May 31, 2007

"Like Jurassic Park, except I'm your sexasaurus baby"

There are a few things I like to hear whenever I'm in the mood to listen to an R. Kelly album, which is an increasingly rare event these days. But I still get anxious to hear what musical lunacy this dude cooks up whenever a new album drops. This has become especially true since the halycon summer of 2005 and the insanity that was the "Trapped in the Closet" phenomenon. Anyway, after giving it a quick listen, I have to say that his newest full-length, Double Up, manages to hit on everything I was hoping to hear. You can usually count on at least one incredibly catchy club banger per disc and this one does not disappoint, providing perfect summer anthem fodder in the remix to "I'm A Flirt". I also hope to hear a couple other pop jams that make for good driving music, here we get the slow burning duet with Usher of "Same Girl" and the menage-a-trois ode of the title track featuring a verse from Uncle Snoop. There are also a couple of really strong songs that sneak up on you, like the reggae-lite "Freaky in the Club" and the shockingly good "Rock Star" with Ludacris and Kid Rock (Luda's verse is, as usual, well worth checking out). But my favorite tracks on any Kels disc end up being those completely bonkers songs that usually feature a slightly understated beat and those hilariously bad lyrics that sounds like he's just tossing out off the top of his head. And here Double Up definitely doesn't disappoint, giving us not only the stupidly random answering phone message of "Leave Your Name" and the unintentionally lame prison drama of "Best Friend" but "The Zoo" which has to be one of his most awesomely bad songs ever (not counting "Closet", which is obviously on a whole other level). This jungle as sex metaphor finds Kels spouting off horrible one liners like the one found at the top of this entry and "banging on the skins like a bongo". But undoubtedly the most hilarious part is the chorus, during which he imitates a monkey call (exactly the same sound any four year-old would tell you a monkey makes, "ooh-oooh-ah-AH") and follows it up with a request for his girl to make those sounds during the sexing. "Sex Planet" comes real, real close to being this bad with its sex-related outer space puns but the laughs just aren't as plentiful as they are on "Zoo". So take a listen to a couple tracks from Double Up, one good and one painfully, yet hilariously, bad.

R. Kelly - "Rock Star (featuring Kid Rock & Ludacris)" (taken from Double Up)
R. Kelly - "The Zoo" (taken from Double Up)

May 30, 2007

Sing! Captain

With all the blogger love for Spencer Krug over the past couple of years thanks to the (mostly deserved) hype over his Sunset Rubdown and Swan Lake projects, it was easy to forget about the other contributing member of the supremely enjoyable Wolf Parade - Dan Boeckner. Well, thanks to the just released debut of his side project Handsome Furs, he can lurk in the shadows no longer. Plague Park (Sub Pop) finds Boeckner teaming up with his fiancee, poet Alexei Perry, for nine engaging tunes that combine minimal electronic flourishes with the more straightforward (as if!) indie rock found in Boeckner's other project(s). It's a very rewarding listen that reminds us just how much he contributed to the best Wolf Parade songs. Check out two of my absolute favorite Boeckner penned tracks, one from Handsome Furs and the other a classic Wolf Parade jam.

Handsome Furs - "Sing! Captain"
(taken from Plague Park)
Wolf Parade - "Same Ghost Every Night" (taken from Apologies To The Queen Mary)

May 23, 2007

via//chicago@random: The Smiths - "Reel Around The Fountain"

This is quite the opening statement for this legendary Manchester band, appearing as it does as the lead track on their landmark debut album. Fittingly for the maudlin Morrissey and company, they delve right into the miserable soul of things with this nearly six minute ballad that features a lovely hypnotic guitar line from Johnny Marr that loops most of the way through. But what really makes this song work for me is the organ - it really manages to capture the hopeful, yet cautiously distant mood of the lyrics. I always read this as a love note from the narrator to the bad boy he admires from afar. The narrator knows this person may not stick around for long, but oh how wonderful those fifteen minutes on the patio would be. It's a fantastic track and it contains a few lines that are my favorite Morrissey lyrics ever:

