Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Top 17 Records of 2009

Why 17? Because that is the number of roughly the total full length records that I feel need attention this year. In many ways it was an odd year for music for me. What on paper should have been a memorable year of new sounds has, upon reflection, left me a bit wanting. So without futher ado...

17) Sea Wolf -- White Water, White Bloom
This band, which is essentially Alex Brown Church and guests, conjured up a folksy, somewhat dark second record. Traveling in the same vein as Pete Yorn and Voxtrot, Sea Wolf made a record for people who have lost love and long for greater things

16) Broken Records -- Until The Earth Begins To Part
Had I seen this band live I'm sure it would have rated higher. This Scottish group makes song that take time and build on themselves, which always sounds better played live. "Wolves" and "Nearly Home" have a tension and energy that almost explodes out of your stereo.

15) The Editors -- In This Light and On This Evening
Here is a classic example of a record that started strong and faded after a few listens. "Papillion" is a great lost NEW ORDER song and "Bricks and Morter" is a really good pop song, but the weight of the electronic experimentation costs the record in the end.

14) Passion Pit -- Manners
When the best song on the record is a retread from your debut ep, this usually signals a problem from a longevity standpoint. I really liked the cheesy 80's keyboards that are all over this record but the fact that you can't sing along makes it a tough one to stay with over a long period of time. Given that, "The Reeling" and "Sleepyhead" might be the dance tracks of the year.

13) Dave Matthews Band -- Big Whisky and The GruGrux King
Greatest album title of the year (with added bonus points for it's in house reference to their deceased sax player.) 2009 was the year of the comeback for bib time artists (as evidenced later on). Sounding more like DMB than they have in years and seemingly at peace with their sound, Dave and Co. put together a solid record that added "Why I Am" into the pantheon of songs they will play live until they quit playing.

12) The Big Pink -- A Brief History of Love
I am convinced that this is what MY BLOODY VALENTINE would sound like if Kevin Shields still gave a damn about making listenable music. The touches of electronics added the drone of shoegaze give a fresh take on what has become a stale sound. "Dominoes" has a catchy hook to it and the rest of the record has that same woderful drone of classic RIDE.

11) The Mary Onettes -- Islands
Hands down the dumbest name but a great second album. Softer and less reliant on the JAMC sound than their last, this album recalls vintage CURE sounds complete with warm keyboards and hushed vocals. Clearly, between these guys and THE SHOUT OUT LOUDS, Robert Smith is a god in Scandanavia

10) (500) Days of Summer Soundtrack
Great soundtracks are really tricky to construct. The songs have to fit the context of the film and still stand on thier own when the images fade. This year's indie hit gave us an eclectic mix of WOLFMOTHER, THE TEMPER TRAP, MUMM RA and two excellent SMITHS songs that are all key to the plot.

9) Owl City -- Ocean Eyes
Everything about this record should have been mocked. The lyrics are cheesy and amateurish. The keyboards sound like outdated Casio circa 1986. But the songs are damn catchy and I challenge anyone not to be hooked after a couple of listens.

8) Phoenix -- Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
I was ready to dismiss this band from my active listening conscience and then they hit us with this evolution of their signature dance sound. The songs are more structured and have a greater depth than in the past. Unlike, PASSION PIT, this record has gotten better with time and my guess is that it will get a lot of love next year as well.

7) Silversun Pickups -- Swoon
What once was easily dismissed as a SMASHING PUMPKINS wannabe has slowly developed into a solid and interesting act all on their own. This record was a staple on my office computer because it's catchy, not dull, and hip enough for kids not to laugh.

6) REM -- Live at the Olympia
REM had a good year last year and followed it up with a two disc career retrospective performed live. The new stuff has a nice live bite to it, but the highlights are live versions of classics such as "Driver 8", "Maps and Legends" and "Wolves, Lower" that have aged well.

5) We Were Promised Jetpacks -- These Four Walls
Last year I rated FRIGHTENED RABBIT the #2 record of the year behind COLDPLAY, then spent the better part of this year regretting that decision. Where I discarded "Viva La Vida' pretty quickly, the Rabbit was a staple throughout the year culminating with the live performance in LA. I bring this up because this little voice in my head feels like I will be saying the same thing about this album. A punk version of Frightened Rabbit, but with the same depth and emotion in th lyrics. "Quiet Little Voices" is certainly a song of the year contender. Time will tell if I am wrong about their placement.

4) The Temper Trap -- Conditions.
It would have been easy to dismiss this Aussie group from the contribution to the (500) Days of Sumer Soundtrack. Fortunately for me, I kept digging and found a treasure of melodic, soaring pop songs. Shades of U2 creep in here and their but lead singer Dougy Mandagi's voice seperates them from the others. "Fader" and "Sweet Disposition" show promise for a big time, stadium style rock band.

3) U2 - No Line On The Horizon
Shocks me too! Usually a year that sees a U2 release already has a #1 slot spoken for but I can't shake the fact that this just wasn't as good as the past couple of records. "Breathe" and "Magnificent" are vintage U2 and sounded great live, but what was meant to be the heart of the record; "Moment of Surrender" and "Unkown Caller" just haven't resonated with me the way I thought the would. It doesn't mean it's not a good record, but given their standards I expect more.

2) The Dimes -- The King Will Drink The Harbor Dry
I wrote when I first got this record that I thought it was a brilliant fusion of lyrical originality and musical acumen and I stand by that. No where else will you find pop songs about Paul Revere and revolutionary era Boston that are catchy. What could be hokey becomes poignant in the hands of Johnny Clay and his band. A treat for those who are history buffs but not something to be dismissed if you are a fan of good music.

1) Pearl Jam -- Backspacer
Eddie Vedder has achieved statesmanlike status over time as his lyrics have grown more refined and deeper. Moving away from teen angst to middle age analysis of life reinvigorated the band. Stone Gossard and Mike McCready revisited thier punk rock roots with an onslaught of guitars straight out of THE RAMONES playbook and the shorter nature of the record gives it more immediacy. The thing that seperates this record from the previous few is a more carefree sense of timing between the members. Confortable in who they are they have now settled into a rhythm and as a result are more sure of their abilities than ever. Whereas the last records have felt like a band reaching out for acceptance, "Backspacer" feels more relaxed and at the same time a tighter sound. "Speed of Sound", "Gonna See My Friend", and "Got Some" still show a balls to the wall rock band at it's finest. "Amongt The Waves" is what sets the record apart. Anthemic in stature, it's one of the best songs a great band has done. That in and of itself gives it my record of the year status.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Imitation Will Get You Everywhere

When I worked in the music business, I spent the bulk of my day calling college radio stations to get my records added to their playlists. This usually entailed all kinds of cajoling, needling, begging, bartering and general bullshitting about the record. When it was a record I liked this was an easy process. I could effuse about it's artistic virtues and the quality of the musical craftsmanship, the passion of the lyrics and the simple fact the band F***king rocked. However, when the record was less then stellar it was a harder task. The easiest way to get someone to play a record was to compare it to a more established artist. Sometimes this was easy, other times it was a bit of a stretch. For better or worse I now find myself on the other end of that paradigm as labels and promotion companies send material to me to write about. This extends to artists I hear now that immediately recall other sounds. Here are just a couple of examples:

Owl City -- Ocean Eyes
I swear to god when I first heard the lead single, "Fireflies", I thought it was a new POSTAL SERVICE song. Granted the lyrics are certainly more juvenile than anything Ben Gibbard would actually release (in fact one almost pictures Gibbard hearing this and chuckling about it something he would have written in Junior High). But setting that aside, and coming to grips with the sheer candy coated pop nature of the whole album, it really isn't that bad.

