Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Two for Tuesday - Bits o' Metal!

Hello? Ok, we’re back…new month, new Two for Tuesday series. This one is inspired by my love of That Metal Show, your home for all things hard rock and heavy metal. I’ve been going through a resurgence of heavier stuff the past few years, initially as a nostalgia thing, but now just thoroughly enjoying it to the point of exploring some of the new acts out there. We’ll look into some of those later, but for now let’s jump back a bunch of years and to another continent.

I think I’ve mentioned my fondness for German group Scorpions and particularly their earlier stuff from the 70s. Their first long-time lead guitarist was Uli Jon Roth, one of the proponents of neo-classical metal and inventor of the Sky Guitar. He was with Scorpions from ’74-’77, participating in four albums, writing several classic tunes, delivering some great solos and even some lead vocals. None of the songs from this era are ones you’ll likely hear on even hard rock or hair metal stations, but they certainly set the stage for signature tunes to come and the universal success that Scorpions would enjoy in the 80s. After leaving Scorpions, Roth formed Electric Sun, which released three great albums of sometimes straightforward, sometimes experimental guitar rock, and after that he began composing classical music…none of which I’ve heard, but I’m sure it, you know, rocks.

Anyway, here’s a couple of standouts for me, the title track from Scorpion’s 1976 album Virgin Killer, written by Roth with some insane vocals from Klaus Meine and a blistering solo from Roth. Also, here’s my current favorite (it changes with each listen) from Electric Sun’s Earthquake (1979), the rockin’ Sundown.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Two for Tuesday

I'm a bit behind with these, but that's how it goes sometimes.

At any rate, today's 24T comes from Ohio's Afghan Whigs, whose brand of Motown punk made albums like Congregation and 1965 critical high points of 90s alt-rock, even though they were scandalously overlooked by the public in favor of more watered down flavors associated with the "grunge" movement. Greg Dulli, if half of what he sings about is true, is a bad dude, but not so much in a sinister way than a realist one. He got to the dirt of the matter with relationships, wailing his smoky lungs out while the band chugged and slashed furiously behind him. Even in their more subdued moods the danger was always present, an unsettling reminder that the quietest moments can be wrecked by a human presence.

Today's offerings come from their early and mid career - Retarded from 1990's Up In It, which was the first indication of the fury to come (Dulli's yelling on this song gives Black Francis a run for his money), and the title track from 1994's Gentlemen - quite possibly the meanest, nastiest album ever written (if you're a girl).

Friday, May 24, 2013

Birthday Salute

In celebration of Uncle Bob's b'day, it's all Dylan, all day.

Let me get you started with a song that inspired a band name, the Birthday Salutes, the nobody would agree to.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Two for Tuesday

Of all the most strangely enigmatic groups to exist, Felt has got to be in the top 10 or so. Helmed by the equally mysterious Lawrence (aka Lawrence Hayward), they crafted a brand of music that started as minimalist “art rock” (their first single was simply Lawrence banging on a guitar and moaning into a tape recorder) and evolved into lush and intricate pop that dabbled in folk, dance and jazz. 

Lawrence’s vision was to produce ten albums and ten singles in ten years, which he did, and then broke up the band. So absolute was his power that, according to legend, he dismissed an early drummer for having curly hair, albums could only have an even numbers of songs (which isn’t always the case, but mostly) and there are absolutely no cymbals on any of the first three albums. And yet having said that, their album Train Above the City is an instrumental album of essentially lounge jazz workouts where he performed in absolutely no capacity – but did name all the songs.


Their first several albums, including their most popular (and somewhat least interesting), Ignite the Seven Cannons, were released on the Cherry Red label. But mid-career until nearly the end, including the aforementioned Train Above the City, everything came out on Creation.

Three of their most brilliant albums are Forever Breathes the Lonely World (1986), Poem of the River (1987) and The Pictorial Jackson Review (1988), when the elaborate noodling of classically trained guitarist Maurice Deebank was replaced by the sweeping organs of Martin Duffy (later of Primal Scream fame). Imagine the Cocteau Twins, musically, with Lou Reed on vocals and you’ve pretty much got the sound of Felt. But don’t let that run you off, because while Lawrence’s voice is rather deadpan, it’s also highly expressive and he gets into your head (and heart) before you know it.

It’s hard to whittle things down to just two, but I’ll give it a shot with All the People I Like are Those That are Dead and She Lives by the Castle

RIP - Ray Manzarek

Yesterday the music world lost a titan with the passing of Ray Manzarek, organist, pianist, harpsichordist, bassist and sometimes vocalist for legendary 60s group, the Doors. While it can’t be argued that Jim Morrison was the iconic focal point of the band, the face that everyone conjures from the mist whenever the icy organ of Light My Fire cuts through the airwaves, I think it’s pretty safe to say that without Ray Manzarek playing that organ, nobody would have ever known Jim Morrison’s name.

Ray’s technical prowess was unquestionable, but his ability to maintain both lead and rhythm instruments, to accent and augment Jim’s wild antics (especially live) and to arrange with fluidity tunes that other members were bringing to the group, is often overlooked by all but the deepest of Doors fans. And honestly, that’s the breaks when you’re not the singer, and Ray always seemed content enough over near the drums, pounding away liked a stooped madman, a little twinkle of “Oh, I know the truth…” ever present in his eye.

His playing is unmistakable, eerie and majestic, a demented carnival musician wrapping the listener in a web of spine tingling seduction. There are moments, particularly late at night, when certain Doors tunes can absolutely give me the willies, and 98% of the time it’s all because of Ray’s playing. And while it’s doubtless that his influence and legacy will continue to stretch for generations to come, his style and sound were impossible to duplicate, and if anyone ever sounded like Ray – likely it was Ray.

