Saturday, August 28, 2010

The OCD Chronicles: Cee Lo Green-"Fuck You"

Is there any way that this song couldn't plant a seed in your head so deep that you just have to let the thing grow until it dies from overwatering?

There isn't.

This song is just too good.

And yes, there's a clean version under the very pedestrian name "Forget You" and yes, it sounds as pedestrian as you may think.

I mean, would you yell "Forget You!" if you saw your lady/man with someone else, driving by in a fancy car?

No fucking way.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

20 Years After The Death Of Stevie Ray Vaughan

It was twenty years ago today when Stevie Ray Vaughn died.

My first reaction was a selfish scoff; I had bought tickets earlier that year to see Eric Clapton at the Hilton Coliseum-an immensely boring affair-and then a couple of friends announced that they were seeing Clapton at Alpine Valley with Robert Cray, Buddy Guy, and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Since I’d already seen Clapton earlier, was broke, and extremely stupid-I passed on the Alpine Valley gig.

When my friends started to return back from the show, the news of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s passing began showing up on Headline News.

They couldn’t get through their heads that the man they had just seen performing less than a day before was now gone.

The blues was a rare commodity in the early 80’s, it was resigned to Muddy Waters’ “Mannish Boy” in Risky Business and Anthony Michael Hall doing the absolute worse impersonation of an old black dude for Weird Science.

So for a white guy from Austin to suddenly burst on the scene playing some guitar heroic blues, a lot of us took notice. Texas Flood wasn’t where I started-I waited until Couldn’t Stand The Weather because the title track was catchier and because we figured out he was the dude who played on Let’s Dance.

I thought Soul To Soul was good too-particularly that song “Change It.” Still have both of those. Bet I haven’t played them in years either.

The last two records before he died is where I lost interest. Vaughn had become a staple of rock radio by then. It wasn’t that they were bad songs, they were just songs that even your Dad began to recognize.

And the moment that Dad notices, is the moment your discovery becomes irrelevant.

His death also created a wealth of region Stevie Ray Vaughan “tribute” performers. You know, white dudes who wore a Billy Jack hat and Western duster coat. They’d do an hour set of blues classics like “Sweet Home Chicago” and a medley of Stevie Ray Vaughan songs.

Thanks, Stevie.

But one of the things I thought would happen, so far hasn’t. A Stevie Ray Vaughan replacement. At first I thought Chris Whitley might be the new one, but then he drifted off into challenging music that my Dad certainly wouldn’t recognize.

I guess this shows that Stevie Ray Vaughan was somewhat unique, a characteristic that I didn’t recognize back then. The image became a trademark and the sound became too commonplace to stand out. Today, you can expect to hear “Crossfire” next to a ZZ Top song and not notice.

The question is where are the new artists that we can put next to SRV?

Video Footage Of Juggalo Revolutionaries

I have been riveted by the Tila Tequila attack at the Gathering of the Juggalos concert. I also think it’s hilarious that Method Man got nailed by a beercan in the face, was all “Imma sue you!” and now is ok with ICP.

All of it just screams of some kind of alternate reality where people think that it’s perfectly ok to do a show in front of social rejects who like to paint their face up like clowns.

And did I mention the band they follow are so below awful that they have their own category of shittiness.

When I see videos like this-two socially inadequate boys, desperate to find acceptance when it’s obviously not coming from home or from peers, I think that what ICP does for a living is more than just a shitty band. They are the worst kind of bullies, the kind that lie and tell you that they’re your friends right before they take your lunch money.

If you think that Shaggy 2 Dope and Violent J give a shit about kids like those issuing pointless threats and making up unrealistic scenarios of future wealth and greatness, then you’re mistaken.

ICP wants these two to stay as outcasts and to view normalcy as the enemy. If they’re kept in that current state, they’re more opt to buy the shit that their marketing to them.

For me, I just want to tell them “It gets better, man! High school and all of the social bullshit that comes with it will go away in a few years. What you’re doing now will far outlast any nonsense that you’re experiencing at school.

Plus, you understand that when you put stupid shit like this on the fucking internet, you’re going to draw a lot more attention to your dumbass than if you’d just stay home, get high, play video games, and listen to a couple of Beatles albums.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Fall - "Bury! PTS 2 + 4"

And now a word from our name author

Taken from the album Your Future Our Clutter
"A new way of recording! A chain round the neck!"

The Fall - Your Future Our Clutter

“When do I quit?” Mark E. Smith asks listeners repeatedly during “Chino,” one of nine new offerings housed together for Your Future Our Clutter, the band’s in two years. The joke is that two years in between Fall albums is like an eternity, but it sounds like time well spent as even Smith knows he’s delivered something special this time with his unmatched cynicism declaring it to be “a showcase of raw talent” a few minutes into the first track.

