Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Warpaint - Live KEXP 2016-09-19 (concert)

San Francisco-based Warpaint has been active since 2004, but I just recently learned of them via Herbert, when he mentioned about seeing them in the Netherlands last November.  I don't know how I had missed them for 12 or so years, but I really like their sound.  I got "Heads Up" for Christmas but haven't had a chance to listen to it yet.

In the meantime, check out this recent performance on KEXP.  Unlike their earlier material, this reminds me of recent Radiohead (e.g., "A Moon Shaped Pool", "The King of Limbs").

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Dead Kennedys - "Nazi Punks Fuck Off" (forgotten song)

Still trying to come to terms with the 2016 election...  I find that some songs from my youth are unfortunately relevant again. 

"Nazi Punks Fuck Off" is a single from the Dead Kennedys's 1981 LP "In God We Trust, Inc.

"In a real Fourth Reich you'll be the first to go" -- I guess we'll soon see.

Dead Kennedys (1981), Napalm Death (from their 1993 EP), Napalm Death + Jello Biafra - "Nazi Trumps Fuck Off" (2016)

Friday, November 11, 2016

Leonard Cohen - "Waiting for the Miracle" (spotlight)

Just when you thought 2016 could not get any worse...  This time 2016 claims the songwriters' songwriter, Leonard Cohen.  I've often written here about the difference between influential and popular, and few represent that difference better than Cohen (see the lineup for 1991 tribute LP "I'm Your Fan" or the 1995 tribute LP "Tower of Song").

His most famous song, probably due to various popular covers, is "Hallelujah" but I'll choose to remember him with "Waiting for the Miracle", from the 1992 LP "The Future" as well as the 1994 soundtrack for "Natural Born Killers".

Leonard Cohen - "Waiting for the Miracle" (studio), live 1993, live 2013

Bonus link: Austin City Limits, 1998-10-31

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Angel Olsen - Live KEXP 2014-03-07 (concert)

I recently found out about Angel Olsen via several people raving about her most recent LP, "My Woman", on the "Now Playing" Facebook group.  Eventually I investigated the LP and her body of work in general, and now I understand the buzz.  I'm not yet quite ready to review it, so in the mean time I'll just bring your attention to her via this KEXP concert from 2014 in support of her "Burn Your Fire for No Witness" LP. 

This is a good performance and I enjoy it more than her 2014 solo acoustic performance on NPR's Tiny Desk Concert, but 2016's "My Woman" represents a significant progression for her.  Check her out.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Metal Church - "Metal Church" (LP Review)

LP review, special Halloween edition...

On a recent business trip to Los Angeles, while working on slides in the hotel I found myself humming the opening lyrics to Metal Church's "Beyond the Black":

Negotiations are over
Troops are marching to their doom
All that I see is a nightmare
The smoke is blotting out the moon
Why?  I couldn't tell you -- I can't recall the last time I thought about this song, LP, or band.  I have a high school era tape copy somewhere (probably dubbed from Scott), but I never had this on vinyl or CD.  In the hotel room, I found a copy of the LP on Youtube and played it while I worked.

It was almost as good as I remembered it, complete with every heavy metal cliche but an umlaut.  But truth be told, I was only a moderate Metal Church fan even in high school.  And their self-titled LP (released in 1984, and then again in 1985 on a major label) is a notable point in the evolution of the Bay Area thrash metal sound, but "Metal Church" doesn't have the staying power of "Kill 'Em All" or even "Show No Mercy" (both 1983). My recent replay of this LP pretty much matched how I remembered it from 30+ years ago: the first three songs are great, the middle three are good, and the last three are just OK.  The closing cover of "Highway Star" is especially awkward and out of place.

Standout songs: "Beyond the Black", "Metal Church", "Merciless Onslaught"

Skip 'em songs: "Highway Star"

Final score: 6/10.  Good, but mostly from nostalgia.

Bonus link: full LP.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Molly Hatchet - "Flirtin' with Disaster" (forgotten song)

Happy birthday Danette!  This year Danette's song is... "Flirtin' with Disaster", to which you might reply "WTF?!"

OK, unlike previous songs there's not immediate, lyrical meaning here, it's more "meta-relevant".  There are several reasons why.

First, we both always sing along with it when comes on the radio.  It's not our favorite song or band but I'm pretty sure, owing to the time and place of our birth, we're incapable of not singing along.  It's genetic.  I should be more ashamed to admit this, but I know we're not alone. 

