Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!!

I have never been one for New Year's Eve celebrations. Of course, once you have kids the thought of staying up pat midnight when you face the real prospect of your offspring waking up at 5:30am the next day doesn't seem so appealing. But for those of you that do stay up to see the ball drop, have a safe and happy New Years Eve and we will see you in 2011.

(mp3) Death Cab For Cutie -- The New Year
(I think the lyrics just about capture the spirit of the evening)

So this is the new year.
And i don't feel any different.
The clanking of crystal
Explosions off in the distance (in the distance).

So this is the new year
And I have no resolutions
For self assigned penance
For problems with easy solutions

So everybody put your best suit or dress on
Let's make believe that we are wealthy for just this once
Lighting firecrackers off on the front lawn
As thirty dialogs bleed into one

I wish the world was flat like the old days
Then i could travel just by folding a map
No more airplanes, or speed trains, or freeways
There'd be no distance that could hold us back.

There'd be no distance that could hold us back [x2]

So this is the new year [x4]

Sunday, December 26, 2010

IMHO: The Top 20 Records of 2010 (Part Two)

And now for the ten best records of 2010 (at least according to me...)

More varied in style and sound than their debut but without any loss of their pop sheen, the boys moved out of indie darling status. Channeling parts of Paul Simon, tribal African sounds and pop hooks out of the sixties, Vampire Weekend established their cred as a creative force. Whether it was the urgency of "Cousins" or the straight forward pop of "Giving Up The Gun" or the laid back bass line that anchors "Run", the record is a constant surprise from track to track. A record that was expected and yet unexpected at the same time.

Early in the year I predicted this would be a record of the year candidate and I wasn't far off. Pastoral and easy going in it's execution, Album Leaf made a record for lazy days of pondering the past and the future. "We Are", a rare vocal track, epitomizes the quiet and refined nature of the songs. In many ways this record is what THE BEAT BAND used to do at their height and is welcome addition to records I will be enjoying long after the year is over.

Like The Album Leaf, this UK duo made a record that is so unusual in its use of small sounds that build to larger themes. "Knut" is probably the single best song I heard all year and it was on that alone I bought the record. The way it crescendos using only a four line refrain is breathtaking. "Tightrope" is a achingly beautiful ode to a lost love which one presumes is found on the acoustic hush of "Solstice". In an odd way it's an album that celebrates love in all its forms.

A welcome return from one of my favorite dance bands. More song structured than their early work and yet maintains all the madness of the dance floor. "Scribble" takes drum 'n' bass into the mainstream while "Diamond Jigsaw" is the song New Order was trying to write for the past ten years. What could have been a throw away by a no longer relevant band in a no longer relevant genre is a tour de force of all that is good about techno/electronic/dance music. And we all need something to dance to every once and awhile.

If Ra Ra Riot had not given up the punk edge they would sound a lot like this. Ramshackle and urgent, these Scots make pop music that demands you pay attention. You can almost hear the wheels coming off on the cracking "Good Morning" and "Smash Hits". I cannot wait to see what they come up with next and if it will be as good as this debut.

Who would have thought that a group of Spaniards would make a record with barely intelligible singing and songs that are part dance, part rock. part ambient work so well? A study in the power of collaborative sounds, "Subiza" soars and flies through a collection of synths and beats that are unlike anything I have heard. To compare them to anyone does not do them justice. In any other year this may have been the album of the year on the strength of it's sonically adventurous nature. A breathtaking work not to be missed.

Band of Horses have been kicking around for some time now quietly tweaking their roots rock formula waiting to grow into their place as a premier American band. Although "Infinite Arms" didn't make them household names, it did finally match the lyrical and musical beauty many of us saw glimpses of on their last record. "Laredo"is a swinging tune that anchors the first part of the record along with the bar blues of "Compliments." The record's strength really comes from the quieter songs like the starry night gaze of "Infinite Arms" and the after supper sitting on the porch idyllic "Evening Kitchen" which both evoke times long gone. The closer, the epic "Bartles & James", is a slow building rock song reminiscent of THE JAYHAWKS at their best. It's a record of constantly changing sounds and depth not seen in most modern music.

The next "greatest-band-on-earth" hit the big time with their third album. At first the record is not as dark as the first two until you really dig into the lyrical exploration of the death of the modern dream. A cry for help from the artist class as it is swallowed up by commercial consumption, "The Suburbs" is a wide ranging critique on who we are and what we really want out of life. Musically the record builds on the sound the Canadian collective has created for itself. Their is a punk rock edge to "Month of May" juxtaposed with the 80's techno pop of "The Sprawl". A statement record by a statement making band that will be viewed as the moment Arcade Fire took on the big boys of rock and roll.

I have no excuse for not naming "The Midnight Organ Fight" the record of the year last time around. (Seriously, Coldplay...what was I thinking?) and there is a fair amount of certainty in me that I may regret not giving this record top billing this year. There is no doubt that three records in, Scott Hutchinson has transcended into a troubadour poet who can now write beyond his own emotional scope. Where "Fight" was a deeply personal record, TWOMD is a more globally emotional record. From the opening fuzzy guitars of "Things" to the stomp of "Nothing Like You", the Frabbits and the leader are now writing songs to be sung by the masses. My first impression was that the band was trying hard to expand sonically on this record which is most evident on tracks like "The Loneliness and The Scream" and the epic "The Wrestle". "Mixed Drinks" is the sound of a band losing itself in new sounds and finding their voice at the same time. Now if they could just release a record a year they would eventually gain the top spot.

This really should be a 1 and 1a sort of thing (especially since I am writing this wearing a Frightened Rabbit shirt.) The National, however, get the nod mostly due to the fact that I simply could not stop listening to this album the whole year. Opening with the killer "Terrible Love" and moving through the political paranoia of "Afraid of Everyone" to the social malaise of married life in "Conversation 16", the album covers so much lyrical territory it's hard at times to stay up. Each listen to each song brings new visions and new experiences. "Bloodbuzz Ohio" starts off as a pretty typical National song led by the intense drum beat and Matt Berringer's baritone until slowly the song moves into a melodic place the band has never seen before. "England" and "Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks" are in place as a calmer coda to the a rather rocking album. Jettisoning the jazz undertones of "Boxer" for a more direct approach has made the songs tighter and more focused. "High Violet" is a mature work of a highly confident collective that is at the height of it's game and hands down my favorite album from one of the my new favorite bands. Move over U2 and REM, THE NATIONAL are in the discussion.

Happy New Year everyone!! Here's to a great musical 2011.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

IMHO: The Top 20 Records of 2010 (Part One)

We actually have twenty very worthy records to talk about this year. Without a record from the big boys this year (U2, REM, Radiohead, Pearl Jam, etc.) It was a bit of a wide open year musically. I found myself gravitating to newer bands willing to take risks. And yet, some old friends found their way onto the list by then end of it all.

