Wednesday, July 26, 2006

PopMatters, Yet Again

Defacing Wikipedia

All I Need to Know About Live Music I Learned from Dead Prez and Jo Dee Messina

How great is a website that provides two link worthy articles a day?

Monday, July 24, 2006

The Eraser Review

Thom Yorke - The Eraser

As a listener, I have always been extraordinarily interested in solo albums and side projects. To me, they show more of what an artist is really about than their regular band. For instance, how many people work day jobs they hate, and would never classify themselves as “a bank teller?” To me, these alternate paths reveal where someone’s heart really is, music wise.

So, for Thom Yorke, he would be just as happy with a laptop, a midi-trigger and an electric guitar than with a band. This may not be the case (hell, who wouldn’t love to be in Radiohead?), but his first solo record sure makes a case for him being just as adept at this game than the world-changing music that he makes with the ‘head.

The reason this album speaks to me so much is that it brings a god back into the realm of mortals. Much like when Paul McCartney eschewed Abbey Road for the self-recorded and lo-fidelity McCartney record, Yorke brings us into his home and shows us what he does in his spare time. I’ve used a drum machine before (poorly) and messed around with samples, so this record sounds like something that, sonically (not creatively), I could probably do. Since The Bends, I have never felt that way about Radiohead. There are no virtuoso moments, no insane time changes, or bizarre instrumentation – this sounds like it could have been created in the back of a tour bus with a minimal assortment of resources.

Title track and album opener “The Eraser” works on every level. It draws you in and gives you a pretty good idea of what to expect from here on out. The stuttering piano sample (couresy of fellow Radioheader Jonny Greenwood) and glitchy beat act as a perfect support for Yorke’s floating vocals. Each track on the album manages to have an individual aesthetic (like the claustrophobic and haunting “And It Rained All Night”) while still being a clear piece of the album’s puzzle. The fact that it only contains nine tracks furthers my opinion that this was not some grand orchestrated work – Yorke had nine songs he didn’t see Radiohead utilizing, recorded them, and released them relatively quickly. In fact, the album was one of the quickest in recent memory in terms of hype – it was announced it May, leaked a bit later, and released in July.

Despite the relatively ordinary sounds on the record, The Eraser has a vibe that is far more personal than anything Radiohead has ever done. Yorke’s vocals are up front and clear as a bell – in “Black Swan” it sounds as if he leans over, puts his mouth by your ear and quietly sings “This is fucked up…fucked up.” Never before has Yorke’s voice been so confident sounding and on display.

Similarly straightforward are the song structures. No surprises (ba doom ching!) like “Paranoid Android” or “Sit Down. Stand Up.” What you initially hear is pretty close to what you get - electronic drum beats, synths, a few samples and scattered guitar work; pretty clear verses and choruses, too. However, there are moments of beauty and surprise still hidden within. The vocal melody on the chorus for “Atoms for Peace,” for instance, jolts you with a beautiful, cascading melody that climbs to a falsetto over a bed of static-y drums and warm, bell-like tones, before a droning figure comes and goes, while the same drums and keys bring the song to it’s conclusion.

“Harrowdown Hill” is an elegy of sorts for David Kelly, a member of the UK Ministry of Defense who died mysteriously a few days after appearing before the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. It is also a sad commentary on the state of activism in the world – “we think the same things at the same time, we just can’t do anything about it.” This may be the catchiest song on the record, which coupled with its lyrics, make for a morbid yet unforgettable song.

The final piece of the album was a mystery to those who downloaded the leaked album and did not purchase it. The artwork, cut from linoleum by Stanley Donwood, shows a man holding off a tidal-wave of water and the floating remnants therein. This is a perfect metaphor for this album – Yorke is standing up, holding off all the anticipation and expectations for a new Radiohead album, and while damming the momentum, slips us this humble and simple album that exceeds all expectations.