The concern is that M.E.S. is beginning to contemplate life after the Fall, but the optimist in me would counter that while Y.F.O.C. gives cryptic hints of finish lines, morality, and growing old, it’s also an album where there’s a vibrancy to the production and the band is clearly on a roll as there isn’t any disruptions to it since the last record, Imperial Wax Solvent.

There was also a concern for some Fall fans that the band’s last few offerings were growing increasingly reliant on garage sensibilities, disregarding a willingness to shake the arrangements up a bit, like Smith has done in years past.

The mix on Y.F.O.C. should end that concern, and with the attention to detail, the fair-weather fans who pass or purchase on such demands should find nine very good reasons to jump back on board.

Even though the gloss shines a little brighter for this-the band’s debut effort for Domino Records, which is a bit more prominent than the curators of their last few releases, they’re still acknowledging those cantankerous Nuggets gems that prompted M.E.S. to consider his career choice in music.

“Never mind Jackson,” he mutters on the great closing track “Weather Report 2,” shrugging off Michael Jackson’s passing last summer. “What about Saxon’s?” he asks on the next line, reminding us that the Seeds’ Sky Saxon passed away on the same day as the King of Pop, leaving only but a few devotes to notice.

Personally, I didn’t mind the homemade vibe of the last few efforts, but I will admit that the big production strategy on Y.F.O.C. makes the album immediately infectious. The sonic clarity makes it a blast to be able to try to decipher Smith’s wordplay without having to filter out the hiss and dirt of low fidelity production.

Immediately, I need to mention that the first part of “Bury, Pts 1 + 3” was recorded through a cheap tape deck before giving way to better recording which then segues into the full-on studio recording. Yes, just because M.E.S. has spent a few extra pounds on the recording budget, don’t expect this one to appease mainstream ears.
Guitarist Peter Greenway delivers some tremendously colorful tones throughout and bassist Dave Spurr gets a few spotlights as well. Perhaps both are considering their inevitable sacking and have decided to provide their tenure with a memorable benchmark, which Your Future Our Clutter clearly will become.

The entire effort reeks of a welcomed surprise even when it shouldn’t; Smith has begun every decade with worthwhile offerings since the band’s inception and as he’s kicked off the fifth decade of Fall records with a not-so-subtle reminder that his senses are very much intact and that his bite can still draw blood, even when his dental work may suggest otherwise.

He bares the fangs on Your Future Our Clutter to everyone from the heath care providers who he encountered during a spill that left him with a busted hip, to the episode of Murder She Wrote rerun that aired beyond the reach of a remote control as he recuperated, and to the animal rights activists who called for his head after Smith admitted to killing a few squirrels with hedge clippers after the fuzzy-tailed rodents began chewing away at the fence in his yard.

But the strongest nip is served for those who doubted him musically, those who ponder if-at age 53 now-Smith would be able to break away from the comfortable garage primitism that he can undoubtedly do in his sleep. The final words, whispered as the album closes, are saved especially for those doubters: “You don’t deserve rock and roll.”

Thank you sir, may I please have another?

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Happy Birthday - Happy Birthday

Happy Birthday are the kind of intentional lo-fi band that remind you “Holy shit, there’s a lot of lo-fit bands!” Then you think, “There’s really no need for all of these lo-fi bands!” and you immediately put Happy Birthday on the long list of “Lo-Fi bands that don’t need to be around any more.”

Hailing from Vermont, this trio features some interesting lineage-not the kind that make you think “Sup Pop’s newest hitmakers!” but intriguing nonetheless.

With guitarist Kyle Thomas taking a break from his work with J. Mascis in the stoner-metal band Witch and his own folk musings on Feathers , he joins up with Merrill Garbus’ (Tune Yards) sister, Ruth, and bassist Chris Weisman for a project that sounds great on paper. On closer examination, they should have saved the notepad to write the answer to the question “What kind of band do we want to be?”

There’s conflicting directions on their debut-a few that are appealing, but most that are self-indulgent bullshit.

The good, like “Maxine Teenage Eskimo,” feature Thomas’ thin vocals complimented with nifty Beatlesque harmonies and chord progressions. At barely over two minutes, you’re drawn in and wanting more.

“Girls FM” is another slice of infectious twee-pop that, had they worked on that mission statement before hitting “record,” we could be looking at a nice collection of loserville anthems.

But Thomas isn’t a loser, he just likes playing the role for his advantage. Which means that Happy Birthday is filled with pointless side-steps where he tries his hand at Marc Bolan stomp (“Pink Strawberry Shake”), self-loathing (“Fun”) and temper tantrums (“Zit”).

Not once do you believe that Happy Birthday is nothing more than a sound-collage of the shit he finds amusing or intriguing, Since none of the songs could find a home in any of Thomas’ other projects, he built a name out of the outtakes, tapped a pair of locals to help flesh out the meanderings, and got signed to Sub Pop after less than a half-dozen shows.