I would have pegged this record higher when I first heard about it. On paper, the combination of Dangermouse and James from the Shins would have been a no brainer for a top ten record, but over time I drifted away. "The High Road" is the perfect balance between the two but it seemed hard for them to reproduce over a large number of songs. If this is more than a one off collaboration it could bear considerable fruit for years to come.

The new band led by Jose Gonzalez takes his hushed folk approach and beefs it up. It's dark and eerie in some places (similar to BON IVER) and sunny in others. The record does start to drag a bit at the end but "In Every Direction" is a sneaky blues romp for the indie folk hipster.

The Scottish have made a cottage industry recently of adventurous, thought provoking and slightly off kilter bands. Mersault takes a lo-fi approach to their music, often disguising their vocals through filters and effects. It does not hamper the feel of the songs, instead bringing emotional depth in a whole new way. "Crank Resolutions" is hands down one of the best single songs of the year.

I feel I never gave this record it's proper due. Sophomore albums are very hard things to gauge. Are they departures from the signature sound? Are they retreads of a beloved debut? Broken Records take their sound a deepen it clearly aiming for a more anthemic feel as they move out of the underground and into mainstream. Early prediction for record three...big time success. For now revel in the beauty of "The Darkness Rises Up" and "The Leaving Song".

There is always one surprise that comes out of left field. This year, just the fact that I gave this band any of my time is a shock in and of itself. The wife has been on these guys for awhile and seeing them live made me a believer. Like a reincarnation of THROWING MUSES, this duo writes catchy songs about love and loss. "Worn Out Nervous Condition" has the kind of blues stomp that rivals anything else out there right now.

There are some bands that eventually settle in and just start churning out a new solid album every three years or so. You can count of Jimmy Eat World for songs that sound great in the car and are full of catchy melodies. Not terribly adventurous but "My Best Theory" is a great rock song and demonstrates that sometimes there is comfort in the familiar.

Fuzzy, dirty and urgent seem to pop in my head when listening to this record. This LA duo take on modern punk rock with a nod to Jesus and Mary Chain along the way. The searing "Fever Dreaming" and the droning "Glitter" highlight this collection of deeper than they first sound songs and seem to signal a new creative force at work.

If No Age are the future of the underground, the RA RA RIOT are the future of pop music. The Orchard is a no excuses unabashed pop record designed to hook you into their way of thinking on sheer joy alone. "Boy" has a bassline that dares you not to bob your head and the simply beautiful string use on "Shadowcasting" makes you ache in the teeth. Just a fun, playful record that should be played every summer.

I admit I should have liked this one more. It has all the pre-requisites for a great album. A mix of big choruses, big guitars and just enough self-deprecation in the lyrics to not be take to seriously. But over time the record lost steam. It may be the one record this year that over time gains more momentum for least I hope. It's not say it's a bad record, just less than what it could have been.

This LA band is a hodge podge of sounds (early U2, some Joy Division, some goth rock) all rolled up into one. When they soar, like on the 80's inspired "Pure Violence", they absolutely lock in. "Throwing Shade" is a synth heavy dance romp that at first seems out of place but over time grows catchier. When they settle in on an overall sound and theme they could be something special.

Coming Soon Part Two...

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Examples of the Perfect Pop Song (Part Three)

There are a lot of people out there that dismiss ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN when talking about the great alternative bands of the 80's. I happen to think they were very underrated and "Lips Like Sugar" is a great example of why. Great guitar, great singing, perfect pop song.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Post Punk Icons Wire Return

I can't really tell you why I grabbed this record when I saw it. I don't have a lot from their catalogue in my collection and outside of the single "In Vivo" I can't name a tune they have made in their long career. But for no real reason I did give their latest record, "Red Barked Tree" a listen and I am feeling better for it.One of the seminal bands of the post-punk movement, Wire have left their imprint on a lot of bands that make music today most notably BLOC PARTY.

Like those lads, Wire travels in songs that are simple in their construction and are based largely on repeating a simple lyrical refrain or guitar line over and over. Opening the record with the subdued "Please Take" is kind of a tease as it does not hint at the raw aggression that is to come. "Two Minutes" is the lead single and seems to be a nod to Blur's "Parklife" which in turn was a nod to Wire's early work. Although the record lacks the urgency of the band's early work, the maturity in songwriting and playing serves the band well. Will this record catapult them into a new audience of younger punk and indie kids? I doubt it. But it's a good record that deserves attention

Thursday, December 16, 2010

New REM Single..brings back old times

REM is in many ways like a long lost friend. You keep in touch with them but sometimes you lose track. Then one day you think to yourself, "you know I haven't heard for so and so in a while I should give them a call". Well, REM called the other day and reminded me why they are such a good friend.

"Discoverer" is the lead single from the band's newest record, "Collapse Into Now". By the sound of this song, the band is continuing to rebuild their sound after it all fell apart when Bill Berry left (never underestimate the impact a drummer has on a band.) From the opening guitar line by the suddenly ubiquitous Perter Buck (as referenced earlier by his work with THE DECEMBERISTS and TIRED PONY) to Micheal Stipe sounding oddly defiant in his singing, the band seems ready to at least give the whole big ass stadium band thing another whirl. They have said in interviews that the new album is similar in many ways to "Automatic For The People" which in my book is a good thing. "Discoverer" seems more akin to their work on "Green" but if those are the reference points then we might be in for a treat in 2011.

download the track for free here.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Examples of the Perfect Pop Song (Part Two)

There are many songs in the REM catalogue that could fill this category but "The One I Love" is certainly one of them. From the opening drum beat, to the great guitar hook, the song is about as close to perfection as you can come.

Enjoy the video below:

Monday, December 13, 2010

Chapel Club and my wish for cold weather

Okay people, it's frickin December. Could I please get some weather that doesn't require me to wear shorts and flip flops. Which leads me to today's musical find. CHAPEL CLUB are the kind of band I would listen to when it's cold outside. The band reminds me a ton of THE OCEAN BLUE mixed with elements of the shoegazer movement. These London based chaps are releasing their new ep, entitled "Wintering", in preparation for the debut full length in 2011. The four songs here highlight the different stylistics impressions of the band and serves as a nice primer for new listeners.

The opener, "Roads", is a fuzzed out drone of a song that pays homage to SWERVEDRIVER and SLOWDIVE, including the full effect guitar bending sound made famous by the later on their seminal "Souvlaki Space Station." "Teluride" builds slowly through a wash of feedback to find a dreamy pop song hiding on the other side. "Bodies" has the feel of a dark night drive along a snowy road, with the gentle guitar line serving as the falling snow. The closer, the eight minute "Widows", seems to be lifted from THE CURE early catalogue with it's slinky bass line pushing the song along.

