Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Baker's Dozen 2013

Well that year sucked.

And by "sucked" I mean from a perfectly personal perspective, not musically. 2013 qualified as the year in which shit broke down and there was too little in the coffers to pay for it.

So, like most American families are want to do, you scramble. You do without. You provide subtle hints for assistance from family. You put it on your credit card. You yell at each other for not having enough.

But what a better opportunity to escape with music! And what an even better opportunity for record companies to charge $25 for an album when you're broke, typically one that you can usually find used on Dynagroove vinyl at a cheaper price. And even those bargains are is getting harder to come by, as evidenced by the $20 copies of Beggar's Banquet that I've been scouting on Ebay, because I have to have an original London copy of the thing just like I did when I was a wee lad.

If you stop succumbing to the oldies bag and the infinite reissue money grab, you can find some pretty good deals on cd (ha!) and some even better deals on the free-for-the-taking internets. Some of them are even worthy of shelling out for (ha! ha!), which I suppose is what the Baker's Dozen list below is supposed to suggest.

These are my favorites. They're broken down subjectively, with the most challenging, engaging and important pieces of work from the past year at the top of the list. A great deal of the title's influence are derived from how much pleasure I got from the record, but with that being said, if I simply made the list with that criteria then Ghost's second album would probably be towards the top. And that's a record that I wasn't nice with and, quite frankly, isn't really worthy of being one of the year's best.

So I put it at number 26.

Disagree? Feel free to dick around with the the impossible "prove you're not spam" filters of the site's comment section and post your own titles or argue with the list that I've made. At the end of the day, you're wrong and I'm right. Start you're own blog, if you're so inclined, because this one is getting old and in the way. And the irony that the stats keep going up while my interest continues to decline isn't lost on me as we 1.) approach the 10th year of this stupid thing named after a Fall song after the first one named after and 2). Negativland song was scrapped because a certain ex-wife didn't like some personal things I posted.

It's true! Look it up if you've got a week to kill and are into a pointless explanation of the origins of a project that essentially started from an idea that my therapist at the time suggested. That is, if I didn't already delete the "offending" posts that made up the bulk of this blog's early posts. Now I just post emails that Sub Pop sends me and they end up becoming the most popular titles that month.

Actually, that's not entirely true. For some reason, any time I post something about the Scorpions, the traffic counts light up. And Elton John. And Pretty much anything metal related. And some dumbass post about that shitty kid punk band Old School I did several years ago that, evidently, rubbed more people the wrong way than did a retelling of the death of Brett Mydland, the Dead's shitty keyboardist that overdosed some twenty years ago. This is coming from a guy that views the Dead's Spring of '90's gigs to be some of the best, an era that found Mydland endlessly twinkling his dated synth (even by 1990 standards, it was shit).

But I digress.

Yes, these Baker's Dozen posts bring in traffic too; they rank as some of the most popular items found on Glam Racket, even though I hate doing them (they take up a bunch of time to create, particularly if you factor in the long-winded introductions like you're slogging through right now) and even though the most viewed one is the bullshit "Baker's Dozen Artists With Jacked Up Teeth," a list that I literally pulled out of my ass one night.

Go figure.

And go enjoy, I guess.

1.)  VAMPIRE WEEKEND - Modern Vampires Of The City
A modern classic. A record that plays like it was designed to compete with titles like Sgt. Pepper's while remaining firmly entrenched in music's modern realm. Like any great record, the themes within Modern Vampires are big, while the band's arrangements are stunningly pronounced and well thought out. This is a pop record that plays with big, major chord idealism and lyrics that transcend age, time and genres. I had to walk away from Modern Vampires after hearing side one for the first time because 1.) it is such a great piece of work that I needed to catch my breath and 2.) it was created by a group of young men that I previously despised. Not any more.

2.)  NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS - Push The Sky Away
Be careful. because the first time you hear Cave's latest effort (number 15 with the Bad Seeds) you'll take its minimalist approach for granted and miss nearly everything that makes it so remarkable. A second listen and all of those performances suddenly begin to stop you dead in your tracks when you realize how perfect they are. And Cave is perfect as well in this setting, with his lyrical chops in rare form, citing pop culture luminaries like Miley Cyrus (pre-twerk, it's as if Cave had a premonition) our love of Wikipedia (can't live without it) while still being able to conjure up lasting memories with characters and prose that is as beautiful as anything you'll hear (or read) all year.

3.)  DAVID BOWIE - The Next Day
After celebrating his 66th birthday and being a recluse for practically the past 10 years, the last thing that anything expected from Bowie in 2013 was an album that rubbed shoulders with records he's made decades ago and with artists over half his age that have the attention of the younger population. There are so many discoveries to be found on this late-career high point, like how the chord progressions of the chorus to "You Feel So Lonely You Could Die" are D-E-A-D and how the song sounds like a bitter "fuck you" to ex-wife Angie. And that's just one track in a record filled with songs worthy of continue examination, just like the old days-and hopefully, the next ones.

4.)  KURT VILE - Wakin On A Pretty Daze
"I think I'm ready to claim what's mine" Vile declares on "KV Crimes," one of the tracks from Philadelphia's favorite stoner-and it sounds like it. It's taken Vile four albums before this one to hint at challenging J. Mascis' title of slacker guitar god and, while he certainly hasn't overtaken J., Wakin On A Pretty Daze is at least on the same playing field and may be 2013's most honest-to-goodness rock record. It's filled with the kind of long-winded guitar jams that Vile is known for, while the noodling itself just happens to be around some of Vile's most enjoyable slacker exploration to date.

5.)  TY SEGALL - Sleeper
If there is a silver lining to tragedy it's when someone is able to turn the emotional weight into a weighty piece of art, while is exactly what Ty Segall has done with his (guessing here) 8th record. Sleeper sounds like it's a record that's mainly intended as Segall's own therapeutic release, while becoming a universally ratable effort. Nothing is really cloaked in too much personal drama, even when the subject matter is clearly stemming from personal events. Sleeper is mainly an acoustic affair with hints of early Tyrannosaurus Rex if Bolan was fixated on Americana and the impact that cancer has on nearly every family you know. While most of us unfortunately are forced to deal with the disease's impact in much more sad and mundane ways, Segall has transformed it into one of the year's most notable entries.

6.)  TEGAN & SARA - Heartthrob
There's a reason why T+S's 7th release kept getting played around my house in 2013: it's because my 6-year old daughter kept requesting it. And while she's a fan of female pop stars (she's also the reason why Taylor Swift and Katy Perry have found a home in my Ipod), her persistence with the Quin sister's most blatantly commercial offering has also made it clear to me that is a damn-near perfect pop record filled with heavy topics that are heads, tails and hearts above anything that Swift or Perry can muster up, with or without outside help. The "outside help" with Heartthrob is the sugar coating that this album is packaged in, but inside is an album of substance that is very much the same Tegan & Sara of old. In other words, it's just as awesome and kid friendly.

7.) ROGUE WAVE - Nightingale Floors
Admittedly, it's been years since I've thought about Rogue Wave, and some of the blame is on the band themselves. But in an unlikely turn of events, I was actually actually listening to the old public radio station I used to work at and they were actually playing music, I was transfixed by a song with a depressive melody to the point where I actually waited for the announcer to identify the artist. Back in my day, this constituted the "Say It When You Play It" campaign where record companies would plaster the sticker on promotional titles for radio. Thankfully, KUNI-FM's Mark Simmet "said it" and the next day I picked up this reminder of how good Rogue Wave was again. Like Sleeper found earlier in this Baker's Dozen list, Nightingale Floors has roots in tragedy (death of a father) and, like Sleeper, it is the heavy emotional content that gives Rogue Wave's latest such resonance. It's somewhat of a return of the Rogue Wave of old (gradual builds to majestic choruses) while showing the band is clearly capable of forging new sonic moments in the process of moving forward.