"I dreamt about you last night
and I fell out of bed twice
you can pin and mount me
like a butterfly
but take me to the haven of your bed
was something that you never said
two lumps, please
you're the bee's knees
but so am I"

The Smiths - "Reel Around The Fountain" (taken from The Smiths)

May 22, 2007

"It could be home, it could be home"

I mentioned them briefly when talking about the Arcade Fire show the other night, but I wanted to spend a little bit more time talking about the fantastic opening band, Electrelane. As with many of the most compelling bands I've encountered, it isn't easy to pin these girls down to one sound or pigeon-hole them into one genre. I hear elements of indie-pop, shoegaze, Krautrock, noise, and electronica all thrown into their mix, but it all congeals into a surprisingly cohesive and original whole. Some songs focus in on the retro kitsch vibe, while others coast along on a insistent Kraftwerkian beat before collapsing in a mass of broken guitar strings and drum sticks snapped in half. Check some out for yourself:

Electrelane - "Le Song" (taken from Singles, B-Sides, & Live)
This is one of the Krautrock inspired tunes, speeding along on a persistent beat and organ drones before nearly everything drops out to set up that huge payoff climax with the vocal harmonies. This is one of the songs that perfectly captures what Electrelane is all about.

Electrelane - "To The East" (taken from No Shouts No Calls)
We skip ahead to the first single from their latest album, which seems to find the band at their most sunny and accessible. But what makes this song so great are the instrumental touches - that perky guitar line that repeats throughout and that little nudge into overdrive that occurs with about a minute left. Great stuff.

May 21, 2007

"I wanna love you when you're sad"

Anyone who knows me knows just how big of a Smashing Pumpkins fan I am. Between the years of 1992 and 1998, I don't think any single other band even came close to spending as much time in my CD player as this band did. They are probably the band I've been the most obsessive over as well - tracking down unreleased demos, listening to hours of bootleg shows, simply devouring everything I could wrap my ears around. As with many hardcore Pumpkin fans, the hype of Zwan never came close to living up to the potential of Corgan's previous band. And the less said about his solo album the better. It was actually a not awful electro-pop album, but it just wasn't Corgan pantheon material.

Anyway... the big news of the past two years has been the reunion of the original Pumpkins. Half of them anyway - Corgan, drummer Jimmy Chamberlain, and... some studio dudes. Hmm. I'll agree that, as much as I loved D'arcy and Melissa, the bass player was pretty much expendable, but I think James Iha really added some nice texture to the band and he'll be missed. Word slowly leaked out over the past couple months about an album title (Zeitgeist), a release date (07.07.07, now 07.10.07), festival shows, and now residencies on the East and West Coast. It was enough to get even the most casual fan anxious to hear that Billy had up his sleeve.

Then, towards the end of last week, the bomb dropped. At first it was just a poor sounding 30-second clip, but there it was - the first single off the new album, "Tarantula". I refused to listen to a crappy sounding clip, preferring to hear the song in full. Turns out I didn't have to wait very long, days later the full song was flying across the web and being played by local alt-rock powerhouse Q101. I've been wanting to talk about this since I first heard the full thing Friday night, but I wanted to let it soak in a little and give it some time to float around my brain. And here's what I think:

