Monday, June 23, 2008

Ben Folds Live

Ben Folds Live-Ben Folds
Released: October 8, 2002

The only song that I knew by the band Ben Folds Five was "Brick".  When I acquired this album, it was because I liked that song and I thought maybe there would be some more that I could like, too.  Of course, he ditched the other folks that had made up the five, so on this he's just Ben Folds.  I don't know the story of where they went, and I'm sure I'll find out from Wikipedia, at some point. 

A man and a piano.  And an audience, or two, or three.  I still like "Brick", and it doesn't really sound any different on this live album than I remember it sounding when I heard it on the radio.  Nowadays, when it pops up on shuffle, or I've put it on my singable songs playlist, I think of riding around in my mom's car on visits to Idaho.  Maybe it was only one visit, hardly matters.  In my memory, there are four of us in the car--Dana, Paige, my mom and me.  We're listening to the radio station out of Sun Valley with it's mix between commercial "alternative" music and a smattering of not so commercial bands, like Built to Spill and Death Cab.  (This is before Death Cab was playing Key Arena and huge amphitheatres, and still playing places like the Showbox...)  Anyway, in this memory, it is also wintry outside.  We're probably driving Paige to a school activity, or something.  I like this memory.  Even if it's not exactly accurate. I'll take it.  The other thing I like about this song is that I think Folds has done an admirable job capturing an experience that I haven't had, and giving it emotion, texture.  It's so grey.  It brings to mind grey weather, grey washes over the song right down to the nature of the actions taken in the song.  Nothing is clear or easy or finite.  It's all grey... (Of course, the Pitchfork review had a good negative point about this song, which was that the high school girlfriend who he'd gotten pregnant and had the abortion probably doesn't appreciate being immortalized as a "brick"... touche and now I feel kinda bad for liking the song.  Except that I'd had another interpretation of the term.  That she was a lot tougher than he was.  Laugh at my naivete if you wish...)

I could be happy to only ever listen to this song on the album, except that it's kind of fun, in general.  It's pop.  Good 'ole, sing-a-long pop.  I read on iTunes that that particular reviewer didn't feel that this album added anything to any of the songs recorded in the studio.  Rather, he missed the rhythm section and the harmonies that Folds created with additional band mates.  Well, not having ever heard any of those, this one works for me.  I don't feel a need to buy anymore Folds, solo or otherwise, as Ben Folds Live is plenty of Folds for me.  This live album definitely showcases a talented pianist with a decent singing voice and acceptable lyricist.  I can't help but picture frat boys and sorority girls fawning over him, though.  Some of his songs possess a youthful exuberance that are a little too collegiate for me to really cross the threshold between good and great.  (I'm not sure what I mean by that, but it makes sense somewhere in my critical brain.)  Friends climbing up trees while tripping on acid and finding god.  Buddies who can't let college go once they've gone, (we all know someone like that, sigh... and I like that song, too, "Silver Street", it's called.)  Unwanted teen pregnancy.  Dude, I love yous.  I'm oversimplifying to make a point.  He never says "Dude, I love you."  But I wouldn't be surprised if he had in "The Luckiest", my least favorite song on the album.  It's just too cheesy--perfect for the overly ernest youth falling in love--maybe he is trying to capture that?  Hard to say.  Well, at least he's more amusing than schmaltzy. 

"Tiny Dancer" is a great cover, though.  I will give him that.  He does nothing to it but sing it and sing it straight.  Yeah, yeah, yeah... after Almost Famous it was hard to ever hear that song, again.  But it's nice to hear a sweet version.  Suits him well.  

Well, my loyal readership... I'm headed to Idaho, tomorrow.  This means that I'll be taking a little break from my project.  Sorry.  I know you are all VERY disappointed.  But since two or three of the five people that read this are going to be enjoying my company, I think I'll be forgiven.  Take this opportunity to explore your own cd/record/tape/iTunes collection.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Being There (Disc 2)

Being There-Wilco (Disc 2)
Released: Oct. 20, 1996
Reprise Records

Funny thing about setting myself a goal, or task, of sorts.  This iTunes album by album thing.  Yesterday, I didn't have a chance to listen to disc 2 of Being There, and I felt guilty.  I felt like I'd forgotten to do something important, like turn off the iron, or brush my teeth.  Today, another day of activities--yoga, interminably long bus out to Ballard to meet a friend, hang out with said friend, come home in the late evening--I had a restless need to just sit on my couch/futon and put on the record.  I was going to let myself down if I didn't get this listening party for one completed, tonight.  This is not the kind of personal pressure I need.  I'm on VACATION!!!!!

Disc 2.  Not as good as disc 1.  I like some of the songs and I could do without others.  Begins well enough, and then just sort of peters out... 