(mp3) Fireflies (careful, earworm waiting to happen. Thank the wife for this one.)

Hyperstory -- Hyperstory
I thought the GORILLAZ were about as innovative as they came when they first appeared. Damon Albarn and Danger Mouse served a quality musical foils to each other and pushed one another to new creative heights. The unexpected outcome of that album was a meshing of alternative rock, hip hop and electronic that had been bubbling under the surface and shot it into the mainstream. This in turn led to a lot of this sort of hybrid production as star type of musical projects. HYPERSTORY, is a prime example of this phenomenon. Not wholly original (the press release from the good folks over at Green Light Publicity actually touts this record as a stop gap till the new Gorillaz record comes out) but still a decent outing, one wonders if it would get any attention if it was judged on it's own merit rather than comparing it to a superior product.

(mp3) A Happening (this is the best thing on the album)

Monday, December 07, 2009

Dusting off the Tape Collection (Cooler in College version)

There was a time I thought I was cool. Not in the High school starting quarterback sort of way. More the hipper than thou indie kid sort of way. I feasted on being in the know when it came to music and since I lived in area that did not have a thriving rock scene, any time a band I thought was good came around I gravitated toward them. On top of being a college radio DJ I also worked at the school's TV studio. This in an of itself was not very cool other than it gave us the chance to do stupid stuff with equipment and get paid for it. There is a legendary (at least amongst my college buddies) piece of video of my pal Scott interjecting him into the game DOOM using the green screen that made us laugh for hours.

(Okay so I admit, I was never going to be cool but bear with me anyway)

The moral of this little tale was that for me the height of my insider-ness came in the form of video shoot for an Orange County band called THE LEMMINGS. My buddy Dave had a relative who was either in the band or affiliated in some form who asked our crew of college video misfits to shoot a video for them (or we begged them as part of a project I can't remember which). One afternoon the band came in and we shot it with three cameras in a small studio. Afterwords we edited, reviewed and replayed it over and over. It may have been the highlight of our college production careers (to be fair, some of my friends have gone on to actually produce real television).

So when I found that four song demo I popped it in the tape deck and reminisced about the time when I thought I was cool.

**sonically these guys sound a lot like OASIS or BLUR. Which is funny for four guys from the OC. But not a bad knock off of the brit pop sound.

Since We Last Spoke

Sorry for the absence. Been a bit busy lately. Here is a pic of my newest indie kid:

Monday, November 23, 2009

In Another Time

I like to think that I would have been a huge follower of THE WHO had I been alive during their height. That is not to say that I don't thoroughly enjoy their work and have found their grandiose nature highly intriguing. It's easy to say that I would have been a fan of THE BEATLES or THE ROLLING STONES at the time because they were the logical choices. No doubt I would have fancied both bands but there is something about THE WHO that separates them. Maybe it's that the sense of theater appeals to me. Their songs played more like small symphonies rather than pop songs. They wrote about life and philosophy and the passage of time rather than girls and love. I admit that for a long time I shied away from the band because I just didn't get as much exposure to them as some of the other "classic bands". I highly doubt there will ever be a WHO Rock Band game. Unlike the Beatles they have not completely sold their commercial souls (save for the licensing of their music to the CSI franchise, which is a little sad).

The Who is an interesting amalgam mostly due to the fact that while most of the songs are written by Pete Townsend, he rarely sings them opting for the more soulful Roger Daltry to be his voice. Townsend does chime and opportune times which gives the band an additional depth in that it really is the relationship between the two that makes it work so well. When it works, such as with "Baba O' Reilly", "My Generation" or "Join Together", it is remarkable.

Sure they can be pompous and heavy handed. "Tommy" is both a masterpiece and totally absurd. "Quadrophenia" makes little or no sense. But whether it's their early more raw efforts, such as the brilliant "My Generation", or later on in their career, the Who could never be accused of taking a half assed approach. It's that go for broke, let the music take us where it wants aesthetic that is what initially interested me in their work and it's what I think would have made me a huge fan of theirs. Lucky for me I got them now; even all these years later it still moves me...

Anyone who does not get chills from this might just be dead.

(mp3) The Who -- Tea and Theatre
From the album of about three years ago, all that's left is Daltry and Townsend but still the passion and emotion is there. A great song about the twilight of life and the joy in the little things.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Wating for the Cold Weather To Come

One of the downsides of living in Southern California is that you never really get winter. I know, I know a SoCal native bitching about the weather while those on the east coast or in other countries freezing their butts off is bit of piling on, but we write what we know so bear with me. This year it seems that we have had a longer than usual warm period out here which has led to a delay in my pulling out the sweaters and jackets. This is important because I absolutely detest wearing a shirt and tie to work and winter always allowed me to slide a bit on the wardrobe. But it also lacks a certain romance to the impending holiday season when I'm running around in shorts and flip flops. So I have decided to try to get myself in a colder place mentally by drifting to more somber and solemn musical selections. The wife has long held BON IVER up as a bastion of cool indie folk and I have been somewhat resistant. But after finally breaking down and partaking of "For Emma, Forever Ago" and the subsequent "Blood Bank EP" I have come to appreciate his music. His voice has such an ethereal quality that it often seems as if it is floating over the instrumentation rather than part of the song. The arrangements are sparse (fitting with the cold space theme I had been searching for). One can almost feel the frost of the guitar as he strums the notes on "Blood Bank" and "Woods from the ep.

