Friday, April 27, 2007

Odds and Sods

GoldenFiddle has the first look at Cate Blanchett as Bob Dylan (the circa '66 edition) in the forthcoming Todd Haynes biopic, I'm Not There (which, from the look of things, will be either terrific or a complete disaster).

The Traneumentary is a weekly podcast celebrating the unparalleled artistry and influence of John Coltrane, featuring interviews with such friends and admirers as McCoy Tyner, Terence Blanchard, Jimmy Cobb and (coming up) Sonny Rollins. It's 15 weeks in, with only 3 more to go, but all of the episodes are archived at the site and well worth a listen. ('Trane fans, stay tuned to our Classic Bootleg Series. I'm just sayin'.)

The reunited Crowded House will release a new record, Time On Earth, on July 2. The record was produced by Ethan Johns (Ryan Adams, Kings Of Leon, Ray LaMontagne) and Steve Lillywhite (U2, XTC, Morrissey). Guitar god Johnny Marr features on two tracks, including lead-off single "Don’t Stop Now," which will be available on iTunes on June 25. The record will also include Crowded House's take on the gorgeous "Silent House," which CH main man Neil Finn co-wrote with the Dixie Chicks. The Chicks' version of that song was among the highlights of their splendid Taking The Long Way album last year. Here, see for yourself:

MP3: Dixie Chicks - "Silent House" from Taking The Long Way

And music critic Sasha Frere-Jones, who's been on a tear lately, profiles indie it-girl Feist in The New Yorker, calling her new record, The Reminder (out next week), "radiant" and "luminous".

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

I'm A Punkrocker, Yes I Am

Unlike jazz and the blues, rock tends to be relatively unfriendly to its aging statesmen. Depending on whom you ask, the Rolling Stones are both examples of and exceptions to this rule. For my generation though, we are only now getting to the point at which the punk rockers are getting old. We've already lost many of them, but a few are notably carrying on.

For me, the most vivid example of this is the 60-year old Iggy Pop, the Godfather of Punk, who, let's face it, has written some of the most blistering songs in the rock pantheon. In recent years, however, Iggy's output has been somewhat hit or miss but still occasionally worth checking out. I was one of those (maybe one of the few) who was more excited than nervous about the prospect of a reunited Stooges putting out new material, in spite of the overly slick and underwhelming new release from the New Your Dolls last year.

Unlike the Dolls, The Stooges latest release, The Weirdness, certainly doesn't suffer from the sheen of overproduction. The sound remains relatively raw, if not quite as powerful as you might remember. Worst of all (as you've probably read ad nauseum), the lyrics are surprisingly sophomoric, maybe even for The Stooges. I read where Iggy chided new bass player Mike Watt for making a bass line too interesting, because he wanted the new record to sound big and dumb. Simply put, Iggy managed to achieve this goal.

Contrary to the uniformly negative reviews that I've seen (and even my initial reaction), The Weirdness actually isn't a complete turn-off. In spite of the fact that my first listen was probably comparable to that feeling Ohio State fans get when their teams plays Florida in a national championship game (pick a sport) -- i.e., "this isn't going how I'd hoped it would" -- there's still stuff here you can use, like the first single, "My Idea Of Fun," and the title track, the latter of which kind of makes you wish Iggy and Bowie would try to get together again. Overall though, The Weirdness is a bit of a disappointment, but certainly not destructive to the band's "legacy," as most critics would have you believe. It is dumb though. That much is true.

Check out new and old Stooges and tell us if time is kind to the punk rockers. I've also thrown in Iggy's guest spot on Teddybears' new classic "Punkrocker." Oh, and be sure and check out Wolfgang's Concert Vault for a classic 1977 Iggy Pop concert at the Rainbow Theatre, now available for download! Yes!