The second version of "Outta Mind (Outta Sight) starts out like the "Sesame Street" song, in a way.  It's not the exact same notes, but the rhythm and count is very close.  I like this version, too.  It's very jaunty, fun; the tempo has been straightened out a bit.  The sentiments are neither jaunty nor fun, not in the literal sense.  (Maybe they are for the guy who's getting over the girl, though.  A bit tongue and cheek, perhaps?)  "I know you don't love me.  I know you don't love me anymore, alright."  Well, whataya gonna do?  My favorite song on this 2nd disc is "Someone Else's Song".  Right combination of melancholy longing, tender melody, pretty guitar and great sound on the vocals--an echo, as if he's using one of those old crooner mics.  You know the ones, right?  They're very 1940's/50's; a singer can seductively cup his/her hand around it or do tricks with the base while swinging the whole thing around.  After that song, which is the fourth track, I lose interest.  I'm not a big fan of The Grateful Dead (who am I kidding?  I'm not a fan at all.), and while I was listening to the rest of the album, with the exception of one song, that's who I was thinking of.  Honestly, I couldn't say the remaining songs sounded anything like The Dead, but that's what got in my head.  I did like "The Lonely 1".  Again, it's got that melancholy thing going for it and Tweedy's vocals are wistful and a bit strained on the high notes, something sweet about that sound.  I like the narrative structure of the lyrics as well as what I get from them.  Public v. Private self.  

It's not like I'm not going to delete the songs from my computer, or anything.  If I decided to have a Wilco day and listen to all of the albums I have of theirs (well, aside from this, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and a live album, that's it) I wouldn't skip over these four or five songs.  However, if I was just sitting at my computer with shuffle going on, I'd skip 'em if they came up.  The review I read on Pitchfork wondered why they didn't just put out a single disc record and leave off some of the songs.  Wonder if he was thinking of the same songs I am....

Friday, June 20, 2008

Being There (Disc 1)

Being There (Disc 1)-Wilco
Released: Oct. 20, 1996
Reprise Records

Today is the longest day of the year.  It got dark in Seattle around 10pm, as my friend, Marcus, and I were ending a walk we took, tonight, as we both had nothing in particular to do and live so close to each other.  O.  And it was SUPER nice out.  A really lovely, long walk that took us through posh Capitol Hill nooks and crannies.  It really was a great way to welcome the onset of summer.  Marcus offered three questions for me to put on my blog, prior to talking about this album and here they are:

1. People still litter?  Who does that?!  (Because we saw litter on our walk and were really incredulous that there are people in this world who still think this is ok.)

2. Who uses styrofoam anymore?!  (Because he was telling me about being at some place where they actually served him a drink in styrofoam.)

3. What guy thinks a lone female in a desolate area is actually going to go over to his car and "give him directions"?!  (Because I related a story where this happened to me and my response was an indignant "no" as I continued the run I was on, but at a much faster pace until I was safely ensconced by apartment buildings and houses, again.)

Summer.  Wilco.  Being There.  A double album and sold at the price of a one disc album.  According to Wikipedia, this was an agreement made between Jeff Tweedy--lead singer and song writer--and Reprise records.  Today I listened to only the first disc, and it seemed really appropriate for the weather and the time of year.  It sounds like a good summer album, perfect for sitting out on your deck--if you are so fortunate as to have one--drinking a nice cold beer, or other cold beverage of your choice.  I layed on my couch/futon and imagined that I had a deck.  I did not drink a beer, though, I suppose I could have.  

I don't know where to put Wilco.  They're rock 'n roll.  They're alt country-ish.  Songs on this album, in particular, bring to mind The Rolling Stones, John Cougar Mellencamp (or John Mellencamp, or John Cougar, whatever he's going by these days...) and even a hint of The Replacements.    Also some good ole' honky tonk twangin'.  They are their own genre, in many ways.  I'd used the term "roots rock" in my journal, today, wondering if that is where they'd be classified and the original review on Pitchfork used the same term.  What, exactly, does that mean?  American roots rock?  Anyway, I think this band is well worth a listen and this album has many singable tunes.  I'll tell you now that Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is, by far, my favorite Wilco release... but those "Y"s ain't coming for a loooooooooong time.  

"Misunderstood", the first track, starts out with this strident sound of instruments--the band members all playing something other than their own--before easing into a much more melodic tune of a misunderstood fellow and then falling apart, in a way, with another noise assault and Tweedy's strained vocals "I know you've got a God-shaped hole, leanin' out your..." something or other, I'm not sure what he says.  Anyway, the screaming of "Nothin', Nothin, Nothin" and that whole breakdown bit is my favorite part of the song.  

I like Tweedy's love songs, such as they are, too.  There is tenderness, there is longing and there is a romantic sentimentality to them; I wouldn't accuse him of being a mushy sentimentalist, thankfully.  "Far, Far Away" and "Say You Miss Me" express similar ideas, longing to see the object of his affection, but in different circumstances.  Both capture that feeling of love.  One is waiting for you, though you might be on the road, or something.  And the other aches with heartbreak and loss.  Tweedy's raspy, too many cigarettes vocals carry that loss in them.  They have that been there, seen that and that and that, post all nighter scratch.  He's not necessarily jaded, but he certainly has been around the block many, many times.  

If you haven't had the chance and if you're a Wilco fan, I recommend the documentary about their departure from Reprise, I Am Trying To Break Your Heart--one of my favorite song titles, ever, by the way.  It's a fascinating look at a band as it learns that they're being dropped by their record label AND making an album at the same time.  It's intimate and surprising.  A glimpse into the music world and all its trials and tribulations.

