Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Hawkwind - "Silver Machine" (forgotten song)

Ian "Lemmy" Kilmister died this week at the age of 70.  If you don't know what Lemmy means to metal, or just rock in general, then I'm not going to be able to explain it to you.  Exhibit A: NPR did a story about his passing.  NPR.  Think about that.  Words like "icon", "legend",  and "pioneer" are often casually tossed around, but in this case they're appropriate.  Quoting from a Guardian story from this summer:
Lemmy is as much a collection of myths and legends as a man. In the popular imagination, he’s made up of equal parts Jack Daniel’s, amphetamine sulphate, Nazi memorabilia and extreme-velocity noise. The myths and legends cloak him as surely as the black shirt, the black jeans, the custom-made boots, the cowboy hat with its “Death or Glory” insignia and the Iron Cross around his neck.
Of course, Lemmy is best known as the vocalist & bassist -- and only permanent member -- for Motorhead.  Motorhead, of course, is the seminal band that first combined outlaw biker imagery with a punk style / ethos & metal heaviness, although Lemmy always insisted they were simply a "rock-n-roll band".  Furthermore, he was innovative in that he played bass like it was a lead instrument and not rhythm.  But before there was Motorhead, there was Hawkwind -- the seminal space rock group, featuring fluid membership, Michael Moorcock inspired imagery & lyrics, and nearly limitless Spinal Tap-esque cliches (including one of the first appearances of the heavy metal umlaut). 

I could memorialize Lemmy with any of numerous excellent Motorhead songs, but instead I'll choose Hawkwind's 1972 single, "Silver Machine", which he didn't even write but I believe was the first song on which he sang lead (he was not the primary vocalist for Hawkwind), and turned out to be Hawkwind's only "hit" song.  Although Lemmy would not be fired from Hawkwind for another three years, this is probably the song that set him on the path from "band member" to "band leader". 

I believe this video is the one shown on BBC's Top of the Pops in 1972 (instead of having the band in the studio lip syncing).  It features Lemmy in his pre-Motorhead, all black garb.  The sound is early-70s groovy, the studio version is badly synced with the concert footage, which features bubbles, a flautist (!) and, of course, a dancer.  You can't make this stuff up.  Despite (because of?) all that, the song rawks and I love it.  Danette hates it, for all of the same reasons listed above, though she does like Motorhead in general.

A month ago, The Atlantic had an article featuring Lemmy and entitled "Twilight of the Headbangers: How long can the legends of heavy metal keep on rocking?".  Not long enough, though I think we have to count ourselves lucky that he made it to 70.

Hawkwind - "Silver Machine"

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Waxahatchee - "Cerulean Salt" (LP Review)

Just over a year ago I reviewed "American Weekend", the debut LP from Waxahatchee.  Her second LP "Cerulean Salt" (2013) finds her backed by a "real band" (actually members shared with her sister's band, Swearin'). 

Whereas "American Weekend" was a solo, lo-fi, bedroom recording masterpiece, "Cerulean Salt" doesn't try to duplicate that success.  The songs are still sparse and minimally produced, but are enriched by the fuller sound afforded by the presence of band members.  Some of them even downright rawk -- such as "Coast to Coast" and especially "Misery Over Dispute".  And while the comparison to Liz Phair continues (exhibit A: "Brother Bryan" vs. "Girls! Girls! Girls!"; Exhibit B: "Dixie Cups and Jars" vs. "Go West"), a more thematic comparison would be to Bruce Springsteen in that the glossy, upbeat songs hide some pretty dark lyrics.  Almost any song would do, but it's hard to beat "Dixie Cups and Jars":
I'm not a whipper in the wind
Or solace laying at the bottom of a bottle
Or your thick skin
Escape yells both our names out loud
We run like hell, I'll write a tragic epilogue and you'll act it out

I watched your dad give you away
I watched him drink the bitter taste in his exertion away
Make-up sits on your face like tar
The champagne flutes poorly engineered
Employ dixie cups and jars
A more eloquent LP review is available at Pitchfork.  I will say that while it doesn't speak to me personally like "American Weekend", "Cerulean Salt" is arguably a better all around LP. 

Standout songs: "Dixie Cups and Jars" (live), "Brother Bryan" (live), "Coast to Coast" (live) (live w/ Mish Way), "Tangled Envisioning" (live), "Misery Over Dispute" (live), "Lively" (live), "Swan Dive" (live),

Skip 'em songs: none.

Final score: 9/10. 