MP3: The Stooges - "My Idea Of Fun" from The Weirdness
MP3: Iggy & The Stooges - "No Fun" from The Stooges
MP3: Teddybears (feat. Iggy Pop) - "Punkrocker" from The Soft Machine

That would have been a good place to end this post, but to continue the original theme for just a moment, it's worth mentioning briefly another of punk's elder statesmen, Mr. Mark E Smith, of The Fall, who have just released what must be their 312th record Reformation Post T.L.C. (actually, the 26th). I have to admit, I somehow always have a place for the unintelligible, scotch-soaked ramblings of the enigmatic Mr. Smith, and this new Americanized incarnation of the Fall (his previous band apparently abandoned him in the middle of the last tour) suits him well. Nothing on Reformation hits quite so immediately as did songs like "Pacifying Joint" from 2005's Fall Heads Roll, but The Fall are always a mess, bless their hearts, and fans of the band still have plenty of chaos to enjoy on this outing.

MP3: The Fall - "Over! Over!" from Reformation Post T.L.C.
MP3: The Fall - "Fall Sound" from Reformation Post T.L.C.
MP3: The Fall - "Pacifying Joint" from Fall Heads Roll

Monday, April 23, 2007

When They Kick At Your Front Door, How You Gonna Come?

Arcade Fire got the full-blown hero treatment last Friday night on BBC2's Culture Show, of which I managed to snag a DVD copy over the weekend. The broadcast included two exclusive acoustic performances filmed on March 16 in the lobby of the Brixton Academy, where the band played that evening. In honor of that venue, one of them was a cover of The Clash's "The Guns of Brixton," with little brother Will Butler providing the lead vocal through a megaphone. It's a neat moment, as perhaps the best live band working today pays humble tribute to its counterpart of going on 30 years ago. So I thought I'd share it, along with the original, which also features a lead vocal by a bandmember (Clash bassist Paul Simonon) who rarely got to sing front and center.

Arcade Fire - "The Guns of Brixton" (live in the Brixton Academy lobby, March 16, 2007)

The Clash - "The Guns of Brixton," from London Calling

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Classic Bootleg Series Vol. 8: The Smiths - The John Peel Sessions

So, kiddies, before he was the older ringer in Modest Mouse, Johnny Marr was in this other band.

The Smiths will always hold a special place in my heart. One of my most indelible music-related memories is the first time I heard them in early 1985, midway through my junior year of college. A buddy had a cassette of Hatful of Hollow in his car, and from the moment I heard Marr's chiming guitar and Morrissey's distinctive croon on "William, It Was Really Nothing," I was captivated. Literally before that first song had ended, I knew that I was falling under a spell that would stay with me for life. (I only got to see them once, at the Avalon Ballroom in Chicago in '87, just weeks before they broke up.)

The Smiths were also among the favorite bands of legendary British disc jockey John Peel. Peel had them perform live in the studio for his BBC Radio 1 program four times in a little over three years, between May of 1983 and December of 1986. And the performances on these so-called "Peel Sessions" were consistently terrific -- in fact, most everyone (The Smiths included) agrees that the radio versions of early tracks like "This Charming Man" and "Still Ill" are superior to the versions on the band's self-titled debut album (which itself was plagued with problems and recorded from scratch twice).

This boot compiles The Smiths' Peel Sessions in comprehensive fashion and good sound quality, and for those reasons alone, it's essential. The one glaring defect in the collection is that it mixes the tracks from the first two Peel Sessions, in May and September of 1983, rather than presenting them in chronological order. I've left the tracks in this inexplicable order to match up with the artwork, but if you prefer, and with minimal ingenuity, you can reproduce the order of the original broadcasts.


Front cover
Back cover

01 Back To The Old House
02 Handsome Devil
03 Miserable Lie
04 Reel Around The Fountain
05 Still Ill
06 This Charming Man
07 This Night Has Opened My Eyes
08 What Difference Does It Make?
09 How Soon Is Now?
10 Nowhere Fast
11 Rusholme Ruffians
12 William, It Was Really Nothing
13 Half A Person
14 Is It Really So Strange?
15 London
16 Sweet and Tender Hooligan

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Sound of Dreaming

Working silly hours lately has kept me away from this blog and from sleep as well. I did manage, however, to fall asleep the other night, with ear buds in, listening to the new record by New York's Blonde Redhead. My musical somnolence was induced not by a lack of interest, but by both fatigue and precisely the dreamy quality of this most excellent rock record.

