Thursday, April 29, 2004

Geek alert! The spring edition of the WFMU record fair is upon us. I'll be there bright and early Saturday morning. Hooray.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

LIARS They Were Wrong, So We Drowned (Mute)
This could've been such a bad album. In the aftermath of a very impressive debut, the Liars fired their rhythm section, moved to rural New Jersey, and wrote a concept album about witches. One could only imagine this ending horribly at any step along the way -- conjuring images of a band trading their trucker caps for wizard capes -- yet the fact that they, despite these threatening stunts of artistic suicide, produced another good record is testament to the band's strength.

The grimy dance music of They Threw Us in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top is still here, albeit less obvious and more electronic. While songs like "Brocken Witch" and "There's Always Room on the Broom" may remind listeners of the old Liars, other songs like "Steam Rose From the Lifeless Cloak" and "Read the Book That Wrote Itself" almost exaggerate the new direction in which they're headed.
Since the lyrics tend to be unintelligible, for the most part, it's easy to miss out on some of the story lines, but the clever song titles never fail to clue the listener in on what's going on. Not since the Smiths has a band consistently come up with good titles and the Liars offer up these gems: "They Don't Want Your Corn - They Want Your Kids" and "If Your a Wizard Then Why Do You Wear Glasses?"

As to be expected, when dealing with the clash between Christian mobs and accused witches, the results are often violently dark. This is the sound of They Were Wrong, So We Drowned. "We Fenced Other Gardens With the Bones of Our Own" provides the only respite, with the inexplicably funny call and response of "Fly fly / the devil's in your eye / Shoot shoot" "We're doomed! We're doomed!"
The album closes with the dying carnival march of "Flow My Tears the Spider Said" -- quite possibly the most traditionally structured song in the Liars' catalog. Its circus organs and chirping birds can't hide the bleak epilogue for the doomed characters which haunt both the Liars and their imaginary village.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

The further we go
And older we grow
The more we know
The less we show

Robert Smith of the Cure turns 45 today.
An Open Letter to the Shins

Dear Shins,
Damn you! You created a wonderful pop gem with Oh, Inverted World and I fell prey to your seductive charms. Every day I listened to it, sometimes even twice in a row; and when it wasn't playing, I would think about it ... longingly.
Just as I was immersing myself in the throes of Shinsmania, that moment arrived -- like a kid who ate too many Hershey bars and got sick, I couldn't bring myself to put on your cd anymore. For months, years even, Oh, Inverted World just sat on my shelf and endured the wrath of my paying it no heed. Night after night, as I scanned my collection searching for something to play, I could sometimes hear it calling out to me whenever my eyes would stop on the Sex Pistols or Sigur Ros. Play me, play me, the siren would call, You know you want to hear "Caring is Creepy" right now, don't you? But it was no match to my will power of steel.

I thought I could simply ignore Chutes Too Narrow when it first came out, and I was doing a very good job of it until more than a few people told me how good the album is. One more Shins album won't kill me, I thought. I could stop listening to it anytime I want. I caved.
All of a sudden, it's like 2001 all over again. Chutes Too Narrow is getting daily, sometimes repeated, play from me. I even decided to dust off my copy of Oh, Inverted World again.


Tuesday, April 20, 2004

I started contributing to another website: AmericanZine.net. It's run by Todd of Popshot and, once it's fully up and running, should be a nice collection of indie scenes and happenings from around the country.

I'll be one of the writers in the New York corner of the site. Reviews, news, gossip, etc will be going there from now on.
My ususal ramblings will continue to be posted here.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

I'd like to introduce you to my new friend.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

A blues musician went to the crossroads one evening to meet with the devil. He handed his guitar to Satan, who played two songs and returned it to the musician. In exchange for his soul, Robert Johnson was to become the greatest blues guitarist.
Or so the legend goes.