Friday, November 27, 2015

Balam Acab - "See Birds" (LP Review)

Balam Acab, aka Alec Koone, released his first EP, "See Birds", to critical acclaim in 2010 (for example, the Pitchfork review).  Herbert turned me on to this a few years ago and I had to get my own copy.  It's tempting to discount this EP because Koone wasn't an established artist (and arguably still isn't), but I have to give it my highest possible score because it was a shocking eye opener for me, sounding nothing like what I was used to.  Created with "found" (on the Internet) music samples, Koone creates a rich, subtle, and surprisingly warm sound.  I can't help but compare it to, say, "What Does Your Soul Look Like" ca. 1994.  Another stylistic comparison would be The Caretaker's "Persistent Repetition of Phrases", but with different source material.

Apparently the "new" sound of which he was a part earned the label "witch house", which was applied at least partially in jest.  I'm not going to argue for or against that label, but I will say this is a compelling new style of music that demands a listen.   Unfortunately, while his 2011 full length LP "Wander / Wonder" is good, it fails to continue the magic introduced on this EP. 

Standout songs: all:  See Birds (Moon), Regret Making Mistakes, Big Boy, Dream Out, See Birds (Sun); all five songs as a playlist

Skip 'em songs: none

Final score: 10/10

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Gina Chavez - Live NPR Tiny Desk Concert 2015-09-22 (concert)

This post comes courtesy of our friend Joy, who a while back sent us a link to this NPR Tiny Desk concert of Austin-based Gina Chavez

You're probably thinking "do we need yet another Latin-folk-pop-hip-hop-lesbian-activitist artist?"  Yes, apparently we do. 

Yet more good stuff coming from Austin, TX.  You can find a lot more of her stuff on SoundCloud.  Thanks Joy for the tip.

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Robbin Thompson Band - "Candy Apple Red" (forgotten song)

Richmond-based Robbin Thompson died last week.  Never heard of him?  Don't worry, most people haven't, despite his being involved with early Bruce Springsteen related bands.  His songs were popular on local radio in the early 80s, but he never really got a national break, despite minor hits from his 1980 LP "Two B's Please", like "Brite Eyes" and "Sweet Virginia Breeze" (which is one of the two replacement songs for Virginia's unfortunate former state song).

My favorite from the time was "Candy Apple Red", a nostalgic song borrowing from both Beach Music and The Beach Boys.  It wasn't a single from the LP, but I recall hearing it on the radio at the time.  And while the theme is hardly unique,  I can't help but think it presaged "Glory Days", which Bruce would record a few years later.

The Robbin Thompson Band - "Candy Apple Red"

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Avett Brothers - "Kick Drum Heart" (spotlight)

Happy birthday Danette!  Continuing the long tradition of birthday mix tape songs, this year's entry is The Avett Brothers "Kick Drum Heart", from their 2009 major label debut "I and Love and You".  It's a fun song and a fan favorite at concerts, but it makes the Danette birthday list for two reasons.  First, it poetically captures of the ecstatic moments of breathless young love:
Mother Mary heard us approaching her door
Though we didn't make a sound
and second, it fast forwards and nicely describes the small wonders of everyday love:
There's nothing like finding gold
Within the rocks hard and cold
I'm so surprised to find more
Always surprised to find more

I won't look back anymore
I left the people that do
It's not the chase that I love
It's me following you
With Danette I'm lucky enough to continually & simultaneously experience both aspects.

"Kick Drum Heart" -- a sweet fan video, an animated fan videolive version 2014-12-31 (from the NYE concert we attended in Raleigh, from which the image above was taken), live version 2015-01-03 (Austin City Limits), live version 2010-11-11 (sans drums!)

Previous birthday songs:

2014: Ani DiFranco - "32 Flavors"
2013: The Green Pajamas - "Kim the Waitress"
2012: The Cure - "High"
2011: Blink 182 - "Josie"
2010:  Dead Milkmen - "Punk Rock Girl"

Monday, September 14, 2015

Waxahatchee - Live KEXP 2015-05-03 (concert)

This is really just a stopgap post; I really should take the time to review Waxahatchee's 2013 LP "Cerulean Salt" (it's great) or the recently released "Ivy Tripp" (it's good).  Both are a departure from 2012's excellent "American Weekend" which was basically a solo Katie Crutchfield LP, with the last two as proper "band" LPs although the band members are largely shared with sister Allison Crutchfield's band, Swearin'.

While waiting for those reviews, you get this four song (all from "Ivy Tripp"), live-in-the-studio promo from KEXP.  Aside from being a great performance, this performance features Allison on guitar  & keyboards.  Of course, this begs the question "did P.S. Eliot actually break up?"

And once again, you should check out KEXP's awesome YouTube Channel.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Galaxie 500 - "Rain" (the song remains the same)

The last release from Galaxie 500 before they broke up was the single "Rain",  recorded live in 1989 at NYC's iconic CBGB and then released in 1990.  Galaxie 500's choice of covers were always impeccable (see my review of their "Peel Sessions" LP), and their version of "Rain" is no different.  "Rain" is probably the most famous B-side (the A-side was "Paperback Writer") from The Beatles canon, and was recorded during the "Revolver" sessions (the non-LP single came out a few months before "Revolver" was released).  With backwards vocals at the end of the track, "Rain" nicely captures the band in transition from their earlier jangle pop to their later psychedelic sound.  They also recorded three different "promotional films" for this song (what we now call "music videos") -- quite an investment for a B-side. 