Then there is his contribution to the TWILIGHT SOUNDTRACK. This is not the place to get into my conflicted feelings on this soundtrack. We will discuss that later. But his duet with St. Vincent is a simply beautiful piece of music. It's so fragile and yet so powerful as the sound of two voices melds into one. Bon Iver brings my mind to the cold of winter, and that is a good thing.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

The 80's Revival Continues

First THE EDITORS channel vintage New Order and now THE MARY ONETTES have jettisoned their love for the Jesus and Mary Chain for a keyboard and reverb fest that harkens back to The Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen and others from that era. The swedish band's latest, "Islands", has a distinct pop feel that is also echoes fellow Swedes The Shout Out Louds. "Puzzles" has a great synth hook as part of it's chorus and a nice string section working in the background. The sunnier outlook on this record is tempered a bit since the lyrics still speak of love lost and bygone times of happiness. I just can't get over the keyboard lines that run throughout the album and how much they remind me of other sounds I grew up with. It's as if the band had "Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me" on in the recording studio as they made this record. "The Disappearance of Youth" has a nice acoustic shuffle as lead singer Philip Ekstroms reveals his coming to terms with his advancement in age and the changes it brings to his relationships. For a band that I was quick to dismiss a couple of years ago as another fad band, they have developed depth. It would be nice to see them combine the two influences from their first couple of records into something truly original. But at least they are making some interesting music worth checking out.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

When Do I Have To Give Up The Fight?

It has been brought to my attention that I am now 36 years old. I have a mortgage and car payments. I have two (soon to be three) kids. I wear a freakin' tie to work most days. I have a job where I am referred to as MR. most of the time. I do yardwork on the weekends (occasionally in shorts with socks pulled up to shield me from the weedwacker's rage). I laugh at TWO AND HALF MEN because I genuinely believe it is funny. I no longer watch MTV, and even VH1 is a bit sketchy at this point. You might say that this is the beginning of a mid life crisis, but oh no, it is something so much worse. This is an Indie Rock Credibility Crisis.

I have always fancied myself something of a music snob. This used to spread to movies, TV and books (back when I read things that were not the sports section in my chair half asleep). I have tried to maintain a certain hipness in my listening tastes (despite a somewhat ironic love for U2 and yes I am aware that this makes me a hypocrite). But am I now at a point in my life where I have to surrender that? Do I have to pack up my ringer tees and jeans for polo shirts and cargo shorts? Can a man be both a shining example of suburban malaise and a hipper than thou music aficionado?


It is no small coincidence that REM has played a large part in my listening habits over the past few weeks. They are the epitome of indie cred who have, in their old age, gone for the soft underbelly of commercialism. So when I took to listening to their new live CD it only cemented this moral calamity. "Driver 8" and "Gardening at Night" are still great, but do they still carry the same weight as they did all those years ago? Are they even still the poster children for the now antiquated college radio movement given that they "sold out" years ago? Are they just a relic of a bygone era replaced with blogs, zines and internet podcasts by every 20 year old with a macbook and a microphone? It is my assertion that for those of us who came of age in the true alternative era, REM have always represented the purest and most accurate accounting of band as artists and outsiders who did it the right way. But does that even matter any more?

I have no answers to these questions. This is not a manifesto of my rebellion against the passage of time. It is merely the cries of a middle aged man who very much loves the way he has dressed all these years, loves the music he has collected over time (and still from time to time dips his toes in the current indie waters) and is not ready to put on the black socks and sandals just yet.

Monday, October 26, 2009

U2 Live at Rose Bowl (with a few friends)

I hazard a guess that for those of us in the Southern California metropolis this concert will go down as one of those "where were you?" moments. Seriously, there was something like 100,000 people there and by the time I end this entry into my blog the number will have grown. This being the ninth time I have seen them (spanning two states and two countries beginning with Zoo TV and the subsequent Zooropa tours, through PopMart, to Elevation and Vertigo to this incarnation of the 360 tour), I have a sense that I can call myself a U2 live expert in grading their shows. So, in no particular order, are my thoughts;

1) THE CLAW was impressive, ugly, revolutionary and yet strangely irrelevant by the end of the evening. First glance had it reaching beyond the top of the bowl and the sheer size of it was mighty cool. But once the band hit the stage it was not that different from other shows. In fact, the giant Zoo TV set was far cooler.

2) The Rose Bowl was not equipped for that many people. I say this knowing that no venue in America is really ready for this sort of collection of humanity. It was just too much. The wait to park was long, the lines for food were long (and they ran out at one point), and the number of people compacted the whole place.

3) There is no doubt that last night's version of "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" was the best I have heard. For some reason the song meshed with the theme of the show of space and travel and time in a perfect symmetry.

4) The set list was certainly a change from past tours. Given the more solemn nature of the new record, the greatest hits selections leaned to the more somber. "The Unforgettable Fire" was a great choice from my standpoint, but I would imagine people would have rather had "Pride" instead.

5) Hearing "With or Without You" for the first time live was great. If I had had my way they would have ended with that instead of "Moment of Surrender". The later song felt more like a coda than a culmination.

6) My one tangent on the people there - I feel that about 3/4 of the crowd was there to see the band. the other quarter was more interested in beer, taking pictures of themselves and chatting with friends. Why would you pay in excess of $100.00 to do something you can do at any bar in LA for half that? I mean, people can do whatever they want but the number of people who spent the night traveling up and down the aisles was staggering. I bet there are 20,00o or so people who couldn't recall anything off the set list except maybe "Streets" and "Elevation".

7) "Vertigo" and "Elevation" have matured very well since their concert debuts and now have a firm place in the live show. I could say the same for "Get On Your Boots" but I think the pacing on it needs a bit or work. I could see that being a nice three song middle section next time out.

8) "Breathe" was a great opening. Other than that I thought the new stuff suffered by comparison. Maybe it's because a lot of people didn't know the material, but it seemed like Bono was working a little harder during those songs. "Unknown Caller" even came with subtitles so people could sing along; that never used to be necessary.

9) At this point in their careers, U2 can pretty much get away with anything but there is no forgiving them for torturing us with the BLACK EYED PEAS. Seriously, this is the same band that once had both PUBLIC ENEMY and RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE open for them on US tours and now we get this crap. Not even Slash could redeem them (or at least that's what I heard from my hour long wait at the snack bar).

10) "Beautiful Day" and "Where The Streets Have No Name" illustrate the greatness of this band. Say what you want about Bono and his sanctimony filtered through self effacing irony or the sheer pretentiousness of playing to that many people (not including the Youtube viewing audience as well), they still play live better than anyone else I have seen. They have the unique ability to bring people to a place that is only possible through music. A place of both spirituality and soulfulness. A place where for a few moments everyone in that place feel something magical. Every time I have heard "Streets" I have felt that. The way it builds and builds them releases the energy and force of the song is worth the price of admission alone. It's why I will keep coming back again and again, without any trace of guilt that I am a fan of the biggest rock band in the world.

Click here and here for a set from Paris off the European leg of this tour. It's a pretty good approximation of what last night sounded like. Thanks to He's A Whore for the set.

