Thursday, December 29, 2011

Ice-T - "99 Problems" (the song remains the same)

Twice was interesting, but upon hearing the third "version" of this song convinced me there was something afoot: three completely different songs, sharing only the memorable chorus and nothing else.

"99 Problems" was made famous in 2004 by Jay-Z as a single of his LP "The Black Album" but it was originally a (different) song by Ice-T. Ice-T never released it as a single, but instead was a B-side from the "That's How I'm Livin'" single (from his 1993 LP "Home Invasion"). Guesting on the Ice-T version is Brother Marquis from 2 Live Crew, and the song is typical of both their styles at that time: juvenile sex rhymes. The "bitches and hos" misogyny is so over the top, I tell myself it is like the cartoon violence in Kill Bill -- you shouldn't be offended because it isn't meant to be taken seriously. Regardless, the song gave us a memorable chorus with a great hook.

Jay-Z must have agreed since he lifted the chorus for his 2004 single. He replaced the sex stories with autobiographical stories about police, music critics, the street, etc. Rick Rubin is the producer of this song, and while Jay-Z obviously raps, Rick's influence turns this into what has to be one of the heaviest metal songs ever (see also: Rick Rubin and Johnny Cash in "God's Gonna Cut You Down"). As Jay-Z says at the end "You're crazy for this one, Rick".

Ok, so Jay-Z reworking an Ice-T song isn't that much of a stretch... But this summer, Danette's sister, Julie, played a bluegrass version of "99 Problems" by Hugo. Julie was unaware of the prior versions and that is what convinced me that the song (or at least the chorus) was on its way to becoming a traditional song (or at least a musical version of "The Aristocrats"). I don't know that much about Hugo, but there is a connection since he is signed to Jay-Z's label Roc Nation.

What will be the next installment in the series? Where do you go from rap, to rap/metal, to bluegrass?

Ice-T: "99 Problems"

Jay-Z: "99 Problems"

Hugo: "99 Problems"

Bonus links:

Danger Mouse: "99 Problems" (A mashup of Jay-Z's version with "Helter Skelter" from the semi-official LP "The Grey Album".)

Trick Daddy: "99 Problems" (From his 2001 LP "Thugs Are Us"; this version is basically part 2 of the Ice-T version. Not really a cover, but neither is it a new version like the others listed above.)

Jay-Z and Phish: "99 Problems" (Not all combinations work well...)

Ice-T: "That's How I'm Livin'" (The original A-side of the single.)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Liz Phair - "Juvenilia" (LP Review)

The 1995 EP "Juvenilia" was basically an extended single for the song "Jealousy" from Liz Phair's excellent 1994 sophomore LP "Whip-Smart". In addition to "Jealousy", there are two new songs and five "old" songs from her fabled Girlysound demo tapes (nearly impossible to get in 1995). Liz mined those demo tapes for a majority of the material on her first three LPs, but the LP versions were always re-recorded with full-production, band members, etc. To the best of my knowledge, "Juvenilia" was the first time she released songs straight from Girlysound.

As such, their sound is pretty bare: just Liz strumming a guitar and a few multi-tracked vocals. No bass, no drums, just Liz with her attitude & guitar. Honestly, that's really all you need.

Do you need this EP? Well, how big a fan are you? "Jealousy" is a great song, but this is the same version that is on "Whip-Smart". Of the new tracks, she does a decent cover of "Turning Japanese" (originally by the one-hit wonders, The Vapors) but I never really cared that much for the original. The other new track, "Animal Girl", is not really bad, but isn't memorable either (foreshadowing for later material).

Of the Girlysound tracks, "California", "South Dakota", "Batmobile", "Dead Shark", and "Easy", only "Dead Shark" is close to being weak. The first two tracks are excellent, and I wonder why were never re-recorded for inclusion on later LPs. "California" was re-released on the 2nd half of 2010's "Funstyle", but I believe "Juvenilia" is the only in-print option to get the other four Girlysound tracks.

Standout songs: "Jealousy", "California", "South Dakota", "Batmobile", "Easy".

Skip 'em songs: none.

Other songs: "Turning Japanese", "Animal Girl", "Dead Shark"

Final score: 7/10. This one is hard to score. If you're a big fan, you already have this. If you're not a big fan, then her demo tapes aren't the place to start. I settled on a "7" since any serious collector should have this.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Zomes - "Zomes" (LP Review)

Quietly working its way up my iTunes playlist is the 2008 self-titled LP "Zomes". Zomes isn't actually a band, but an alias for Asa Osbourne, the guitarist for the punk-band Lungfish. I'm not familiar with Osbourne, Lungfish, or some of the other various related projects, so I'm reviewing this LP without the context of Osbourne's prior work (two good reviews of the LP by someone familiar his oeuvre can be found at "dusted" and "hardcore for nerds").

This LP is a mesmerizing, minimalist, fuzzy, drone record that features a lot heavily processed guitar. Knowing what I now know about Osbourne, it makes sense to me that this is basically electronic music as envisioned and executed in a decidedly organic, DIY-punk aesthetic. If Kevin Shields, Brian Eno, and Phillip Glass listened to a bunch of Ramones and Iggy Pop LPs and then went on a weekend recording bender, it would sound like this. Butch turned me on to this LP, I love it, and I turned Herbert on to it. If you've been reading this blog regularly, you'll know that's a good indication of the breadth of interests to which this LP appeals.

Stand out songs: Although it has 16 tracks (owing to its punk roots, none stick around that long), this is not the kind of LP for which you have favorite tracks. Listen to the whole thing at grooveshark. Some representative songs include: "Crowning Orbs", "Clear Shapes", "Colored Matter".

Skip 'em songs: none.

Final score: 9/10. Deceptively simple, you'll be surprised how often you replay this.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Cribs - "Ignore the Ignorant" (LP Review)

I've been putting this one off for almost two years now... Here's the short version: The Cribs' fourth LP, 2009's "Ignore the Ignorant", is a good LP, but the addition of Johnny Marr in 2008 ultimately hurt them more than it helped.