After the end of the Doors, which did not end with Jim’s death, as they produced two more (moderately successful) albums with Ray at the lead, he continued to work as producer with bands he influenced, including X, Echo and the Bunnymen and the equally iconic Iggy Pop (who was actually considered to replace Jim at one point). 

Here are a few standout tracks where Ray's bit was integral. 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Birthday Greetings

A very happy birthday to Rachel Goswell, the sparkle in the charm of two of my longtime favorite groups, Slowdive (see this week's Two for Tuesday) and Mojave 3. When I saw the latter in Nashville several years back, she was sadly unable to attend due to some ear issues that have kept her from playing out like she used to. But I dropped her a line to let her know she was missed (back when My Space was cool) and was thrilled to get a very sweet response back.

So, to celebrate all that she's done to enhance my love of music, here's a number from her lone (but hopefully not last) solo release, Waves are Universal (2004), Coastline.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Two for Tuesday - Creation Pt 2

End of the day (night) but still going to try and get my 2-4-T up before it’s Wednesday. Again, another band from the Creation Records roster, and definitely my favorite of the label and the entire shoegaze genre.

Of course I’m talking about Slowdive. And you all knew this because they were fronted by Neil Halstead, aka “The Greatest Songwriter of Our Generation.”

Slowdive was nearly nothing like his more recent (and by “recent” I mean since 1996) work with Mojave 3 and as a solo artist (though there are some similarities here and there on all sides). Heck, even Slowdive’s last album (the sometimes perplexing, the sometimes brilliant, the ultimately rewarding Pygmalion) wasn’t anything like Slowdive, but that’s neither here nor there. Actually, DG, you would probably love that album. 

Rumor has it that folks used to cry at their shows. I have no idea if that's true, but it likely would have been if I'd seen them (and I'm no less of a man for admitting that). I've only met one person who ever did see them and he seemed grateful. 

Anyway, their first two albums (along with some scattered singles and EPs surrounding them) were the stuff of legends. Just imagine a big blanket of fuzzy sound washing all over you and some wispy, angelic voices lulling you to sleep (not in a boring way), and you’ve got the start of an idea. But despite their mellow approach, there was some intensity brooding beneath the surface, and though Halstead’s lyrics were hard to decipher – and cryptic when you could – he still painted with the broad, warm brush strokes he does these days (you just know what he’s talking about now).

It’s hard to pick just one from each album, but this is “Two for Tuesday,” and who am I to break the rules? So, without further ado, I give you Waves (from Just for a Day) and As the Sun Hits (from Soulvaki).

And also Blue Skied n Clear from Pygmalion, because I do whatever I want.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Two for Tuesday - Creation Pt 1

This month with Two for Tuesday we’re going to give a shout out to some of the bands from the highly influential UK record label, Creation Records, who existed from the early 80s through the late 90s and were responsible for giving us the likes of Teenage Fanclub, the Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine and (DG’s favorite) Oasis, among other lesser known though equally important acts.

One of those was a sadly short-lived, and today everything but forgotten, but really shoulda-coulda group from Coventry, England – Adorable. Hook-laden and melodic with sometimes chiming, sometimes crunching guitars, they’re about as close to “emo-gazing” (a term I just made up – and no, I did not check the internet to verify that) as any band arbitrarily lumped into the shoegaze genre. Piotr Fijalkowski’s lyrics were descriptive and personal and he sang them like he meant it. Overall, they were a lot more straightforward rock than many of their label mates, but not retro-oriented like Oasis or Primal Scream or as Ride would become.

Honestly, they were really a sound unto themselves, and folks who do remember them always get excited when they’re brought up, because they really were that great. You can check out a couple of my personal favorites with a song from each of their two albums - Crash Sight (Against Perfection) and Road Movie (Fake).  

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Two for Tuesday

Well, if you can believe it, today marks the 80th birthday of the Red Headed Stranger, aka Willie Nelson. For those of you marveling that the country music icon has made it this long, I was half surprised he wasn’t 80 a good decade or so ago. But all joking aside, Willie really is the stuff of legends, a truly gifted writer and musician whose well-documented off-stage antics have nearly overshadowed, as well as derailed, his impressive career on more than one occasion.

Truth be told, even though culturally speaking he’s been on my radar since my earliest memories, I never really took Willie too seriously until about the past five or six years when I picked up Red Headed Stranger on a whim and never looked back. I mean at the end of the day, this is the guy who penned the seminal country standard Crazy, and while Patsy’s version may be the definitive (at least most well known), to hear the man himself deliver a rendition always garners two enthusiastic thumbs up.

I’m not as well versed in his catalog as many, he’s been highly prolific, and a lot of that early stuff is pretty hard to track down, but I’ve heard enough covering the past five decades to appreciate the fact that even some of his more light weight efforts (the 80s weren’t a good time for many 60s/70s artists, but Willie fared better than others) carry a good sense of musicianship and an enjoyable, hum-along melody that makes albums like Island in the Sea less a guilty pleasure and more an overlooked, lesser gem.

Still, the 70s are recognizably his more critically fertile period (all you Willie scholars feel free to shoot me down), at least to the public eye, with albums like Shotgun Willie and, of course, Red Headed Stranger, and bleeding over into the early 80s with On the Road Again, etc.

Today’s TfT are some lesser-known cuts. Are You Sure?, from the 60s, is one of Karla’s favorite Willie tunes, and very old school country. Meanwhile, Bloody Mary Morning, a reasonably (though now forgotten) successful single from the divorce story album, Phases and Stages.