I understand that all of this sounds like sour grapes, it isn’t. While it may be true that I like my “bands” to actually be bands and work a little bit more than five shows before they even record a fucking demo (which is what this is, mind you), Happy Birthday reek of amateurism that is intentionally manufactured and marketed as high art.

To explain: the debut from Tune Yards was indeed high art.
Happy Birthday’s debut is a sketchbook of Ligers.

And while ligers are in fact real, Kyle Thomas doesn’t appear to hold much truth in his newfound project. Happy Birthday, in fact, may be just another stopping point in his restless muse. In the irritating “Zit,” he may have let a bit of honesty slip out in the line “I was a twenty-something/Doing the folk thing/Now I don’t do anything” he screams.

Ain’t that the truth.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

After the publication, one of the band members pointed out a misquote of the lyrics and general exception to the low score:

It's ok you hate Happy Birthday. But do you really think us picking a genre and having a "mission statement" would help us make music you would like better? And I know the meme that we didn't have to do much to get signed is irritating. But we are a community of musicians who have been making albums for years (I started in 91) and have no money. And don't overestimate being on a label: we still don't. I'm not bitter, I love my life in music, but the image of snatched-up amateurs is a total stretch (I'm a music teacher!). Ho hum. And it's "fuck thing" not "folk thing".

Which prompted another commenter to admit:

"Doing the fuck thing" is kinda weird and creepy. I'll give one more star for that alone."

Which prompted another commenter to note:

"I second the notion that it's weird and creepy."

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Do You See Them?!

OK, you’re going to have to indulge my nut-swinging on the Scorpions for a couple of days since I’m under the influence of Dr. Klaus. I’ve gotten the review of the show completed and it should be over on Glorious Noise before too much longer.

It’s probably way too many words for what most of you would care to read, but it’s a good story and I had a great time.

First of all, the mix. These German relics do not mess around when it comes down to a live mix. The show was loud, for sure, but the mix was incredibly detailed and rich. None of Matthias Jabs’ solos were raw or piercing, they sat just a tad up in the mix and blended nicely with the rhythm parts.

Matthias did not stop grinning. Seriously. It was creepy at some points, but then when he located a chick in the crowd, he’d give them a quick wink, spin and walk to another part of the stage, grinning the entire time. It was hilarious.

Rudolph Schenker was totally fucking cool. He’s sixty years old, and he just comes out with these awesome Flying V guitars and bangs out chords on them It was the closet I ever felt to being a 43 year old white, male groupie.

He totally waxes his body, tans and has become this band’s third sex symbol. The first is the dreamboat bass player (he gave the 9 year old girl in the section over from me a bass pick) who is about 30 years junior of the original members and the drummer John Kottak is in second with 20 years of difference between Klaus or Rudy. But old Rudolph has come from one of the band’s ugliest members (see back cover of Love At First Sting or the front cover of World Wide Live for proof) to one of their hottest.

I’ve totally got a man-crush right now on Rudolph Schenker, so lets move on.

Anyway, Rudy as I like to call him, had the mock scream/mouth open pose going the entire night. On a few ocassions, the band would do a chord change, or maybe change the temp unexpectedly, and he’d look at the crowd with this little “Gotcha!” like grin. It was cool.

But the coolest was actually hearing him hit the strings before I could hear the results from the stage. He was right there in front of me.

Here’s the only shot I got of Klaus the entire night. It’s like I was scared that he was going to hit me with the mic stand, so I freaked out and the picture got blurry.

For real, this would have been the best concert ever to get some shots of, even with a crappy Blackberry camera. Yet for some reason, all of my shots came out grainy and crappy-and I must have changed some function on it, because I couldn’t get the thing to zoom.

Seriously, I spent most of “The Zoo” dorking around until I finally went “I’m missing ‘The Zoo!’ Put the thing away!” But before I put it in my pocket, I snapped this. It's right around the part where Matthias Jabs starts playing the talk box.

The phone did not come out for the rest of the night.

Which is a good thing because the last shot from that night looked like this.

And with my shot of Mars there, I put the phone in my pocket and forgot about it.

Which reminds me that security was way hardcore on video taping the show, even when it was just a crappy cell phone. There was one young security guy that was just a real douche. I saw him throw a couple of dudes out for videotaping what was happening on stage.

The security guard saw him shooting footage and then went over and asked the guy for his ticket. The guard notice that he was from a completely different area, so he kept telling the man to go back to his seat. The drunk dude would just repeat back “What is that?” over and over. The security guy finally got pissed and squeezed through the barrier gate and physically handed the offender over to more security.

There was another dude that totally had an Ozzy Osbourne look to him. He was there with an ugly girl who was about a decade younger. The security guy hassled him too, for some reason.

