Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Late Night Revelation #1 - Astral Weeks

My best music listening time comes at night, usually quite late, when I'm putting the last pieces of my day in order before I go to bed. Sometimes I play a nice mellow record, or something of historical importance, but quite often, I just put it on shuffle and let it play.

And this is how Van Morrison continually floors me.

My synthesis into a Van the Man freak happened way back in high school. I was beginning to collect the "important" albums, more out of a need to catalog and learn than to truly appreciate. At the same time, I was having these hour-long phone conversations with a girl I kind of dug. I brought up Van Morrison, and she mentioned her dad owned everything Morrison had ever pressed on to plastic or vinyl.

We started dating.

Now, this move was not related to the hundreds of records in the drawers below the liquor cabinet, but it certainly didn't hurt. When she went away on vacation, I bought Moondance, and when she came back, she burned a copy of Astral Weeks for me.

While we probably played Moondance far more than Astral Weeks, I still think of the latter in conjunction with that time. It's a sweet record, and after an hour, it can make the most time-tested relationship seem as fresh and exciting as first love. There's something in the delivery of the lines, in the music and the soul of the record that makes it more than just an "important" record: it's a record that stills seems to breathe and feel, it's the cypress in Morrison's catalog.

It doesn't hurt that it's such a great record. From the opening notes of the title track, a mixture of jazz and English folk, to Morrison's insistence that your boy "has clean clothes," it's an evocative picture of Morrison's home country, Ireland, and the snapshots of life.

But for me, it doesn't get much better than Sweet Thing

And I will raise my hand into the night time sky,
Count the stars that shine in your eyes
Just to dig it all an not to wonder
Thats just fine
And I'll be satisfied
Not to read in between the lines
And I will walk and talk
In gardens all wet with rain
And I will never, ever, ever, ever
Grow so old again.

Bob Dylan (God bless him) may have been "older than that now," but Morrison could grow old and young at will. To this day, I still drive down country roads with the windows down and my arm out the window while Sweet Thing disturbs the rural peace.

The history of the record is well documented, with Morrison telling the seasoned jazz players to "play what you feel," and there are far too much to be said about each song to include them all: The Way That Young Lovers Do is great off-kilter jazz, and Beside You might just be the most underrated love song ever.

But more than anything, Astral Weeks reminds me of being a teenager. It's grand, but it's subtle: it's a slice of the world that seems like the entire universe.

So, for my money, no matter how many so-so records he puts out in his later years, Van is still the Man of rock 'n' roll.

Steve Favorite #14: A Few Possible Selections for the Soundtrack of Your Life by Chomsky

Society seems to put a lot of emphasis on who was the first to do something. This person was first to do this, this person was first to do that. But it seems that a little too often, being the first means that someone else is going to steal your idea and make beaucoup bucks on it. Being the first is a bad thing, because now your idea is out there, and other people can make it more palatable for the general public.

For better or worse, I'm exposed to a lot of new music through videogames. When I picked up Burnout 3 back in 2004, I thought, "Damn, the 80s are back." Just listening to the soundtrack for that videogame, I could hear a ton of 80s influences in there. I think I'm starting to understand how my parents felt when I was in elementary school and Happy Days was cool, and the girls were wearing poodle skirts while the guys rolled small boxes up in their t-shirt sleeves so it looked like they had cigs. It's a nauseating mixture of amusement and "You just don't get it, kid." that makes nostalgia a surreal experience for those who lived it the first time... Don't get me wrong -- I like Bloc Party and Franz Ferdinand and all these other bands that are mining the 80s sound. I think it's cool. But I also think that one of the originals got lost in the shuffle...

I'm not sure when I first heard Chomsky... It was somewhere in the range of 97-98, and they were becoming a well-regarded D/FW band. They played incessantly around the various clubs, and they always seemed to put on a high-energy show.

I don't know if I was just out of touch with that part of the music scene or what, but Chomsky was the first band I heard to bring back that XTC/Police, etc. angular, muscular sound, and this CD does a pretty good job of capturing the energy of Chomsky.