Make your day a Willie day. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Two for Tuesday

Today marks what would have been the 53rd b’day of Steve “Steamin’” Clark, guitarist for Def Leppard. Even during my “too cool” years, I never fully denied Def Leppard’s first three albums, and Steve Clark’s gun slinger presence was always a big reason for that. He was just the ultimate in “guitar god,” from his loose look to the casual way he let his guitar hang basically down to his knees.

While he was technically a co-lead with Phil Collen (and Pete Willis), I saw him as more of a rhythm and riff man, which in DL’s early days was no chug-a-lug side job, but a real work of art. He expressed his nonchalance through his playing, which was both rock n roll chic and raw artistic talent.

Sadly, his excesses caught up with him and he died of a pill and alcohol overdose in 1991, age 30. But he was a major factor in Def Leppard’s best (and biggest) albums, three of which I would hold up against any album of the genre (and the other has Pour Some Sugar on Me).

Here are a couple of personal favorites: Bringin’ on theHeartbreak, just check out that smoldering gaze, and a blistering live take of Wasted from 1983. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Two for Tuesday

It's crazy to note when the idols of our youth are getting older. Today is the birthday of Ian McKaye of Dischord Records, Minor Threat, Fugazi and Evens fame, among others (which of course you knew). It's not a landmark, 'cos he turned 50 last year. This stuns me because it seems like just yesterday he had only served 19 years of his time for being white. Heck, when I was listening to those tunes on a regular basis (with at least two others of you reading this), they'd already been out a good decade, or close to it.

I've had my ups and downs with Ian over the years. In my youth he was, of course, the patron saint of disaffected youth, our model and spokesperson. Later on in my twenties I felt he was a bit of a ball-buster, as my well-jaded sensibilities just figured he was either relentlessly preaching to the choir or screaming at the wall of indifference that was most of the rest of the world. But about 10 years ago I was lucky enough to see him (with JT) give a lecture at one of the local colleges in the Nashville area, and even met him, and it was a truly enlightening experience. Long story short, Ian is a good guy, highly observant to the state of things, and able to deduce the good, bad and ugly from those observations to determine (and share) the positives from all of it. At the end of the day, he's the idyllic artist/celebrity who has been able to uncompromisingly produce what he wants to, how he wants to and still make a living out of it - with the end result being a bunch of music that, even if you don't care for all of it, is nothing short of sincere. And there's a real lack of that these days.

Here's are a couple pretty solid moments from his career - a show stopping version of Fugazi's Waiting Room and Cache is Empty from the Evens.

Man, Amy can play those drums! She about stole your candles, birthday boy!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Two for Tuesday

The Strokes are one of those bands that are sort of a guilty pleasure for me. Most of that is because while they appear(ed) to be the latest and greatest of the dregged out NYC punk scene 10+ years ago, they were really prep school boys, the sons of well-established industry just putting on a show. But the redeeming factor here is that their tunes are pretty dang great.

A big part of their sound, and what helps makes them so catchy, are the leads provided by guitarist Albert Hammond Jr., especially early on. In addition to his time with the Strokes, he also has a couple of solo albums that are pretty tasty. To celebrate his 32 birthday (really, that’s all…geesh…), here are a couple of personal standouts – the very Strokes-ish In Transit (complete with a pretty lame fan-made video) and the little bit less so, The Boss Americana

Let your hipster side shake a groove today. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Quaterly JT - 1983

Late, late, late…but I’m gonna give JT 76.29% fault on this one. I harassed him for weeks to get me his list and just last week he did. Then I got lazy with it, partly because I did a 1983 post as part of another series awhile back and thought I could wing it. My bad.

At any rate, there was a lot of great music coming out 30 years ago, some amazing debuts by bands who would later prove to be hugely influential in more than one genre (REM, Metallica), some last hurrahs (The Police, Yazoo), others that shoulda-woulda-coulda been more (Echo and the Bunnymen, Tears for Fears) and some that just held a place in the progression of the artist’s catalog, still working up for that masterpiece (Depeche Mode, The Church).

Strangely enough, JT and I have two of the same albums in our top five of the year, which is more surprising than you’d think. He had asked me if he could include a tie, and I had assumed a two-way for fifth, but he had a three-way for first, so I had to shout him down from that. Though I can’t really argue his logic with two of them. Let’s see what he had to say first…


1. (Tie) Violent Femmes- S/T

If not THE greatest debut of all time, this album is certainly in the top five. This album was out of step with nearly everything else going on in 1983 and because of that it still sounds just as fresh and original today, nearly 30 years later, as it did the day it came out. From the distinct acoustic intro to “Blister in the Sun” to the melancholy of “Good Feeling” this album is a classic, and if you don’t own it and know it front to back then you’re missing out. Unfortunately, the band would never come close to the meteoric heights of this album again.

1. (Tie) REM-Murmur

If not THE greatest debut of all time, this album is certainly in the top five. Yeah, I know, I already said that, but seriously, how both this album and the Femmes debut came out in the same year is beyond me. Arguably the best album that REM ever recorded, and that’s saying a lot! Following the dreaminess of this album, REM would begin their slow crawl from underground heroes to international pop/rock superstars.

2. U2- War

William hates this album. He also hates The Joshua Tree. William is wrong.

***William’s note – Hate is a strong word. Wait, is loathe stronger?

3. The The- Soul Mining

Probably the most critically and commercially underrated band of all time (in my opinion), The The’s Soul Mining was a movement from their early dark and cerebral material into the land of synth pop. The The would go on to record three of my all-time favorite albums (Mind Bomb, Dusk, and the amazing Hank Williams Sr cover album, Hanky Panky) and while this album isn’t quite as good as those, it’s still an astonishingly great bit of music from an amazing band.