8.)  KVELERTAK - Meir
Breaking no new ground, Norway's Kvelertak don't need to. They've got the AC/DC mojo down pat and it's mixed appropriate helpings of punk and black metal. It is a testosterone declaration, but in a way that even my hair-metal lovin' wife admitted its rump-shaking prowess. All of this is packaged in a language that you don't understand-and don't care, either. Because it's packaged in the universal language of rock and fucking roll, a land where such titles like "Bruane Brenn" and "Evig Vandrar" are closely examined to see if they're clues to other, real words like the Jumble games in your local newspaper. And because this is the universal language of rock and fucking roll, they have a song title that's also their band name, just like Black Sabbath taught 'em.

9.)  KELLEY STOLTZ - Double Exposure
Earlier this year, I sought out and obtained Television's guitarist Richard Lloyd's solo album Alchemy and was underwhelmed, aside from a few tracks. Later, I stumbled upon Kelly Stoltz's latest, Double Exposure, which almost served as a much better doppelganger with better vocals and memorable hooks. This is Stoltz's 7th record (from what I've been told) but a first for me, and a significant record to start with (from personal experience). He peppers the hooks with record collector lines that will make any music geek smile, while reminding them of familiar tones that they'll obsess over until they end up putting Stoltz's "Are You My Love" right after Lloyd's "Alchemy" before declaring "Eureka!" - even when it was entirely by accident.

10.)  SAVAGES - Silence Yourself
Probably the biggest "No Brainer" of the list since Savages clearly find inspiration in a handful of England's post punk offerings like Siouxie and the Banshees and Gang of Four, so, "recommended if you like," for sure. But there's clearly more going on than nostalgic remembrance here, as Savages seem extremely confident with this, their debut. Vocalist Jehnny Beth doesn't seem to give a shit that her own wail mirrors Siouxie Sue's because she has bassist Ayse Hassan to fall back on, who seems to have studied at the Dave Allen school of bass balls. Never mind how Beth's prose is confrontational enough that all of this old-home week fixation can't hide how the band sounds positively novel in their craft. It's an ass-kicker, for sure, and if Savages aren't able to recreate Silence Yourself's out-of-the-gate power ever again, it's good enough to be referred to again in the years to come.

11.)  SUB ROSA - More Constant Than The Gods
Imagine how hard it's got to be, being a doom metal band from Salt Lake City, Utah. Now imagine how hard it must be, being a doom metal band from Salt Lake City, Utah that's fronted by a woman. Sub Rosa destroy any preconceived notion you may have concerning any of those facts, and they do it with speaker destroying low ends that eat up huge portions of their 10-minute-plus epics. There's only 6 tracks to be found on More Constant Than The Gods, but it sounds more necessary than long-winded. And while pointing out the obvious-that Sub Rosa hails from Salt Lake City and is fronted by a woman-may seem like an easy way to get you to notice this thick, gelatinous widowmaker, it is also what makes it such a winning release, a record that goes beyond just the obvious "Best Metal Album of the Year" accolades. Her lyrical vision along with the proximity to the LDS temple and Sub Rosa's own notoriety for introducing violins to the world of metal, all add to Gods being one of the best albums of 2013, period.

12.)  POLVO - Siberia
I never expected Polvo's reunion to go beyond one record, and besides, how many of you even bothered with In Prism-beyond the ones hoping that Shapes wasn't really the final word. And while In Prism stands on its own, Siberia sounds more like the Polvo of pre-initial breakup, while throwing a few surprises into the mix. For one, Siberia is the first Polvo album that seems to feature an honest-to-goodness hit single, that is, if you lived in a bizarro world where things like Sonic Youth's Washing Machine were number one albums and tracks like Polvo's "Light, Raking" - with its cutesy l'il synthesizer part in the chorus - are released to stations found above the 92 kHz. And in typical Polvo tradition, it ends with a weave of snake charming guitars that sound like they were tuned by dudes named "Ash Bowie." In other words, the magic continues!

So it seems like Artic Monkeys have released their second "must have" release, which is weird because it's completely different than their first "must have." In short, the new one is much more rhythmic-centric than the barrage of lyrical spit that head Monkey Alex Turner is known for. That's not to suggest that Turner has dialed back his chops with the prose, but instead, it suggests that it's kind of awkward hearing the beats of "Do I Wanna Know" on commercials after developing an uncomfortable connection with it emotionally. It was one example of frightening synchronicity that I seldom get with songs, and it only reaffirmed the overall connection that I felt with AM, a record that attempts to shed the past while forging a very promising second decade

A list of 13 other albums that found repeated listens and probably shouldn't be overlooked.

14.)  QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE - ...Like Clockwork
15.)  WINDHAND - Soma
16.)  GRATEFUL DEAD - Sunshine Daydream
17.)  LOW - The Invisible Way
18.)  MAZZY STAR - Seasons Of Your Day
19.)  LEE RENALDO AND THE DUST - Last Night On Earth
20.)  BOB DYLAN - Another Self Portrait
20.)  SHEARWATER - Fellow Travelers
21.)  WHORES - Clean (e.p.)
22.)  KADAVAR - Abra Kadavar
23.)  ORCHID - Mouths Of Madness
24.)  LORDE - Pure Heroine
25.)  RED FANG - Whales and Leeches
26.)  GHOST - Infestissumam

Monday, December 30, 2013

Samuel Locke Ward Released 12 Albums This Year. What Did Your Band Do?

If you've ever had a child, you know that sleep deprivation and a substantial loss of income are also part of the package.

For Samuel Locke Ward, a newborn wasn't able to discourage the Iowa City artists from releasing a new album every month for the past year.

And what did your band do, again?

What's almost as remarkable was how each one had at least two or three really good tracks on them, which means S.L.W. can probably pull a good comp album out of the project which is what he seems to be doing according to his email announcing the finish line of the project:

Hey everybody, I finished the Lame Years. The final album of the 12 album series is called Back From Heaven. It is a slightly Cthulhu themed arena rock album. 

It ended up as 177 original songs and 2 covers over 12 albums. Thanks to everybody who listened all year long. I really appreciate all of the encouragement I got.

I am currently working on compiling a "Best Of The Lame Years" album that I will be pressing in early 2014.

For those of you who have been listening each month please feel free to write in and let me know if there are any tracks that absolutely MUST go on the album. I am proud of how everything turned out and I know a lot of real good stuff is gonna not go on the record. Thanks again everybody and have a great holiday!

best wishes,


Friday, December 27, 2013

Bret Michaels - Jammin' With Friends


I generally don't toss around words like "The worst rock record of all time" or contemplate matters like a class-action lawsuit towards a performer who is obviously trying to milk the remnants of a fading career. Everyone has a right to financial stability, I suppose, but when does it start becoming criminal?

For Bret Michaels, it begins with Jammin' With Friends, a collection that is filled with such contempt that it doesn't hide the fact that 25% of the songs presented have been released on other albums, while the record makes no mention of this and isn't considered a compilation or collection of previously released songs.

