Monday, July 31, 2006

Back in all my farmer-tanned glory...

Just got back from Puerto Vallarta, and I understand a few things now... The lane markers on streets are merely suggestions for a route of travel, so if there's enough room to maneuver your car between the bus on your right and the car on the left, ride that line and accelerate like hell, because whoever gets to the intersection first has the right of way. Also, when you're stopped at an intersection and there's a bunch of traffic blocking your path, just keep creeping out until the other cars are clearing your bumper by inches. Sooner or later someone will lose their nerve and let you through...

Ate a metric ton of fantastic Mexican food, walked a bunch, swam some, did some hiking down the El Naugalito river, and all with only slight digestive discomfort... Good times, good times...

I didn't listen to my ipod much while I was down there. When I travel, I like to try to experience the culture, and for me, part of that is listening to whatever music is around.

Now someone may call me closed-minded, but I don't get Tejano music. I've listened to it at length several times since I moved out here 16 years ago, and I find it mildly irritating. If I'm in a restaurant where it's playing, I can handle that. But to just play it on my car radio? It feels jittery and polka-like to me, and I ain't a polka fan.

But something weird happened in Mexico... At night in the hotel room, I'd be changing the channel on the TV, and I'd stop on Bandamax or some other Mexican music channel, and it would start to click. It wasn't like those were my only music options -- the hotel had Mtv and VH1 (though VH1 was spending a lot of time showing Miami Vice en espanol -- that was sort of entertaining in its own way, seeing Don Johnson with someone else's voice coming out of his mouth), but I ended up watching Bandamax for a while most every night, and it was starting to make sense to me.

I had a theory while I was down there, that perhaps the music actually produced in Mexico had a slower tempo to match the general attitudes there, and that perhaps Tejano was sped up a bit to match that (supposed) faster-pace of urban U.S. life. But once I got back, I put on a Tejano station, and that doesn't seem to be the case. It may just be that music in Mexico fits the environment so well that they mesh together somehow, and that Tejano in the U.S. (at least to me) feels forced. Who knows? Any opinions out there?

Just so you know, the Mexican pop stations were pretty interesting too. Mix of Spanish and English-language songs, and very fun and infectious. Heard the Black Eyed Peas a lot, along with some occasional Gnarls Barkley and Gorillaz.

So yeah, had a great time, but by the end, I was ready to be back... So much that we ate hamburgers at the Hard Rock Cafe for lunch on our last full day...

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Best Music Of 2006...So Far

I love a good list. Music lists are my favorite because they help me find music I may have forgotten about or missed out the first time around. Hopefully, my list does that for you.

I just realized I sound like a six-year-old writing about what I did during the summer in the paragraph above.

As of press time, 2006 has been at best a so-so year for new releases, especially after 2005, which saw wonderful new releases by Spoon, Bloc Party, Wolf Parade, etc...

Of course, most of those didn't even really hit shelves until the summer or second half of the year. I am also discounting CD's I missed or haven't really sunk in for me yet.

Enough prefacing, here's the list:

5. Sunset Rubdown - Shut Up I Am Dreaming

Full of surprising melodies and giant, anthemic hooks, Wolf Parade's splendid little record Apologies To The Queen Mary made my top 5 for 2005. So it's no surprise, that one of the brains behind that operation (Spencer Krug) has made my list once again. With a voice that sounds a bit like David Bowie after a stay at the state mental facility, Krug has a way like no other with waltz melodies, hooks and lyrics that invoke the feeling of a hero's last stand. Particularly good are the title track and Us Ones In Between. However there's nothing here that bests anything on Apologies, so if you don't have that yet, that's a much better place to start.

4. Camera Obscura - Let's Get Out Of This Country

Camera Obscura's close ties with my #3 pick are quite evident on Country, as the only reference point worth noting for Camera Obscura is Belle & Sebastian.

More than just the standard Scottish twee record, Country bursts out of the speakers with a bright, sunshine-y playfulness before turning somewhat world-weary on the final track, Razzle Dazzle Rose. Throughout the disc, Country stays true to Camera Obscura's trademark sound while still managing to branch out ever so slightly. It feels a lot like driving back to your hometown early in the morning: A little groggy, a little bittersweet, but ultimately hopeful.