It is ok to speak of this now, since in April The Cribs announced that Johnny Marr had left the band amicably. While I respect Marr & The Smiths, and The Cribs have a history of working with a number of alt-rock veterans (e.g., Lee Renaldo on "Be Safe", Jon Slade on "Advice From a Roving Artist"), I'm first and foremost a Cribs fan. And although I liked the idea of an extended collaboration with Johnny, it just didn't work as well as it might have. I'm glad they tried it; the Jarman brothers are cool with it, Johnny is cool with it, so I can be cool with it too.

The primary problem with this LP is the song writing is not as crisp as it was on their previous releases. Perhaps that reflects the presence of Johnny Marr upsetting the song writing dynamic of the Jarman brothers: either his input didn't always mesh with them, or maybe they changed their style to accommodate him (Marr is about finesse, while The Cribs, let's be honest, are at their best just bashing it out). Or maybe it is just The Cribs are no longer "sixteen and really bored" (I lifted that association from someone, but I've forgotten where) and they're not going to have that earnest urgency of their youth. Whatever the reason, it seems like there are fewer Cribs trademarks: sing-along choruses, hooks and memorable riffs, and vocal trade-offs between twins Gary and Ryan.

The secondary but still critical problem with this LP is its production. Producer Nick Launay should be shot. Yes, Alex Krapanos's entry in the "loudness war" from the previous LP is gone, but in its place Launay appeared to have recorded the band from a building next door to where they were playing, with the music piped through a muddy tube. He's managed to find the no man's land between the (overly) bright loudness of the prior LP and the endearing lo-fi sound of their first two. Please work with Edywn Collins again.

Because of the addition of Marr and his influence on the song writing, I'm going to break with my typical review structure and instead go song-by-song (all songs are listed as co-written by all four band members):

We Were Aborted: Wow, what a strong start. Although not officially released as a single, the band made this song a free download prior to the release of the LP. Lyrically and musically, this song rawks as hard as any of their earlier material (i.e., it sounds pre-Marr).

Cheat on Me: This was their first single from the LP and it is a great song. I hear a small Marr influence in the guitar riffs, but it works great and if the entire LP sounded like this I'd have no complaints.

We Share The Same Skies
: Their 2nd (and last) single sounds like a long-lost demo from The Smiths. If Morrisey ever did a cover of this song, you'd swear it would belong on "Louder Than Bombs". It is actually a good song, but it doesn't sound like The Cribs at all.

City of Bugs: WTF?! Where did this Sonic Youth sound-alike come from? It is also a pretty good song, even though it doesn't "sound like" The Cribs until the break about 3 minutes in.

Hari Kari: An almost classic Cribs song. All the pieces are there, but they just don't come together.

Last Year's Snow
: Similar to "We Share The Same Skies"; Gary belts this one out, but it would be easy to imagine Morrisey singing.

Emasculate Me
: Like "Hari Kari" above; it sounds like someone else (Marr?) trying to write a song that sounds like The Cribs. Skip.

Ignore the Ignorant: The title track is strong, sounds like The Cribs, and is a primary exhibit for what a bad job Launay did.

Save Your Secrets
: Another song that appears to have all the elements, but they never come together. It treads dangerously close to piano ballad territory. Skip.

Nothing: This sounds like an outtake from "Men's Needs, Women's Needs, Whatever". Hooks, scream-along chorus, the whole thing. Great song.

Victim of Mass Production: On any of their other LPs, this would be considered a weak song. The influence of The Replacements can be heard here ("we're not supposed to be here anyway!").

Stick To Yr Guns: A pretty good song, similar to pre-Marr songs like "Shoot The Poets" and "Haunted". This is the song that "Save Your Secrets" (above) wanted to be but failed.

All of the above adds up to a good, solid LP that should be in your collection. And if you've never heard of The Cribs, you'll probably even like this more -- at least until you discover how excellent their prior work is. Yes, I realize going on about how much better their earlier LPs are is so cliche that it deserves its own song (cf. "Our Bovine Public"). On the other hand, NME & Pitchfork rate this LP highly because their trying to make up for completely whiffing on their earlier LPs.

Hopefully their future work will return to their lo-fi roots and we'll just think of "Ignore the Ignorant" as a curious collaboration that lasted 2+ years and produced over one LP's worth of material.

Final Score: 7/10.

Bonus links:

* In typical Cribs' fashion, there are plenty of bonus tracks and b-sides from these sessions. The ones I know of are: "Is Anybody There?", "Curse This English Rain", and "So Hot Now".

* In August 2010, the 4-piece Cribs released a one-sided 7" single, "Housewife". It's not a bad song, but it is so different I'm not entirely sure what to make of it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

States - "Picture Me With You" (forgotten song)

While reminiscing with friends about Norfolk's Boathouse being torn down, I was poking around YouTube and uncovered a song which I had completely forgotten about: "Picture Me With You" by Norfolk's own States.

Released in 1981, I recall hearing this pretty frequently on the radio in middle school but I don't think I realized at the time that they were a local band (was this song ever played outside of Hampton Roads?). This was their second and final LP; I have no idea what happened to them after that.

Squarely in the late 70s / early 80s new wave mode (check out the shirts in the video!), this song still sounds pretty good.

"Picture Me With You" -- live version (@ Rogues in Va Beach), studio version.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Mayer Hawthorne - "A Strange Arrangement" (LP Review)


This is the best Hall and Oates LP in 30 years.

Mayer Hawthorne (hip-hop / blue-eyed soul's version of Rivers Cuomo) released 2009's "A Strange Arrangement" on Stones Throw Records.

Standout songs: "A Strange Arrangement", "Just Ain't Gonna Work Out", "Maybe So, Maybe No", "I Wish It Would Rain", "One Track Mind", "Let Me Know", "I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)"

Skip 'em songs: "Your Easy Lovin' Ain't Pleasin' Nothin'" (I didn't like in 1982 either).

Final Score: 8/10.

2014-03-27 Edit: Just in case there was any doubt, here's Mayer Hawthorne with Daryl Hall on "Live From Daryl's House": "A Strange Arrangement",  "Just Ain't Gonna Work Out", "I Can't Go For That", "Private Eyes", "You Make My Dreams Come True", (full episode)

Monday, October 10, 2011

Deathprod - "Treetop Drive 1-3, Towboat" (LP Review)

Here's another one for Butch @ Squealer Music. I see Butch once or twice a year and we use the time to catch up on music. Our interests overlap in the areas of ambient, doom, drone, stoner -- basically all the sub-genres that Black Sabbath spawned (see my review of "Vol. 4"). One of the artists that Butch turned me on to is Deathprod (aka Helge Sten).

