Monday, July 30, 2007

Vincent and the Villains- funnier than OK Go

By now, you're familiar with OK Go's Here I Go Again video (the one on treadmills) and you either think it's funny and cute or you're sick of it. Brit quartet Vincent and Villain's video for "I'm Alive" will probably make you feel the same way except it's way funnier and sillier, almost a good parody of choreographed dance moves used for videos. Song's not bad either- bouncy pop stuff, you know. And yes, of course they have a MySpace page so you see/hear/learn more about 'em.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Drug Rug- sweet drones

If you've been fretting that the drone-rock you love isn't catchy enough, Drug Rug is the kind of band to allay your fears. Cambridge, MA duo Tommy Allen and Sarah Cronin (bastid kids of Apollo Sunshine) have that Velvet Underground drone vibe down and though their harmonies don't sparkle, they definitely sweeten the atmosphere and add Byrdsy guitar figures to make it even more attractive- the photo to the left sums up their outlook well I'd say. Hearing is believing- see their MySpace page.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Dylan's not there- a film preview

Ever the iconoclast, film-maker Todd Haynes cast several people to play another great iconoclast Bob Dylan, including Cate Blanchett, as seen in this clip above, also featuring David Cross as Allen Ginsberg. Admittedly, I've had mixed feelings about this upcoming film- the idea is kind of enticing but it could also be an embarrassing flop. One thing I was a little disappointed to see was that Blanchett is dressed up like Dylan '66 rather than herself- I think the later would have been more audacious and interesting to see. If it's just gonna be a group of actors dressed up and acting like Dylan, that does dull my enthusiasm a little. Of course, I'll have to see the film regardless...

Thursday, July 19, 2007

It's Meme time- The Platters, XTC, Judy Collins, Prince, etc.

We briefly interrupt this blog for a meme I received from my boo. These kind of things can always be weird , not to mention revealing. It's kind of nice to get tagged by someone but then you wonder, "OK, what do I say...?" So, here goes.


1. All right, here are the rules.
2. We have to post these rules before we give you the facts.
3. Players start with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
4. People who are tagged write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
5. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

I'm gonna have to cop out on the last one 'cause anyone I know I'd ask would be too busy to do this and the people who would respond don't have blogs (some don't, GASP, even know what a blog is!). Sorry, I know that's weak but... I'll tell you what though, if you want to add your own entries into the music listings I have below, feel free to post them in the comments section for this, OK?

1. I've had the pleasure of being with a sweet red-headed girl from Astoria for going on three years now. I've been very lucky and I'm grateful for this. After the new millennium, I was wondering if I spend the rest of my life alone and I'm glad that won't be the case. I've already had a lot of nice memories with her and look forward to more. Ain't I mushy?

I'll leave the other personal details to my non-existent biographer (born and raised in NJ, went to school in upstate New York, Peace Corps, computing, etc.) and move on to the musical goodies now...

2. WHAT I'M LISTENING TO RIGHT NOW: The Platters, All Time Greatest Hits (Mercury). Related to a recent posting about sad songs, I wanted to have a good collection of their stuff so I picked this up and I'm glad that I did. "Only You," "The Great Pretender," "My Prayer," "Harbor Lights," "Twilight Time" and 13 other beautiful pieces of doo-wop heaven.

3. THE FIRST ALBUM I EVER BOUGHT: The Beatles, Hey Jude (from 1970, think I bought it a few years later). A great collection that spans their whole career and it only briefly made it onto CD (now replaced by the Past Masters series). I still have the original copy but was also delighted to find an actual copy of the CD on Ebay, which I promptly snapped up.

4. THE FIRST CONCERT I EVER WENT TO: Judy Collins at Tanglewood, July 1977. I was with my family and all of 12 years old. Mostly I wanted to see the opener, Arlo Guthrie, who was good. I vaguely remember that Collins had a really good guitarist with her, who she let do a solo number, and that Guthrie opened with a gospel number.

5. THE FIRST CD I BOUGHT: XTC Skylarking (from 1986). I was a little late with getting on the digital bus but I couldn't resist when I heard some of this beforehand and had to have it in hi-fi format- it was do damn lush! Little did I know about the sound quality with albums and CD's...