A Note about my soon to be born child: How cool is it that during the height of "Streets" he was kicking up a storm. Does that boy know what good music is or what?

A Note About My Wife: My wife is currently 8 months pregnant with our third child. By day she takes care of twin 3 1/2 old boys while lugging around a bowling ball where her stomach used to be. And yet, there she was, sitting on a hard bench with half a spilled beer on her lap from the drunk behind us, with swollen ankles and aches and pains throughout her body from the 1/2 mile trek to get in. She endured because, while she is a fan of the band, she knew it was important to me. She tolerated the pain and agony that comes with being upright for five hours so that I could experience U2 one more time. In my mind, she has never been more beautiful to me then she was last night. To quote Bono:

"And I miss you when you're not around, I'm getting ready to leave the ground, oh you look so beautiful tonight, in the city of blinding lights..."

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Editors Release Their Inner New Order

Much has been made about THE EDITOR'S sound being somewhat derivative of JOY DIVSION, mostly due to the striking resemblance of lead singer Tom Smith's baritone to that of the late Ian Curtis. Although that comparison still holds some truth, the band has slowly worked it's way away from the straight up post punk of their debut and into something more reliant on synthesizers and moody bass lines. So with the release of their third album, "In This Light and On This Evening", the band jettisons it's worship of the artists formerly known as WARSAW for a tribute of sorts to what came out of the ashes of Curtis's death; NEW ORDER.

The prevalence of synths on the latest record give it a more updated feel. The lead single, "Papillon", is a dance song that Sumner and company would have been proud of. The moodiness of the title track recalls early New Order and the overall use of the bass to drive the song structure seems to echo the importance bass held to New Order throughout their career.

But this might appear to undersell the record and the band. In fact, this might be the first record that the band has made that is finally their own sound. Here are songs that have a more anthemic feel to them that was lacking on the first two records. "Bricks and Mortar" builds and builds on itself to it releases the powerful chorus towards the end. The discordant synth lines of "The Big Exit" make them sound like THE CURE for a moment. It's certainly a dark record, which is not new territory for the band. The only real complaint is the lack of real driving rock songs, which by the end makes the collection a little more muted than before. But as a transitional step to a new phase of the band, it's a welcome step in a new direction. Besides, leave the copying of Joy Division to Interpol.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

X-Lion Tamer gets in touch with his inner 80's

The sound of the 80's (Synthesizers that sound like lasers, vocals that sound like robots, cheesy lyrics about teen lust) has made a bit of a comeback the last couple of years due mostly to the hip-hop community latching onto the sound because Kanye West apparently told them it was cool. I bring this up because my first listen to tracks from X-LION TAMER reminded me of that sound. It's not the 80's per say, more a copy of the 80's filtered through a post modern sheen. It's not to say I was skeptical, after all the recommendation came from Ed over at 17 Seconds (and his taste is usually impeccable), it's just I felt the sound had been played out.

I am happy to say that the band (or the guy since it's a one man show) has earned a place of fondness for me. By his own admission, the sound is something you might hear at the end of one of those John Hughes movies starring Molly Ringwald and a pre-drug Robert Downey Jr. or James Spader. This could have come off a trite but the depth of musicianship helps save the songs and make them original. "I Said Stop" is what Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark would have sounded like had they not tried to replicate "If You Leave" for the remainder of their career. The cover of the Galaxie 500's "Tugboat" has both hints of the original and yet is also very unique in it's own right. "Life Support Machine" has all the makings of a PET SHOP BOYS song without the deadpan vocals.

It's fun (and yet surprisingly dark in lyrical make-up) and has me both nostalgic and looking to the future. If you like your music with a lot of pop, then this is for you.

Monday, October 05, 2009

The Dimes -- The King Can Drink The Harbour Dry

I was eagerly anticipating this record for awhile now. I fell in love with these guys about 9 months ago and every demo song they released via their excellent website made me just that more excited about the finished product. Boy, did they not disappoint. The album is so different lyrically from anything I have ever heard. An entire record about Revolutionary Era America! It's an ex-US History teacher's wet dream. But beyond that, (which on the surface could be boring to the non-History Channel geek) is an album of finely crafted pop songs with a nice mix of Beatles, Byrds and other folksy touches. Here are my thoughts track by track:

"Damrell's Fire" (mp3) launches the record with it's subdued take on the massive fire in Boston.

A tossed on mandolin line in "The Liberator" adds depth to the acoustic blues strut of the song about the influential early Newspaper.

"Save Me, Clara" returns from THE NEW ENGLAND EP with it's achingly plaintive tale of a man of the verge of death.

"Walden and the Willow Tree" (mp3) is an audio painting of Walden Pond (which I have visited and rivals little in it's least the part that's not a commercialized public beach).

"Celia's Garden" has a nice little shuffle to it, probably the closest thing to a rock song on the album, that frames the story of Celia Thaxter's garden.

Another song about a painter, "The Ballad of Winslow Homer", is a soft acoustic number that sounds like something Elliot Smith would have recorded.

"Webster Thayer" recounts the role the crooked judge played in the Sacco and Vanzetti Trial (what other band would even try to take that on as a subject let alone write a pop song about it...)

The first of two songs about Boston the town, "Charles Street", a like taking a walking tour of the town with the benefit of a catchy chorus.

"Susan Be" tells the tale of the women's rights acitvist that sonically is a cousin to Save Me, Clara but with a slower cadence. The slow shuffle of the song has now become the signature sound of the record. This is an album for lazy Sunday afternoons.

"Lovely Mary Dyer" could be a lost Byrds song and is a fitting accompanyment to the previous tales of women figures of early American History. Clearly these guys have immersed themself in Howard Zinn's work.

"Abigail, Don't Be Long" is probanly my favorite song on the record. It's chorus is catchy and the title character sums up the album's spirit perfectly. Strong, quiet and a force to be reckoned with.

The last song, "Boston (Tremountaine)" is the second song about the city at the center of the Revolution and cleans up the album in a nice tight bow both musically and lyrically. I might have switched this and Charles Street in order but it's a minor quibble.

This is an album to be owned. Sure, you can buy it digitally but some records require the detail of album art and lyrics to grasp the entire artistic vision. In no uncertain terms, I love this album.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Pearl Jam's Latest

I hesitate to say that the new PEARL JAM is a return to form. It's really not fair to compare their most recent work with the first couple of records because those albums, "Ten" in particular, were touchstone musical moments. When a band crosses over beyond just the appeal of a fan base to something that is more mass then the weight of expectations often overwhelm the band. They may continue to write, record and release music but it will always pale in comparison to that seminal work of their initial recordings. This is different than a one hit wonder or a single album that sells well, this is the expectation that comes with music that has entered the shared consciousness as a common thread of youth. Like "Sgt. Pepper's", "Nevermind" or "Led Zeppelin IV". "Ten" holds that sort of place. The songs speak to a given time period and place for many of my generation. Anything after that will be a let down and it's not really fair to compare them.