In real life Robert Johnson was no less fascinating. Born in Mississippi in 1911, he was supposed to become a cotton worker like his father. However, his childhood home of Robinsonville was situated along a main thoroughfare and often visited by travelling bluesmen who would play at local jook joints and house parties. Young Robert frequently went to watch them and soon taught himself to play guitar. Against his father's wishes, Johnson rejected plantation life in favor of becoming a professional musician.
He began travelling from town to town, and was well received, but things came to a halt when he married his girlfriend Virginia Preston in 1929. Johnson, a noted womanizer, decided to become a more responsible person. He vowed to remain faithful to his wife, gave up music, and took a farm job. Virginia got pregnant and went back to her parents' home to have the baby. Robert went on the road to play music for a little bit with the intention of returning home in time for the birth. Instead, he returned to the news that Virginia had died in childbirth. Her family and the other townspeople were furious with Robert, blaming her death on Robert's decision to go off and play music. In those days, the blues were thought to be the devil's music and its musicians weren't viewed favorably. He was accused of associating with the devil and was ostrasized. He didn't react well to the turn of events. He immersed himself in music more than before, went back on the road, started drinking, and began to play into the dark persona which was created for him. The man who had written songs like "Kind Hearted Woman" and "Come On In My Kitchen" began to write "Hellhound On My Trail" and "Me and the Devil Blues."
Robert played all over the country and attracted crowds wherever he went. He went into the studio twice during his lifetime; first in November 1936 and again in June 1937. He didn't earn much money by today's standards but was very wealthy for Depression times. Unfortunately his naivete and lonely heart earmarked most of his fortune towards both con artists and women.
He played his final show on August 16, 1938 in Greenwood MS. After the show, a jealous girlfriend posioned his drink and, at age 27, Robert Johnson was dead.

Robert Johnson left behind a handful of recordings and only two photographs of him are known to exist. Nobody knows for sure where he's buried. Any question of him having direct descendents is a matter of speculation, not certainty.
Those who knew him said Robert had a peculiar habit of disappearing. Whether he was leaving a party or leaving town, he would leave abruptly without even saying goodbye. In life as in death, he simply vanished.

Of course we wouldn't even be discussing him now if it weren't for his musical legacy. He had a natural ear for music and others claim he could listen to a song once on the radio and play it perfectly on the guuitar -- sometimes even playing chords he may never have used before. Self-taught, he was very secretive about his tunings and techniques -- and sometimes even played with his back towards the audience so other guitarists couldn't watch his hands. He devloped a style of playing basslines on the low strings while playing melody on the high strings. If you listen to "32-20 Blues," it almost sounds as if two different guitars are playing at once. Although plenty of guitarists have done similar things over the years, Robert Johnson was the original. He revolutionized the blues and reinvented the guitar along the way.

For more info:
This looks like a fairly comprehensive tribute site. There are also entries on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and All Music Guide websites.
There's also a documentary, "In Search of Robert Johnson," which is aired on the Ovation Network from time to time. Most of this post was based on that documentary.

Saturday, April 10, 2004

I usually don't care about celebrity feuds, but I find this one to be, uh, interesting. No wonder Morrissey's been trying to look tough lately.
Should this materialize into an all out brawl, it could be a close one. I suspect the Mozzer may be a bit more agile, but I don't think he'd hit as hard as Robert Smith.

I also find it hard to believe these two British icons never met, not even once, at all during their 20-something year old careers. Although I'm sure there's a lot of things Robert Smith doesn't remember...

Found via Gawker.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

The mailman's been pretty busy lately, even if he keeps forgetting to bring that reel to reel tape recorder I bought on Ebay a few weeks ago. Anyway, I thought I'd just acknowledge a few people who sent some cds my way recently.

Bobby of Severin was nice enough to send me brand new Severin recordings as well as a really cool mix cd.
Scott very generously made a compilation which I was just enjoying a few minutes ago.
Lastly, I just received the new Vinny Peculiar album in the mail today, courtesy of Ben from Shadrack and Duxbury. He's going to be touring the States later on this year, with Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce as his rhythm section.

More on Severin and Vinny Peculiar later...

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Wow. This is even stranger than Beatallica. The UMass marching band recorded a cover of Radiohead's "Paranoid Android." It actually sounds pretty good, considering. Go listen for yourself.

