Thursday, January 29, 2009

Gonna miss the beach, miss the things that grow...

I'm not going to say I was scared of listening to anything from the new Antony and the Johnsons. Terrified might be a better word. That voice is just so... fragile. Beyond fragile. Everything I've heard by them has been suicide-note intimate, and just so emotionally wrought and dramatic, always tottering on the edge of tears. It may as well be delivered from the edge of a cliff. Emotion like this is a pretty easy way to make me uncomfortable. But just like with the last album, I couldn't keep looking away, and was, again, surprised by the beauty. It's not an easy listen, I'll say that much.

Then there's the the cover art. Is there a shuddering emoticon? That thing's like a cross between Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Grey Gardens.

Tonight I take my groceries and I drift away...

I had a whole review of the Springsteen album ready to go and a large chunk of it was devoted to the pure embarrassment that is "Queen of the Supermarket"(seriously - it ends with the rhythmic beeping of a supermarket scanner, though for all intents and purposes it could be the sound of your respect for Springsteen on life support), but it seems the internet beat me to it. Well played, internet; I doff my cap to you. But... I'm not willing to call it the worst Springsteen song ever: the man did write "Part Man, Part Monkey."

Monday, January 26, 2009

With so many words and so little to say...

If you're nostalgic for the late-90's, you need to check this out immediately, another KEXP Song of the Day. This blew my mind, even moreso than the Gaslight Anthem. If a time machine was invented and the only thing that it was used for, before being destroyed by a group of rogue scientists, philosophers, and "Stargate: Atlantis" fans, was to take this band back ten years so they could open for Fastball, then that time machine would have served its most noble purpose.

Flare into the whirr of the snack machine, muted screams of an old regime...

Andrew Bird reminds me of someone who's real fussy about his terrarium or one of those people who leaves behind an unpublished 1000-page illustrated children's story when they die. So whimsical and yet, so tightly wound. And oh, with the whistling. I can never get into a full album but I like songs, such as "Fitz and the Dizzyspells," which I think is the name of a street gang in The Last Mimzy. Because of his new album, this guy's been all over the music podcasts to which I subscribe and I finally broke down and listened to said song when it was the KEXP song of the day.

This podcast thing is new and wondrous to me, and the music podcasts have really pointed me in some new directions (like Mt. Eerie and Mates of State). But on the other hand: seriously, I'm just getting into podcasts now? I feel like someone's out-of-touch dad sometimes. "Hey, you hear about this Netflix thing? Movies, right to your mailbox. Amazing! What a country!"* Not my dad, though, My dad's fucking with it.

*The chance of that last part being said goes up significantly if your dad is Yakov Smirnoff. And he had only recently heard of Netflix.

And we kissed as if nothing could fall...

You know what Garfield hated? Mondays. You know what he loved (besides lasagna)? Stealing content from Pitchfork about charity comps. So this one's for you, Garfield (kisses fingers, pumps chest, points to heaven).

I had heard about this a bit ago, and had forgotten what it was called, who was involved, et. al. and etc. Long story short, there's a War Child comp coming out in February* where the twist is: a bunch of older artists select the newer artists who would cover their songs. So we get the Hold Steady covering Springsteen (insert sex-face emoticon here), and this: TV on the Radio doing "Heroes."*

Now, I had been thinking recently about cover songs and what the point was. Sure, an artist gets to perhaps show some respect to something that inspired him, but what does it mean for the listener? And what's the point if it's just a note-for-note echo? Covers should pay respect while perhaps bringing a new perspective to something that maybe has an iconic status.

And this is what a cover should be. Know that "Heroes" might be one of my favorite all-time songs, and the cover respects the original while bringing something new to the party. But it doesn't eff with it just for the sake of effing with it. You're not going to mistake this for the original, but it touches all the right notes at all the right times (mostly iconic guitar lines). It's TV on the Radio covering Bowie, not trying to sound like Bowie or forcing some song into the TV on the Radio mold.

I don't know if I've been this excited about a charity comp since No Alternative, which is the charity comp version of DiMaggio's hit streak - it shall never be topped.

Speaking of charity, I don't think I was being very charitable to my digestive system or my blood sugar when I went to town on this family pack of Pull-n-Peel Twizzlers. Ugh. And let it be know that right after I wrote "ugh" I reached into the bag for another one. I don't know how to say this, but I'm on the road to dee-ah-beat-es?

* What is it about February and buzzed-about charity comps? It's like 1987 all over again, when the movie-going public had to make the choice between three body-switching comedies (18 Again; Like Father, Like Son; and Vice Versa). Some people like to throw Big in there, but that's just stupid; he doesn't switch places with anyone. Christ, you people disgust me.

