Mar 31, 2008

thoughts of a gray monday...

As befits tradition, it was a rainy and gloomy day in Chicago for my beloved Cubs' home opener. Frankly I'm surprised it wasn't snowing, but the rain managed to hold off long enough for them to get a 10 inning game in the books. And... score it the first loss of the season, dammit. Fresh blood and instant fan favorite Kosuke Fukudome lit up the scoreboard and the bleachers with his bottom of the ninth three-run blast to tie things up, but the Brewers pulled away with a run in the 10th. It wasn't the best way to start the fresh season, but there were a couple bright spots that give me hope for the season. In addition to his three-run dinger, Fukudome went 3 for 3 with a double and a base on balls. Not bad at all for his major league debut. And starting pitcher Carlos Zambrano made a valiant effort, pitching 6.2 scoreless innings with five strikeouts before reliever Kerry Wood blew it all.

In slightly more happy baseball news, my fantasy team, the Yellow Ledbetters, got off to an encouraging start with three longballs (Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and Eric Byrnes) and eight RBIs. Let's hope this season ends up better than my mediocre football and basketball seasons (I finished in the middle of the pack in both leagues). And the less said about my NCAA brackets, the better. In my own defense, I pretty much gave up on college basketball once it looked my Illini were flushing the season down the drain - which was, what, December?

I know what you're thinking, enough with the sports! Isn't this supposed to be a music blog? Sure, but between keeping tabs on the Cubbies and my dead iPod battery, music wasn't foremost on my mind today. But another review of mine did pop up over at Static today, check and see what I thought of the Kentucky post-rock band Foxhole.

Mar 30, 2008

Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings on a Sunday Night...

I'm not sure what is up with this week, but I've been championing all kinds of unexpected music for the past several days. First it was the latest from Panic at the Disco, and now I find myself pimping the latest from Adam Duritz and the Counting Crows to anyone that will listen. Well, anyone that would ever be willing to listen to any serious conversation about the Counting Crows that is. I understand that they aren't exactly the hippest band to cop to enjoying, but I can't easily dismiss the hours of enjoyment I took from their first couple of albums. August and Everything After still stands as a damn fine debut for any band and is one of those full-lengths that was instrumental in my burgeoning appreciation of the "album" as a conceit larger than a collection of radio singles and some "other songs". Recovering the Satellites built on my appreciation of the band, thanks mainly to the maudlin yearnings of Duritz matching up nicely with a particularly lovelorn period of my life. And, even though I didn't return to it as often as the first pair, I'll still defend This Desert Life as a decent album. Beyond that... the band pretty much lost me as they ventured into the 2000s. Firing off a lead single that featured Sheryl Crow on vocals pretty much guaranteed that I wouldn't care about the new album, but forcing me to hear their abortive take on Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi" every other hour clinched it - I was so over this band. I did give Hard Candy a fair shot our of loyalty, but apart from a couple tunes I really didn't care much for it. Then came the nail in the coffin, "Accidentally in Love". Thanks to an obnoxiously blatant hook and placement in the insanely popular Shrek 2, this song has been unavoidable for the past four years. I absolutely despised the song and hearing it so often even kept me from going back to the bands' releases that I had once loved.

So when I heard rumblings on a new album, their first studio release since 2002, I distinctly remember shrugging and clicking through to another blog. Last week I found myself stuck at work with a dead iPod battery, nothing to listen to, and a website streaming the album - so I figured, what the hell. "1492" grabbed me right from the start, one of the most rocking songs the band has put out since "Einstein on the Beach (For An Eggman)" and things only got better from there. The disc is divided into two sections, with the first six tracks forming the more upbeat Saturday Nights section and the final eight the more introspective Sunday Mornings portion. The first half is surprisingly solid, with Duritz tossing out some great songs about the disenchantment and ennui one encounters on a Saturday night. But the album really starts to shine when he sinks back into the melancholy mire that is his bread and butter throughout the second half, "Washington Square" was a particular standout for me.

This won't convert those who've hated the band all along, but anyone who wrote them off over the past couple of albums should give this thing a fair shot. Check out some of the highlights below:

Counting Crows - "1492"
(taken from Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings)
Counting Crows - "Washington Square" (taken from Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings)
Counting Crows - "Insignificant" (taken from Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings)

Mar 26, 2008

an unexpected surprise...

So I'll just come out and say it. The new Panic at the Disco (yes, they've dropped the '!') album, Pretty. Odd., is good, really good. I know! I'm as shocked as you are! And, yeah, I wouldn't believe me either if I were in your place. But you should, this thing is one of the best pop-rock albums I've heard yet this young year. I wanted to type "pop-punk" back there, but really, the band has managed to shed much of the trappings that kept them planted in the Fall Out Academy Emo Boys camp with the last album. Gone are the ridiculous histrionics that kept me from really latching onto A Fever You Can't Sweat Out, despite having a single that went from being something I hated to something I loved ("I Write Sins, Not Tragedies"). In their places is a more studied, mature(!) approach to pop songwriting. Yes, they've obviously been listening to the Beatles and the Kinks. No, none of this is terribly original. But something, I'm thinking the band's flair for the extravagant, keeps this stuff fresh throughout. There are a couple mis-steps along the way (the countrified "Folkin' Around" comes immediately to mind), but this is one hell of an enjoyable pop album. Give it a shot non-believers, this thing is fun.

Mar 25, 2008

a time killing shuffle...

