Thursday, December 30, 2010
Black Francis - The Golem
This is by far my favorite Frank Black/Black Francis record is nearly a decade. Artists who are as prolific as he is* tend to develop cult-ish fan bases because the sheer quantity of the music released is off-putting to a casual fan. To those who feel that way, oh well - it is their loss.
Every year, the San Francisco International Film Festival invites a musician to score a silent film - they present the artist with a list, and the artist chooses which he/she would like to score. In 2008, Black Francis chose the 1920s German film Der Golem to score. He assembled a crack band of Eric Drew Feldman, Joe Pope, Ralph Carney, Duane Jarvis and Jason Carter - collectively, these guys have played with Captain Beefheart, Tom Waits, Lucinda Williams, PJ Harvey, Jonathan Richman, John Prine, Gene Clark and Pere Ubu, to name a few. And then he started writing.
What came out was a fully formed double album of REAL songs - not just musical cues here and there (although those are present too), and songs that are some of his best: moody, melodic, unusual, surprising music that fits the silent film really, really well. Maybe because of the narrative nature of the film, the songs make you part of the arc of the story, even if that arc is not totally apparent without the visuals. There are songs from the perspective of almost every character - and so that means love songs, angry songs, observational songs that drive the plot along, and songs that offer an abstract view of the action. Some of the lyrics may sound a little silly when disembodied from the film, but no more silly than 90% of the pop music on the radio. Francis’s penchant for wordplay is strong as ever, and it is probably best to listen with a dictionary and/or internet connection handy.
The vocals are powerful and direct - especially at the tail end of “The Conjuring,” which builds to a screamed finale. The band is killer - this turned out to be the final recording for the late Duane Jarvis, and his lead guitar parts are stunning and act as a strong connecting tissue between the more straight ahead rock songs and the atmospheric elements. Feldman is especially useful here as producer and keyboard player, using piano, organ, synthesizers, clavinet, harpsichord and more to tonally blend the songs in all sorts of subtle but significant ways. And Carney, a horn player unrivaled in the rock world, handles everything thrown at him, from Clarence Clemens-esque lead parts to harmonies to background squawks. Sadly, the full score is no longer available on CD - only 500 were made - but the DVD/single disc record are still available and are well worth the purchase.
Songs to seek out: “Bad News,” “Miriam and Florian”
*From 2000-2010: 8 full length albums, 2 double albums, 1 mini-LP, a best of, 3 b-sides compilations, various free tracks via his website, no less than 4 live albums, an album with his wife, touring for a good 2 solid years with the Pixies, contributions to a handful of compilations, and a few production gigs.
Best Coast - Crazy for You
When i first hear about this record, i was not super enthusiastic: Girl moves to New York from Southern California, hates the Big Apple, retreats back home, writes about smoking pot and her cat. Just about every bit of that sounds repulsive to me. However, when i gave Crazy for You a chance, i was pleasantly surprised by it.
First of all, Bethany Cosentino, the writing/singing/guitaring third of Best Coast, has an amazing voice - it has a strength and a playfulness to it that makes it stand out from both the music underneath it and most other music being made today. She writes for her voice very well too (this may sound silly, but lots of artists don’t. Listen to George Harrison’s Living in the Material World - there are some really great songs [like “Try Some, Buy Some”] that are just not in a key that flatters Georgie’s voice), and it helps elevate these deceptively simple pop songs into something really special. And those pop songs happen to be really, really good. I’ve heard rumblings that live the band gets a lot “grungier,” and that makes sense to me; Nirvana had great pop songs that became the standard bearer for grunge in the early 90’s, and these songs could easily be crunched and dirtied up without losing much of their impact.
The basic elements, at least on record, are 1960’s girl group melodies and rhythms, surf guitar, and a lo-fi haze. It is almost, to me, the perfect aural representation of Los Angeles. The production is the smog - something we have to look past to see what really lies underneath. The surf elements represent that ever present, but not really prominent, relics of ‘60s culture that somehow is still part of the allure/myth of Southern California. And the melodies are pure nostalgia/hope, those intertwined emotions that are bought and sold for a dime a dozen in the Hollywood/Television/Music Industry. The record sounds hopeful but sad - does that remind you of any place in particular?
Songs to seek out: “Crazy for You,” “Bratty B”
Friday, December 24, 2010
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Brian and Ken look back at the year in music, and lots of friends call in to give their highlights of 2010/hopes for 2011.
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Tuesday, December 21, 2010
But then i started thinking a little more: this year also had a lot of really great, relatively straight ahead rock records: Ted Leo, Titus Andronicus, the Gaslight Anthem (aka the Jersey trifecta), New Pornographers, the Hold Steady (their album is much-maligned but underrated), Harlem, Best Coast, the list goes on and on.
AND i started to think about all the really surprising albums that came out this year: Yeasayer going electro pop, the Books getting really funny, the Magnetic Fields going folk, Sufjan Stevens going back to electronic music (no one in the history of the record reviewing world seems to remember Enjoy Your Rabbit), etc.