Blonde Redhead comprises Kazu Makino (guitar and vocals) and twin brothers Amedeo (guitar and vocals) and Simone (drums) Pace, who formed in 1993 as acolytes of Sonic Youth. They are a band that I have been aware of for the past few years, but one I failed to dive into until the release of their new record 23. I understand that their earlier records may bear closer witness to the Daydream Nation, but from the sound of 23, this band has evolved into its own.

And a unique sound it is. My first impression was that they remind me in no small measure of one of my favorite esoteric bands of the 80s, Cocteau Twins, albeit (to paraphrase Joe Strummer) with guitars! There similarities are several. Kazu's bright vocals have a delicate, ethereal quality, and in her other-worldly soprano, the lyrics skitter back and forth across the line of intelligibility. This in no way detracts from the music, but rather adds to the mysterious character of the songs. (Remember how much fun you had back in the day trying to figure out what Michael Stipe was singing about?)

The songs really do have a dream-like quality in that the structures are familiar enough and the chord progressions logical enough that nothing sounds bizarre, but the melodies, shimmering instrumentation (see Cocteau Twins), and liberal use of minor chords are just strange enough to keep you slightly off-balance. The overall production is lovingly meticulous, which results in a certain sameness in the sound of the songs, but that sort of seems to be the point. The dreamy mood of the record is consistent throughout, which is satisfying. In many respects, this music is evocative of those strange 80s movie soundtracks by Tangerine Dream.

Ultimately, even though this record is just off-kilter enough that nothing is especially "catchy," I still have had a difficult time switching over to something else on the iPod. It is the essence of a record that reveals itself over repeated listenings, and I for one am looking forward to working my way backwards through their catalog. Check out the title track "23" -- maybe while you're lying down with your eyes closed.

MP3: Blonde Redhead -- "23" from 23

Note: Blonde Redhead will be at the Variety Playhouse in Atlanta on May 4.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

There's One For You, Nineteen For Me

MP3: The Beatles - "Taxman"

Any excuse to bust out one of the greatest basslines of all time. Just ask Paul Weller.

Tax Day Bonus: I'll send an MP3 copy of the Alternate Revolver bootleg to the first person who can tell me who played the blistering lead guitar solo on "Taxman" -- answer in the comments and don't forget to provide your e-mail address. If the winning entrant can also tell me the other Beatles track on which the same solo is heard (the mash-up on Love doesn't count), I'll send the Alternate Rubber Soul boot as well.

So, anyone scrambling to get everything filed today?

Monday, April 16, 2007

Would You Eat Them In A Box? Would You Eat Them With a Fox?

Back in early March, we tipped you to a project called Dylan Hears A Who, which wedded the verse of Dr. Seuss to a dead-on imitation of Highway 61-era Bob Dylan, to amazing effect. It was a lovingly realized tribute to both artists, if not a skillful parody with something to say about the similarities between them. Now Salon profiles what happened when the folks at Dr. Seuss Enterprises got wind of things. Let's just say they weren't flattered. The site is now "retired" permanently -- which is an awful shame because it was brilliant in every detail, right down to the album art and liner notes. For those of you who missed out, I can't resist sharing one of the seven tracks.

MP3: Dylan Hears A Who - "Green Eggs And Ham"

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Classic Bootleg Series Vol. 7: The Rolling Stones - Happy Birthday Nicky (Australia '73)

About time we checked in with The Rolling Stones, don't you think?

In any debate about the greatest rock and roll tours of all time, the Stones' 1973 trek always seems to be in the mix. Setlists in this period were heavy with songs from Exile On Main Street, arguably the Stones' finest album (even though Goat's Head Soup had been released in the meantime), and with Mick Taylor on second guitar and lighting a fire under Keith Richards every night, they boasted probably their best-ever lineup.

