Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

“She’s said ‘I’m a bad girl, just like in the movies'”

Oh man, guys, Johnny High Ground has a new EP out! Joe Rybicki is a brilliant musician, and crafts truly awesome tunes. Go check out his new EP, Lorum Ipsum on his Band Camp page. Then go and buy all the rest of his stuff, too. Because it’s all brilliant.

But if you do nothing else, go check out his new song “Slow News Day“. It’s catchy, well-crafted, well-performed, and a very important message.

Support Your Friendly Neighborhood Rockstars

Okay, so they’re not exactly in my neck of the woods, but they definitely are friendly and rockstars. See, four of the most brilliant, kind, funny, awesome people in the world happened to get together and form a band. That band is called the Shondes, and it’s been my great and distinct pleasure to meet them on a few occasions and to get to know them a little bit. They’re talented musicians and beautiful human beings.

Last weekend, their van got stolen. Now a good van is the life-blood of many a decent rock band, but the Shondes, living as they do in NYC, have no other vehicle. They need a good reliable vehicle to get them to gigs and to their recording studio in upstate New York. They’ve set up a kickstarter project to try and raise money to get a new van.

Now I’m planning to donate some to the cause, but I kind of wanted to do something more. So here’s the plan. If any of you reading this donate to the Shondes’ kickstarter project, post a comment here with the amount that you donated and I will match all donations from my readers between now and March 1st up to $100, in addition to the lump sum I was already going to donate. It’s not much, but it’s definitely something.

The Shondes are great people and awesome musicians. So please, if you can, donate to the cause. If you do so ’cause you read about it here, please leave a comment, and I’ll match your donation.

In the meantime, here’s a fun video for their song “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”:

“God does not need Abraham”

Sorry for the no blogging the past few days. I’ve had a few college friends in town, and have spent my time catching up with them as well as doing my fair share of drinking, carousing, etc.

Content volume should pick up tomorrow. In the meantime, this song wrecks me. Ethereally beautiful, heartbreaking, lush, perfect:

EDIT: Looks like the embedding widget is broke. Grooveshark link.

“The planets in the heavens are perfectly aligned”

Upgrading WordPress shortly. It will either go entirely smoothly or completely wreck the blog. On the off-chance that it works, enjoy this awesome tune by The Mountain Goats:

The Decemberists, The King is Dead

Artist: The Decemberists
Album: The King is Dead
Label: Rough Trade Records
Release Date: 2011.1.17
Score: 10/10

Say what one will about the Decemberists, they’re certainly a unique band. Their fantastic themes and skillfully crafted, folksy rock have made them an important (and popular) part of the modern Indie scene. They’re also a band that manages to extract a lot of diversity out of a unique musical voice.

After their last album, 2009’s The Hazards of Love, I was a little afraid that they’d gone off the rails. Don’t get me wrong, I actually really like the album, but album-length Fantasy rock operas are typically a late-stage stunt for a band. So I was really not sure what to expect from a new release with the typically Decemberists-like (Decemberesque?) title of The King is Dead. What I got was a well-crafted folk-rock album with just enough fantasy to make it interesting. It was, in short, everything I had hoped for.

The whimsical, fantastic touch that Colin Meloy and co. bring to their work is much lighter in this album than in previous ones. It’s almost as if, having overdosed on whimsy a few years ago, they felt the need to tone it down a bit and focus on the important things: solid rock grooves, engaging lyrics, and sweeping, folky melodies. And that focus definitely pays off.

And it does so right from the off. The lead track, “Don’t Carry It All” marries stomping percussion with bright melodies, shimmering guitars, and anthemic vocals. It’s a fun tune and it sets a great and gutsy tone for the rest of the album.

Another great tune is the single from the album, “Down by the Water”. Here, Colin Meloy is at his lyrical and vocal best. There are so many perfect lines in this song (“I was just some towhead teen/lookin’ ’round for fingers to get in between”), and each one is backed by tight, carefully crafted noise and clatter. Rock solid drums are covered over in a wash of cymbals, harmonica, accordion, and fuzzy guitars. It’s noisy and gorgeous and I absolutely love it.