Which comes in handy with Michaels' penchant for re-recording Poison songs and presenting them as solo offerings, a trick that he has done multiple times in the past and will continue to do as long as there are casinos who book him for solo shows.

Again, none of this really matters and the lack of a rating for Jammin' With Friends is not a reflection of Michaels' career decisions, but on how a man who obviously cares a lot about his "brand" would release an album that is ultimately deserving of career suicide. This is a record in which even Bret's most loyal fan base could view it as a reason to jump ship to a young country star and have all of the eye candy and all of their natural hair.

Speaking of, Jammin' With Friends does feature "countrified" versions of old Poison songs, including two versions of "Every Rose Has Its Thorn," with one featuring octogenarian Loretta Lynn. For some inexplicable reason, Michaels' also enlists the help of Aerosmith's Joe Perry on the track.

You're getting the idea of the record's gimmick by now: 20 songs, 5 previously released, 4 songs that are duplicated in this record alone, 3 cover songs, and every fucking one of them featuring a pointless cameo from another performer.

Fucktard Jimmy Buffett helps out with two of 'em, one entitled "The App Song" (swear to God) and the other, of course, being "Margaritaville," which sounds like a soundboard recording from a Buffett show in Detroit where Michaels' was playing at the local casino that same night a dropped over to stagebomb Jimmy's larger show. There is no evidence that the recording even came from a Michaels' concert, unless I've missed the boat where Bret now employs steel drum players for his solo set.

With no redeeming value and nothing to add to Michaels' brand, Jammin' With Friends instead presents Bret as an opportunistic leech, using his limited notoriety to annoy others into contributing to his boutique releases that seem to feature an endless parade of pouty-lipped glamour shots, airbrushed to knock 20 years off his 50 year-old face and marketed to the same housewives who have become alienated from real rock music.

Jammin' With Friends is such an afterthought that it even took Michaels a fucking year to come up with that shitty title, originally listed as Get Your Rock On before becoming Good Song and Great Good Friends before becoming the abysmal release that you see before you today.

In a fair and just world, Jammin' With Friends would become the nail in Bret Michael's coffin, a career-ending affair that would leave him so tainted that even C.C. DeVille won't return his phone calls.

Now that's something to believe in.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Mogwai Readies Rare Rave Tapes' Box Set and North American Tour

Here's some info on an upcoming rarity from Mogwai and the band's Spring North American tour which hits Des Moines.


Here's the info:

The North American version of Rave Tapesdeluxe-edition box set, which is available exclusively through SubPop, will be housed in a hardcover box case featuring artwork unique to this package and will be limited to just 500 copies.

Items included in the box set include:

* Loser Edition vinyl of the album – limited, colored-vinyl version
* Bonus 7" including one new, non-album track, with an art etching on the B-side (this is the same 7" we are offering as a free gift with purchase of the regular version of Rave Tapes)
* Bonus, colored-vinyl 12" with two additional new, non-Rave Tapes songs only available in this box set version.
* 3 12″×12″ art prints of the cover art from all of the vinyl pieces in this here box: aka the LP, the bonus 12" and bonus 7".
* 40-page, hardcover book of studio photography by Steve Gullick taken during recording of the album. * CD copy of the album and digital download codes for each of the vinyl records included.

Mogwai’s recently released video for “The Lord is Out Of Control,” is now available via Sub Pop’s YouTube player (link). The clip, helmed by Antony Crook (Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will LP photography; "San Pedro” video), features gorgeous cinematography and was shot on location in Hawaii this past October.

Rave Tapes is set for a Jan. 21 in North America via Sub Pop, with the European release available on Jan. 20 via Rock Action. The record will also be available via Spunk in Australia and Hostess in Japan and SE Asia. Rave Tapes was recorded over the summer in the band’s Castle of Doom studio in Glasgow and reunites the band with Hardcore Will Never Die But You Will co-producer Paul Savage.

Digital pre-orders of Mogwai’s Rave Tapes via iTunes became available on Dec. 2, with purchasers receiving immediate downloads of the songs “The Lord Is Out Of Control” and “Remurdered.”

North American CD and LP pre-orders, including limited edition Loser Edition colored vinyl, product bundles with a new T-shirt design, and deluxe box set are also available now via SubPop. Click here to pre-order the record in it’s multiple formats via Sub Pop.

North American tour dates:

Apr. 21 - Albuquerque, NM - Sunshine Theatre

Apr. 22 - El Paso, TX - Tricky Falls
Apr. 23 - Dallas, TX - Granada Theater

Apr. 24 - Austin, TX - Emo's

Apr. 25 - Houston, TX - Fitzgerald's

Apr. 26 - Raton Rouge, LA - Varsity Theatre
Apr. 27 - New Orleans, LA - Civic Theatre

Apr. 29 - Miami, FL - Grand Central

Apr. 30 - Tampa, FL - The Ritz Ybor

May 1 - Orlando, FL - The Beacham Theatre

May 3 - Nashville, TN - Exit In

May 6 - Charlotte, NC - Amos' Southend

May 7 - Washington, DC - 9:30 Club

May 8 - Philadelphia, PA - Union Transfer

May 9 - New York, NY - Terminal 5

May 10 - Boston, MA - House of Blues

May 11 - Montreal, QC - Metropolis

May 13 - Toronto, ON - Danforth Music Hall

May 14 - Cleveland, OH - House of Blues

May 15. - Detroit, MI - St. Andrews Hall

May 16 - Chicago, IL - The Vic Theatre

May 17 - Des Moines, IA - Wooly's

May 18 - Minneapolis, MN - First Ave

May 20 - Denver, CO - Ogden Theatre

May 21 - Salt Lake City, UT - The Depot
May 24 – Portland, OR – Roseland Theater
May 25 - Vancouver, BC - Vogue Theatre

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Baker's Dozen Best Christmas Songs Of All Time

Be warned: this is a stream-of-consciousness list that I'm, literally, composing on the fly.

In other words: don't get your frigging elf panties in a bunch because you're dumbass Christmas song ain't on the list. Be a man...or a woman, if you lack a penis...and put your own holiday favorites in the comment section.

I seldom check comments anymore (the head straight to my junk email, which makes it a more surprising read when I'm cleaning up around this joint, fingerpicking html shit I have no idea about) so go ahead and speak your mind. Just know that it's the holidays, my wish is for everlasting peace and it's only a fucking list on a blog.


Anyways, the list is a pretty spot on account of my favorite Christmas songs ever. These are the ones I never get tired of and present at least a modicum of coolness, if you're into that kind of thing.

My parents have long since abandoned any notion of "coolness," and I can tell you that the first example of this is in their holiday music selection.

Keep in mind, this is a Baby Boomer couple, so they should know better.

Every year, the old man takes out all of the Cd's in his Honda Accord (which is funny in itself, because growing up he only bought American vehicles. He was in politics, so he had to consider the union votes in our blue-collar town) and replaces them with holiday music. I should stress that these amount to at least 18 discs, since neither parent has ever operated a digital device, other than their individual laptops. My dad then will proceed to listen to only Christmas music until the first of the year.

When I visit during the holidays, I'm amazed at the amount of shit that comes out of their car speakers or from their primary audio source: a Bose Wave Radio with a CD changer. My dad had to send it in to Bose once for a repair, instead of following the modern tradition of devices: if it's broke, throw it in the landfill and buy a new one. I actually kind of admired his stubborn loyalty of familiarity in that case.