After hearing Deathprod from Butch, I bought the eponymous 4-CD boxset (released in 2004). I wasn't sure at what granularity that I wanted to review the music: 4 LPs in a single review? Instead, I review them separately starting with my favorite LP from the set, 1994's "Treetop Drive 1-3, Towboat" (yes, the LP title is simply the listing of the LP's four tracks).

Reviewing this LP is actually rather hard -- Sten is generally credited on LPs with "Audio Virus", and that's about as good an explanation as you'll find. There is almost no percussion, just swaths of looped, foreboding sounds. Here's a string of words I'd associate with the music in general: dark, powerful, repetitive, nightmarish, mesmerizing, plodding, haunting, homemade, menacing, stalking, Giger-esque. Similar in a sense to Plastikman's "Consumed" in results, but far more organic and, well, viral.

I'll attempt another comparison: on the "Time" episode of Radiolab, they describe "9 Beet Stretch", which is Beethoven's 9th Symphony stretched out to 24 hours in length. "Treetop Drive 1-3, Towboat" could easily be excerpts of MBV's "Loveless" with the same stretch treatment.

Treetop Drive 1 sounds like an interpretation of a series of looped, slow-motion car wrecks. Treetop Drive 2 sounds like warring, maniacal channel buoys. Treetop Drive 3 sounds like a plague of locusts, and features a narration of:
So there's a strange affinity with death. Many school districts today are teaching a death education, where they take first graders, second, and third graders and acquaint them with death: Not in the concept of life after death, but with death itself. And, kids are being taken to mortuaries and are allowed to see, and even touch, dead bodies. There is this fascination with death, to desensitize us to death.
This is the only thing that passes for vocals in the LP, and I have no idea where this is sampled from. But my favorite song is the LP closer "Towboat". It starts off pretty minimalist, then slowly builds an aural description of a conflict, closing with what sounds like (abstracted) machine gun fire in the last 4-5 minutes of the track. This could easily be the dream soundtrack of Willard / Kurtz going up the river.

Standout tracks: Treetop Drive 1, Treetop Drive 2, Treetop Drive 3, Towboat.

Skip 'em tracks: none.

Final Score: 8/10. Not light background listening, but powerful and important.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Blink-182 - "Josie" (forgotten song)

For Danette's birthday... last year it was "Punk Rock Girl" and we might as well continue the punk theme this year too, in part because I think pop-punk band Blink-182 has written the world's best love song -- "Josie". A single from their 1998 LP "Dude Ranch", it received a good deal of airplay when it came out, but it seems to have fallen through the radio genre cracks: not new enough for progressive rock, and certainly not quite classic rock.

The world's best love song? Absolutely, and here's why: Blink-182 has a sharp sense of humor (unlike, say, Green Day), but in this case they've laid bare the unvarnished truths of the male psyche, which are too simple for Cosmo, Sex and the City, et al. to explain:
Yeah my girlfriend takes me home when I'm too drunk to drive
And she doesn't get all jealous when I hang out with the guys
She laughs at my dumb jokes when no one does
She brings me Mexican food from Sombrero just because
Yeah, just because

And my girlfriend likes UL and DHC
And she's so smart and independent
I don't think she needs me
Quite half as much as I know I need her
I wonder why there's not another guy that she'd prefer

And when I feel like giving up like my world is falling down
I show up at three a.m. she's still up watching Vacation
And I see her pretty face it takes me away to a better place
And I know that everything's gonna be fine
Yes, that's pretty much it. From Blink-182's perspective "Josie" is fictional (the name comes from the neighbor's dog), but that's only because Mark Hoppus doesn't know Danette.

"Josie" (unofficial video with lyrics; watch this one)
"Josie" (official video; it's funny but the video's story has absolutely nothing to do with the lyrics)

Monday, September 26, 2011

R.E.M. - "Superman" (the song remains the same)

Less than a week ago, R.E.M. decided to hang it up after 31 years. Drummer Bill Berry had already retired 14 years ago (!), so I suppose they did the right thing in calling it quits before attrition whittled down the three remaining original members.

Here's where I have to confess that although I like R.E.M. well enough, I never loved R.E.M. Sure, I have a handful of their LPs, I enjoy most of their stuff, and I recognize their centrality in defining the 80s college rock sound. And thanks to the late Carol Taylor (FM99), everyone in Hampton Roads heard them before most did (she was playing "Radio Free Europe" in 83/84). I remember Earl Lindford's band (I don't recall their name) playing "Can't Get There From Here" at the 86 or 87 Denbigh Jam (see also: Tone Deaf). In short, unless you're from Athens, GA I probably heard about them before you.

But it was much later in life (mid-90s?) that I was surprised to discover that my favorite song by R.E.M. was actually a cover. "Superman", the second and last single from 1986's LP "Lifes Rich Pageant" (arguably their last truly alternative LP), was actually originally released in 1969 by The Clique, as the b-side to their single "Sugar on Sunday". Furthermore, the lead vocals on the R.E.M. version are from bassist Mike Mills instead of lead singer Michael Stipe. That's right, my favorite R.E.M. song is not written by R.E.M. and has Michael Stipe on just background vocals.

So while I was never the biggest R.E.M. fan, their retirement is too important to ignore. I might eventually review some of their LPs, but for the near-term this will have to do.

R.E.M.: "Superman"; (a YouTube version with bad sound quality, but you have to love the I.R.S. 45rpm single)

The Clique: "Superman"

Bonus Links:
R.E.M.: "White Tornado" (b-side to the 7" single).

The Clique: "Sugar on Sunday" (a-side to their 7" single).

Monday, September 5, 2011

Bruce Springsteen - "The Ghost of Tom Joad" (the song remains the same)

A Labor Day special...

Here's the condensed version of the conversation I've had dozens of times with some of my European friends: Bruce Springsteen is an activist / protest singer in the tradition of Woody Guthrie, but his songs are written with such a distinctly American, individualistic perspective that the message of struggle, hope & despair, and identity is often obscured, if not completely misunderstood.