As an added bonus, the band has made another song available on their site for free download. "The Shore", which one would guess will be the lead single from their record, seems more aggressive in it's sound yet maintains the imagery outlined in the song title. Whether it's the birds at the open of the track or the way the song washes sound over the listener, the band excels at creating mood pieces that pass as pop songs. Take some time with these guys and definitely check out their full length next year.

Download The Shore from their site here.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Introducing...Clockwork Radio

CLOCKWORK RADIO are a five piece band from Manchester (apparently by way of Egypt according to their website.) The band plays a pretty straight ahead form of rock with some nice flourishes of guitar and an odd bass line here and there. They have released their second ep, "The Soul Harmonic", for free download off their bandcamp page.

The ep's four tracks highlight the bands eclectic approach. "Desire" has a bit of a middle eastern blues feel to it in the open before finding a nice groove for the rest of the track. "Please You" takes the band into a slightly more epic place similar to say THE TEMPER TRAP. "Solitaire" opens with a great bass line that makes the this the most upfront rock song on the ep. This is also the song closest to their Manchester Brit Pop roots. The closing title track takes advantage of the piano line to come off very Beatle-esque.

The ep gives me hope that they could definitely grow into something worth keeping an eye on.

Download the record for free here.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Teen Daze & the bedroom pop movement

I have always marveled what can be accomplished with home recording equipment these days. Sounds that are fully formed and seem more polished than ever before are emanating from singular recording sessions with small groups of musicians. Take TEEN DAZE, a Vancouver collective (or is it one guy, I can't really tell) who make sunny, shimmery pop music that is reminiscent of THE BYRDS and THE MAMAS AND THE PAPAS in the layered vocals and clean guitar lines. Their latest ep, "Beach Dreams", is the kind of lo-fi wonder that makes me wish I had learned to play the guitar myself.

You can almost feel the sun basking on the shoulders of the singer as he intones to his love that they should fall into each other's arms on "Let's Fall Asleep Together." "Beach Dreams" sounds as if it's using the rhythm of the ocean as its metronome as it recalls the end of summer and all the lost opportunities that come with the end of the season. "Cliff Jump Love Song" has that fevered pace that comes with the adrenaline rush of diving into the unknown. "Water" sounds as if it is drowning in on itself and yet still has that childlike love of the ocean in it's spirit.

This is a marvelous piece of pop confection that will last those of your battling winter wonders (like six feet of snow) with the promise of sunnier days to come.

Visit the Bandcamp site here to pay what you like for the ep...

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Examples of the Perfect Pop Song (Part One)

No commentary with this just an example of a perfect pop song. Sit back, relax and enjoy this (especially Harriet Wheeler's almost perfect vocals...)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Kanye West and his Magical Autotune

Say what you will about KANYE WEST. Is he an arrogant blowhard? Yes. Is he an insecure narcissist who needs attention constantly to feel appreciated? Yes. Is he a creative force that changed the course of hip-hop like few others? Hell, yes he did. Kanye could have gone the path of so many of his colleagues and churned out club banging hits about sleeping with strange women and taking stranger drugs (or vice versa). Instead, he chose to explore his musical boundaries and has slowly taken his music away from rote hip-hop to something altogether different.

Two songs from his newest album, 'My Dark Twisted Fantasy", highlight just how much his music has changed. Starting with the previous album, "808's and Heartbreaks", Kanye has added vocoders and autotunes to his vocals and distorted the beats and synth lines warping them into almost unrecognizable sonic tapestries. Now he extends that to "Runaway" to include strings and other instrumentation to create an orchestral song of defiance for his critics. "Runaway" is cinematic in scope and sound and from his live performances of the song, almost cathartic in nature.

Then there is "Lost in The World" where our mercurial one teams with another tortured soul, folk troubadour BON IVER. Now rap crossovers are not new, but even this paring seemed odd at first. But you can see why they work so well together. Both write songs about despair and loneliness and both favor their material with a bit of macabre sense of humor. Here the song comes off as part appeal for understanding and part cry for salvation. I think I have played it four times writing this and still find new things about it that I enjoy.

So yes, West is all the things described above but what he is not is another boring MC.

(mp3) Kanye West -- Runaway (courtesy of TSURURADIO)

Monday, November 29, 2010

Introducing...Trophy Wife

TROPHY WIFE are a band out of Oxford, England who recently unveiled their debut 7' single (which by the way is still a great invention in my mind). The two songs on highlight the best of what the band is about. The A Side, "Microlite" is a summery piece of pop pie with a nice acoustic strum to it. If you hunt a bit there is even a pretty in it's own right acoustic version floating around.

But it's the B-side that really grabbed me. "Take This Night" has a rubbery bass line that screams dance and a drum shuffle that is just soft enough to be a later in the evening come down off the dance floor type of song. This seems to be a direction other UK bands have taken (like THE STONE ROSES without the drugs and the attitude). The song just kind of rolls along until you don't realize it but it has infected your brain and your humming along. If they find a way to consistently split the difference between these two sounds then I have high hopes for their full length record.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Abe Vigoda (the band not Fish from Barney Miller)

It takes some guts to name your band after a TV actor and do it with no sense of irony or any real reason why. On top of that, if Abe Vigoda was attached to some form of music I can assure you it would not sound like this.

ABE VIGODA is a LA based band that specializes in slightly over the top rock that takes a heavy dose of stadium guitars and meshes it with 80's keyboard sounds and falsetto vocals to create a quite striking blend of rock music. Their latest record, "Crush", has elements of songs that could have been lifted from a John Hughes movie (the opener "Sequins" and the lead single "Throwing Shade to name a few). In many ways they remind me of THE PSYCHEDELIC FURS who specialized in this sort of melodrama.

When they take a more straight forward rock approach the results are just as appealing. The title track will play very well in amphitheatres as a sing along for all the boys and girls to pogo to. "Repeating Angel" is a Bowie knock off (which is a bit of a misstep in my opinion but at least they are true to their muses). But that is the only real odd song in the collection. Now, I don't think it's a record for everyone. The lead singer's vocals can slip from time to time. But if you are in the mood for some nostalgia then this might just do the trick.

Friday, November 19, 2010

No Age keep the Indie Spirit Alive

I recently started listening to NO AGE when I saw that they opened for PAVEMENT and SONIC YOUTH. Now when two heavyweights in the indie/alternative world put a band on their bill, it makes me take notice. Their latest record, "Everything In Between" is so chocked full of goodness that it almost made me skip a beat when I listened to it for the first time.

For a mere two piece outfit to create such varied and creative music is a testament to their talent. It is no wonder that Dean and Randy met at famed LA Record Store Aron's since their records are rife with their influences. From the Jesus and Mary Chain drone of "Life Prowler" the the Peter Hook style bass of "Glitter" to the punk fuzz of "Fever Dreaming" it's like listening to a record collection on crack.

