Sunday, January 30, 2011

So Here's the First Two

Punk rock is an island. Right? The whole idea behind it, (whether successful or not) was to try to be as "original" (i.e. offensive) and "naked" (powerful) as possible. Unlike most genres, they wanted to isolate themselves from the rest of the music community. They wanted to do it themselves. Punk rock was tribal, no? Very inclusive and protective of its own. It's true. Because everybody has there own idea of what "punk" is. Is it a genre? Or it is just a radical way of conducting a business (i.e. record stores, music labels, and publishers). Everyones got their own opinion, and thats why they stick together.

Me? I think it's solid, concise, and lean albums. There's up to 16 songs that are all perfect (5 songs being the least amount (done by The Velvet Underground with "White Light/White Heat") and 16 being the most (done by the Germs with "GI.")). What do all your favorite and the most (if this means anything) "critically acclaimed" and "influential" ones all have in common. They're all grimy and perfectly tight, powerful LPs.

A series is in order, then. Starting today and for the next couple posts, I'll select two punk albums that illustrate this and tell ya why I think they're perfect.

So here's the first two.

The Germs - GI

This band is legendary. Seriously. This album--and Darby Crash--could possibly be the best two embodiments of the of punk virtue. The guitar is right up front. It's got one of the most tangible tones I've ever heard--and it's nasty. The vocals and lyrics are screamed proudly, but angry groans and just enough rhythm give it an illusion of deep melody. The bass clanks and shoves. The drums and scratchy yet deep. To me it lacks nothing. Each song is s beautifully self-contained, but the are common-enough elements which enables the able to never loose steam between second or less track breaks. It is the snottiest, with a (as common with most great punk) hint of sarcastic enthusiasm. And it's accessible and rhythmic enough, but still contains frustrated bits of self-loathing. So dig it. And while yr at it check out some live footage and an interview on The Decline of Western Civilization.

Jay Reatard - Blood Visions

No, you cynical bastard, it's not just because he died last year. Personally, I rate Jay Reatard very high among some of his older, more acclaimed peers. Why? It's because he, in a way, did exactly what they did. They (punk bands of the 70s) starting playing punk because they heard the Stooges and challenged, with "Hey dude, I could do that." Similarly, Jay Reatard listened to Devo, Gang of Four, the Fall and said "Hey I could do that." While they both may have missed the mark of copying their heros, they both created vastly original and powerful works for which they'll be remembered for their own merit. There are shades of mission of Burma guitar scratches and steady drumbeats. It's melodic while not subtracting from it's abrupt forcefulness. Give it a shot, then listen to this interview from a couple of years ago.

By the way, both great album covers. And, yeah the interviewers a turd.

Tom Waits' Closing Time :: 1973

If it's the Tom Waits from his Rain Dogs, Bone Machine era that you've come to know and love, then now is the time in which I challenge you to go back in time to this debut album of his, Closing Time, in which Waits swaps intricate, bizarre instrumental arrangements and frantic lyrics for slow churning, jazzy piano ballads that will set the perfect mood this evening.

In my recent exploration of Waits' catalogue, I was shocked and supremely pleased to find this gem of an album that began everything for Waits. He hasn't yet picked up the muddy gravel vocals and his pipes shine amidst these simple, straightforward ballads. Although the setup for the tracks is simple, with a piano, double bass, and drummer laying most of the framework, the beatnik lyrical style still flourishes his songs about love, lust, and life. It is an album for a man trapped in the city at night. It fits images of characters from local bar scenes and dark alleyways into your mind, and presses them even further until you can actually understand them. Waits is tender and gentle the whole way through.