In contrast to some of his more indirect songs, "The Ghost of Tom Joad", the title track from the 1995 LP of the same name, is one of Bruce's most overtly political songs. The blistering message is tamed by Bruce's muted, acoustic delivery; it was Rage Against the Machine two years later that realized the inherent, well, "rage" of the narrator against forces so complex and overwhelming that individuals must succumb. In Bruce's songs, the hero can often overcome through sheer force of will (e.g., "Badlands", "The Promised Land", "Thunder Road", "Born to Run") -- or at least believes he can. In "The Ghost of Tom Joad", the hero is bleakly aware of his futile state:
Men walkin' 'long the railroad tracks
Goin' someplace there's no goin' back
Highway patrol choppers comin' up over the ridge
Hot soup on a campfire under the bridge
Shelter line stretchin' round the corner
Welcome to the new world order
Families sleepin' in their cars in the southwest
No home no job no peace no rest

The highway is alive tonight
But nobody's kiddin' nobody about where it goes
I'm sittin' down here in the campfire light
Searchin' for the ghost of Tom Joad
Tom Joad is of course the main character and anti-hero in Steinbeck's 1940 novel "The Grapes of Wrath", which tells the fictionalized story of the Joad family's travels from Oklahoma during the dust bowl to California in search of a land, jobs, and a better life. Instead, they find California is controlled by corporate farmers, in collusion with each other as well as local law enforcement to ensure an ample supply of cheap, unorganized labor. In short, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's dream.
Now Tom said "Mom, wherever there's a cop beatin' a guy
Wherever a hungry newborn baby cries
Where there's a fight 'gainst the blood and hatred in the air
Look for me Mom I'll be there
Wherever there's somebody fightin' for a place to stand
Or decent job or a helpin' hand
Wherever somebody's strugglin' to be free
Look in their eyes Mom you'll see me."
Bruce Springsteen: studio version, live in the studio 2009

Bruce Springsteen & Tom Morello: live 2009

Rage Against the Machine: 1997 single version, 2000 LP version, live 1999 version, fan video

"The Grapes of Wrath": New York Times Review, ReThink Review

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Lissy Trullie - "Self-Taught Learner" (LP Review)

I've listened to this EP enough times to render an opinion: despite how much we (the collective we) want Lissy Trullie to be the next Lissy Phair / Lissy Ramone / Lissy Hynde, she's not quite there. She's got the style, but not (yet) the substance. Released in 2009, her 6 track EP "Self-Taught Learner" generated a lot of buzz (e.g., reviews in altsounds, Rolling Stone), but ultimately this emperor has clothes, but not fully matured song-writing chops. The neo-punk attitude's there and the production is clean enough not to inhibit mainstream appeal, but I guess there is a reason why the record labels have been riding this first release for the last two years.

The version I have was actually re-released later in 2009 on Downtown Records and features slightly different cover art (and no, that's not Lissy on the cover) and an additional 4 songs: 2 new songs, an unreleased demo, and a phoned in version of Biz Markie's "Just a Friend" (with Adam Green). If you have the 6 track version, you're fine -- the 4 new tracks don't add much. None of the 10 songs are really bad, but only a couple really stand out. Here's hoping her song writing improves, she hooks up with a better partner, or does more inspired covers like her version of Hot Chip's "Ready for the Floor".

Standout songs: "Boy Boy", "She Said" (live version), "Ready for the Floor"

Skip 'em songs: none.

Final Score: 5/10. "Lissy Ramone can't take your call now, please leave a message."

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Perfume Tree - "Tides' Out" (LP Review)

Perfume Tree's 1997 EP "Tide's Out" was a sign of things changing for the band. For one, up until this point they had followed the standard formula of releasing an LP, and then a remix EP to complement that prior LP. "Tide's Out" is not really a remix EP for 1996's "A Lifetime Away" (that LP never received a remix release (edit: I don't know what I was thinking when I wrote that; 1995's "Fathom the Sky" was the remix EP for "A Lifetime Away")), but is actually a remix EP for the "Feeler" LP that was released in 1998. More importantly, this EP signals an almost complete shift toward electronic music, a shift that "Feeler" would complete. Previous releases had always retained an organic feel, but that is almost entirely gone on this release.

In my prior review of "A Lifetime Away", I covered the story of Perfume Tree, their members, and their unfortunate lack of the success they deserved. Vancouver-based radio DJs, toiling in obscurity on the small label "World Domination Recordings", and prior to that the even smaller "Zulu Records", their sound is as fresh today as it was in the mid-1990s. The CDs are out of print, but most can be found used for decent $ (right now "Tide's Out" is going for less than $5 on Amazon).

I actually think the songs here are stronger than on "Feeler". The EP features 6 tracks (~55 minutes), but really only 3 distinct songs: 2 versions of "Blink", 3 versions of "Saturate", and "Too Late, Too Early" (which would be significantly reworked as "Too Early, Too Late" on "Feeler"). "Blink" is a rather fast, up beat song compared to most by the band. The "Black and White" version actually rocks pretty hard, complete with a hammond organ sound that the original version lacks. All three versions of "Saturate" are good, with the "20,000 Leagues" sounding, well, like it is under water. The "Full Steam" version is appropriately titled as well, driving almost as hard as "Blink (Black and White)". All six tracks are amazing.

"Tide's Out", like "A Lifetime Away" the year before, showcases the band at its creative peak. As before, the band is great, but Jane Tilley's vocals really separate the band from its peers. No connect-the-dots, formulaic electronica here. You owe it to yourself to hunt a copy of this EP, as well as the rest of their canon.

Standout songs: "Blink", "Saturate", "Too Late, Too Early", "Saturate (20,000 Leagues)", "Blink (Black And White)", "Saturate (Full Steam)"

Skip 'em songs: none.

Final Score: 10/10.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Ultra Orange & Emmanuelle - "Ultra Orange & Emmanulle" (LP Review)

While watching the excellent film "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly", a great song came on that both Danette and I immediately liked but were unfamiliar with. Watching the credits, we found that it was "Don't Kiss Me Goodbye", by Ultra Orange & Emmanuelle, which is basically a now permanent collaboration of the group Ultra Orange and actress Emmanuelle Seigner (who also starred in "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"). A French actress singing pop music -- you're thinking Bridgette Bardot, Serge Gainsbourg, and "Bonnie and Clyde", right? Somewhat, but in this case you need to also think David Roback & Kendra Smith (i.e., "Opal") or David Roback & Hope Sandoval (i.e., "Mazzy Star").