Found via Pitchfork

Sunday, April 04, 2004

BLONDE REDHEAD Misery is a Butterfly (4AD)
I long ago realized it's not that difficult to write a good song and, if you're unable to do so, you shouldn't be subjecting the rest of us to your recordings and shows. Even some of the most boring bands I've ever seen usually have that one song which is pleasant enough to make me forget how much I may have been hating them for the past 40 minutes. Not long after I adopted this viewpoint did I raise the metaphorical bar as to how I judge a band's worth: sure you can write a good song, but can you record a good album?
The cohesive album as art has been mastered over the years, most notably by bands like the Beatles, Pink Floyd, and Radiohead. Although I wouldn't put them in quite the same league, Blonde Redhead's last two records (Misery is a Butterfly and 2000's Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons) display a band who clearly knows a thing or two about making good albums as opposed to merely collections of good songs.

One of the things I immediately liked about Radiohead's OK Computer was how all of the songs sounded different while sounding the same. Misery is a Butterfly accomplishes the same thing, albeit a seemingly more difficult task as Blonde Redhead has two singers -- a cohesion killer for lesser bands. Taken in context of this album, however, it's almost as though Kazu Makino and Amedeo Pace sound the same while sounding different. Of course, this leads to the album's one flaw in that they both end up employing the same vocal delivery (taking a long time to say few words; dragging one sentence over many measures) a few songs too many. While this generally works, some songs suffer. The title track, for example, feels a bit sluggish; Makino's lazy vocals seem to pull in the reigns and hold back what the music suggests could've been a stronger song.

Musically, the band is at their best. Album opener "Elephant Woman" is a stunning piece of music: a lush swirl of clavinet, slightly distorted vocals, strings, and Simone Pace's always impressive drumming. "Pink Love" could be the sexiest lounge music of the year, while "Equus" comes closest to sounding like the Blonde Redhad of old. In addition to having the most guitars, it's the only song on which Makino even considers screaming. While songs like "Doll is Mine" or "Maddening Cloud" may hint at the band's past, most of the album is off in new territory. It's a fuller, more orchestral place. Beautiful yet somewhat uncomfortable.

Friday, April 02, 2004

Alright, here are the real albums I picked up Wednesday night:

BLONDE REDHEAD Misery is a Butterfly (4AD)
The only review I read about this album was a bad one, yet when I heard it being played in the store I had to get it. It's really good.
THE BLOOD GROUP Volunteers (Le Grand Magistery)
Ever since I read an interview with them a long time ago, this album's been on my to-buy list but it's never been a high priority. Once I found a used copy selling for half price, though, I couldn't pass it up any longer.
LIARS They Were Wrong, So We Drowned (Mute)
They've become my new favorite band.
PEARLS BEFORE SWINE One Nation Underground (ESP)
I was actually hoping to get some more 60s music, but this is it. A band I've been wanting to hear for a long time.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

This one's not an April Fool's post. Have you ever wondered what might have happened if the Beatles and Metallica tried to collaborate? If you're like me, you probably haven't. But two anonymous musicians did, and they called themselves Beatallica.

This isn't Danger Mouse and his Grey Album. These are live instruments. With guitars that switch effortlessly back and forth between the riffs from "Enter Sandman" and "Taxman" (on "Sandman") or song titles such as "Everybody's Got a Ticket to Ride Except for Me and My Lightning," it's worth checking out.
"And I'm Evil" scores bonus points for adding a Misfits dimension to the madness.

Found via Popshot.
As promised, I went record shopping again last night to make use of my second and final gift certificate. Here's what I got:

BRITNEY SPEARS In the Zone (Jive)
She is, without a doubt, the Ella Fitzgerald of our time.
NICK LACHEY Soul-O (Universal)
This man proved too hot for 98 Degrees. Now he's brimming with soul.
PINK Try This (Arista)
Not since Prince has the world seen such an electrifying performer with a strong artistic vision.
WILL SMITH Willenium (Sony)
I had to buy another copy since I wore out my first one.
FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE Welcome Interstate Managers (Virgin)
I have some indie cred to maintain, you know.

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