4. The Cure- Japanese Whispers

I know, I know, this isn’t a proper album but a compilation of a few singles and their b-sides, but I would put it up against anything the Cure ever did (with a few obvious exceptions). Robert was playful at times (“The Love Cats”), dark and brooding at times (“Just One Kiss”) and downright depressing at others (“Lament), but the amazing thing is that despite the fact that these songs were never written to be cohesive album, the songs (and moods) flow naturally from one to the next in a way that only Robert Smith is capable of doing.


(I’m actually ranking mine for reals this time)

REM – Murmur: This is my favorite album of all time and has been for years. If REM had never recorded another note, they wouldn’t have made any money, but they’d have made a musical statement that comes from nowhere and goes anywhere. Ethereal, bouncy, jangly and cryptic, the attack of this album is raw and sincere, conjuring images of what could (and would) be and creating an atmosphere and a vibe that is both inviting and haunting. These are songs you feel like you’ve known since birth and yet always offer something new. REM never achieved this again, and wisely they didn’t even try.

Violent Femmes – Violent Femmes: I agree with JT that this could easily be a tie, and if it were any album other than Murmur, I’d go with it. The Femmes took the melody of folk, the heartbreak of the blues and the angst of punk and melded them together into something that is definitely all three and yet distinctly its own sound. For most everyone into “alternative” music, this album was a rites of passage. If you could get on board here, everything else would make sense. Hearts have been conquered and lost and eased and put back together again while scream-singing to these brutally honest, charmingly messy and unbelievably catchy anthems to the forlorn. Buy your favorite preteen a copy today.

The Chameleons – Script of the Bridge: These guys should have been so much more, especially then. Theirs is the story of rock n roll woes that’s been heard countless times. But despite all the tensions both internal and external, Mark Burgess and company were able to craft beautiful and poignant post-punk songs that were equally delicate and muscular, with a deep introspection in the lyrics, which commented more than complained, and a melodic interplay both vocally and with the dueling guitars of Reg Smithies and Dave Fielding (two of the most gifted and overlooked players of the decade). Script of the Bridge is a debut that finds the Chameleons fully formed and providing all the lush dynamics that would make them vital and yet frustratingly ignored for two more albums.

Tom Waits – Swordfishtrombones: And then things just got weird. Really, for Tom, it’s not so much the song as the presentation. You run these tunes through a more conventional rock filter, and they’ll sell like hotcakes (er, well…). While 1980’s Heartattack and Vine was a transitional album from jazz-scat-ballad-crooner into an avant-garde a la Armstrong madman, Swordfishtrombones takes the latter and runs with it full tilt. Tom’s characters have gotten darker, weirder, more sinister, but his musical methods of bringing them to light are now following suit, and his throaty growling and howling over jerky rhythms, clanking percussion, demented horns and erratic musicianship will throw the casual listener for a loop. (“Turn this off. Now.” – my dad) But allow it to sink in and you’ll find structure and (gasp) even melody, because there’s no denying that 16 Shells from a Thirty-Ought-Six is an unconventional rocker and that In the Neighborhood is one of the most beautiful songs ever written. And this is Tom’s brilliance, take the simple, make it twisted and then turn it inside out.

The Police – Synchronicity: I had a hard time deciding on my fifth one, and it could have easily gone to Def Leppard’s Pyromania or New Order’s Power Corruption and Lies. The tiebreaker is how often I listen to these albums, and Synchronicity wins out – if by a hair. Anyway…a swansong like no other. The story of the Police is one of the classic rock n roll sagas, from rags to riches to oblivion, three diverse talents focused on creating the greatest music possible and succeeding not only critically, but commercially as well. And while Sting is certainly known now for his easily accessible power radio slag, even the biggest hits of the Police contained elements of unorthodox song structure and lyrical weightiness – and with this being their biggest album, all of that follows. No, Every Breath You Take is not a sweet ballad, nor is King of Pain an anguished one, but instead a (before it was cool) statement on the environment; while yes, Synchronicity II is about mental and emotional breakdown and Wrapped Around Your Finger references literature that the kids back then maybe should have gotten, but the ones today almost definitely won’t. And all of it you can sing along to with pleasure (unless you’re JT). The rest of the album is even more delightfully diverse, from quirky jazz (Murder by Numbers), to world music (Walking in Your Footsteps), to flat out crazy (Mother). Plus, Miss Gradenko has one of my favorite Any Summers solos, so choppy and concise, it’s like a miniature song within the song. Bottom line, Synchronicity is proof that 30 years ago an album could be relevant, eccentric and top the charts (take that, Thriller) all at the same time. Too bad Sting lost his vision, while Andy and Stewart lost their sting.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Two for Tuesday

So, a couple of weeks ago Michael Nesmith, of Monkees fame, kicked off his fist solo tour in more than 20 years. Bill, my buddy in TN, was able to catch the show up his way and from the reviews I read and the clips he sent me (on the sly), it was really a fantastic event.

While vicariously prepping for that show through Bill (and since), I’ve been listening to a lot of Papa Nes over the past few weeks. He is truly a gifted artist, well grounded in his roots and influences, and yet always seeking inspiration on the coming horizon. And though it’s been awhile since his last release (Rays, 2006), I hope as he pushes into his 70s that he brings us more of his unique voice and vision.

And if he doesn’t, there are still loads of great tunes to fall back on from the past 40+ years. Here are a couple of my favorites…Joanne and Twilight on the Trail.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Two for Tuesday

Yes, yes, I missed last week. You'll be ok...

