Monday, April 24, 2006

Neil Young blog

No, it doesn't seem to be Neil Young blogging, but it's definitely someone with connections... It's a blog about the new Neil Young album, Living With War... I can't wait to heart it.

In the meantime, visit http://livingwithwar.blogspot.com/

Friday, April 21, 2006

Neko Case

Neko Case
Granada Theater
4.17.2006

Neko Case is out of this world.

Or at least she’s far beyond the indie-rock niche that she currently inhabits along with fellow torch-song torchbearers like Feist and Cat Power.

Case sang a mix of older material and tracks from her new album Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, all of which were fleshed out by Case’s five-piece band.

“Star Witness,” a song that might be about a car wreck, or a shooting, or both, set the mood for the evening, as Case wove stories of bad relationships, down-and-outers and even murder.

It became obvious within the first five songs of the show that Case was entirely on fire. After doffing a note during “Witness,” she came back to hit the next one with even more volume and vibrato in her marvelously powerful voice. It would be the only note she missed all night.

Case benefited from her new backing band, as older songs like “I Wish I was the Moon,” and “The Tigers Have Spoken” took on a new feel, more lonesome-desert-highway-at-midnight than their previous barroom feel.

But the real star of the show was Case’s shimmering voice. More powerful than Loretta Lynn or Tammy Wynette’s, Case’s voice draws a direct line to the late, great Patsy Cline.

There’s something unexplainable in Case’s voice that makes it so unique. Even when she steps away from the microphone, there was a natural touch of reverb in her voice that cut through the old movie theater like a ghost of past voices. It’s unfair that one person could possess a voice like that. It’s just downright unfair that she’s not selling a million copies of everything she lends that voice to.

What also made the show work so well for Case was her own self-effacing humor. While most of Case’s jokes are nearly unprintable, they put the normally hostile Dallas crowd at ease.

While she stuck mostly to her own material, Case did throw in a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Buckets of Rain,” that showcased both the versatility of Dylan’s writing and her own vocal prowess.

After a set that went just over an hour, Case came back for two encores, which included a gospel reworking of “Wayfaring Stranger” and the forgotten classic “John Saw that Number.”

Unlike highly-hyped female rockers like Karen O and Liz Phair, Case was able to project both confidence and sexuality without appearing sleazy. Of course, if Karen O or Phair had a voice like Case’s, they’d probably clean up their act a little too.

Death to Sam Goody

Who would ever spend $18.99 for a cd that wasn't a double-disc set or include a dvd? Sam Goody you are the epitome of greed and all that is wrong with the capitalist system. But being the good little capitalist I am, I just go down the road to Best Buy and save five bucks.

The other day I was at the mall and walked in to a Sam Goody to see what they were trying to sell a cd for these days. And what did my eyes behold? A going out of business sale! With about 4 racks left of cds, I went through and found some obscure treasures. I got 4 cds for under 20 bucks! These were by no means cds that were in great demand, they were just bands that I had heard good things about and picked up, such as the hometown heros like Tripleshot and Riverboat Gamblers.

I was also happy to see that they were having trouble moving their supply of over 100 Scott Stapp's Greatest Hits cds. He is such a tool.

New Red Hot Chili Peppers Video

Has anyone seen this video yet? I caught it on early one morning while I was getting ready so it didn't have my full attention but as a huge Misfits fan I thought it was fantabulous. The references were great, I saw the glam rock part (is it suppose to be Bowie?) and the 80's hair band parody reminded me of Poison. I didn't get a chance to recognize the punk band they referenced but I'll figure it out next time it comes on. I just thought it was great because there hasen't been any great Misfit references or covers since Garage Inc. by Metallic.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Hold On, I'm Comin'

Today I report to you from the epicenter of the musical South, Memphis, Tennessee.

It's the town that spawned B.B. King, Elvis Presley, Rufus Taylor and Otis Redding. It's the place where a white man named Steve Cropper helped invent Memphis soul at Stax Records. It's also the place Martin Luther King Jr. breathed his dying breaths.

It's a town with a checkered past of racial harmony and some of the most unloving acts and words in American history.

Today I've walked in the halls of the revered (Stax, Sun) and the infamous (Graceland, Jungle Room), and, as a music lover, they both hold equal importance to me.

I've listened to Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited driving north up that famous highway. A stranger has also touched my hair and I've been propositioned by a hooker.