No Age have the unique ability to morph their sound without compromising the basic ideal of the music. It's as if their songs are celebration of the underground and the notion that if you have passion it doesn't matter what you sound like. Their is so much power in the drums, notably on the slightly poppy "Valley Hump Crash" and the balls out rock of "Shred and Transcend" that the whole thing threatens to come apart.

The more I listen to the record the more I find the nuances and the textures. With each listen I realize this is a band the be reckoned with; if that's even what they want.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Down the Rabbit Hole with Mobius Band

It all started out so innocently. I was looking for something new to listen to and stumbled across a mention of MOBIUS BAND from Brooklyn and thought I would investigate. This has happened to me before. I start out listening to something and start researching the band's background and happenings. Occasionally I will find a band that is no longer around and has splintered off into various solo and new band projects. So I start looking into those records. Before I know it I have a whole new collection on my hands. Here is the tale of my trip through the labyrinth of MOBIUS BAND.

The original group was a three man collective who made one record and a ton of ep's that are all very, very good. Their first three ep's (entitled 1, 2 and 3) are mostly instrumental but when the vocals are added they are very reminiscent of THE DOVES. The songs have a grandeur that would have played very well live. They also put together a collection of cover songs that can be downloaded for free on their website.

But that is only part of the story. Once the band broke up the various members went off and did their own thing. Which changes the whole tone of the original work. When bands break up you can almost see the divisions in sound take form when the artists start to record separately.

As LOLFM, former drummer Noam Schatz takes the more ambient electronic approach to his music which manifested itself in Mobius Band's early instrumental work. Clearly influenced by KRAFTWERK and LUKE VIBERT, his album is available for free here.

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN is the new incarnation of Peter Sax is probably the most straight forward pop of the three groups. Mixing his vocals with lush female counterparts and keyboards, the sound is similar to THE POSTAL SERVICE. His songs can be found here.

Finally, COOKIES is the pen name of Ben Sterling. The debut single introduces the band as a sing along male/female combo using dance beats and a staccato style keyboard line to push the song along. You get the sense that over time their sound will probably be the most dance hall ready of them all. They can be found here.

So for one night of goofing around I got four bands worth of good material. Not bad for a band very few ever heard of in the first place.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

It's Peter Buck's World...The Decemberists Just Live In It

So earlier this year Mr. Buck lent his talents to TIRED PONY and we are getting word out of the REM camp that their new record is rapidly approaching us in mid 2011. But if that wasn't enough ole' Pete hired out his six string twang to the new single from THE DECEMBERISTS, called "Down By The Water".

Here's what funny. When I first listened to the song while working on something else I thought, "man, this sounds a lot like REM" and apparently for good reason. The song would be pretty non descript except for the recognizable plucking (along with some nice background vocals by Gillian Welch). What does this tell us about the new record from Colin Meloy and company? Probably very little, other then they are trying to apologize to their fans for the god awful last album. So sit back, relax and enjoy the guitar work of an old friend.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Music and Politics (Issue 2)

We are at the apex (or the nadir depending on your point of view) of election season here in California. I know this because every other commercial on TV is a campaign ad for a candidate or a proposition. Gubenatorial elections are usually sordid affairs but the one we are engaged in right now is particularly heinous in it's stench. Now, in the interest of full disclosure I intend on voting for Jerry Brown. This is in some ways an hommage to my first ever vote when I punched his ticket in the Democratic primary in 1992 in his failed attempt to wrestle the nomination from an upstart Governor from Arkansas you might have heard of. It is also because I have very little faith in Meg Whitman as someone who could Cali out of its economic malaise. It's not that I have much more faith in Brown but here he appears to be the lesser of two evils.

But I do not want to delve to far into my personal politics. People are entitled to their own opinions and their own political affiliations. What distresses me is the lack of true policy debate All they seem to do is lob attacks at one another and avoid any stance on the problems that face us. This in no way suprises me but it did remind me of the power of media to influence our feelings, especially as it relates to our votes.

So here is a video from THE BEATNIGS that seems to encapsulate my somewhat random thoughts. But whatever you do at least vote so you can say you had a voice...

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Neil Young Brings The Acoustic Noise

Neil Young has been around so long that a new release just kind of happens. There is no fanfare or hoopla. No TODAY SHOW live in Times Square performance or a retrospective special on VH1 prior to it's release. It just comes out; no single or video. Such was the case with his latest "Le Noise". A few items you should know about this

1) The album was produced by Daniel Lanois.
2) There is no backing band or additional musicians.
3) It is perhaps the noisiest acoustic record ever made.

Let me explain. The album opener is a double shot of crunchy, thick guitar tracks entitled "Walk With Me" and "Sign of Love". Despite the guitar, Lanois recorded the song as if it had been played acoustically so the vocals are clear and straightforward. It gives the songs a worn, bluesy feel. Young is mining the same territory lyrically that he always does in his acoustic troubadour mode, namely lost love and regrets of opportunities past. But unlike "Harvest" or "Harvest Moon", Young's sound choices here change the dynamic. He does put down the electric guitar for the achingly plaintive "Love and War"; a meditation on the relationship between those that go to war and the loves they leave behind and wistful "Peaceful Valley Boulevard" which could have been an outtake from either of the "Harvest" collections.

This sound may be the closest to an amalgamation of his otherwise dual musical personality. When he plays with Crazy Horse, it's balls out rock and roll. When he is by himself, he is more somber and melancholy. Here the lyrics are the latter but the sound is the former (sort of). It's a confoundedly odd listen but after a couple of spins you begin to appreciate both Young and Lanois for their creation. It's a fresh take on both Young's patented sound and a reinvention of the old singer-songwriter format that he helped pioneer. It reminds me why I love his music so much in the first place.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Record for a Dreary Day

We don't get much of a winter here in Southern California. Usually, we have to wait until mid November for the temperature to drop below 60 degrees and that usually only lasts for about three months. (I know, I know, bitching about the near perfect weather to people who could very well find themselves is a Noah level rainstorm or a wall of snow the size of the Great Wall of China is probably a bit insensitive, but I digress)

Anyway, when the weather does actually start to turn I start to drift to records that I normally don't during the summer months. This leads to heavy doses of RIDE, MY BLOODY VALENTINE and other shoegaze type bands. One of the curiouser choices is TEENAGE FANCLUB's excellent "Bandwagonesque". On the surface this would seem to be a summer kind of record, given the Byrds-like harmonies and pop hooks and big guitars, but I've always sensed the melancholy bubbling just underneath the surface that makes it more of a dreary day sort of record. Whether it's the lost soul quality of the female protagonist of "The Concept" or the superstition debunking of "Star Sign", the record seems to try to be happy when it really wants to wallow in misery. (or maybe I'm just reading into it since I want it to match the weather...). The best example of this odd sort of dichotomy is in the album closer, "Alcoholiday", which sets these lyrics to a big pop hook and "oooh, oooh"choruses