But today, I'm making up for it. In honor of Diana Ross' 69th b'day, I give you two of my favorite songs by the Supremes

My World is Empty Without You

I Hear a Symphony

Make your day bounce, kids.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Two for Tuesday

Today's post takes us all the way up to Hershey, PA, where the only thing better than their chocolate is their only musical claim to fame (as far as I know), the Ocean Blue.

In some ways, the Ocean Blue were sort of America's answer to the Smiths, but really they were all things Brit and jangle, and you can hear other over the pond 80s influences like New Order and Cocteau Twins, not to mention Southern brethren REM, all throughout their sound. And of course that's a great thing.

These guys were still in high school when they got signed to the mighty Sire records. My pal J-Smith remembers seeing a commercial for their debut album on a major network, and I remember seeing a billboard. They were really being pushed hard, which is great, and their first three albums actually sold pretty well for "that type of music." But I guess the climate change that came about with Nirvana, etc derailed their momentum and even trying to add a bit of edge to their style didn't do much for them, especially musically.

Regardless, their first three albums are as close to perfect guitar pop as you'll find anywhere in any era. David Schelzel's songwriting is immediate, intimate, catchy and quite danceable. One thing I always loved about them is that they had a keyboard player, Steve Lau, who actually wrote great parts, with wonderful counter melodies, working as a lead instrument just as much as providing background padding. He could play a mean sax too.

Picking just two songs is difficult, so I just went with the first two suggestions from YouTube. So first we have Sublime, from their much overlooked, even by fans, third album, Beneath the Rhythm and Sound. And then what's probably my favorite song from my favorite album, Ballerina Out of Control, from Cerulean.

Also, the band is dropping their first album in about ten years, Ultramarine, and while I've not had a chance to check it out, you can here.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Two for Tuesday

Are you ready to rock!?! Good!!!

Today's installment comes from the Godfathers of Metal 2.0 - that's right, I'm talkin' 'bout Black Sabbath's Dio years (round one).

The late, great Ronnie James Dio joined the ranks of Sabbath at just the right moment, when Ozzy had left "for good" and their creative (and financial) stature was seriously dwindling (though I do enjoy Never Say Die). Dio's presence gave them a comeback that not only reinvented them as a band (the music was as different from the Ozzy years as it could be), but solidified their legendary status as rock gods and, even after his departure, helped maintain their cred through years of awkward line ups and sub par albums.

Plus, Dio could sing like a beast, and this is no better showcased than on the title track from his first outing with the band, Heaven and Hell, or the balls out rocker from Mob Rules, Turn Up the Night.

I've provided the rock, now you provide the horns.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Two for Tuesday

Today's entry comes from down under. No, not hell, but maybe next week I'll put up some Slayer. I mean "the land down under," Australia.

There are loads of great Aussie bands in a wide variety of styles and, with a fond nod to my beloved AC/DC, most of my favorites fall into the New Wave/alternative/indie rock category. Of course the biggest in the States (and also my least favorite) is INXS, with Crowded House and Divinyls close(ish) at their heals. Ok, I definitely dislike Divinyls a lot more than INXS.

And no, I haven't forgotten the Church, you know I love them more than my mother.

A couple of Australia's "best kept secrets" were so much so that they could barely scratch out a living in their own country, though at the time they were highly praised by critics and peers, and today maintain a bold if obscure footnote in the annuls of alternative rock music, and continue to influence current music from a rippled distance.

Of course I'm referring to the Go-Betweens and the Triffids.

I won't go into the torrid ins and out of both bands, but they both put out a slew of fantastic albums that were commercially unappreciated and yet a couple of which are now heralded as some of the best music to ever come out of Australia (which is seriously saying something). Both groups wrote expressive, introspective music that was both pop catchy and yet carried a certain weight of sophistication, with the potential to relate on several levels. Doubtless the latter was both the critical focal point as well as mass popularity downfall for each act, but they both carried on regardless, progressively shaping their sound to become, arguably, more mainstream, but never losing the post punk romantic vision that got them going in the first place. By the end of the 80s, both bands had dissolved with little more than a whimper and it would take years before either, more decidedly the Go-Betweens, would receive the more financial accolades they should have enjoyed in their prime.

Regardless, the music remains all the same, and today I offer likely the best known tracks to the casual listener. For the Go-Betweens it's the bittersweet nostalgia of Cattle and Cane, and from the Triffids, the ultimate break up song, Wide Open Road.


Saturday, February 23, 2013

Performance Review - Old 97s

On Friday, February 8, 2013, Old 97s played the Vinyl Music Hall in Pensacola, FL…and I was there.

Of course you guys knew about this from a previous post (two weeks ago!!). And I’m happy to say that we only broke one rule, simply because the iPod was on shuffle and a couple of tracks came up (that they didn’t even play).

As for the show itself, in short – what a heart stopper. We were there in plenty of time to hang out and get our bearings, and learned that a Mardi Gras parade was to be going on right by the venue. Oh boy. But that worked out, we got a great (and free) parking spot, did some antiquing, had some crazy good pizza (Hopjacks, baby!) and in some semblance of a line, tickets in hand, started chatting it up with several super nice locals who became our BFFs for the duration of the show.

The Vinyl Music Hall is right on the corner of E Garden and Palafox, down from the wharf in the heart of P’cola. It’s a great little place and the perfect size to see a band along the caliber of Old 97s.

