Saturday, July 26, 2008

Lost Bands of Britpop (Part Three)

In every movement there are those bands that don't get the respect and admiration they deserve as compared to others. THE AUTEURS clearly are one of those bands. Led by singer and principle writer Luke Haines, The Auteurs brought a sense of poetry and lyricism to the Britpop movement that cut against much of the original working class leanings of the other larger bands. Haines traveled in imagery of French lifestyle and love found and lost. The bands use of acoustic guitar and synths gave their sound a more cosmopolitan feel as if plucked from the soundtrack of a foreign film.

The band's second record, "Now, I'm A Cowboy", refined their debut's style and was even more esoteric. Although it leads with a bang with the rocking "Lenny Valentino", the record settles into a leisurely pace of melancholy and dreaminess. Highlighting the record is the sublime "New French Girlfriend", which had even more power live. I think it's just that most people simply didn't get the band. The next album saw the band hook up with Steve Albini who pretty much decimated the band's sound and one of my colleagues at the college station to publicly call for both Albini and Haines' heads. After that it was downhill from there. Every once and awhile they get name checked as part of the movement of Britpop but they actually were quite removed from the style that was the signature of the genre. There closest peers would probably have been PULP (who will get there own mention in the future) and gave the sound a more grown up, less working class feel.

I have to say I was surprised at how well this record stood up over time. It has a timeless quality to begin with that is only enhanced when you appreciate the subtlety in the music. This is a shining example of the excitement of the music from this time.

Friday, July 25, 2008

I Can't Get No Sleep

From time to time I get insomnia. My wife also suffers from this inability to get to sleep, but in a much different capacity than what is currently afflicting me. Her's requires a nightly sleep aid to allow her to sleep. Mine strikes intermittently making it impossible to even lay still in bed. I can't really say what causes it or why it strikes, but it's as if my body has these twitches and leaps in it making it very hard to drift off to sleep. Sometimes I can pinpoint a cause (usually consumption of large amounts of caffeine prior to bed does the trick) but then there are those nights when it becomes obvious that sleep is not coming soon. So what does one do? Do I lie there in the dark hoping that something will allow me to calm down? Do I give in and take a drug knowing that the sleep will not be true? So, instead I came out here to the computer to type to see if that might help center my thoughts. So I have nothing original or thought provoking to say just musings to pass the time.

I suppose I could write a review of THE DARK KNIGHT since I saw it today, but what could I say that would be unique or new to the conversation? (other than that I personally enjoyed it quite a bit despite the unrelenting darkness of the film and yes Heath Ledger is very good...)

I could take the time to talk about the state of my beloved LA ANGELS (best record in baseball) but since no one else in mainstream sports media cares about them then why should I?

I could opine on the state of the US economy and the eerie parallels between the current situation and the beginning of the GREAT DEPRESSION of the 1930's (but that would only put you to sleep, not me)?

I could pick something random and just babble on about it, but that might just get my mind all fired up and then I never get to sleep!!! THIS IS ABSOLUTELY MADDENING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

So I put this to you dear readers, how do you fight insomnia? How do you drift off to sleep when every ounce of your body is fighting you? Leave suggestions in the comments section. I'm gonna go have some warm milk...

(mp3 ) The Perishers -- Trouble Sleeping

Monday, July 21, 2008

Bring That Beat Back (Dancing Around the World)

Just a quick post here because this totally blew me away when I saw it and it gets better each time I view it. Added bonus for a really cool song:

Seriously who wouldn't want to be this guy. To see all that he has seen. I wish I could have seen a fraction of the world that he has danced through. What amazed me every time I watch this is how universal the joy of dancing like a fool can be. So get up and dance around your city tomorrow. It will make you feel better!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Simply A Beautiful Movie

My wife and I finally sat down and watched "Once" last night, and I, for one, was floored by the beauty of the film. Now, I have a soft spot for Irish films, since I had a truly life altering trip to Dublin while I was in college. In spite of that, I was not prepared for the elegance and grace of the film and how it depicts the struggles of two lost souls who, only when connected through music, can be whole. Glen Hansard, of the band THE FRAMES, has such passion and depth to his voice when he sings - it makes you feel the anguish and despair he feels. Add in the gorgeous harmonies of Marketa Irglova and you can easily hear why their music won an Oscar.