It's also a tour that was heavily bootlegged, which made it tough for me to decide what to post first. The Brussels show in October (which we'll certainly have to return to at some point) is probably the most famous, because it was recorded for an official release that never happened, and sounds pretty amazing. But this boot, of two dates in Australia the previous February, gives Brussels a serious run for its money.

The Perth show on Disc 1 is a soundboard tape and sounds mighty fine, even though Mick Jagger's vocals are up a little too far in the mix. (The boot gets it's name from this show as well -- it was pianist Nicky Hopkins' birthday.) But it's the Sydney show on Disc 2 that's the real treasure. The first track starts with a patch from an inferior audience source, but just be patient -- at about 1:05, the sweet, nicely-balanced soundboard tape kicks in and will thrill you for the duration of the set. (It's a tad trebly, but hey, this was almost 35 years ago.) And just look at the sick setlists for these shows, especially on Disc 2. Only rock and roll, my ass.


Front cover
Back cover

Disc 1 (February 24, 1973 - Western Australia Cricket Ground, Perth, Australia):
01 Brown Sugar
02 Bitch
03 Rocks Off
04 Gimme Shelter
05 Happy
06 Tumbling Dice
07 Honk Tonk Women
08 All Down The Line
09 Midnight Rambler
10 Happy Birthday Nicky / band intros
11 Little Queenie

Disc 2 (February 26, 1973 -- Royal Randwick Racecourse, Sydney, Australia):
01 Brown Sugar
02 Bitch
03 Rocks Off
04 Gimme Shelter
05 Happy
06 Tumbling Dice
07 Love In Vain
08 Sweet Virginia
09 You Can't Always Get What You Want
10 Honky Tonk Women
11 All Down The Line
12 Midnight Rambler
13 band intros
14 Little Queenie
15 Rip This Joint
16 Jumping Jack Flash
17 Street Fighting Man

Friday, April 13, 2007

Can't Hardly Wait

The demands of life and work have prevented me from posting much again this week. I believe Rich has been in the same boat. Until I can get another classic bootleg up (which I'll do by the end of the weekend), enjoy these tracks from upcoming releases we're looking forward to.

WILCO - "Either Way" from Sky Blue Sky, out on May 15

RUFUS WAINWRIGHT - "Going To A Town" from Release The Stars, out on May 15

JOHN DOE - "The Golden State" (featuring Kathleen Edwards) from A Year In The Wilderness, out on June 12

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

This Better Be Good

God, I hate it when a band I adore releases a weak record. It literally pains me. But that's what my beloved Fountains of Wayne have just done with their new one, Traffic and Weather.

Since their self-titled debut in 1996, FOW have consistently turned out some of the smartest and most infectious pop music around. Their first three records are absolute gems, bursting with killer melodies, keen character sketches, wry humor, and production and arrangements that frequently pay tribute to the various pop genres, from The Beatles to glam, and from late-70s new wave to the classic Nashville sound. The songwriting duo of Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood, in addition to knowing their way around a great tune, have a particular gift for making the ordinary seem poignant in their lyrics, for making the most mundane moments in life seem weighted with beauty, significance and meaning. Through it all, they haven't made a single misstep.

Until now, that is. Because Traffic and Weather is a train-wreck of a record, and so deeply flawed that I can scarcely believe it was made by the same band I've known and admired for 11 years.

Things start well enough, I suppose, with "Someone To Love," the tale of two lonely homebodies in the big city, set to a driving dance beat. It's not a bad song, but it's also nothing FOW haven't essentially done before, and a lot better. And while sly pop culture references are a common FOW device, usually to add a nuance of telling, funny detail to a character, the references to Coldplay and The King of Queens feel forced and gratuitous here. Unfortunately, things quickly get worse. Much worse. The second track, "92 Subaru" -- the second f*cking track on a Fountains of Wayne record! -- is just unimaginative, cliched and lame. It literally sounds like a clumsy parody of a FOW song, lacking any of the clever wit or charm of their previous work.