Second, is there a better use of a whistle in rock?  Danette and I have an ongoing commentary about the awesomeness of whistling in songs, but this has to be the very best.  It appears at about 3:26 as one guitarist trades off with another during the solos.  If you can whistle like that how come you don't do it every song, all the time?  (If I ever get around to creating songs via genetic algorithms, they will consist almost entirely of whistles like this, Bo Diddley beats, and Jamaican toasting, but that's a story for another time.)

Third, and somewhat related to the first point but slightly different, the sound and imagery connects me with my youth.  I recall the first record I bought with my own money was Molly Hatchet's 1980 LP "Beatin' the Odds", at the (now closed) K-Mart in Denbigh.  Molly Hatchet's sound was probably the heaviest of the southern rock bands, and their guitar sound was similar to the NWOBHM sound that Iron Maiden would popularize (and which would become my primary teenage soundtrack).

The imagery is equally important -- at that time Molly Hatchet exclusively used Frank Frazetta paintings for their LP covers.  You might not know the name Frank Frazetta, but you recognize his work (and his imitators) from Conan and others.  At the time of these LPs I was also deep into D&D, playing adventure games on the computer, and reading fantasy books like Robert Adams's "Horseclans" series (which featured cover illustrations by Frazetta's nephew, Ken Kelley) -- you know, all the things that young ladies find irresistible.  So with limited interaction with actual females, I probably formed some pretty unrealistic expectations about women being Amazonian warrior princesses.  But take a look at the images by Frazetta and Kelly, then look at these pictures of Danette flexing:

And it seems pretty clear that I did end up with an Amazonian warrior princess*.  Now to work on that metal bikini...

So happy birthday Danette!  I hope you enjoy our shared nostalgia <insert southern rock whistle**>.  And to teenage geeks everywhere: dreams do come true!*** 

Molly Hatchet - "Flirtin' with Disaster"

Previous birthday songs:

2015: Avett Brothers - "Kick Drum Heart"
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"

* No, seriously

** And: bomp, ba-bomp-bomp, bomp-bomp + Mikey Dread...  because I can't help myself.  

*** But not until you're about 30.  Hang in there.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Body Count - "Raining Blood" (the song remains the same)

You may be cool, but are you Ice-T, fronting Body Count, covering Slayer's "Raining Blood" cool? 

Unless your name is Tori Amos, probably not.  

Body Count: rehearsal version.

Tori Amos: studio version.

Slayer: studio version, and as seen on South Park.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Kungs vs. Cookin' on 3 Burners - "This Girl" (spotlight)

I heard this on 96X in the car the other day and the song stuck with me.  The DJ said it had been "big in France" for a while but it had just arrived here. Googling the next day I found out that it requires some unpacking. The song is "This Girl", and the 2016 release is from the French DJ Kungs (aka Valentin Brunel) and it's a remix of the 2009 song by the Australian funk/soul/Motown revival group Cookin' on 3 Burners (who remind me of St. Paul and the Broken Bones), featuring Kylie Auldist

The original version sounds like it was recorded in the mid 70s and the Kungs version is a sped up, house version.  Both are enjoyable and worth checking out.

Kungs vs. Cookin' on 3 Burners: "This Girl"
Cookin' on 3 Burners: studio, live

Monday, August 15, 2016

Burial - "Rival Dealer" (LP Review)

Burial's (aka William Bevan) 2013 EP "Rival Dealer" has been working its way up my playlist.  I have his critically acclaimed two full length LPs (2006's "Burial" and 2007's "Untrue") which I enjoy, but not nearly at the level at which this EP has captured my attention.  Other reviews do a good job of contextualizing this EP within the rest of his canon (Pitchfork, RA, NME), but for me this EP synthesizes everything I liked about his first two LPs, as well as what I liked about Andy Stott's "Luxury Problems" and Balam Acab's "See Birds".

Bevan himself said in a BBC Radio 6 interview:
“I put my heart into the new EP, I hope someone likes it. I wanted the tunes to be anti-bullying tunes that could maybe help someone to believe in themselves, to not be afraid, and to not give up, and to know that someone out there cares and is looking out for them. So it's like an angel's spell to protect them against the unkind people, the dark times, and the self-doubts.”
And there is a definite triumphant feeling to these songs, mostly abstract but some rather concrete.  Furthermore, he samples an interview with NASA Earth scientist Melissa Dawson at various points in the EP.  Although I haven't posted it here, I've shared with friends my theory that the US space program exists mainly to provide samples for electronic music, and with "Rival Dealer" Burial only reinforces my position.

All three tracks are great, but the corner stone is clearly the closing "Come Down to Us".

Skip 'em tracks: none.

Standout tracks: "Rival Dealer", "Hiders", "Come Down to Us".