Then it hit me: 2010 has just been a really great year for music. Even the albums that disappointed me from bands i like (Arcade Fire, Dr. Dog, Spoon) are all above-average, and in other years would clearly be on my year end list. This is a GREAT problem to have, and the last few weeks, where i've let podcasts pile up in my iTunes (never since i started listening have i had two Jordan, Jesse Go!s waiting for me), i've been constantly delighted at all the records i've gone back to. And i know that i didn't give some of these enough time (sorry Bad Plus and Grinderman!), but overall, i can hardly remember a year with this much great music released. Regardless of what ten albums i will actually write about, i'm very happy to be a music fan in 2010.
Monday, December 20, 2010
Entry #1001923: "Because of Sleater Kinney, i just downloaded the new Kayne West album."
So, as loyal blog readers know, i've been compiling my best of 2010 list. I've been reading lots of other year end lists just to see how people i both respect and loathe think 2010 was musically. And on almost every list, Kanye has a place. Now, i expect this from Rolling Stone and Spin - but to see it from Sleater Kinney's Carrie Brownstein? Not only on her list, but as her favorite record of the year? That intrigues me, and so i'm using half of my remaining eMusic credits for the month to check out this album. I'm debating using the other half for Big Boi's record, the other hip hop album that i've been waiting for eMusic to add, which they just did.
I never thought 2010 would be the year i listened to more hip hop than jazz, but here it is.
So, expect a few more albums to fall into the big list of 2010 releases that i need to re-evaluate. Speaking of which, i've give a listen now to all the albums on the big list, and isolated approximately 25 that i need to spend a little more time with to properly rank. So, again, don't expect this list anytime before next week.
Monday, December 13, 2010
The long list:
Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
The Bad Plus - Never Stop
The Baseball Project - Broadside Ballads
Best Coast - Crazy for You
Black Francis - The Golem
Black Francis - NonStopErotik
The Books - The Way Out
Broken Social Scene - Forgiveness Rock Record
Dessa - A Badly Broken Code
Dr. Dog - Shame, Shame
Dum Dum Girls - I Will Be
Firstful of Mercy - As I Call You Down
The Gaslight Anthem - American Slang
The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger - Acoustic Sessions
Girl Talk - All Day
Gorillaz - Plastic Beach
Grinderman - Grinderman 2
Harlem - Hippies
The Hold Steady - Heaven is Whenever
How to Destroy Angels - How to Destroy Angels
Jack Grace Band - Drinking Songs for Lovers
Janelle Monae - The ArchAndroid
LCD Soundsystem - This Is Happening
The Magnetic Fields - Realism
Marah - Life is a Problem
Mavis Staples - You Are Not Alone
The New Pornographers - Together
Plants and Animals - La La Land
The Roots - How I Got Over
Sleigh Bells - Treats
Spoon - Transference
Sufjan Stevens - The Age of Adz
Ted Leo/Pharmacists - The Brutalist Bricks
Tim Fite - Under the Table Tennis
Titus Andronicus - The Monitor
Vampire Weekend - Contra
Yeasayer - ODD BLOOD
Interesting side note - with the exception of the Black Francis records, i don't have physical copies of any of these. This is partly due to the lack of a good stereo in my house, but mostly due to my passing indifference with physical records. This vexes me greatly, since i love liner notes and album art. However, given the ease/cost of digital music, it is a sacrifice i am willing to make. Plus, the internet is one giant liner notes.
CONTEST TIME: If anyone can predict my Top 10 in the correct order, i'll owe you a Coke. Post 'em in the comments.
Saturday, December 11, 2010
My iTunes library, as of December 11, 2010, has 21, 2154songs in it. Some are novelty downloads, some i have because i'm a completionist, some i rarely (if have ever) listened to. So, in this new blog segment, i will let shuffle pick out random songs (without personal editing to hide embarrasing and/or lame songs), and i will write about what i think of them, plus any details i an give about how it was procured. At current rate (and if my iTunes never repeats a song...) this will be the seventeenth in at least a 4,000 part series.
Song #1 - "Ambling Alp" - Yeasayer
Embarrassed to say i got this from eMusic months ago and still haven't listened. I loved their first record, but heard that this one, ODD BLOOD, was quite different. So maybe out of fear i'd hate it, i've avoided it. But this is really fun. This sounds like if Yeasayer was covered by a synth-pop band, with some bizarre interludes. Parts of this remind me of Hall and Oates, and i mean that as a very big complement. This might be my cleaning the kitchen soundtrack later on today...
Song #2 - "Why Midnight Walked In But Didn't Ring Her Bell" - Liars
Less than a minute, just a transitional piece. From They Threw Us All In a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top.
Song #3 - "The Letter" - Andre 3000
A skit from The Love Below. Again, under a minute.
Song #4 - "Minute by Minute" - Girl Talk
I've been on a major Girl Talk kick lately. This is from Night Ripper, the first album of his i bought. It is funny that i enjoy his records so much because, for the most part, i don't know/recognize/like a lot of the hip hop on it. I like hip hop, but i'm not a big fan of the misogyny/violence that so much mainstream hip hop produces. But i guess having the sentiment disembodied from track makes it more digestible for me. It is hard to be offended by 2-3 lines over a Violent Femmes sample. I guess that is the lesson to be learned here. Plus, a Better Than Ezra sample is a thing of beauty.