Maybe they were mad that Scream sucks so bad.

It took me forever to get out of Moline when the show was over, and a lot of it was because I forgot where I parked the car. This is how my car recall function was loaded:

“Oh, there’s a little dive bar with a Pabst Blue Ribbon sign on the front. I’ll have to remember that!”

You would think that there’d be some directional component in there, or better still, a street or intersection name to stick to, rather than walking around aimlessly, darting in and out of post-concert traffic.

And then, I decided to visit the other half of the Quad Cities with no explanation but that I felt a comforting urge to “stick close to the river.”


I made it home, woke up my wife and sang her “Lady Starlight” until she melted under my passion.

“Good bye Quad Cities Moline Illinois United States!”

Friday, August 20, 2010

Scorpions - Sting In The Tail

It would have been immensely cool if the Scorpions ended their career with an eye on their entire catalog-something that addresses the contribution of guitarist Uli Jon Roth, their origins with younger brother Michael Schenker, and yes, the band’s mega-platiunum acention in the 1980’s.

But when the German band announced that the tour supporting Sting In The Tail would be there last, you got the feeling that the band wasn’t going to rest too much on their nostalgia, opting instead to try and recapture the attention (and the financial gain) of their eighties heyday.

Whether or not that is entirely possible is another debate, but Sting In The Tail marks an admirable return to those glory days while also offering a bit of current shine to demonstrate that these 40 year veterans are not completely blind to the landscape around them.

Vocalist Klaus Meine uses some nasty vocal effects on the title track and the album opener “Raised On Rock” is a worthy addition to the band’s impressive collection of hook-laden songs with iconic power chords. It’s not far from the chords of “Rock You Like A Hurricane,” but then again, it sounds positively at home coming from the Scorpions.

And if you’re getting confused by all of the songs with the word “Rock” in the title, hold on. Sting In The Tail features three songs that rock so much that the band had to indentify it with the word in the title.

It’s one of those charming little things that makes it hard to attack a band like Scorpions. Clearly, their hearts are in the right place even when their subtlety isn’t.

Naturally, every album in the band’s career features some kind of power ballad, and because the band is so adept at composing them, there is very little complaining from the band’s most testosteroned supporter.

For this album, it’s “Lorelei” (not the Styx song, thank god) and the closer “The Best Is Yet To Come.” With all irony missing from that last cut, the sing-along chorus makes it hard to face reality: that its shelf life is limited to one more tour.

But all in all, Sting Of The Tail ain’t a bad way to use up the butane in your disposable lighter.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Michael Been R,I.P.

The Call were never one of those bands that seemed to be able to break out of their next big thing role. The first time I heard them was through “Walls Came Down,” a lyrical barrage of smart songwriting with a band just post-punk enough to be played next to R.E.M. and U2, but ugly enough to prevent them from getting posters on the wall.

Still, Michael Been’s line “I don’t think there are any Russians/And there ain't no Yanks/Just corporate criminals/Playing with tanks” fit in pretty good with the Reagan paranoia time.

Yes, The Call's album Modern Romans was the shit.

The band seemed to follow their label more than their hearts with the follow ups. “Everywhere I Go” was a favorite for me too, but by the time “Let The Day Begin” got a bit of airplay, it sounded like a clichéd working man tribute that would eventually bring Michael Been a fair amount of royalty checks in the future.

And then The Call were gone.

What’s strange is how I learned about it through a tweet from someone who I didn’t expect to give a shit.

What’s even stranger is how and where Been’s death happened. He was the father of Robert Levon Been from Black Rebel Motorcyle Club, and since he didn’t share the last name for the first two BMRC (going under the name Robert Turner, I had no idea about the relation. What’s cool is that Michael was working sound for his son’s band, but when BMRC played a festival last week, Michael’s heart gave out and he passed away unexpectedly.

At least he went doing something he loved doing and at least he was close to his biggest fan.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Arcade Fire Hits Number One! Big F*ing Deal!

Can we stop talking about Arcade Fire’s number one chart entry now?


I’m glad at the achievement and am impressed by the numbers for the first week and all, but if people really believe that this is going to translate into superstar figures then they need to only wait to see the chart entries from this week.

It’s pretty obvious that sales charts for recorded music albums is pretty irrelevant, and that high chart entries is nothing more than a chance to have about a weeks worth of bragging rites.

After all, for anemic weekly sales totals of 5,000 can more than likely get your band an entry into the top 50. It’s a sign that people no longer give a shit about albums-a point which breaks my heart, to be honest-and that the long player format is turning into a relic, a victim of record label greed and of artists inability to compile 30-40 minutes of worthy material-or to sag 30-40 minutes of decent material with 20-30 minutes of additional garbage.