Galaxie 500 successfully captures the essence of the original, albeit with a heavier sound courtesy of the live recording.  Their original 7" single was limited to 500 copies and featured "Rain" as the A-side and the B-side featured a live version of "Don't Let Our Youth Go To Waste", the Jonathan Richmond/Modern Lovers cover from their first LP.  Given the rarity of this single, you're more likely to have heard the concatenated version from the posthumously released LP "Uncollected".  Unfortunately, I'm not aware of a studio recording of "Rain" by Galaxie 500.

Galaxie 500: "Rain / Don't Let Our Youth Go To Waste"(mp3)

The Beatles: "Rain" -- video 1, video 2, video 3 (link suggestions welcome)

N.B.   I've been meaning to feature this song for a while, but the rainy start to our time at Ocean Isle Beach, NC has made this especially appropriate.  A rainy day at the beach still beats a sunny day at work...
I can show you
That when it starts to rain
Everything's the same
I can show you
I can show you

Rain, I don't mind
Shine, the weather's fine

Saturday, August 15, 2015

LCD Soundsystem - "All My Friends" (the song remains the same)

I've been meaning to write about LCD Soundsystem's "All My Friends" (from their 2007 LP "Sound of Silver") for a couple of years now, but this week's unexpected passing of long-time friend Fred Moore has finally moved me to write about this song.

I was late in discovering LCD Soundsystem, only finding out about them from the Colbert Report in 2011, right before James Murphy ended the band.  I got several of their LPs shortly after that, and immediately fell in love with them.  James Murphy is about my age and his aesthetics and influences deeply resonate with mine. But it wasn't until I was listening to their LPs at the beach a couple years later before the impact and meaning of "All My Friends" really hit me.  A quick google searched proved that I was not alone in my assessment, with the first page containing articles such as "The Melancholy Greatness of `All My Friends'" and "Deconstructing: LCD Soundsystem’s 'All My Friends' And Trying To Define The Best Song Of The Millennium".  Both articles are eloquent perspectives which I won't try to expand on, but only to say that you would be hard pressed to come up with a better soundtrack for a bunch middle-age guys getting together for the weekend ("All My Rowdy Friends (Have Settled Down)" is a less nuanced and more literal 2nd place entry). 

My friend Drew got married in the summer of 2012, and most of the high-school & college friends had dispersed up and down the east coast.  Richmond VA was central for most of the people, so we gathered there for an impromptu bachelor party for him.  We had such a good time that we decided to make it an annual occurrence, with our fourth event occurring last July.  For one weekend a year we could run around the city, pretend we're still 22, and try to stay out until last call at 2am (not everyone made it).  I had stayed close with both Drew and Terry, but the wedding and then these annual events was a good way to reconnect with other friends that I had mostly lost contact with.

Any story about high-school & college mischief would inevitably feature Fred Moore as a central figure.  I won't even try to recount the numerous stories, other than to say no one was surprised when Fred was the first member of Tone Deaf (the high-school band for which he was lead vocals) to spend the night in jail (IIRC, drunk in public while he was at Va Tech).  Either despite or because of his wild years, Fred eventually became a well-respected and much-loved Major in the Virginia National Guard, husband, and father of two.  He did tours in Korea, Iraq, and Afghanistan.  His passing was a shock to all, but I'm glad I was able to hang out with him again over the last four years.

Back to the song: it is amazing enough by itself, but I have much respect for LCD Soundsystem releasing two versions of the single: one featuring a cover of the song by John Cale and the other featuring a cover of the song by Franz Ferdinand, each one competing with each other and the original as to who can incorporate the most Ian Curtis / Joy Division influences.   I don't often reproduce all the lyrics for a song, but in this case it is necessary (the Pink Floyd reference is perfect):
That's how it starts
We go back to your house
You check the charts
And start to figure it out

And if it's crowded, all the better
Because we know we're gonna be up late
But if you're worried about the weather
Then you picked the wrong place to stay
That's how it starts

And so it starts
You switch the engine on
We set controls for the heart of the sun
One of the ways that we show our age

And if the sun comes up, if the sun comes up, if the sun comes up
And I still don't wanna stagger home
Then it's the memory of our betters
That are keeping us on our feet

You spent the first five years trying to get with the plan
And the next five years trying to be with your friends again
Oh, you're talking 45 turns just as fast as you can
Yeah, I know it gets tired, but it's better when we pretend

It comes apart
The way it does in bad films
Except the part
Where the moral kicks in

And when we're running out of the drugs
And the conversation's grinding away
I wouldn't trade one stupid decision
For another five years of life

Oh, you drop the first ten years just as fast as you can
And the next ten people who are trying to be polite
When you're blowing 85 days in the middle of France
Yeah, I know it gets tired, only where are your friends tonight?

