" on the bridge). somewhere, joe simpson is saying, "this is what i was going for," as he dyes ashlee's hair again while she quietly fumes over the picture of the girls w/ ryan cabrera on their myspace page.

16 February 2006

the arrogants - "butterflies" (from the you've always known when best to say goodbye lp, available for purchase here.)

at the beginning of the new year, when faced w/ roughly 260 days on which i needed to provide good new music, i felt like--well, i wondered at what point i'd call it a day.

now, i've reached the point where i've too much good new music, so much so that i need to disrupt the normal format of this site. so, tonight, instead of providing you w/ old music you might have missed, here's new music you might have missed.

over a week ago, i received an email from jana, lead singer of the arrogants. i get a few of these e-mails; v. rarely is the music something i'm enthusiastic about posting. "butterflies," though, is really good, something of a cure-all for those of us still suffering from valentine's day hangovers.

it's immensely likeable and it commits itself to memory w/ alarming ease. it's somewhere between the velvets' "after hours" and audrey hepburn's performance of "moon river." it's a tune you may find yourself whistling near day's end; and a tune we all might prefer, poised on the brink of sleep, hearing someone else singing to us, whispersoft.


the band's official site is here; more mp3's can be heard here.
the concretes - "chosen one" (from the in colour lp, released april 4, available for preorder here.)

in brief : the concretes release an album, and suddenly spring seems a lot closer.

just as their self-titled debut's lead single "you can't hurry love" signaled the start of summer, "chosen one" from in colour beckons spring to come out of hiding. in full disclosure, it's fifty-eight degrees here in northern new jersey, several days after the nor'easter, so it's perhaps easier for me to envision meadows, dresses, and bare calves than others. it might, ultimately, just be a happy form of seasonal affect. it could be the synesthesia as well, "chosen one" calling to mind reds and oranges. in colour, indeed.

it's nowhere near as hyperkinetic as "you can't hurry love," but the charms of "chosen one" are just as immediate. from the start, w/ its interweaving of organ and guitar, "chosen one" sounds like a lost felt single from the creation era, suggesting that a band apart from belle & sebastian have been listening to forever breathes the lonely word. victoria bergsman is just as unconcerned about, well, everything as lawrence : she might allow herself to be loved by a boy, she might not--not a surprising stand given "you can't hurry love." it's the sort of attitude fostered by people wearing less clothing; by walking down a street, falling in love, turning a corner, and falling in love again : everyone seems available, everything seems possible. ideally, this is the song you'd hear drifting out of rolled-down windows.

15 February 2006

lee "scratch" perry - "jungle lion" (from the 300% dynamite! lp, available for purchase here.)
dennis brown - "westbound train" (from the money in my pocket : the definitive collection lp, available for purchase here.)

in brief : here are two reggae songs. both were recorded in the same year; are nearly identical in length; and contain "samples" of al green's "love and happiness." however, i'm not just being a dick when i say, "but that's where the similarities end."

these two songs, recorded by iconic figures of reggae, are ignited by the same gut-bucket guitar riff that fires up al green's "love and happiness"; "jungle lion" even borrows some horn riffs. one of the reasons, though, that these are iconic figures of reggae is that they take similar material and make it do two entirely things.

dennis brown gets locked into the groove. or, rather, it's more accurate to say that brown locks the groove in : he demonstrates the total control over his music that was his until his far too premature death at age 42. when he says he's taking the westbound train and never coming back again, one is as certain that they've seen the last of him as he or she is certain that it's the girl who's crying over him. keep somewhere near the front of your mind that he was only 16 when this record was released; it's this preternatural maturity that comforts us as it astounds, making us feel as if he did an astonishing amount of living in those forty-two years.