The Good:
  • Immediately noticeable - the drums. Chamberlain, always one of the '90s most dependable drummers, sounds as if he hasn't lost a step. From the opening count-in on, he attacks the skins with his usual brutal precision.
  • The guitars. Billy's often been overlooked when people talk about great rock guitarists, but any fan lucky enough to watch him solo in concert knows just how great the man can be. This song is a testament to his skill, check out the monster verse riff and the solo about two and a half minutes in.
  • The lyrics. While they are still deeply shrouded in Billy's usual mysterious angst, the lyrics here are miles ahead of the many awkward moments on the Zwan album. I just wasn't buying Billy the Optimist and it's great to have pissed-off Billy back.
  • The structure. Even though the song clocks in at just under four minutes, "Tarantula" manages to still feel like a near-epic as the best Pumpkin songs did. The pacing is just perfect, building and releasing in all the right moments.
The Bad:
  • The production. Simply put, this production on this thing is nearly atrocious. I'm hoping that things will get a little better with the official version, otherwise we may be in for a lot of disappointment. "Tarantula" sounds dry and thin, nothing really punches you as hard as it should. You can tell Jimmy is pounding the crap out of the drums, but you really can't feel it. And the guitars! Those should be a lot lower and fatter.
  • The mix. Definitely tied in to the last point, but I think it needs to be called out specifically here as it almost singlehandedly ruined the Zwan album for me. Billy's vocals are too damn high in the mix! He needs to be down and dirty, swirling in the bottom end. Now it just sounds like he's floating above the music and not emotionally tied to it in the least.
  • The chorus. As I said, the pacing on this track is excellent and the band perfectly sets things up for a trademarked monster Pumpkins chorus. Thing is, it never really comes and the brilliant setup is nearly wasted on a flaccid chorus.
The important thing is that I'm enjoying this much, much more than I expected to be. I was prepared for the worst, so even a so-so Pumpkins song was bound to be a pleasant surprise. And in the end, that's exactly what "Tarantula" is - a so-so Pumpkins song. But I'm still excited, since the lead single for every single album has ended up being one of my least favorite tracks. So there's a lot of promise out there and I can't wait to hear the rest of Zeitgeist in a couple months. Meanwhile, check out "Tarantula" for yourself and let me know what you think.

Smashing Pumpkins - "Tarantula" (taken from Zeitgeist)

May 20, 2007

Arcade Fire - Live at the Chicago Theatre 05.19.07

Last night I was fortunate enough to see my third Arcade Fire show, this time sitting in fantastic third row orchestra pit tickets at the beautiful Chicago Theatre. It was, as to be expected, a fantastic show all-around but the band's energy level seemed to be a tiny bit lower than the other two times I'd seen them. Still, Arcade Fire at 90% is still better than most bands at 110% so I can't complain. It was a decent mix of material from both albums, leaning a bit heavier on Neon Bible tracks (I think all but two were played) as was to be expected. I still think the Funeral tracks are more fun to see performed live, but I did gain a better appreciation for a couple of the newer tracks after this show (especially "My Body Is A Cage" - previously my least favorite on the new album). There were no out in the audience tricks, just a solid show with a two song encore - "Body" and "Laika". Particular standouts for me were "Tunnels", "(Antichrist Television Blues)" and "Power Out". Great show all around. Supposedly both Tim Robbins and Rachel McAdams were in attendance, but I didn't manage to catch a glimpse.

The biggest surprise of the night was opening band Electrelane, an all female four-piece out of England that completely blew me away. One minute they were channelling Stereolab with French lyrics and vintage keyboards, another they were torturing their instruments in a feedback-laden Sonic Youth jam. Particularly exciting to watch was guitarist Mia Clarke, exorcising all sorts of demons out of her guitar when she wasn't trying to kill it or hump it. I can't remember the last time I've been so enthralled by a new band, this show made me an instant fan.

In other big music news, "Tarantula" the first new music from the Smashing Pumpkins in almost eight years made its way to the internet and radio stations over the weekend. Hopefully I'll have a little more to say about this tomorrow night, but let's just say I was pleasantly surprised.

May 17, 2007

Throwback Thursday IX

It might be too early for the official wave of nostalgia to kick in, but I've been going through a bit of a grunge phase over the last couple of weeks. Since picking up a used copy of the Mudhoney compilation March To Fuzz, I've been spinning loads of bands from the late '80s and early '90s Pacific Northwest scene. It's a shame that the post-grunge bands like Creed and Nickelback gave the genre such a bad rap there for awhile because, really, a lot of this is worth investigating. To get you started, here's a four-pack of some of my very favorite grunge era tunes.