But of course we will compare them. Pearl Jam's recoiling from stardom into a shell of just a band making music was in many ways refreshing. It would have been easy for Eddie Vedder to become a global star and part of the machine (which would have most likely killed the band). Vedder was a star on his own terms, trying to reconcile his fame with who he was (ultimately the same fight Kurt Cobain fought and lost). It has reached the point where Pearl Jam now justs put out a record ever couple of years, then tours, then disappears again. The fact that they do not feel the need to live in the constant spotlight says something about why they make music. I honestly believe they don't care if people buy their albums and for those that do they are appreciative. Being a Pearl Jam fan means loving them for their music, without pretension.

So here we are with "Backspacer". Any run of the mill band releasing this would be heralded for their songwriting acumen and lyrical prowess. With Pearl Jam, it arrives with little to no fanfare. It is certainly the friskiest we have heard them in awhile. The last record had all the press of a "comeback" album that it failed to connect. Here, the songs have a punch that hasn't been heard in awhile (it's as if they went back to their old Ramones records to remember what kickin' ass sounded like). Call it Pearl Jam's punk record if you will. "Got Some" could have been lifted from "Vitalology". "The Fixer" is a pop song played at warp speed, while "Just Breathe" is Vedder at his most sentimental. Then there is "Amongst the Waves". The song sounds like one would imagine surfing. A nice slow build, the anticipation of ride, then the soaring chorus. A truly remarkable bit of songwriting.

Vedder makes a calculated risk with his writing. He has assumed that his audience has followed him into middle age. Rather than pander to the youth with universal themes, he embarks on a voyage of discovery of middle age. He celebrates the joy of life and the maturity of adulthood while having his eyes firmly fixed on what lies ahead. This is not self-reflection, but the understanding of one's place that comes with moving on in life. These are themes that will not sell millions of records, but they are themes that his fans are feeling at their point in life.

I can usually tell where a record will fit in my personal life's playlist pretty quickly. Some records get a quick burst of airplay then disappear. Some build slowly over time till they find permanent home. Some come and go when the mood strikes me. While "Backspacer" is not on par with their first three records (and really very little is), I get the feeling it will be a key part of life for me for the next few years as my journey follows theirs to where ever we are all going...

Monday, September 21, 2009

Frightened Rabbit Live at The Knitting Factory

My concert going has declined quite a lot over the past few years (chalk it up to having kids and a job that requires me to be coherent at 7am each day) so when I get a chance to go see a show it takes on a near mythic place in my calendar. So it should come as no suprise that I had been looking forward to seeing FRIGHTENED RABBIT for awhile. So when the wife and I ventured into downtown LA it was with a sense of nostalgia for lost youth and excitement that can only come from a dingy club with overpriced drinks and poor sound and light quality. So it no particular order here some observations:

1) Let's get this out of the way; Frightened Rabbit is a GREAT live band. The band has a clean sound that translate well live and enough energy to light three small states.

2) "My Backwards Walk" had a power live that cannot be matched on record. It's a good song on CD; a moment of transcendent bliss live. The addition of a building drum cadence gives it a majesty befitting of a brilliant live act.

3) The new song they played, a rocking tune entitled "Nothing Like You" signals that the band will continue their progression to a more mainstream sound with the next record. For some this is a bad thing, but in this case it suites them. Besides, it's not like they will write songs without profanity.

4) WE WERE PROMISED JETPACKS was up to the task as an opening act. We arrived a bit late but caught enough of their set to judge them worthy of watching. They have a power live that is very intriguing. When their songwriting catches up they will be very good.

5) THE TWILIGHT SAD were less than exciting. I wanted to like them but for some reason I found myself disinterested. Even a day later I can't put my finger on it. Maybe it was just an off night at the end of a long tour.

6) Strange story #1: Rainn Wilson (of THE OFFICE) was there last night. Instead of an Emmy after party he came to this show. Now that's indie cred...

7) Back to The Rabbit: "Poke" should have always been a solo acoustic song. Some songs just work better that way and this is one of them.

8) The only real misfire in the set was a less than enthusiastic rendition of "Heads Roll Off". Again, I chalk it up to the end of the tour and the 10,000 playing of the song. Still it was a little disappointing.

9) Strange Story #2: So about three songs in the light board starts to short out. So the light guy decides to fix it in the middle of the set. First there is a loud whirring sound followed by blasts of air into the board. At one point Scott made mention of it as a distraction. We up in balcony area are getting the brunt of the noise, so a guy goes over and asked the light guy to knock it off. The light guy yells at the other guy and then follows him back behind us and gets in his face. Fast forward to the end of the night. We are all filing out and sure enough there is surly Light Guy waiting. He follows the other guy to the door and yells at him challenging him to a fight. Seriously, we didn't come to see your dazzling light displays man, so calm down. It was surreal...

10) At the end of the night, during the finale of "Keep Yourself Warm", I thought to myself, I don't want this to end. I don't mind the oppressive heat, the $3 water bought at Costco for quarter a case, the couple who thought "Good Arms vs. Bad Arms" was a love song and set out to prove it right there, the creaky floor, the sweaty six foot five guy next to me... And I didn't care. I was lost in the sound. The glorious convergence of music, lyric and emotion that can only come from witnessing a band play live. You can listen to a song a thousand times and still it will be better live. I can't explain it, it just is.

I spent the day today replaying the set list song by song. It's a pale subsitute for the real think but it allows me to recapture that feeling for just a moment. And that will have to do...until I see them again.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Dusting off the Tape Collection (or record as the case may be)

It's funny how things take on a life of their own when time passes. I remember being really enamoured with a piece of vinyl that I picked up somewhere from a UK band called B MOVIE based mostly on the strength of a few KROQ spins of one of their songs. I remember enjoying the record at the time (remember this was the height of the Flock of Seagulls, Depeche Mode, Erasure era of synth music) and I have since kept it as part of my "good vinyl" collection.

The term good vinyl entered my personal cataloguing system right about junior year of college. I had amassed a fair amount of records due to combination of my work as a DJ and the sheer kitsch value of having records. I have never been one to subscribe to the belief that records sound better than CD's, but I enjoy them nonetheless. Good vinyl was stuff I played for my enjoyment rather than as part of a wedding gig of retirement party. Here is where B Movie's only proper record has resided for all these years.