We came here seeking music, and we've found it at almost every corner. We've also found the incongruencies in how we view people, and how the world really is. It's a lot more violent than its Texas counterpart, Austin, but there's also a lot of history.

So there it is, my first written document of a trip that started when I decided, "I'm goin' to Graceland."

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Police Helicopter

I'm asleep. I'm dreaming that a helicopter is circling above. I keep dreaming that the helicopter is looking for me. Then I wake up enough to realize there is a helicopter circling above my neighborhood. I creak one eye open enough to see that it's 4 in the bloody A.M., and I ain't happy. Better damned well be a full-on fugitive hunt with bloodhounds and Tommy Lee Jones chasing Harrison Ford through my neighborhood for this to even be remotely worth the racket. I go out into my backyard, and there's the police helicopter with a searchlight making loops southward through my neighborhood.

So this song is dedicated to you, Mr. 4 A.M. police helicopter. Thanks for waking me up this morning... It's been a frickin' joyous day thanks to you... For you, I play "Police Helicopter" by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Everybody sing along:
Aw!

Police helicopter shot the sky
Police helicopter landin' on my eye

Yeah!

Police helicopter takes a nose-dive
Police helicopter, he ain't shy

Yeah!

(REPEAT EVERYTHING)

Aaw!

Monday, April 10, 2006

All Tommorow's Parties

After a lengthy hiatus, I offer proof that the rumors of my departure were greatly exaggerated.

Sitting on my desk right now are four very different discs. The first is Velvet Underground and Nico, then The Weight is A Gift by Nada Surf. Below these two gems are Electriclarryland by the Butthole Surfers and Return To The Sea by Islands.

What is the commonality between these four great albums?

Nothing!

All of these albums are great for different reasons. Nada Surf's power-pop is nearly spotless, the Velvets are dirty, dirty, dirty, and Islands' sound like Paul Simon if he played keyboards and lived in Montreal. And the Surfers, well, they're just insane. While all three discs share the commonality of being indie-rockish records, they reinforce two things

1. Music is a wonderful being that can offera sound to fit any mood, emotion or intellectual thought.

2. I buy too many CDs.

That's all for now, a very nonsensical post extolling the virtues of music, but look for more later on the wonderful-slipped-through-the-cracks-record The Weight is a Gift by Nada Surf. Until then, "Shout it out Loud."

My favorites...

I'm a musical voyeur. I love looking through people's record collections and trying to figure out which bands have had the greatest impact on their musical lives. As I look through my music, there are many times where I think "Oh yeah, I bought that because I was listening to so and so, and they were their favorite band." It's almost like reading those genealogy passages in the Bible -- begat, begat, begat.

The favorite band/album question is also interesting because it can reveal how a person listens to music. What they listen for, what turns them on, what they find important. For example, some people understood better where Lester Bangs was coming from once they learned that he idolized Velvet Underground's White Light/White Heat and Van Morrison's Astral Weeks. Some of his rants begin to make a little more sense when put in that context.

So I'm going to post about some of my all-time favorite non-jazz, non-classical albums. (Yeah, that's awkward, but I'm avoiding pop/rock.) Right now, there are 13 on my list, and like any self-respecting music fan, those 13 are liable to shift position at any moment depending on my mood, which way the wind blows, whatever. But I've got them written down, and if I've forgotten something, I'll slip a .5 in there somewhere.

Like anyone's list, there will be some things on there that don't make the critic's top lists of infinity, but this isn't about that... These are my favorites.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Universal Hall Pass - Mercury

Timeliness? Me? Nah... According to iTunes, this was released in November 2004, but I don't think I dug it out of the KTCU reject box until October or November of 2005. It's been sitting on my desk since then, waiting patiently, and occasionally whispering, "Listen to me." But there are a few CDs sitting on my desk, all saying the same thing, so it took me a while to get to this one...

I pulled this one out of the reject box because the promo sticker read "RIYL: Bjork, Portishead, Lamb." Whoever wrote that hit me right where I live, especially on the Bjork and Portishead references. But now that I've listened to it, I think someone was just kind of lazy, and thought, "Who do I compare Universal Hall Pass to? Let's see... Female vocals and occasional electronic sounds... Uh, oh yeah, Bjork! And maybe Portishead. Oh, and let me get a little bit of a hipster reference in there by name-dropping Lamb. Yeah, that's the ticket!" Yeah, there are occasional elements of those three artists in here, but Universal Hall Pass takes a variety of sounds and combines them quite nicely.