6. THE BEST PERFORMER I'VE EVER SEEN: A tough one since it's usually the one I've just been to. Under duress, I would probably chose Bruce Springsteen or Prince, both of whom I've seen more than once and both of whom I'd gladly see again and again. Not only are they great songwriters, singers and musicians but they're both incredible showmen. I'd sure they'd be honored to be in the same company. Among the many runners-up are the Stooges, AC/DC, Butthole Surfers, the Dictators, the Feelies, Fela Kuti, Al Green, PJ Harvey, Motorhead, the Ramones, Roxy Music, Sonic Youth, U2, Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Gogol Bordello, P-Funk and others that I'll hopefully remember again someday...

7. THE ALBUM THAT I'M MOST QUEASY ABOUT ADMITTING THAT I OWN: Helen Reddy, Helen Reddy. I already went into detail about this on my other blog so I'll just provide a link to that post here.

8. THE ALBUM THAT I'D LIKE TO GET MY HANDS ON SOMEDAY: Lucinda Williams Artists Choice (Hear Music/Starbucks), which was part of a series where the coffee maker asked artists to make a mix CD of their favorite music. The Ray Charles CD is a nice one too and other ones included the Stones and Johnny Cash. The Lucinda one has sadly been out of print for a while and includes a intriguing line-up, which I might have to just recreate though online purchases and such:

1.It Makes No Difference, THE BAND 2.Good Day, PAUL WESTERBERG 3.Mary, PATTY GRIFFIN 4.These Things, ANNE MCCUE 5.To Us, TEX PERKINS 6.These Days, GREGG ALLMAN 7.Tears Are In Your Eyes, YO LA TENGO 8.Famous Blue Raincoat, LEONARD COHEN 9.Don't Explain, NINA SIMONE 10.Say It (Over And Over Again), JOHN COLTRANE 11.Sylvia Plath, RYAN ADAMS 12.No Other Love, CHUCK PROPHET 13.La Chanson Des Vieux Amants, JUDY COLLINS 14.April After All, RON SEXSMITH 15.My Funny Valentine, CHET BAKER 16.Eclipse, JOAO GILBERTO

And like I said, feel free to post here about your first CD, album, favorite performance, first concert, guilty pleasure album or record you'd love to get one day. In other words, I'm meming all of you out there reading this!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Lou Reed chills out

Not sure why I'm on a classic rock kick at the moment. True, it's what I grew up on but after hearing it so much from classic rock stations that kept playing the same songs or from my own stereo as a teenager, I got kind of sick of it after a while and had to cleanse my palate with some post-punk, free jazz and modern classical music. Now that classical rock is pretty much dead on the radio unless you have a satellite radio subscription, I can safely return to it now and then.

Another interesting thing I find is that if the aging classic rockers try to stretch themselves a little and do something different, while it might be a little stupid and embarrassing (i.e. many of Neil Young's '80's guises), it's at least something worth noting.

Just like Pete Townshend, another classic rocker is trying his hand at electronics again. Lou Reed released Metal Machine Music as A) a way to piss of his label, B) a way to piss off his fans, C) a serious electronic music statement, D) all of the above. Take your pick.

Just like with MMM, he insists that this is no joke. Granted that it's not a high-profile release that you'll find in most stores but Hudson River Wind Meditations is something dear to him. Reed says that he was looking for music to relax and mediate too and evidently wasn't getting anything out of new age stuff he's been hearing otherwise. I'd recommend William Basinski for staters but it's intriguing to see an intense guy like Reed pine for solitude and look to create it for others.

HRWM is very different from MMM not just because it's decades after the fact but also Reed ain't who he used to be. Where MMM was a statement of many stripes, HRWM comes across as almost a small gift or communique. Instead of ear-piercing noise, Reed uses lulling gentle tones that resemble Brian Eno's Discreet Music. On "Move Your Heart," he starts out with a gentle synthesizer loop and later layers that with a slightly louder, more dominant one for a half-hour. Also around 30 minutes, "Find Your Note" (how's that for a spiritual direction?), has a low sounding buzz layered over with a high frequency tone that modulates slightly along with shorter spacey synth patterns - less relaxing and more for concentrated meditation and kind of like a low-key version of La Monte Young's tone generations. He finished off with a shorter, low-key white noise piece and then a coda of "Find Your Note."

Maybe you could consider HRWM a statement of sorts or just another chapter in the never-boring saga of Reed's career where what comes next is usually an off-beat surprise. Restless artist that he is, the guy's always interesting to follow at the very least.