perry, for his part, refuses to be locked in any groove : "jungle lion," as the title might suggest, is free-ranging and ferocious. he appears to borrow the drum intro from joe tex's "papa was too," now a cornerstone of hip-hop breaks, and, in a delightful bit of gall, seems to wander into one of the verses from "i shot the sheriff." which is also quite ironic for the reason that marley, on his way to becoming the biggest reggae star in the world at the time, evinces so little of the soul influence heard, not only on both of these records, but on reggae from the ska days on. perhaps his desire to bring his music to a wider market, and therefore approximating a classic rock approach to music making and performing, led him to remove what was an elemental part of his earlier music, particularly his and the wailers' perry-produced sides.

all of this is academic, of course, and not even the most rigorous of academics given my dearth of knowledge about reggae history. what isn't academic--used here to mean "sterile conjecture thinly veiled as fact"--but is as fiercely intelligent as it is unrelentingly physical, is this music. i hope you enjoy it.
graham coxon - "don't believe anything i say" (from the love travels at illegal speeds lp, released march 14, import available for preorder here.)

in brief : graham's best solo record--but don't take my word for it.

when "don't believe anything i say" begins, you may be wondering if they've ever seen the rain or, more to the point, whether they've heard this song before. fear not, graham is not backsliding into classic rock in his advanced years; "don't believe" soon approaches unexpected places or rather expected, and rewarding, places for those who've been following his career since the early days of blur. the chorus has the general sense of wobbliness that inheres in all of his best work, by that i mean a sense of unsure footing, of being slightly off-kilter. (what really is unexpected is that the record's hook is graham's vocal, the stretching of the second syllable in "believe.")

"don't believe anything i say" would be the perfect link track between "badhead" and "to the end" (and, really, who would miss either "bank collector" or "far out.") it shares the resigned head-scratching and 1pm-and-i'm-still-in-pajamas feeling of the former and the sophisticated musical pallette of the latter. "link track" would seem to diminish the track's quality; what one should instead take from the association is that i think it'd fit in on parklife--indeed, it's better than a number of the tracks on that album. this part, however, may beggar belief, but this is why i provide aural evidence : "don't believe anything i say" may v. well be the best blur, or blur-related, track in ten-plus years. believe it ... or not?

14 February 2006

john coltrane w/ johnny hartman - "lush life" (from the very best of john coltrane lp, available for purchase here.)
billy bragg - "the fourteenth of february" (from the must i paint you a picture? : the essential billy bragg lp, available for purchase here.)

... and tonight, i'm not going to struggle against merely reproducing song lyrics. here we have two v. different sides of a similar story, and who's singing which side might surprise you. but whomever is singing your song tonight; whether you think romance is bunk or you're a fool for it (or both), i hope you are content this evening; and if not content, then striving. xoxo.

lush life
i used to visit all the very gay places,
those come-what-may places,
where one relaxes on the axis of the wheel of life
to get the feel of life
from jazz and cocktails.

the girls i knew had sad and sullen grey faces,
with distingué traces
that used to be there, you could see where they'd been washed away
by too many through-the-day
twelve o'clock tales.

then you came along with your siren song
to tempt me to madness.
i thought for a while that your poignant smile
was tinged with the sadness of a great love for me.

ah, yes! i was wrong,
again, i was wrong.

life is lonely again,
and only last year everything seemed so sure.
now, life is awful again.
a troughful of hearts could only be a bore.

a week in paris will ease the bite of it.
all i care is to smile in spite of it.

i'll forget you, i will,
while yet you are still burning inside my brain.
romance is mush, stifling those who strive.
i'll live a lush life in some small dive.
and there i'll be,
while I rot with the rest
of those whose lives are lonely too.

the fourteenth of february
i wish that i could remember
the first moment that we met.
if only i could remember
that sweet moment when we met.

if i knew then that i
would spend the rest of my life with you,
i imagine i would have held your gaze a little longer
when first our eyes met.

did it rain or did sunshine
attend our first meeting?
what words were said? what weight given
to that first greeting?

my diary doesn't help,
i don't even mention your name until that summer,
when bloomed the
seed sown on the first day that we met.