"Went to bed but I'm not ready
Went to go but it's all hazy
Falling into line but I'm doing nothing
We've got nothing worth discussing"

Anyway, if you don't have this record then get it...right now. Don't worry I'll wait. Drive in the rain or the snow or whatever meteorological challenge awaits you. It's an absolute must for your collection.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Introducing...Jose Delhart

Like something out of an old western movie about a drifter crippled by the loss of a love and abandoned by his faith in mankind, along come JOSE DELHART. In many ways Delhart is a kindred soul of BON IVER and BECK (in his folk troubadour guise) in that he doesn't just record songs as creates atmospheres for stories to live in. Delhart recorded his latest album, "Little Red Buddha", in a collection of rooms and houses on a 4 track recorder which gives the primarily acoustic songs a worn and tattered sound. Accompanied by a plaintive cello and a banjo, "Broken Hearted Chant" in reminiscent of Damien Rice in it's tale of lost and broken love. "Rusty Nails" has a saloon at 2 am feel with a picking strings approach to mandolin and the great image of "rusty nails in my cross, and I'm crying for you.." as the centerpiece lyric of another love gone bad recount. You can almost see him sitting in the corner of a bar, head down, singing into a whisky glass hoping for his luck to change.

Delhart's debut does suffer a bit from the lack of a tonal shift that would break up the despair but it's hard to argue with his artistic vision that is so fully realized. By the time the sing songy "Trails of Gold" comes along there almost seems to be a light at the end of this particular tunnel. Here's actually hoping Delhart has enough in him to take another trip down that long and dusty path...

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


This band was shot to me by a label rep and sat in the old inbox for a while (my apologies for that btw).
Jonah are a Portland, OR collective who just released second full length album, "The Wonder and The Thrill" and are now running around the US in full tour mode. Jonah specialize in a kind of clean guitar pop that is not unlike britpop run through an Americana funnel. Fans of bands like TRAVIS, KEANE and other new wave of britpop bands will most likely enjoy this record based on the two songs sent my way. The first, "Please Let Go" has a lazy, laid back feel to it with a nice little guitar line that allows the harmonies to be the driving force of the song (not unlike what THE JAYHAWKS used to do at their peak). The other song, "Bees" is a little more uptempo (although one thinks a heavy dose of caffeine might invigorate the band a bit). After a jaunt over to their myspace page other songs off the record have a more experimental feel, including the cachophonous multi vocal drum bash that is "No One Left To Blame", which hints at maybe a darker sound lying underneath all the commercial shimmer of the released songs. It appears that their sound has deepened from their last release and the band sounds tighter and more accomplished, which is always a good thing when it comes to bands making pop music. It's an interesting listen and a band that I will certainly keep an eye on.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

My Missed Opportunity with The Grateful Dead

A few days ago I posted about a Counting Crows show that I went to. One of the songs that they played as a cover of THE GRATEFUL DEAD'S "Friend of the Devil". As they played the song I started to reminisce about a lost opportunity that I chalk up to naive youth.

When I was in college I DJ'd at the local radio station. I was the Program Director for a spell so it was my job to build the schedule and find dj's to fill the hours we were live. This also meant that I often had multiple slots to fill myself. One day I was in the office and this older guy walked in. He introduced himself and said he was an adjunct professor in the math department. I was a bit skeptical to say the least. First off, most of the school was unaware we even had a radio station. Second, he was dressed in a ratty t shirt, shorts and Birkenstocks (I have a great memory for these sorts of encounters). Anyway, he said he was interested in picking up a show where he could play some of his favorite music. Ever desperate not to be on the air for 6-10 hours every other day, I agreed to give him an evening slot after my show.

The next week rolled around and sure enough the guy (whose name I forget) showed up wearing a similar get up and slinging a bag of tapes around his shoulder. He had little clue how to operate any of the equipment so I gave him a quick once around the building and set out for the evening. I never even stopped to ask what music he was playing.

The next week he returned, same bag and same blank, yet serene expression. This time I asked him what was on his playlist for the evening. "The Dead" he said, as if that was the only conceivable answer. "Really, never really heard to much of their stuff", I replied. (It should be noted that I am clearly a moron and if I had a time machine I would now go back and punch college me in the jejunum.)

After a couple more weeks, the professor started coming in a little earlier. He would dive into his bag and fish out a tape with scribbling on it. Usually a location and a date. "Try this, I think you will like it." he would say, almost as if the tape was some form of narcotic. Again, moron college me would take the tape, not listen to it and most likely record over it with some crappy college band that no longer exists. (I will now take a moment to let you the reader mentally join in the commensurate ass kicking I deserved.)

What is the moral to this story. Well, clearly the professor knew something about me that I didn't. That my musical landscape was very small and lacked depth and character. Also, that had a been smarter I would have realized that these tapes were bootlegs he had recorded of all the time he had seen the Dead and he was sharing a piece of himself with me. Maybe he thought I would enjoy these tapes. Maybe he thought I wasn't just like every other poser, indie rock kid (although I was). Maybe he just thought they kicked ass and he wanted to share. Maybe he was just a bit weird from all the drugs and the math problems he had done and didn't really know anything about me at all. In any case, I regret not saving any of those tapes. Not because I ever really fond a love for THE GRATEFUL DEAD, but because I might have had I given them a chance...

Here is a link to a live performance by THE GRATEFUL DEAD in 1979 courtesy of the outstanding blog Troubled Souls Unite.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

I Forgot How Much I Love Counting Crows

Some bands come and go in your musical conscience. Bands that were once staples of your play lists (or mix tapes if your my age), seem to vanish and are replaced by newer bands with fresher sounds. It's the nature of our listening tastes. Those of us who enjoy the collective nature of music are always looking for the next great sound. But then something happens to remind you why you fell in love with a band in the first place.

COUNTING CROWS will always be the band of my early 20's. I was first exposed to them in college (I can remember digging out "August and Everything After" out of a stack of CD's with my friend Scott, pressing play and being in awe from the first strum of the guitar) and stayed with the band throughout my post college wanderings through the music industry. They were not an especially cool band (often thrown in with THE GIN BLOSSOMS and DAVE MATTHEWS BAND) but had a certain level of success to the point where they are still alive and kicking to this day. I have dutifully purchased all their albums but over time their place on the old iPod has dwindled to just a few songs.

But last night they were rocketed back into my listening galaxy. I went to a special screening of Adam's new movie FREELOADERS (which unfortunately was not very good). Following the movie my wife and I thought the band might play a song or two. Instead the boys brought an hour long set of songs mostly from their second album "Recovering the Satellites", which I personally feel is their best. Duritz still knows how to work a crowd with his speak sing approach to his singing. The band was tight and sounded great. To the best of my recollection the set was as follows:

Mrs Potter's Lullaby
Mr. Jones
Goodnight Elisabeth
Angels of The Silences
Hard Candy
Friend of the Devil
Recovering the Satellites
A Long December

(there may be a song missing but I didn't jot it down like I normally do)

I couldn't resist playing their music throughout the day. It's earnest and true. It's pop and rock and classic in its structure. It is not ashamed to be lovelorn and simple in places. It is the very definition of classic rock and roll and it's brilliant. There was a time I was embarrassed for liking the Crows (they are about as un-indie as you can get), but that's in the past. I love this band and always will. And that is what being a fan is all about...