And to tell the truth
Oh, this could be the last time
So here we go
Like a sales force into the night

And if I made a fool, if I made a fool, if I made a fool
On the road, there's always this
And if I'm sued into submission
I can still come home to this

And with a face like a dad and a laughable stand
You can sleep on the plane or review what you said
When you're drunk and the kids look impossibly tanned
You think over and over "Hey, I'm finally dead."

Oh, if the trip and the plan come apart in your hand
You can turn it on yourself you ridiculous clown
You forgot what you meant when you read what you said
And you knew you were tired
But then where are your friends tonight?

Where are your friends tonight?
Where are your friends tonight?

If I could see all my friends tonight
If I could see all my friends tonight
If I could see all my friends tonight
If I could see all my friends tonight

LCD Soundsystem: "All My Friends", London Sessions, 2011 MSG live version
John Cale: "All My Friends"
Franz Ferdinand: "All My Friends"

I trust we will get together in 2016, but we'll need a Busch beer set out for our missing man.

2012 Bachelor Party

Tone Deaf Reunites for "Louie Louie" at Drew's Wedding

Tone Deaf.  Or at least 4/5 of Tone Deaf, Mk. III



2015 -- Yes, this really happened.


Thursday, July 30, 2015

Translator - "Everywhere That I'm Not" (forgotten song)

Another day of driving with Danette in a rental car with satellite radio (see previous posts on Split Enz and Ultravox), and another forgotten song on the 1st wave station.  This time it's San Francisco's Translator, with "Everywhere That I'm Not" off their 1982 debut LP "Heartbeats and Triggers". 

I did not recognize this song at first, but it was only about half way through that I recognized the song from the chorus.  I assume I'm familiar with it from the early days of MTV, but the video wasn't really familiar.  Did this get airplay on local radio stations?  I'm certain I've heard this song before (it's actually pretty good, in an early 80s way) but I can't quite place it.  I wish I could tell you more about the song, the band, or anything but the primary point is: 1) I remember the song, and 2) but only just barely.

Translator: "Everywhere That I'm Not"

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Andy Stott - "Luxury Problems" (LP Review)

For a while I've been searching for the words to describe Andy Stott's 2012 release "Luxury Problems".  His two 2011 EPs, "Passed Me By" and "We Stay Together", are darkly mesmerizing but "Luxury Problems" represents a significant step forward.  There's still the vast, rich, looming soundscapes that Stott paints that only occasionally veer into the realm of conventional song structures (the title track being perhaps being the closest thing to a "song"), but the thing that really sets this LP apart is the expert sampling of Alison Skidmore's vocals that give this LP a Julee Cruise / Elizabeth Fraser aesthetic while at the same time crafting a unique sound.  The result is an angelic touch to an otherwise menacing, bleak movie soundtrack where Skynet is the hero instead of the villain. 

The professional reviews are more eloquent (Pitchfork, Allmusic, Tiny Mix Tapes), but words are ultimately insufficient. 

Standout songs: all of them

Skip 'em songs: none.

Final Score: 10/10, including the rare "beyond music" label. 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Connan Mockasin - "Caramel" (LP Review)

I can only describe Connan Mockasin's 2013 LP "Caramel" as the soundtrack for Prince's fevered, imp-infested, slow-motion, pornographic, Shaun-Cassidy-trapped-in-Twin-Peaks, hallucination-within-a-dream.

Herbert turned me onto this LP about a year ago.  The professional reviews for this LP are mixed, and mostly because of its break with his more conventional prior material (of which I'm unfamiliar). I won't claim I completely understand this LP, but there is something weirdly beautiful happening here -- you just have to listen and decide if it works for you. 

I'm going to break from my regular LP review format and just list the 11 songs since although they're distinct, they're so inter-related that you really shouldn't separate them out.
  1. "Nothing Lasts Forever"        
  2. "Caramel"      
  3. "I'm the Man, That Will Find You" (official video)
  4. "Do I Make You Feel Shy?" (official video)
  5. "Why Are You Crying?"          
  6. "It's Your Body 1" (live)     
  7. "It's Your Body 2"     
  8. "It's Your Body 3"     
  9. "It's Your Body 4"     
  10. "It's Your Body 5"     
  11. "I Wanna Roll with You" (live)
The official & live videos, while sufficiently surreal, somehow aren't surreal enough compare to the visions the songs conjure in my mind. 