i know the date, i know
the place where it happened
yet in my mind, the scene
i recall is imagined.

as we grow old i'm sure
there will be moments that we will not forget
but i would
remember something of the moment that we met.

drive-by truckers - "feb 14" (from the a blessing and a curse cd, released april 18, available for preorder here.)

in brief : heavy traffic on the expressway to your heart, emphasis on heavy.
flowers fly across the room,
vases smashed against the floor,
you said, "i'd rather be alone,
take your chocolates and go home.
"feb 14" kicks off the new drive-by truckers album w/ big, barreling drums, followed by fussy licks that mew like a siamese cat from the tertiary period, the size of a hippopotamus. chief trucker patterson hood sings a chorus of "BE MY VAL-EHN-TIIIIIINE" w/ a tone that suggests neil young as a southern man. it ends w/ a honking sax solo, like something off an early roxy music album, obviously played by a man w/ a bad liver and a broken heart. the drums are incessant, the song's heartbeat if you will, but everything else is uncertain, tentative; the wonderfully sloppy sax closing is confused and muddled; cupid is a total no-show : you're on your own, bub.

13 February 2006

frank sinatra - "glad to be unhappy" (from the in the wee small hours lp, available for purchase here.)

in brief : frankie & nelson : a relationship that will stand the test of time.

any time one selects a song from the great american songbook, he or she must fight the temptation to merely reproduce the lyrics. there is a reason, after all, it's known as the great american songbook : these songs are not only plainspoken, w/ds here and there to the vernacular, but they're also profoundly poetic; one is never left in doubt as to what the song means and yet at the same time, on another frequency, the song performs a clever, witty exegesis of itself, almost obviating the need for the critic.


in the wee small hours, as you might know or guess, operates at the unhappy end of the mercury stick, somewhere north of the frigid only the lonely and the hyperborean no one cares. "glad to be unhappy," along w/ "dancing on the ceiling" and "i'll be around," is about as balmy as it gets : think high-40's in the deeps of winter : not great but unexpected given the season. the hour proves to be exceptionally wee here, no 3am heartache but more of a 4am delirium

"glad to be unhappy" is great no matter the season, but esp. heartwarming during the build-up to valentine's day. "unrequited love's a bore," frank deadpans--too true, too true. and though no ladies are feeling sympathetic to frank, nelson riddle remains true in his own particular way, never stealing the scene--even after countless listens, i had to replay to find that he employs guitar and celeste and little else--but always making it possible. he truly doesn't seem to mind that no one notices him; he perfectly understands it, esp. when frank is giving a masterclass in singing, vide the seven syllable section from 1:32-1:38, for one. in his heart, he remembers how uniformly piss-poor frank's a capella sessions were during that union strike, and he knows for sure that when the session's over the drinks and the laughs are on frank.
the flaming lips - "pompeii am götterdämmerung" (from the at war with the mystics lp, released april 4, available for preorder here.)

in brief : the flaming lips return to their roots. sort of.

mellotron. church organ. guitar squalls. title, not only in german, but referring to a cataclysmic scene and to the v. twilight of the gods, no less. ambition here vaults like cathedral ceilings, recalling the heavier moments of ungainly-title psych-pop acts like we all together and it's a beautiful day. certainly this must be more amenable to the flaming lips faithful than cod-r&b and kylie minogue covers.

bear in mind : "jesus shootin' heroin," this is not. a pattern is being established here, you'll noticed; positive things will be said, only to be followed by an em dash and a qualifying statement, a strategy that comes in handy when discussing at war with the mystics. for instance, notice i said "psych"--not "acid"; and when i used the word "heavy," i meant so in the 60's usage of the word--not the 70's. unlike yoshimi, it has edges--but that's a long way off from calling it "edgy." it's nuggets-grade psych, and one probably can't say that about any of their records since clouds taste metallic--but it remains radio friendly.

you know ... just in case.