As mentioned previously, Rhett Miller opened the night with a brief but rousing acoustic set, of which I scored a signed copy, which was made up of mostly covers and obscure tracks, including California Stars by Billy Bragg and Wilco, from their first Woodie Guthrie tribute album, and closing with a blistering version of Wreck of the Old 97. Afterward, I told a few of our new besties who’d never seen them live, “It’s on after this.”

Texas duo The Os took the stage next…one guy on guitar, kick drum and vocals, and another on banjo, lap steel, harmonica, kick tambourine and vocals. Both of them told jokes. Their take on Texas Americana was a spirited hoot and holler, and when they referred to (the late, great) Townes Van Zandt as a “local artist” before launching into a truly haunting version of Waiting Around to Die, I was thoroughly won over.


But nothing could really prepare me for what was to come next. Again, we’ve seen Old 97s several times over the years, beginning all the way back in 1999 when they were still 20 somethings and staring with half-stunned eyes at a sea of Ryman Auditorium faces as an opening slot for Chris Isaak. We were fans from that moment on, and 14 years later the boys are playing their hearts out as if still trying to win over a blank-faced crowd at the Mecca of country music.

Starting the set with a front to back run through of Too Far to Care was nothing short of revolutionary, with Rhett singing to capacity as if the lives of his grand children depended on it, and the rest of the guys propelling him along with the fury of a freight train bound for hell. Many of our crowd mates proved to be uber fans, singing and dancing and yelling out requests, which made me completely lose my own cool cat reserve and decorum, and for the next 90+ minutes I was a rabid 25 year old going nuts all over again.

After a frenzied take of (album closer) Four Leaf Clover, they launched undaunted into a second set that lifted from every album but Fight Songs (my only complaint…and despite me screaming “Jagged!!!” until I was coughing), and included two Murry standouts (both decided there on stage), Can’t Get a Line and Color of a Lonely Heart is Blue.

A brief break brought them out for an encore that included their “we can’t get out of here without playing this” take on Mama Tried and a crowd-rousing, sing-your-heart-out version of Roller Skate Skinny (my favorite from Satellite Rides for the Salinger reference alone) and then closed, for whatever reason, with another take on Too Far to Care album opener, Time Bomb. Because I had already checked out recent sets, I was prepared for this and even mentioned it to some of my show mates. We all shrugged as to why, and it hardly mattered two seconds in as we all exploded again into our personal song and dance routines. Honestly, it felt like a fitting way to round out a night that celebrated the reason they had made it so far and for so long, and if they were happy to play it a second time, we were of course thrilled to oblige.

What really struck me about the band is that they just seemed ecstatic to still be playing to any sort of willing audience nearly 20 years down the line, and so they gave it their all, even though they were preaching to a ¾ roomful of the converted.

Such was the Old 97s’ power, that a 40 something couple (they knew every word of both old and new tunes) who brought in their 13ish daughter and two of her friends, found that two of them had fought their way to the front rail and were staring mesmerized by the pure (alt-country) rock being delivered directly in their faces. And of course Rhett is still a cutie-pie, so that helps. 

The show ended at midnight and we were halfway home before the buzz wore off enough for fatigue to start kicking in. We remedied that by putting on Fight Songs and singing along with our voices cracked and worn. Twelve hours later, I still couldn’t hear a blasted things, but after a performance like that, I never really need to again.

Friday, February 22, 2013

JT's Best of 2012 - Better Late Than Never

It's not always easy knowing/dealing with JT, but the perks are worth it. 

Below is his list of favorites from 2012, though he doesn't tell us why. I guess you can just take his word for it.

Better late (and incomplete--sorry no individual record write ups) than never.
1.   Joyce Manor- Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired
2.   Kendrick Lamar- Good Kid: M.A.A.D. City
3.   Big Boi- Vicious Lies & Dangerous Rumors
4.   Gaslight Anthem- Handwritten
5.   Elle Varner- Perfectly Imperfect
6.   The Weeknd- Trilogy
7.   Frank Ocean- Code Orange
8.   Bob Mould- Silver Age
9.   The xx- Coexist
10. Lambchop- Mr. M

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Two for Tuesday

Well, better late in the day than never...

Today's Two for Tuesday post is from a band I was obsessed with about 15 years ago, the UK's artiest of art rock, Roxy Music. Their first five albums (the first two featuring Eno) were a smash up of pop, jazz, glam and old time balladry pushed through a space filter and led by the hypnotic croon of of the ultimate in chic, Bryan Ferry. Following a hiatus, they re-emerged as a slicker, slinkier and slightly less powerful dance-oriented version of radio friendly(ish) adult contemporary. After two albums of that, they delivered their masterpiece, 1982's Avalon, which took the angular art leanings of their first phase and ran it through the glossy production of their comeback to create a pop atmospheric backdrop that is both sexy and muscular.

My selections for today come from the  beginning of their career, the rollicking Virginia Plain from the self-titled debut, and the seductive, lead single from Avalon, More than This.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Two for Tuesday

Today’s two for Tuesday is inspired by an earlier discussion with JT. I won’t go into the details at this time, but it did give me the idea for today’s post.

Back in the late 70s/mid 80s, the US punk and hard core scenes were in many ways dominated and defined by east coast and west coast, like LA vs. DC. Of course Chicago, MN, Boston, etc all contributed great and influential bands, so please don’t come beat me up…but the most prolific scenes were found in LA, SF, DC and NYC. Each “side” of the country, as well as within each city and region, were developing their own styles and sounds simultaneously, which were distinct and noted in their own right, and yet held fast to a DIY aesthetic that was fueled by youthful angst and a staunch individualism.