Manic Monday

Work is slow, so here's some stuff to keep you occupied if you, too, are bored:

Queer, Isn't It?

Yet another fantastic PopMatters article dealing with homosexuality in pop culture. A fantastic read.

Plus, who thought Rob Thomas might be gay? His songs are so macho!

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Anyone have any suggestions of good places to eat in Chicago?

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I'm going to start posting music reviews pretty frequently, and i'd love to get suggestions of things to review - all genres are open to me, and i'll be as fair as i can be, so send me some suggestions!

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Oh, and coming to a computer/iPod near you on August 3rd...

The first of a series of RANTCASTS (ie. a podcast done by Brian). It will feature music, opinions and an interview with someone you've never heard of. It should be fun.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Best Tribute Albums #2

Saturday Morning: Cartoons' Greatest Hits


1. The Tra La La Song (One Banana, Two Banana) - Liz Phair With Material Issue
2. Go Speed Racer Go - Sponge
3. Sugar Sugar - Mary Lou Lord With Semisonic
4. Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? - Matthew Sweet
5. Josie And The Pussycats - Juliana Hatfield And Tanya Donelly
6. The Bugaloos - Collective Soul
7. Underdog - Butthole Surfers
8. Gigantor - Helmet
9. Spider-Man - Ramones
10. Johnny Quest/Stop That Pigeon - The Reverend Horton Heat
11. Open Up Your Heart And Let The Sun Shine In - Frente!
12. Eep Opp Ork Ah-Ah (Means I Love You) - Violent Femmes
13. Fat Albert Theme - Dig
14. I'm Popeye The Sailor Man - Face To Face
15. Friends/Sigmund And The Seamonsters - Tripping Daisy
16. Goolie Get-Together - Toadies
17. Hong Kong Phooey - Sublime
18. H.R. Pufnstuf - The Murmurs
19. Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy - Wax

This is a record that i got and loved in jr. high school, and i continue to enjoy to this very day. The concept is great - pair up artists with cartoons that evoke the same sort of feeling that their music does, and sit back and watch what happens. Some of the pairings are just plain genius - who else could handle a song about a giant robot like the heavy as shit Helmet? Who could be as psychedlic as a Sid and Marty Croft creation as Tripping Daisy? And who could be as flacid Collective Soul, covering the theme to "The Buggaloos"?

Plus, the producers of the album didn't go as traditional as you may expect - instead of the Jetsons/Flintstones theme songs, we get songs that were featured in specific episodes. For instance, we get the 'hit song' that Pebbles and Bam Bam (not Debbie's dogs, the characters...) had in the Flintstones, "Let The Sun Shine In," done by Frente! (perhaps best remembered for their cover of "Bizarre Love Triangle") and the song that Judy Jetson's celebrity crush Jet Screamer sang called "Eep Op Ork Ah-Ah" by the Violent Femmes.

A few of these tunes still pop up on mix CDs i make for people, such as Matthew Sweet's "Scooby Doo, Where Are You? (peep the excellently noisy outro)" and the Toadies (RIP) terrific take on the "Ghoulie's Get Together" from "The Groovie Ghoulies." Other highlights include Sublime's "Hong Kong Phooey," Wax's "Happy Happy Joy Joy (almost as great as the Spike Jonze directed video for "California")," and the Reverend Horton Heat's "Johnny Quest."

But the real highlight is the last great song done by the first great punk band, the Ramones, the theme to the 1970s "Spiderman" cartoon. Perfect for a band that was almost cartoonish themselves - this is fast, hard and fun. A fantastic tribute to a time when people didn't think i was bizarre for having boxes of Frankenberry in my house.

From the Bad Plus

From the weblog of jazz band, The Bad Plus:

Bob Seger, "Like a Rock"

If you have watched television in America in the last fifteen years, you have probably seen a truck commercial for Chevy featuring “Like A Rock.” Here’s two of the lyrics Dave King has a problem with:

Like a rock, charging from the gate.

