Oct 29, 2008

np: "Stars" - Hum

Yeah, Hum again. But only because I found it on the best thing MTV has done in... oh, a decade. At least. MTVmusic.com. Pretty cool. Though I do find it kinda funny that they had to throw in the "music" on the URL, because uh, kids these days wouldn't otherwise know what the 'M' used to stand for.

Oct 27, 2008

np: "I'd Like Your Hair Long" - Hum

Yeah, Hum. As in one of the best space rock bands to ever come out of Champaign-Urbana. A band that managed to ride the alt-rock zeitgeist to one-hit wonder status, followed that up with their best album yet... and sadly faded into relative obscurity. Those of you over the age of 25 might remember them for the minor MTV hit "Stars", while the younger of you would only know that song from the recent Cadillac commercial. Which is a huge shame, because they certainly deserve a much better legacy than a luxury car commercial.

Why do I bring this up? Because, after eight long years, the band has reformed again... for at least one show anyway. Not sure exactly what line-up will be taking part as of yet, but the band will be headlining a New Year's Eve show at the Double Door here in Chicago. (EDIT: And... yup, already sold out) This is good news for the hardcore fans (of which there are plenty!) and the younger kids who never got to witness one of their flat-out amazing live shows.

I can say this because I was fortunate enough to catch them live plenty of times back when they were regulars on the C-U scene just before (and slightly after) they blew up in the middle of the decade. I remember one show, in particular, at which Hum headlined a full day of local bands performing in a nearby park. Hum went on last, as full dark descended, and blew everyone away. Matt Talbott and Tim Lash sent their guitars soaring into the night sky while Bryan St. Pere kept everyone firmly attached to the ground with his monstrous drum sound. Hyperbole? Maybe, but this was one of those transcendent shows that came at exactly the right time for me. I was an undergrad at University of Illinois, getting into music in a big way and breaking out of the relatively shy and nerdy shell I wore for most of high school. Hum was the first band I "discovered" on my own and with them being local guys, I felt a really strong connection to them. So watching them put on a huge hometown show in front of a loyal crowd was really exciting for me. One of my favorite live memories.

Sadly their star (pardon the pun) burned brightly but died out slowly. A superb follow-up, Downward is Heavenward, to their breakthrough album came and went, but without an obvious single like "Stars", it never got the promotion it deserved. Not many seemed to hear and write/rave about it, but those who did thought it was a fantastic album. We all kinda figured people would come around. Unfortunately a string of bad fortune came their way (surprisingly thorough history on their wikipedia page), culminating in their break-up in late 2000.

Later projects came and went - National Skyline, Centaur, Glifted - and while some great music came out of them, none really resonated as strongly with me as Hum did. We've all had them and, for a long time, Hum was one of "my" bands. I wore their green/white star logo t-shirt all over campus. I put "Stars", "Iron Clad Lou" and "The Pod" on countless mixtapes. I cheered the first time I saw the video on MTV. And, despite swearing I'd never get all that bent out of shape about a band licensing a song for a commercial to get some well-deserved dough, I died a little inside when I saw that Cadillac commercial.

So, in honor of the reunion show (which it looks like I won't be seeing, damn small capacity Double Door) and a fantastic band - here's a couple tunes you need to hear. Be aware that some of these are probably a little quieter than most of the other songs on your iPod, mainly because I'm pulling them from original discs back from when they were mastered a little more quietly.

Hum - "Stars" (taken from You'd Prefer An Astronaut)
Hum - "Afternoon with the Axolotls" (taken from Downward is Heavenward)
Hum - "Iron Clad Lou" (taken from Electra 2000)
Hum - "I'd Like Your Hair Long" (taken from You'd Prefer An Astronaut)
Hum - "Dreamboat" (taken from Downward is Heavenward)

Oct 6, 2008

np: "Shimmer" - The Jesus & Mary Chain

I've been going through a major, major JAMC kick that started this weekend - as just about everyone should do now and then. The brothers Reid were (and hopefully will be again) outstanding songwriters, a duo that just doesn't seem to get the love and respect they deserve. Sure, they had a fairly successful return at Coachella 2007 (awkward Scarlett Johansson appearance and all) and "Just Like Honey" was used to tremendous effect in Lost in Translation, but this pair deserves to be on the level of recognition of your Depeche Modes and your New Orders. They are, to some people, but I'd be surprised if your average musically aware person under the age of 25 could name more than a couple of their songs. Someone should show them where blog-approved bands like the Raveonettes and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club got their schtick.

Anyway, the impetus for my headfirst dive back into their catalog was prompted by their fantastic new B-sides and rarities collection, The Power of Negative Thinking. In addition to being housed in one of the most lavish packages I've seen in quite some time, this set contains 82 tracks worth of prime JAMC - demos, B-sides, non-album singles, soundtrack contributions - all the detritus a hardcore fan could ever want. This probably won't be the best entry point for complete newbies (some of the early demos can be pretty raw for those yet to be babtized in the near-holy Psychocandy) but there are gems from every era of the band's history, noise pop to rural soul.