A few days ago I laid needle to vinyl for old times sake. I was shocked at how poorly the album aged. The lyrics (never to be confused with great poetry) are replete with outdated references and bad rhyme scheme. The music is a cross between "Seven and the Ragged Tiger" era DURAN DURAN and BIG COUNTRY. But I recorded the album to disc just for kicks. Damn it all if I haven't played that thing three times in the last two days. I can't explain it. It's so retro it's almost cool. It's like opening a time capsule.

Research on the band says that they feel apart after the release mostly due to lack of radio support. The guitarist was in PETER MURPHY's band for a spell. Other than that they just disappeared. Would greater label support given them a shot at some larger success? Probably not. In listening objectively the record is not very good. But my memories attached to it make it better and a welcome addition to my CD collection.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Logan Lynn's "From Pillar To Post" Review

Technology has allowed for some truly amazing developments in music. These days one can write, record, remix, package and distribute an entire body of work with little or no help from anyone else. Marry this to the splintering of the music industry where labels are less important as a connection to alternative media outlets and you have an entirely new methodology of music. The human connection is more important than ever when it comes to getting people to listen to your music. So the fact that I am even reviewing music from Portland based Logan Lynn is a testament to his connections.

Signed to the label founded by THE DANDY WARHOLS is a step in the right direction. Even though musically Lynn's sound is as far away from the Warhols, the name recognition helped me give it a chance. "Feed Me To the Wolves" almost sounds like a lost DEPECHE MODE B side (back when they gave a damn and weren't just manufacturing sounds for a paycheck) whereas "Write It On My Left Arm" has more of a Laptop Pop Feel (a la THE POSTAL SERVICE) but with more vocal effects. Other parts of the album have a more atmospheric approach that recalls MOBY in both music and vocals.

Apparently Mr. Lynn is quite prolific and after releasing this latest record he plans on two more in the near future. Which is also a by product of this new DIY computer culture of music; a near endless stream of creativity direct to the consumers. And that is never a bad thing...

Monday, August 31, 2009

Adventures in Modern Torture

I am not a fan of dentists in the least. As a rule anyone who makes a living causing others excruciating amounts of pain should take a long journey of self discovery. I am certainly aware of the need for dentists. I also admit that I am not the most careful when it comes to dental hygiene. I do brush but floss is not always on the menu. But I have always had problems with teeth cracking and cavities (which could be due to the obscene amounts of Coke I consume on a daily basis, but I digress). In particular there has been a three year odyssey of one tooth and the inability to keep a filling in it. By my count it has been replaced 5 times with a six procedure now in the works. So here are a few dental related thoughts I had sitting in the chair in agony;

1) We can land a man on the moon but we still have to use a piece of non bending cardboard to take x-rays?

2) The person who can invent a drill that plays a sound other than the screech of a dying mongoose sound that currently emanates from most dental equipment will be a zillionnaire (would "Shiny Happy People" playing while the dentist is elbow deep in your molars qualify as irony?)

3) Why does 2 minutes with a clay mold in your mouth seem like it lasts an eternity?

4) Novocaine is good. The shots to deliver it are bad...very bad!

5) I love the fact that the first thing they do when you get in the chair is give you a bib since it will no doubt be possible that you will start drooling like a baby...or maybe those were tears I lost track after awhile.

6) Scariest exchange of the day;
Dr: I think you need a root canal.
Dr: Well let me hit your teeth with the back of my tool here and see if it is sensitive.
Me: So if I scream in pain then I need a root canal?
Dr: That's about right.
Me: Are you kidding?
Dr: (with no hint of sarcasm) No.
(brought to you by the Marquis De Sade Dental Academy.)

7) People coming out the dental office with a face full of anaesthetic are funny. Unless that person is you...

The visit did yield a musical connection. About 15 years ago there was a British band called THE DENTISTS. A indie pop outfit that made quaint catchy songs that in many ways were so sweet they would give you a tooth ache. The band broke up after their second US record failed and they were dropped from the label. I went back and listened to their two records and although not very memorable at least it was a nice cap to a crappy day. Just think I get to go back in two weeks to finish the job. Admit it, you wish were me...

(mp3) The Dentists -- Gas (from Behind The Door I Keep The Universe)
I wish I had gotten the gas. Then again it was never offered.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Hitting Shuffle (Episode 5)

My wife loves IRON AND WINE. If she could write a soundtrack to a movie it would definitely include at least two songs by him. There are fewer things more certain in life than her love for Samuel Bean. But this post is less about the band than the song itself that I landed on for this episode of "Hitting Shuffle" because I had never actually listened to it prior to writing about it. This is somewhat difficult trying to capture an instant response to something that you are experiencing for the first time.

"Pagan Angel and a Borrowed Car" off of "The Sheperd's Dog" album is a quasi blues shuffle with Bean's usual hushed vocals. The acoustic guitar is the anchor of the song with a soft piano (I think) accompaniment that seems as if it was recorded live. The addition of a cello at the halfway point creates a melancholy tonal shift that at first is not really noticeable until you really pay attention during the bridge.

(note: I had to cheat and look up the lyrics to see what the hell he was talking about). Bean recalls a lot of Paul Simon in his lyrical takes on things. He is awfully abstract but has said on more than one occasion that this record was meant as his take on politics in America. The song seems to be a dig at the leadership of the time with the couplet, "When they caught the king beneath the borrowed car, righteous, drunk and fumbling for the keys."

I can see why so many get so excited about his work. It has depth and passion. It has the same lyrical beauty of Dylan but without the hype. Not bad for a Sunday afternoon discovery.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Just a few random thoughts that were not cohesive enough for a proper post.

1) Saw (500) Days of Summer a couple of days ago. This is the type of movie that could have gone very wrong without the right level of chemistry between the leads and a deft touch of direction. Who knew the kid from "Third Rock From The Sun" would grow up to be a solid actor and one can never go wrong with Zooey Deschanel. Two days later I am still replaying parts of it in my head, which comes from the repeated listens to THE TEMPER TRAP, who had a song that was key to the film.

2) As a corollary to that, there is a scene where the lead does a karaoke version of The Pixies "Here Comes Your Man", which got me thinking. Where is the bar in LA that would have that song on the karaoke machine? But a great choice to sing nonetheless. Reminded me I need to listen to the Pixies more than I do these days.

3) FRIGHTENED RABBIT IS COMING TO LA. Next month one of my new favorite bands is playing the Knitting Factory in LA. Considering I did not think they would ever tour this far west this is truly special occasion and will no doubt lead to incessant listening to their stuff for the next month. I can't remember being this excited about a show for a long time.

4) When will Brett Favre just go away? I can't take it any more, I want my Sportscenter back Brett and if you don't shut up bad things are going to happen...