For me, the big story of Arcade Fire’s week (aside from the actual music, of course) is their ability to sell out a pair of shows at Madison Square Garden. The performance was shown on the web (directed by none other than Terry Gilliam) and it also showed a very competent band that was able to transition from the theatre to the arena.

It seems that none of the spectacle-the grandiose build-ups and team-sized membership-is lost on the large stage. The vast space of the arena appears to be nicely suited to the band as early as their last tour would set up shop in the foyer of their theatre shows to play exit music for the leaving patrons.

Those gigs, it seems, will now be mentioned with the same affection of The Police’s first club tour of the U.S., the Velvet Underground’s Plastic Inevitable performances with Warhol, or maybe Springsteen’s first club tour of the U.S.

Because behind the hurdy-gurdy, the precocious heartbreak of Win Butler‘s emotional frailty, and the continuous dramatical dynamics lies a band that appears to know the playbook front to back. Their perceived ignorance of the spotlight and even Merge’s aw shucks act at not thinking too much about sales tally is just as contrived as smashing an acoustic guitar on Saturday Night Live.

My guess is that Win and the gang were looking more at Springsteen’s work at bringing up the E-Street Band from the bars to the arena than we give them credit for.

And you know what? More power to them!

Because we need to start feeding the arenas of the future with bands that can actually pull it off.

Think about it: besides Radiohead and the Dave Matthews Band, who else will there be packing those huge open spaces?

Don’t give me that “arena shows suck” bullshit; that elitism won’t fly and if you’ve never been awestruck by the shear communal bonding of an awesome arena show then you really need to get off of the computer right now and get out into the real world more often.

Or talk to your counselor about your debilitating fear of people.

I hate people, crowds, douchebags, and shitty concerts as much as the next guy, but when it all goes right, there’s a sense of community bonding that simply transcends nearly everything else. There is no politics, work-related bullshit, problems with the significant other, money woes-it’s all about the love of the music And when the music contributes its part, all of that other garbage goes by the wayside for at least an hour-and-a-half.

Sure, you can feel similar feelings at a club or theatre show, but there’s something about looking at a crowd of 10,000 people and thinking, “Holy fuck, we’re all in this thing together!”

I’ve been to enough shows now that I don’t think I’d be able to put a list together that does justice to all of the great bands that I’ve seen live. What I would need to do is separate them, from clubs, to theatres, to arenas, and then the list would be fair.

Based on that, I would easily put Springsteen in the top ten, and I’ve seen him with both the E-Street Band and without. There was no fancy light show or choreographed routines; just straight up rock music performed by a guy who seemed to understand that many people in the crowd paid a big sum of cash to get in the door.

He spoke to the crowd on their level, with jokes and the occasional self-deprivating comments. From what I heard, Win Butler used similar strategies at Madison Square Garden, joking about a Hakeem Olajuwon blocking a shot of John Starks in the Garden from ’94, prompting a chorus of boos from the Knickerbockers faithful.

We already knew that the Arcade Fire was proficient enough to sell records-both Funeral and Neon Bible are at or close to gold status in this age of shitty record sales. So the notion that the band was already going to have a high charting album was old news.
The real story was is how Arcade Fire had translated that success into an arena sized show that worked and paved the way for other bands to follow suit.

Because any band can make the charts nowadays. But it takes a special one to put asses in the seats.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Lady Gaga's Vanity Fair Cover

The most revealing thing about Lady Gaga is the latest edition of Vanity Fair?

She’s really tiny.

Other than that, you probably already know the rest: outrageous fashion statements, infectious hit singles, and obligatory controversy. For someone my age, it’s déjà-vu all over again, having experienced all of this before a quarter-century ago when the world was focusing the same camera eye on another female singer with a made-for-the-charts name.

But as the article correctly points out, Lady Gaga is no Madonna.

She’s better.

Before you get your corset in a pinch or feel the need to justify your love, you should know that there is nothing that will take away my own love of the Material Girl. She’s from my generation of pop artists, so I will always have an affection towards her and will always rank her higher than Lady Gaga.

Because without Madonna, there would be no Gaga.

And without Grace Jones, there would be no Gaga.

And without David Bowie, there would be no Gaga.

And without Boy George, there would be no Gaga.

You get the picture.

But Lady Gaga is a better vocalist than Madonna, and as much as my affection towards Madonna is strong, I cannot dispute this. What’s striking is how all of the blatant following of Madonna’s blueprint of controversy is still at a fever pitch, with the same old-school conservative dipshits tossing out headline-grabbing threats.

You will go to hell if you touch that disco stick.

One would think that if people had real issues with Gaga, they’d just stop talking about her. In fact, that’s probably the most devastating thing that could be done to her: completely cut off the attention that she so obviously craves.