Final Score: 9/10

Monday, July 25, 2016

Laurie Anderson - "Big Science" (LP Review)

In much the same way as Julee Cruise's "Floating Into the Night", Laurie Anderson's "Big Science" was a prominent feature in the soundtrack for my senior year of college.  One of my roommates (Jason, Terry, or Frey -- I don't recall) had the CD and we all loved it, so it was on heavy rotation.  Prior to living with those guys I had not heard of her before, so when I moved out I quickly got a copy of my own. 

"Big Science" is Anderson's 1982 debut LP (not counting earlier contributions to compilation / joint artist LPs), and its genius lies in finding the oh-so-difficult intersection of legitimate art and pop appeal.  This is the minimalist, electronic, art rock LP for people who would otherwise recoil at the description of "minimalist, electronic, art rock".  You may have heard "O Superman", the center piece of the LP (if not quite the "hit single"), but there is much more to this LP.  Rather than continuing to throw words at this LP, I urge you to just listen to this perfect LP:
  1. "From the Air"
  2. "Big Science"
  3. "Sweaters"
  4. "Walking & Falling"
  5. "Born, Never Asked"
  6. "O Superman (for Massenet)"
  7. "Example #22"
  8. "Let X=X"
  9. "It Tango"
Of the above links, only "O Superman" is an official video (which is excellent).  Otherwise I've tried to link to fan videos, so keep in mind they are other people's interpretation of Anderson's work, not her own. 

Skip 'em songs: none

Standout songs: all (see above; here's the full LP in a playlist).

Final score: 10/10

Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Smiths - "Panic" (spotlight)

Special Brexit edition...

"Panic", a non-LP single released in 1986 by The Smiths is an appropriate choice as the markets and the world in general react to this unforced error.

On the surface it's about music, but like Brexit it's really about culture, identity, and a side of xenophobia.

Panic on the streets of London
Panic on the streets of Birmingham
I wonder to myself
Could life ever be sane again?
The Leeds side-streets that you slip down
I wonder to myself...

Hopes may rise on the Grasmere
But honey pie, you're not safe here
So you run down
To the safety of the town
But there's panic on the streets of Carlisle
Dublin, Dundee, Humberside
I wonder to myself...

Burn down the disco
Hang the blessed DJ
Because the music that they constantly play
It says nothing to me about my life
Hang the blessed DJ
Because the music they constantly play

On the Leeds side-streets that you slip down
Provincial towns you jog 'round
Hang the DJ

"Panic" - official video, live 1986

And because it's been a while since I've blogged about The Cribs, here's a 2008 cover of "Panic" with Johnny Marr.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Ralph Stanley - "O Death" (spotlight)

Bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley died on Thursday.  We've seen him twice: 2005 at the Ferguson Center in Newport News, and in 2013 at the Jewish Mother in Va Beach (the picture to the left is from that performance).  I was happy to see him both times, but he was a lot stronger in the 2005 performance (even briefly playing banjo).

The obvious tribute for him is his version of the traditional song "O Death".  Although he had recorded the song several times before (for example, on 1977's "Clinch Mountain Gospel"), it was his 2011 acapella version on the "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" soundtrack that earned him a Grammy and cross-over success.

"O Death": 2000 "O Brother" version, 1977 (?) studio version, there are many live versions on line, but this 2009 (?) version is particularly good.

On a more positive note, here's 1961's "Finger Poppin' Time", from "The Stanley's In Person", which features James Brown and the Famous Flames "poppin'" their fingers.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Blotto - "I Wanna Be A Lifeguard" (forgotten song)

Since the Memorial Day Weekend officially marks the beginning of beach season, today we'll feature Blotto and their 1980 song "I Wanna Be A Lifeguard", which first appeared on their 1979 EP "Hello, My Name Is Blotto, What's Yours?".  Normally one would not hear a song like this outside of the Dr. Demento show, but since they had a video (recall that videos were in rare supply at the time!) it received a fair amount of airplay in the early days of MTV (it was the #36 video on MTV's first day). 

Enjoy the summer & this forgotten song!

Blotto - "I Wanna Be A Lifeguard"

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Weezer - "Weezer (The Blue LP)" (LP Review)

Recently my posts have primarily been in reaction to artists' deaths, but today I'm going to move on to something more joyful: Weezer's eponymous 1994 debut.  On one hand, it's hard to believe that this LP came out 22 years ago since it still sounds fresh and engaging.  On the other hand, it's sometimes hard for me to believe that this LP three years after I was in college since it so completely captures the late 80s / early 90s zeitgeist.  The patter at the beginning and middle of "Undone - The Sweater Song" could have been recorded at any number of college parties that I attended.  I was 22 when I graduated college, and this LP is now 22 years old as well, so perhaps it is fitting that I review it now.