"Don't Kiss Me Goodbye" was great in the context of the movie, and I made a point to buy the LP. Unfortunately, the LP is disappointing. DKMG is the best song on the LP, and on repeated listening it became apparent that why we like that song is because we're both fans of Mazzy Star. Take equal parts "Halah" and "Bells Ring" and you have a good idea of what DKMG sounds like: fuzzy dream pop with breathy, half-spoken female vocals. The LP cover art nicely captures the sound.

Some songs are ok, some are really bad, but most are just very derivative and simple. If the band down the street sounded like this, it would be ok, but the expectations are higher here. If you don't listen too closely, they sound better: perhaps the banal lyrics would sound better in French. The good songs are good enough to give some diversity to a playlist or mix cd, but as a collection of 11 songs this LP just doesn't hold together. Mostly it make me appreciate David Roback more. Emmanuelle sings better than Scarlett Johansson (e.g., her cover of "I Am the Cosmos") but she's clearly no Hope Sandoval.

Standout songs: "Sing Sing", "Don't Kiss Me Goodbye" (movie montage version), "Lines of My Hand"

Skip 'em songs: "Bunny", "Touch My Shadow", "Won't Lovers Revolt Now"

Final Score: 4/10. Mazzy Star keeps saying they'll release a fourth LP; in the meantime we have this...

Bonus Link: Bardot & Gainsbourg -- "Bonnie and Clyde"

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Arctic Monkeys - "Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not" (LP Review)

What's the appropriate soundtrack for the recent UK riots? "Anarchy in the UK" by the Pistols? "London's Burning" by The Clash? All good choices, but they're 1) dated and 2) rather literal.

Instead, I thought of "Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not", the 2006 debut LP by the Arctic Monkeys, a colorful collection of songs that depict the bleak, feckless lives of working class youth in the UK. For example, listen to "Riot Van", and it becomes apparent that lead singer / guitarist / song writer Alex Turner is writing about (and in the process, somewhat glamorizing) a general malaise, not about riots themselves. Take Springsteen's "Nebraska", update it by an entire generation, transplant it to the UK, speed it up, and you have WPSIATWIN.

While I had seen Arctic Monkeys on a TV show (SNL perhaps?) and enjoyed them, it took me a while to actually get this LP. The hype machine for the band was in full swing (yet another Britpop band: The Strokes, Oasis, etc.), so I wasn't sure what to think. The LP really is as good (or nearly so) as the hype: stripped down, lo-fi, catchy garage punk. Similar to The Cribs, and while not quite as good as them, they easily belong in the same discussion. Although if pressed, I might admit that the lead single from the LP, "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor", rawks as hard as anything The Cribs have written.

Standout Songs: "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor", "The View From the Afternoon", "Fake Tales of San Francisco", "Riot Van", "Perhaps Vampires Is a Bit Strong But..", "When the Sun Goes Down".

Skip'em Songs: none.

Final Score: 9/10.

Husker Du - "Everything Falls Apart and More" (LP Review)

"Everything Falls Apart" was Husker Du's first studio LP, originally released in 1983 on Reflex Records and then re-released as "Everything Falls Apart and More" in 1993 on Rhino Records. The "and More" part refers to including Husker Du's first two 7" singles, 1980's "Statues / Amusement" and 1982's "In a Free Land", as well as two unreleased tracks a studio version of "Let's Go Die" (a live version appears on 1982's "Land Speed Record"), and the previously unreleased"Do You Remember?" (which is the English translation of "Husker Du"). The original LP clocked in at under 20 minutes, but the bonus material takes it to 42 minutes. Yes, in 1982 20 minutes was considered a full length LP for punk bands.

I got this LP sometime well after college, so it doesn't have the same nostalgia for me as "Flip Your Wig" or "New Day Rising". And this LP doesn't show the depth, complexity or variety that other LPs would; this is straightforward, hard-core punk. The production is thin & biting (courtesy of Spot, who produced most of the bands on the early days of SST Records) and the songs are short, furious, and rarely last much over two minutes. I wish I had heard this LP when it came out, it would have made a huge impression on me then.

But even still, this is a surprisingly good LP to listen to today. It is mostly angry punk music, but a few glimpses of their future, more melodic sound peek through in a few songs, like "Everything Falls Apart", "In a Free Land", and "Do You Remember?". So while this LP stays well within its genre, it is a genre that Husker Du helped create. Many fans think Husker Du began with "Zen Arcade", but if you're in the mood for a ferocious blast of energy, then give this LP a listen.

Standout Songs: "From the Gut", "Punch Drunk", "Bricklayer", "Afraid of Being Wrong", "Everything Falls Apart", "Target", "In a Free Land", "Do You Remember?".

Skip 'em Songs: their awkward cover of Donovan's "Sunshine Superman".

Final Score: 8/10

Thanks to HUSKERchout for the super-rare concert videos.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Husker Du - "Eight Miles High / Makes No Sense At All" (LP Review)

I recently rediscovered this one out of my stacks of CDs and put it in my iTunes collection. Released in 1990 on SST Records three years after Husker Du had broken up, this 4-song EP is really just two earlier 7" singles combined and re-released: 1984's "Eight Miles High" and 1985's "Makes No Sense At All".

"Eight Miles High", their cover of the The Byrds classic 1966 song, is a non-LP single. Covering a song by The Byrds was quite a stretch for a punk band in 1984, and Husker Du turns out an appropriately heavy, buzz-saw version. The B-Side is a live version of "Masochism World", one of the heaviest songs on the acclaimed double LP "Zen Arcade".

"Makes No Sense At All" is the best song in Husker Du's catalog, and quite possibly the best punk song ever. It is the only single from their outstanding 1985 LP "Flip Your Wig". The B-Side is a cover of Sonny Curtis's "Love is All Around". That's right, as if to prove they could stretch further than The Byrds, they covered the theme song for The Mary Tyler Moore Show (opening credits).