And I love how after-even in this digital age-people, and I mean people with the luxury of having media work for them-still whine about how Lady Gaga doesn’t conform to their ideals of how a star should act.

Remember when Jerry Seinfeld was all pissed at Lady Gaga for her behavior at a baseball game in New York? Now I love Jerry and I enjoy baseball. I completely understand that there is a particular protocol that one needs to follow when attending a game. It’s that same protocol that prevented me from letting him join a bunch of kids around his age in the grass area next to our seats. It’s an area where people can put down a blanket and watch the game, and a place where the kids all congregate and do anything but watch the game. The old security people come around and hassle the kids when they get to rambunctious-which is exactly what happened to some of the kids that my son wanted to squirrel around with.

The point here is if you don’t want to the kids to misbehave, then you don’t give them free suites, free booze, free access, and then put a bunch of cameras on them to document how they act.

Isn’t Gaga responsible too? Well, sure. But it’s also Gaga’s job to sell as many records as she cans-which she does very well by being talented, acting zany, and getting people to pay attention to her.

What is ironic about all of the coverage on Lady Gaga is that she has taken plenty of notes on Madonna and how to work the media to her advantage. Meanwhile, Gaga’s distracters have seemingly done no homework or just don’t understand that when they use the media to voice their displeasure, they are merely doing her work for her.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Primitives Recording First Album In 19 Years

One of the most overlooked bands of the 1980’s college radio type, The Primitives, announced that they’re working on their fourth album, the first since 1991’s Galore. The band scored a big college radio hit with “Crash” (which I believe was used in a bunch of movie soundtracks, creating a song that many recalled, but few could name) then followed it up with a pair of nicely appointed pop-punk gems before breaking up.

I had a couple of their albums on promotional cassettes swiped from the radio station giveaway bin and played them frequently.

“Crash” was lifted from the wonderful debut Lovely, but my favorite was the track “Sick Of It All” taken from the second l.p. Pure.

Here’s hoping the new album will be as good as the entries in their too brief trio original incarnation.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Blunted On Reality: Wyclef Jean Runs For President

Normally, I wouldn’t give a rat’s ass about the government of Haiti. From what I’ve read before, it’s a country that’s plagued with corruption, lies, and an arcane system of checks and balances that promotes those first two issues.

Plus, it’s the poorest country in this neck of the hemisphere.

Plus, it had a devastating earthquake earlier this year.

So those two things prompt me to give a rat’s ass, to the point where those aforementioned problems within the country’s government need to be address because there are thousands of lives depending on meaningful change.

The change that’s being offered?

Wyclef Jean.

Obviously, this wasn’t the type of change within Haiti’s government that I was hoping for.

I don’t know how many of you got an opportunity to hear Wyclef answer some very pointed questions on All Things Considered on NPR this afternoon, but they asked the very same concerns that I had when I first heard that Jean was considering a run for that country’s leadership role.

And Wyclef got an opportunity to answer some of those questions with the same compelling responses that you’d expect from someone’s who’s last job was leading a phony marching band in a Ritz cracker commercial.

How does a musician with no practical legislative experience lead a country out of crippling debt when he has his own financial issues to deal with, namely paying all of the back taxes he owes his current country? His answer? My accountants are handling the problem right now.

How does a musician with corruption problems of his own explain how he plans to address the corruption problems within Haiti? By hiring cabinet members that are outside of corruption, whatever that means.

In addressing some of those corruption concerns, Wyclef immediate began to deny the allegations in a weird third person narrative.

“The idea of Wyclef taking money to put in his pocket, that is a no….The idea of Wyclef being corrupted is a no.” he told NPR today.

Well then, that settles it!

Still, his motivation is questionable, particularly at this juncture. One would think that a man with a passion for his native country and a desire to lead it out of yet another in a long line of natural disasters would find time to be in that country more that just the one month that Jean has logged in Haiti since the earthquake last January.

There’s just something inherently wrong about this candidacy, and it reeks of the whim of a narcissist musician who likes the idea of being president more than he actually likes the idea of working to improving the country he’s campaigning for.
He’s provided no real plan on how to get Haiti out of its problems other than thinking that a president’s job is to fly around the world and get all of the missing pledge money that people donated after the tragedy.

How about starting with your own organization, ‘Clef?

Despite the vague answers and poorly executed campaign dialogue, Wyclef came across as a candidate who understands that none of the NPR listeners will have any impact on his plans in Haiti, regardless of how strongly they may disagree with him. He knows that he can carpetbag his way to the country’s youth and spin his celebrity to the point where they will blindly vote for his candidacy without fully understanding that his lack of experience and his own questionable financial background could have devastating implications on a country that needs real leadership instead of a figurehead.

The idea of Wyclef Jean being the next president of Haiti? That is a no.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Spacemen "2" Reunion

If there’s one band that I love more than Spiritualized, it’s Spacemen 3.

