Thursday, February 28, 2008

Wanted -- New Direction for Huge Commercial Band

So I stumbled across this article about the upcoming COLDPLAY record and it got me thinking...when is it a good idea for a huge band with lots of commercial success to change and when is it a bad idea. You look at various bands (U2, Radiohead) who have made radical shifts in musical style with greater commerical and critical success while others (REM, New Order) stayed the course and saw their relevance disappear. But as is the case with the first two examples, eventually fans started to slowly tire of the experiementalism and the bands slowly returned to their roots. In the case of u2, with all the applause that came with Achtung Baby and Zooropa their was equal disdain for POP. Eventually they returned to their signature sound on the last two records and saw their importance to the rock world return. Despite what people say about Radiohead and their experimental nature, I would argue that the most recent album is the closest thing they have done to THE BENDS than any other record (which, despite everyone's claim that OK COMPUTER is their favorite, still outsells anything else in the band's catalogue)

So what is COLDPLAY to do? They say they are moving away from their sound for a grittier, darker approach (cribbing a bit from the U2 Playbook with producer Brian Eno on board). Rolling Stone says that this is a good thing but I argue, what was wrong with the band in the first place? Will this new direction rob the band of their commercial appeal for the sake of chasing "artistic integrity"? Did the music on the first three records not have any art to it because it sold? Can a band find a balance? Well, the article at least got me listening to their music again.

DISCLAIMER: I know it is frightfully uncool to like COLDPLAY and I might very well lose my Cool Music Blog Registration Card for this post, but I defy anyone who has heard "Clocks" not to get goosebumps

A Couple of songs from the last album just to remind you were the band left off (unfortunately I only have this record on my computer at this time, but you can pretty much find anything on line)

I thought this was the highlight of the last record.

I was at this show and I thought this song was brilliant. Too bad I can't find a better quality of it.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Gazing at My Shoes (Part Two...The Podcast)

The shoegazer movement of the 1990's was the UK answer to the Grunge scene in America. Both broke around the same time and both contained artists that were original followed by a lot of imitators who took the scene more seriously than the music. Those early bands, MY BLOODY VALENTINE, THE JESUS AND MARY CHAIN and RIDE (pictured) set a tone and feel with their sound. They weren't interested in theatrics or flashy stage shows, just playing music that they felt passionately about. They all set out with the intent of pushing the boundaries of what guitar based music should sound like. Although most of these bands had critical success here in the States, many of them failed to make any commercial dent. Most bands today seem to shy away from this sound, opting for a more radio friendly mix of rock and pop that plays well in car commercials, which only seems to reinforce the unique nature of what these bands were doing. This podcast is just a small sample...

My Bloody Valentine -- Soft As Snow (But Warm Inside)
My Bloody Valentine -- Only Shallow
Ride -- Leave Them All Behind
Sonic Youth -- Dirty Boots
Spacemen 3 -- Take Me To The Other Side (Live)
Swervedriver -- Rave Down
Th' Faith Healers UK -- This Time
Slowdive -- Some Velvet Morning
Snowpony -- Easy Way Down
Catherine Wheel -- Salt
m83 -- A Guitar and a Heart

p.s. here is a site with a great live show by RIDE from Italy in 1992. I think it's a great example of this style of music played live.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Gazing at My Shoes (Part One)

A prelude to my next podcast in the form of a quick post of a song from one of my favorite shoegazing bands, MY BLOODY VALENTINE. Now there are literally thousands of posts a month on the greatness that is MBV so I won't give you the whole story but it's safe to say that for those of us who listened to music from the UK throughout the 90's, MBV and THE STONE ROSES were the two most frustrating bands around. Both made brilliant music and then seemed to disappear as they struggled to make a follow up album (which, unfortunately, the Roses did years later with the mediocre "Second Coming"). Kevin Shields and Co. are still taunting us with the potential for another record but I'm not holding my breath. So here's something to remember them by (more to follow tomorrow with the podcast...)

(mp3) My Bloody Valentine -- Soon (from Loveless)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Not To Get To Far Ahead Of Myself BUT...

So, songs from the new REM record, "Accelerate", are starting to make their way into the world in the finished studio form. The first single "Supernatural Superserious" gives me a sense of hope. As detailed on this and other blogs about 6 months ago, REM seemed to have lost a bit of their cache mainly due to their pitiful last record "Around the Sun" (to the point where it is the only REM album I do not own). So why do I have hope...well because this song has all the REM trademarks that made them a great band. The Peter Buck guitar is back (still a little to clean for my tastes, I like a little fuzz in it), the Micheal Stipe lyrics are still a bit obtuse (I think it's about a lost teenage love or something like that) and the great Mike Mills harmonies are thankfully back in full force. Maybe it's the fact that they realized that their relevance had wained and they needed to pull it together or maybe they just had some fun for the first time in a while in the studio but maybe, just maybe, we have the Great American Rock Band back!!!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Band Crush -- Lotion

A quick post tonight because I'm really tired. Here is another in a long list of bands I loved while in college and found recently when searching through my CD collection.