So do you need this EP? If you already have "Zen Arcade" and "Flip Your Wig", then there are only two new songs: "Eight Miles High" and "Love is All Around". The latter is just a novelty, so the former is really the only new song. If you're a hard-core fan (and don't already have the two 7" singles!), then get this EP since it is still in print and reasonably priced (I think the individual singles are out of print). But if you're not familiar with Husker Du, then start with "Flip Your Wig" and "New Day Rising" instead.

Standout songs: Eight Miles High (live 1983, live 1985, live 1987), Masochism World (studio version), Makes No Sense At All / Love Is All Around (in a single video).

Skip 'em songs: none.

Final Score: 6/10. All good songs, but necessary for hard-core fans only.

Bonus Link: The Byrds - "Eight Miles High"

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Bruce Springsteen - "For You" (the song remains the same)

I recently reviewed "Blinded by the Light", the song from Bruce Springsteen's first LP, "Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J." that was made famous by Manfred Mann's Earth Band. For MMEB's 1980 LP "Chance", they went back to the well again, recording "For You" from Bruce's 1973 debut LP. (Bruce never released "For You" as a single, so I chose MMEB's covert art.)

I don't recall ever hearing Bruce's version on the radio, only occasionally for the MMEB version, and nothing on classic rock radio in I don't know how many years. Which is too bad, since this is quite a good song. MMEB used the same formula they used on BBTL: increasing the production complexity and greatly simplifying the lyrical complexity (three stanzas to 1.5 stanzas), even to the point of removing half of the chorus. The LP version clocked in at almost 6 minutes, but the 7" version is just under 4 minutes. Bruce's version:
I came for you, for you, I came for you, but you did not need my urgency
I came for you, for you, I came for you, but your life was one long emergency
and your cloud line urges me, and my electric surges free
MMEB's version:
I came for you
I came for you
I came for you
For you
I came for you
Eliminating the urgency/emergency portion significantly changes the meaning of the song; explore the original version and the MMEB version for additional changes.

For You: Bruce Springsteen (studio version, 1978 live version), Manfred Mann's Earth Band (7" single version, LP version, 1986 live version).

And for completeness, I suppose I should mention the 2005 release by The Disco Boys, based on the MMEB version: Radio Edit version, Freemasons Remix version.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Cowboy Junkies - "The Trinity Session" (LP Review)

I was recently extolling the virtues of this LP to Herbert, and I've given/recommended it as a gift several times before so I decided I should go ahead and review it. Simply put, the Cowboy Junkies 1988 sophomore LP, "The Trinity Session", is one of the best LPs of all time. The story of the actual recording session is now legendary: on a shoestring budget, the group rented the Church of the Holy Trinity in Toronto (they're Canadian) for one day and recorded the entire LP live with one mic (ok, technically they forgot to record the a capella "Mining for Gold" during the weekend and recorded it a few days later in the church during the lunch break of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra's recording session). The warm acoustics of the church, the intimate, spare production, the lonely, hazy songs -- it all combines to transport you to the session itself, like you helped the band move their gear and watched and listened to the LP unfold.

But what is less well-known but more interesting to me is that this LP is a love letter to & reinterpretation of country music. On the band's website they have extensive notes about their experiences touring the American South in support of their previous LP and being introduced to country music:
[W]e had spent a lot of time in the Southern States, especially Virginia, Georgia and the Carolinas. ... Those were the days when having to spend a night in a hotel room would mean the difference between eating the next day or paying for the gas to get us to the next town, so we spent a lot of our time sleeping on the floors of friendly promoters, fans, waitresses and bartenders. One of the best part about being "billeted" was that each night we were exposed to a new record collection and each night we'd discover a new album or a new band or a whole new type of music that was springing up in some buried underground scene somewhere in America. ... A style of music that we were heavily exposed to at that time was country music. It wasn't like everyone we ran into was a country music freak, but growing up in the South, most people had been exposed to a lot more of it than we had growing up in suburban Montreal. There would inevitably be in every collection one or two great country music records that had been lifted from their parents as they moved out. Sitting there between the latest Death Piggy single and Coltrane's Giant Steps would be something like Waylon Jennings' Honky Tonk Heroes, or Patsy Cline's Greatest Hits, The Louvin Brothers, The Carter Family, Bill Monroe, Hank Williams, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and the list goes on. We drank it up.
Sometimes you don't really understand something that you take for granted until it is processed and presented to you by someone from another culture or background (cf. my discussion of Robbie Robertson's "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down"). In doing so, the Junkies helped revitalize/define the genre of alt country, infused from their lo-fi, hazy, barroom blues sound from their first LP, "Whites Off Earth Now!!" (see also: "Me and the Devil Blues").

On this LP, the CJs don't simply cover country songs, but reinterpret them, and let the attitude infuse their other songs as well. For example, they do a slow, aching version of "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" that I think Hank Williams would approve of. Ditto a six minute blues jam version of Patsy Cline's "Walkin' After Midnight". They also strip down "Dreaming My Dreams With You" by Waylon Jennings, and do a surprisingly upbeat version (for them) of the traditional song "Working On a Building".

They go beyond straight covers with their version of "Blue Moon", mixing an original song with the Rodgers & Hart standard to yield "Blue Moon Revisited (Song for Elvis)". The result is genius; acknowledging the presence of Elvis without overshadowing the rest of the collection.

Despite my high praise for the above songs, the star of the show is without question their rolling, relaxed cover of The Velvet Underground's "Sweet Jane". One doesn't normally associate the Velvets with, say, Patsy Cline or Hank Williams, but the CJs figured out how to make it work. Lou Reed himself has said that the Cowboy Junkies version of "Sweet Jane" is "the best and most authentic version I have ever heard" -- you're not going to find higher praise than that.

Although I've spoken mostly of their covers, the LP features a handful of originals like "Misguided Angel" (a disturbingly beautiful song about an abusive relationship) and "200 More Miles" (a road song that appropriately namechecks Willie Nelson) that are excellent songs worthy of their placement in the LP. There are a few of missteps on the LP, for example Jeff Bird's harmonica on "I Don't Get It" and "Postcard Blues" is a little too shrill for my tastes, but these flaws are easily forgiven.