10 February 2006

calexico - "all systems red" (from the garden ruin lp, released april 11, visit the band's official website here.)

in brief : a feast of fire & brimstone : calexico can't believe the news today ...

calexico doesn't have too many songs over six minutes in length; coming at the end of the album, i figured there was enough room in there for a hidden track. that there isn't is only the first surprise.

surprise #2 : topical lyrics. joey sings about gallup polls and rising death tolls and how the "chimes of freedom flash and fade." he's looking for a "sign in the morning air"; he won't like what he sees, but you'll like what you hear.

surprise #3: there's a storm brewing out on the horizon. the music builds and builds, and once you've inured yourself to the fact that there's no hidden track, you really wonder where all this can lead. of a sudden, the morning air turns violent, and you're in the midst of an arizona sandstorm. the band gets really fucking loud, joey is howling, effects pan across the speakers, voices cry out for justice--something tells me we're not in tucson anymore.

one wonders where the storm will set them down, what new undiscovered country they'll find themselves in; it seems that, wherever it is, there might be fewer strings and horns and love covers. which might disappoint some newer converts, but the band doesn't sound as if they feel they have options; to paraphrase the lyrics, their heart's breaking w/o a choice. musical opinions aside, one thing is made perfectly clear on "all systems red" : current events have certainly politicized calexico; the group's head is no longer buried in the sand.

09 February 2006

paper moon - "daytrip to salzburg" (from the broken hearts break faster every day lp, released february 14, import available for preorder here.)
minor majority - "let the night begin" (from the reasons to hang around lp, my norwegian is poor, so i can't find a purchase link, but here's the band's official website.)

in brief : two songs, the difference between which is more than that between night and day.

ah, sorry, no selections from the back catalog this evening. these are two great new-ish bands, if "new" is understood in the grammy "best new artist" sense of the word, w/ shamefully little name recognition, but w/ fantastic releases in the offing that more than merit your attention.

as soon as i hear the electric piano, it feels as if i'm listening to a canadian record; the lead singer's voice merely confirms it, a voice that almost screams "peace, order & good government." as recent as ten years ago, calling a band "canadian" was a pejorative, a dastardly slur--my how times have changed! paper moon is another worthy canadian band, w/ a firm grip on dynamics and a certain new wavey lilt that recalls the stars' album before last. the song is all about making a clean break, drawing a line between past and future, and doing so w/ the optimism that only travel seems to engender, while the music itself makes such optimism palpable.

on the other hand, i had no fucking clue that minor majority is from norway, thinking instead that they were some midwestern alt.country concern. indeed, the band sounds like the tindersticks if they had somehow found their way out to omaha. on the bewitching "let the night begin," minor majority manage to do one of the most difficult things i can think of, drawing a line between day and night; it turns out it's as simple as the line between verse and chorus. a light string backing looms like the night itself, simply biding its time until the chorus arrives to make its presence felt. in the summer, norway is a country where one can wait a long time for the night to begin--eighteen hours at its peak--and yet minor majority summon it w/ the ease of turning off a light switch.
massive attack ft. terry callier - "live with me" (from the collected lp, released march 27, import available for preorder here.)

in brief : red hot & blue.

as w/ suede, massive attack is another band that makes me look back, this time to 1998 when they were my favorite group, when i thought them nigh-on untouchable. now, back to 2006 and they've released one proper studio album, 2003's disappointing 100th window.

i keep speaking of massive attack as a "they," though for all intents and purposes "they" are now a "he," viz. robert "3d" del naja. coincidentally, 100th window was the first album to feature del naja on his own, and "live with me," the new material from their forthcoming greatest hits compilation, sees him continue down that path alone.

or not necessarily alone. the strings are likely arranged by longtime collaborator craig armstrong, or someone familiar w/ his work. and once again, an eminent, grey-voiced singer is on board, following in the steps of thorn, fraser, and o'connor, chicago folk/soul cult figure terry callier. what's missing, apart from mushroom and daddy g, is anything one can call a sonic signature, e.g. strings v. samples on "unfinished sympathy," samples v. synths on "protection," synths and doom & gloom piano on "teardrop." twenty seconds into the record, if someone had told you it was massive attack, you could hear it, otherwise it could be any other "chillout" band.