Even though the album is straightforward and feels unified by a common sound, Waits still succeeds in covering a large set of sounds and genres in the time he's got. He dabbles in country on the beautiful "Old Shoes" ballad, tackles on smooth jazz with the addition of saxaphone on "Virginia Avenue", "Midnight Lullaby", and the gorgeous instrumental closer, appropriately called "Closing Time". The only time the album really picks up is on the casually super cool "Ice Cream Man" near the end. Then there's "Martha", my favorite track, which is just Tom Waits and his piano. If you're a big Waits fan, you may be pleasantly shocked to hear this album. If you're not a big Waits' fan or never thought you could get into him, at least give this one a chance, its a beautiful album for just about anyone.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Tennis - Cape Dory (2011)

Inoffensive summer jams. Sort of annoying like Best Coast. Sort of fun and everyone's eating it up at my school. Uh, hip as fuck, whatever.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Elvis - Mighty Like a Rose

Just because the sun shines here in Columbia, Missouri (low 50's). And Elvis is the man, its about time he was christened king.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Dylan and John Wesley Hardin(g) (1967)

The thing about Bob Dylan that I've always loved most, is that he always writes traditional music. He writes music for every man and doesn't get caught up in himself or the scene taking place around him. He may be writing about wild, intoxicating tales, but they are always timeless to the point where my grandfather and I would likely connect to them on a similar level.

It was in 1967, in Nashville, that Dylan took a break from electric music and ornamental wordplay to record the stripped down John Wesley Harding. The contrast this album sets against the intricate fancies of his last three 60s electric albums makes this his most traditional album in my opinion. His stories range from the biblical to 19th century western outlaws, and the dark, moral imagery is explained only through lines that are short and to the point. Saying in 1968, "What I'm trying to do now is not use too many words,"Dylan confirms his callback to a simpler, practical writing style. Guthrie has once again become his muse. It is tradition that Dylan always succeeded best with in his music, and he shines telling the tales of western legends of the past with such bare bone verse.

I always tend to wonder what the hell people were thinking of Dylan's career decisions through the late sixties and seventies. With a different vocal style on each album and radical shifts from electric, to folk, to country, and back, people must have been so enthralled and at the same time perplexed at his sheer audacity. He is devout to being a totally enigmatic guy with every chess move in his discography, and this album just blows me away with its interesting location within the game.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Books - The Lemon of Pink (2003)

One would expect that the fusion of polar opposite genres to create folktronica would provide for many inconsistencies and lack of cohesion at times.  However, it is actually this juxtaposition and the absence of anything like it that is so enticing.  The Books have always been one of the front-runners in the genre and The Lemon of Pink is probably their best work out there.  The talented folk musicians and songwriters feature heavy sampling of random loops that take you back to the days of Kid A. There are a lot of  words on this album, most of which are samples of people talking in weird languages but as for vocals, they are seldom but very pleasing when they come around.

I'll be honest, people are either going to really love this album or really hate it.  The underlying genius borders absurdity at times and can be somewhat inaccessible.  However, I tend to think that it can be intrinsically appreciated as an album to throw on and just chill out to.  Just go and check it out, that's why we are all here anyway.

Pedro The Lion - It's Hard To Find A Friend (2001)

Intimate and honest. These are the two qualities that have always characterized David Bazan's discography and made his impact so profound on me. This is the debut full length, recorded in 1998 under the moniker Pedro The Lion, where it all began. Bare bone arrangements and confessional lyrics sprawl the entire disc and cover material of friends, family, and faith. He doesn't joke. He is always pure. His baritone voice always resonates on an emotional level even in his most delightful pop hook moments (yes, his delectable guitar hooks are still present on tracks like "Big Trucks" and "When They Really Get to Know You They Will Run").

My only issue with the album is also my only issue I've ever had with Bazan, and that is his occasional song that is simply to musically minimal. Tracks like "The Longer I Lay Here" and "The Well" could just be so much stronger if he'd not settle into such a repetitious rhythm. Anyway, I'd rather you just ignore my petty criticism and just check this one out. One of the greatest songwriters of my generation began right here on It's Hard To Find A Friend. There is no one I could recommend more seeing live by the way.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Great Soundtracks-The Harder They Come (1972)

Reggae music is trick territory. At once, the dread-locked joy and the spiritual attitude that comes lyrically (and with lighting spliffs) with the music and culture are enough to establish the genre as concrete as the desperation and powerful yearning of the blues. But like my relationship with the blues, reggae often subsides forgettable, and far too repetitive to leave a real impression with me.

