Friday, October 26, 2007

Lucky Ones

I'm not going to be able to offer much here that the indie kids don't already know. Broken Social Scene are a band, er, a collective, that I probably appreciate more than I actually listen to. When "It's All Gonna Break" popped up on my iPod this past weekend, I realized that's probably something that needs to be addressed. Kevin Drew is one of the founders of BSS, and for his first solo record, Spirit If . . . (which still involves various members of the collective, including the always lovely Leslie Feist), he trades on the brand name as "Broken Social Scene Presents: Kevin Drew". Not a bad move, considering the fact that it's a pretty solid brand.

Not unlike recent BSS records, Spirit is often a beautiful, sprawling mess, with Kevin Drew at the epicenter, coaxing beauty from chaos. What is slightly different from the typical BSS output is the relaxed nature of the music. While the opening track, "Farewell To Pressure Kids," trades in the same bombastic, baroque, whirlwind rock that is BSS's stock in trade, halfway through, it downshifts dramatically and turns the sonic three-note motif into a mellotronic prayer. This is followed by the profane "tbtf" (abbreviation for "too beautiful to [expletive deleted]"), which is actually a very pretty, if slightly twisted, ode to adoration, and "F-ked Up Kid," an acoustic meditation with the perfect level of ambient electronica hovering in the background.

And so goes this record. It's a ragged beauty, and it kind of reminds me of Thurston Moore's new one in the sense that, coming from someone who normally doesn't hesitate to unleash the noise, there is a fair amount of joy in melody and restraint. This is exemplified in song after song. It's not until the excellent "Back Out On The . . . " -- which would be at home in any Arcade Fire set -- that Drew turns the amps back up to 11.

A generous amount of real care in the production is also apparent, which makes Spirit a strong candidate for the headphones. All in all, Spirit If . . . deserves heavy rotation on your playlist.

MP3: Broken Social Scene Presents: Kevin Drew - "Lucky Ones" from Spirit If . . .

And speaking of Canadian musicians, Pop Headwound has news on the re-release of Destroyer's City of Daughters, along with a couple of MP3s.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Free Noise Among Friends

Sonic Youth's chief noise merchant, Thurston Moore, steps outside the SY university on his new solo record, Trees Outside The Academy. The path doesn't lead too far from campus, but it does afford an interesting view of some familiar territory. Trees' style and song structure provide easily recognizable signposts to most devotees, but its instrumentation diverges just enough to lend a healthy breath of fresh air. Here, SY's tortured guitars are largely replaced by their finger-picked acoustic cousins, which, instead of dueling against one another, are set against a backdrop of tastefully arranged strings. Moore's voice, usually a smooth counterpoint to the waves of guitar-violence delivered by his day-job band, slides very nicely into the groove of this decidedly laid back approach.

The record opens with "Frozen Gtr," a song that would be at home on any recent SY record, and actually draws a hint of the ominous out of the violins. It's an excellent song to set the stage for this trip. Following that are "The Shape Is In A Trance," which is classic Thurston Moore, but turned way down, and "Honest James," which is probably about as close as Moore will ever get to folk music, but with lovely backing vocals by Christina Carter it's close enough.

Trees, which was recorded at J. Mascis' house, and to which J. contributed some excellent guitar work, is a remarkably consistent record. There are only a couple of missteps, including "American Coffin," which opens with a fairly standard SY barrage of distortion and devolves into fairly amateurish piano improv, and "Thurston @ 13," which isn't a song, but a recording of exactly what its title suggests. Nevertheless, there are plenty of standouts to be found. "Wonderful Witches + Language Meanies" is an outright rocker that would've been perfect for wife Kim Gordon had it made it to a Sonic Youth record, and "Never Day" has a bit of a lilting melody that sails gently on a soft current of big sound. My favorite track is probably "Fri/End," which is bright and nearly reaches the point of "popness" as it shuffles along like some lost Pavement track.

All in all, this is a very nice release that has achieved a pretty good rotation in my iPod. It's nice to know that even in middle age, a former youth can still be Sonic.