however, credit must go to 3d for choosing terry callier to sing on this record. after hours, grey-voiced callier may be, but his voice is also rich in blues. not since blue lines has a massive attack guest vocalist so lashed into a song. callier begins at a whisper but it's not long before he's howling at the moon w/ a mixture of desire, despair, and a hint of menace. callier's vocal is the sonic signature and it haunts like the best the band has ever offered, certainly earning its place on the record. if 3d has plans for future massive attack records, he'd be wise to ask callier to join the band.

08 February 2006

suede - "to the birds" (from the sci-fi lullabies lp, available for purchase here.)

in brief : from the greatest debut single ever? or simply for the birds?

even more than my teenage years, eighteen to twenty-one were my most impressionable days, the age of the great forming. these also happened to be the days that i became confirmed in the anglophilic faith, britpop raging on those shores, registering but a blip in the home country. being impressionable, i was in the thrall of the editors of the nme and whatever product they were pushing that week. the cd's those people made me buy : gene, gomez, geneva--and that's just the g's. they had me believing that the b-sides by these acts were better, by a factor of at least three, than the complete output of the beatles & stones combined. it is w/ some trepidation, then, that i returned to suede's sci-fi lullabies.

i'm pretty sure it's still great; perhaps you all can back me on this. "to the birds," for instance, is from that legendary debut single, perhaps all told, from song one to song three, the greatest debut single since "hand in glove" / "handsome devil." now who's talking like the nme, you ask? ah, but listen to this record; recall that we now live in an era that allows you to listen to records before buying them (oh, the money i might have saved). listen to bernard butler's one man guitar army : many believe that britpop was the nail in the shoegazer's coffin, but clearly bernard learned much from kevin shields, julian swales, and mark gardener. indeed, this could be a lost ride single if not for it's determination, if not for brett anderson.

the only time brett gazes at his shoes is to make sure they match his outfit; when you only wear black leather, that's not such a difficult job of coordination. brett sings the most tremendous bullshit this side of lord byron and does so in the only way one possible can, that is, ecstatically--and w/ majestic backing by bernard et. al. that said, there is something truly grand about a chorus that goes "and i'll sing to the birds here at my side." grand and preposterous, but in equal measure, and those are the words they'll write on the band's grave. britpop's grave, too.
the yeah yeah yeahs - "gold lion" (from the show your bones lp, released march 28, available for preorder here.)
the yeah yeah yeahs - "gold lion (diplo remix)" (from the internet, available everywhere.)

in brief : when the single is bungled, get the remix, hot & fresh out the jungle.

it's never a good sign when the first version of your single that appears is the remix. often, some shitty dj takes a sample of the song found on the net and then extends it into a song. not so in the case of the new yeah yeah yeahs' single, "gold lion," particularly since diplo is no shitty dj.

remixes have long been prevalent in the rap/r&b world, but the notion of the remix used to be met in the rock community w/ the old saw, "if you got it right the first time, you wouldn't need to remix it." i'm not sure what exactly brought about this sea change, though two events come to mind. first, in 1999, the flaming lips had r. kelly engineer peter mokran remix two of the songs on the soft bulletin to great effect; second, r. kelly himself has almost singlehandedly reinvented the remix himself in the twenty-first century. given all of the bands who rip off the lips and the countless covers of "ignition" by indie acts, surely such moves carried weight.

and thus diplo. but first, let me say something about the original.

it's also never a good sign when the new single by a "rock" act starts off w/ an acoustic guitar; this holds true for the yyy's. it's been slightly less than three years since the release of fever to tell, but much has changed, including a reduction in the number of radio stations that would play a song like "maps" and the general failure of bands who would write songs like "maps," bands from the class of '01 when definite articles were all the rage. evolve or die out is the way of the jungle these days, but i'm not sure that "gold lion" is the surest way of survival.