Inevitably, I hear the (unfortunately) familiar refrains of Christmas With Babyface and I understand how bad it has gotten. There's a fear that, if I dig deeper, I'll find a stray Michael Bolton or Kenny G Christmas record in their CD piles, and then the holidays would be ruined.

If one thing is certain, none of the titles on the Baker's Dozen List of the Best Christmas Songs of all time will cause you the amount of embarrassment of now publicly admitting that my parents own a fucking Babyface album.

Full disclosure: for some reason I continue to reach for Bob Dylan's Christmas From The Heart release every Christmas, cruelly torture myself with at least one listen of Merry XXX Mas (it's getting worse with age, the homophobic lyrics really reflect a stunning level of hatred) and unexplicably watch the Flaming Lips' awful Christmas On Mars film every year.

What I'm saying is to totally take the following list with a grain of salt. Everybody's got their own favorites for the holiday and if "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer" is your thing, then have at it.

But you are open season, however, the moment you admit to liking Christmas With Babyface.

There is most certainly a rock and roll flavor to my favorites and a healthy blend of the obscure, not-so-obvious and annual favorites. Some are fueled by nostalgia and others are included because their holiday spirit is either hidden or downright absent. For whatever reason, they feel like the holidays to me and they provide me with what any decent holiday track should automatically promote: a little bit of warmth, reflections on another year that's passed and the hope that the new year will foster a few decent moments you can recollect again next Christmas.

1.) BING CROSBY & DAVID BOWIE - "Little Drummer Boy/Peace On Earth"

When this clip and song was new-and yes, I'm old enough to remember the actual special in which it originates-the "weird" factor was immediately noted. As a kid, it suddenly made Bing a bit hip, tolerating such a groundbreaking and strange artist like Bowie onto the crooner's scene. The reality is that it may have been nothing more than Bing's devotion to the RCA label and their strange idea of cross-pollinating roster artists, regardless of how different they were. In the end, the professionalism of the pair wins out with a passionate melody of two holiday classics that overcomes the scripted corniness of the scene just prior to the music starting. I still have the vinyl copy of this single, b/w "Fantastic Voyage" from Bowie's Lodger. Crosby died shortly after recording the track/scene with Bowie with the song itself being rehearsed a mere hour before the tapes rolled. Thankfully, this once-a-lifetime moment was captured and it continues to dominate my holiday music list.

2.) CHUCK BERRY - "Run Rudolf Run"

Melodically identical to Berry's own "Little Queenie," "Run Rudolf Run" is an excellent example of a basic 12-bar blues pattern and how Chuck Berry was so inventive that he could get away with things like taking a song he'd already done, re-working it with different lyrics and then releasing it as something completely new. Over a half-century later, the song continues to be used for commercial means and covered by different artists (personal favorite would be Keith Richards' version, which would come in at #14 immediately after the Baker's Dozen list) as a lasting testament to this songs undeniable appeal.

3.) BOB & DOUG McKENZIE - "12 Days of Christmas"

SCTV came during a time when I had no driver's license, no girlfriend and no social life outside of a friend who lived down the street and who shared a love for the 90-minute TV show that aired on NBC every Friday night after Carson. Both of us grew into a certain amount of social charm after our awkward middle school years and SCTV managed to turn a pair of recurring characters name Bob & Doug McKenzie into household names thanks to a hit album and a major motion picture. As a side-note, my friend and I went to the Bob & Doug movie Strange Brew when it was released and the film broke about half-way through it. We walked up to the projection room and filled our pockets with frames of the broken celluloid and had to wait until the thing was released on VHS before we could enjoy the entire movie. The album The Great White North was released in the fall of '81, and SCTV actors Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis had the foresight to include a Christmas song in it, a track that continues to be played around here every year since the early 80's. And every year I chuckle at the lines "There should be more there," "And a beer...in a tree," and the observational deadpan of "That beer's empty." And like all good Christmas songs, I am so ready for this to be done by the 26th.

4.) CHARLES BROWN - "Please Come Home For Christmas"

If I recall, those shitbirds called The Eagles covered this for no apparent reason other than they're douchebags and nobody gave a shit about their original "Funky New Year" that appeared as the b-side. So remember, you're looking for Mr. Brown's original and nothing that features bearded members of the SoCal lite country-rock outfit hanging out by the pool on the cover. Charles Brown, the originator of this tremendous Christmas tune, also contributed another swell holiday track called "Merry Christmas Baby" with Bonnie Raitt in the early 90's, but Brown's original take from 1960 is the bee's knees-a slow ode to what happen when your old lady ain't home for the holidays and your Christmas spirit is as cold as the winter solstice.


Welcome To The Pleasuredome is a bloated mess that merely confirms Frankie Goes To Hollywood's lack of talent rather than enhance it, which is something they should have considered before releasing a fucking double as their debut. Sure, the band struck big with "Relax" and "Two Tribes," but it was with their third single where the band really shined. Released in the UK during the 1984 holiday season, the song became FGTH's final chart topper (in England, at least) before the band's quick descent. Listening to it today, it's the kind of fluke that makes it hard to comprehend that this is the same band who gained prominence with such lines as "When you wanna suckittoit?" The message of "make love your goal" should have been more realized outside of the U.K. and it is a song that may be the band's nagging reminder that their history is notable for the wrong song.

6.) ROBERT FRIPP - "Silent Night"

This came to me a few decades ago tucked in some record label sampler that I received. Originally released as a flexi disc in 1979 for the Chicago magazine Praxis, Fripp unleashes a very notable Frippertronics version of the classic Christmas song that is mysterious and just as traditional as you remember it. This became a favorite of mine the moment I heard it, and the track's secretive release deserves a wider audience.

7.) THE KINKS - "Father Christmas"

Love it. Recorded when England was just beginning to hear the first wave of local punk talent, these rock veterans captured the economic strife prevalent in their country at the time while mirroring the noisy racket of discontent of their younger musical cousins that was unheard of before. It's no wonder why the Kinks were so revered by punks while other bands of similar backgrounds were cast off as dinosaurs and bloated relics. Hell, even the b-side was "Prince Of The Punks." "Father Christmas" took on greater significance during the 80's when the gap between the halves-and-have-nots grew wider, which may make the track the most relevant Christmas song of this year, now that I think about it.

8.) THE PRETENDERS - "2000 Miles"

Originally released as the b-side to "Middle Of The Road," the Pretenders' lead-off single to their third record, Learning To Crawl, "2000 Miles" became associated with the holidays thanks to the single's holiday of '83 release date and also for Chrissie Hynde's mournful refrain "Our hearts were singing/It must be Christmas time." The UK had the right idea by putting "2000 Miles" as the lead-off single in their neck of the woods-the track is certainly worthy of its own emphasis-but with the U.S. single, you had a very complete picture of the band after tragically losing half of its original members. The new line-up belted out a declaration of Hynde's intention to keep moving forward on the "Middle Of The Road" a-side while "2000 Miles," a loving remembrance of original guitarist James Honeyman Scott, seemed to be the most appropriate song to acknowledge the tragedy in which she just left a year prior. In short, the single perfectly encapsulated the headspace of Chrissie Hynde at that moment while "2000 Miles" continues to be utilized for its Yuletide message to this day.