MP3: Thurston Moore - "Fri/End" from Trees Outside The Academy.

Check out the BBC's video interview about Trees below and stream a few other tracks here.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Come Gather 'Round, People

Since we launched this blog over 10 months ago (!), I've tried to bring the occasional bit of BBC awesomeness to my fellow, deprived non-Brits. It's impossible to share it all, or even all of the truly excellent stuff that seems to flow out of The Beeb on a weekly basis. But this one, I just can't pass up. About 10 days ago, BBC Radio 2 broadcasted Dream Dylan Live, in which they aimed to put together -- from recordings spanning his entire career -- their approximation of the ultimate Bob Dylan concert. It's a neat enough concept as it is, but what made this program truly special was that it included four live recordings (obtained direct from the Dylan archives) that had never seen the light of day before. The end result is a really sweet listen. And some kind soul even made some artwork for it, which I pass along as well, in case you want to burn to CD and enjoy your Dylan in "take away" fashion, as they say in dear old Blighty.

DREAM DYLAN LIVE - BBC Radio 2 Presentation, October 6, 2007

Front cover
Back insert

01 Blowin' In The Wind*
02 Only A Pawn In Their Game*
03 The Times They Are A' Changing
04 Mr. Tambourine Man
05 Like A Rolling Stone
06 Maggie's Farm
07 All Along The Watchtower
08 Lovesick*
09 To Make You Feel My Love
10 Things Have Changed
11 The Groom's Still Waiting At The Alter*

*Previously unreleased

Monday, October 08, 2007

Killing The Blues

One of the more intriguing projects that I've read about in recent weeks is the collaboration between Led Zep icon Robert Plant and bluegrass goddess Alison Krauss -- about as unlikely a pairing as I probably could have imagined. But it seems Plant and Krauss have had something of a mutual admiration society in the works for a while, and after years of talking about it, finally went into the studio together this year, with an amazing group of studio musicians (world-class players like Marc Ribot, Norman Blake and Patrick Warren), and none other than the great T-Bone Burnett producing, to record a selection of Americana covers by writers like Tom Waits, John Prine, Gene Clark, Sam Phillips, Townes Van Zandt, The Everly Brothers and Mel Tillis.

Well, I got an advance copy of the results -- a record called Raising Sand -- over the weekend, and I have to tell you, I am positively blown away. It is, without question, one of the finest records I've heard this year, a captivating trawl through an eclectic selection of country, blues, rockabilly and vintage pop tunes, written by some true masters, and gorgeously recorded by Burnett. Stunningly, though, it's the singing on these tracks that really makes this project something special. You expect Krauss to sound like an angel, and she certainly doesn't disappoint. In fact, her performances on Raising Sand, such as her languid take on Phillips' "Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us," are among the loveliest I've ever heard from her. But it's Plant's voice that truly astonishes here, with a warmth, beauty and delicate command that not only belie his years, but may truly mark the high point of his storied career. And the combination of the two voices -- at times Plant and Krauss trade leads, at others they are locked in sublime harmony -- is nothing less than mesmerizing, whether they're gliding elegantly through Prine's standard-in-the-making "Killing The Blues" or crooning like Gram and Emmylou on Gene Clark's "Through The Morning, Through The Night." Another highlight is "Please Read The Letter," a tune that Plant wrote with Jimmy Page in the late 90s, but that he, Krauss and these masterful musicians turn into something like a lost classic from 60s Nashville. Then again, literally every track on this record is a priceless little gem, simply not to be missed.

Raising Sand is out on October 23. Run, don't walk, to your record store that day.

MP3: Robert Plant & Alison Krauss - "Please Read The Letter" from Raising Sand

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Classic Bootleg Series Vol. 21: The Ramones - The Palladium, NYC, New Year's Eve 1979

I've had The Ramones on the brain this week, maybe because I've been making my way through the excellent live DVD, It's Alive: 1974-1996, that was released last Tuesday. It features some classic footage of Da Brudders in their punk-pioneering heyday, including a few old TV appearances I'd only had in bootleg quality until now, and is highly recommended.