And the clunkers keep on coming, including the tedious title track. In fact, with the exception of "Yolanda Hayes" (which has a nifty melody and Revolver-like arrangement, even if the subject -- a guy with a crush on the girl behind the counter at the DMV -- again borders on tired schtick), and "I-95" (which is earnest and romantic, but at the same time flirts with one-too-many lines about the Gun 'N'Roses albums and Barney DVDs on offer at a truck stop), most of the remaining tracks on Traffic and Weather are b-side material, at best, by any prior measure of this band. (2005's 2-disc collection of FOW b-sides and unreleased songs, Out-Of-State Plates, is actually a far more consistent and enjoyable listen than this mess.) And the last 4 cuts are just plain sub-par, with the insipid "Planet of Weed," in particular -- all cheesy wah-wah guitar and hackneyed lines about how pot smokers crave Doritos -- qualifying as an outright embarrassment, the absolute nadir of FOW's output.

If Traffic and Weather delivers even one "goosebump moment," it's on "Michael and Heather At The Baggage Claim" (which we previewed here a few weeks back), a lovely, touching little tune about a young couple struggling to get out of the airport after a long, exhausting journey. It's perhaps the only one of the 14 tracks on this regrettable outing that is entirely worthy of these immensely talented songwriters. (Maybe because it's the only one they deliver straight, and with sincerity, rather than straining to make a cute joke about an office drone wearing Dockers or old people shopping at Costco.)

I just hope and pray that Traffic and Weather is an aberration, and not a sign that something perpetually intelligent and wonderful has finally run its course. Fountains of Wayne has been too good a band, for too long, to bow out on a bum note like this.

MP3: Fountains of Wayne - "Someone To Love" from Traffic and Weather

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Woke Up This Morning, Got Myself A Gun

Because I'm just so damned fired up that the greatest TV show of all time is back tonight (but with only 9 episodes to go), I thought I'd share the full version of its now iconic theme song -- one of the most perfect marriages of music-to-series I can think of. (If you can think of a better one, leave it in the comments.)

MP3: Alabama 3 - "Woke Up This Morning" (theme from The Sopranos)

UPDATE: The New York Times' "Screens" blog reports that Alabama 3 didn't get the best of deals from David Chase and co. for the rights to their song.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Odds and Sods

In The New Yorker this week, Sasha Frere-Jones profiles Prince, calling him "perhaps the greatest living performer in the pop tradition."

Meanwhile, Salon looks at whether iTunes' new "premium downloads" are worth the extra 30 cents a pop, while readers weigh in on the uncertain fate of the compact disc.

Some kind, anonymous soul has posted the Arcade Fire's terrific "White Session," recorded on March 9, 2005 at Maison de le Radio in Paris, for download here.

Finally, the first promo pic for The White Stripes' forthcoming Icky Thump was released this week (click the thumbnail at left for the full-size image). Looks like somebody got a BeDazzler for Christmas.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

They Filled Our Hearts And Hands With Violence

Drums and Guns, the newest release by Duluth, Minnesota's Low, is a bleak affair. It cracks and wheezes and drones like a post-apocalyptic fever dream with oddly fragile harmonies that conjure Exene and John Doe as zombies. As sonic experimentation, the record is a complete success. This was definitely engineered with the headphones in mind, and there are enough drum loops and electronic effects to garner favorable comparisons to latter-day Radiohead. But if you were expecting Low to progress further into the pool of accessibility that surprised so many their last time out (on The Great Destroyer), you might be disappointed. The songs on Drums and Guns are sparse and depressing, and they come up on you like dark, impressionistic clouds across the horizon, each portending some inarticulable doom. In that sense, the record makes a more than adequate audio companion to Cormac McCarthey's The Road.