The first three tracks are good, but for me, this CD starts at track #4, Sigmund. The frantic guitar parts and great backing vocals eventually lead to a shouted "Sha! Sha!" over the chorus, and if you think it's fun on CD, you really need to experience bouncing up and down in a club and yelling it with the rest of the crowd while pumping your fists in the air. Next up is the conflicted Warm which seems to echo one of the central themes on the CD: control in a relationship and who has the power. At one point, Sean Halleck sings "Could you please just do what I say?" in a pleading tone. It's bittersweet, of course, but it's amazing how the power seems to shift back and forth in the space of a four minute song. Completing the trifecta for me is the energetic Road with the sing-along "a-woah-oh" part.

Disclaimer: the previous paragraph doesn't mean I dislike the rest of the CD... It's just that these are the 1-2-3 punch in the gut that I think are an astounding section. I mean, any album with the lyric "I'll shoot you with my gun" sung in a sugar-sweet pop melody to another song with "Oh you caught me, I'm a masturbator" deserves some attention, don't you think? The lyrics are amazing, and range from the semi-confessional (without being overly specific) to the non-sensical and clever.

And don't get me started on the musicianship... Glen Reynolds is a guitar god... Freaking amazing. Whenever I'd go see them at the Aardvark, I'd stand towards stage left so I could watch Glen twitch like a sheer maniac. If you've never seen Glen play, you owe it to yourself. He's got some amazing, laugh-out-loud moves, and he rarely misses a note. In fact, quite often, Sean would seem to avoid looking at Glen to avoid breaking out into laughter. James Driscoll and Matt Kellum are a great rhythm section and hold things down while Glen does his thing. And Don Cento pops some fun keyboard counter-melodies on top of everything...

Chomsky has put out two albums since this one, and while they're good, I don't think they carry the energy of this one... There are times where this feels like an old wooden roller coaster -- you wonder if it's going to hold together through the conclusion. The two later albums feel a little too polished to me...

I've heard that Chomsky is currently on hiatus, which makes me sad. I was sincerely hoping that Aezra Records would be able to make them superstars. Maybe it will happen, and I'm just being impatient. But it's just frustrating to me to see all these other bands drawing from the 80s and making it big, and Chomsky's not up there with them... It's tragic, and I hope it's rectified soon... These guys deserve it in a big way...

Favorite tracks: Sigmund, Warm, Road
Repeated listens: Hell yeah, learn the lyrics so you can sing along to the oldies when they play the AA Center someday... Plus, you can remind Sean of the lines he always forgets.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Capsule Reviews And Summer News

So, as the last time I tried to post, Blogger, in a Pac-Man-like move, ate it, this is my return to the world of record revues.

Let's knock a few reviews out:

Paul Simon - Surprise

Of all the now-old dogs out there, who would have picked Paul Simon to make a record with Brian Eno? While the album lags in the middle third with wearisome mid-tempo tracks like Wartime Prayers and Beautiful, the majority of the album provocatively casts Simon's trademark vocals and stories against a updated, and at times, even adventurous, backdrop. Simon's at his best when he's mired deep in wordplay, and Surprise provides some of Simon's best couplets in decades.

Gnarls Barkley - St. Elsewhere

The fun in this record is practically dripping through the plastic wrapper and onto the shelf. The lead single Crazy has every chance to be a Gorillaz-style, mass-friendly (of course, the ubiquitous Danger Mouse worked on the most recent Gorrilaz project as well) radio hit, and tracks like Smiley Faces and The Boogey Man show equal parts of collaborators Danger Mouse and Cee-Lo. The soundscape alone is worth the price of the record. Danger Mouse moves away from his Gray period and into a place that makes him every bit as viable as the Neptunes in innovative originality. The music is great, the vocals are fun, and it's definitely got the best cover of the Violent Femmes' Gone Daddy Gone this year.