Mudhoney - "Sweet Young Thing Ain't Sweet No More"
Despite distilling the insane Seattle hype of the early 1990s in a near perfect tune ("Overblown") and being name-checked by nearly every band remotely linked to the grunge scene, these guys never got the recognition they deserved. The may not have been as heavy as some of their contemporaries, but they more than made up for it with a wicked sense of humor and keen observational sarcasm.

Green River - "Queen Bitch"
Before there was Pearl Jam, there was Mother Love Bone. But before there was Mother Love Bone, there was Green River. Green River ended up being one of the most influential grunge bands in Seattle, if only because of the players involved and where they ended up. Lead singer Mark Arm and original guitarist Steve Turner ended up in Mudhoney, while second guitarist Stone Gossard, bassist Jeff Ament, and Turner's later replacement Bruce Fairweather all went on to form Mother Love Bone with Andrew Wood. Ament and Gossard are, of course, still members of the hugely popular Pearl Jam. Here they are with a Pacific Northwest take on a Bowie classic.

Tad - "Hibernations"
If grunge could be boiled down to its two most essential influences, metal and punk, Tad would be the band that emphasized the former with huge, crushing riffs that sounded as if they had crawled directly out of the primordial sludge. Tad was among the first wave of grunge bands to make a splash by being one of the first signees to the hugely influential Sub Pop label.

Pond - "Young Splendor"
Pond was another grunge-era band that never really reached the number of fans they deserved, but that may be partly blamed on unfortunate geography. While major labels and scene-riding hordes were descending on Seattle like so many vultures, Pond were cranking out their raucous noise in nearby Portland. Check out "Young Splendor" and see why they deserve to be remembered.

In other news, you might have noticed that I finally engaged in some long overdue organizing of the links to the left. I cut a couple dead links, but I added quite a few more of my favorite sites and blogs.

Also, my review of the debut record by NME buzz band The View is up over at Static.

May 16, 2007

New Music Round-Up

Wilco - Sky Blue Sky
This highly anticipated release is being met with decidedly mixed reviews, some of them a little harsher than others. I'm not sure why so many people seem to be disappointed with this one, I'm rather impressed with the '70s AM air throughout its twelve tracks. I guess fans were hoping for Tweedy to push the band futher into the outer reaches of their button-pushing, krautrock-loving extremes, but I think by not doing so they managed to screw with people's expectations - something they've managed to do with nearly every single release up to this point. This won't top Summerteeth or Yankee Hotel Foxtrot on fans' favorite lists, but its definitely a pleasant listen that shouldn't be dismissed before being given a fair shot.

Wilco - "Walken"

The Horrors - Strange House
I'm not entirely sure how I feel about these guys just yet. On the one hand I want to hate them for their obviously over-constructed image (the hair! the fake names!) and for being associated with Ultragrrl's label, but there's something about the pseudo-goth cum garage rock sound that I can't really deny. True, The Horrors seem to milk a very narrow aesthetic for all its worth (see also: Raveonettes, Clinic), but I think they have struck upon a formula that works really well for them. If you heard and dismissed the self-titled EP from last year, this full-length might be worth a listen as it tones down the punk snarl of tracks like "Jack The Ripper" and "Sheena Is A Parasite" (both appearing here with new versions) while slowing down the tempo and amping up the atmospherics. Check out "Gloves", a haunting tale of murder and dismemberment for a taste of what the band has to offer.

The Horrors - "Gloves"

Bjork - Volta
The Icelandic quirk princess' latest opus is another album being met with rather polarizing reviews, some seem to love this batch of experimental pop while others think Bjork is slowly disappearing a little too far into her own little world. Honestly I think this album is a little bit of both. There are some really enjoyable tracks that easily rank with the highlights of her career ("Earth Intruders", "Wanderlust"), but there are also a few experiments that fall completely flat ("Declare Independence", "My Juvenile"). "Earth Intruders" is a particularly great track, featuring a stellar beat by producer extraordinaire Timbaland. Give it a shot.