TTT poster "Shaun Bateman" referred to the record as "surreal," which is accurate. That tone is set immediately with "Pretty People," on which we learn that all the soldiers, little babies, poets, liars, and "all you pretty people, are all gonna die." Of course, this isn't new information, but it's unsettling that band leader Alan Sparhawk may somehow know when this will all come to pass. "Breaker," which suggests political editorial, sounds like a church choir that missed the rapture and is left behind to ponder that "Our bodies break / and the blood just spills and spills / But here we sit debating math." The slow industrial loop that runs throughout the quiet "Dragonfly" reeks of dread and sounds infinitely more ominous than anything that could ever be expressed by Nine Inch Nails, who are a little cartoonish by comparison. "In Silence," from which the title of this post is taken, is a favorite, perfectly conjuring that post-millenium tension on a cinematic level: "They thought the desert would divide us . . . It's time to put the fields behind us."

I could go on, but I think you probably get the picture. With song titles like "Murderer," "Violent Past," and "Hatchet," you can probably guess that Drums and Guns is not a record you are likely to walk around whistling cheerily, but on a literary sort of level, it's most satisfying. Listening to it is a little like reading a book; it has that feel of a private endeavor. In other words, you're probably not going to throw this on at your next dinner party. "Hatchet," I should mention, actually serves to lighten the overall mood somewhat, with the singer suggesting that he and some unnamed antagonist "bury the hatchet like the Beatles and the Stones." Is Low feuding with Oasis again?

All said, Drums and Guns is probably not for everybody, but if you're in the mood for a slightly nightmarish wasteland, you will find none more interesting than this.

MP3: Low - "Breaker" from Drums and Guns
MP3: Low - "Take Your Time" from Drums and Guns

Want more? Head on over to The Smudge of Ashen Fluff for Low's in-studio performance of four tracks from Drums and Guns on Minnesota Public Radio.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

I'm In Love With The Doubt

Let's face it. By and large, radio in America sucks, and if you live here I'm not telling you anything you don't already know. In Atlanta, it's especially bad. You'd think in a city of 5 million people, we could have our own KEXP. But no. The closest thing we have is Georgia State's WRAS ("Album 88"), which can be good, but is usually hit or miss and frustratingly inconsistent.

So anyway, here's something that almost never happens. I heard a song on the radio the other day that blew me away and made me immediately seek out the artist. Last Friday, I left work in the middle of the day and to go see my son's kindergarten class play. On my way to his school, I switched over to WRAS because neither of the two sports talk stations were getting it done. It was excellent timing. What I heard was a beautifully understated song that I first thought might be an old Pernice Brothers tune that I had never heard before. I was struck by the plaintive backing music and how it perfectly suited the longing of the narrative. The music was notable as much for what wasn't being played as for what was. The theme of chorus was the line "It's just these beachcomber, beachcomber blues," and the restraint in the playing was perfectly evocative of a lonely journey along some wintry shore.

Turns out the band is Dolorean, who I'd not heard of before, and the song is "Beachcomber Blues," from the band's fantastic new record You Can't Win. Dolorean, I learned, is from Oregon, and "Beachcomber Blues" sounds like how I might imagine a beach in Oregon to feel. I managed to get my hands on the record this weekend, and the rest of it is just as rewarding. Spacious yet reserved, the record is gorgeous and slow-moving and sad, with gentle brushes on the snare drum, delicate guitar fills, and perfect piano accents here and there. It's vaguely folk/alt.countryish, but actually quite classic-sounding, with an obvious tip of the cap to Neil Young.

I read somewhere that the band, led by singer-songwriter Al James, rehearsed the songs on You Can't Win only a few times before committing them to tape. As a result, there is a certain spontaneity that comes through. The musicians really have to be commended for the beautiful lines that they weave throughout these sad, sparse tales. In some ways, Dolorean remind me of the horribly under-appreciated Bellwether. Here's hoping that being under-appreciated is only temporary for this band. Thank you WRAS for pointing these guys out to me. I owe you one.

MP3: Dolorean - "Beachcomber Blues" from You Can't Win
MP3: Dolorean - "In Love With The Doubt" from You Can't Win
Stream You Can't Win