5) In conversation today with a couple of students and teachers the following words were exchanged:
Me: I grew up listening to RUN DMC
Student: Whose that?
Teacher: The guy from Run's House
Student: That guy was in a group
(me silently screaming in my head in an effort not to cry at my apparent new found old age...)

6) Drove in Claremont (city in Southern California) today (had not been there in a long time) and shed a little tear for the fact that Rhino Records is still in business. This will necessitate a trip to one of my favorite record stores of my youth for nostalgia's sake if nothing else.

(mp3) The Temper Trap -- Sweet Disposition (From 500 Days of Summer)

(mp3) Frightened Rabbit -- The Modern Leper (From The Midnight Organ Fight)

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Return of Voxtrot

I admit that I wanted to like VOXTROT a lot more than I did. I listened to their proper debut quite a bit when it came out and was struck by the fact that it could have been so much better. Hidden in the album were shades of early U2, The Cure and countless other great alternative bands of yore. Maybe that was my problem; to many influences that couldn't settle on one cohesive direction. So I almost ignored the new material that has slowly been leaking out of the Voxtrot camp. The first new track was a dark, almost tribal track called "Trepanation Party" that does a great job of finding a groove and sticking to it.

Then came the latest, and first official single, "Berlin, Without Return." What makes this track such a leap forward is the dialed tone nature of lead singer Ramesh's vocals so that the song finds a nice chorus without losing the wordplay of his lyrics. It is both a departure in their sound and a natural evolution and gives me a lot of hope for the whole album.

Monday, August 03, 2009

New Songs From The Dimes

One of my new favorite bands is giving away two new songs off of their next record, "The King Can Drink The Harbor Dry", which is said to be a collection of songs about the people and events in Boston at the time of the revolution. Having fallen in love with Boston a few years back on a vacation the songs immediately struck an emotional chord with me. The first is "Boston (Trimountaine)" is soft, acoustic ode to the town that is almost like a walking tour of the city. One can imagine walking the Freedom Trail and seeing the old churches that line the streets and how the history of the town is so interwoven into the fabric of the city.

The second is a slightly Beatlesque demo version of Paul Revere which after two listens has the same catchy power of "Save Me, Clara" from the New England EP. Based on these early listens their new record is one I am hotly anticipating.

Visit their site to get more information here.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Lost Bands of Britpop (Part Nine)

First an editorial note; This is really part eight in the series looking at bands that were popular during the musical heyday knows as Britpop but do to an oversight I missed Part Seven. Rather than go back a renumber I will simply carry on as if I can do something that my three year old boys do on a regular basis; namely count.

Sometimes a band gains popularity by being a curiosity. Such was the case with CAST. Cast was the primary vehicle for THE LA'S bass player John Power to distance himself from Lee Travers and his former band. Unlike the polished shimmering pop of his previous band, Cast had the sound of a contemporary Britpop band (with a heavy reliance on Beatles timing and phrasings). But the fact that The La's had been so popular made this band bigger than maybe they should have been. Which brings up an interesting thought. As was the case with THE STONE ROSES, do we view these bands that made only one significant album and then were never heard from again as better than they really were. What if The La's had made more records and Cast was never formed. I'm not saying the record, entitled "All Change", is crap, far from it. It is a very nice record with some very catchy songs (among them the sing songy single "Sandstorm", the anthemic opener "Alright" and the Oasis homage "Finetime") but we would all have rather had another La's record I think.

But what if The La's record had been bad (as was apparently the case based on reports of what people had heard of the sessions). Would that have ruined our perception of them as musicians. This is different than when an artist dies. They output is finite at that point and we can then begin the work of judging their body because it is complete. But with tortured soul types all it does is continue the "what if" that we play. What if Travers wasn't such a head case? What if Kevin Shields had gotten his shit together to make a proper My Bloody Valentine record? But the their is the flip side. Wouldn't we all have been better off without "Second Coming" by The Stone Roses in our lives? Should the Roses simply have said, "that's it, that's the best we got so enjoy", rather than producing another record years later that had no hope of reaching our collective lofty expectations?

So instead of the potential beauty or the utter disaster of The La's we get the serviceable rock of Cast. Now the band when on to release several records and had a nice little career, and maybe that's the way it was supposed to be. Sometimes we as listeners are better off not hearing what could have been...

(m4a) Cast -- Alright

(m4a) Cast -- Finetime

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Thom Yorke and The National do the benefit thing

New tracks by THOM YORKE and THE NATION have seeped out on the Internet called "All For The Best" and "Ashamed of the Story I Told" respectively. The songs are from a new benefit CD "Ciao My Shining Star: The Songs of Mark Mulcahey." For those who do not immediately recognize the name Mulcahey was the lead singer of college rock radio's beloved MIRACLE LEGION. Releasing albums throughout the 80's with a sound that was similar in many ways to early REM, Miracle Legion developed a rabid fan base among college radio DJ's and Indie Know-It-Alls. Mulcahey then went on to front the band POLARIS, which gained most of it's fame as the in house musicians for the great kid sitcom the Adventures of Pete and Pete. Recently Mulcahey's wife passed away and he now has to take care of his three year old twins. (Obviously his story strikes close to my heart since my boys are roughly the same age and the thought of raising them alone is truly frightening.)

Anyway the music on these two songs is what you would expect. Yorke's take is full of the moody combination of electronics and acoustics that are his trademark. The National song sounds like it is is right out of the recording sessions for "Boxer". Out of respect I will only post the tracks for a short time. Please order the benefit CD when it comes out on 9/29 and in the meantime you can check out some of Mulcahey's work at his own label site.

Mark Mulcahey Songs found here.

Pre-order the CD here.

p.s. I am aware of the fact that just a few days ago I joked that I was done with the 4AD posting unless THE NATIONAL released something only to have it come true. I will now stop talking about an ANGELS world series win...

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Going On A 4AD Jag (Edpisode 3)

This should be the end of this mini run of posts (unless THE NATIONAL or BON IVER decide to surprise me with a new release in the next day or so, which I doubt.) There are two tracks that I have been listening to that have me conflicted. Each time I listen I change my mind on how I feel about them. I suppose this is what makes music so unusual; where else can one solicit opposing feelings about something every time you are exposed to it. Many will say that the same can happen with movies and books but I argue that with a song the fact that it will enter your conscience on a variety of occasions gives it a power that other media simply cannot replicate. Anyway, here are the tracks and my takes on them; I always appreciate your thoughts...

ATLAS SOUND is the side project of DEERHUNTER front man Bradford Cox. I have not been a particularly huge listener of his band (though I can see the appeal but it does cut a bit close to YO LA TENGO at times, which is simply ridiculous when you can listen to the real thing, but I digress). What surprises me about Mr. Cox's side project is that even though I had no use for the bedroom lo-fi sound of the first record I am shockingly intrigued by the first song off the new album. "Walkabout" has a summer feel to it of something leftover from the BEACH BOYS' "Per Sounds". My first listen was to dismiss it but each time I listen I find my head bobbing a bit more. What I can't tell is whether or not I will still like it a week from now.