While it is much toned down here, the Decemberists’ whimsy isn’t entirely missing from The King is Dead. “Calamity Song” is rollicking tune about a dream of the apocalypse. (Its chorus also features the most striking vocal melody I’ve heard in a long time.) “Rox in the Box” is mining song with a feel of mythic dread about it. It’s dark and fantastic in all the right ways, with warbling strings and fatalistic prognostications of dreariness and death. And yet it still manages to bring a smile to my face with jangly guitars and playful alliteration (“you won’t make a dime on this gray granite mountain mine”).

The King is Dead is my favorite Decemberists album since Her Majesty…. It’s also definitely the most accessible Decemberists album to date. If you like good folk music or good rock music or especially if, like me, you’re a sucker for the blend of the two, then you definitely need to grab a copy. It’s a unique, well-executed record from one of the most interesting bands in the business.

Postscript: You’ll notice that this record was put out by the venerable Rough Trade Records. May I just say: God damn but it’s good to find a veteran record label that’s still vibrant. Rough Trade Records has been around for over 30 years, and I never thought they’d put out anything this far away from their punk roots. That sort of adaptability is, methinks, why Rough Trade is still around and, e.g., Factory Records (formed in the same year) is not. It’s also why I hope to still be listening to Rough Trade imprints 30 years from now, and I don’t think the Big Four can die quick enough for my tastes.

Adorable Coincidences

It just so happens that, in the past couple days, I’ve stumbled across several utterly charming videos of people with their kids. Being a music geek, here are my two favorites.

First up, this kid lays down the wicked grooves:

Baby’s First Audition from alex on Vimeo.

Secondly, Jorge and Alexa Narvaez cover “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros:

Cake, Showroom of Compassion

Artist: Cake
Album: Showroom of Compassion
Label: Upbeat Records
Release Date: 2011.1.11
Score: 8.5/10

Long hiatuses are always scary for the fans. Typically, the longer a band goes without recording, the further away that new record will be from their older material. Definitely in style and all too often in quality.

So when I heard that Cake was releasing a new album seven years, I met the news with both a smile and a cringe. (A “sminge”, I shall call it.) I mean, after seven years, would the old magic still be there? Would they still be able to create that perfect mix of sweet horn lines, catchy pop riffs, and sardonic lyrics?

Turns out I needn’t have worried. Showroom of Compassion is easily as good as some of Cake’s earlier work. Is it different? Sure, but only in the fact that it feels a lot more mature than their earlier works. The horns don’t have the gimmicky feel that they occasionally had on earlier records, instead being limited to tasteful blares and well-crafted melodies. The guitar and bass riffs are more subdued, but no less fun or recognizable. (Cf. “Got to Move” which is built on a guitar that alternates between chunky, staccato hooks and long, descending lines, both of which perfectly fit the lyrics and the feel of the tune.)

Stylistically, the album isn’t too much of a shift. If you liked the sweeping, poppy grooves of Cake circa Comfort Eagle you’ll find a lot here to like. “Sick of You”, for instance, takes classic Cake themes of anti-consumerism and interpersonal emptiness and wraps it in fuzzy guitars and tasteful, horn-led counter-melodies. It’s got the classic Cake feel from the plodding drums, to the shouted backup vocals, to the filtered, sung-spoken vocal interlude.

Which isn’t to say that the album isn’t without its departures from form. “Easy to Crash” is a meandering-synth heavy track, with a ballad-y feel and some wicked heavy drum fills. And yet, for having several atypical elements, it still manages to feel like a Cake track. This, I think, might be one of the hallmarks of a great band: even when they change their style, they’re still instantly recognizable.

But one of the most notable tracks on the album is the opener. To any Cake fan hearing the album for the first time, “Federal Funding” will set aside any worries they may have had re: album quality. It’s sarcastic, cynical, and fun, with layered horn lines, clattery drums, and some truly slick guitar hooks. In short, it’s everything you might love about Cake in one lovely little package.

So for Cake fans, I have only to say that, yes, I was worried, too. But I needn’t have been. This is Cake almost as good as they get. (I think I might like Comfort Eagle and Fashion Nugget a bit more, but Showroom of Compassion is definitely up there in quality.) For everyone else, I say, this is as good a time as any to start loving Cake. So go, buy the record, and enjoy.

And by the time you’ve worked your way back through the rest of their albums, maybe they’ll be ready to release another one. Let’s hope it’s not another seven years.

