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. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Two for Tuesday

Hello! Another Two for Tuesday is upon us. Look at me, almost on a roll here.

This go around we’ve got two from Old 97s, featuring lead vocals from their bassist and uber harmonist, Murry Hammond. As I’ve said in more than one album review of the Old 97s, Murry’s one or two songs per outing are often the tastiest and most haunting moments in any given set. If Rhett is the fast pumping, romantic heart of the band, Murry is easily the laid back old soul, lost in the wistful whiles of remember when…

My first selection is from their breakthrough period, the veritable Valentine (Fight Songs - 1999), always an eager fan favorite; and then Color of a Lonely Heart is Blue (Blame It On Gravity – 2008), a heart sick ballad that nearly blows the roof off a fantastic album by simply sitting back and delivering a mournful croon.

And if you dig what you’re hearing, you should check out Murry’s solo effort, I Don’t Know Where I’m Going but I’m On My Way.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Bestest of 2012...

Well, this is not my top list of 2012…why? Because the computer I was housing it on fried on me last week and I’ve yet to figure out a way to retrieve it. I know, I know, if I’d just been on the ball and gotten it done a month ago…but alas…

I have no excuse for JT other than plumb laziness on his part.

You’ve been called out, son.

However, I must bring attention to another pal’s top, or as he calls it “bestest,” of 2012. MSP has been name dropped here a time or so in the past and he always has an ear open for the most interesting of what’s going on out there. So check out his bestest picks below, complete with song links, and then go here for more categories of what floated his boat last year, both new and old.

Meanwhile, I’ll be trying to re-piece my own list…

The Bestest

Beak> » - It just kept getting into grooves and unexplainable corners and science fiction yesterdays I was feeling pretty in touch with.  And it just rocked.

Cate Le Bon Cyrk - Somewhere between nico and punk rock is easy to fall for.

Deerhoof Break Up Song - Dudes, pizzicato 5 + dymaxion + jesu + who knows what else… robot break dance me right off the taco truck and i’m smiling.

Fergus & Geronimo Funky Was the State of Affairs - ‘Cause weird ass punk rock with rayguns and kooky samples is always gonna be my thing.

Flying Lotus Until the Quiet Comes - In the back of my head kind of primal moods like nighttime in a place I used to know.

Grass Widows Internal Logic  - Best guitar and vocal lines.  My bestest of bestest I think.

Kendrick Lamar Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City - A combination of Christian religious symbolism, booty shake, and long form out sound is why I love this record.  

Lower Dens Nootropics - Taste and nuance are tricky and these folks have it.

Sharon Van Etten Tramp  - Love the lyrics and feel of this one.  It’s hard not to swoon a tad.

Weird Weeds Weird Weeds - The mood and movement is just perfect.  Listen to the track below, it’ll do better than a description.