Final score: 7/10.  It grows on you; I reserve the right to raise this in the future.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Minutemen - "Double Nickels on the Dime" (LP review)

Why don't I like this more than I do?  On paper, the Minutemen and their double LP "Double Nickels on the Dime" combine everything I like: an 80s punk trio on SST Records, clever, satirical, humorous, biting political commentary, a complete embrace of DIY, genre-bending, sly references to Pink Floyd, the Beach Boys / California Car Culture, Husker Du, and numerous other influences.  Even the book that I've referenced numerous times in this blog, "Our Band Could Be Your Life", takes its title from their song "History Lesson - Part II".  This LP is on nearly every "best of" list made, and is beloved by many artists that I love/respect (e.g., Sonic Youth, Black Flag). 

So I struggle to capture why this LP doesn't mean more to me.  Part of it surely D. Boon's guitar style: he's good (at the risk of damning with faint praise, they're all surprisingly good for a punk band), but the clean yet thin production and the rockabilly & funk influences leaves too much negative space for my taste.  The LP was produced by Ethan James, rather than SST's normal in house producer, Spot, who made things muddy but heavy.  Granted, I found out about this LP much later in life, but it still doesn't speak to me in the same way of, say, Mission of Burma.  Also, as a teenager I'm pretty sure I would not have found this LP heavy enough since my preferences were more in line with Husker Du.

Having said all that, there are no bad songs on this LP and although songs like "It's Expected I'm Gone" have too much of the aforementioned negative space, I can't call them bad.  And some of the songs are quite good, with my favorite being the precious "History Lesson - Part II", whose autobiographical lyrics capture the friendship between D. Boon and Mike Watt as the core element of the band, a band that provided a path out of an otherwise dead-end, blue collar life:
our band could be your life
real names'd be proof
me and mike watt played for years
punk rock changed our lives

we learned punk rock in hollywood
drove up from pedro
we were fucking corndogs
we'd go drink and pogo

mr. narrator
this is bob dylan to me
my story could be his songs
i'm his soldier child

our band is scientist rock
but i was e. bloom and richard hell,
joe strummer, and john doe
me and mike watt, playing guitar
This song is made even more poignant because D. Boon died in an automobile accident in 1985, effectively ending the band (though drummer George Hurley and Mike Watt would continue for a while as Firehose) and leaving this song as the band's eulogy.  

Another positive thing for the band is, that unlike many of their punk contemporaries, they were respectful and knowledgeable of their influences.  In addition to the name checks provided in the lyrics above, they also did non-ironic covers of CCR, Van Halen, and Steely Dan (even though the LP name is a shot at Sammy Hagar). 

Standout songs: "History Lesson - Part II" (live), "Corona" (live), "This Ain't No Picnic", "Take 5, D.", "Dr. Wu", "The Big Foist"

Skip 'em songs: none.

Final score: I'm sticking with a 6/10, but you should realize that most people other than me would give this a 10/10. 

Bonus links:

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Split Enz - "History Never Repeats" (forgotten song)

Danette and I went to the 2015 Kentucky Derby last week (Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday) and to avoid putting the 1700+ miles on our car we rented a car.  The car's best feature was the satellite radio and probably 90% of our time was spent on the alternative 80s channel "1st wave".  We heard a lot of songs that we hadn't heard in a while (including some that are probably better left in the 80s), but there was truly one "forgotten song" that we heard: Split Enz's "History Never Repeats", a single off their 1981 LP "Waiata".  The video received a little airplay in the early days of MTV, but mostly I remember songs like "I Got You", "Six Months in a Leaky Boat", and the various Crowded House videos.  It's a good song, but one that I just barely remember.

"History Never Repeats" - 1981 video, 2007 reunion

Monday, April 20, 2015

Hum - "Stars" (forgotten song)

This song has been on low rotation on 96x for a while now, but I finally Shazam'd it on the way to work today.  I was going to post something snarky like "this new song incorporates everything I loved about early- to mid-90s rock", but then when I googled it I found out this song did indeed come out in 1995!  At first, I was happy that I had pegged the time frame so nicely, and then I started to wonder how I had missed this song 20 years ago...

Apparently "Stars" was a minor radio hit for the now defunct Hum, off their 1995 major label debut "You'd Prefer an Astronaut".  Either it did not get airplay in Hampton Roads at the time, or I've simply forgotten it.  I'm hoping for the former.  Either way, I'm enjoying it like it's 1995.