9.) THE RAMONES - "Danny Says"

Not really a Christmas song, unless you count that line "It ain't Christmas if there ain't no snow," which is the only reason that I give this awesome track from End Of The Century a nod for inclusion. Plus, I'm not a fan of the bruthas' more notable Christmas track "Merry Christmas Baby (I Don't Want To Fight Tonight)" from the abysmal Brain Drain release. Another great thing about "Danny Says?" It uses the same chord progression (G-C-D) as "Blitzkrieg Bop." And "Beat On The Brat." And "Sheena Is A Punk Rocker." And...

10.) RUN - DMC - "Christmas In Hollis"

Any kid that grew up in the 80's also grew up with this modern day Christmas classic from our brothers from Hollis, Queens - like we in these landlocked states know what the hell that even means. I'm sure there are tons of people that hate this track, but these are the same people that don't believe that black Santas are capable of global travel fueled by the magic of a dog with antlers tied to his head. If you believe, you'll understand that "Christmas In Hollis" is amazingly catchy, deliciously kitchy and a head-bobbing entry that can bring a smile even if you don't believe that Santa has an old Merlin electronic game that he's converted into a device that identifies all the children of the world on if they have been "Naughty" or "Nice."

11.) OTIS REDDING - "Merry Christmas Baby"

It's been done before...several times, in fact...but nobody does it like Otis. One of the things I love so much about Otis is that his entire professional career was based on a fluke. In 1962, Redding was the driver for a representative from Atlantic Records who happened to be visiting their subsidiary Stax in Memphis. Otis picked him up from the airport and drove him to the studio, in which time Redding had convinced the man to let him come inside and sing. They recorded two cuts using the label's infamous backing musicians with the second one being "These Arms Of Mine," which went on to sell over 800,000 copies the following year. To think that this man's golden gritty voice would have been would have been just as unfathomable as not being able to hear his version of "Merry Christmas Baby" at least once during the holidays.

12.) ELVIS PRESLEY - "Santa Claus Is Back In Town"

This tune is required on my list if only for the fact that our tree has not one, but two Elvis ornaments that play this song on our Christmas tree every year. I've got lots of decorations for the king, but none are as irritating and continually played by the children for at least the first 12 hours this ornament is found each holiday. The best part is that one is obnoxiously loud and plays the song at a slightly different speed, so when both ornaments are played at the same time, it sounds like a Butthole Surfers acid trip. And nothing says the holidays like either Elvis, the Butthole Surfers, or this smokin' track by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. The b-side of this single was "Blue Christmas," and I thank the Baby Jesus for never giving me an ornament that plays that song.

13.) TOM WAITS - "Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis"

If you made me choose between that Pogues "New York Fairytake" and this one, the Waits tune would win every time. It's the spiritual father to that song, for sure, but it's also a got a bit more depth and bite to it. These are characters that I wouldn't mess with for fear of their demeanor's, while MacGowan's are harder to empathize with because of their pointless inebriation. Plus, I like the locale of the song-Minneapolis is a lonely place to be during the holidays if'n you don't have a main squeeze to help warm your nights. "Christmas Card" offers just a tad bit of hope in its content as warmth, and when Waits adds a touch of "Silent Night" and "Goin' Out Of My Head" to the proceedings, well forget about it.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Run Westy Run Heads Home For A Reunion At First Avenue

If I were in Minneapolis next Friday, I would be at First Avenue checking out the Run Westy Run reunion.

For every Replacement or Husker Du, there were shitloads of other bands that navigated closed to national recognition while laying waste to audiences throughout the Upper Midwest. I don't know if you had any perspective to Run Westy Run back in the day, but around here they were welcomed, enjoyed and expected to carry the Twin Cities torch to some extend.

Featuring three brothers named Johnson, all with strong chins, Run Westy Run walked a blurred line between country, the blues, and the Twin City's natural tendency to punk shit up. The Husker's Grant Hart produced an effort for SST while R.E.M.'s Peter Buck twiddled the knobs for the much matured and consistently good Green Cat Island from 1990.

I'm not sure what took place after that; the Golden Smog project that brother Kraig Johnson was a part of kind of took off, but I do know the R.W.R. line of "floatin' on a pigeon wing" has stayed with me for some time and the holidays are as good as time as any to revisit some old friends.

Run Westy Run @ First Avenue Friday, December 27, 2013.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Magnolias - For Rent

In my lifetime, I called the offices of Twin/Tone records three times. Once to confirm if the stories I’d heard that the Replacements made off with the master tapes of their Twin/Tone records and thrown them into the Mississippi River (they had—kind of—it was only the copies of the master recordings and not the real thing that they nicked).

The other two times was to see if the second Magnolias album, For Rent, would ever be released on compact disc. On both of those discussions—about three years between each one—I was informed “yes” but never provided with a definitive date. Here it is, over twenty-years later, and still no hint of this Minneapolis landmark and virtually no recorded evidence that the band was on the verge of taking the Replacements’ crown of teenage ambivalence right off the top of their still-working head.

Some clarification is in order first. For many Replacements fans like me, the sound of the band adding horns (Pleased To Meet Me) and pursuing tamer arrangements (Don’t Tell A Soul) were troubling. While scouring the streets of “The Little Apple” during this same time period, one could find a plethora of decent—ahem—replacement bands that embodied not only the spirit of the town’s more notorious band, but even a few of the same chord progressions. No band managed to do this more effectively than The Magnolias.

It is true, and quite evident throughout For Rent, that head Magnolia John Freeman was nowhere in the same league as Paul Westerberg in terms of songwriting. What Freeman lacked as a wordsmith, he made up for in sheer intensity. His voice, at its most feral, matched Westerberg’s, albeit a tad more nasal and even less of a range. To be polite about it, Freeman would have trouble fronting any other band other than The Magnolias and God bless him for that limitation

The real similarities though are with the band, which channel the Mats’ Stink-era exuberance wonderfully at the same moment that their older brothers decided to forgo teenage angst and trade it in for adult compromise. The Replacements had a clear eye on mainstream acceptance while The Magnolias seemed to have their eyes trained on filling in the hole that our heroes left open.

To think that this would be an easy goal is shortsighted. The Replacements’ trick was letting everyone think they were just a bunch of young, drunk punks with little regard for the craft of rock and roll. The Magnolias not only had a good grasp of that craft, they made sure to get the guy closest to The Mats’ sound to capture their own version of it.

They hired the Replacements own soundman, Monty Wilkes, to record For Rent, and he did such an admirable job that you have to wonder why they didn’t put him in the captain’s chair for one of their own records. He captures every bit of Freeman and Tom Lischmann‘s crunching guitars on tape, but his real trick was how he put drummer Ron Anderson‘s snare in front of everything else in the mix. For twelve songs, Anderson sounds like he’s hammering a hole to China and even on the most tame of moments; Wilkes leaves the snare so high in the final product that you wonder if he used the Ron Popeil school of recording strategy: set it and forget it. The band never utilized Wilkes again and did not incorporate this kind of recording strategy in future recordings, which explains why none of their subsequent records ever managed to capture the kind of fury that’s audibly apparent in For Rent.

Time, the lack of availability, and tremendously low record sales (For Rent only managed to sell about 1,700 copies) don’t bode well for my argument that the Magnolias’ second full-length offering is an unheralded classic. Indeed, it would be easy to suggest that the proof lies in simply getting a copy of For Rent and judging for yourself, but even that is harder than it looks given that the title remains out of print.