Lali Puna - Faking The Books

Okay, so this record is about three years old, and I'm too lazy to research anything about the band. (It's summer). I think they may be German, and I think they may have other projects out there. Either way, I heard Ben Gibbard waxing about them in an interview and I checked out this record. Dare I invoke Human League? I think I must--imagine if there were only female vocalists in the Human League. Now imagine that it's 2003--enter Lali Puna. The title track is an obvious highlight here, but really the whole record plays through quite nicely. Good music alone in the headphones or with a group of friends.

So there it is, my capsule reivews. With an exciting summer concert and release schedule, we should have an interesting couple of months here at musicgluttons.

Here are two can't miss shows coming up in June:
Beck - June 21, NokiaLive
Sonic Youth - June 24, Gypsy Tea Room

Friday, May 19, 2006

ACLFest Roster

A short post, but if you haven't hopped over to www.aclfest.com, check out this year's roster. It includes the great Gnarls Barkley and one Van Morrison.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Cold-2... or U-Play?

True confession time -- I'm not a fan of Coldplay. I know they've got their rabid fans and all, but I just haven't been impressed. I've read interviews with the members, and they seem cool and all. I'd hang with them if they asked me... Heh. But their music just doesn't do it for me... The first time I heard them, I thought, "Hmmm, sounds like U2."

That U2 label gets applied to Coldplay quite often. Heck, it gets applied to a lot of bands at one time or another -- early Radiohead even got some U2 comparisons. But Coldplay seems to be one of the few bands making a career out of that specific sound.

Before you ask, yes, people have loaned me Coldplay CDs. And before you ask again, yes, I have listened to them. In fact, some of my friends are such rabid Coldplay fans that I have questioned myself extensively on this: "Am I just missing it? Well, I'll give them one more chance..." I've given Coldplay quite a few one-more-chances, and it still doesn't appeal to me, and I still hear some U2 in there... My friends get frustrated and tell me that it doesn't sound like U2, but I can't help but hear it.

So now, I offer irrefutable evidence of the Coldplay-U2 connection (Well, irrefutable in that it actually happened)... I was in Baja Fresh today, and had placed my order and was waiting in line to get some iced tea. Coldplay's "Speed of Sound" was playing over the speakers, and the guy getting his drink was singing to it. But here's the deal: he was singing the chorus to U2's "It's a Beautiful Day" on top of it... It worked, and I don't even think he noticed the difference.

Ladies and gentlemen of the music-listening jury, this is evidence that Coldplay is generic U2. The prosecution rests...

Sunday, May 14, 2006

1000th issue of Rolling Stone

Got the new Rolling Stone in the mail the other day, and I positively love the cover. It's one of those pieces of art that has so much detail, and every time you look, you see something new... I was especially excited to see the good Dr. Hunter S. Thompson as a demon opposite Kurt Cobain's angel, plus the gonzo fist embedded in the background. Bravo, Rolling Stone, and congrats!

I've been reading Rolling Stone for over 20 years now (Geez, I'm full of old-fart comments lately), and while I'm not a fan of the annual Hot Issue (lame, leave that crap to your sister publication Us Magazine), I still enjoy much of the music coverage. But Rolling Stone has really come alive with their political coverage in recent years. I think Wenner got a little complacent in the Clinton years, and Rolling Stone's political coverage suffered as a result. But Bush pissed him off somewhere along the way, and Rolling Stone is raising hell once again.

Thanks for some great reading over the years... Here's to the next 1000 issues...

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Steve Favorite #14.5: Slow Riot For New Zero Kanada by Godspeed You Black Emperor!

Good lord, I'm flaky... I'm on the second entry in my list, and I'm already doing the .5 deal to squeeze some extras in... I keep looking over my list and realizing that I'm forgetting certain CDs that matter to me...