Hum: "Stars" (studio), Late Night with Conan O'Brien, 120 Minutes

Bonus link: "You'd Prefer An Astronaut" (full LP -- I haven't listened to it yet)

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Celtic Frost - "Morbid Tales" (LP Review)

Enough of the Beach Boys, Lesley Gore, etc. -- today we're going back to high school and Celtic Frost.  I remember Scott Kinkade getting their debut EP, "Morbid Tales" as an import in 1984.  Although I was a fan, I was never the biggest CF fan at the time (their goth-viking visual imagery was especially silly), so it with some surprise that when I revisit it now I realize that the music has held up so well after 30+ years.  The debt they owe to Black Sabbath is more apparent to me now, although they extend that sound with the speed and punk-like attitude (for lack of a better term) of Motorhead.  The production is mid-80s awful, but again that's part of the charm (cf. Blacktask).  This stuff is ferocious in a way that more polished & produced metal just can't touch. 

Also, in retrospect, their lyrics were much better than most of their contemporaries.  Certainly they were into the whole doom/black metal thing, but their lyrics borrow more from the Conan / Weird Tales milieu instead of, say, Venom's comically satanic imagery.  With songs like "Into Crypts of Rays" (about Gilles de Rais) , they get points for realizing history provides more sources for "morbid tales" than fantasy ever could. 

Standout songs: "Into the Crypts of Rays", "Visions of Mortality", "Procreation (Of the Wicked)", "Return to the Eve", "Danse Macabre",  "Nocturnal Fear"  (that's all six from the original European import; later versions had additional songs -- full EP on Youtube)

Skip 'em songs: none.

Final score: 8/10.  And not just from nostalgia or irony, but neither is it focusing on its significant influence on later bands.  Even out of its historical context, this is just really good, heavy music. 

Take my soul away into the dark, dreaming 1000 morbid dreams, no tomorrow when the wind caresses my mind, could I ever return, it would be my doom.
--"Return to the Eve"

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Beach Boys - "Wild Honey" (LP Review)

Like most people, my knowledge of The Beach Boys ceases from about 1967 (resulting from the whole "Smile" / "Smiley Smile" debacle) until their emergence in the 1980s as a nostalgia act.  Doing some detailed reading in their discography reveals they continued to release LPs pretty regularly until about 1980.  The reviews of some of those LPs are pretty good (corresponding to the ascendancy of Carl Wilson within the band's hierarchy): Allmusic gives 1967's "Wild Honey" 4/5 stars, 1968's "Friends" also gets 4/5 stars, 3.5/5 stars for 1969's "20/20", 4.5/5 stars for 1970's "Sunflower" (it also made Rolling Stone's "500 Greatest LPs of All Times"), and finally 4/5 stars for 1971's "Surf's Up".  That's a pretty strong showing for five LPs, with only 1969's "Do It Again" as the only song from this period that most people will recognize. 

So it was with some anticipation that I looked forward to hearing "Wild Honey", which in 2001 was appended to "Smiley Smile" and various contemporary outtakes for a bonus CD.  Had I just received a forgotten gem from this unexplored portion of their discography? 

No.  No, I had not.

I can't speak for the other LPs listed above, but "Wild Honey" is a really bad LP and no amount of nostalgic revisionism can change that.  The title track is mildly interesting, sounding like Stevie Wonder with a theremin, but I think it stands out only because the rest of the soul-inspired songs fall flatter than does "Wild Honey".  "Darlin'" pauses the Stevie Wonder theft long enough to steal from the Four Seasons.  The best two tracks are 1) "Country Air" which although written for this LP would sound at home on "Smile" or "Pet Sounds", and 2) "Mama Says", a reworking of the acapella  break from "Vegetables" (left off "Smiley Smile" but present on "Smile"). 

The double CD is worth getting, but adjust your expectations for "Wild Honey".  The Beach Boys excursion to Motown has as much skill and authenticity as Robert Van Winkle brought to rap some 22 years later... 

Standout songs: "Country Air", "Mama Says"

Songs that appear: "Wild Honey" (live 1972), "Darlin'"

Skip 'em songs: the rest.

Final score: 3/10. 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Lesley Gore - "You Don't Own Me" (the song remains the same)

I should acknowledge the recent passing of Lesley Gore.  Best known for popular but fluffy songs like "It's My Party", "Judy's Turn to Cry", and "She's A Fool", Lesley made her lasting mark on music with the feminist anthem "You Don't Own Me", the 2nd single from her 1964 LP "Lesley Gore Sings of Mixed-Up Hearts".  Even though all of these songs came out in 1963 and 1964, they still sound like the 1950s -- before the Beatles ushered in the "modern" sound of music.

Tame by today's standards, I can only assume it packed quite a punch in 1964.  And while "You Don't Own Me" was covered by many different artists, its feminist message seems to serve as a safer, surrogate message for artists that would later come out. 