THE TUNE-YARDS are a curious creation. The work of another solo artist this is a creation on one Merrill Garbus. She decided to record the album all alone with the aid of only her laptop and her mic. Her most recent single has me absolutely perplexed. The first time I heard it I hated it. The second time I found it a curiosity. Today I listened to it and I am back to not having positive thoughts about it. I simply cannot make up my mind. It is maddening. Lord knows what I will think about the full album...

Both songs can be sampled here...

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Going on a 4AD Jag (Episode 2)

Again, I cannot claim originality with this post since the excellent 17 SECONDS blog got to these guys first but I will put my two cents in anyway.

THE BIG PINK have been gathering momentum for about a year now in preparation for their debut US release "A Brief History of Love", which will be released on Sept. 14th. Many acts have tried to update the JESUS AND MARY CHAIN sound with mixed results (which speaks volumes about what the brothers Reid were able to do) and The Big Pink is the latest incarnation of that attempt. Their are also elements of classic Shoegazer a la RIDE and MY BLOODY VALENTINE but with an ear for a pop hook, particularly in the chorus for "Stop the World". The latest single, "Dominos", has an even greater reliance on pop over rock to it that suggests that the band has designs on being taken seriously as a mainstream act. Still one cannot shake the fact that at times wouldn't just be easier to go pull out the old JAMC CD's and relive their brilliance?

But then that would miss the point wouldn't it? The goal is to take already familiar sounds and give them a twist. Here the use of electronic flourishes, like the synth sirens on "Too Young To Love", make the music new and fresh rather than simply a tribute band. The bottom line is that what I have heard is enough to intrigue me to look out for their full length.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Going on a 4AD Jag (Episode 1)

As documented about a year ago I have a soft spot for bands that are signed to the 4AD label. In the past the label was the home of THE PIXIES, DEAD CAN DANCE and UNREST just to name a few. Whoever is in their A&R department has a tremendous ear for sound and bands that have tremendous artistic potential. Lately 4AD has put together a nice slate of new releases featuring some very unusual artists with very different sounds. Since they are all from one place it seemed appropriate to dedicate a short series of posts.

First comes the Edinburgh based band BROKEN RECORDS. Fellow blogger Song, By Toad has been all over these guys for a while so it is a bit disingenuous of me to write of them now but since they have just hit the states with their debut, "Until The Earth Begins To Part" it allows me to introduce them in this blog space.

At first I pegged them as a distant cousin of both FRIGHTENED RABBIT and THE POGUES since they often employ accordions, horns and other instruments into the mix. Additionally, the music often has the late night bar feel that The Pogues were famous for. But subsequent listens has given me a greater appreciation of the band's ability to create moments of grandeur and majesty in their music. "Nearly Home" takes a while to get to the crescendo but when it does it is as satisfying as anything I have heard in a long time. One imagines the live take of this song being something to behold as the band whips itself into a frenzy. Other songs, like the rocking "If The News Makes You Sad, Don't Watch It" recall the early efforts of THE WONDER STUFF. But despite all the knee jerk comparisons, they are unique in combining their efforts into something that has both emotion and power after repeated listens.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

What Were You Doing At Age 18?

Not completing a fully realized musical statement that has actuality quality I will tell you that? But that is what young Mr. Jacob Magers has done. As a Senior Project for high school Jacob wrote and recorded an ep of five songs that he is now selling to the general public. When I first listened I wasn't really paying attention (reading with music on is always a good way to get a feel for something without pre judging it) and I was shocked at the fully formed musical thoughts. "Point of Reference" has a feel of an early Death Cab for Cutie song (especially in the descending guitar lines prior to the chorus). "Pendulums" is a nice upbeat song, but perhaps a little too close to Coldplay's "Life in Technicolor", but still a nice little pop song. "Overboard and Down" is the truest to an original sound that finds a nice home between folk and indie pop. ""Smiling at Strangers" could be a long lost Eliot Smith song before he took drugs and lost his mind. The last song, "Shanghai" is probably my favorite with a nice harmony to it along with a stately, quite guitar playing before it kicks in a with a nice shuffle for the chorus.

My initial reservations of it sounding more like tributes to his favorite bands fades away with each listen. More and more of his own voice comes out with repeated listens. Again, the dude is freaking 18!! When he gets some life lived and loses love a few times his lyrics will deepen and his playing will gain more depth. Then the world needs to look out for this kid...he is going to be a good one.



Monday, July 06, 2009

Death Cab For Cutie Live at the Hollywood Bowl

I have to say that I was mildly intrigued by the prospect of DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE playing with the LA PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA when the show was announced. Death Cab have been a band that has begun a slow decent out of indie rock isolation to mass market appeal and in many ways this was the show that should seal that deal. The bowl is a landmark location and the use of a full orchestra is really something only reserved for big time acts. At the outset I thought that the band might not be up to the task. The crowd was very reserved (it being a Sunday night and all) and the fact that it's just four guys playing on a huge stage seemed to rattle the band at first. The opening three songs ("Marching Bands of Manhattan", "Your Heart Is An Empty Room" and "The New Year") set a nice pace and signaled that most of the night would be dedicated to their more recent material (a good choice given the stakes of the event). By the mid point the band found it's rhythm and the first real highlight of the night was a remarkable version of "Summer Skin" followed by the centerpiece of the show, the epic "I Will Possess Your Heart". After a couple of more songs it was time to bring on the strings.

"I Will Follow You Into The Dark" (performed solo by Ben Gibbard) was made all the more haunting with a twelve string accompaniment. "Grapevine Fires" benefited the most from the horn backings and the added tension that comes with orchestration. Only "Title and Registration" and "Soul Meets Body" felt like a misplaced marriage (the former due to a bad vocal mix where the lyrics got swallowed by the music and the later placed at the end of the evening for the fact that it is a hit single not a song needing strings). The ending opus "Transatlanticism" had just the right amount of build up (a better version than the album take) and was a perfect end to the show. The last song signaled that the band was in fact ready for the larger venues and will probably stay in this type of setting for a long time.

(mp3) Death Cab for Cutie -- Photobooth (a song that I have since really taken to since the show)

Monday, June 29, 2009

Caught by the Fuzz

So I thought it might happen but my post yesterday reviewing the new DAVE MATTHEWS BAND record got pulled from the blog. So the quick version was I really like the record and if you have been a long time fan you will to. But because I had the audacity to post two songs off the album (which has sold millions by the way) my post got removed without notification.

Oh well...funny the way it is.