Next up... Being There (Disc 2)!!!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Before the Dawn Heals Us

Before the Dawn Heals Us-M83
Released: Jan. 25, 2005
Mute Records (US)

French band, M83, creates crazy cinematic landscapes for this album.  The songs are grandiose, broad and, as one reviewer put it so aptly "baroque".  Gold gilt is all over this puppy, my friends.  It's a pretty great record to listen to, even when it seems to be a giant cacophony of instruments and voices.  Lay back, close your eyes and let the movie begin...

For Before the Dawn Heals Us, M83 became a band of one, Anthony Gonzalez.  He recruits a female singer, an actress and a host of celestial voices for back up.  The sounds sweep, burst, lull and urge you along.  This is electronica, and there are live drums and I'm pretty sure I hear some guitars in there, too.  Though I wouldn't classify this as a concept album, I definitely listen to it like a story; it has an arc--really feels like there is a beginning, middle and end, complete with climax and denouement.  It can be thrilling at times, such as when "Don't Save Us From the Flames" lunges at your ears, and creepy/exciting during "Car Chase Terror"--here, the text is read by the actress (Kate Moran, I don't know who she is but what a gig, huh?), I presume, and the fear in her voice has the ability to muster an unease in this listener.  I think the text is written by the brother of Gonzalez, or so I read.  Anyway, maybe the one song that kind of grates is "Can't Stop" with it's repetitive lyrics, "I can't stop.  I can't stop, yeah.", over and over and synthesizers that are almost as repetitive.  It's not horrible, by any means.  This is not a perfect album.  It's good.  I enjoy listening to it.  It wouldn't accompany me onto the proverbial desert island.

"I Guess I'm Floating" incorporates a pretty, light sound accompanied by the voices of children laughing and playing.  What is it about that sound, echoey and distant, that makes one nostalgic?  This song might be my favorite, or one of them, anyway.  I do really like the previously mentioned "Don't Save Us From the Flames".  Oh, yeah.  "Safe" is terrific because it begins with a piano, a real one, and remains grounded through that instrument.  Gonzalez's airy singing floats in and around and is joined by a synthesizer (or keyboard.  I can't tell the difference, I'm sorry to say.)  Even when the synth takes over the piano, volume-wise, the bass notes of the piano continue to keep the song tethered to the realm in which it started.  Lovely. Continuing with my cinematic theme, I'm keen on how "A Guitar and a Heart" acts as the song that hits right after the climax, letting us know that things are about to wrap up.  We're not through, yet, but soon.  The final track, "Lower Your Eyes to Die with the Sun" is the synthesis of the entire album.  Elements from all that came before find themselves in this nearly 11 minute song and bring things to a close.  

I've heard really good things about the latest album, Saturdays=Youth, and even heard a song, or two, on the radio.  (I adore the cover and the homage to John Hughes' teen flicks.)  I'd like to get that and we'll just have to wait until the summer penny pinching is over.   

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Bang Bang Rock & Roll

Bang Bang Rock & Roll-Art Brut
Released: May 30, 2005 (UK) and 2006 (US)
Fierce Panda

The first songs I heard on the radio from this album made me laugh.  I thought it was pretty fun new punk rock and not overly serious.  Simple and even, at times, sweet--"Emily Kane" is about as sweet as they come.  I downloaded it from eMusic and hear songs pop up while the iPod or iTunes is on shuffle, but I'd never listened to it from start to finish.  Not once.  

I've now listened all the way through about five times and though the 15 songs in a row is beginning to grow on me, I still prefer to hear them at random, mixed among other songs.  It's just too much the same--it's punk rock with a sense of humor, and not very complex.  This is part of the charm of the band, of the album.  I wouldn't want it any differently, but even nonstop Ramones can be a little much without some kind of a break; and I adore the Ramones, truly.  (Have I just committed blasphemy?)  Still and all, super fun songs and I wouldn't get rid of the album.  "My Little Brother" is a reminder of my little brother, not because he went through a hoity-toity rock & roll phase in his early 20's, but from the first time I heard the song I just pictured Jess.  (Remember when you "borrowed" my U2 tapes, little brother?)  

Eddie Argos, frontman of the band, has a knack for declarative statements and my favorite by far is from "Good Weekend": "I've seen her naked, TWICE!  I've seen her naked, TWICE!"  It's the caesura (two beat pause the second time) between "naked" and "twice", combined with the emphasis of "twice" that never fails to bring a smile to my lips. (I was going to say exclamation of "twice" and then I realized that most of the songs are mostly sung with capitol letters and exclamation points...)  He's so bloody excited while being totally floored by the experience; as if he can't believe it happened to him.  There's a word for this, and it completely escapes me...