The only thing I can do is try and get people talking about this wonderful record again, hopefully to the point where Twin/Tone will reconsider their stance against putting the band’s catalog on iTunes (or any other digital retailer) so that people can sample For Rent on their own. I’m confident that any fan of early Replacements and followers of the Twin Cities ’80s music scene will find more than enough reasons to revisit this forgotten gem.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

The title For Rent is available from iTunes.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Kate Bush - The Dreaming

For those too young to remember, Saturday Night Live was hugely influential in breaking new artists before MTV. I remember learning about Devo, the B-52′s, Fear, and many others from the show. And on one episode that featured Monty Python member Eric Idle as the guest host, a young Kate Bush was the musical guest. She writhed on top of a piano if I recall, sang “The Man With The Child In His Eyes” and I immediately fell in love with her.

There was something precious about her first two albums and a hint of some remarkable talent on album number three, Never Forever. But it wasn’t until the fourth album, The Dreaming, that Kate Bush’s capacities began to be fully realized.

It was here that Bush began to assume more diverse characters in her songs, often utilizing the full range of her voice for dramatic effect. She also began to piece all of the musical elements together as the record’s sole producer. As one would expect from a relative novice in the producer’s chair, there are moments of clutter and questionable arrangements.

But for every misstep, there is a sense that Bush set out to make The Dreaming as something more than she, or any other contemporary artist, had made before. For that lofty goal, she must be duly rewarded, but the real reward may be how she was able to go so far towards the avant-garde and recover in better shape commercially than before. There is little on The Dreaming that sounds commercially accessible, and the fact that her record company gave her even more financial resources for her next album seems unfathomable in today’s economic climate.

What’s more is that The Dreaming shows signs of Kate Bush being completely bat-shit crazy. Sure, she was able to maintain a proper English front in the press and fans, but it’s not far fetched to consider her fodder for the loony bin after a few spins of this record. As a matter of fact, there are shots of her donning a straightjacket in the video for “Suspended In Gaffa.”

Video storyboards aside, all interviews from this period and beyond show an impossibly coherent and well-spoken person, seemingly leaving all normalcies at the studio door during the recording process. She addresses this on “Leave It Open,” the last song on side one. “I kept it in a cage / Watched it weeping / But made it stay,” she says of her idiosyncrasies, before acknowledging “now I’ve started learning how…I leave it open.”

What exactly is she leaving open in The Dreaming? The door to “weirdness” apparently, judging from the last verse where she all but admits to the listener through backwards masking: “We let the weirdness in.”

It’s true: Kate assumes various personas throughout the album, an amateur robber (“There Goes A Tenner”), a Viet Cong soldier (“Pulling Out The Pin”), Harry Houdini’s wife (“Houdini”), and by the end of the album (“Get Out Of My House”) she’s lost her mind completely to the point where she begins to bray and snort like a fucking donkey.

If her lyrics and the roles she puts her voice through aren’t enough to make the proceedings challenging, the rest of the arrangements will challenge even the most well-versed of listeners.

She cakes all available tracks with worldly instruments, leaving only the spare piano/vocal movements for emotional impacts. They’re infrequent, which means that for the majority of the album you’re wading through Turkish string instruments, didjeridus, and maybe an occasional bullroarer.

It takes a while to get used to all of the continent jumping and ethnic polyrhythms, particularly since The Dreaming sounds far from what would be considered a “world music” album. No, the only sense of why certain instruments were used was if they marginally fit the song’s overall theme and if they sounded majorly fucked up.

By commercial standards, The Dreaming failed. Even in England, which treated her as a national treasure prior to the album’s release, only one single (“Sat In Your Lap”) managed to crack the top twenty. Why her label, after taking such a gamble, agreed to let Kate man the controls again for her next album is quite remarkable. She repaid them by delivering an album that was slightly less challenging but still far-reaching; Hounds Of Love provided them/her with worldwide success and instantaneous notoriety. It too is an album worth pursuing, but for my money, I like The Dreaming more. It shows a young women, manic with ideas and creativity throwing caution to the wind and delivering an off-her-rocker masterpiece that very few artists have ever had the courage to make before or since.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

James Gang - Rides Again

When you think about it, the James Gang was pretty much doomed from the beginning. They came of age when a pair of other power trios—the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Cream—had already run their course and who’d featured a pair of undeniable guitar legends. So what was the James Gang thinking releasing Yer Album, a debut record of unfocused jams, not-quite-ready originals, and a bunch of covers heavy on noodling and light on inspiration?

Keep in mind, this was an era when anything was possible. For crying out loud, a band as creatively limited as Iron Butterfly came across a nifty riff, repeated the damn thing for over a quarter of an hour, and suddenly became the biggest selling thing on Atlantic Records. So I’m sure that a few label execs at ABC records green-lighted Yer Album because they didn’t have a clue as to what may stick and what would fall.

Thankfully, the band reconvened for album number two with producer Bill Szymczyk and, essentially, reinterpreted Yer Album with all the best parts kept in and all the freshman aloofness. I don’t know if he was totally responsible for the structure that surrounds Rides Again (he also produced the debut) but I do know that he cut some of the song lengths in half and added a bunch of arrangements that would totally fool the average listener into thinking the band was nothing more than three regular dudes from Ohio: Joe Walsh on vocals and guitar, bassist Dale Peters, and Jim Fox on drums.

“Take A Look Around,” Walsh’s composition from the first album turns into a pot grower’s anthem “Tend My Garden” for the second. “Funk #48″ retains the same beat on Rides Again‘s “Funk #49,” but Walsh trims a second off the riff and it makes all the difference in its potency.

Side one mirror’s Yer Album lumbering rust-belt stomp, but it does it with the utmost efficiency. There’s a lifetime of riffs to practice and the tone of Walsh’s Gibson is something to envy. You may have heard the opener “Funk #49″ on classic rock stations and perhaps side one’s closer “The Bomber,” but to bookend the two in their proper place on side one is one hell of a first half.

Side 2 is all Walsh, who’s shown noticeable improvement as a lyricist in the year since the James Gang’s debut. They keep the second half a relatively acoustic affair, effortlessly going between elements of American folk, country-rock, and ending the side with the beautiful English folk tinge of “Ashes, The Rain And I.”

For all of the potential of trying to add too many musical elements and too much opportunity for self-absorbed performances, Szymczyk leaves everything at a concise half-hour total. Rides Again lends itself as an album that’s perfect for repeated listens while being just out of classic rock notoriety that it’s shamefully overlooked in many best-of lists that focus on that decade’s most worthy inductees. I’m on my third version of this album and set for a fourth: a definitive remastered edition that corrects some of MCA’s unconscionable editions over the past twenty years.

Walsh lasted for one more studio album and a worthwhile live effort, In Concert, that captured the line-up before Joe went on to a more successful solo career and in a retirement-building stint with the Eagles. None of his subsequent work came close to what he was able to achieve and the same is true of Fox and Peters, both of whom attempted to continue on with the James Gang moniker even after Walsh departed for a solo career.

At its core, Rides Again is a mulligan, a do-over, coming off the heels of a debut where neither artist or producer really had their shit in order to pull off a worthy release. Not only does Rides Again correct the errors of the first, it goes further. In fact, it exceeds beyond what the band probably should have been able to do in the first place. Rides Again is a testament to getting back in the saddle and seeing how far you can go with what should have been a one trick pony.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Incredible! Capitol Records Re-Releases Beatles' Yesterday...And Today With Infamous 'Butcher Cover'

With what can only be described as an almost unhealthy obsession, I may get to own my very own copy of The Beatles' album Yesterday...And Today with a reproduction of the infamous "Butcher's Cover."

