Monday, January 29, 2007

Andy vs. Stewart: Police smackdown!

I'm really not sure if this was planned, or if it was just synchronicity, but Andy Summers has released a book about his Police days, while Stewart Copeland has released a movie on DVD. Every trying to be the helpful Musicglutton, I read the book and watched the DVD to help you, the Police consumer, make a wise decision that fits your lifestyle and entertainment preferences. Actually, it's more that I always really liked the Police, so both of these were on my list of things to check out...

First, I picked up One Train Later by Andy Summers. But thanks to the end of semester rush, I didn't get to read it until after Christmas break. The timing turned out to be pretty good, as I was able to listen to the Sound Opinions podcast with a fantastic Andy Summers interview. That made me even more enthusiastic about reading Andy's book.

I found the language in the first chapter a bit flowery, but once Summers gets that out of his system, the writing becomes more straightforward. Even so, the first half of the book moves slowly, with many details about Summers' early career. I was surprised by the extent of his career prior to the Police, and Summers does a good job explaining his frustrations as his peers move on to fame and fortune as he continues to struggle.

The second half of the book, which covers the period after Summers joins the Police, picks up the pace dramatically, and eventually becomes a blur of travel, fans, and shows. This is the section of the book where I wanted more details, but some issues seem to be glossed over. I'm sure this is by design, both to echo how that phase of Summers' life felt, and possibly also to avoid irreparable damage to relationships between the Police members. The book does cover the breakup while alluding to Sting's growing fame and his reduced reliance on Stewart and Copeland as songwriting partners. Summers sounds relieved when the Police ride is over and he can get back to something resembling a normal life.

Copeland's film, Everyone Stares: The Police Inside Out is a wonderful companion piece to the Summers book. There are very few details given, but it's a lot of fun to see the Police behind the scenes. For those who haven't heard the premise of this film, Copeland bought a Super 8 camera early in the career of the Police. What's more, he seemed to keep it running even during photo shoots, autograph sessions, and especially in concert. We have some great scenes shot from behind Stewart in concert, with him playing drums and offering commentary mid-show.

For those who are only familiar with the dour, serious version of Sting, you may be surprised by Sting the pop idol. In most of the scenes, he looks like he's having a good time, and it's nice to be reminded that the man knows how to party.

There are some live tracks to be heard throughout the film, but of course they're lo-fi, and the sound is muddy in places. But Copeland did a great job of remixing some of the classic Police songs as soundtrack music, and there's some fantastic stuff to be heard there. In fact, I would buy a CD of Copeland's remixes if it was available. I really enjoyed the "Tea in the Sahara" remix that appears early in the film.

While Summers' book covers some of the issues behind the breakup of the Police, Everyone Stares just goes through the Ghost in the Machine album. I really was hoping for some Synchronicity coverage and the views of the big tour that followed, but no luck there... Still, it's an amazing film for Police fans and, as mentioned earlier, it's a great companion to the Summers book. If you can only do one or the other, get the Summers book. But if you're a Police fan, splurge and buy both.

I was excited to read in the New York Times the other day that the Police will be reuniting to play the Grammies on February 11th... And of course rumors continue to fly that the Police will reunite for a 30th anniversary tour this year. My fingers are crossed! And if you don't know much about the Police, use One Train Later and Everyone Stares to get educated and psyched...

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Darren's Best of 2006

Well, I waited a little while to really let the weight of the entire year sink in, and in the process, I noticed an odd trend for my 2006 listening.

For the first time in quite a while, three of my spots are held by women. Now, I like female voices as much as the next guy, but I think 2006's crop was really extraordinary.

And believe it or not, it was a great year for music - Dylan, Yo La Tengo, Band of Horses, and yes, even Nelly Furtado all put out particularly great records this year, but didn't make the list.

I also was fairly dissapointed by a lot of old favorites this year. Flaming Lips, Decemberists and Built To Spill all put out to me what are pretty much forgettable records - kind of record-after-the-record fare. But hey, everybody needs a Goat's Head Soup too, right?

Unfortunately, other than the Ghostface and J Dilla records, nothing in the hip-hop world blew me away this year. But then again, I missed albums by Rhymefest, Liupe Fiasco and a host of others who all seem to know Kanye West...

Enough postulating, to the results!

Midlake - Trials of Van Occupanther

Okay, I'll rep for the local boys a little here. This isn't a perfect record (I particularly loathe Branches) and I'm not sure how much more dour '70s Fleetwood pop I want to hear, but these guys took an otherwise dead sound and made it really work, and infusing all the rural stuff - a righteous new idea. To me, this whole thing just sounds like the less populated areas of North Texas at sunset. So, just this once, I'm going to forgive some of the self-seriousness, and just accept the music as what it is - really original and cool.

Jarvis Cocker - Jarvis

I'll admit it, I like my rock with a little cheek. Back in the day, Pavement, Pulp and Modest Mouse could rock out and still be hillarious while doing it. Well, with his latest record, Jarvis has still go that Pulp-y magic, except a little darker than before. Forget Common People, try I Will Kill Again

Joanna Newsom - Ys.

I know what you're saying, "Darren, it's so weighty and pretentious. Don't you usually scorn stuff like this?"

Well, normally, I'd say you're right, but the difference is in the talent. Sure Joanna's voice sounds like a whiny 5-year-old's, but I'm not about to penalize someone for having an off-kilter voice. Who doesn't these days? Beyond that, what's so great here is the talent. Newsom can really play the harp, and with the help of Steve Albini and Van Dyke Parks, can really arrange. So, sure their are some proggy, boring lyrics here, but the music is just terrific. I might be listening to Milk-Eyed Mender over this in a few years, but this is really her finest work to date. Far and above any other harpist I heard this year (I'm looking at you, lady in church.)