As I mentioned in my review of "Pinkerton", most serious Weezer fans think "The Blue LP" pales in comparison to "Pinkerton".  While I've come to appreciate "Pinkerton" more than I used to, "The Blue LP" is not just Weezer's best LP, but one of the best power pop LPs of all time.  They celebrate and synthesize so many influences that it is almost an encyclopedia of American pop music.  First, there is the unabashed, non-ironic celebration of 70s arena rock: Van Halen, Cheap Trick, Kiss, etc.  In particular, they work to perfection the Van Halen formula of heavy music tempered with sing-song choruses.  On songs like "Surf Wax America" and "Holiday", they prove that they've listened to more than their fair share of The Beach Boys as well.  And there's Black Sabbath-esque (perhaps via the Pixies) heavy crunch to songs like "Only in Dreams".  The songs are clever, funny, disturbing, and all the while retaining their alt-cred.  As I've mentioned in previous Weezer reviews, you have to credit producer Ric Ocasek for capturing a heavy-but-crisp sound that effortlessly straddles pop and alternative genres. 

The LP was well-received when it came out and it's stature has only grown over time.  Throw this LP on when you're in a mixed group but don't want forego your alternative status.  They'll love "Buddy Holly" and "The Sweater Song" (and their respective Spike Jonze videos), but you'll also enjoy "My Name is Jonas", "Say it Ain't So" (my personal favorite), and "Only in Dreams".

"Did you here about the party after the show?  Ah man, it's going to be the best.  I'm so stoked.  Take it easy bro!"

Standout songs: "My Name Is Jonas", "Buddy Holly", "Undone – The Sweater Song", "Surf Wax America", "Say It Ain't So", "In the Garage", "Only in Dreams", (the full LP).

Skip 'em songs: none.

Final score: 10/10.  I never get tired of this LP. 

Bonus link: A kindred soul who also understands that "The Blue LP" is better than "Pinkerton" (although I think he's off base on "Pink Triangle", which is dead clever). 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Prince - "Litte Red Corvette" (spotlight)

Prince died today.  First, he was only 11 years older than me.  Second,  Haggard, Frey, Bowie, Lyons -- 2016 is not shaping up to be a good year for musicians.

I wasn't the biggest Prince fan growing up -- I was more into metal and related genres in the 80s -- but even then I knew he was important, respected what he was doing, and had to admit that LPs like 1999 and Purple Rain were really good.   And I always appreciated that, certainly more than his peers, he maintained a heavy guitar sound in many of his songs.

I will choose to remember him with "Little Red Corvette", the second single off his break through LP "1999", for several reasons:
  • I remember when it came out (1982), 1999 seemed a million years away.  Oddly enough, the 17 years between 1982 & 1999 is now the same as between 2016 and 1999 (and sadly, sometimes 1999 seems like a million years ago).  
  • I vaguely recall this LP, and especially this song, as the sound track for a junior high party at Tim(my) Young's house  (probably in early 1983) where I had my first kiss while playing spin the bottle.  I don't even remember her name, and I'm not even sure she continued at my high school.  But she was a "popular girl" and well above my middle school station, and so I was quite satisfied with the luck of the bottle.
  • At some point a few years later, I discovered the difference between the radio edit (3:08) and the LP version (5:03).  And boy, what a difference those 2 minutes make...
  • Having established at a young age that he was singing about a car, it wasn't until much later in life where I actually paid attention to the lyrics and realized he's not really singing about her car.
Prince - "Little Red Corvette" (LP Version, Radio Edit)

N.B. It will surely be a struggle to keep the links current in this post since, despite all the accolades Prince deserves, he was kinda a tool about copyright, cover songs, etc.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Merle Haggard - "Mama Tried" (forgotten song)

Country music icon Merle Haggard died today.  He's probably best known for "Okie from Muskogee", but my favorite would probably be  "Mama Tried", the title track from his 1968 LP (honorable mention to 1983's "Pancho and Lefty").  I have to confess that I first heard it via the Grateful Dead.

It is universally acknowledged that all good country songs involve "prison", and this song is true to form.  The Library of Congress obviously agrees, and so "Mama Tried" was recently placed on the National Recording Registry for its "cultural, artistic and/or historical significance to American society and the nation's aural legacy."

Merle Haggard - "Mama Tried" (on the Johnny Cash Show?)