Just some songs that popped up as I was doing a few things around the house.

Plasticines - "No Way" (taken from LP1)
Smack - "Mediocridade Afinal" (taken from The Sexual Life of the Savages)
Mission of Burma - "Nancy Reagan's Head" (taken from The Obliterati)
Lyrics Born - "Funk U Up" (taken from Overnite Encore: Lyrics Born Live!)
The Smiths - "This Charming Man" (taken from Hatful of Hollow)
Jens Lekman - "Rocky Dennis' Farewell Song" (taken from Oh You're So Silent Jens)
The Magic Numbers - "Carl's Song" (taken from Those the Brokes)
Notwist - "This Room" (taken from Neon Golden)
The Beatles - "And Your Bird Can Sing" (taken from Revolver)
Guided by Voices - "I Am A Scientist" (taken from Bee Thousand)
Circus Devils - "Kingdom of Teeth" (taken from Ringworm Interiors)
Radiohead - "I Might Be Wrong (edit)" (taken from Towering Above the Rest)
Animal Collective & Vashti Bunyan - "Baleen Sample" (taken from Prospect Hummer EP)
The Wrens - "Boys, You Won't" (taken from The Meadowlands)

That was an excellent run of pop from "Charming Man" to "Scientist", I especially enjoyed the middle detour into some Europop. But man, I am reminded of how goddamn excellent Robert Pollard is when I get to hear one of his best come right out of a Beatles classic. Nice segue into the slightly "weirder" songs via one of Pollard's side projects. And "Boys, You Won't" was a perfect way to end the shuffle.

Mar 24, 2008

various comings and goings...

It's been a crazy month of March so far, hence the lack of updates. In the last three weeks I've made to overnight trips to Michigan (Bay City one week, Ann Arbor five days later), worked more hours than I really should have worked, dodged snowflakes during the official first blizzard of Spring, made a significant dent in wedding plans, and still found time to read three books and watch a few movies. Oh, and I squeezed in a couple of reviews for the fine folks over at Static. Click through and read what I thought about Peasant (good!) and Gary Reynolds and the Brides of Obscurity (not so good!).

One of those books I just finished reading was Perfect From Now On: How Indie Rock Saved My Life by writer, blogger, and all-around solid Midwestern dude John Sellers. It's a musical memoir of sorts, tracing Sellers' musical crushes and obsessions from childhood through his more recent Guided by Voices mania (really, can you blame him?). Dude also has a bordering on scary relationship with footnotes. Seriously, the Joy Division detour was insane, but good reading as was most of the rest of the book. If nothing else, he managed to reignite my fire for Guided by Voices, The Smiths, Sebadoh, and New Order. So kudos for that. Well worth checking out for any fan of indie rock, or anyone who loves reading an opinionated, funny guy riff on music and pop culture in general (see also: Chuck Klosterman).

On the movie tip, don't bother with Semi-Pro. I'm officially sick of Will Ferrell, and this comes from somebody who still watches Anchorman and Old School religiously.

Mar 10, 2008

Considerable rumblings from Pumpkinland...

It seems that the folks in Smashing Pumpkins, whomever that may be at this hour, have quietly slipped another new track out into the ether. It's called "Superchrist" and as of now the only place to find it is on a Guitar Center compilation called Fresh Cuts Volume 2, which in and of itself is good news and bad news. The bad news is that the rest of the disc is made up of songs recorded by Guitar Center employees, but the good news... at least it's free. So, you know, you can burn the Pumpkins track to your iPod and - voila! - you've got a great new beer coaster! More on the track itself...

The first couple three minutes are all about Corgan and Chamberlain doing what they do best - rolling and tumbling drum fills crashing between waves of crushing riffs, heavier than pretty much anything they've done since the "reunion". Really this is nothing more than an excuse for wankery, but when it sounds this good - who cares? The lyrics are pretty unimportant, something about "evolution" and "disillusion" I think, but they are nothing but a placeholder between the monstrous instrumental sections. Really encouraging to hear the band cranking out some old fashioned RAWK like they haven't done in years, even if it is just tossed off on some random compilation that few people will care about. The verdict? Pretty awesome.

But if the thought of even walking into a Guitar Center makes your skin kinda crawl, you can just download the thing here:

Smashing Pumpkins - "Superchrist"

I've also heard some other encouraging news out of the Pumpkins camp, just rumors and rumblings at this point, but cause for excitement all the same. Seems like we may see the long-rumored reissues for the first three albums sometime soon, along with an official release of some of the early pre-Gish material. Consider me excited.

Mar 3, 2008

a monday type of shuffle...

It's been a mentally exhausting day and I'm sitting here marking up construction documents and thinking of ways to spruce up a facade. Here's what I'm listening to...

Alicia Keys - "Tell You Something (Nana's Reprise)"
The Face - "Ooh La La"
French Kicks - "England Just Will Not Let You Recover"
Pink Floyd - "Remember A Day"
The Future Sound of London - "We Have Explosive (Herd Killing)"
Phish - "Bold As Love (Live 08/26/89)"
Steadycam - "Knock-Kneed"
Rancid - "Listed M.I.A."
The Killers - "Jenny Was a Friend of Mine"
Belanova - "Paso El Tiempo"

Um, yeah. I really can't stretch for any overarching theme with that one, it was a pretty random ass mix of music. The Pink Floyd > FSoL > Phish > Steadycam > Rancid stretch in particular.