Lesley Gore: Live TV (I'm pretty sure this is not lip synced), studio
Dusty Springfield: studio
Joan Jett: studio

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Avett Brothers - Austin, TX 2014-10-11 (concert)

The picture to the left is from Herbert and Lisa at the Avett Brothers concert in Albuquerque, New Mexico 2015-02-04 (setlist).  They went to the show on my recommendation and although they I think they enjoyed it, the Avett Brothers didn't resonate with them as much as they do with Danette and me.  One thing they mentioned about the NM show is that the venue, the Santa Ana Star Center, was too large for a band like the Avett Brothers.  Judging by their picture, it looks like their seats were pretty good, but they still felt the venue was not intimate enough for the kind of music they play.  This echos our experience in the NYE 2014 show in Raleigh where we had really bad seats in the PNC Arena.   Our experience almost surely would have been better if I had ordered tickets sooner, but then perhaps they should not have played in a venue where bad seats were even possible?

This brings up an interesting question: can a band grow too popular for their ideal venues?  Obviously you'd prefer to see bands in the smallest possible venues.  On the other hand, you can't fault a band for gaining popularity and filling (or nearly so) increasingly larger venues.  But some bands' sound transposes to larger venues with less of a problem.  The Avett Brothers are high energy, and they've slowly accreted band members to help them have a consistently bigger sound, but they're still not really an arena rock band, either in terms of popularity or sound.  Is there an ideal venue size for an indie/folk/roots/country/bluegrass band like the Avett Brothers?  David Byrne in his 2010 TED Talk (transcript) explored the relationship between venue and music, but did not really explore the idea of an optimum venue size for a particular sound.

I could only find a few uploaded videos from the New Mexico show ("Love Like The Movies", "Left on Laura, Left on Lisa", "Laundry Room", "Satan Pulls The Strings", "Murder In The City", "I Wish I Was"), and the quality isn't consistently as good as the NYE show I was able to reconstruct.   So instead, I'll include a professionally recorded show at the 2014 Austin City Limits Festival recorded about four months earlier than the NM show.

The setlist is available for this as well, and it amounts to about an hour of music (shorter than a headliner concert).  I'm not sure if there was more music and it was edited down to an hour, or if their hour simply straddled sunset (the sun appears to go down at the ~45 minute mark).   Apropos to the venue size question above, note at about ~31:50 how Seth leaves the stage and tries to pump up the audience by running around the WWI style trenches that separates the band from the audience.  I get that it's a large, outdoor festival, but that just doesn't seem like the best way to see the Avett Brothers.

Continuing on this theme, here is a short, five song 2015 Austin City Limits TV show appearance where the venue is small and intimate but the audience appears sedated if not fully dead.  Once again it falls to Seth to venture into the crowd and inject some life (~14:20).  Perhaps it is just the nature of TV audiences to be lifeless, cf. my review of  Wire's 1979 concert "On The Box".

In summary, I'm very thankful that in years past we have been able to see the Avett Brothers in the Portsmouth Pavillion, which might be the ideal size (~6500 people) in addition to its absolutely beautiful outdoor location right on the Elizabeth River.  I'm also glad Herbert and Lisa got to see them even though it's not exactly their thing.  So far their tour page doesn't list a return to Portsmouth, but right now there are only a few dates booked for May, June, and July so I would expect more dates to be announced soon.  I'm hoping they return to the area and that we're in town for them (we missed them last year for the 2014 Power Tour).  Between Michele & Chris, Joy, Marilee, and possibly some others we'll be a good chunk of the audience in what might be a perfect venue for them. 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Jill Sobule ‎– "I Kissed A Girl" (forgotten song)

Another Super Bowl has come and gone, and with it a pretty good halftime show, featuring Katy Perry, Lenny Kravitz, and Missy Elliott.  Katy Perry was Katy Perry, I'm not sure why Lenny Kravitz was there (having him sing "I Kissed a Girl" isn't really a stretch), and most people celebrated the return of Missy Elliott.  And then there were the sharks, or more specifically "left shark".  If you didn't enjoy the sharks, trees, and beach balls then you're dead inside (see also: Aqua's "Barbie Girl").

I've already (sorta) blogged about Katy Perry once and that seems like enough.  The third song in the Super Bowl setlist was Katy Perry's first single from 2008, "I Kissed A Girl", but instead I want to focus on another song by the same name that you might not have heard.

In 1995 Jill Sobule released "I Kissed A Girl" as a single off her second LP "Jill Sobule" and it received minor airplay.  Although she's been active continuously I don't think she's had a hit since then.  Katy's song is a different song altogether, even though they share a title and theme.  Obviously Katy played the bi-curious theme to much more commercial success than did Jill.  In a 2009 interview Jill said, tongue-in-cheek:

When Katy Perry's song came out I started getting tons of inquiries about what I thought. Some folks (and protective friends) were angry, and wondered why she took my title and made it into this kind of "girls gone wild" thing....