To help spread the gospel according to Bill and Jim, I'm sharing a couple of my favorite singles and appropriate B-sides in honor of Negative Thinking. Enjoy.

The Jesus & Mary Chain - "Some Candy Talking"
The Jesus & Mary Chain - "You Trip Me Up (Acoustic)"

The Jesus & Mary Chain - "Blues From A Gun"
The Jesus & Mary Chain - "Shimmer"

The Jesus & Mary Chain - "Reverence"
The Jesus & Mary Chain - "Heat"

(notice how I didn't mention the Cubs? they're dead to me... at least until April)

Oct 2, 2008

np: "Golden Age" - TV on the Radio

More on this at some point in the near future, but this album is a lock for one of the Top 5 albums of the year. Maybe even album of the year. These guys are brilliant and have again knocked it out of the park.

You know who isn't knocking it out of the park? The Cubs. Wow. They are looking absolutely pathetic against the Dodgers so far and I can't believe I have to watch them fall apart in the playoffs again.

Building off of yesterday's post on Kings of Leon, looks like the bands fortunes are changing on this side of the Atlantic. Only By The Night is currently the number five album in America, pretty impressive. I'm not sure if it was their decent SNL performance a couple weeks or what, but something has pushed them near the top of the charts and I'm happy to see them up there.

Oct 1, 2008

np: "Revelry" - Kings of Leon

If my ill-timed* post on Black Stone Cherry served as any indication, you'll know that I'll indulge in some southern-friend rock and roll from time to time. There's just something about Southern boys, their guitars, and their swampy stomp that pushes the right musical buttons. Oftentimes it is very, very bad - but when a band fires on all cylinders it can be downright great rock and roll. This approach is what first brought Kings of Leon to my attention way back in 2003 with their debut EP, Holy Roller Novocaine. Their blustery, whiskey-soaked and organ-drenched version of old-fashioned rock and roll sounded great to my ears, most notably on "Molly's Chambers" and "California Waiting". So I was pleased when their follow-up, Youth and Young Manhood, mostly lived up to the promise of that first EP. Most of the band's press buzz seemed to center around their family ties and unusual upbringing, but I could give a shit about that - they brought the songs.

The sophmore set, Aha Shake Heartbreak, brought a few new twists in the bands sound and managed to ensure their position as mega-stars over in the UK (something I still don't quite understand, but I'm truly happy for them - I wish they'd find similar success over here). My favorite track on that album was the ferocious "Four Kicks", one of the most blistering cocksure rawk swaggers I've ever heard. Those 2 minutes and 9 seconds still get me fired up. Third album Because of the Times became their first UK number one, increasingly their overseas profile while garnering subdued approval over here. This was when the guys started stretching their legs out a bit and hinted at some new horizons. I continued to be impressed with the significant growth these guys were showing from album to album.

So I was eagerly awaiting the band's fourth full-length, Only By The Night. And, much like the two before it, the band is again displaying a serious leap in songwriting abilities. The southern aspects of their particular strain of rock have almost been completely removed, turning towards a colder, more urban sound that suits them surprisingly well. After the first listen, I was thinking this sounds like Kings of Leon ditching the farm for the big city lights and learning that they aren't quite as bright as they might have seemed from the distance. While they are still peppering their tunes with liberal references to sex, drugs and the rock and roll lifestyle; everything seems much more muted than usual and wrapped in the gauze of detached observance rather than true decadence. The whole mood falls somewhere between Interpol and The Walkmen, which isn't the bad thing you might think. But what works most for me, and comes as the biggest surprise, is that lead singer Caleb Followill is no longer mumbling his lyrics under layers of fuzz and distortion. His resigned crooning takes front and center stage, propped up by the minimal instrumentation rather than buried by it. And he sounds absolutely fantastic. I've always loved his voice, but he is absolutely stunning on this one. The melodies are familiar and inviting, making up for the lack of fiery guitar showmanship. These lines are subtle and charming, rather than reckless and carefree. Kings of Leon are, dare I pull out that time-tested cliche, maturing. It's a great album and an impressive turn for the band. Check 'em out:

Kings of Leon - "Use Somebody" (taken from Only By The Night)
Kings of Leon - "Revelry" (taken from Only By The Night)

(* - I say "ill-timed" because, upon a couple further spins, that album wasn't even as good as I originally thought. The lyrics are really, really hard for me to get past and the arrangements aren't nearly as inventive as I'd like them to be. There are still a few tunes worth a spin or two and splashes of potential, but the disc isn't worth going out of your way to hear.)