Second note before we roll this entry any further... Yeah, yeah, I can hear all the indie rock snobs saying, "Dude, you got the exclamation point in the wrong place!" though they'd probably type it as "wrong! place." Yeah, I know this isn't current location for the exclamation mark in GY!BE's name, but that's where it was when this EP came out in 99, so take a Prozac and chillax.

Now where was I before all this self-flagellation? Oh yeah, I was about to tell you about this CD I love...

But first, here's one of Steve's laws of music listening: There are some pieces of music that have to be listened to at 3 AM to be properly absorbed and understood. I think most people have established emotional walls, and they do not allow those walls to be easily penetrated. That's why a lot of art doesn't register with us -- we're not open to it. But at 3 AM, in the dark, with your headphones on, your walls are down. That's when music can reach in and worm it's way into your brain and heart. That's how it worked with Slow Riot For New Zero Kanada.
The first time I listened, I was less than impressed. I thought it was boring and self-indulgent. I thought the packaging was trying too hard to be mysterious. I thought the guy reciting his poetry was daffy. I really didn't care for it, to say the least.

What makes you reach for a certain CD to give it a second chance, especially when it's 3 in the morning and you woke up and can't go back to sleep? I'm not sure why, but I grabbed it one morning and put it in my portable CD player and relaxed on the couch with my headphones on. That's when it connected...

Slow Riot For New Zero Kanada is a 30 minute long EP consisting of 2 songs, "Moya" and "Bbf3" (my favorite of the two). Nowhere on any of the packaging does it say Godspeed You Black Emperor!, and the cover has Hebrew (I think) writing on it while the back cover has a diagram of a bottle. The inside has Jeremiah 4:23-27 in English and Hebrew, plus a paragraph of handwriting that at first glance is barely decipherable. Maybe I was too busy trying to figure out the packaging to enjoy the music the first time through?

The music critic intelligentsia love to write about GYBE! being angry. I've seen reviews mention angry music and even angry packaging (God forbid you should make your packaging out of cardboard, or else you're angry). With GYBE! being an instrumental group that occasionally runs tape loops and recordings with their music, I think it's a bit more subtle than that. For example, "Moya" seems to start off with sadness and longing and builds into frustration. Angry to me is when a song starts off angry and never relents. GYBE! runs through a range of emotions, and I think much of the time, the music reflects what the listener is feeling.

"Bbf3" showcases a street recording of a guy that many would consider to be part of the "black helicopter" crowd. It's a big anti-government screed, and it's fascinating how it mirrors the music. It begins very matter of fact, and builds to a crescendo with the guy reciting some of his anti-government poetry. When I listen to it, I feel like I'm on a city street with a guy who seems a little unhinged, but I can't stop listening to him and watching him. He's fascinating, though many would no doubt take offense at what he has to say. I'll just say I used to take more offense to it than I do now... What used to be curiosity factor is starting to make more sense to me... Dunno if that's a good thing or not... Addendum: According to several sites, the poem actually consists of lyrics from an Iron Maiden song. Score!

This EP is a masterpiece of emotion. It's beautiful, it's moving and it speaks to me in ways that music with vocals sometimes cannot. It stands up well to repeated listens. Can't say how well it will age, as it only came out in 99, but I hope it's not soon forgotten.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Tower Records

The Tower Records in Dallas is a happy place... I love going there and wandering the aisles, especially around 11 p.m. when the freaky people are out music shopping...

Anyway, I was there this afternoon, and got a free $15 gift card for driving a Scion around the block. So to the raving hordes that read this blog, if you would like what amounts to most of a free CD, get thyself to Tower today or tomorrow...

What did I buy? You'll find that out later, after I've had a chance to give it a listen and tell you what I think...

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Smith Vs. Smiths

This is more of a discussion than an entry, but I post it anyway.

I once heard someone say, "You're either kind of a Smiths person or a Cure person." I certainly found this to be true. For years, I was a Cure kind of guy, but lately, I've been more into the Smiths. Is the rivalry between the two still relevant?

"I eat meat everyday because Morrissey says, 'don't eat meat," Robert Smith said, "and I hate Morrissey."