**Still a great pop song about wanting to be a rock star. I cannot tell you how many times I have sung this in the car at the top of my lungs. You should to, you will feel better for it.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Music and Politics (Issue 1)

Music and politics seem to go hand in hand. Often mucisians will use their songs as vessels to put forth a given agenda or idealogy. From hardcore punk bands like BLACK FLAG to more mainstream acts such as REM, U2 or BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, political issues often find their way into song. Additionally, some artists use their fame to expose an issue or bring people to a cause. Avenues such as "Rock The Vote" have given artists the opportunity to connect to the youth and bring about change. These days, musicians are sought on for council by political leaders in areas of race and economic disparity as a way of showing that they are more in touch with the pulse of the nation than their predecessors. President Obama has listened to Jay-Z, Bono and other musical heavyweights on a wide range of topics.

Now we can argue the merits of this sort of blurring of the lines between entertainment and power till the end of time. We can question whether it is better that LADY GAGA is the most viable voice for the gay rights movement than someone with a more nuanced approach to politics. Sometimes to get movement on an issue a little shock value goes a long way. The goal of this post (and the subsequent ones I think will follow) is to highlight lesser known politically tinged songs and try to make some sense of the connection between these two powerful forces.

THE RADIO DEPT. are a Swedish band that makes pop music that is similar to the GO BETWEENS and THE PERISHERS. They deal in the swirling guitars, sunny melodies and longing for lost love lyrical arenas. However, they do have an opinion about the current state of Swedish politics which in some ways mirrored what was going on in the US in the early part of the century. They have made their latest song a free download in what I presume was an attempt to galvanize support behind the leftist part of the Swedish political spectrum. It's a really good song and has a very interesting take on the politics of fear and how mainstream politics can often warp a message to meet it's own needs.

Reallocating property
We engender transformation
We’re not concerned with poverty
Just the rebirth of a nation
No time for hesitation
Not even on occasion
This will be our legacy:

A vengeful population
It’s part of our conspiracy
And our motivation
And who needs integration
When we’ve got isolation?
It’s the rebirth of a nation
The rebirth of a nation

We don’t mind democracy
We have our ways around it
This new improved hypocrisy
Will help us to impound it
An old school education
Will show this generation

Download the mp3 here. While you are there you can get lots of other goodies from the band. They are well worth your time.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Sufjan Stevens channels Radiohead

It is always interesting to see how artists respond to fame. Some embrace the fame and seek to replicate the sound that got them to whatever plateau they find themselves at. Others run and hide behind a creative veil as they try to deal with the repercussions of people singing their songs in commercials. Whatever the response it is a fascinating study to see creative people respond to connecting with people and essentially getting what they want out of art.

Make no mistake, all musicians want to be famous. The ones that say they don't are lying. If they didn't want people to hear they music they wouldn't record and package it and then tour all over hell's half acre getting people to hear them. What does this have to do with Sufjan Stevens? Well, he is the latest of these "true musicians" to grapple with this conundrum. His last record, "Illinois", was a commercial and critical hit (rivaling the ascent of ARCADE FIRE as the lead for a voice of a generation tag). So it was always going to be a hard follow. Here we are now some 5 years later with "The Age of Adz" and their are going to be more than a few comparisons to the path taken by RADIOHEAD in their response to fame.

Let me elaborate. Following the success of "OK Computer" many thought Radiohead would simply reproduce that sound over and climb to the heap of Alternative rock and be the biggest rock band on the planet. However, their follow up, "Kid A", was a challenge to their fan base as they explored new elements of their sound and tried to expand it artistically. What followed was a lot of hand wringing by mainstream media about whether to call it a masterpiece or a piece of unitelligble garbage. In hindsight, my sense was that the band simply wasn't prepared for the widespread fame and tried to make a record that would appeal to only the hardcore fans. Which is partially what I feel Stevens is doing here.

There is nothing on the new album as catchy as "Chicago". Putting that thought aside the record is certainly a departure from his more accessible work. Based on the work of schizophrenic artist Royal Robertson, the record is a smattering of baroque pop songs filtered through bass thumps, electronic fits and starts and orchestral flourishes. It does resemble Radiohead's Kid A in that sense. The songs seem almost like collective ideas rather than pop songs. It challenges the listener to weed through the songs to find the nuggets of melody and snippets of poetry.

Which makes me wonder, what is the point of this exercise? Should I have to work so hard to find enjoyment? Do I have a right to expect something from an artist or am I just to accept what they have given me and make the best of it? Is the satisfaction I get from "I Walked" worth the near unlistenable "Now That I'm Older"? And what the hell do I do with the 25 minutes that make up "Impossible Soul"? (And who has the time to listen to it in it's entirety?) Stevens seeks to confound our beliefs about him with this record and strip his fan base to the core. The question I cannot seem to answer is was I one that he wanted to keep or not?

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Return of the Manics

I have never been super interested in the MANIC STREET PREACHERS. For some reason I was never really drawn to their music. This is a bit odd since I enjoy the brit rock sound and and usually taken in by bands with a political agenda that mirrors mine. But since they were never really a big sensation over on this side of the pond, they never held my attention. So I was surprised how much I like their new record, "Postcards From A Young Man". Now by their own admission this record is a stab at commercial sounding rock and seems to have abandoned some of the more punk rock stylings of earlier records. Is it a sign of maturity or a bit time sellout move to get records sold? Not really sure. I would usually argue the later but for some reason the genuine sound of the songs and the conviction of the singing makes it seem like the right move.

--I think this is the best example of the sound the band cultivates here. It's big and has the kind of chorus that sounds great when 50,000 people sing along...

Monday, September 06, 2010

Bring That Beat Back...New Underworld

Talk about a band that brings back fond memories! UNDERWORLD were supposed to take dance/trance/techno into the mainstream along with THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS, PRODIGY and all the rest. If the Chems were techno hip hop, and Prodigy were techno punk, then Underworld were the purest form of dance music to hit the mainstream. Aided by their ubiquitous presence in "Trainspotting" and the subsequent American love affair with house and techno culture, the band seemed poised to hit the pop mainstream with "Born Slippy NUXX". However, the releases that followed were not well received commercially, mostly due to the fact that pop radio couldn't justify seven minutes of air time each time a song was played. Like the others, Underworld slunk back into the clubs and started churning out interesting and creatively challenging music for the next decade.

