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.