3. Belle & Sebastian - The Life Pursuit

I don't think a I realized how much of a rut Stuart Murdoch and the gang were in until I heard The Life Pursuit. It's hard not to draw parallels between Let's Get Out Of This Country and Pursuit: Both were released by revered twee-as-fuck bands on the verge of singing themselves to sleep, and both assert themselves with the force of an insomniac's second wind. Pursuit succeeds in providing a new direction for Belle & Sebastian without alienating old fans or heading into wierd-for-wierd's sake territory.

2. Islands - Return To The Sea

Okay, so I just realized that I saw both my number 1 and 2 picks live this year, which might have biased my decision, but dammit, both shows were great!

Return To The Sea delivers on the promise of Nick Diamonds and J'aime Tambeur's previous band The Unicorns debut Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone?. If you're catching an immediate Graceland-era Paul Simon vibe on this one, good ear my faithful reader. Diamonds has revealed he was very influenced by Simon's 1986 classic.

Unlike Graceland, Return takes bouncing world rhythyms (Don't Call Me Whitney, Bobby) and mixes them around with lightning-fast hip-hop (Where There's A Will, There's A Whalebone) and rave-up indie rock (Rough Gem).

Bottom-line, there's a lot going on here, but it works. While many of the songs sprawl across the disc, they stay listenable, something The Unicorns did not always do so well. Also, they put on a killer show. However, with the recent depature of Tambeur, who knows if there will be a second act for Islands. Whatever happens, Return very well may be the most fun album of the year.

1. Neko Case - Fox Confessor Brings The Flood

The more I listen to this disc, the more I realize it's destined to be a classic. From the title track, Margaret vs. Pauline to the closer, The Needle Has Landed, this album full of murder ballads and lost highways is riveting. Case hired a crack backing group for the record as well, including Garth Hudson of the Band and the-ever-busy-backing-up-others-like-Iron-And-Wine Calexico.

The best track on the album comes early. Star Witness, a waltz about death and, surprise, a dark highway, shimmers like the stars over West Texas.

However, Confessor plays far better as a complete piece. Case, who may have the best set of pipes in pop music today, has really outdone herself on this one.

Reference points you ask? Well for starters, let's go with A Steve Levering favorite Wrecking Ball by Emmylou Harris, as both have an expansive, lonely sound. Confessor is a much darker record, however, so imagine Patsy Cline singing Mule Variations by Tom Waits, Case's label-mate over at Anti-.

That's my shortlist. I didn't include Art Brut since Bang Bang Rock And Roll has been out since 2005 in the U.K., even though it just dropped in the U.S. However, if you'd like to hear what a collaboration between Monty Python and The Sex Pistols would sound like, Art Brut is your band! Art Brut! Top Of The Pops!

Let's hear your lists and comments!

Why Am I Always The Last To Know?

...about cool music-related things like Actually, right before I wrote this, I almost threw my dirty socks into the garbage instead of the laundry hamper, so I guess that answers that one.

Anyway, is a little site for people who love lists and categorizations. It works like this: you download a program (or robot, as I like the call all things related to the internets) that works in conjunction with your preferred mp3 player (let's hope it's iTunes) to track what you listen to, find other people who listen to it, as well as a lot of other features I'm not 16-years-old enough to know how to operate.

For me, it's a nice little alternative to, which is the first techno-phenomena that I am too old to understand. So many bands, so many people with __xx at the end of their user name, and well, I just find it somewhat unpleasant to look at. It's wicked cluttered and kind of gives me a headache to navigate. Some of this dissatisfaction can no doubt be attributed to my time spent in fellow musicglutton contributor Steve's Infographics class.

Since my explantion of is fairly shoddy, check it out for yourself. Of course, if I know me (and you) you're probably already on it. If this is the case, let's be friends!