So I was a bit surprised at how much I like their latest record, "Barking". Maybe because it appears that they have finally merged their techno leanings with pop song structure. "Always Loved A Film" could have been recorded during NEW ORDER's "Technique" era. "Scribble" is a vintage drum and bass song that has that upbeat feel that when played in a club would send the place absolutely bananas. "Grace" is a classic Underworld song that seems like a left over from their debut record. The only drawback is the ending two tracks, "Louisiana" which has a slower tempo and sounds dangerously close to a ballad and the instrumental coda "Simple Peal" which is a bit of a downer. But I can certainly see the intent of bringing the audience done from a very high octane ride.

There is so much to like about this album that it begs several listens. Each song unfolds at just the right length and none overstay their welcome (which can often be an undoing of some dance bands). This is certainly find a way on to my end of the year bests.

(mp3) Underworld -- Scribble (link Removed by request)

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Ra Ra Riot are a love child creation

Ra Ra Riot are the perfect mix of the best of VAMPIRE WEEKEND and DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE, which makes sense since both bands played a role in producing the band's newest album. The New York based band has been kicking around for the past few years but seem poised to move forward in a big way with the release of their latest "The Orchard". Lead Singer Wes Miles has the kind of falsetto that was made for commercial radio stardom and the songs have enough pop bounciness to be perfect for the late summer, early fall. "Boy" and "Massachusetts" both have bass lines straight from the Vampires catalogue but with less obtuse lyrics. "Foolish" has the earmarks a Death Cab song with it's mid tempo piano line that builds over the course of the song. "Shadowcasting" almost sounds like a PHOENIX song but with the Riots distinct sound to save it from parody.

One might surmise that the name dropping makes the record less enjoyable over repeated spins, but the more you hear the more you can't ignore the insanely catchy nature of the songs. They are just damn good pop songs. You simply cannot stop tapping your toe and bobbing your head. Take the record out the next time you are driving with the top down and the sun will only make the drive that much sweeter.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

New Interpol...YAWN and SIGH

Sometimes a band will trick me into giving them one more chance. COUNTING CROWS and LIVE are famous for suckering me into getting their records only to be disappointed after I listen to them three or four times. Which is why INTERPOL makes me sad. I am afraid they are another of those sucker bands. I really thought when their first record came out we were witnessing the beginning of a great band. I gave them the benefit of the doubt on the second record because they were trying to come to terms with their "it" band status. 2007's "Our Love To Admire" was so scatter shot that it is now almost unlistenable. But here I am trying to absorb the latest self-titled release an trying to remain positive.

When I heard "Lights", the free track to tease the record, I was hopeful. It appeared to have some of the early energy of the bands first record. It's got the right amount of obtuseness to the lyrics and the guitar line is hypnotizing. And therein lies the problem. Just like that I was suckered in to getting the record. The rest of the record sounds exactly the same. Now before you jump on my case and say "well you liked that song so shouldn't you then like the whole record?" let me counter. No, variance to an album is a good thing. Songs with different structures keep the listener invested after one listen. "Barricade", "Success", and "Summer Well" have the same mid tempo, off kilter guitar thing going as "Lights". They are in many ways interchangeable. "Try It On" at least changes the drum patterns and has a weird burlesque piano vibe for a bit before the traditional song chorus kicks in. But the whole thing seems like just a rehash of the last two records.

Now I may revisit this album in a month or so to see if my thoughts have changed. Sometimes that happens, but something tells me it will just be another record that resides in my itunes without a playlist attached to it...

(mp3) Interpol -- Lights (LINK REMOVED BY REQUEST)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Arcade Fire Manage Expecations

There will be a lot of talk about the new ARCADE FIRE record "The Suburbs". It is without a doubt one of the most hotly anticipated records of the year both critically and commercially. Their first two records were both musical masterpieces that have had people falling all over lead singer and principal songwriter Win Butler compared to a modern day Dylan and Springsteen. His command of lyrics and his ability to comment on the human condition have placed him in this rarefied air. Like Springsteen, Butler details life for the normal people highlighting the trials and tribulations of the everyman and his struggles to get ahead or merely survive. However, the music is more varied and nuanced than the Boss. Rather than bludgeoning you with big guitars and sax solos, Arcade Fire use a multi-instrumental approach that highlights crafted guitar and bass work with additional flourishes of other instruments.

With their newest album, the band takes on life in modern day Suburbia. "The Suburbs" as an album aims to show the state of life outside of the big city for a typical nuclear family. Now in most people's mind the notion of the post cold war nuclear family is already antiquated but Butler's point throughout the record is that it's still there, just hidden from view. "Modern Man" takes us into the mind of the husband/dad figure and his concerns about where his life is and where it's going. "City With No Children" echoes lost opportunities and laments the author's "private prison".

The album turns both sonically and lyrically with the two part "Half Light" that showcases Regine Chassagne's contribution as lead singer. There is also a sonic shift as the second "Half Light" echoes shades of electronic music that is eerily 80's in sound. The other two part song "The Sprawl" ends the record with the notion that modern society is full of interconnecting lives that really don't connect at all.

"The Suburbs" is musical heavy lifting. It takes several listens to warm to it and get inside the meaning of the record. While on the surface it's not as dark as "Neon Bible" and has less of a blues feel than that masterwork, it becomes a deeper record over time. I have little doubt it will be a top record for the year on most best of lists. And it deserves it.

**The other option for posting was the title track but to be honest it's my least favorite song on the album so you get this driving rock song instead. Enjoy!!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Tired Pony = Country Snow Patrol

Two records popped up on my radar in the last two days and I still haven't wrapped my head around what I want to say about the new ARCADE FIRE record, so I pontificate about this oddity instead.

TIRED PONY is a side project of SNOW PATROL front man Gary Lightbody. Lightbody has referred to this as a country record using some heavyweight American musicians to support his musings. What the record does is highlights one of the conundrums facing all singers...namely, that he can't change how he sings. "Dead American Writers", the first single, is exactly like every Snow Patrol song ever written only with a slide guitar. Using Singer/Actress Zooey Deschanel as a duet partner on two songs rekindles his work with Martha Wainwright on earlier records. His songwriting style of stream of conscious lyrics with no chorus is still here as well. One would think that a solo venture would challenge Lightbody to tinker with his sound.

Then there is Peter Buck. Buck has long been one of my favorite guitar players for his way of attacking songs and giving them edge and fire. Even when he takes to the mandolin he does it so distinctly that his signature is all over the songs. His work with the MINUS 5, HINDU LOVE GODS and TUATARA showed that even outside of REM he still remains distinct. Here though he seems replaceable. There is no sight of his imprint on the band's sound. It's as if he was swallowed up in Lightbody's songs and can't find his own place in them. "Pieces" does have echoes of some of the guitar work from later era REM, but elsewhere he could be any guitar player for hire.