Listen to samples at Sounds True website or listen to samples at Barnes and Noble


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Jakobinarina- happy to sell out

With all of the upheavals in the record industry, we now live in an age where the whole idea of "selling out" has been turned upside down. With labels and retailers disappearing, bands have to look for other sources of income along with touring- as such, ads look more and more enticing nowadays, becoming so prevalent that we even see indie and punk bands doing it. It's gotten so f-ing ubiquitous that to even complain about it nowadays makes you sound like an ol' fogey.

That's why it's refreshing to see Icelandic group Jakobínarína gleefully make fun of this trend. Over churning guitars, singer Gunnar Bergmann chants with contempt again and again "This is... an ad-ver-tise-ment/Our... brain-wash attempt." He starts by introducing the group and its intentions. They're happy and ready to give it up to corporate sponsership. "No art-ist-tic freedom or our own thought!" he promises. Hell, they'll even change their name to The Coca Cola Band if needs be. Bergmann's English is pointedly foreign, making you know that it's not his native language and intentionally keeping with short phrases (since Icelandic is such a complex language, I'd like to think this is more because he's making fun of the Queen's tongue). To drive home the point, the chorus is repeated like a mantra, just in case you didn't get the idea and as a great parody of how to sell the product (aka themselves).

Great song that it is, I would have still liked them to go a little more over the top with their conceit. As it is they're not quite at the level of whipsmart self-knowledge as say the Pet Shop Boys or maybe even the Hold Steady but they're definitely contenders.

This goes for the video above too (the single comes out on the nice-big-label Parlophone (home of the Beatles, Queen Coldplay, Gorillaz and the PSB) later this month). Bergmann looks all straight and corporate at first, presenting his band as product but instead of sales charts and meetings later, we see the usual amateur video stunts- the band playing around the area they live, near the thermal baths and hot springs (both of which are admittedly pretty incredible things to see and experience first hand).

Regardless, the song's a wonderfully naive rallying cry for the dwindling number of old-school true-believers who still think that art and commerce shouldn't always go hand in hand.

See/hear more of the band at their MySpace page.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Tom Ze deconstructed on film

"I'm a terrible singer, a terrible composer, a terrible musician… so it doesn’t make much difference if I play a piano or a vacuum cleaner."

Just opening now, Frabricando Tom Ze (Frabricating Tom Zé) is a behind the scenes look at the 2005 European tour (where he’s a star) of Brazilian singer/composer where he's deconstructed as film-maker Decio Matos, Jr. looks at his career and life.

At the 5th encore at a show, he admonishes his band. "Play faster! Play louder! More distortion!" Why all the drama? "A concert is the most boring thing in the world," he explains off-stage and if anything, boring he ain't. Throughout the film, he comes across as colorful, animated, chatty, eccentric, self-effacing. He even goes out of his way to learns local language at each stop to address and sing with crowds in France, Switzerland and Italy. "I am completely illiterate, that’s why the people take pity on me."

Around time of London bombing, he warns an Italian crowd that Bush is bombing everywhere, and they must protect yourself. Later, he gets the Italian crowd to chant and sing "Giorgio Bush" as if to say who the real terrorist is. Later still, to show how proud he is of a verse he's written, he makes his bassist sing it no less than four times in a row.

"I didn’t want to create music," he explains as he shrugs off the slings/arrows of early detractors who didn't believe that he was making music.

Ze tours with long-time wife who’s supportive and gives advice and gave up her journalism career to be with him as he traveled and worked. That includes Ze composing everywhere and at any time, even during a soundcheck. At another show, he and another band member wear plastic helmets and bang each other on the head with mallets as rest of band plays. After that, sparks fly as they play buffers (how industrial-like) as Ze has always been fascinated with machines. He then folds and stretches papers as percussion instrument and then chews the paper. Did I mention that he's a truly inspired eccentric?

The next stop on the tour is the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland where Ze is honored to be at initially. But then at the sound check, he finds the staff there is taking him seriously and eventually he throws a fit. Back at his hotel late, he's still furious over this snub, ridiculing the "beautiful" and vain Swiss people and compares them against himself and his "ugly" band, saying his hosts are jealous of him and have to import him to get some culture. Back at the soundcheck, he keeps throwing a fit and yelling "fuck yourself" at the staff there before he shoves a engineer. It's the only time we see him losing his cool in the movie and it's alternately frightening and astonishing. Somehow though, it works out in the end.