at least not in its original form, which brings us to diplo, who is all the rage in '06. his remix is squelchy and rhythmic, as one has come to expect, and taken at a pace that the yyy's might have attempted several years ago. the peak is the refrain, karen o's sped-up voice going "ooh-OOOH, ooh-OOOH," like she was trapped in the closet. one wonders whether there might be a remix album in the works, what w/ the yyy's recently involved in the gang of four remix project and the success of the numerous remixes that accompanied beck's guero and resulted in guerolito. after all, if you don't get it right the first time ...

07 February 2006

the sundays - "here's where the story ends" (from the reading, writing and arithmetic lp, available for purchase here.)

she says, "the books that you read were all I loved you for." oh, harriet, you can be so unkind; and you can't even bring yourself to look in my direction. but we boys know why we loved her, and love her still : it's the little smile that lights up her face and the giggle in her voice as she says the most devastating, debilitating things. there is much to be said in favor of that kind of girl, the girl who breaks your heart and then writes a song that makes it sound like she's the aggrieved party, while bringing in her new boyfriend to play guitar just to kick you while you're on the ground. it all ends in tears, yes, but the sweetest of tears, trickling down your cheek as you mend your broken heart and clutch your battered ribs.

we forgive the pretty girls so, so much.
neko case - "john saw that number" (from the fox confessor brings the flood lp, released march 7, available for preorder here.)

in brief : st. neko the divine.

already in early 2006, four female singers are working almost the exact same turf, the american south to be exact. what immediately differentiates neko case from cat power, jenny lewis, and beth orton is the voice : it is not a wispy, cracked or raspy thing; it is a piercing thing, a rousing thing, a voice that gets straight to the heart, and the concealed regions, of a song.

"john saw that number" is on a traditional theme, the "john" in the title referring to both the baptist and the revelator, and an obscure old gospel tune. another difference between neko and the above : she could get away w/ singing a song like this, w/o radically reinterpreting it, and the amen corner would be none the wiser--and could, indeed, after such a performance, even forgive her for being in a band called the new pornographers and that whole posing nude thing. it is a good old-fashioned hand-clapper and toe-tapper, and a hit if country radio was as it used to be, and neko's voice rings out like seven trumpets. truly, for the nonfundamentalist, end times have never before seemed like something so worth looking forward to or singing about.

06 February 2006

the faces - "debris" (from the a nod is as good as a wink ... to a blind horse ... lp, available for purchase here.)

in brief : music for when you know it's not working.

ronnie lane was a bloke. the kinda guy who uses "was" where rod stewart would know to use "were." so bloke-ish, as a matter of fact, that billy bragg covered him, this v. song.

"debris," if you want to know, is about lane's father, the title refers to the leftovers to be found at markets on sundays, places lane's father often went, usu. w/ his son in tow. for bragg, the song is all about the third verse, which w/ its torn-from-the-headlines discussion of labor strife, becomes the bedrock of his marxist interpretation. that good ol' intentional fallacy sets you loose to interpret it as you will.

perhaps, like me, you're not often thinking of the lyrics, instead you're focusing on the music, remembering what a fantastic band the faces were. that music sounds as if it's missing something--no, not stewart's vocals, which appear in a backup role on the chorus. no, something far more fundamental, one of those things that once lost can never be found again, one of those things you pretend isn't missing for as long as you can.

see, before i did a search, i always thought "debris" was about a wrecked relationship, blasted rubble where something proud used to stand, and thus the title. (how to explain that third verse, then? oh, the things people talk about--newspaper headlines, for one--when what they want to talk about is indelicate.) what conveyed that sense to me, the title notwithstanding, was the line in the chorus : "i've been there and back, just to see how far it was," which later becomes "i've been there and back, and i know how far it is." when one travels the distance from here to there, he or she is sure to know the way back, but "debris" seems to raise the question, even w/ that knowledge, whether there is a way back.