Is it a bad album? No. It's a remarkably easy record to listen to, like most Snow Patrol records. "Northwestern Skies", "Dead American Writers" and Get On The Road" are nice pop songs that are catchy. But one wonders what might have been if Lightbody had been more adventurous and Buck a little more prevalent in the songwriting mix.

(mp3) Tired Pony -- Dead American Writers (link removed due to DMCA Complaint)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

KaiserCartel Live @ Hotel Cafe

Okay, let me get this out of the way first. My wife has long been a fan of this band and I have for the most part ignored them. I tend to be less than enthralled with female singer songwriter stuff. Though I have fond memories of 10,000 MANIACS, TORI AMOS and the like, my tastes mostly fall toward the male dominated stuff (easier to sing in the car I guess). So I approached last night's show at Hotel Cafe with slightly less enthusiasm than the usual musical sojourn. So here it is, I was wrong, my dear wife. They were excellent and I can't stop humming their songs.

There is something endearing about seeing a band in a tiny venue. There must have been about 40 people in the room. The band had no roadies and no pretense to their performance. All you had was a singer/guitarist and a singer/drummer. The sound was crisp and the intimate setting allowed you to really absorb the music. Lead singer Courtney Kaiser has a nice dulcet tone to her vocals that is in many ways reminiscent of THE COWBOY JUNKIES and THE THROWING MUSES. This was most evident on some of the newer songs off their second album, "Secret Transit", particularly "Riverboat Dream" and "The Wait."

When the band turns up the amps they have a nice shuffle and shake to their sound that showed up on the standout songs of the set like "Worn Out Nervous Condition" and "Ready To Go" (which was the catchiest song of the set). When drummer Benjamin Cartel took the lead on "Minefield" the sound morphed into something akin to Elliot Smith. It takes a lot to make me change my mind about a band, but their show did it for me, sealed by their walking through the crowd for a acoustic performance of "Memphis".

Top it off with the fact that the band mans it's own merchandise stand after the show and you can't help but root for them to find at least enough success where they get some help on the road. Take some time to go buy their new record.

(mp3) Kaiser Cartel -- Worn Out Nervous Condition

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Meet Delorean (no...not the car)

I cannot take credit in any way shape or form for discovering the joy of DELOREAN on my own. The ever hipper-than-me Ed from 17 Seconds posted about them about a month ago and I have since come to the conclusion that his assessment of the brilliance of the record is very appropriate. What struck me about listening to this is how organic it all seems. Even thou at it's heart, "Subiza" is a get off your ass dance album, it draws many comparisons in my mind to early NEW ORDER. The use of dance rhythms in a rock context was a staple of the Manchester icons sound and much of that imprint has found its way to these Spanish lads. "Stay Close" is about the best example of records sound, with it's high pitched sample vocals and skittering drum beats. As you listen to the record more and more you start to hear the little flourishes of keyboard or guitar that dot the songs and give them context and depth.
The New Order comparison extends beyond the music to include the slightly off key, slightly monotone vocal delivery of Ekhi Lopetegi (who is like Bernard Sumner but with a cool accent) on songs like "Endless Sunset" and "Simple Graces". Hell, they even created their own Hacienda-like club in Barcelona to play and recruit other artists to their sound.

Just how successful the band will be with the absence of any real lyrical threads to their songs remains to be seen. It is clear that they aspire to move beyond club life and into the mainstream of music with this record. It is also clear that this is one of the best records of 2010, and from a place where you wouldn't expect.

Monday, July 12, 2010

New Future of Forestry

Usually when I sit down to write a review of something I use the same process. I start by listening to the record once or twice before starting to formulate ideas about angles I will write on. Then I start to research the band looking for information about history and influences. So when I started looking into FUTURE OF FORESTRY I was suprised to see that they are listed as "Christian Rock". Why did this suprise me? Because often bands will shy away from this moniker for fear that it will lessen their ability to be marketed to the mainstream. In fact, lead singer Eric Owyoung said as much in a 2007 interview. But does this change the way I relate to the record?

Musically the album has a lot of similarities to RADIOHEAD and their offspring. It's actually a pretty good record. But does the band's openness about their desire to not only play music but to preach to the unconverted change my feelings about what they play? Now I'm not trying to challenge anyone's faith (far be it for me to delve into any level of spiritual discourse on such a trivial thing as a blog. In fact, I am trying to purposely keep my own spiritual affiliation vague for that reason) and after all, didn't U2 start out with the same mission? Have they and other artists used music as an exploration of faith and devotion to a higher being or purpose? Why is that we only classify Christian rock and not Buddhist or Muslim rock? Ultimately, if the music is good and the songs have depth and passion and conviction in their message that should be enough. So as I type now with the knowledge that Future of Forestry sees itself as both a religiously convicted band as well as a band with a desire to be heard by a greater audience I don't feel as limited in my thinking. Before I might have dismissed the record as something that is "not for me" but I still listen to the songs and the music and fall in love with the melodies and the guitar work.

Music is about moving people to places of deep emotion, whether be in the service of love or pain or sadness. A band's personal beliefs, or their stated mission to share those beliefs with others, does not interfere with that pursuit. Just trust me and listen to the songs. They are really good and deserve to be heard...

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

It's almost embarrassing to admit liking this song.

As I dabbled in a variety of musical genres throughout high school and college I picked up some peculiar songs along the way. I'm sure we all have these little hidden treasures from the time we jumped head first into liking rap music or that month long flirtation with glam rock that came with dating a girl who teased her hair and used a bit too much Aquanet. There was a time when I spent some of my days perusing the goth world mostly due to the fact that I was hanging out with a lot of drama students and trying hard to seem edgier than I really was. Out of this time period came an appreciation for BAUHAUS, LOVE AND ROCKETS, SISTERS OF MERCY and THE MISSION UK. I can't really say what appealed to me about the style of music other than it was so over the top that you had to appreciate the sheer conviction of the artist for putting such noise down for public consumption. So when I rolled across an old Mission UK song in my catalogue, all the sights and sounds of that sophomore year in high school came rushing back.

Now I was what you might call a poser to the goth scene. I own no eye-liner or have ever dyed my hair. I have nothing pierced or tattooed. I can't claim any sort of inner turmoil to send me scribbling into a notebook (which is probably why I never learned to play guitar...damn you normal, stable family life!!). But for some reason, "Deliverance", with it's allusions to fairy queens and the fall of Babylon screamed at the top of one's lungs in a 1986 red Dodge D50 pickup seemed right to me. Upon reflection it must have been a bit disconcerting seeing a preppy white kid with short blond hair modeled more after Zach from SAVED BY THE BELL without the impish charms shouting "Give Me Deliverance...brothers, sisters." But damn it all if the song didn't sound kick ass at the time. And you know what, after three listens as I write still kind of does. Let the mocking begin.

(mp3) The Mission UK -- Deliverance