I enjoy the easy narrative that accompanies the songs, but wish for a little more elaboration, once in a while.  "Fight" is one of those songs... it doesn't seem to go anywhere, lyrics-wise, and maybe that's the point.  Fighting doesn't tend to get you anywhere, either--though I might be giving too much credit to the writer OR over thinking the lack of lyrics.  Hmmm... that's kind of the same thing.  Also, I will plead ignorance as to why the song "These Animal Menswe@r" is called that.  I just haven't been able to get it.  Regardless, I think that Art Brut was a refreshing band to bust out of the indie music scene back in 2005.  Something totally different than what was happening and what had been happening.  The band provides a good chuckle with some bouncy punk guitar and a respite from introspective, moody tunes--tunes that will always have a special place in my music lovin' heart.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Bachelor No. 2 (Or, the Last Remains of the Dodo)

Bachelor No. 2 (Or, the Last Remains of the Dodo)-Aimee Mann
Released: January 25, 2000
SuperEgo Records

This album was on my personal rotation when I worked at the little antique jewelry/vintage clothing shop.  Seemed perfectly acceptable.  Mann's voice is never harsh and the melodies couldn't be construed as offensive or too loud for a retail shop.  A couple of days ago, when I was listening to this in the background to prep for my official listen-through, I realized for the first time that track one, "How Am I Different" contains the line "When you fuck it up later do I get my money back?"  A line that repeats throughout the song.  I never noticed at the store because she sounds so pleasant while she's singing it.  Even when I listened at home, I think I thought she was saying something like "muck it up"--the "f" bomb somehow slipped by.  No one else seemed to notice, either, as there were never any shocked faces or complaints.  Except from my boss, who simply didn't care for Mann.  To each her own, n'est pas?

I enjoy listening to this album.  I like singing along to it, and it's great tidying the apartment music.  I've decided that her voice sounds kind of like an oboe.  It's unique and has a very easy quality, which I like.  She may sing about soured relationships, lost chances and mucking along through love, but she's not angry and she doesn't whine.  Intelligent lyrics that don't shy away from examining herself (the singer as character) and making pithy observations.  "It Takes All Kinds" includes, to this listener's ears, a little tongue and cheek nod to doo-wop with it's erroneously idealized image of the 1950's.  Hardly congruent with the subject of this song.  It makes me laugh a little.  Clever little monkey...

Bachelor shares song writing credits with Elvis Costello, on "The Fall of the World's Own Optimist"; and Mann's partner, Michael Penn, offers his talents as guitar player and back up vocalist.  I can hear Penn's influence, especially on "Susan".  The opening guitar is very Penn; and I only know a few of his songs.  Of course, it's entirely possible that I have no idea what I'm talking about--but we've established that already.  Hmmmm... I suddenly have this vague recollection of seeing Michael Penn in concert... did I really?  I think I'll have to ask my pal, Matt, because I sort of think he might have been there with me... or else I'm making this whole thing up.  Also entirely possible.

On another note... I recently discovered--yes, a late bloomer almost always--a podcast of a radio program out of Chicago, that talks about music, called Sound Opinions.  Two Chicago rock critics are the hosts, and they are pretty durn interesting to listen to.  I listened to one, yesterday, that had been broadcast in April.  They were discussing sound quality and the lack of it on cds, and especially mp3s.  They lack depth, a three dimensionality, apparently.  Vinyl is the way to go and that's just not an option for everyone.  Vinyl is more expensive (just about twice, if not more, than what you'd pay for a download or cd) and not all artists have the time or money to invest in getting that kind of quality out of a recording session.  Slightly disheartening, but super interesting nonetheless.  I recommend checking out the podcast, if you have the time.  They do air the show on my local NPR station, but I'm not consistent with television or radio series; I get distracted and find I have something else I'd rather do.  Besides, what with podcasts and tv networks providing online viewing... well, I don't feel like I'm missing out.  'Cause I'm not. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Bach, in general...

Look, kids, I've made an executive decision regarding this listening adventure.  I have several albums of music composed by good ole' J.S.B.  I don't feel equipped to really delve into what's good about them.  It's Bach, for pete's sake!!!  It's wonderful and momentous and gorgeous and I love it.  He wrote for God.  Whether you believe in that higher being, or not, a man that has that kind of faith and that kind of talents produced some astonishing work for his big guy in the sky.  And there are, like, 4 albums right in a row.  Look, believe me when I tell you that of all the music I own, J.S.B. does not get neglected.  Either on my iTunes or my cd player.  So, rather than going over each by each, I thought I'd just share with y'all what I did, today and tonight as I listened to hours and hours of Bach.  

I went through stuff.  Papers and photos and such.  This is another one of my summer projects.  To go through the boxes stuck up on the shelf in my closet and determine what I actually want to keep versus what I've been holding onto because I feel guilty about tossing out that hallmark card signed, "with love, Jenny".  Who's Jenny?  Catch my drift?  And, as is expected in these situations, I got all caught up reading things and laughing at things and crying over things.  Happy to report that I did not shed one tear over the person in my previous life.  Just a little sigh out of respect for and a bit of "gee, glad I got outta that one!".  Still, what does one do with the photos and the letters?  Keep them?  Chuck 'em?  Any thoughts on this are welcome...