This is absurd.

Like a rock, standing arrow-straight.

This is horrifying.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

My favorite parts are the "Yellow Submarine" and "Thriller"

Saturday, July 15, 2006

It's Like Booking George Michael at an Absitence Rally

Beenie Man Booked for LIFEbeat event

Friday, July 14, 2006

The Best Tribute Albums #1

My thrashing of the TMBG tribute got me thinking if there are any tribute albums i actually like. There are a couple, and i'll br profiling them over the next week or so. Here is the first one...

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Wig in a Box - Songs from and Inspired by Hedwig and the Angry Inch


1. The Origin Of Love - Rufus Wainwright
2. Angry Inch - Fred Schneider and Sleater-Kinney
3. The Long Grift - They Might Be Giants
4. Sugar Daddy - Frank Black
5. City Of Women - Robyn Hitchcock
6. Freaks - Imperial Teen
7. Wicked Little Town (Hedwig Version) - The Breeders
8. Nailed - Bob Mould
9. Wig In A Box - The Polyphonic Spree
10. Milford Lake - John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask
11. Ladies & Gentlemen - Stephen Colbert
12. Tear Me Down - Spoon
13. Hedwig's Lament/Exquisite Corpse - Yoko Ono and Yo La Tengo
14. Wicked Little Town (Tommy Gnosis Version) - Ben Folds, Ben Kweller, Ben Lee
15. Midnight Radio - Cyndi Lauper and the Minus Five
16. The Origin Of Love - Jonathan Richman

First off, let me say that i am a huge fan of the film (and i presume the play, although i've never seen it) version of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. It has great music, it is hillarious, and has very touching moments. So when i heard that there was going to be a tribute album, i was a bit skeptical but excited when i learned that Frank Black, the Breeders, Jonathan Richman, Spoon, Yo La Tengo, Sleater-Kinney, They Might Be Giants, etc. were going to be involved. It is, in my opinion, probably the best tribute album ever.

Why? Well, two reasons. First of all, like all good tribute albums, the source material is very strong. And secondly, none of the bands sound the same. Each artist really takes the track and makes it their own. So, as to be expected, Rufus Wainwright divas up "The Origin of Love," Frank Black raws up "Sugar Daddy," Spoon makes "Tear Me Down" into a song barely removed from Kill The Moonlight and Jonathan Richman takes a total 180 from Wainwright and tackles the reprise of "The Origin of Love" in a spare Spanish guitar, vocals and drums fashion.

But the highlight of the disc comes from 20-someodd member band The Polyphonic Spree tackling "Wig in a Box." It is such an overblow, dramatic version of the track, that you can't help but think somewhere in the time space contiuum, Hedwig his/herself is smiling and putting something new on her head.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Lame Tribute Albums, All-Stars, Links, Etc.

Hey all, i'm back after a nearly two week hiatus. Let me get right back into it:

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Lame Tribute Albums

Yesterday, i was giddy as a school boy. I was downloading (legally, via the excellent a new tribute album to those masters of intellectual, silly indie pop, They Might Be Giants, with tracks by Frank Black, The Wrens, Self, etc. TMBG's unique brand of music lends itself perfectly to cover versions, as anyone who tries to do a straight cover will sound ridiculous, so it forces you to rethink the tune before recording. Or, so i thought...

Besides the Wrens turning "They'll Need a Crane" into a dirge and Frank Black turning "Road Movie To Berlin" into a western singalong, most of the people here seem to be content just playing the thing as if Flansy and Linnell were on either side of them. The other popular idea is to remove all energy and limp dick your way through the track. Which begs the question, why bother?