Capitol Records-evidently still timid after the Capitol Records Vol. 2 box set, the one where they presented the titles Rubber Soul and VI as true mono mixes from the original sources, when in fact they were merely fold-down mixed of the newly mastered stereo versions-has decided to forgo a Vol. 3 box set entirely. Instead, the folks at the record company are releasing the American Beatles albums as a pricey box set (what else is new) and as individual offerings, albeit for a limited time.

While this is another case of Beatles' redundancy and probably not worth a hill-of-beans to the average fan of the Fab Four, for me it means an opportunity to obtain an official (and modestly priced) Butcher Cover of the band's Yesterday...And Today release, a cover that I have dreamed about for decades.

Sure, this is another case of owning another Beatles album after I already have multiple sources of every song on the release-including a 70's reissue of the title with the boring orange label-it is a chance to finally own one of the most bizarre covers ever to grace a major release, including a sticker to represent the regular "trunk cover" that replaced the offending cover.

It's an idea-not to toot my own horn, but "Toot toot!"- that I have suggested to family members, stray cats, and random co-workers for several years now.

Here's the story for all you dipshits that have no idea what I'm talking about: Capitol records released American versions of Beatles albums complete with different artwork and, on occasion, heavily processed mixes that included phony baloney stereo and lots of reverb. For dipshits like me, these are the titles and mixes that I grew up with.

On one particular release, Yesterday...And Today, the Beatles were photographed wearing butcher covers and holding plastic baby doll parts and random pieces of meat. It was "controversial" to some, but for others (like George Harrison) it was a stupid idea.

Anyway, some moron green-lighted this photo as the cover for the latest Beatles record and stores began to ask "What the fuck?"

So Capitol panicked and ordered the stores to return the offending covers, whereby they promptly destroyed or covered the artwork with a very homogeneous shot of the band standing around a fucking trunk.

When the public found out about this, they began seeking out the original artwork-even going so far as to peel back the replacement cover that was merely glued on to the original one.

To put this in a price perspective: an original Butcher Cover is mint condition can run in the tens of thousands. A covered copy can fetch several thousand in decent condition, and the ones that people have peeled (both effectively and poorly) can range from the hundreds to thousands and are the least sought after.

I was only able to come away with a poster of the cover, featuring the words "Incredible!" directly above the shot. This poster stayed in my bedroom growing up for many years, drawing attention from friends who came over. I remember George looking very crazed in the shot and I remember checking out prices for an original cover-in any state I could find-while contemplating just how silly it would be to fork over large chunks of cash for one measly record.

A friend who owned a few record stores in the Waterloo/Cedar Falls area had a copy of one (second state, if you give a shit) but was totally nonchalant about it, which prompted me to offer $50 for it.

He declined.

But now I can have my own copy for $15, albeit in the "milking it for all its worth" format of the compact disc.

I'm in!

I'm doing this solely for the cover, because it sounds like the mixes of the remaining American titles (Yesterday...And Today, Revolver-which cuts three Lennon tracks, making this title a pointless relic, Hey Jude, the soundtrack to Hard Day's Night and the documentary The Beatles Story) are all from the 2009 master tapes, not the original ones that Capitol based the records on back in the 60's.

In other words: these titles aren't even the proper mixes from the original masters, but newly created ones that are supposed to "enhance" the listening experience, whatever that means.

Which will have me stopping at the Y&T album as I'm not interested in hearing new "American" mixes, or whatever you want to call this clusterfuck of a moneygrab.

I suppose that it isn't that big of a deal since the controversial Dave Dexter Jr. mixes stopped with the U.S. version of Rubber Soul, making the remaining American titles mostly hatchet jobs of the original mixes.

Whatever. This box set will sell and completists will eat. it. up. Just as they do with any Beatles releases. And they'll also whine about how the original Vee Jay record wasn't included, or any of the other questionable titles that flooded the U.S. market before Capitol secured the rights.

Below is the Captiol Records video for this title as well as the company's press release.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Badfinger - Straight Up

For all the talk about the Beatles remasters, there’s a hefty amount of Apple material that could also use a quick tidying up from their original cd releases of two decades ago. Topping the list wouldn’t be a release by a former Beatle, but instead the band that seemed to be handpicked ambassadors to the Fab Four’s power pop division.

Badfinger was indeed a band that could sound remarkably similar to the Beatles, but it was 1972′s Straight Up that demonstrated how the band could actually compose material that lived up to the Beatles in terms of quality.

It’s here where you can find the band’s two most recognizable songs, “Day After Day” and “Baby Blue.” But the best thing about Straight Up is how you’ll discover that those two awesome songs are packed tightly inside a collection of equally great tunes.

It’s also impeccably sequenced, with the slow building “Take It All” introducing the album while its closer “It’s Over,” with its multi-tracked chorus and sweet slide guitar solo, appropriately wrapped up the band’s best album.

You’d never guess it, though, as Rolling Stone magazine inexplicably panned the album, deaf to Straight Up‘s pop charms and attacking the album’s lack of “rock and roll spirit.”

They’re wrong.

Straight Up has plenty of rock and roll spirit; it just happens to the spirit that doesn’t jibe with what the R.S. reviewer had in mind from a band that routinely rubbed elbows with the Beatles.

There’s “Suitcase,” the obligatory “touring sucks” song. “Sweet Tuesday Morning,” the obligatory “I’ve been all around the world but you—my lady back home—are still the apple of my eye” ballad. There’s even an eerie foreshadowing of the future financial ills (“Money”) that would plague the band and prompt half of the band’s members to take their own lives.

Yes, Badfinger was a band riddled with tragedy, and it often overshadows just how good they were during their prime. “Don’t you know there’s a song to sing / Keeping us together,” sings vocalist Pete Ham during the bridge of “Take It All,” hinting that Badfinger was still making music out of sheer joy at this point. It would be just a matter of months before they’d be writing music that faced scrutiny for its commercial potential.

With Straight Up, the band hired both a Beatles guitarist (George Harrison) and a Beatles enthusiast (Todd Rundgren) to help trim down the band’s growing repertoire to a handy dozen. But it’s the band’s own musicianship and wonderful chemistry that make Straight Up‘s twelve songs a stunning piece of power-pop and a timeless slice of post-Beatles salvos.

I played Straight Up constantly growing up. It caught the attention of my babysitter, who tried to get me to trade it for John Lennon‘s Mind Games.

I refused; Straight Up stands tall against even the Beatles’ solo efforts while reaching for the band’s lofty mid-period gems.

Guess I got what I deserved...

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Deerhunter - Monomania

I remember reading-and I’m too lazy to find the actual quote and hyperlink it for you fuckers-where Brandon Cox referred to Deerhunter’s first record as an angry mess, the product of young men fueled with punk rock angst and the novelty of learning their instruments while the tape was rolling.

Make no mistake, this isn’t necessarily an attack of Turn It Up, Faggot, but it’s a quote that I took to mean: “Here’s the place where we started, and here’s the place we’ve ended up after a lot of hard work and challenging ideas.” Because while the Deerhunter of the debut record is relevant in the entire menagerie of the band’s output, it’s also a good place to chart how good they became in their decade of existence.