Obviously the fued between the two is ongoing (A quick search of the web brings up a few sites devoted solely to the two), but as far as fans go, has it kind of died out?

Or, more importantly, who's better?

Case for the Cure:
1. More heart--Morrissey almost too smug at times, while the Cure, has a certain amount of believeability and honesty to the lyrics, even if Robert Smith has been happily married for about 30 years.

2. Better music--The epic feel of Cure records (especially in the mid-late '80s) is way better than the singles band feel of the Smiths.

Case for the Smiths:
1. Funny as hell--Morrissey turns a phrase better than anyone. Often, the humor alllows the band to be more self-aware and post-modern than the more romantic Cure.

2. Great singles--For a few minutes of good pop bliss, the Smiths are hard to beat--great guitar, good lyrics and really nice chorus breaks.


Monday, May 01, 2006

Steve Favorite #15: Wrecking Ball by Emmylou Harris

As I promised too long ago, I'm going to list some of my favorite albums of all time. So, deep breath, and here we go...

First, a little background. I was living happily in Pennsylvania as a kid. I loved the snow, I was truly naive about racism and skin color, and the girl next door let me kiss her. Life was good. Then when I was 12, my dad got a job in Alabama. The Klan marched on my first day of school. My "yankee accent" was openly mocked, and there were 8th grade boys in my school dipping Skoal. And their parents knew and were fine with it! I was on a different planet...

I came to Alabama kicking and screaming, determined not to assimilate. I listened to U2, the Cure, Pink Floyd, and anything else that was considered a bit "out there" by my peers in Bama. Part of that rebellion was hating country music, in any form, shape, or fashion. Steve's random fact of the day: I went to school with the son of the guy that co-wrote "Ring of Fire" and worked with Hank Williams, Jr. Hank had moved his HQ to our town and everyone thought he was the shiznit, though we didn't say it that way at the time.

Ten years after moving to Alabama, my wife and I moved to Texas. Different state, same feelings about country music. Being a U2 fan, I was a fan of Daniel Lanois' sound, so my curiosity was aroused when I read that he was producing an album by Emmylou Harris. After Wrecking Ball came out in 1995, I kept seeing rave after rave about how great it was. Of course I still didn't give it the time of day.

Fast forward a couple of years: I'm DJing at KTCU, and I see Wrecking Ball on the shelf. I decided to give it a listen and I was blown away. It's got a big, atmospheric sound. I mean, listen to the drums on "Goodbye" and it sounds like the room is just immense -- all these echoes just keep rolling through to the next beat and it's beautiful. The bigness causes all the sounds to meld together wonderfully. It's not like a lot of modern recordings where it's like "Yeah, there's the bass, and the guitar is stacked on top of that." This is like we put the ingredients together and they really complement each other and are blended.

Speaking of drums, that's U2's Larry Mullen Jr. playing on 9 of the 12 tracks, and he's joined by folks like Steve Earle, Neil Young and Lucinda Williams. Not only are the musicians amazing, but the songs are by people like Steve Earle, Neil Young, Julie Miller, Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix.

I probably shouldn't have to tell you this, but I fell headlong in love with this album. The bigness of the sound, Emmylou's weathered but beautiful voice -- especially that part of her range where her voice cracks just a bit and then transitions into a thin, airy falsetto that just sounds so vulnerable. And then these big echoey guitars ringing... It's just an amazing atmosphere...

While country purists would probably say this isn't really a country album, it opened me up to listening to more country-oriented artists. I'm not hardcore or anything, but I can enjoy the occasional foray. Interestingly, I've bought other Emmylou albums, and nothing's really spoken to me like Wrecking Ball. An amazing album...

Favorite tracks: Goodbye, Wrecking Ball, Deeper Well, Waltz Across Texas Tonight
Repeated listens: Most definitely. A million little details to hear... I admit that I'm not always in the mood for this, but sometimes it just feels perfect...