Conventional wisdom on the Cowboy Junkies is that "The Trinity Session" was their creative high point. I have most of their other LPs and I would agree that this is their best (though the others are quite good), but whereas many other critics blame them from not deviating from the formula they introduced on this LP, I think their fortunes waned when their sound became more polished and mainstream. I don't normally wish for bands to miss out on financial and critical success, but I kind of wish that it had avoided the CJs for a while longer and they could have made a few more LPs like this.

Standout Songs: "Mining for Gold", "Misguided Angel", "Blue Moon Revisited (Song for Elvis)", "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry", "200 More Miles", "Sweet Jane", "Walkin' After Midnight". (The entire LP at grooveshark.com).

Skip 'em Songs: n/a

Final Score: 10/10. Perfection.

Bonus Links:

Elvis Presley - "Blue Moon"
The Velvet Underground - "Sweet Jane"
Patsy Cline - "Walking After Midnight"
Waylon Jennings - "Dreaming My Dreams With You"
Bill Monroe & The Bluegrass Boys - "Working on a Building"
Hank Williams - "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry"

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Julee Cruise - "Floating Into the Night" (LP Review)

To most people, Julee Cruise will remind them of the TV series "Twin Peaks", but I didn't watch much TV in college when the series was on. But this music does remind me of my senior year of college, when I and my roommates Terry, Jason, and Frey would stay up all hours of the night drinking beer and playing Hearts and Spades. It didn't do much for our studies, but we became expert at shooting the moon and going under with almost any hand. Of course we'd listen to music as we played, and this LP was a constant favorite for all four of us. Individually we all had substantial CD collections and together we had maybe 15 linear feet of CDs, which was quite a lot at the time. I'm not sure who had this CD (Jason?), but I quickly purchased my copy after moving out.

Simply put, "Floating Into the Night" is one of the best LPs of all time, featuring the perfect collaboration between Julee Cruise (vocals), Angelo Badalamenti (composer), and David Lynch (lyricist). Badalamenti has composed many soundtracks for Lynch, and the collaboration with Cruise actually began with the song "Mysteries of Love" for the film "Blue Velvet". That song lead to them recording a full LP's worth of songs, culminating in the 1989 release of "Floating Into the Night", prior to the release of Twin Peaks (90-91).

If you're familiar with Lynch's films, you know that they are surreal, dream-like, and often deal with dark, disturbing themes and images. Badalamenti's dream/lounge arrangements perfectly complement Lynch's imagery but the real surprise is Lynch's lyrics, which depict scenes which are best described as bittersweet, bucolic, Rockwellian, nostalgic, and child-like. The lyrics juxtaposed with the foreboding soundscapes makes the entire experience that much more powerful. Consider the closing lyrics to "Rocking Back Inside My Heart":
Do you remember our picnic lunch?
We both went up to the lake
And then we walked among the pines
The birds sang out a song for us
We had a fire when we came back
And your smile was beautiful
You touched my cheek and you kissed me
At night we went for a stroll
The wind blew our hair
The fire made us warm
The wind blew the waves
Out on the lake
We heard the owl in a nearby tree.
I thought our love would last forever.
Simple enough, but when combined with the music they become quite unsettling in an unexpected way.

With the possible exception of "Swans", all the songs on this LP are perfect, memorable, and distinct: the horn riff on "Floating", the bass on "Falling", the 50s-era "shu bops" at the end of "I Remember", the swing sound of "Rockin' Back Inside My Heart", sweeping sounds of "Mysteries of Love", the musical surprise at ~3:28 of "Into the Night", the horns of "I Float Alone", the vocals of "The Nightingale", the solemnity of "The World Spins". "Swans" is not bad, but at 2:33 it does not add much to the LP.

Cruise, Badalamenti, and Lynch would all work together again on 1993's "The Voice of Love", and while that is not a bad LP it does not come close to capturing the magic of "Floating Into The Night". Danette says I'm too generous with my perfect scores, but this LP clearly deserves it. Whether it is evokes late nights playing cards, Twin Peaks, or simply nostalgia viewed through the twisted prism of David Lynch, once you've listened to it this LP is not easily forgotten.

Standout songs: "Floating", "Falling", "I Remember", "Rockin' Back Inside My Heart" (live), "Mysteries of Love", "Into the Night", "I Float Alone", "The Nightingale", "The World Spins" (live).

Skip 'em songs: none.

Final score: 10/10.

Bonus links: Entire LP.  Some of the live versions are from the concert film "Industrial Sympony No. 1".

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Red House Painters - Red House Painters (LP Review)

What if you combined elements of 1980s goth/punk (e.g., The Cure, The Jesus and Mary Chain), alt-country (e.g., Cowboy Junkies, Mojave 3), and slowcore (e.g., Low, Codeine), and the result was...  boring?

That would be Red House Painters, at least as I listen to their 1993 eponymous LP informally known as "Rollercoaster" (to differentiate it from their other 1993 eponymous LP known as "Bridge"). I generally like to become very familiar with an LP before I review it, but I actually haven't had this LP long. I read an effusive review somewhere online (Allmusic perhaps?) and purchased it without a lot of other research. Having just listened to it again tonight, the best thing I can say is there are no bad songs. Unfortunately, there are no good songs either. Just 14 unremarkable songs that evoke all of the influences listed above, but otherwise do nothing for me... and I really like this genre!

Perhaps I would have felt differently in 1993, or maybe if I gave it a few more listens, but I feel I've listened to it enough to render an opinion: there were many LPs released in 1993 and this is one of them. It reminds of Roosevelt's quote about "those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."

Standout songs: n/a

Skip 'em songs: n/a

Songs that appear: "New Jersey", "Strawberry Hill", (find more at Grooveshark)

Final score: 5/10. Suitable for background listening only.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Bruce Springsteen - "Blinded by the Light" (the song remains the same)

How should I observe the passing of Clarence Clemons? An obvious choice would be "Jungleland", which is often cited as having one of Clemons' best solos (it occurs ~ 4:03 in this live 1978 version). Instead, I'm going with a song most people probably don't know was written by Bruce: "Blinded by the Light", the first (and ultimately unsuccessful) single from Bruce's first LP, 1973's "Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.".