So -- and speaking of The Ramones in their heyday -- here's one of their most popular boots, a stereo soundboard recording from their show at The Palladium in New York on New Year's Eve 1979. The setlist hits the high points of their first four classic records, and even includes one song from End Of The Century, their album produced by the now-infamous Phil Spector, which at the time was about six weeks from being released (and is still my favorite Ramones record).

And, for those of you who weren't around back in the day, these guys didn't mess around, especially on stage. 32 songs in 66 minutes. Do the math. Gabba gabba hey.

THE RAMONES - 1-2-3-4 DIE (Live at The Palladium, New York - December 31, 1979)

Front cover
Back insert

01 Blitzkrieg Bop
02 Teenage Labotomy
03 Rockaway Beach
04 I Don't Want You
05 Go Mental
06 Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment
07 I Wanna Be Sedated
08 I Just Want To Have Something To Do
09 She's The One
10 This Ain't Havana
11 I'm Against It
12 Sheena Is A Punk Rocker
13 Havana Affair
14 Commando
15 Needles And Pins
16 I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend
17 Surfin' Bird
18 Cretin Hop
19 All The Way
20 Judy Is A Punk
21 California Sun
22 I Don't Wanna Walk Around With You
23 Today Your Love, Tomorrow The World
24 Pinhead
25 Do you Wanna Dance?
26 Suzy Is A Headbanger
27 Let's Dance
28 Chinese Rock
29 Beat On The Brat
30 We're A Happy Family
31 Bad Brain
32 I Wanted Everything

Saturday, October 06, 2007

You Might Have Succeeded In Changing Me

Word on the street is that R.E.M. are putting the finishing touches on a great new record. To tide us over until it comes out, we have a new CD/DVD, R.E.M. Live, to look forward to. It's the band's first live CD & DVD package, and it comes out October 16. Featuring 22 songs, it's a document of a February 27, 2005 concert, when the South's favorite sons played a show at The Point Theatre in Dublin, Ireland on their tour in support of Around The Sun.

Frank has already waxed eloquent on the meaning of this band to good post-punk Southern boys (and will do so again soon), so I will not attempt to repeat him here. Suffice it to say that R.E.M.'s sense of mystery and Southern mythology, in a time of great and exciting upheaval in popular music, gave us in the American South something of which we were so proud. They were every bit the equal to that awe-inspiring band from Ireland that emerged at approximately the same time, and against whom they were often favorably measured.

I will never forget my best friend Kenny, who at the time lived about 160 miles away, calling me on the day that Reckoning was released. The phone rang. I picked up and said hello. Kenny sang into the phone: "Seven Chinese brothers swallowing the ocean . . ." Naturally, I tunefully responded, "Seven thousand years to sleep away the pain." "Oh good! You bought it," he said. That's devotion, people.

YouTube: Trailer for R.E.M. Live

Friday, October 05, 2007

Ahhhhhhhh Hey, Hey, Hey!

Apologies for the scant posts this week. If it isn't one thing these days, it's another. Plus, post-burglary, I'm still in the very early stages of rebuilding my digital music collection to a point where I actually have new stuff to share. Among the things that I realized, only yesterday, I had lost for good -- by which I mean, I had no version on CD to re-rip -- was "Cold Wind" by the Arcade Fire, a non-album track that only ever appeared on the final Six Feet Under soundtrack in 2005. But our buddy Scott happened to hear me mention this, and when I came to work this morning, there it was in my in-box. So thank you, Scott -- this is one I definitely didn't want to live without. And for those of you who don't have this in your own collection, here you go. It's so good it hurts.

MP3: Arcade Fire - "Cold Wind" from Six Feet Under, Vol. 2: Everything Ends

Monday, October 01, 2007

In Rainbows

Holy crap, this was a shock this morning. More info at P4K.

I just forked over $80 for the deluxe DiscBox without even batting an eye.

MP3: Radiohead - "Bodysnatchers" (live at Madison Square Garden, June 13, 2006)