And there are very few bands that I love more than Spacemen 3, so that’s saying something.

While Jason “Spaceman” Pierce was busy with rehearsing for the Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space performance at Radio City Music Hall last week, a few weeks prior to that even found Pete “Sonic Boom” Kember gathering with former Spacemen bassist Will Carruthers for a 2/3rd reunion of S3. The set included some guitar work by My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields and the Jazz Butcher’s Pat Fish.

The performance was to help with former Spacemen cover artist Natty Brooker who seems to be suffering some unknown ailment.

Speaking of the possibility of a Spacemen 3 reunion, it’s been quite apparent that the primary holdout is-and will remain-Jason Pierce. He’s refused what could only be considered as more than few lucrative offers for a one-off show, but having seen Spiritualized on a few occasions, I can safely say that they’re good enough to make you forget about any kind of Spacemen 3 reunion anyway.

There were reports that Spiritualized’s performance of We Are Floating In Space were loud as fuck and that the biggest complain was that Pierce remained seated and in a near-coma state throughout the show.

That actually is pretty common for the Spaceman, but what blows my mind is that when he’s seated and his eyes are closed, he knows exactly when the freak-outs abruptly end and go right into a soft passage at the drop of a hat.

You’d think he was dead if you didn’t see his foot tapping.

The other complaint that I read about was the ungodly price of merchandise, including an $80 t-shirt made just for the occasion. I hope some enterprising screenprinter took full advantage of that ridiculousness and made a bunch of bootleg shirts for us normal folk.

Here’s some footage of the reunion gig that Pierce didn’t participate in.

And here's some footage of the gig that Pierce did manage to find a seat for.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Titus Andronicus - The Monitor

Have you ever heard the line “Go big or go home?” I hate that catch phrase. I also hate New Jersey, even though I’ve never been there and don’t think I’ve ever met anyone from the state. My discontent stems from a barrage of phone encounters with New Jerseyians who seem genetically disposed to being miserable fucks trying to make everyone else as miserable as they are.

Titus Andronicus hale from New Jersey, they seem miserable, and they’re aiming for the upper deck with their sophomore effort-The Monitor-a loosely knit concept album featuring a barrage of indie guest stars fueled by pony kegs and a desire to be a part of something special.

It’s the kind of album that can get reviewers in trouble; The Monitor is such a blatant attempt at musical martyrdom that you want to immediately discount it. However, it’s delivered with such drunken stumbles and underdog charm that it’s easy to get caught up in its anthemic reverie and blindly champion it.

The reality is probably somewhere in the middle: The Monitor aligns itself with such modern-day landmarks as Neutral Milk Hotel’s In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, Bright Eyes’ Lifted and Fucked Up’s The Chemistry Of Modern Life. If your head is spinning trying to imagine an algorithm of all of those albums, then you’d be better served by skipping this review altogether and getting your own copy of what I think is 2010’s first record of the year entry.

That’s right, I’ve become a giddy fan-boy of all of the shit that Titus Andronicus is cramming into The Monitor in-ironically-in much the same way that I’m a fan of those aforementioned albums. It’s a whirlwind of influences, drunk journal meanderings, and spirited after-hours rock ‘n’ roll when it’s too late to worry about sleep, sex, or brain cells.

I’m also totally smitten at how the band just blatantly apes artists well out of their reach: The Clash, The Pogues, and The Boss. They’re too young or too drunk to care that they’re nowhere near any of those artist’s highpoints, but that’s part of the appeal here. The Monitor barrels through sixty minutes of passionate rock and roll that to blow it off is to lie to yourself that it’s not special. The Monitor may ultimately become the best thing this band ever releases, but even if it is, it will still be a joy to listen to long after they should fall from grace with God.

It’s not just the Nor’easter bar band arrangements that entice you, there’s a lot of help from vocalist Patrick Stickles’ endless barrage of words-often separated by only a gasp of air or the obligator second-wind slow number. There’s the suggestion that Stickles’ has created some concept of a character leaving Jersey for Boston only to question the notion of how a regional transition can even change someone’s real identity. How this all translates into a civil war thesis depends on the number of Keystone Lights you’ve thrown back before listening to it.

In reality, the only character is Stickles himself trying to bullshit his way through a concept. He’s just another miserable fuck from Jersey, who spells it out on one line in “A Pot To Piss In” with The Monitor’s most telling couplet: “You’ve never been no virgin kid/You were fucked from the start.”

The difference is that he’s at least trying to get in my good graces with all of those musical recollections and emotive quantifiers that The Monitor keeps dishing out. At least until the fourteen-minute long closer “The Battle Of Hampton Road,” the album’s most ambitious and jaw-dropping moment. By then, Stickles is a screaming ball of vitriol who’s no longer a woeful drunk, but the scary dude who’s about ready to make a very bad decision.