The brilliant and amazing thing about this is that for the most part, most of these scenes were happening with little to no awareness of what else was out there. There was no internet, mass media was either ignorant or indifferent and local authorities were often trying to shut everything down. All of this of course meant going on the road, and by the end of the 80s, when yours truly was discovering "alternative" music, the tales of Black Flag, Husker Du, Gang Green and the Misfits were all part of the collective punk mythos.

My two selections today come from California and DC, and were arguably the biggest, most significant examples of their respective home scenes at the time, and are certainly two of the most influential and rabidly loved in the present day and age. Of course I’m talking about Minutemen and Minor Threat.

I won’t go into the similarities and differences of each group, those can be noted simply by listening, but the impact they both had on everything after them cannot be denied and to argue the “better” of the two is just silliness. Personally, I prefer Minor Threat because they spoke to me on a social level that I could relate to easily as an angry 17yo, whereas Minutemen’s politically charged bursts of energy were often beyond me because my indifference to politics gave me no point of meaningful reference.

Both bands worked hard for several years and established an extreme cult following that is still alive and well, and I find it amusing that while all of Minor Threat’s commercial output, several releases, can fit snuggly on one CD, the Minutemen’s most celebrated album, Double Nickels on the Dime, has twice as many songs (plus other albums and the Post-Mersh collections, etc).

Both bands ended for vastly different reasons, and I’ll leave it to your interest to explore why (though you should already know), and members went on to more “mainstream” notable acts like fIREHOSE and Fugazi, to just name drop a couple.  Anyway… Here are a couple of personal standouts from both, Minutemen’s This Ain’t No Picnic and Minor Threat’s Bottled Violence. From there you can link around to all sorts of good stuff.


Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Rules of a Show

Tomorrow (Friday) my wife and I are headed to Pensacola to see the Old 97s. They’re still touring the 15th anniversary release of their seminal classic, Too Far to Care, and playing the album in its entirety. Rhett is opening the deal with a solo acoustic set, and I imagine there will be at least an encore of the band going through some other fan favorites.

This reminds me that my wife wants me to look up some recent set lists, to see what we can expect. Spoiler alert, I know, but in the instance of a show, I like to know what to expect. Doubtless, Rhett will play Question during his set, and I’ll excuse myself to go to the bar.

Anyway…we’ve been listening to Old 97s and Rhett and even Murry’s solo outing for the past several days, getting pumped to see one of our favorite bands again, and for the first time out of TN, and leaving the kids in the dust for my mom to contend with. Say a prayer for her now, ‘cos with the itty bitty one, she’s gonna need it.

This brings to mind a set of three rules for going to a show that we came up with several years ago when driving to Asheville, NC to see Smashing Pumpkins with JT and his wife. And these aren’t obvious rules of logical courtesy, like dummies who feel obliged to be on their cell phone in some capacity during the entire show, or those who want to talk during the quietest part of the quietest song (and yell Radio Free Europe). I assume those idiots don’t read my blog. At least I hope not.  

Of course you’re not gonna get kicked out of the venue for breaking any of these rules – but I will make fun of you.

1)   Do not wear a t-shirt for the band you’re going to see. This one is the most forgivable, and especially old school folks like to show off that they mostly celebrate the early stuff. But why not instead sport a shirt from a similar artist? Or maybe show us all how cool and diverse you are by wearing a group from a completely different genre (please, without irony), like Black Sabbath or Blur at a Bon Iver show (not that I know anything about Bon Iver, I was just throwing in some alliteration). And of course Beatles, Stones and Bowie shirts are always acceptable. Grateful Dead shirts are just played out, hippies. Isn’t there a Phish show you should be at? Better yet, just wear a non-music related shirt and stop being so darned smug. You’re there, so I know that at least your girlfriend is partially cool.
2)   No listening to the band on the way to the show. Better still to avoid that artist all day, especially a new album. Why not cleanse your palate for the experience so you can get blown away when the stage lights hit? Plus, let’s face it, if you were that big of a fan, you’d be familiar with every song anyway. And if you’re just trying to beef up on the lyrics so you can sing along, then I don’t want to stand by you. After the performance is 100% okay. Once you’re riding that great show high, it’s rough coming down, so the methadone for a killer live experience is a bit of the same in a more controlled form. Make sure you play a couple of tracks you wish they had.
3)   Absolutely under no circumstances are you to purchase a t-shirt at the show and then put it on to wear during the show. I seriously hate this. I see you standing there, so what are you trying to prove with the shirt on for the show you’re currently attending? What? You don’t have a bag/purse/pocket big enough to carry it? Well, first off, you can pick one up AFTER the show on your way to the car. But if you didn’t know that, go in the bathroom and put it on UNDER whatever you’re wearing. When your sweater is clumping and lumping all over your body, and making Tegan & Sara’s faces look like a wad of mashed potatoes, you’re not doing anybody any favors. Of course wearing the shirt the day after the show is totally legit – that’s the time to throw it in the face of any dope who couldn’t get off work and make it out. You know, assuming you’re still in your early 20s and working at Gap.

Now having said all of that, my wife will break at least two of these rules on Friday. But I don’t have to like it.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Favorite of 2012

So, as I said, I lost my best of 2012 list… Well, first off, I was lazy about writing it up. Then I lost it. And then somewhere in that time I finally picked up two of the albums that had come out early in 2012, and they ended up bumping off a couple others when I was re-compiling.

Not that this matters/you care, but I thought I’d share.

BTW, JT is being belligerent about this, but he’ll come around.

But here is my list, in no particular order, though I do name my favorite of the year.