I have to say that I am more than a little impressed with my letter writing habits of the past.  I have so many letters from friends and family.  I am in the habit of making copies of the letters that I sent, as well, so it's like I have the WHOLE story!!!!  When I read in one letter, "I can't believe you were able to get through the gate", I don't have to wonder what gate is being marveled at.  I have the other side of the story right in front of me!!!  (There was no story about getting through a gate.  I was just trying for a little dramatic flare.)  I'm floored by the amount of emails I wrote and printed while "working" at my corporate job stint.  I guess once I got the hang of sluffing off at work, I was super good at it.  Why do I keep all of this correspondence?  I don't know.  I'm a sentimental sap, that's all...  I have journals starting from when I was eight years old, too.  I'm not the most consistent journal writer, but I do keep one.  (I admit that I have never gotten over the one that disappeared... summer 1988-1990, sometime?  I try not to think on it, too much... it's so sad.)  Some of the content is very difficult to read over, and so I don't.  Some of it is terribly embarrassing--but it's for my eyes only, so it who cares, right?--Some of it is really fun.  I had to call my baby sister and read to her a bit I wrote regarding her tonsillectomy.  Good times.  

The next step would be to organize the letters, emails, postcards, etc. in some kind of loose chronological order.  Hey!  I could be my own first archival project!  Though, I think I'll hold off on that for a little while.  This was a pretty big day and somewhat emotionally draining, despite the pleasant moments--of which there were many.

All the while Bach's glorious creations were the soundtrack to my day.  I only left the house to go to yoga, tonight, and was right back at it when I returned.  And, yes, I did manage to throw out a couple of boxes worth of gen-u-ine garbage as well as another box for the goodwill.  (I've quite a collection of stuff to donate, at this point.  Thank goodness Shawn's renting a car, again, when he gets here on Thursday...)

Bach rocks.  Got it?  Good.

Monday, June 09, 2008


Avalon-Roxy Music
Relased: 1982 (rereleased 2000)
Virgin Records, US

Avalon... the island where King Arthur mythically frolics, awaiting the day that he will return to rule over England.  Excalibur was forged there... and it's also the name of a dreamy, new wave, jazzy album by Roxy Music.  This is a band that I feel like I should, for the sake of my musical education, know more about than I do.  The most important thing I know about Roxy Music is that Brian Eno was in the band, at first.  And Eno is--well, he's a legend.  Producer extraordinaire.  Other than that and a couple of songs, they are one of those bands that I pretend to have a goodly knowledge of.  Don't roll your eyes at me.  You've done it too, when someone talks about a book or a movie that you feel as though you should have read/seen, but haven't.  So, rather than admit to not having done this, you just nod your head and say, "Oh, yeah.  That's a great one.  Uh-huh."  All the while thinking to yourself that you really should make the time to watch/read that one.  Well, I just have enough huzzpah to admit to you, my loyal readership, that I haven't listened to as much Roxy Music as I should have, and that the only album I own is not even one of the early ones.  It's the palatable, accessible and good Avalon.  (Were there any after this one?  Not counting the "we've gotten back together to make a new album" release from a few years ago.)  

Bryan Ferry is the New Wave crooner.  He's the singer who makes the girls and boys swoon as he dips and spins you through songs on his smooth vocals, crooning sweet nothings in your ear.  What a guy.  I do not say this in any kind of disparaging way, quite the contrary, but this album is SO 80's!  Well, duh.  I'll bet when it came out, though, that it was pretty innovative stuff.  Synthesizers of this era have such a distinct sound.  I have a special place in my heart for that sound--Depeche Mode, Yaz, Erasure, Thompson Twins, Howard Jones... sigh... I just can't get enough, har har har.  

The melodies on Avalon, sometimes makes me think of 80's movie montages.  The saxophone, the instrumental break in a song.  I'll put this one in a noir-ish film, though.  Remember how there was that 1940's revival in the early 80's?  Well, that's where this belongs, stylistically.  It's raining.  Our hero, a private dick with a taste for whiskey and the ladies, is looking for one of the latter that's gone missing.  Los Angeles?  I know they say it never rains in LA, but I've seen it happen.  And this album is particularly appropriate for a grey, drizzly day, but not a cold winter rain.  Summer gloomy rain, or early fall.  A lot like Seattle, lately.  
"Is it raining in New York/on 5th Avenue/
and off Broadway, after dark/
You love the lights, don't you?/I could walk you through the park/
if you're feeling blue/or whatever." 
("To Turn You On": at least I think that's what he sang...)

"or whatever"--isn't that great?!  He's just so cool about it.  Oh, he likes her.  But he's not going to beg; wants her to know that he's available for her.  There's just a hint of his deep desire, but it's not overdone.  Later, he gets a little more intense, but it's not a down on your knees, pleading kind of tone.  And the music backing him up isn't overly dramatic.  It's cool, man.  I like you.  I'll do whatever to get you into me.  Whatever.