in one sense, there is. people hang around perhaps longer than they should and stand at the top of staircases. but what do they find on their return? old feelings but new situations and arrangements, the space has remained the same but the furniture's all new : you can't get comfortable in the bed and all of your old stuff's been thrown out ... on the debris, and so back to the beginning. whether it's father and son, management and labor, or two lovers--something, or someone's, not working anymore and it's a crying shame.
the pipettes - "your kisses are wasted on me" (from the your kisses are wasted on me single, released march 6, import available for preorder here.)

in brief : latest single from my newest favorite band forever and secret girlfriends.

"your kisses are wasted on me" proves that these gift-wrapped kitty cats have claws. whereas "dirty mind" started off all creamy, dreamy, and trilly, "your kisses" begins w/ an almost martial beat and chants of the title, real playground stuff. now, i know the pipettes number three, and on "dirty mind" they seemed infinite, but on the latest record, there are two, the devilish pipette, the one telling the guy to piss off, and the angelic pipette, who tenderly warns that, sooner or later, he's going to cry and probably want to hold her hand again. the angelic pipette naturally gets the chorus and it's a marvelous, ascending kind of thing, pierced by the d.p.'s cries of "NO, YOU DON'T KNOW IT!", w/ organs and strings and glocks (the happy kind). it's all over in 134 seconds--but only if you can resist the urge to press repeat.

my relationship w/ the pipettes started w/ a kiss, continued w/ a bang, and it's been sealed w/ a purchase of the t-shirt (look, they made it in vs&l's colors!)--oh, yes, it's that serious.

... and i hope it never ends.

03 February 2006

the raconteurs - "steady as she goes" (from the steady as she goes single, band's website accessible here.)

unlike loose fur, the raconteurs, as the name might suggest, is where jack white and brendan benson get less experimental and serious--which is good, esp. for jack. here, they sound like the breeders, ca. last splash. fun, bouncy, thrashy.

02 February 2006

amon düül ii - "archangels thunderbird" (from the yeti lp, probably the greatest album ever made that one can't currently buy new.)

in brief : i'm on a krautrock kick right now, and them kicks don't come much harder than this.

the key--or, really, the padlock, the one who may keep you from enjoying this track, is renate, the mononymic off-and-on singer, off-and-on as a member of the band, but also off-and-on when it comes to pitch. (think grace slick meets ozzy osbourne.) many people, myself included, tend to follow the singer, paying close attention to where her voice leads you. renate doesn't lead you to anywhere in particular, and at the v. moment she's in tune w/ the guitar, she willfully ventures elsewhere, leaving the listener stranded in der mitte von nirgendwo.

what one should do instead, what i wish someone had advised me years ago, is to pick it apart bit by bit, choose an instrument and follow it through and along the track : crunching lead guitar w/ an all-time riff, scratchy rhythm guitar that runs interference, staggering bass, and drums that wouldn't have been out of place in a different collective, halfway around the world in san francisco, sly & the family stone--add it all up and you have a successful version of what led zeppelin might have been trying to do w/ "the crunge." once this has all been digested and pieced together, renate's vocals are no longer a distraction, but a reaction to the music; there is little ground that the band has failed to cover, yet she seems to be able to find some room to maneuver. taken as a whole, it is monolithic and yet concise : if there's such a thing as "prototypical krautrock record," this is the only one of them to come in at a radio-friendly three-and-a-half minutes. genießen!
my latest novel - "the hope edition" (from the wolves lp, released march 6, import available for preorder here.)

in brief : found : the people who read belle & sebastian's liner notes.

i've been sitting on this album for a short while, and for all of that time i've been trying to pick the right track to represent the special stuff my latest novel have put together on their debut album.