"Falling Slowly", as performed in the film, is almost like the first time you realize you are falling in love with someone. It starts off tentatively then builds to a chorus as two voices find harmony, then drifts off at the end as you and your love find peace with each other. Conversely, the other musical focal point of the film "When Your Mind's Made Up" seethes with the hopelessness of a love that is gone and the realization that you cannot get back what has already left. The filmmaker doesn't give us a traditional payoff (I won't spoil it if you haven't seen the film, but it is a bit of a surprise), yet it feels true to the intention of the movie. Having had a day to digest it, I can say I'm actually haunted by the sounds and feelings of the film. I was glad to have seen it and I hope you will be as well. You will not be disappointed.

(mp3) Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova -- When Your Mind's Made Up

Lost Bands of Britpop (Part Two)

A quick note: A fellow whom I have tremendous respect for and read every day, The Vinyl Villian, has started a similar series on Britpop bands from the 90's. Let me assure everyone that I did not steal his idea. If you get a chance you should read his take on this genre of music. Who knows, it's possible some of the same bands will show up in both spots.

During the 90's I bounced around the record industry interning at a variety of record labels. This consisted mostly of taking phone messages and sorting through stacks of CD's in warehouses. I worked at different times for London Records, Maverick, Interscope and Polydor (a subsidiary of A&M). While at Polydor a London quartet by the name of GENE was signed with the hope of cashing in on the Britpop craze that had infiltrated America. The label executives called us into a room to listen the their debut record, "Olympian" which was followed by a briefing on the talking points if we dealt with the public on this record. What struck me upon listening to the record was the blatant attempt the band was making in imitating THE SMITHS but in a way that made them sound more like a Smiths cover band than being influenced by Morrisey and Marr. This fact was almost universally ignored by the upper management types instead we were told to focus on the song writing and musicianship. Needless to say every college radio person I spoke to over the next few months refused to play the record because, "I'd rather just play The Smiths".

Upon returning to the record for this series I tried to approach it as a fresh group and overlook the influence. I mean, if I could do it with OASIS, why not these guys. But it's just to hard. Martin Rossiter's vocals don't have the same melancholic moan of Morrissey but there are certain vocal intonations that are similar. Steve Mason's guitar doesn't chime the same way as Johnny Marr, but there are moments of Marr-esque picking. I imagine I could overlook these things and say, yes it is a good record. I do remember over time actually enjoying some of their songs and it appears that the band has had some success in Europe before disbanding in 2004. Of the songs, "Be My Light, Be My Guide" is a real gem mostly because it has an edge that a lot of the other songs lack. I know this isn't the most positive review but sometimes mediocrity can be enhanced by one great song. That was the case here.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Lost Bands of Britpop (Part One)

This series may increase my readership through the roof or it may single handily destroy everything I have accomplished to this point (which frankly is not saying much). Following the viewing of the aforementioned SEVEN AGES OF ROCK I traipsed through the old record collection and dusted off a few choice Britpop nuggets that I hadn't spun in a while. I have no idea how many of these posts there will be and if I can sustain a fascination with Britpop for any length of time, but here is the first of those records that at the time I thought were brilliant.