TV on the Radio - Return to Cookie Mountain

Edged out Band of Horses in the more traditional rock genre. My friend Sherman was really into these guys a few years ago, and it really took me in between this record and the last one, Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes to really dig into this sound and go along with it.

And while I'd much rather go see Joanna over TVOTR again, this is a repeat listen record. There's more accesibility here, but there's also a lot of the fun far-out barbershop-in-space mess found on the last LP and EP. I Was A Lover always makes me stop and pay attention, along with Wolf Like Me

Jenny Lewis - Rabbit Fur Coat

I just love this record. It's not really country, it's not indie, pop or even folk, but Lewis is just so damn funny and sassy, it's hard not to get into her. She's like the best drinking buddy you never had. Jenny's show-biz charmer personality really sells this record, and I'd say the first four tracks on this CD are about as good as anything else out there, and in my opnion, better than a lot of the Rilo Kiley records, Jenny's other project. I don't know how many more solo records to expect from Lewis, but if they all turn out this good, I'll be first in line to buy.

Hold Steady - Boys and Girls of America

A pretty polarizing band, in part because they were also pretty cheeky, and yet they still rocked pretty hard. I love these guys. I'd say this record elicited more laughs and bass-rumbling, car stereo knob-rocking than any other record. Yeah, they're stealing from Springsteen pretty hard, but when did that become such a bad idea?

Neko Case - Fox Confessor Brings The Flood

This was my favorite record six months ago, and it still hasn't lost much steam. I don't think she gets her due as a songwriter here - all these tunes are rock-solid. Of course with a voice that haunting, that damn country, it's easy to see why.

What really sold me here was how broad the love of this record is. For starters, Garth Hudson (The Band) is on here, and he don't just jump on everything. Secondly, I know indie kids, soroity girls, country fans and people who don't even like music that just dig the hell out this record. And for good reason - I'll wager it as a classic.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Steve's Favorites for 2006

Darren asked for Best-of lists back on December 11, and I'm just now getting to mine. It's been a crazy holiday season for me...

Now, before I start all this list-making stuff, let me just say that this year, I feel even less qualified than usual to be making a list like this, because I haven't heard everything I want to hear from 06. I've been listening to way too much 1960s music and have been focused on school crap, and there have been some notable releases I haven't yet heard. I've got a copy of Thom Yorke's The Eraser in one of my CD stacks, still sealed in shrinkwrap with a Best Buy sticker on it. I haven't purchased the new TV On the Radio CD, even though I was a big fan of the last one. Why not? I blame the shifting release dates. I went to several stores the original date it was supposed to come out in the U.S., only to find out later that it got a U.K. release first. I toyed with the idea of buying the import for a day or two, then forgot about it. By the time it came out in the States, my enthusiasm had waned... Yeah, it's kinda lame, but I don't like getting excited about new music and then having it yanked out from under me. You hear me, Axl?

So yeah, short version: I haven't heard all I want to hear, which is an unusual place for me to be. That said, after the first album, the rest aren't in any type of order. Let the listing commence!

Gnarls Barkley - St. Elsewhere
I've listened to this more than anything else this year, and I love it! So much of it sounds like old-school soul music, thanks to Cee-lo's vocals and the intelligent sample choices by Danger Mouse, but at the same time, the sound is modern. I'm still not tired of "Crazy" or "Transformer."

Midlake - The Trials of Van Occupanther
I first heard this on the Sound Opinions podcast while driving around Dallas, and I was so blown away by the segment I heard that I drove straight to Good Records to pick up a copy. Difficult to describe, but I think of it as early 70s California soft rock as performed by modern indie rockers.

Wolfmother - Wolfmother
The hype was immense about Wolfmother earlier this year, but it seems to have died down. I still hear them played at X-Games type events on TV, but haven't heard much about them otherwise. Retro Rawk! played very well. You can tell these guys worship the Zepp.

The Decemberists - The Crane Wife
I had a student a while back who was a big Decemberists fan, and I'm sorry I didn't listen to her. Frankly, I listened to Crane Wife with some trepidation -- wasn't sure what to expect, or if it was going to be some pretentious emo crap or something, so I was pleasantly surprised by what I heard. This may make the indie kids roll their eyes at me, but I hear some prog rock in there, along the lines of old Genesis (like there's new Genesis? I mean Peter Gabriel era Genesis) along with some Supertramp and some of the more mellow Kansas feeling... Yeah, they're rolling their eyes at me...

Neil Young - Living With War
I like the rawness... It was recorded in a hurry, and it didn't give all the perfectionists time to mess it up. I wish Neil would release more albums in this manner, though I'm sure the record company wouldn't allow it. When Neil released this, public opinion was not entirely on his side and it was a brave move. Now that public opinion is coming around, it seems to have been forgotten. Neil is doomed to continually be ahead of his time...

Regina Spektor - Begin to Hope
Regina's one of those musicians I'd heard of, and heard people discuss but hadn't gotten into. I think I listened to, like, 10 seconds of Soviet Kitsch at Tower (RIP) one night when it was about to close, but it didn't take. But I was listening to The Adventure Club one night in my car, and Josh played "On the Radio" and I was hypnotized... Bought the CD the next day. Love "Samson," "On the Radio," "Better," and "20 Years of Snow." Plus, "That Time" has introduced a new catchphrase in our house, where I yell/sing "So cheap and JUIcy" whenever I discuss citrus fruits...

John Legend - Once Again
Quite honestly, it doesn't hit as hard as Get Lifted, but it's still good. It feels more old-school soul to me. Look for "Coming Home" to get way overused as backing music for TV footage of troops coming home.

If anything, 2006 has been the year of the podcast for me. I'm pretty certain I spend more time listening to podcasts about music and cooking than actually doing either...