Coming later today, Darren's midyear CD recap for 2006!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

The next European buzz band... ...From Denton

I have a very uncool confession: I stopped keeping up with local bands a few years ago. Let's face it, being a local music fan can be a frustrating experience. You hear a band at a club and you think they're absolutely amazing. Then you buy the CD at the merch booth and it's a muddy bass-heavy mix and the songs are about half the tempo you just heard them performed. Then there's the revolving door of members coming and going. And then there's the frustrating experience of just being sure that your favorite local band is going to hit it big, and then nothing ever comes of it.

Sure, I read what Malcolm Mayhew and others write about bands in the D/FW area, but I don't actively seek out the locals like I used to.

So I was catching up on my Sound Opinions podcasts the other day, listening to the June 10, 2006 show on buried treasures, and I was surprised to hear one of them mention Midlake, from Denton, Texas. They played a snippet from the new album (not out here in the U.S. yet), and I was blown away... It was like if you had the Flaming Lips covering a Crosby, Stills, & Nash song. It just so happened that I was on my way to Dallas that day anyway, so I stopped by Good Records and picked up the first CD released by Bella Union.

Fast forward to this morning, where I'm ingesting tea and a bagel in an effort to get my foggy brain to work, dammit, work! I'm sitting there, reading the Star-Telegram, and they have an article on Midlake in the Life section. Turns out Midlake is opening for Beck, Sigur Ros and the Flaming Lips in Europe, while here in the States, they're lucky if they can pull 100 folks into the club...

Surprisingly, Midlake isn't the first Denton or D/FW band to be in these circumstances. Lift to Experience, a label mate to Midlake, was in a similar situation. They played a massive stage at the Reading Festival and had their album do pretty well in Europe, while still playing smallish clubs here. In fact, thinking about Yeti and Jetscreamer reminds me that our north Texas bands are often virtually unrecognized here, and have to go elsewhere to get noticed. Same sort of thing happened to our jazz and blues musicians back in the 60s and 70s...

Not really sure what the point of this is, but it's kind of sad. I guess I'm part of the problem of not recognizing some of our home-grown talent. Maybe I'm being a trendoid, but I'll be buying the new Midlake CD when it comes out in the States...

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Random poop...

Just little random thoughts that have been floating around my head...
  • You Radiohead fans absolutely must check out the past two Sound Opinions podcasts. The first one has an edited version along with the usual Sound Opinions news and reviews. The second one is an unedited version. They are both quite fun and fascinating. Be sure to listen all the way through for Thom Yorke's performance... It is stunning and you will have goosebumps.
  • It is a good thing that I don't live close to Waterloo Records in Austin... I'd be blowing a major chunk of my paycheck there every month! Quite an amazing place. Waterloo has now attained the prestigious (?) spot of Steve's Second Favorite Record store in the world... Favorite record store? Amoeba Music in San Francisco. Sorry Good Records... I like you guys, but you just don't have the atmosphere yet...
  • While at Waterloo, I picked up DJ Spooky Presents In Fine Style, a Trojan Records compilation. It's good, but seeing DJ Spooky's name on it made me assume that the tracks would be mixed together in a continuous flow. These are individual tracks, which is okay so it doesn't put little breaks in between the songs on my iPod, but it's not really what I was expecting...
  • The James Brown article in the current issue of Rolling Stone is a must-read. James comes across as imperious and demanding, but we knew that, didn't we? The fascinating part comes from discussions with the band members. This article made me dig out Live At the Apollo again.
  • I'm not really the type to listen to an album over and over again in a brief period of time. I usually listen to an album once or twice, and then come back to it a week or two later. But Gnarls Barkley have wormed their way into my brain, and my brain plays random songs, and that makes me play the album on my iPod or put in the CD if it's handy. This truly is the album of 2006 summer for me. Still amazing. I even picked up the Cee-lo Green... Is the Soul Machine CD, but so far it doesn't hit me like Gnarls...
  • Adult Swim is offering a free EP from Chocolate Industries. I haven't listened to it yet, but Chocolate Industries has released some really good stuff in the past, and did I mention that it's free? It's got Lady Sovereign on it, and Random rocked, so check this out...
Okay, I think that's all the spouting I need to do for the moment...