As good as The Monitor is, it does nothing to really change my opinion of the Garden State, or my feelings towards the phrase “go big or go home.” What it does instead is help me realize that both of those elements, New Jersey itself and the notion of trying to give it all instead of staying close to your own natural abilities, have contributed to Titus Andronicus’ delivering an album that will most assuredly change their lives for the better. It is a game-changing moment, one that is deserving of its recent praise and one that may indeed be name-checked for years ahead by anyone who likes their depression mixed with a stiff drink and bloodshot rock n roll therapy.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Vampire Weekend - Contra

If you were to ask me around the time that everyone was blowing themselves over the debut Vampire Weekend album what I thought about them, I would have eagerly chastised the notion of a few spoiled Ivy League who cited Graceland as a primary influence. Sure, the inspiration was novel for its time, but Graceland? Christ, I was in college around the time that Simon released that plagiarized “masterpiece” and I can cite no peers who offered, “Let me throw on that new Paul Simon album” during any social setting. You wanna know why? Because we were tired of hearing our Dads remind us that Chevy Chase is “hilarious” in the music video for “Call Me All.”

The notion that college kids are now listening to Graceland now is a matter of concern, but the idea that they’re actively picking up world music instruments and creating music from them is even more troubling.

Fast forward to Vampire Weekend’s sophomore effort-Contra-which gets demerits right out of the gate for such an incredibly dumb album title given the band’s ilk-and I’m ready to consider that those original supporters may have seen something in this band that I carelessly overlooked.

You see, for one thing Contra is more Talking Heads’ world beat now instead of Paul Simon, which means that Vampire Weekend has progressed into a band that’s a bit more aloof than the debut. There are hints that much of the bullshit Soweto connotations are gone, replaced by a weird Byrne/Eno slant where world beat polyrhythms are matched with geeky, grad student prose.

Contra also takes some of the explorations of Rostam Batmanglij’s Discovery side-project a step further; the auto-tuned “California English” works here because its housed in kinetic analog drums, clean guitars, and then an unexpected string quartet about 90 seconds in.

It gets better with repeated listens; the complexity of Vampire Weekend’s arrangements becomes apparent and it’s clear that they’ve obsessed over every measure. Vocalist Ezra Koenig sounds downright versatile as he alternates between electronic pop to reggaeton to dancehall to the awful bits of Top 40 radio that stuck with him from the 90’s.

Contra reminds us that not everyone coming of age in that era was enamored with grunge and not everyone had the best record collection either. Vampire Weekend has managed to grow from their past indiscretions, which is really all we should be asking from any band. Contra shows Vampire Weekend growing just enough that it turned a cynical critic into a late game supporter.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Cover Girl

By now you’ve read all about Ann Kirsten Kennis suing Vampire Weekend (and others) about the unauthorized use of a nearly three decade old Polaroid of her sporting a preppy polo shirt and a beautiful look that makes the heart of any old fart like me beat uncontrollably. She’s the spitting image of somebody from anyone’s art class, speech class, band, drama, or French Club circa 1981-1987.

I swear to God, I made out with this chick on a church youth group sleepover.

The Fairfield Citizen has a well-researched story which is good enough to make someone like me with a knee-jerk reaction of “gold digger” suddenly put my foot in my mouth and admit “Poor girl (woman).”

First of all, she just went through chemo, so the endless parade of her younger self must put her in a constant reminder that she will never be able to revisit that fleeting beauty.

Secondly, that reminder came with a cash payment of-wait for it-one dollar. Now, Vampire Weekend ain’t the Rolling Stones and nobody is suggesting that Ann Kristen Kennis should have been paid enough to put her daughter through college, but you’d have to be retarded to sign the rights over to a photo with your image for one buck.

Never mind the whole document was signed a few years ago-decades after it was supposedly taken by photographer Tom Brody-and the model’s name was misspelled.

So yeah, dude sounds like a Creepy McCreepers and a dumb one at that. If he does end up losing the lawsuit, Kennis should be compensated nicely.

But Vampire Weekend? I’m not getting how the band is implicit in all of this. You grab a few photographers, look through their portfolios and pick a shot that best represents your vision. Is there another step that the band is responsible for?

I’m also wondering if I need to buy a physical copy of the album. Will it end up like many rock albums in history that met their demise from offensiveness (Yesterday and Today), improper licensing (Some Girls), or just plain stupidity (Virgin Killers)? Should I save a sealed copy for collection sake and wait for the value to rise if/when a judge decides to have the remaining copies removed from retail outlets.

Surely we would have seen some evidence of the records already in stores being removed as a result of a legal order or some talk of plans to change the artwork for future pressings, so maybe I’m just looking for an excuse to have an actual, physical copy of that fetching memory of a time long since past.