Jun 25, 2009

np: "Rock With You" - Michael Jackson

The rumors, allegations and (let's face it) batshit behavior over the last 20 plus years may have tarnished the image, but let's not sit here and pretend that Michael Jackson wasn't the biggest and brightest thing in the world at one point. Like any red-blooded American male of my age (even if they won't admit it), I spent many an hour practicing the Moonwalk in my bedroom while listening to Thriller, pushing the sleeves up on my red and tan two-tone jacket and pretending that the winter glove on my hand was white and sequined. The world certainly hasn't seen a bona fide international superstar like him since, nor are we likely to in this increasingly fractured world of entertainment. Britney? N*Sync? Please. MJ was frickin' worshipped around the world. They didn't call him the King of Pop for nothing.

He certainly battled his fair share of demons over the years and he was never someone I'd trust to babysit, but I'll choose to remember MJ as the larger than life icon he was. The glove. The zippered jacket. Thriller. The Moonwalk.

Pop music has lost one of its brightest lights today and as long as bar jukeboxes continue to blast "Billie Jean" and wedding receptions spontaneously break out into zombie dance parties his influence will still be felt.

RIP Michael

Jun 20, 2009

np: "Gibbon" - This Town Needs Guns

Decided to really dive into the promo pile sitting here on my desk, they've been looking at me so very longingly for several months now. So I thought maybe I'd jot down a thought or two as I tear through these albums, partially to let you know what might be worth your time but also to remind myself what might deserve more attention further down the road.

This Town Needs Guns - Animals (Sargent House)
I think the cutesy animal artwork put me off this, expecting more of the tuneless indie rock that I've grown ever so tired of lately. And it IS indie rock, but indie rock that is pretty much right up my alley - all chimey and math-y, it isn't surprising to learn they've shared the stage with another via//chicago favorite, Joan of Arc. The twisting, unadorned guitar lines are mesmerizing, making up for the times when the vocals get a little listless. Not a bad start to the day.

Red Fang
- Red Fang (Sargent House)
And we're two for two so far. The influences for this one are all over the heavy music map (and fairly obvious) - Melvins, Sabbath, Motorhead - but things gel enough to make for a pretty cohesive listen. Some chunky riffs and driving tempos, but my favorite is probably "Humans Remain Human Remains", a six and a half minute barnburner complete with organ. Nothing groundbreaking here, but this kind of rock never gets old.

Beat Strings - Fang In Rain (XOXO Records)
Well, we didn't quite make it three for three, although this isn't necessarily a bad album. Its just that this whole Springsteen worship thing is getting a little played out by this point and these kids aren't bringing anything new to the table to make it worth hearing the formula again (unlike, say, The Gaslight Antham, who I think does a much better job of the aching nostalgia thing). Actually they sorta remind me of Marah at times, which, again not a bad thing, just isn't the sort of thing I need in my life at this point. Revisiting this some distant day removed from the indie Springsteen lovefest might allow me to enjoy it with fresh ears. If you can't get enough of this sound though, it is pretty well crafted.

And that's it for today... more to follow soon.

Jun 16, 2009

Tuesday Night Shuffle Seven

In which you get another peek into my iTunes collection - seven random tracks plucked out of the detritus by the shuffle feature, warts and all. (by the way, I figured that running a Google Image Search for 'shuffle' would give me lots of hits for the iPod, but why all the vaguely creepy anime?)

Yo La Tengo - "Nowhere Near" (Painful)
Ben Harper & Relentless7 - "Why Must You Always Dress in Black?" (White Lies For Dark Times)
Vaka - "Somersaults" (Kappa Delta Phi)
The Mars Volta - "Metatron" (The Bedlam in Goliath)
Black Moth Super Rainbow - "Raspberry Dawn" (Start A People)
The Smiths - "Stretch Out and Wait" (Louder Than Bombs)
Judas Priest - "Blood Red Skies" (Ram It Down)

Jun 15, 2009

np: "Ballroom" - Gui Boratto

With just over a week until my first in the series of seven ARE sections, my priorities have been realigned slightly and blogging has taken a necessary backseat. But since I've wrapped up all I wanted to accomplish study-wide this evening (read three chapters in the review book and practiced the building section vignette), I thought I might try to toss up a bit of a post. And, being distracted as I am, this one will take the form of the post from over two weeks ago - namely a round-up of some thoughts on recent album releases.

Sonic Youth - The Eternal (Matador)
I wasn't sure what to expect with the latest release from, undoubtedly, one of my all time top ten favorite bands. Early signs indicated that perhaps the band would be looking to reinvigorate their sounds with a fresh label (Matador!) and a fresh bassist (Mark Ibold!), always good signs for a creative rejuvenation in my eyes. That certainly wasn't the case here, however, as The Eternal is front-to-back a signature Sonic Youth album that could be mistaken for none other. And, you know, I think that's what makes this such a frickin' great album. Rather than stretching out for the unknown (and I know this is what bugs a lot of the album's detractors), the band reached back and incorporated the elements from previous eras that define them today. Its sorta like a greatest hits with all new material. Some fantastic guitar work, surprising pop melodies, jams that don't wear out their welcome, Gordon's throaty snarl, and two of the best Lee Ranaldo songs I've heard in a long time. Haters may whine that they aren't "growing", but damned if that matters when you let these songs wash over you.