The song I'm most familiar with, "More Than This", is really terrific.  Ferry's vocals are melodic, caressing you as he carries you with him.  Breezy and lyrical.  The whole album is really composed, very clean and deliberate.  Sophisticated.  I kind of want to have a cocktail party--in shifts, I do live in a studio, after all--and play this album, along with other soft new wave hits.  Maybe some Spandau Ballet?  Haircut 100?  Yeah.  We'll drink Pimms cups and sit around talking about the music.  A listening party.  Hmmmm... that kind of sounds fun... maybe I'll actually go through with it... don't hold your breath, but I'll let you know.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Anytown Graffiti

Anytown Graffiti-Pela
Released: April 23, 2007
Great Society Recordings

Right now, this is my favorite album.  Not kidding.  I actually have to stop myself from listening to it all of the time.  Pela is, without question, one of the absolute best new bands (even though they've been around a few years...) of this decade.  No question.  I believe that they will be around for a very long time.  I hope they will be around for a very long time.  Recently, I geeked out and after seeing them at the Tractor Tavern, hopped on a train a couple of days later to see them play at the Doug Fir in Portland, OR.  On a whim.  Something completely uncharacteristic of me.  But they were just so damn GOOD!  They played like no band I've seen in a looooooooooong time.  They played with love and joy and energy and heart and soul and generosity.  The sold out Tractor folks couldn't get enough.  When they were done, we were all wishing they would play more and more.  It was such an intensely, singular and amazing experience that waking up a couple of days later and realizing that I could hop on Amtrak and see them play that night, I felt that I simply had to.  A three hour-ish train ride later and I was checking into the hotel adjacent to the Doug Fir.  Met most of the band as they were entering the restaurant--part of the Doug Fir; very inclusive kind of place to stay and see a show, if you're ever in the area--and I was exiting to get the wallet I'd left in my room.  

"O.  Hi."
"I just wanted to tell you guys that your show at the Tractor was so amazing that I had to take the train down to see you play tonight!"
"Really?!!  Wow.  I'm Billy.  This is Tom, Nate and Chris [the tour manager, not the keyboard player.].  Thank you!  That's so great.  Gosh, I'm blushing."  Handshakes and hugs.  (Even if those weren't Billy's exact words, they're pretty darn close, and he did say that it made him blush.)

That's the other thing...  they are so nice.  Genuinely nice.  Sincerely and wonderfully nice and grateful for the support and energy the audiences give.  It's such a reciprocal relationship and I really believe it's uncanny.  I see a lot of live music and even though I often enjoy the show and, if I'm paying to see them, I really like the band, I haven't seen this kind of show.  I saw them play for a sold out crowd and two days later a not even 1/2 full house.  They played with equal intensity and abandon.  All out.  No sluffing off because the crowd wasn't there.  These guys love what they do and want to share it.  That's really not as common as one might think.  They are a rare gift to rock n' roll.  BUY THEIR MUSIC.  SEE THEM PLAY LIVE.  You will not regret it.

Every time I hear this album, now, I still feel some of that thrill from their live show.  They're the real deal.  As Shawn said, via a text after seeing them at Spaceland, in LA, "Ok.  They are 4 real."  And how!  

Listening to Anytown Graffiti is, even before I saw Pela's live shows, a unique experience.  I get excited about what I'm hearing as I'm listening.  Every time.  The commitment and emotion is visceral.  The intensity, palpable.  In some ways, this album hints at early--like Boy early--U2, especially "Tenement Teeth".  A song that also contains one of my favorite passionately sung/screamed lyrics "I kissed her lips of ruby red and this is what was said: LAND!  LAND!  LAND!  LAND!"   How about hearing that played, live, and a crowd of hepped up folks crying "LAND!" with you, huh?  It almost can't get any sexier...  "Calvary", less than 4 minutes long, was an emotionally powerful audience sing-a-long of 10 minutes, maybe even 15, at the Tractor.  It's pretty powerful on the record, too.  With the exception of track one, "Waiting on the Stairs" and the title track, "Anytown Graffiti", these songs come in at four minutes or less.  They have a tendency to leave the listener--at least this listener--wanting more, but also knowing that had they gone on, it would have been too much.  Pretty smart, lads.  The talented McCarthy's powerful and emotionally charged vocals ride along with the playing of his fellow supremely talented band mates.  Readers of this blog will already have noted that I'm a sucker for resonating-beats-in-your-chest drumming and Pela's Tom Zovich is among the best drummers working, today, in my humble opinion.  Wow.  

As a whole, this album is gloriously not over produced.  You know how that can happen.  It can sound too perfect.  Too crisp.  This record, for me, sounds like they're all playing in the same room together, like in the old days of recording.  Not laying down individual tracks, with musicians in separate rooms.  There is a rawness and alive quality to this album.  Lyrics that evoke lost loves and hard living, while not getting stuck in morose, self-pitying mush.  No, too much passion for that.  The final track, "7th and 17th" is an acoustic guitar accompanied by the sounds of children playing--a city pool?-- and a thunderstorm's arrival quietly ends the album.  Summers past, when life wasn't so complicated by heartache and desire... lovely.  

I gush.  I know.  I probably blabbered on too much when I met them at the restaurant, too.  I can't help it.  They make me excited for the future of music.  They're inspiring.  I feel compelled to spread the word that is Pela.  Even if I wind up sounding like a silly groupie.  I'm not.  It's not like that at all.  I believe in this band and their talent.  These guys are special.  Rare.