CARTER THE UNSTOPPABLE SEX MACHINE gained most of it's notoriety due to its name and the play on words they often employed in their song titles. I often felt ridiculously cool playing this for friends because it seemed a bit seamy and dirty as a band name. (Admittedly, I was a giant dork in my youth) "101 Damnations" was their debut album and came out during the "Madchester" scene of the late 80's and early 90's. Similar to Happy Mondays and EMF, Carter deployed a healthy dose of keyboards, drum beats and samples to fashion a danceable eletropop sound. Lyrically, the themes of disenfranchisement and the life of the working class in England are housed in a spitfire, rap delivery by lead singer Jim "Jim Bob" Morrison. In many ways Carter is a great example of a band that should have been more of a cult act but because of the success of other Brits they attained a higher place in music then they might have deserved. Still, songs like "Sheriff Fatman" and "Twenty Four Minutes to Tulse Hill" have their charm (I dare you not to clap along to the intro to "Fatman").

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Everything I Love About Music in Two Simple Steps

If you haven't seen the Documentary series THE SEVEN AGES OF ROCK, then you have missed out. It shows up on VH1 every so often and I always have to stop and check out pieces of it. Here are three outttakes that sum up just about everything I love about rock music and what I was into when I was diving into the rock pool for the first time. (all that's missing is a bit on U2 but you all know that band's story...)



Zencast #14 (Songs from The Wife's iPod)

Normally acts of undying affection are best saved when one is in trouble. The entire florist's industry is built upon the maxim that it's better to arm yourself with something pretty when apologizing. Many men have spent countless hours scurrying around malls searching for the gift that will get you out of the doghouse. But sometimes it's nice just to show appreciation without a need to remove guilt or suspicion from what you might have done. I SWEAR THIS IS THE CASE HERE!!

My wife has a unique taste when it comes to music. She loves Country and Classic rock (Eagles, Jimmy Buffett). She has cornered the market on mopey, chick rock/folk and girl electro-pop. But every once and awhile, she stumbles across some truly extraordinary music. So I thought I would take a break from my own personal quest to expose the world to quality music to give you a glimpse into her musical catalogue. Enjoy...


1) Jimmy Buffett -- The Wino and I Know
2) The La's -- There She Goes
3) Third Eye Blind -- The Background
4) Jesus Wore Dickies -- Ant Farms
5) Pet Shop Boys -- Home and Dry
6) Sarah Harmer -- Lodestar
7) The Little Ones -- Lovers Who Uncover
8) Azure Ray -- Rise
9) Kaiser Cartel -- Before
10) Maria Taylor -- A Good Start
11) Tara MacLean -- Dry Land
12) Yann Tiersen -- L'Autre Valse D'Amelie
13) Tori Amos -- Tear In Your Hand

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Collective Nostalgia

So, I was racing to work this morning and didn't think to plug in the old iPod - so I ended up listening to GASP!! the radio. (I know my distaste for the radio is well documented, but bear with me; this will end well I promise). Anyway, as I was flipping from station to station, "Hey Jealousy" by the GIN BLOSSOMS drifted by - a song that I hadn't heard in awhile and which made me think fondly of my earlier days. I then came home tonight with the intent of picking this record out and giving it a proper listen. Sadly, I was too lazy to find it in the collection, so I did a quick search and found three other blogs that had posted the song. This in and of itself is not remarkable; what was interesting is that all three referenced the song in the exact same manner: a song that was a piece of nostalgia that contained fond memories and made no mention of the band or it's musicianship. Which got me thinking - do we suffer from collective nostalgia? Did we all subconsciously decide one day that certain songs have a shared meaning to all of us of the same age bracket? Conversely, do we all have the same break-up songs? Anthems of our youth that have moved beyond our personal attachment to some sort of Generation X storehouse of experiences (like the fact that everyone I know who spent anytime living in or around Los Angeles was at the Depeche Mode "riot" on Sunset during the release of "Violator" or those who swear to the almighty that they were "way into Dave Matthews" before they became popular...)?