The Answer - Everyday Demons (The End)
These Irish kids have managed to cause quite stir with those who dig their rock classic and their ballads soulful. In just three years they've become worldwide sensations, landing a much coveted spot opening for AC/DC and garnering comparisons to everyone from Led Zeppelin to Thin Lizzy (among may others). They've been making an impact in Europe, but it wasn't until this year that America finally got the chance to absorb The Answer in full-length form. So how well do they stack up against their forefathers? Tough question to answer. No doubt they've got chops in spades and a certain swagger that ticks off the Page and Plant checklist, but there just aren't enough times where they open up and just RIP like you wish they would. Everyday Demons is immaculately produced and expertly played, but perhaps that's part of the problem, there just aren't any rough edges to give them the character that defined their obvious inspiration. Still, tracks like "Demon Eyes" and "Evil Man" are undeniable arena-ready stompers that should please the fist-pumping, lighter-waving set. There is bucketloads of potential here, maybe next time they'll have the confidence to cut loose and let the rough edges through. A few less ballads might help as well.

Kasabian - West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum (RCA)
Granted, I've only listened to this once so far and haven't really invested a whole lot of time parsing the lyrics or delving into its subtleties, but this has got to be one of the thinnest, most meaningless records I've heard all year. Nothing, and I mean nothing, grabbed me. No hooks, no big beats, absolutely nothing that made me want to listen to it ever again. "Vlad the Impaler" makes a valiant effort at salvaging the album late in the game, but it ultimately reveals itself to be a third-generation clone of the better singles from album number one. Maybe my fault for expecting something out of the cool album cover that makes it look like a lost psych-rock masterpiece from the late sixties, or the supposed concept that found the band staying in and gathering inspiration from the titular locale, but I'm honestly kinda surprised that an album this limp was released on a major label in 2009. Then again, it went number one in the UK, so there might be something I'm just not getting. But I don't think so.

Jun 1, 2009

np: "Heavy Metal (is the Law)" - Helloween

Today's now playing has nothing to do with the rest of the post, just what I'm spinning right now - trying to shake off a gloomy Monday on which my allergies decided to rise up against my sinuses with a furious vengeance. I've spent more time sneezing and sniffling than anything else today, tearing through box after box of tissue. Not fun. Anyway, as part of my vague promise to post more regularly, I thought I would chime in with some thoughts on a few recent albums I've heard.

Sunn O))) - Monoliths & Dimensions (Southern Lord)
Absolutely gorgeous, a stunning achievement. And really, hard to say much more than that. This is the Sunn O))) we've come to know and love, but so much more. You've got the expected bits - doom-y drones, Oren Ambarchi on effects, guest vocals from Attila Csiahr, etc - but also so much more. I've only been able to give it one really good listen (i.e. distraction free on the good headphones) and I know I've only scratched the surface, always a great sign. At points this is as lovely as Black One was horrifying, particularly the closing track "Alice". Highly recommended, not just for metal fans, but for anyone with an ear for experimental music.

Apostle of Hustle - Eats Darkness (arts&crafts)
Basically the complete opposite of the reaction I had to the Sunn O))) album. In other words, and absolute chore to sit through with basically nothing striking me as worth hearing ever again - and I've always really liked Andrew Whiteman's stuff. Gone is much of the Spanish influence that colored the previous two AoH full-lengths, replaced with lackluster tunes and way too many dialogue clips of people like Burroughs and Brakhage talking about war and destruction. I'm pretty sure this is supposed to be some sort of concept album, but I'd be shocked if anyone cared to wade through all the crap to figure it out. These experiments might have been tolerable had there been some strong songs to back them up, but Whiteman just seems to be misfiring throughout. "Soul Unwind", however, is one shining exception - a lovely tune that builds to a shimmering crescendo and would have fit nicely on any of the Broken Social Scene proper discs. Do yourself a favor, download that one and skip the rest.

White Rabbits - It's Frightening (TBD)
I think this will end up being one of those albums that either clicks with me on a random day a couple months from now or just completely falls through the cracks. So far I'm leaning towards the latter. Thing is, it sounds fantastic. Getting Spoon's Britt Daniel to produce the album was a brilliant idea, his sonic fingerprints are all over this and the band has never sounded more engaging. There is a wonderful depth to the recording and I kept losing myself in the space between instruments. But that's the thing, I couldn't be bothered to care about the songs themselves. I don't think I could recall a single vocal melody of lyric 30 seconds after finishing the disc. Maybe this will click for me someday, but as for now it seems only worth hearing for Daniel's touch.

Green Day - 21st Century Breakdown (Reprise)
I've always been a huge Green Day supporter (Insomniac and Warning are two hugely underrated albums, btw), but even I had lower that usual expectations for what was set up to be American Idiot Part 2. And, really, it is. It's another hugely ambitious, vaguely political epic that explores a fairly loose concept centered around a couple of misfits in love making their way in a world gone to pot. But despite the "been there done that" vibe and a weak choice for first single ("Know Your Enemy", a song with like 4 words total), this thing actually works pretty well. It does run a little long and some of the ballads weigh things down a bit, but I'm looking at the tracklist now and damned if there isn't at least five tracks I want to listen to right now - "Before the Lobotomy", "Last Night On Earth", "Last of the American Girls", "Restless Heart Syndrome", and "21 Guns" (a much better second single).

Eminem - Relapse (Aftermath/Interscope)
There really isn't much I can say other than toss off some comment on how far the mighty have fallen. Yes, it really is as bad as you've probably heard. Disappointing beats from Dre, Em rapping in those stupid accents he's been so fond of since The Eminem Show, and shock lyrics that even Marilyn Manson would leave in the recycle bin. I'm all for shocking Slim Shady, but it was much more tolerable when had a little wit and heart to go along with it. Such a waste.