As a musician I have always refrained from criticizing another artist. I was, "Well, good for her." It did bug me a little bit, however, when she said she came up with the idea for the title in a dream. In truth, she wrote it with a team of professional writers and was signed by the very same guy that signed me in 1995. I have not mentioned that in interviews as I don't want to sound bitter or petty...

Okay, maybe, if I really think about it, there were a few jealous and pissed-off moments. So here goes, for the first time in an interview: Fuck you Katy Perry, you fucking stupid, maybe 'not good for the gays,' title-thieving, haven't heard much else, so not quite sure if you're talented, fucking little slut.

God that felt good.
I watched the halftime show, and I liked it...

Jill Sobule - "I Kissed A Girl"
Katy Perry - "I Kissed A Girl"
Full Super Bowl XLIX Halftime Show

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Iron Maiden - "Iron Maiden" (LP Review)

Although Budgie is typically credited with inventing the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM), perhaps the most well-known and successful example is Iron Maiden, whose self-titled 1980 debut LP is the subject of today's post.

I really liked Iron Maiden growing up although perhaps not as much as Robert Gordick, my friend & neighbor who was a super fan.  But I always held a minority opinion: I prefer the vocals of Paul Di'Anno to that of Bruce Dickinson.  Di'Anno only appears on the first two LPs (this one and 1981's "Killers") while Dickinson is far more well-known and appears on the classic line up (which, more or less, has been reformed & active since 1999).  I don't dislike Dickinson, and I'll be the first to admit that Dickinson is technically a much better singer, but I just prefer the gravelly, growling punk style of Di'Anno.  While I have most of the classic-Dickinson LPs on tape somewhere (recorded from Robert Gordick's collection), I only felt compelled to buy the first two LPs on CD later in life.  When I was in HS, I preferred "Killers", but over time I've come to prefer "Iron Maiden".  Today, I still enjoy both LPs, even without a hint of irony or nostalgia.

What makes this LP so enjoyable to me is the range of songs & the tight production (this is the only LP in their early years to not feature super-producer Martin Birch).  "Killers" has an arguably heavier sound, but it is a bit muddy where "Iron Maiden" is pretty crisp.  Bassist & primary song writer Steve Harris (he & guitarist Dave Murray are the only ones to appear on all Iron Maiden LPs) is clearly the centerpiece here, effectively playing bass as a lead instrument (esp. on "Phantom of the Opera").  "Strange World" is a standout while being barely a metal song (without being a sappy ballad), and "Remember Tomorrow" is a rich and complex song as well.

Di'Anno was kicked out of Iron Maiden in 1981 for substance abuse problems, something I'm not sure he ever really got past.  He sang in a lot of bands afterwards but with little critical impact.  Of course, post-Di'Anno Iron Maiden went on to become one of the world's most successful and long-lived bands, with the kind of loyal fan base that other artists envy.  Iron Maiden probably would never have achieved their success had they stayed with the unstable Di'Anno, but I still think the first two LPs are their best.

Standout songs (contemporary live versions): "Prowler", "Remember Tomorrow", "Running Free", "Phantom of the Opera", "Transylvania", "Strange World", "Iron Maiden"

Full LP (use these for studio versions): original 1980 tracklistremastered 1998 version with bonus tracks

Skip 'em songs: none.

Final score: 10/10.  While Iron Maiden did not get big in the US until "The Number of the Beast", this is probably the first really big NWOBHM LP.  While the classic "Iron Maiden Sound" wasn't fully developed yet, you can hear it emerging on this LP. 

Friday, January 2, 2015

The Avett Brothers - Raleigh, NC 2014-12-31 (concert)

As part of her Christmas present, I bought tickets for Danette and her family to see the Avett Brothers at the PNC Arena in Raleigh NC on New Years Eve 2014.  Since it was NYE and they're from NC, it was an extra long show (~3 hours of music) and they had several special guests, including their sister Bonnie and father Jim.  They put on an excellent show, but our seats (section 305) were not very good, as the picture to the left indicates (taken during the end of "Kick Drum Heart", IIRC, where bassist Bob Crawford was so overcome that he just had to sit down to play).  We were basically eye-level with the balloons they dropped from the ceiling at midnight.  Danette blogged about the show, and the Raleigh News & Observer had a glowing concert review as well.

I've often wondered that those who film shows on their mobile phones record the moment at the expense of not actually experiencing the moment.  It's not something that we typically do (other than a few pics like the above just to prove we were there), but in this case our seats were so bad that various uploaded Youtube videos (some of them recorded quite well) from the show actually let us experience (sort of) what we missed from our seats.  Borrowing the setlist from (and making some of my own corrections/additions), below is a list of songs from the Avett Brothers 2014 NYE show, with links to the videos where available:
Additions / corrections welcome.

Bonus link: 2014-12-30 Interview with Joe Kwon