The Harder They Come is a 1972 Jamaican film which features mostly the songs of Jimmy Cliff on the soundtrack. (I haven't seen the film but supposedly it stars Cliff himself as some sort of poor man-turned-drug dealer on the verge of a pop reggae hit. I gotta see this movie, man.) It being a Jamaican film, the collection of songs are entirely reggae and like I said, it's mostly a Jimmy Cliff effort with a few other tracks from the Maytals, and a great take from the Slickers called "Johnny Too Bad".

Reggae has never sounded so soul-refreshing. Cliff's voice soars and he whips some of the best pop melodies into the songs, which is what sets him notches above nearly every other reggae artist I've heard (Marley and his Wailers aside). He's really got soul, man, and he lets it all fly on "Many Rivers to Cross", one of the most breathtaking and heartfelt songs in pop music's catalog. And I really mean that.

try the comments out

Monday, January 24, 2011

Reverend Green Lays It Down (2008)

Al Green's big comeback, impeccably produced by Questlove in 2008, Lay It Down, hasn't spun into my rotation since I first got into the Reverend in high school. Grandpa Green never shows his age here, and his voice sounds barely weakened from the 40 years since his legendary four 70s classics. Questlove love brings in big names from the modern soul movement like Anthony Hamilton and John Legend, but no one shines more than the Reverend himself.

Top tracks include the title track, "Lay It Down", which opens the album with some deep grooves, "Just For Me", and "What More Do You Want From Me". The only criticism I have about the album is that the lyrics are often ambiguous and dull. It's typical Green fashion to write sexy romance tunes, but he at least used to write more specific metaphors and address his subject material more clearly. Beautiful choruses always divide up each track, however, and at the end of the day it's not the lyrics that I'm focused on when it comes to Al Green. It's a real blessing to have this man around churning out great music. He's a living legend and he puts to shame any overproduced R&B garbage I've heard on popular radio in the last decade. Props Grandpa Green!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Aesop Rock - Bazooka Tooth (2003)

After listening to Bazooka Tooth for the first time, which I picked up on a whim at Reckless Records, the only knowledge (or maybe understanding is a better word) I pulled from it was that Aesop would now like all of us to call him Bazooka Tooth, which based on the cover art is most likely some callback to a nickname in his childhood. After one full listen, I'm just not sure how to feel about the guy. It's an incredibly abstract and equally difficult album to get through because there's so much going on. He's likely very intelligent and it shows in his dynamic wordplay, but his tongue twisters more often than not just wind up being uninspired bowls of word soup.

It's such an interesting record because while it's so densely packed with more references than Lupe's brain could process, it is for this same reason that the album sometimes gives me a headache. It's super fast conscious lyrics over extreme low-end soaked gangster beats, and I can almost never understand what he's drawling about. It's an album you have to read the lyrics along with in order to get anything out of it. "NY Electric", "Limelighters", and "Cook It Up" seem to be the best tracks because they break up Aesop's lines with other Minnesota hip-hop cats. I suppose I apologize for making my review as disjointed as Aesop's lyrical content, but I'd recommend giving it a try yourself.

"While half of the critics claim it every year: "Hip hop's over."
Fuck you, hip hop just started
It's funny how the most nostalgic cats are the ones who were never part of it
But true veterans'll give dap to those who started it"

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Charles Bradley - No Time For Dreaming (2011)

Charles, along with his Menahan Street Band play vintage soul here on his debut album. Daptone Records picked him up after hearing his James Brown tribute shows at a bar near the label. Charles had been janitoring in the label's basement for years. Touring with the likes of Lee Fields (whose style is pretty similar) he represents the modern soul/funk scene that tries to emulate the sound of the 60s/70s "golden" period of the music.