Bjork - "Earth Intruders"

Fields - Everything Last Winter
Fields are a London five-piece that swirls American indie rock, classic folk, and electronic pop into a surprisingly original mix that recalls both Bloc Party and Arcade Fire without sounding like slavish imitators to either. Everything Last Winter is an album full of slow burns and climactic payoffs, as evidenced by songs like "Charming The Flames".

Fields - "Charming The Flames"

May 6, 2007

Hard Rock Hallelujah: MtlMix07

If you haven't been paying close attention, you might not have even noticed, but metal has reared its ugly head in a big way. As any longtime fan will tell you it never really went away, you just had to dig a little deeper to get beyond the regurgitated nu-metal that mainstream rock radio loved so very much. The genre in general is in the middle of one of its most fertile periods since, some would argue, the mid 1980s. Metalcore bands like Trivium and Killswitch Engage are playing to larger audiences all the time, the classics like Iron Maiden and the Dio-era Black Sabbath lineup are still churning out killer live shows, and experimental bands are filling in the fringes with ever increasing levels of bone-crushing heaviness. In celebration of these devil-horn worthy times, I've put together a mix of some of my favorite metal (and metal inspired) songs of the past year or so. Download, crank, repeat. And as hard as it was to narrow this down to one disc's worth, watch out for volume two in the near future. If you like what you hear, please support the artists and buy their albums or check out their live shows.
Hard Rock Hallelujah: MtlMix07

01. "Anthem (We Are the Fire)" - Trivium
02. "The Voice of Failure" - Novembers Doom
03. "Aesthetics of Hate" - Machine Head
04. "Freya" - The Sword
05. "Brighteyes" - Jesu
06. "White Wings" - Minsk
07. "Agitated Screams of Maggots" - Dir en grey
08. "Sleeping Giant" - Mastodon
09. "From the Sky" - Gojira
10. "The Resurrection of Whiskey Foote" - The Hidden Hand
11. "Burning the Lives" - Shadows Fall
12. "Killing the Beast" - Chimaira
13. "Hard Rock Hallelujah" - Lordi
14. "The Heretic Hammer" - Dimmu Borgir
15. "7861" - Beneath the Sky
16. "Black Saint" - Witch

May 3, 2007

Throwback Thursday VIII

When I was in Lawrence for a wedding a couple weeks ago, I went crate digging at the awesome Love Garden (I highly recommend stopping by when in town) and came across a vinyl copy of R.E.M.'s debut EP, Chronic Town. Now I've heard this particular album many times before now, first on a dubbed tape and later on the CD version of Dead Letter Office, but there was something very striking about listening to this on its original intended medium. I sat on the floor, transfixed by the blue gargoyle on the album cover and heard this band in a way I'd never heard them before. They sounded so fresh and vital. I've always been a so-so R.E.M. fan, but the '90s output has always been my favorite - in fact, I still happen to think that and New Adventures in Hi-Fi and Monster are two of their best albums period (okay, except maybe Murmur). But I'd never really spent a lot of time scouring the back catalog for the early stuff. I picked up Murmur and Fables on the Reconstruction when I found them on vinyl for cheap, but I'd never gone out of my way to explore further. As I listen again to Chronic Town, Murmur, and the rarities from last year's And I Feel Fine; I can't help but think that I've really been denying myself some great stuff. Yeah, Michael Stipe is mumbly and nearly unintelligible at times, but there's a strong urgency about this stuff that really stirs me. Check out the pair of songs below and see what you might be missing...

R.E.M. - "Sitting Still"
(taken from Murmur)
R.E.M. - "1,000,000 (Live)" (taken from And I Feel Fine... The Best of the IRS Years 1982-1987)

(For more wonderful insight on R.E.M. songs old and new, be sure to check out Matthew Perpetua (he of Fluxblog fame) and his new Pop Songs 07)