Friday, June 06, 2008


Released: September 28, 2004
Matador Records

I don't know how the KEXP djs do it.  Especially John Richards and Cheryl  Waters.  During the pledge drives, they basically dj for 8 hours (from 6am until 2pm) while encouraging, cajoling, begging, cracking up and cracking listeners up.  For five days--except in the case of this drive because they started early.  Maybe they even showed up on other people's shows over the weekend.  I don't know.  I was working, so I didn't listen.  But my goodness!  I answered phones during the 10-2 slot on Wed. and Thurs., and then today did the 6-10 followed by the 10-2 shift and I'm EXHAUSTED!!!!  I got fed and got to laugh and enjoy the wonderful sense of community and camaraderie and take some pledges.  I had a script to follow.  I didn't have to actually think of new and interesting ways of asking for money and pick out great music to play.  

I can barely keep my eyes open.  I kept taking mini naps as I was listening to Interpol's excellent 2nd album.  This music is perfect for laying back and absorbing.  It's richly layered and fits in very nicely with the whole post-punk music genre.  (RIP Joy Division...)  An aspect of the entire album that I just love, love, love are the bass lines.  They are so clear and not simply used as.... well, as a bass line.  In each and every song the bass hovers above and is, quite frankly, easy to follow.  Not easy because it's not interesting, but I can HEAR it.  "Evil", which seems to be the favorite iTunes download, leads with the bass.  When the guitars join in, they're complementing the bass, not taking over the song, entirely.  Sometimes I think the bass is relegated to a less important role in music, simply there to dum, dum, dum along under all the other instruments.  Not with this band.  Carlos D. is not your average bass player, that is for sure.  And, having seen them perform, I can attest to his captivating stage presence.  Very intriguing.  When I saw them, he was done up all in black, with high lace up boots, suspenders... yeah, he looked a little apocalyptic military, but it was pretty coo-ul...

A dreamy sound, for Interpol, in "Public Pervert" as Banks sings near the end "Swoon baby, starry nights, may our bodies remain", only to then attack with the guitars reinforces the many musical surprises within the record.  I wouldn't call the songs negative, nor the sentiments necessarily downers, but there is definitely a sense of resigned loss.  "C'mere": "It's way too late, to be this locked inside ourselves/The trouble is, that you're in love with someone else/It should be me, oh, it should be me".  But it's not.  And that expresses a lot of the sentiments, as well as the overall sound, of Antics.  It's just not going to happen for "him" and so there's a little frustration, a little despair... a little edge to the voice.  But it's a lush despair.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Ancient Melodies of the Future

Ancient Melodies of the Future-Built to Spill
Released: July 10, 2001
Warner Bros. Records Inc.

Having nothing to do with Ancient Melodies and everything to do with the world, Barak Obama is the Democratic nominee for president!!!!!  I'm so excited and pleased and awed that I just had to say, "Right on, Obama!!!"  Congratulations.  Wow.   Less exciting news and also little to nothing to do with the aforementioned album, I learned three guitar chords today!  G, C and F.  My ring and middle finger tips feel a little numb, right now.  I learned these guitar chords over the phone, while being talked through them by Shawn.  What a guy, huh?

Okie Doke.  Built to Spill.  Love 'em.  Fabulous live shows; they have so much material and you never know what they're going to play.  Do outrageous covers.  Play with an intensity and focus that even infects shoe gazers with the urge to nod their heads in equally focused time to the music.  I vowed that next time they play in Seattle, I would get tickets for two shows, not just one.  They usually play two or three nights at the Showbox and they always sell out.  "Going Against Your Mind" is one of the all time best songs ever to start a show, that I have had the pleasure of seeing/hearing--but that's on You in Reverse, so we won't be getting to that album for a looooooooooong time.

So, Ancient Melodies of the Future.  Catchy tunes.  Short tunes, especially for this band.  Rockin' guitars and steady drums.  "In Your Mind" is a swirl of hypnotic simmering anger with the fantastic flourishes of an Eastern flavor perched above the guitars via a keyboard.  A steady acoustic guitar accompanied by subtle drums and bass.  When the electric guitar takes over, the underlying sounds of the other instruments don't skip a beat or soften, they keep going and it's all so very, very good.  There are even some ballad like songs on this album.  Martsch's vocals aren't quite as insistent, he takes it down a notch and there's more of a gentleness to the singing and playing.  And yet, those songs--"The Weather" and "You Are", in particular--aren't what a traditional ballad would be.  They have a definite edge and would hardly be something you'd want to dedicate to your loved on the night time airwaves.  (Do people still do that?  My friend, Marni, and I used to do that in 5th grade.  Only I'd call in and say that Marni wanted to dedicate "Crazy for You" to our mutual crush, Cory, and she'd do the same using my name.  We would huddle over the radio waiting to hear if the dj actually said the dedication and then secretly hope that Cory was listening but feign mortification to each other... aaahhhh... good times.)

"Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss" is the closest, I believe, that Built to Spill ever came to having a commercially played pop song.  Of course, I can't swear to that.  Since I don't listen to commercial radio (THANK YOU, POWERS THAT BE, FOR KEXP!!!!  You, too, can listen from your very own computer...) I have no idea what kind of air time it may, or may not, have enjoyed on corporate-owned "alternative"--gack--radio stations.   I remember walking into the Gap, downtown, and suddenly this song comes over the in store speakers.  ???????  I have a distinct memory of looking around to see if anyone else noticed--or even recognized--the song and then, for just a second thought, "It's all over.  Next they'll be playing at Key Arena and I'll never get to see them at the Showbox again."  Well, that didn't happen.  Even if they had the opportunity to play such a venue, I get the sense that they would decline.  And, despite it's "cross over" appeal, it's a fun, catchy little number.  Even a shoe gazer would have to look up to bounce up and down to this one...