Old 97s – The Grand Theatre Volume Two: Naturally, when you have a pre-planned, multi-volume series of releases on your hands, folks are gonna tend to assume the best of the lot will be on volume one, and the rest will be pleasant filler with a couple of standouts. Of course Old 97s are smarter than that, not to mention better, and when a couple of years ago Rhett Miller reported that the tunes were coming out of him like quicksilver (my paraphrasing), he wasn’t kidding. For as great as The Grand Theatre Volume One is, Volume Two might be just a smidge better. This one delves even further back into their “old sound,” with hardly any of the “good but not quite right” styling from their early 00s mainstream pop heyday, keeping things lean and raw and ragged. And the studio chatter tacked on to various songs is the sweetest of icing on this cake. 

Beach House – Bloom: As I said previously, the key here is repeat listens. When you do this, all the textures and subtle nuances in these songs bubble to the surface and present a startling cache of fresh beauty. Again, there may be a “formula” with Beach House, but (as with AC/DC) when you’re mining a vein of gold so rich, why change a thing?

Frankie Rose – Interstellar: I think this one is it, my personal favorite album of the year (thanks MSP). Why? Because of all the hip kids still riding on the retro 80s wave, Frankie has pretty much summed it up with a crimson bow. This collection of stark, moody pop is so alarmingly beautiful, that the first time I listened to it, I had to just stop what I was doing and become absorbed in the music. (Thankfully, I wasn’t driving.) But this isn’t moping for the sake of attention, this is genuine melancholy music, pop-tastic but atmospheric, with propelling drums, verb-slashed guitars and Frankie’s lovely, plaintive voice bringing it all together. A lot of the obvious “influences” are noticeable, like the Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen, etc, but I swear I hear Gene Loves Jezebel as well, and (intended or not) that right there won my heart.

Aimee Mann – Charmer: A year ago if you’d asked me what Aimee Mann’s best record was, I’d have said 2000’s Bachelor No. 2 without blinking. And while I do own a few others, I’d also have said it’s really all you need, ‘cos the cool but intimate style she developed on that album pretty much carried forward, always with pleasing results. Well, Bachelor No. 2, take a step back, ‘cos here comes a real Charmer (sorry for that). Seriously, what an album. Right out of the gate with the title track, Aimee sounds fresh and vibrant and muscular. This album churns and broods and flat out rocks like…well, like she has in the past, but these songs are so stinking good and catchy, that you just have to step back and say, “Well done!”

Neil Halstead – Palindrome Hunches: I still feel SO guilty for not including 2008’s Oh! Mighty Engine in my top list of that year. And I like that album, but there is something about it that always feels rushed. Not so with Palindrome Hunches. Neil is in full on laid-back mode, moving through these tunes like a slow knife through room temp butter. As always, his take on love and life on the low track is fascinating, taking you there without effort and letting you drift awhile as you draw everything in. This is an album that demands repeat spins, allowing you to get lost in itself, but always letting you up for air. Take a deep breath and dive in for more.

Bob Dylan – Tempest: I’m not gonna raz Uncle Bob too much for the mediocrity of his last two efforts, but I will say that Tempest is an album where Dylan truly deserves the continued praise he’s had heaped on him with a cherry on top since his official comeback over 15 years ago. The key here is memorable hooks and instrumentation on top of his ever-worthwhile lyrical play. And instead of morphing a bunch of styles together, he lets each (jazz, Tin Pan Alley, etc) stand on its own, allowing the flavors of the individual songs to coalesce into a nice stew of yummy goodness. If he’d just left out the meandering, “We know how this ends” title track, I’d have put this in my top five.

Lana Del Rey – Born to Die: Love her or hate her, this prefab darling has the look and the hook. The latter is what I’m most interested in, because Born to Die is chock full of catchy melodies, catch phrases and dreamy musical interludes. But this isn’t fluffy bubble gum fodder. No, Lana is showing us the darker side of the trendy, hipster lifestyle, the tedium of “having it all” and the loss that we all fear when the lights go down and our eyes close. I admit that this began as a guilty pleasure, but producer-birthed image or not, she’s co-writing her own tunes and (for now) making me a believer.

Tallest Man on Earth – There’s No Leaving Now: Oh no, TMoE is going electric! No, not really. While Kristian did add some drums and bass to a couple of tunes, this is a) just the next logical step in a layering process he’s been bringing with each release and b) so perfectly melded into the overall feeling of those selected songs, that you really have to listen for them. In other words, There’s No Leaving Now is as strikingly minimalist and lovely as the first EP, there are just more pieces creating the whole. Meanwhile, the songwriting itself remains as passionate and moving as ever, focusing on the terms of self in the magically cryptic way that Kristian has of spinning his words. Bottom line, he’s getting better and better with each release.

First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar: Along with TMoE, another Swedish import in the folky vein. Only instead of harnessing Dylan, these too-young-to-be-singing-like-this sisters are pulling heavily from old country and vintage Americana, creating a sound that’s old school familiar and yet freshly contemporary. Again, how kids this age can pull out aching lyrics along the lines of Emmylou, Blue and the title track is beyond me; and when you add their flawless harmonies, its truly a thing of wonder and magic. If your heart doesn’t break at least twice, then it’s made of wood.

Stars – The North: A Canadian import that I’ve only been vaguely familiar with in the past, a friend of mine was raving about this album for a solid two weeks, so on a whim I picked it up…and then I was spinning it nonstop as well. Stars’ take on dance punk is certainly steeped in New Order, but with an edge of menace that makes even NO’s dark early days just seem moody, and a flair for melody and overall musicianship that is…well, Bernard never claimed to be a guitar god. Long story short, this is a super fun album, with lots of rump shaking beats and full out sing-alongs that will keep the party going for darn near 45 minutes.