Then at another show in France, things aren't going much better. He's composing right before going on and soon trying to get crowd to sing about the place along but doesn’t go well, leaving his wife is crying in sympathy. Ze just shrugs it off but admiring the huge venue, sitting on the side of a mountain.

What he is hurt and bothered by is the snubbing he's gotten in Tropicalia history, always seeming to come behind Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil (who is now a Brazilian cultural minister and who also appears in the film). The popular story is that Ze withdrew after being swept up in Tropicalia (which he actually proceeded). Then enter David Byrne who discovered his music, re-released it in the West and effectively not only resurrected Ze but helped to raise his profile beyond what it had ever been. Even Gotham Brazilians didn’t understand why Byrne bothered with Ze- there are so many great Brazilian musicians so why would he waste his time with someone who was so strange. Byrne's instincts paid off and Ze became an international sensation, hence the European tour we see chronicled in the film.

Don't you just love happy endings?

Frabricando Tom Ze (Frabricating Tom Zé) will be shown at the Museum of Modern Art in New York on Monday, July 23rd at 6:00pm as part of their Premiere Brazil! series.

Friday, July 13, 2007

JT Ross has lots to blow about

Not too many harmonica players can stand alongside Cary Bell (as he does in this 2004 photo to the left) but JT Ross deserves to. And while he's certainly not the first to think up the title "Ross the Boss" (Ross Friedman of the Dictators at least beat him to that), he also deserves that epithet. The man does blow a mean harp and has a good drawling voice to go with it. As a bonus, he works with a really fine band including guitarist George Friend (who's got some good jazzy licks in his repertoire). While he's not really dirty in his playing, he's raw enough as you'd want a Hound Dog Taylor fan to be. A West Coast native, he's usually gigging in California so check out the link to his MySpace above plus he's got an album for sale for a meager five bucks from his website too.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Djmawi- Algerian fusion

Iraq isn't the only Islamic country that's trying to repair itself from a bloody history (remember the Battle of Algiers?) and now struggle with new battles over its future and identity. Algeria is also going through these changes but on a different scale and with much less news international news coverage (no American troops there, you know). Spurred on by an excellent article by Sonja Zekri reprinted in ("Alger la Blanche"), I found out about Djmawi, a group that exemplifies these internal struggles well, striving to make music that's not dislocated from its past but which also looks past its own borders for influences. Click on the link at their website to hear some of their music- I especially like the driving rhythm section behind their wailing vocals and delicate string-instruments. FYI, the website is in French for those who parlez vous- their management is in France, which should tell you something about their aspirations, not to mention their connection to their colonial past.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

DNA and the Feelies- doin' it again

Not that they need much introduction but... the No-wave rulers in the early 80's prime with Arto Lindsay, Ikue Mori and TimWright. There's actually lots more video footage of them from gigs at the Irving Plaza and Austin available but after the No More reissue I worked on, there didn't seem to be any takers for this material (a shame 'cause it's good quality stuff).

Ah, my home boys, the Feelies. Must have been around '90 when their last record came out and, as Letterman notes, making their network TV debut. Guitarists Glenn Mercer and Bill Million are seen there with drummer Dave Wackermann regulated to tambourine, playing alongside Dave's band (think they had some kind of rule then that the back-up group had to play with the artists on the show). As such, MIA are bassist Brenda Sauter and drummer Stan Demeski. Hopefully, you know that Mr. Mercer just came out with his first solo album. The Feelies reissues are still coming along one of these days but Time For A Witness (the major label album they were promoting on Letterman) seems like a long shot because whoever owns A&M Records now wants an unreasonable sum to license/reissue it.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Dubstep- straight outta Romania

I've really tried to enjoy dubstep, a hybrid of dub music and two-step (aka a fast version of jungle) since it sounds like such an enticing idea- you know, like mixing chocolate and peanut butter and coming up with Reece's. Sad to say, the collections I've heard so far (Box of Dub, Techtonic Plates, as well as the Burial album) have left me cold. Just when I was about to give up on it, I came across a Romanian label called Dubkraft and damn if they're not doing it right, which is interesting since most (all?) of the dubstep music I've heard comes from the UK. They don't have a very extensive catalog yet but what I've heard so far is enticing- it's got the mysterious quality of dub which I love, mixed with the excitement of the best two-step music (though admittedly, it leans more towards the former). As of this fleeting moment, their whole catalog could barely fill a CD but when it does, I'll be first in line to buy it. Hear some of their sounds at their MySpace page.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Sad songs- they still say so much

Sorry, I don't mean the Elton John song (it's really not a sad song or one of his best either). But there is something to be said for a good, sad tune. Entire genres of music have been built around this emotion: how could we have the blues, honky-tonk, emo or goth otherwise?