In the same vein, how does a song escape our personal catalogue and reach collective nostalgia status? How did this rather run of the mill pop song about a girl and boy alluding the authorities become something we all identify with (trust me when I say this never happened to me)? Is it because it's catchy? Did it have something to do with the band being a big summer tour draw when we all had more free time to play the same thing over and over ad naseum? Or is it simply because we used to listen to the radio more as a society and music wasn't as fractured with variances as is it is today (which I am not saying is a bad thing); did we have a smaller pool of songs to make up our generational soundtrack? Will the next generation say to each other "Wow, that song brings back memories!" only to have the other person look at them quizzically and reply, "You mean the remix with Nas or the club remake from Kylie Minogue featuring Miley Cyrus and Timbaland?" as a result from the fact they don't suffer from collective nostalgia?

Monday, July 07, 2008

The Fairline Parkway

Label mates of THE GREAT NORTHWEST (who I featured a few days back), this Washington DC band traffics in soft, soothing acoustic indie pop similar to THE PERISHERS but with the added touch of a female vocalist (I could give you about a hundred more comparisons because the sound is so familiar but it's late and my head hurts). Some of the tracks on their album, "A Memory of Open Spaces" hint at a POSTAL SERVICE vibe if they grew up in Nebraska rather than Seattle. "Homesteaders" is a gorgeously crafted slice of pop music that meanders over a skippy little beat as a soft acoustic guitar strums to the accompaniment of Raj Gadhia's vocals. "A Given Day" takes a subtle turn to a slightly darker place, while "Robbed Blind" has a Wilco style country flavor all it's own. "Westward Bound" is probably the best example of the band's formula has a beauty in it's simplicity (and a great use of a trumpet to boot).

This is a record that might not grab hold of you right away but after a few listens you will wonder how you ever lived without it in your collection.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

General Fuzz Loves You Back

Two days in a row for unsolicited new music!!

GENERAL FUZZ is one guy making music his own way. I have to admire someone who just gives his music away. Why would he do this you ask? "Mostly it's because I have a day job and my underlying goal is to have my music heard" is what his bio says. The problem is that people who often give stuff away are giving it away because it's not very good. FORTUNATELY, that is not the case here. General Fuzz operates in the Electronica lite section of music that is a cut above mood music but not as hyper kinetic as rave or trance. I listened to his latest record, "Cool Aberrations" and found myself actually enjoying it (I must have been in the right frame of mind!)

Of the tracks on the album the lead track "Acclimate" has a sort of U2's "Where the Streets Have No Name" feel to it. "Fugal" adopts a female vocal over the top of a nice little break beat. If I have one minor complaint is that it does get a bit repetitive over the course of an entire album, but that is usually the case with most electronic music. I would love to see what he can do with a greater sonic palette. At his best his music has shades of LTJ Bukem and Moby. I recommend you check it out.

Download all General Fuzz Albums here

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Downtempo Goodness from The Great Northwest

Anytime someone sends me something to listen to I indulge them as best as I can. Such is the case with Portland's THE GREAT NORTHWEST. When a band drops MY BLOODY VALENTINE, SPRIITUALIZED and THE DANDY WARHOLS in their opening bio then they had best bring the good when you press play. After a few listens the their debut, "The Widespread Reign of...", you can finally get past the obvious references to the aforementioned artists and see what this band has to offer that is in some way their own.

"Chief John", the official first single has a nice lazy acoustic feel to it that allows lead singer Brian James Coates to drift over the top with his vocals. The whole song is an exercise in atmosphere that becomes more infectious as you listen (somewhat reminiscent of the Beta Band's "Dry The Rain"). "Know What I Mean" openly aped Spritiualized, but that is not a bad thing. "Reverie" has a nice clipped guitar intro before it opens up to a kind of dreamy ballad. My favorite track is probably "Western American" which somehow got stuck in my head while I was at work one day and I was actually forced to shut my office door, crank up the computer speakers and blast it so I could get it out of my head. So it's worth the money to get this if you are into the kind of dreamy, slightly fuzzed out space rock sound. I will certainly follow up what they do next...