* Of course, we also have McCartney choosing Duffy to cover "Live and Let Die." Paul, this is the kind of thinking that leads to Michael Jackson buying the Beatles' catalog out from under you nose.

This field of tears won't yield me a penny...

I've been listening to the songs that will be on the Dark Was The Night compilation, which comes out in February and benefits the Red Hot Organization, and a song a day will be streaming from their MySpace page between now and then.* (Is there any reason to be on MySpace anymore besides streaming music and taking that first step towards not being able to live within 10 blocks of an elementary school?) I think I'm most looking forward to Sharon Jones' cover of "Inspiration Information." And while I'm looking forward to picking this up, I tend to associate their compilations with those of my youth, which all seemed to involve Madonna remixes and Cole Porter covers, which always depressed the hell out of me.

Today's entry: The Decemberists. How long is the song, you ask? Seven minutes! Oh my. The Decemberists long winded? Color me shocked. I'll go on record: I'm not a Decemberists fan. They are... well, pick one: twee, pretentious, overwrought, smug. I mean, you can only get away with singing so many songs about the sea (oh, the cruel sea and how it separates the sea-faring from those who love them on the shores of shipping towns!) and girls in tattered dresses singing cockles. And even stuff that doesn't involve that - e.g., "Valerie Plame" - is usually bogged down by a sound of someone very impressed with themselves. That being said, "16 Military Wives" is a gem.

This song, though, commits the worst sin of all and goes nowhere. Did I mention it was 7 minutes long? That's a long way to go for nothing. But: banjo!

*I'm sure some more of the tracks are floating around on the internet; while they only stream for a day, I'm sure some enterprising soul found a way around that. I'm not sure how it's done, but if I had to guess, it would involve holding a tape machine up to the computer speakers. I'm just stuck on how to get it from tape to computer, but I leave that to the nerds and scientists.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Somebody stop me, there's nothing to do...

I've slept on Wolf Parade because, well, I only have so much room in my life for Wolf bands, and I had my heart set on AIDS Wolf because it sounded so fucking edgy. And while I'm officially excited about the Handsome Furs - the guy from Wolf Parade and his lady love - I'm totally prepared for them to be a new-millenium Boss Hog: all promise and sexual tension but really just solid yet uninspiring output. At the very least, these songs sound like the soundtrack to your next coke party, and who hasn't been looking for that? Try playing Okkervil and your next coke party and see if anyone dances.

You might come for the twitch and shake of "I'm Confused" but you'll stay for "All We Want, Baby, Is Everything," with its mash up of Springsteen, Orbison, stuttering western hook, and choose-your-synth-tinged-80's-band. The latter gets the dough, while the former gets the glory.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

I don't want to talk about war between nations...

You know what the new U2 song reminds me of? "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me" from one of those Batman movies where Joel Schumacher was the villain. Over-processed guitar, one of the laziest bridges heard in a long time, winking apocolyptic imagery, some half-baked Middle Eastern influence in the chorus left over from the "Mysterious Ways" video: the perfect recipe for a b-side, the lure-in track on a greatest hits comp, or something you'd contribute to a politically conscious action movie. Instead it's the lead single from the new album. Oh boy.

Nothing about this sounds remotely original or inspired. It's like a sampler of their past sounds: "Vertigo," "Bullet the Blue Sky," and any song from the period that died with Pop, where they thought they were being ironic and no one really liked it once we thought about it and they seemed angry that we didn't get the joke but still scaled back and recorded All That You Can't Leave Behind. Hell, I half expect Bono to sing this "in character" while wearing devil horns and a general's uniform, while some multimedia art installation plays out behind him.

And people have the power to redeem the work of fools...

The "Oddly Hopeful" Mix

1. Radiohead - "Everything In It's Right Place"
2. David Bowie - "Heroes"
3. R.E.M. - "Begin the Begin"
4. Patti Smith - "People Have the Power"
5. Bill Withers - "Lovely Day"
6. Death Cab for Cutie - "Grapevine Fires"
7. Van Morrison - "Brand New Day"
8. Pulp - "The Day After the Revolution"
9. Joshua Morrison - "Home"
10. Dee Dee Sharp - "Ooh Child"
11. Bruce Springsteen - "The Rising"
12. Hold Steady - "How A Resurrection Really Feels"

Friday, January 16, 2009

You said, "ain't this just like the present, to be showing up like this..."