When I popped this CD in the player, I was surprised when (what sounded like) Casiotone drumbeats started coming out of the speakers, and a chirpy voice sings:
Son of a bitch
Don't sabotage everything that moves forward

The music then fills out with more modern and full sounds for the chorus. But I have to say I was hooked from the beginning... Melissa Kaplan, the brains behind Universal Hall Pass, displays plenty of attitude in her vocal delivery, and the music is a fun blend of different styles.

"Dragonfly" starts pretty mellow, but soons hits a funky stride that evolves into some brief drum & bass sections. "Katrina Josephina" is quite striking, with layers of vocals all provided by Kaplan.

But my favorite track on the CD is "Six-Step Dragon". Kaplan does a fantastic job of combining Asian-influenced sounds with a dancey-feeling backing track. Sometimes on these combinations of world and dance musics, it feels really forced and awkward. In this case, they complement each other nicely to create an amazing piece of music.

"Outro" seems to have a bit of a tribute to "The Girl from Impanema," or else I'm really reading too much into it... But it sounds like it's got some of the same elements to me...

In digging around the web a bit, this is Kaplan's first solo album, but she was in a band called Splashdown. I'm not familar with them, but I'll be doing some digging after hearing this incredible CD.

Kaplan has some mp3 downloads available from the Universal Hall Pass site: "Dragonfly" and "Misdirected". "Misdirected is my favorite of the two, but give it some time -- it takes a moment to catch your ear... Mercury is available from the Sneaky Records site, and also from iTunes.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

London Calling...

You news hounds probably saw this, but...
British anti-terrorism detectives escorted a man from a plane after a taxi driver had earlier become suspicious when he started singing along to a track by punk band The Clash, police said Wednesday.

Detectives halted the London-bound flight at Durham Tees Valley Airport in northern England and Harraj Mann, 24, was taken off.

The taxi driver had become worried on the way to the airport because Mann had been singing along to The Clash's 1979 anthem "London Calling," which features the lyrics "Now war is declared -- and battle come down" while other lines warn of a "meltdown expected."

Holy crap... Is it just me, or are people getting more idiotic with every passing moment?

Buying the same music over and over and over...

I've decided to be a holdout... I'm the guy that shows up at Best Buy at 10 or 10:30 on Tuesday mornings (where I've run into Curtis several times as well). Yeah, I know we're supposed to support the smaller record stores and all that, but this post isn't about that... Perhaps I'll talk about that later.

The problem with buying a release these days is that the record companies will invariably release a better version of it later. A prime example of this is with the Flaming Lips (dang, this blog is full of Flaming Lips references). Here's a brief timeline of my last few Flaming Lips purchases:
  • Bought The Soft Bulletin around the time it was released.
  • Bought Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots around the time it was released.
  • Bought the Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots DVD/CD set when it was released.
  • Bought The Soft Bulletin DVD/CD set when it was released.
Now please don't get me wrong -- I'm not bashing the Lips here. I'm a sucker for this because I love getting the 5.1 surround mixes and the bonus tracks they throw on the DVDs. But I'm not falling for this with At War With the Mystics. I'm holding on to my cash until the DVD/CD version comes out, hopefully in the fall.

But two versions of Yoshimi and Bulletin pale in comparison to some of the other repurchases in my collection. By my count, the most repurchased album in my collection is Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, with at least 8 different versions or formats purchased. Granted, I fell in love with this album while I was in high school, but that still averages out to a DSotM purchased every 2-3 years. Now that I think about it, I single-handedly kept DSotM on the Billboard album charts all those years.

Some other notable repurchases:
  • I own at least 4 versions of Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys.
  • I've been through at least 4 copies of A Night At the Opera by Queen.
  • At least 4 versions of Kind of Blue by Miles Davis.
  • Two versions of Miles Davis' Bitches Brew, WTF?
  • Three versions of Three Sides Live by Genesis (seems rather apropos, somehow).
  • Two versions each of NIN's The Downward Spiral and With Teeth (which just came out last year, and I already have two versions...)
Granted, many of these repurchases are through different formats, such as casette, vinyl, CD, digital, etc... But many of them are expanded/extended/slightly modified versions designed specifically to get fanboy completists like me to buy the same music again and again.