Song #5 - "Breaking the Choke Hold" - Mike Watt
Watt is one of my heroes. An ethically upstanding member of the punk rock community who does whatever the fuck he sees fit, and plays some of the best bass this side of Paul McCartney. This is from his first rock opera, Contemplating the Engine Room, which compares his time in the Minutemen with his dad's time in the Navy. The record is so its own thing that it is almost hard to put it into context with the greater musical world. It also features beautiful guitar work from Nels Cline, late of Wilco. Do yourself a favor and take a listen - it is simultaneously melodic, daring, nautical, operatic (not in its vocals, but in its recurring motifs and themes), peaceful, fiery and beautiful.
'Til next time (and hopefully lighter on the interludes),
Volumes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
My iTunes library, as of December 7, 2010, has 21, 218 songs in it. Some are novelty downloads, some i have because i'm a completionist, some i rarely (if have ever) listened to. So, in this new blog segment, i will let shuffle pick out random songs (without personal editing to hide embarrasing and/or lame songs), and i will write about what i think of them, plus any details i an give about how it was procured. At current rate (and if my iTunes never repeats a song...) this will be the sixteenth in at least a 4,000 part series.
Song #1 - "Temecula Sunrise" - The Dirty Projectors
I may have said this here already (i definitely said it somewhere), but the Dirty Projectors are pretty much the band i would have started had i a) more talent b) more ambition c) better skills of articulation d) friends who would be into it. It has hints of all good things - jazz, traditional rock and roll, odd time signatures, male/female vocal counterpoint, great percussion, a clear influence of Os Mutantes, and yet it remains melodic - difficult for sure, but melodic. Only a few friends listen to my podcast, but fewer friends would listen to my band if i was in the Dirty Projectors. I particularly dig this song, which i often get stuck in my head (although i'm not really sure how such a knotty/off-kilter melody can get stuck in my head alongside the simplistic melodies that usually occupy space there). From the best thing i downloaded from eMusic in 2009 (maybe), Bitte Orca.
Song#2 - "Listen" - Bill Frisell
An interesting follow up to the DPs song, this is from Frisell's The Intercontinentals record, which is a really pleasant record - sort of jazz mixed with really strong melodies and some Brazilian instrumentation. This track is a little too smooth for my tastes and tends to go on a bit too long. I only own two Frisell records (not counting guest appearances and/or his duet record with Petra Haden), and while this one is more consistent, i always turn to the Bill Frisell Quartet record because it is just much more exciting to me. Plus, that one has more tuba. And, as Jeff Meyer can attest, more tuba usually equals more awesome.
Song #3 - "Elmerson, Lincoln and Palmieri" - Tortoise
Back in 2006, i went solo to the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago. And for some reason, one of only 3 or 4 records i bought on that trip was this box-set of rare/unreleased/remixed Tortoise stuff, A Lazarus Taxon. I mean, i owned one or two Tortoise records before i went, but i felt i NEEDED THIS SO FUCKING BAD, and i really don't know why. That being said, i dig this track a lot, but i know very little about it. Nice and short (2:40), too. I should use more of this stuff as sorbets on my mixes.. Oh, and i think the title may be a slight pun on Emerson, Lake and Palmer, but i don't know who Elmerson, Lincoln and Palmieri are...
Song #4 - "Oh! Sweet Nuthin'" - The Velvet Underground
What a great song. If Moe Tucker played on this album it might be TOO good, so it is a good thing she got knocked up beforehand. This has been used in at least 2 movies i can think of (High Fidelity, after Rob finds out that Laura slept with Ian "What Fucking Ian Guy" Raymond [i think it is that scene, and not when Rob is walking in the rain after Laura's dad's funeral, i can't really remember], and a shitty cover of this by some band featuring Mike McCready from Pearl Jam in The Cable Guy). I particularly love the backing vocals and guitar solo. If you don't own this song, go spend less than a cup of coffee and get it on iTunes, you fool (sorry, in a harsh mood tonight i guess...). I have this on two albums in my iTunes, but this time it got shuffled from the High Fidelity soundtrack, which is good, but not as good as a soundtrack to a film about great music should be. Bought this senior year of high school, right after dragging a then-girlfriend to this movie, which she didn't like. Should've known then it would never work out (and it didn't).
Song # 5 - "Glad I'm Not in Russia" - Angst
A band i only know about because i've talked to Frank Black about them (he even wrote a song about them called, shockingly "Angst"). All their albums came out on SST Records and all are/were out of print. This is a weird song about Russians not being free. I don't know enough of the context of this band and their politics to see if this is meant tongue in cheek. I'd assume so, especially because of the faux-country vocals. This doesn't represent the band all that well. This is from Lite Life, which came out in 1985.
And with that, i bid you goodnight.
'Til next time,
Volumes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15