"Blinded by the Light" was later made famous by Manfred Mann's Earth Band as a single from their 1976 LP "The Roaring Silence". Whereas Bruce's version was still very much in Dylan's shadow, MMEB trimmed the voluminous lyrics (original lyrics vs. MMEB's lyrics), provided a slick 70s synth sound, and added some clever counterpoint at the end. The Manfred Mann version came in two versions, both of which you still hear regularly on classic rock radio: a 7 minute LP version and a 4 minute single version. And while it very much sounds like a mid-70s song, I never tire of it (see also: "Cruel to be Kind").

The various characters in the song (the drummer, diplomat, mascot, preacher, chaperone, etc.) are partially explained in the VH1 Storytellers DVD, but the interesting explanation is cut short by the video's editors! Danette bought this as a Christmas present a few years ago precisely because she knows I'm fascinated by this song's cast of characters and she thought all would finally be explained. Unless someone has an unedited version of this performance we'll never know who all these people are (though it is clear they are all real, or at least based on real characters). I've seen various explanations on the web, but none that I'd consider canonical. And if you're only familiar with the MMEB's version, you're missing out on the those that MMEB removed: the "hazard from Harvard", the "dude" from Scotland Yard, the shooting star, and the avatar.

While "Blinded by the Light" is probably not the first song you think of when Clarence Clemons is mentioned, I will point out that it is one of only two GFAPNJ songs on which Clemons appears and as such I consider it a fitting tribute.

Bruce Springsteen: studio version, 1974 live version, 2009 live version, VH1 Storytellers version (starts at ~9:00 into the video).

Manfred Mann's Earth Band: LP version, Single version, 1975 live version.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Shelia Divine - "Hum" (forgotten song)

I was driving in the convertible tonight, listening to a mix CD (ca. 2002) I keep in the car that I hadn't played in quite a while. Of course, it is entirely sing-along, road-trip music: Juliana Hatfield, Weezer, The Smithereens, Beck, Frank Black, etc. On came a song that I had entirely forgotten about: "Hum", a single from the 1999 LP "New Parade" by The Sheila Divine. Clearly it's a great song or it would not have made the road trip CD.

TSD were a 90s alternative band based in Boston that generated a buzz on college radio, but never quite turned the corner to mainstream success (or even sustained alternative success, for that matter). After 2 more LPs, they eventually broke up in 2003, but reformed in 2010.

I learned of them from "Hum", which received a bit of radio airplay in 1999. I bought "New Parade", but as I recall the rest of the LP did not measure up to the strong hooks of "Hum". I suppose I should give it a listen again (it has been a long time), but in the mean time see if you recall this excellent song. Sure, it sounds like most other 90s alternative bands (expertly working the soft-loud-soft formula in a way that would make the Pixies proud), but that's alright by me.

Hum: studio version, 2001 live version

Monday, May 23, 2011

Pink Floyd - "When the Tigers Broke Free" (forgotten song)

I'll just assume that everyone has seen The Wall at least a dozen times and spare you the exposition on the cultural impact of the LP and film. I'll remind you that most of the songs on the 1979 LP and the 1982 film are slightly different, with many versions re-recorded, Bob Geldof (who played Pink in the film) singing lead on some, etc.

But do you remember "When the Tigers Broke Free", the only non-LP song in the film? It is split in two parts and interpolates "Another Brick in the Wall Part 1". The death of Roger Waters' father in WWII and his subsequent absence during his youth influences a lot of Waters' music, but this song is the most detailed and provides significant historical detail. For example, we can deduce that his father died in Italy during Operation Shingle. I don't often reproduce entire lyrics, but in this case they succinctly motivate the entire franchise that is "The Wall":
It was just before dawn
One miserable morning in black 'forty four.
When the forward commander
Was told to sit tight
When he asked that his men be withdrawn.
And the Generals gave thanks
As the other ranks held back
The enemy tanks for a while.
And the Anzio bridgehead
Was held for the price
Of a few hundred ordinary lives.

And kind old King George
Sent Mother a note
When he heard that father was gone.
It was, as I recall,
In a form of a scroll,
With gold leaf and all.
And I found it one day
In a drawer of old photographs, hidden away.
And my eyes still grow damp to remember
His Majesty signed
With his own rubber stamp.

It was dark all around.
There was frost in the ground
When the tigers broke free.
And no one survived
From the Royal Fusiliers Company C.
They were all left behind,
Most of them dead,
The rest of them dying.
And that's how the High Command
Took my daddy from me.

WTTBF was released as 7" single entitled "The Wall -- Music From The Film". As the name suggests, the single was supposed to be from a soundtrack LP for the film, to complement the 1979 LP. That soundtrack LP never materialized, but instead morphed into the 1982 LP "The Final Cut" (which did not contain WTTBF), the LP that pretty much ended Pink Floyd as we knew it. The 7" single was the only release for the song until the 2001 greatest hits compilation "Echoes" and then the 2004 re-release of "The Final Cut". Despite these belated re-releases, I'm guessing that most of us have only heard the song in the context of the movie.

While musically simple, it is a good song and suits the storyline of the movie/LP well. It also hints at the direction that the solo work by Roger Waters would take in the mid-80s.

When the Tigers Broke Free: (parts 1 and 2 from the film, spliced together): YouTube.

When the Tigers Broke Free, the B-side alternate version of "Bring the Boys Back Home": YouTube.


N.B. In case you did not know, a "tiger" was a formidable German tank from WWII.

Friday, April 22, 2011

K's Choice - "Not An Addict" (forgotten song)

In case you ever wondered what the Indigo Girls would sound like if they played shoegazing, I'm pretty sure it would sound like K's Choice since lead singer Sarah Betten's voice is at least as husky and breathy as the Indigo's Emily Saliers. I remember when I first heard the song, I thought it was a new Indigo Girls song.

K's Choice hails from Belgium and scored a good amount of radio airplay in the US with their 1995 single "Not An Addict", from their second LP "Paradise in Me". Although they continued off and on since then with occasional hiatus and solo project, to my knowledge "Not An Addict" was the only radio play they received here. Discogs shows several different mixes and running lengths depending on the country where it was released. The link below is marked "European Version", but this is the version I recall hearing on the radio.

Although its sound is very much of its time (note the similarities to contemporaries like Smashing Pumpkins (the guitars in "Today") and Alice in Chains (the drums in "Would?")), this song still rawks in my book.

Not An Addict: YouTube. A surprisingly good audience recording (05/16/10).