If you want to hear the definitive version of "Ana Ng," i don't think anyone would even think to reach for a cover - a song so bizarre, rhythmic and funny could only be done properly by the Giants. But a cover version sounds intriguing - how would someone else tackle this idiosyncratic piece of pop music? Ira Glass, host of NPR's superb This American Life, once said of TMBG (and i'm paraphrasing here) that he was upset that John and John were in the band, because their asthetic is so unique that if those two guys were to stumble on the band themselves, they'd love it! It's sad to Glass that they have to make that music in order to hear it. I'm not as well spoken as Ira is, but i think that same point is why this tribute album, and many similar tribute albums, fail: If you want to sound like TMBG, then step aside from the tribute.

This brings me back to the Gus Van Sant directed, Anne Heche, Vince Vaughn and William H. Macy staring remake of Psycho from the 90s. This was, at best, an idea that should've been left to stoners everywhere: "Dude, why don't we, check this out, film a remake, hear me out, of Psycho, but instead of changing anything, do it shot for shot of the original! Dude! Pass the j..." Why would anyone think that a new version of Psycho that is, pretty much, the exact same thing, be better, as good, or even close to the original?

This was my exact thought at hearing This Radiant Boy covered the classic "Don't Let Start," which coincidentally has one of the best music videos ever made (as does "Ana Ng" for the record). It sounds like a shitty garage band who learned the song earlier in the day running through the song for the 4th or 5th time, but trying to keep as close to the original arrangement as possible. Now, i could see the charm in doing a rough and tumble, balls to the wall, garage cover of this song, but this is so lame that it practically screams high school talent show.

Even the good (still not great though, sorry FB/Wrens, two of my favorite artists) covers on this comp sound rushed, which is also not unusual for the tribute album genre. Another near worthless tribute album, This Bird Has Flown: A 40th Anniversary Tribute to the Beatles' Rubber Soul, sounded like each band had about 3 hours to learn, arrange and record each cover. That album had a few decent covers (like the Reggae-ish "Michelle" by Ben Harper, Sufjan Stevens' totally out of left-field, nothing but lyrics remainging the same "What Goes On," the Fiery Furnances' Dylanish "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)" and Yonder Mountain String Band's "Think For Yourself," even if the latter has a totally unnecessary distorted electric guitar in the background), but else erything felt like it was either going for a note for note remake (see the Donnas inept "Drive My Car" or the usually fun Ben Kweller's limp "Wait") or rushed (the energetic Ted Leo's "I'm Looking Through You" or Low's "Nowhere Man"). Why is it out of the question to call a band in March and say "Hey guys, we're doing a Beatles tribute and we need a track by October, can you do something between now and then? The feeling i get is that the fine folks who put out these albums, especially the TMBG one, said "Shit, we have 7 days til pressing. This Raiant Boy, can you do a quick "Don't Let Start?" Thanks, we owe you."

There are cover songs that have been nearly as good, or better than the original (very few - Mono Puff's "Oddball," Jeff Buckley's "Hallelujah" and the aforementioned They Might Be Giants' "New York Ciy"), but usually the covers are well though out, perhaps performed live for a period of time before recording, or done with enough joy and enthusiasm (like the "Oddball" cover) that it gives the track a new spin - which is why the 5 tracks i mentioned earlier work on the Rubber Soul tribute. But all Hello Radio: The Songs of They Might Be Giants showed me was how much i love those two Brooklynites.

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Damn the Natinal League for blowing the lead in the 77th All Star Game last night. I'm sick of all this false AL pride. The NL is where the more exciting, pure brand of baseball is played. Period, end of story.

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Two great new Popmatters artciles, here and here. I've long since been trying to master incorporating country-ish stuff into mixes, but fear that people will mistake me for a republican. I'm also interested in other one-man, or near one-man albums that they've forgotten. I list the self titled Foo Fighters album in that list for sure, as well as Petra Haden's Imaginaryland. Am i forgetting any?

Oh, and i should've pimped this long ago, but Simon's You Can Call Me Betty has had music samples from every nation in the World Cup over the past month or so. Many of the links may be dead, but there is some great info there. Cheers Simon.

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More tomorrow...