Monomania is the band’s 6th album, and is a blatant left turn compared to the releases before it, where each one seemed to making clear headway towards identifying Deerhunter as one of America’s most notable acts. By “left turn” I could also suggest that it’s a “U turn” as it returns to the scuzzy formula of their debut in an attempt to appear be spontaneous, noisy, and ambivalent to the pressures of high expectations.

The album is littered with Cox’s distorted vocals and abrasive input levels, where instruments are faded up to the point of distortion, serving little else aside from trying to make Monomania as inaccessible as possible.

And while I am not dissuaded by such techniques - Cox has used them at lot of times, mainly delegated to e.p.s and leftover discs, and I liked it. It’s when these strategies are used for your first full-length record in three years and it happens to be coming off the heels of what had been a career highlight that I begin to have a problem with it. The notion that Cox's in-the-red document is somehow representative of the rock pioneers he's supposedly channeling (Ricky Nelson, Bo Diddly) misses the point of those early artists passion. The subversive mix also does little to convince me of Monomania's ties to the avant-garde, particularly since so much of the record is indebted to the pop leanings Cox hints at, yet is too chickenshit to actually embrace.

In the end, it all spells that the creative forces of Cox and guitarist/vocalist Lockett Pundt have left us with a somewhat lazy effort. Speaking of: Pundt's contribution of "The Missing" marks his third song in as many records that ebbs into another arpeggio break, making hims sound like a one trick pony.

Curiously, "The Missing" comes as Monomania's saving grace, giving the record at least one title that forfeits the project's phony-baloney garage worship with at least three minutes of dreamy reprieve, even though it's the worst Pundt Deerhunter track in years and it comes three tunes into the album.

Monomania's saving grace are Cox's songs, and even though he tries to diminish their fey charms with grit and grime, they ocassionally rise to the surface, begging the listener to consider them in more softer tones. You heard right: Cox could have created his own Ricky Nelson "Lonesome Town" if his ego wasn't in such a rush to be validated by, I dunno, music blogs named after Fall songs.

The fucker is a pussy cat, and if he wants a chance to add meat to his bones, then the best way to do it is in a live setting - and that's exactly what they did when I heard Deerhunter perform a large bag from this album live over last summer.

In the meantime, let's put the studio to good use, fellas, just like those granddaddies did in the 50's when cutting those tracks that Cox seems to have an ever-present boner for. It's not like they intentionally dirtied up the sessions - it's because they could only afford one-take Jakes, making the warts 'n all approach a matter of necessity, not creative glad-handing.

Just watch me: I'll probably be all over this record in a few years, but for right now - and ever since I first spun it last summer - it's a disappointment. And probably the best way to describe that disappointment is to use a line from the title track: “If you can’t send me an angel, send me something else.”

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Miley Cyrus - Bangerz

I’ve been asked by several people if I think Miley Cyrus is “for real,” implying that somehow all of the controversies surrounding this former Disney star are an indication that she is a product of hype rather than actual talent.

The discussion is usually initiated by people over the age of 35-and while the word “ageism” gets tossed around this blog a tad, it does seem that the concern is more a product of adults looking for some way to discount her success rather than the younger audience members.

More on that later.

What the adults fail to remember-and maybe this is a sign of getting older themselves-is that this is the very same questions presented to Madonna, Britney, and whatever female was pulling the media chains during their own formative years.

That is, unless you are a Baby Boomer, and then everything was fucking Joni Mitchell and Laura Nyro, waddinit? So, for your benefit, will just admit that everything before "Lucky Star" was more important that such trivial discussions about Miley Cyrus.

The question should be not if the young lady in the spotlight possesses talent (of course she does) but whether or not she possesses the same business acumen as those popular ladies before her.

Cyrus wants us to believe that Bangerz is her debut album, so right there we're supposed to consider her music prior to this release was fabricated by others and part of a bigger company effort, and, duh, we're talking about Disney.

I'm cool with this, just like I was cool when Janet Jackson said the same thing about Control, which isn't to suggest that Bangerz is as good as Miss Jackson's. Janet knew that she had to compete with brother Michael if she was going to make any realistic headway into the world of pop super-stardom.

Miley only has to compete with dad, Billy Ray, so our expectations are dramatically lower.

Bangerz sounds like the work of a naughty 19 year-old woman, and if the idea of 19 year-old woman openly talking about sex, drugs and dance music, then you'll be shocked to discover that Walt Disney was a chain smoker.

The themes are silly, the love metaphors are obvious, and the intentions are blatant. Miss Cyrus has grown up, at least to the extent of what "grown up" means to a 19 year-old woman. I keep belaboring this point because Miley's actions in promoting this record are the only things that people are focusing on.

All of this wouldn’t have created a modicum of controversy in the hands of Ke$sha or anyone else that wasn’t a pre-teen idol, but still, if the idea of Cyrus’ attempt at self-preservation is surprising, then those who count themselves as “shocked’ haven’t been paying attention to pop culture for decades and/or aren’t part of Cyrus’ business plan anyway.

My son is 10 years old, and when all of Cyrus’ shenanigans were white hot, I asked him what he thought about it. Unsolicited, he chastised her for being “weird” and attributed her behavior as drug related. I pressed and asked if this was the consensus was the product of his peers or an individual one. He assured me that it was his own, but what’s telling is that the disdain that he demonstrated for her behavior isn’t as great as the infectious hooks found throughout Bangerz. He knows the words to the hits from this records already, even if he has no clue what “dancin’ with Molly” even means.

Hell, even my 6 year old daughter came running into the kitchen when she heard me playing Bangerz  for the first time, and she gives two shits about Cyrus rubbing her ass against a giant teddy bear.

Unfortunately, she has some notion as to what twerking is and laughs at her mother when she watches her trying to recreate it in yoga pants and one of my old t-shirts.

In other words, she understands that Miley’s appeal is in her music and is oblivious to anything else.

So maybe we need to channel this 6 year-old’s notion of who Miley Cyrus is at this point in her career and cut her some slack in finding a new way to market herself, a tough racket in today’s media. Instead, let’s find the areas in which Cyrus really needs constructive criticism, specifically her lyrics, contrived vocalization and ridiculous album art.

With lines like “driving so fast ‘bout to piss on myself” and an inherent country drawl prominent on some tracks, there is clearly work to be done here. What’s even more troubling is that all of this is under the tutelage of professionals that should know better, but continue to enable her bad creative choices with, admittedly, some pretty tight backdrops.

Cyrus herself describes this as “dirty south hip-hop,” but the harsh reality is that it is also the product of an isolate young woman who’s picking sounds the same way she picks out clothes at Macy’s. There are patterns and color schemes that she will in no way be repeating by her mid-20’s, and to tolerate some of the train-wrecks within Bangerz requires the listener to be patient and let Cyrus figure that shit out on her own.

Because what she’s already figured out is how to listen to others when they present her with some ace material like “Wrecking Ball” and “#GETITRIGHT.” Tellingly, these two tracks are probably the best things found on Bangerz and the ones to not feature Miley sticking her foam fingers into the songwriting process.

At the end of the day, Bangerz is a post-modern version of Control, complete with the prerequisite television controversy, Twitter feed and YouTube naughtiness to keep the name alive.

Count Bangerz as a brilliant display of marketing prowess while the music itself as merely an expected statement of a young woman who will now have to navigate her talents through the more treacherous waters of a long standing career without the benefit of a pair of mouse ears.