It's a solid collection of tunes ranging from James Brown gut-punch funk tracks to slowed down, dreamy ballads, and the album as a whole captures such a vintage sound. Check out NPR Music's recent program on the man for some further stories, news, etc. Find the album in the comments.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Video of the Day yo: Okkervil River's new track

I'm just getting back from a week of xc skiing in the Porkies of the Michigan Upper Peninsula, so I have plenty of new stuff to post this week that got me through the long winter van rides. For now however, here's a video of Okkervil River's debut new song "Wake & Be Fine" as performed on the Jimmy Fallon late night show a few nights back. It's off their new release, I Am Very Far, coming out in May, and it's cetainly one of my most anticipated albums to come out this year. The most important part is obviously the help from AC Newman and Questlove on this great track.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Good Day

Y'all probably already knew this, but I just figured something cool out today:

The cool guitar loop in the back of (love 'em or hate 'em) Sleigh Bells' hit song "Rill Rill," is sampled from Funkadelic's "Can You Get to That" (via Maggot Brain, 1971).

So, yet another example of rich young white rock n' rollers relying on the genius of previous generations' funky black inspirations.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Blur of Britpop

Damon Albarn is a pop enthusiast.
After ransacking through the grimy, yet orally-spirited hip hop pop of the Gorillaz discography (Plastic Beach, especially--see Tony's review below), I thought back at the other Albarn projects I was familiar with. There was his DJ Danger Mouse collabo in"The Good, The Bad and the Queen", a very somber, melodically beautiful album which whips me off to some past time period every time I hear it, where royal families dance around in neon leotards and trendy corset dresses.

And there was that one song by Blur, you know with the "Woohoo!" chorus? I wasn't even sure there were any other lyrics.

Blur is the best example of modern day britpop (by the way, Blur > Oasis) there is. Parklife is whimsical, relentlessly catchy, and of course, so so poppy. Albarn sings with the most over-obvious British accent its almost like he is curbing himself to Americans who get joy from hearing British people say "me" instead of "my" (for example, "where is me necktie, brummie?"). I know I do.

Check out Parklife. But perhaps wait until Summer vacation hits, so you can listen to it with the windows down, the air blowing freely, and the soul of pop music in your veins.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Pink Floyd - The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967)

Upon request, I have decided to uphold the daunting task of reviewing one of the most classic, influential, and intimidating psychedelic rock albums that has ever come into existence, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn by none other than almighty Pink Floyd. After first realizing the undeniable beauty of The Wall and The Dark Side of the Moon as a young lad back in middle school, I stumbled into my local record shop looking for more. Naturally, I completely ignored the other big-named classics such as Animals and Wish You Were Here and picked up Piper on CD.  In hindsight the duality of the psychedelic genre made itself evident to me by having had the disc at a young age.  As a small sap I laughed heartily at the raking absurdity of the little stories of gnomes and scarecrows and well as the deranged yelps and howls of the likely madmen.  In parallel, being more aware of the world around me and the lifestyle of drugs that happened during the album's creation I can now better understand what is really going on in the music in ways that I couldn't imagine as a child.

Here with Piper, what we have here is the work of Syd Barret, a true hero before his own mental collapse.  He is mainly responsible for all of the invention and exploration that was just unheard of at the time. His whimsical lyrics and signature Danelectro twang sculpt the path for the remaining members of the band to go in a much different direction than what David Gilmore would later take them towards. I guess I'll provide the track by track but in hindsight I feel bad about slicing and dividing the album up with my own little intellectual silverware.

