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)