Grateful Dead - "Mama Tried"

Johnny Cash - "Mama Tried"

Monday, March 14, 2016

INXS - "Don't Change" (the song remains the same)

Most people's don't realize INXS had a full career before 1987's "Kick", which was so popular when I was in college it effectively blocked everyone's memory of anything that came before it.  One of my favorite songs is "Don't Change", a single from their 1982 LP "Shabooh Shoobah".  It's a great song that still sounds fresh some 24+ years later.  You also have to enjoy the low budget video as well -- over the top videos were apparently still a few years away.

So imagine my delight when I recently uncovered Bruce Springsteen doing a fun cover of it while in concert in Australia in 2014. 
I'm standing here on the ground
The sky above won't fall down
See no evil in all directions
Resolution of happiness
Things have been dark for too long

INXS - "Don't Change"
Bruce Springsteen - "Don't Change"

Monday, February 8, 2016

The Time - "Jungle Love" (forgotten song)

Super Bowl 50 is now in the books.  The game itself was pretty good (if you like defense), but as always there has a been a lot of talk about the halftime showColdplay was ... well, Coldplay.  On paper I "should" like them but wow, I just can't.  I can't even say I dislike them... they're just so boring that I feel nothing at all.

(Full disclosure: I did buy "Parachutes" in 2000, but I honestly can't remember the last time I played it).  Apparently it's cool to hate on Coldplay, so I won't waste any more time with them (although their bit on CBS Sunday Morning did make them seem like pretty decent guys...)

Beyonce caused quite the stir with her contribution (Giuliani inserted himself into the story without even mentioning 9/11!), but I don't have anything to offer there either.

I want to talk about the uninspired inclusion of Bruno Mars (ok, technically "Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars").   One, we just had him two years ago.  Two, "Uptown Funk" is over a year old at this point.  Three, doesn't it bother anyone that "Uptown Funk" sounds exactly like "Jungle Love"?  There are a lot of articles that talk about how it sounds like many different funk songs, but to me it sounds identical to The Time's 1984 single from "Ice Cream Castle" and featured prominently in "Purple Rain".  Side note: I didn't realize in 80s that The Time basically was Prince.  As Danette's college roommate said: "Prince dresses him" (or her, where appropriate).

So I just wanted to take this opportunity to say that for the last year, every time we heard "Uptown Funk" (which was a lot!), Danette and I always said "Jerome bring me my mirror!"

The Time - "Jungle Love"

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Eagles - "Seven Bridges Road" (spotlight)

I'm getting tired of having to acknowledge the passing of legends...  Yesterday Glenn Frey, co-founder of the Eagles, died.  The Eagles were so good at the entire Southwest, country-rock crossover thing, they experienced an inevitable backlash -- it became cool to hate them because of their success (and the 70s-era excess they represented).  But the truth is anyone who was raised on AOR (now known as classic rock) stations, as this Gen Xer was,  knows most of their songs by heart.

I'll choose to remember them not for any of the dozens of popular songs they wrote, but for a cover of a Steve Young song, "Seven Bridges Road",  they released in 1980 (from "Eagles Live") as their last single before they reunited in 1994.  For a band that spent most of their time fighting each other, the five part harmony of this mostly a cappella song was a nice metaphor for what they could achieve together. 

Eagles - "Seven Bridges Road"

Monday, January 11, 2016

David Bowie - "Blackstar" (spotlight)

David Bowie died yesterday.  Obviously when an icon of this stature dies it is tempting to recall any of his numerous popular and/or influential works (with "Low" being an example of influential but not really popular, at least by comparison to other works in his canon). 

Instead, I prefer to draw your attention to "Blackstar", which came out about six weeks ago, right before Thanksgiving.  I heard it driving home one night on "Out of the Box" and was struck by the fact that although it was clearly David Bowie, it sounded like classic Bowie but I couldn't identify the song.  And there were modern influences as well, so maybe it wasn't a classic song.  And "Out of the Box" focuses on new music -- was this a re-release?.  Was it another artist ripping off Bowie?  Eventually I was able to shazam the song and learn that it was the title track from his forthcoming LP (which was released just two days before his death).

I texted & emailed with all my music buddies saying "you need to check out this new Bowie song".  The summary of those conversations was how effortlessly it was both modern & classic, seamlessly incorporating the past & present.  And as a bonus, the video was mysterious & freaky.  I had planned to blog about it then, but with the holidays it got delayed.  His illness had not been made public, so I did not realize there was much time left.

So don't just remember Ziggy Stardust and other characters.  Remember Bowie for making engaging, challenging music for his entire career, even right at the end. 

David Bowie - "Blackstar".