1. Astronomy Domine
Unbelievable opening track that really locks you in from the start.  The band ignites and Syd guides you with sublime visual sweeps through space in what I think are some of the best lyrics on the album.
2. Lucifer Sam
Commanding bass provides the sense that you have been put right in the middle of some secret agent movie.  It's actually impossible to not feel super cool during this one.
3. Matilda Mother
This is were things start to get really obscure as it starts with a really strange but enchanting story.  It is really well composed as it drifts into a brief Egyptian feeling (I think it's harmonic minor for all you musical peoples) before setting back in to the main theme and ending in a dreamscape setting up the next song.
4. Flaming
A continuation of a pleasant dream established in the previous song, real poppy and upbeat.
 5.  Pow R. Toc H.
Fantastic and unforgettable instrumental track that involves the novel screeching and welping of the band members.  Although no lyrics are present, this one unmistakably takes the listener on an epic journey through what I like to think of as the inevitable death and decension of some strange creature that goes "doi, doi" (someone please confirm this).
6. Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk
Only track not written by Syd (it was Roger Waters) and begins with some corny lyrics before getting into some heavy psych jamming.  I consider it to be a weaker song on the album.
7.  Interstellar Overdrive
As anyone familiar with the album would tell you, Interstellar Overdrive is the magnus opus of pretty much all psych rock.  It's really hard to put words to this, it is more of an experience than anything. Just listen to it (on good speakers in stereo, of course).
8. The Gnome
One of my personal favorites that tells the story of, you guessed it, a little gnome.
9. Chapter 24
Some weird thing accounting from some book or something. not bad, just not amazing.
10. Scarecrow
Another great sort of poppy song.
11. Bike
Classic sing-along that brings a smile on every listen.  The ending is literally horrifying though, I skip it every time, lest I won't be able to sleep.

I guess a large portion of this review is missing the overall insanity and intensity of the jams and soundscapes that encumber this album as well as all good psychedelic rock.  The genre in itself is special in that it leaves a lot up to the listener to feel what is happening in the music and to decide for themselves what is actually going on. Piper is powerful and surreal, I hope you check it out or comment if you know it.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

More Crippled Tunes - Monophonics

Take a dive into the grooving-er side of life with this funky-ass 2010 release from Monophonics. Closely comparable to The Budos Band and Nomo, Into the Infrasounds is sure to get you windy city boys (and all other connoisseurs of dank/dunk/funk/punk) shakin' yer butts deep into the blue city night.

I guess this is one of those albums where I am left speechless. It could very well be the best music in the world, if you dig it. So I'm not gonna waste time with metaphors and comparisons.

All I'll say is that this thing moves. It's got texture. And it reminds me once again that there's a lot of insane music being made out there.

How I've Been

There's no excuse why I haven't been posting here more often. It looks as like we're at around 100 posts, and things have been going really smoothly so far. Thanks to fellow bloggers Tony, Bill, and Will I know I've learned about a lot of new sounds, so I hope you have too.

Anyway, it looks like it's going to be a cold winter in the midwest, folks. Temps today are only in the single digits with no wind. Everything looks completely solid. It's weird. I've been looking out my window for a couple of hours at the yard and the only thing that has moved are the veiny shadows of the trees by my house. They were right: winter is just beginning.

But I have a few things to share with you. You might call it "January music," after the deceitful winter month of January. Because if you're like me, I consider December--with it's holidays and festivals--the epitome of winter. But then after the tree goes down the the lights are wrapped up, it's still cold. We're entering a weird seasonal void, friends. Spring is somewhere on the horizon, and we've been left to battle through the cold without the help of Thanksgiving feasts, Christmas presents, or New Years parties.

Good luck to us all. The soundz:

Weekend - Sports (2010)
--Noisy shoegaze/reminiscent of No Age I guess but a little darker and spacier

Yellow Swans - Going Places (2010)
--Thick, deep, often horrifying sounds and twist, twinkle, and fuzz. Very beautiful if you give it a chance.

Unwound - Leaves Turn Inside You (2001)
--"Classic" 21st century Indie Rock/Alternative from an often under-recognized band.