“Behind his eyes he says, I still exist”

I just finished watching a great documentary on the band Joy Division. It includes lots of interesting interviews with the surviving members, as well as some great archival footage of the band throughout their too-short career. It blended all this with modern shots of places and people important to the Manchester scene in the late 70s and with a larger sense of Manchester as a whole.

In this way, the documentary departs pretty significantly from a lot of other commentary on Joy Division. Manchester is typically treated as mere setting for the Joy Division story, rather than some integral part of it. If Manchester is woven into the narrative, it’s almost always in terms of Joy Division single-handedly bringing back a sick and faltering community. This documentary (Directed by Grant Gee and heavily featuring Anton Corbijn, the filmmaker who directed the Ian Curtis biopic Control) instead seems to take the tack that Joy Division’s music was fundamentally about Manchester and that the city itself is an integral part of the story. Manchester is mentioned several times in the film as the cradle of modernity, and the band’s dark sound and Curtis’ often dystopic lyrics are portrayed almost as emerging from the city itself.

I found this focus on Manchester a bit annoying at first, since it seemed to take some of the credit away from the band themselves, but on the whole I have to admit that it’s done rather well. The heavy use of locations and archival footage of the city lends a compelling quality to this notion of Joy Division as an inherent product of the city. It gives one a sense that, to butcher a quote paraphrase, “If Joy Division didn’t exist, Manchester would have had to create them”.

Two other elements of the film that I was particularly gratified to see were the inclusion of an interview with Annik HonorĂ© and the significant downplay of role of producer Martin Hannett. In the film, HonorĂ© comes across as remarkably sympathetic and entirely, at times painfully, genuine. The focus on her (both by the film makers and the other interviewees) is much less as “Ian’s other woman” and more as someone who obviously cared for Ian Curtis very deeply. In fact, when discussing Curtis’ death, Annik seems to be the only person who knew him well enough to be concerned for him.

The other element of the documentary that I was particularly pleased with is that it largely left out Martin Hannett. Martin Hannett was the producer of both of Joy Divisions albums and, after Ian Curtis’ death, made it a point to remind anyone who would listen to him of that fact. Other biographers of Curtis and of Joy Division give him extraordinary amounts of credit for developing the bands sound and, in essence, making them the musical force that they were. Now, don’t get me wrong, Hannett was a good and talented producer, but anyone who has heard Joy Division’s raw recordings (whether they be live or simply pre-studio) can attest to the fact that Joy Division had a sound all their own long before Hannett entered into the equation. To claim otherwise (as many have before, Hannett included) is to take credit away from the people who rightly deserve it: the band themselves.

All in all, the Joy Division documentary is exceedingly well done. It tells the story of one of the most captivating bands in modern musical history, and it does so with humanity, compassion, and a decidedly unique take. Highly recommended viewing for any Joy Division fan.

“The dreadful weight of an unlived life”

One of my favorite discoveries in 2010 was an electronic group called Dearling Physique. Their single “Discipline Your Hands” is on my (recently finished) 2010 Best Of mix (more on that in a day or two). The tune is dark, synthy, and glitchy in all the right ways. Wailing samples, dark-yet-melodic vocals, and all sorts of scratchy noise. I love it!

Well, I just got word that the video for “Discipline Your Hands” is out, and it definitely does the song justice. It’s one of the coolest new videos I’ve seen in awhile. It’s very well-shot and a great match for the song. It’s definitely worth ~4.5 minutes of your life to give it a watch and a listen:

“My breath released into the open sky”

I’ve been listening to a bunch of my favorite new music from 2010 recently. I keep coming back to the new Posies album, Blood/Candy. It’s a brilliant record, and here’s one of my favorite songs off of it.

The Posies, “For the Ashes”:

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Magic Blue Smoke

House Rules:

1.) Carry out your own dead.
2.) No opium smoking in the elevators.
3.) In Competitions, during gunfire or while bombs are falling, players may take cover without penalty for ceasing play.
4.) A player whose stroke is affected by the simultaneous explosion of a bomb may play another ball from the same place.
4a.) Penalty one stroke.
5.) Pilsner should be in Roman type, and begin with a capital.
6.) Keep Calm and Kill It with Fire.
7.) Spammers will be fed to the Crabipede.