This thread started recently on a music list and one of the best responses was a DIY mixtape from Shorefire's Nick Bailey, who came up with:

Ralph Stanley "Rank Strangers To Me"
Bruce Springsteen "Highway Patrolman"
Johnny Cash "One"
Willie Nelson "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain"
Emmylou Harris "Wayfaring Stranger"
The The "Love Is Stronger Than Death"
Willie Nelson "Heartaches of A Fool"
Dolly Parton "Jolene"
B.B. King "How Blue Can You Get?"
The Allman Brothers "Dreams"
Doc Watson "St James' Hospital"
Kathleen Edwards "Copied Keys"
Michelle Shocked "The L&N Don't Stop Here Anymore"
Doc Watson "Omie Wise"
Tony Rice "This Morning At Nine"
Waylon Jennings "Ride Me Down Easy"
Paul Simon "She Moves On"
Neil Young "Running Dry (Requiem For the Rockets)"

Of course, I couldn't help thinking of my own favorites (ably assisted by my boo) so...

Alice in Chains, almost anything from Dirt
Beck "Ramshackle," "Jackass" (both from Odelay)
Bobby Blue Bland "I Pity the Fool"
Blind Lemon Jefferson "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" (and covers by Dylan, Dead, etc.)
Captain Beefheart "Love Lies" (from Shiny Beast)
Elvis Costello "When I Was Cruel," "Allison"
Everclear "My Sexual Life" (from Sparkle and Fade)
Girls Against Boys "Zodiac Love Team" (from House of GVSB)
The Feelies "What She Said" (from Time For A Witness)
Funkadelic "Maggot Brain" (RIP Eddie Hazel)
Marvin Gaye "Inner City Blues"
Al Green "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" (from Call Me, plus Hank's original of course)
The Grifters "Pretty Notes" (from Ain't My Lookout)
The Handsome Family, anything from The Last Days of Wonder
Hole "Doll Parts" (from Live Through This)
Elmore James "It Hurts Me Too"
Skip James "Devil Got My Woman" (basis of a great scene in the comic/film Ghost World)
Freedy Johnston "Responsible" (from Can You Fly)
The Kinks, most of Face to Face esp. "Sunny Afternoon" and "Too Much On My Mind"
Left Banke "Walk Away Renee"
Barbara Manning "Sympathy Wreath"
Thelonious Monk "'Round Midnight"
Willie Nelson "Jimmy's Road"
New Order "As It Is When It Was" (from Brotherhood)
The Platters "My Prayer," "Harbor Lights" "Only You"
Radiohead "Creep"
The Residents "Blue Rosebuds" (from Duck Stab/Buster & Glen)
Scarface "I Seen A Man Die"
Gil Scott-Heron "Winter in America"
Shangri-Las "Past Present and Future"
Peter Stampfel "Believe Me, If All These Endearing Charms" (from You Must Remember This)
Richard and Linda Thompson "Just the Motion" (from Shoot Out the Lights)
Tupac "Dear Mama"
Paul Westerberg "Good Day" (a favorite of Lucinda Williams too, from Eventually)
Jackie Wilson "Lonely Teardrops"
The Who "Tattoo" (from The Who Sells Out)
Lucinda Williams "Lonely Girls" (from Essence)
Wire "I Should Have Known Better" (from 154)
Robert Wyatt "Shipbuilding"

and my two favorites...
Macy Gray "I Try"
Irma Thomas "It's Raining"

Plus hundreds of others I can't remember right now.

So what's your favorite sad tune? I'll pick the winner and she or he will get a monogrammed handkerchief as a prize (offer not good in Africa, Asia, Australia, Central America, Europe, North America, South America or North Jersey).