This Bike is a Pipe Bomb - Front Seat Solidarity (2002)
--Quick and ernest chanting folk/punk from Pensacola

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Clem Snide - The Meat of Life (2010)

Clem Snide has always been a bit on the down side of musical conversation, never quite making it into the spotlight. However, a couple of weeks ago I grabbed their latest release and in a fleeting conversation with Tony, we agreed that they definitely deserve a  post. They are known for country-influenced indie rock jams that are accompanied with the witty lyricism of Eef Barzelay.  The guy is really a perfect example of an amazing songwriter in that on one track such as Denver, he can make you cry and on the next track, let's say I Got High, he talks about smoking with a Sufjan Stevens fan.  Clem Snide has been around for a while and I wouldn't say that The Meat of Life is as good as as 2000's Your Favorite Music or my personal favorite, The Ghost of Fashion but granted they almost broke up after their previous effort in 2008, I think its still a great listen and I'm looking forward to see what they can bring in the next couple of years.

You guys can chew on this monster which features Andrew Bird on the whistles about half way through.

The Revolution Will Be Televised: The Gorillaz in 2010

While driving around with some buddies looking at Christmas lights a few nights ago, a friend tossed on the new Gorillaz album, Plastic Beach. I had only heard a couple of tracks off the release previously, and basically carried the same careless attitude towards the group that I have since "Clint Eastwood" in middle school. I was never a fan of the moody industrial pop/hip-hop combo in the past and didn't think I could get excited about them anymore. However, to my surprise it all changed during that car drive, once I really gave the album a full listen.

I picked up on the eco-friendly concept for the album immediately, and I'm always excited when pop culture can successfully include social issues. The beginning of the album is overall a bit incoherent and could do without the "Orchestral Intro" and "White Flag" tracks, but Snoop Dog's prophetic opening line, "The revolution will be televised" and the fantastic hooks on "Rhinestone Eyes" throw the album into motion. Damon Albarn, sole master behind this album, first shows his voice on this latter track, with his usual uneasy yet soothing voice. The disc roles on strong from this point on with mind blowing production on tracks like "Stylo", "Empire Ants", and "Glitter Freeze". De La Soul has a killer guest spot on "Superfast Jellyfish", which fits in perfectly with the theme, and "Some Kind of Nature" features Lou Reed on a seemingly stupid melody that somehow works perfectly. "On Melancholy Hill" is the clear, catchiest single on the album, with synth pop hooks that only Ratatat can match. The album fizzles out a bit with filler after this track, with several mere average tracks, but then picks up big time with closing tracks, "To Binge" and "Pirate Jet".

It is quite simply one of the greatest, coherent pop albums I have heard in a long time, as surprising as I am to feel that way about the Gorillaz. They are able to pull off a coherent, emotional, and politically charged concept album without coming off silly or overproduced, which seems nearly impossible in today's pop music. Damon Albarn has come a long way in his production, creating atmospheric delights that were never seen on his first two releases. He creates an artificial world of synth and droning beats that can become a total paradise, just as the title and theme of the album so bluntly describe our worldview as. I was a little sad to have only discovered this fine 2010 album at the very last week of the year, but I'm equally glad to bring this one into the new year with a lot of excitement and fiendishly frequent plays.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Let's Get Out of This Country (2006) we can find more jangle pop bands from Glasgow, Scotland. This was a favorite album of yesteryear, but the track "Razzle Dazzle Rose" popped up on my shuffle, and so I've decided to toss it up here anyhow. Tracyanne Campbell graces the album with consistently beautiful, melodic vocals that put Zooey Deschannel to shame. "Lloyd, I'm Ready to Be Heart Broken" begins the album as a sing-along pop tune, setting the theme of heartbreak for the rest of the album. It is a simple album that doesn't stray from everything else Camera Obscura has ever done, but it still succeeds. It's gorgeous pop. It puts a dumb smile on your face. Just try it out.