Amnesiac Clarification

When I said that this album wasn't thought to be as good as Kid A, I hope y'all got that I didn't mean it wasn't well-received.  I was just looking at yesterday's post and I suddenly got worried that someone else might read it and think I was dissing Amnesiac; I wasn't.  I'm not.  It's good.  Darn good.  Just not as good.  

Radiohead could sing the telephone book and it would be good.

Monday, June 02, 2008


Realeased: June 2001
Parlophone, Capitol

Hmmmm... Amnesiac was released the same year as Kid A, and is widely believed to be not quite as good.  Well, that may be so.  I still like it.  I just got done reading one reviewer's opinion that this album lacked cohesion.  In the strictest sense, he's right.  The songs do rather jump from one style to another without making a lot of sense.  However, I hear this record as the soundtrack to some sci-fi flick that takes place post nuclear holocaust in a vast wasteland that was earth.  I can see this movie running through my head as the tracks move from one to the other.  And, despite Yorke's reassurance, in "Pyramid Song", that "There is nothing to fear, nothing at all", I don't believe him.  In the world that these songs conjure up in my brain, there is a lot to fear.  Robots are making slaves of the leftover humanoids and there ain't no hope for humanity.  Run, if you can... 

Radiohead has made better albums than this one, true, and if this is as bad as it gets, well, we should all be so lucky.  It doesn't really sound like their previous albums; I think that they were experimenting on this one.  Trying out new toys and ways of producing sound.  My favorite tune is "Life in a Glass House", with it's 1920's speakeasy jazz trombones.  The clarinet and horns talking to one another...  It's the end of the night and everyone's tight on moonshine and whiskey.  Smoke so thick you can't see who you're dancing with--hell, you can barely stand up anyway.  But it's still in the futuristic movie.  See?  I don't have a lot of sci-fi, as a genre, experience, but I LOVE it when there's an element of the past in futuristic movies.  And I mean decades in the past.  Like Blade Runner is a 1940's film noir and Cowboy Bepop is the 60's version of the wild, wild west.  So, in the movie that is this album, the humans go to speakeasies and the women wear kohl black eyeliner, and it's smeared and they're tired.  O, so tired.

Sunday, June 01, 2008


Alligator-The National
Realeased: April 11, 2005
Beggars Banquet

Mmmmmm....The National.  This album is stellar.  Their 2007 release, Boxer, is even better.  And this one is soooo good.  It's intelligent.  It's melancholy.  It's poetic.  It resonates.  It's solid.  I picture these environs that I have never really lived in, but imagine to be what drunken, tired love looks and feels like.  Not falling down, sloppy drunk.  Smoldering, functioning drunk.  Kind of like a Romantic poet drunk--tragic and beautiful.  You don't want to live like them and yet part of that capital "R" is wrapped up in the ugliness that contributed to the work.  

"Daughters of the Soho Riots" incorporates the piano like a thought floating in the air.  A chord lingering here.  A note hanging there.  Never overwhelming.  Like the lyrics, it just leaves you contemplative and thoughtful.   Berninger's voice is a mellow instrument, in itself.  Smooth (with a hint of a rasp) and tuned like a cello.  It's as if he's talking to you, really confiding these thoughts--so personal and not always flattering--and I feel a little sorry for the "guy".  Whether Berninger is really such a sad boozer, or not, I don't know.  Not important.  (For his sake, I hope not.)  But wherever these words come from, the connection to the material, it works.  The band plays beautifully.  Driving some songs, lifting up others.  Though I can't tell you why, I know that they're not your every day rock band.  They are very, very talented.  Every time I listen to this album, I hear something new that adds to the layers of great that are there.  The way the drums and strings come in after the first verse of "Val Jester"--the steady build from the snare to the bass drum softly taking over.  These songs are orchestrated, they are composed; it's all very deliberate and evocative.  The sadness (which isn't of the boo-hoo-hoo variety, but the deep, tired and sort of resigned kind) appeals to me on so many levels.  And then, when they bust out with the insistent, repeated screaming of "My mind's not right, my mind's not right!", well, I'm right there with 'em.  Sometimes my mind's not right, either.  The thrumming bass line underlining the guitars and drums which share that desperate quality of the vocals...yeah.  They rock.  

Other favorite lyrics/moments from Alligator:

"I had a secret meeting in the basement of my brain"--ummm... I have those almost every day.  ("Secret Meeting") 

Who is Karen?  I don't want to be Karen, but I want to be a Karen in some musician's lyrics. ("Karen" and "City Middle")

"We'll run like we're awesome, totally genius"--dude. ("The Geese of Beverly Road")

Total road trip music, night time driving.  Summertime at night in the park on the grass star gazing music

The reference to Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, only she's the one waiting for the "click"... ("City Middle")