A few nights ago, talking to a friend over e-mail, I suggested that Bon Iver could be nothing more than an indie-endorsed Jack Johnson, that it's possible he may perform barefoot, and every song could be about waking up on Sunday mornings next to his favorite lady. Who's to say he's not another guitar troubador with a fake southern slur hiding limited vocal range, winking at the girls in the front row? (Actually, there's probably a lot of people who would argue against that and would probably be right.) But more and more, I can't stop listening to "Blood Bank". I've listened to it 28 times on iTunes alone, and God knows how many times on my now crapped-out iPod. It's got atmosphere to spare and feels perfect after 9 consecutive days of snow.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A song can throw a switch and it can sell you some half truths...

Merge Records has a free sampler for download on their site. It's nice to know that despite all the critical acclaim and money that bands like Arcade Fire and Spoon have brought them, Merge will still release music that sounds like it was recorded in a trashcan, and at least one member of the band was surprised at the end when he found that the tape recorder was on. I'm looking right in your direction, Music Tapes.

I think I'm warming up most to Wye Oak, and I'm also reminded that I should listen to more American Music Club. On the other hand, the creepy singing-saw version of "Jingle Bells" that closes it out? Haunts my dreams.

And I'm still on the fence about She & Him: I still think Ms. Deschanel's voice is a bit on the flat side and I would argue that "Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?", while adorable, is just as superficial as any song that uses autotune. I guess the best thing I could say is it's pleasant enough. Shrug. But Ms. Deschanel herself? Oh my. I could watch that video on YouTube until I get a polite and literate, but slightly melancholic, cease-and-desist letter from Ben Gibbard.

We ain't much to look at, so close your eyes, here we go...

A few thoughts about the show tonight before I shiver myself to sleep.

*Waitresses at shows: I've seen them at two Chicago venues so far. Bad idea. They're constantly elbowing through and I'm constantly waiting for them to drop all their drinks. The waitress at the show tonight was always near me; I felt like she was part bear and I was made of honey.

*Missed connection - You: blonde bangs combed to one side; disturbingly landscaped chin-strap beard; hoop earrings; button-down, long-sleeve shirt with cuffs unbuttoned; taking lots of pictures then discussing said pictures with companion. Me: lack of pretension.

*I have no empirical proof, but do all dance-punk songs have to do with hearing a song on the radio, dancing, and this somehow relating to a political liberation?

*The description of the headlining band as "San Diego's answer to the Strokes"? Dead on, except they forgot the Vampire Weekend comparison. Bands should never wear bright Oxfords on stage. To me, The Strokes plus Vampire Weekend is like hate crimes multiplied by sitting on your balls. I left early, preferring cold to annoying bands.

*Missed connection - You: guy with childish furry hat that, while warm looking, looked like you hunted and killed the stuffed animal of a little girl and were now on the hunt for its kin. And you danced like no one was watching (except everyone). Me: attention from your parents as a child.

*You will never know panic until you think you've lost your hat at a bar on a January night in Chicago. I felt like the mother in the Duracell commercial who thought her child was abducted.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Choo-choo Charlie had a pretty good band but he couldn't understand why no one would go...

I'm going into a show tonight at Schuba's totally blind, and there are two reasons why the night worries me. First, the arctic conditions outside. Second, the headliner was described in Time Out Chicago as "San Diego's answer to the Strokes."

And I wonder which song they're gonna play when we go. I hope it's something quiet and minor and peaceful and slow...

I've heard the The Gaslight Anthem compared to Springsteen, which is plain wrong - they sound much closer to John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band. I don't mean that as a slight (well maybe kinda-sorta), but it's just the plain truth. And their sound trafficks in nostalgia for times they weren't even around to feel whistful for. They actually have a song called "Blue Jeans and White T-Shirts" for God's sake. I'm not even sure these guys are actually old enough to feel nostalgic for the release of Eddie and the Cruisers II: Eddie Lives!

But that's just one component of their sound. They also remind me, in some vague way, of the late 90's, before emo became some monolith of pretentious band names (not that it was much better before that) and I was still exclusively wearing Doc Martins and dress shirts one-size too big. This reminds me of stuff like Knapsack: good for a few listens, harmless, maybe even mix tape-worthy. (Knapsack's "Catherine the Grateful" had a permanent spot, for a few years, as the first song on the second side of any mix tape I made). It may even remind me of, and some of my older friends may call this heresy, Seaweed. I may be persuaded to nod my head when I hear the songs; hell, I may even pump my fist at a show. But that's not going to last, and that CD is going to fall to the depths of my collection, rescueed for a three-song nostalgia session, probably during one my many move-ins to new apartments.

I downloaded "The '59 Sound" and smart money says I should probably call it a day there. But I've never been that smart.I'll probably get their album at some point, but I'll bet you in a few years I'll see it for real cheap and kick myself.

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