Had this band been in exsistence today, I believe they would be all over the blogs. People would be hailing them for their sound and their original take on the old alternative rock formula. Unfortunately, the band broke up in 1999 after three records. What they did release, particularly their first album "Full Isaac", was melodic, intense and full of moments of real excitement. Although not the most original, Lotion managed to transcend the alternative genre with just enough off kilter bass lines and a slightly nasal vocal delivery to make me come back to their music often. Lyrically, the songs travel in a world of awkward teenage boys pinning away over girls they can't have or when they do get the girl they don't know what to do with them. It's almost emo before emo was even a phrase. I particularly enjoyed "Around", which is a simple acoustic song with very little lyrics but just keeps building and building to a crescendo by the end of the song. Elsewhere on "Tear", the band comes closest to a stadium rock feel with a great bass, guitar power chord combo over a driving drum beat.

The band moved in a poppier direction with "Nobody's Cool" with soemwhat diminishing returns. Their sound was very much a sample of most of the music coming off the SPINART label (one of my favorite indie labels) and had a feel remiscent of BUFFALO TOM with a slight SUPERCHUNK feel. Very good stuff indeed.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Pain+Love = Brilliance

I often think that I missed out not being of age to fully understand the music of the 1970's. I didn't really get into music until well into my high school years (late 80's, early 90's) so much of the 1970's was a mystery to me. I had an aunt who gave me THE EAGLES "Hotel California" when I was like 8 and although I enjoyed the music I didn't get the lyrics (which in restrospect is probably a good thing). When I hit college I began to slowly dip my toe back into music history to try to understand where my favorite bands got their inspiration. REM and U2 turned me on to THE VELVET UNDERGROUND. NIRVANA and PEARL JAM got me interested in NEIL YOUNG. SOUNDGARDEN begat LED ZEPPELIN and so on. I can't really remember how I found FLEETWOOD MAC's "Rumours". I did spend at least one afternoon a month at a local record (and by record in this case I do mean the actual vinyl) store diving into the stacks for anything of interest which is probably where I came across this record.

Most people know the story of the FLEETWOOD MAC (if not here is the Wikipedia link for the tale) but what strikes me even to this day about this album are three things:

1) The music is just absolutely perfect in every sense of the word. Back then bands would take forever to make a record and the studio was more of a lab than a location. Today, bands rip through a session in a few weeks and often put out material that has a shoddy or half finished sound. Fleetwood Mac took their time, thought about every song and every step and the results are an album with no visible flaws. What was the last record you bought made recently with no filler?

2) The lyrics and songwriting are heartbreaking. For some reason, great music comes from pain and misery more than joy. We identify with the pain that these singers are going through (mostly because the entire album is a prolonged break-up story). I doubt the record would be as good if the writers were in a happy place. Stievie Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham are giving us a peek into their souls and allowing us to truly feel the pain of their deteriorating relationship. All in the context of truly brilliant pop songs that are memorable for their feeling and their sound.

3) The sounds recorded in the 70's just sound fuller and richer (even digitized for today's consumption) than anything today. Now, this might be due to the use of analog tape or just the quality of musician but their is just more depth to the sound. It has a distinct sound.

Does this mean music recorded today has no merit? Of course not! But it doesn't hurt to take a trip back in time every once and awhile to see what influenced the music of today.

This has to be one of the ultimate break-up songs. There is so much anger and bitterness here and yet the music makes the song irresistable. This is my favorite song of their entire catalog.

This song has such a great guitar, bass and drum interchange in the second half. Here is the best example of the band as professional musicians.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Zencast #9 (The Indie Cast)

I'm not entirely sure I like the end product of this particular Zencast. I had high hopes a week ago for a new podcast; I felt good and I had a clear idea in mind of what I wanted to do. Then I sprained my ankle playing basketball and spent the better part of a week hobbling around in pain (putting me in a less than festive mood). So I held off doing a podcast till I felt better. Then I changed the playlist about three times depending on my mood for the day until I settled on this line up. The feel is somewhat indie rock (which is rapidly becoming the most overused tag line for music ever) but I think the songs are really top notch. As for my contribution, well, you be the judge...

(mp3) Zencast #9 -- The Indie Cast


Matt Pond PA -- Last Light
Chris Walla -- Geometry &c.
Band of Susans -- Not In The Life
The Killingtons -- Destination Failure
Chin Up Chin Up -- The Architect Has A Gun
Emily Falls -- Carnation
Aeon Spoke -- No Answers
Iron Hero -- Spy Versus Spy
Rogue Wave -- Harmonium
The Stratford 4 -- Autopilot
Voxtrot -- Blood Red Blood