of course, i'd already selected the right track, months ago : "sister sneaker, sister soul." wolves is a bit like smile in that it seems totally modular, w/ pieces and structures that are endlessly arranged and rearranged. unlike smile, there's a "good vibrations" in "sister sneaker," but not "surf's up"--perhaps it's a bit of a smirk, then. which makes picking another so difficult.

in the end, i decided to post a song that seemed to contain all of the elements in the most attractive fashion. be forewarned : it is a bit like picking up a novel in the middle and only being allowed to read ten pages or so. you may find the style beguiling, but you'll think it ends too soon and there's no resolution. oh, but those constituent parts : "the hope edition" contains the wispiest strings i've ever heard, so altered that the sound seems totally removed from the physical process used to create it; the mercury rev influence i spotted earlier continues unabated w/ what sounds like either a bowed saw or really expert whistling; and handclaps, of course, always handclaps.

it's a bit like a newspaper providing the first chapter of a novel. i really hope it gets you hooked. in this era of short attention spans, my own included, wolves is the rare album that i listen to as just that.

01 February 2006

jonathan richman & the modern lovers - "the new teller" (from the jonathan richman & the modern lovers lp, import available for purchase here.)

in brief : on inter-mall romances, the prospect thereof, and rock & roll.

working in a mall, you do what you can to make the time pass more quickly and agreeably. some of my co-workers and i do this by either cultivating or, as w/ y.t. genuinely having, a mall crush. it's a fleeting, transient thing that tends to last only until you find out something about that you can't countenance : bad taste in music, an unfortunate tattoo, or a boyfriend, say.

a co-worker went through my cd's and put on this jonathan richman comp. my boss walks into the back just in time to hear j.r. sing :
well everybody in the bank line knows that i got a crush on the new teller, it's plain as day, i might as well tell her, she looks my way and she knows quite weller.
quick as lightning, he replies, "well, i can see why fred likes this band." (though, i hasten to add, i've never had a crush on any of the bank tellers in the mall, which makes me something of the oddity amongst my fellows.)

and, yes, it's really hard to dislike any song that expresses this kind of sentiment, esp. w/ the light, breezy rock & roll stylings of jonathan richman and his modern lovers. while the glam rockers were resurrecting the likes of berry, cochran, and vincent, richman was paying homage, not to a particular artist, but to a style, a way of doing things, an esp. undervalued era in rock history, viz. those days of u.s. rock after elvis and before the beatles, a spirit best embodied by the showmen's 1961 "it will stand"--a song, quite naturally, the band covered. it's music that draws attention away from itself, facilitating the message, a crush on a bank teller. not groundbreaking stuff, but music one can utterly relate to, music one tucks away into the folds of the old grey matter and that one happily recalls in such moments of simple, passing joy.
loose fur - "wreckroom" (from the born again in the usa lp, album released march 7, available for preorder here.)

in brief : a marriage of convenience for tweedy & o'rourke, w/ glenn kotche as a witness.

in the loose fur limited partnership, jeff tweedy gets to remake being there over and over, only w/ xylophones, and still be called progressive; jim o'rourke gets to have people hear his music. glenn kotche, for his part, is probably v. happy that he has an additional stream of income.

yeah, so loose fur is basically two of the wilco boys getting to make the kind of music they used to make before radiohead released kid a and totally fucked their shit up. it's also more experimental and free-form than even patient and faithful wilco fans are willing to put up w/ these days. (one has to imagine that the drone on a ghost is born was some kind of line in the sand.)

"wreckroom," then, is probably just what you image from its title. it has a melody and lyrics, but not a lot of either. eventually, it's just a place for o'rourke and tweedy to throw shit at the walls and see what sticks, while kotche perhaps wonders why, out of all of his bandmates, tweedy chose him to be in the group (maybe he fell in love w/ the drummer?). it's fantastic shit, though, as shit goes, esp. if one is a fan of another green world--check out those guitars, for one. it's a fascinating listen and, at the v. least, may give you an idea of what the next wilco album will be like.