I've decided I'm tired of it. I love the expanded editions and all, but I'm not going to be the first sucker out of the gate to buy the standard releases anymore. I'll hold on to my cash a little bit longer and wait for the expanded edition. I've also figured out that buying the same music over and over is keeping me from discovering new music. That $20 I'm spending on an expanded edition probably could have purchased two sale CDs from new artists. Guess it all comes down to whether we want to buy what we already know, or experiment a bit? Sadly, much of the public, including myself, seems to buy what we already know.

Speaking of buying the same thing in different formats, I just did a quick Pink Floyd search on Amazon, and it looks like Floyd is releasing Pulse as a concert DVD. But that cover looks a tad bit similar to the cover of the Warp Vision DVD that came out a couple of years ago...


Monday, April 03, 2006

Charles Mingus - Mingus Ah Um

I'll admit, jazz is a fairly recent discovery for me. Though, I've been listening to it since high school, I've never quite "got it." I can assume this is because a) of my constant fear that I will become the stereotypical yuppie music listener and b) I like catchy melodies and choruses, because, as with most post-baby-boomer listeners, I find it hard to get into music if I can't sing (in my car, very badly) to it.

As for being a yuppie listener, it's always bothered me when fifty-year-old men go home and sip wine to blues records. It just seems wrong on some level. My fear of being "that guy" has always extended to jazz. After looking back on the history of the form, though, I realized this dichotomy of listeners has existed ever since jazz was a twinkle in the eye of Buddy Bolden and Jelly Roll Morton, and I might as well just pour a glass of chardonnay and enjoy.

So lately, I've been on a little run of jazz records. First it was A Love Supreme by John Coltrane, then Kind of Blue by Miles Davis, and now, Mingus Ah Um by Charles Mingus.

Mingus Ah Um is a soulful, original record. I couldn't tell you what horns create the twin melody on "Better Git In Your Soul," but I can tell you it makes me want to dance (very badly) when I hear it. You can even hear the musicians yelling and laughing through the mics as the tune hits a breakneck pace. Next, Mingus slows it down on "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat." The sound is smooth as silk.

Mingus was notorious for being ill-tempered, and the aggression often comes through in the music. "Boogie Stop Shuffle" veers towards chaos without ever really coming close to falling apart. Later in the disc, Mingus redetermines what jazz can sound like on "Bird Calls."

One of the reasons Mingus Ah Um is so damn good is the production on the record. It's both controlled and yet somewhat spontaneous. It sounds like the band made a direct plan for the record and then couldn't bring themselves to stick to it.

If you want a good jazz record, Mingus Ah Um is a great point of entry. And while you're at it, give A Love Supreme and Kind of Blue a spin, you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Sound Opinions podcast

I've just recently returned to the land of the iPod-enabled (or iPod zombies, depending on your point of view), and I'm having fun catching up with a few podcasts. My first iPod died (6 months out of warranty, grrr...) in December. I loved it, it was my constant companion, we went together everywhere, and there was great mourning when it died, blah blah blah.

The only podcast I really listened to on iPod #1 was On the Media from NPR. But I was already addicted to that as a radio show, so it wasn't really something I had "discovered" from podcasting. It was more a convenience than anything else...

So when my new iPod arrived, one of the first things I did was browse through the podcasts listed on iTunes. And while I've found some klunkers, one of my happier discoveries has been Sound Opinions from Chicago Public Radio.

Sound Opinions features two amazing music writers, Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot. It's almost a Siskel-Ebert/Ebert-Roeper kind of deal (Geez, I'm sure no one's ever noticed that before) because Jim is at The Chicago Sun-Times and Greg is at The Chicago Tribune. And apologies to Greg, but I was really buzzed to see Jim on there, as he wrote a Lester Bangs bio that I loved. He's also written a Flaming Lips bio that I hope to dig into this summer...

Jim and Greg do a great job of voicing their opinions without stepping on top of one another. They give each other room to speak, and so far in my listening, there hasn't been the cattiness that (unfortunately) seems to define radio these days. They do disagree with each other, but they keep it light-hearted and fun. Out of the episodes I've listened to so far, #16 Buried Treasures is my favorite. They played some marvelous music, and the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club interview was fascinating.

So to whoever decided to podcast Sound Opinions -- thanks! It's a fun listen, and hopefully other NPR stations will begin to pick it up. Until then, I've got the podcast to keep me happy...