Nov 29, 2010

np: "Russian Mind" - Oneohtrix Point Never

Sometimes it is best to just set aside all the bone-shattering metal, mind-melting guitar solos, and bombastic rap in favor of something that just washes right over you. Oneohtrix Point Never is great for that, but don't read that as some sort of backhanded compliment about "ambient" or "background music"... this is fascinating stuff that you could just absolutely lose yourself in. And you don't even need the trippy video, but it helps.

Nov 28, 2010

via//chicago discovers a classic:
Songs For Beginners - Graham Nash (1971)

Of course I'm not completely new to the ouevre of Graham Nash. Being, as I have been for over fifteen years now, a huge fan of Neil young meant coming across him a number of times, most frequently in the context of that on-and-off again context of Crosby Stills Nash & Young. Beyond that, my exposure to Nash was pretty much restricted to whatever Hollies, CSN, or solo single the radio stations I listened to deigned to play (and many of these times, I have to admit that I didn't even know this guy was involved until much later!).

Fast forward to last year and I was rifling through the racks of a local Border's, hoping to find something intriguing that would help me use up a coupon that had been burning a figurative hole in my pocket. Just as I was about to give up and head back to the books, I came across a decently priced copy of Nash's second solo album, 1973's Wild Tales. Between the awesome folksy/hippy cover photo and the guy's reputation, I figured it had to be worth a couple of bucks at least, and, it certainly was. It was a revealing look at a well-respected musician that I'd previously paid little attention to. Didn't hurt that Nash had help from friends like Joni Mitchell, David Crosby, and long-time Young associate Ben Keith on pedal steel, but the overall vision was Nash's and it was one well worth hearing.

All of which meant I was more than ready to dig deeper into Nash's discography when I chanced across a very well-priced (i.e. ridiculously cheap) vinyl copy of Songs For Beginners last month. What a treat this discovery has been, another one of those records that I find myself wishing I'd have made time for it sooner. "Gorgeous" is a word that gets tossed around a lot when used to discuss music, I'm certainly just as guilty of this as anyone else, but that was the word that kept popping to mind after my first couple of listens. The production on this is really crisp and clean, even on a battered old vinyl copy it felt really warm and inviting, an interesting contrast to the sense of uncertainty that creeps into many of the lyrics. The calm beauty of "Sleep Song" and "Simple Man" offer the listener a warm embrace, even while the latter shows off Nash's fearful state of mind in lines such as, "And I can't make it alone". But, as may have been expected when one scans the names on the inner sleeve, this record really shines when Nash enlists the help of his really talented circle of friends. I found "I Used To Be A King" a really pleasant surprise, what with Phil Lesh appearing on bass and Jerry Garcia providing some really lovely slide guitar. The Dead were really on a roll as the 1970s kicked-off and it is always a treat to hear their fine instrumental work from this era - even more so when it is completely unexpected. Another favorite of mine drops by to play piano on "Man In the Mirror", Mr. Neil Young, this time credited under the Joe Yankee pseudonym. But even aside from these big names, the instrumental performances throughout are impeccable and really breath life into Nash's compositions. As it turns out, I wasn't wholly unfamiliar with this record, as I've been hearing "Chicago" and "We Can Change the World" on classic rock radio nearly all of my life without ever knowing who performed it. Again, a pleasant surprise here, ending the record on an uplifting note. Crosby, Stills, and Young may have garnered more of the recognition in the mainstream, but this record alone proves that the 'N' in CSN&Y brought just as much, if not more, to the table as those other guys.

Nov 22, 2010

np: "Speak Now" - Taylor Swift

As you may or may not have noticed, this blog has lain dormant for far too long this year. Since no one reads this anymore I don't really need to make any excuses, but life priorities switch around when you are knee deep in a feverish job search and again, thankfully, when you do land that great position you were seeking. S0, yes, I'm attempting once again to breathe some life into this thing and return to action. As per yesterday's post, I certainly plan to continue the 200 of the 2000s project, but I also hope to keep cranking out new content on a more frequent basis. I had forgotten how great of an outlet this can be. There should be plenty to talk about in the coming weeks, in addition to highly anticipated albums being released lately (Kanye and My Chemical Romance to name but two), we are rapidly approaching one of my favorite times of year - list season! And, of course, I'm always discovering great music that I want to talk about. I'd really like to get some of my readers back, if you are still around - leave a comment, won't you?

As you can see by the song I was playing when I started this post, I finally caved in and picked up the new Taylor Swift album thanks to Best Buy's sale today. I'm sure some of you are crinkling your noses right now but, you know, you really are missing out. Yes - she is (at best) a mediocre live singer and she is well beyond over-saturated at this point. She is, however, also a really engaging songwriter, no matter what her age. I'm only part way through my first listen, but this really is a solid listen so far and she appears to be maturing in all the right ways. Dismiss her at your own peril.

Nov 21, 2010

via//chicago's 200 of the 2000s:
The White Stripes - De Stjil (2000, Sympathy for the Record Industry)

Even though a vast majority of White Stripes fans, myself very much included, didn't get around to hearing this album until after they officially blew up a few years later with "Fell In Love With a Girl", this album was nonetheless the band's first big statement. Even though I think they've made better albums (well, only one was better actually) and this doesn't contain many of their very best songs, there is something about De Stjil that makes it the ultimate White Stripes statement. Of course you have the obvious blues influence, including their absolutely stunning take on Son House's classic "Death Letter" (a performance so fantastic that it alone backs up any and all of Jack White's claims to blues legitimacy), but you also get detours into everything else that makes the band so interesting. You've got the songs built entirely around killer guitar riffs ("Why Can't You Be Nicer To Me", "Little Bird"), the surprisingly touching nostalgia trips ("Sister, Do You Know My Name?"), the lo-fi garage fuzz ("Let's Build A Home"), and even the simple throwaways that become essential and endearing over successive listens ("Jumble, Jumble"). But what really makes this album complete are the detours that don't slot nicely into one of the Stripes' trademark genres. The melodic acoustic guitar line that leads off "I'm Bound to Pack It Up" puts me in the mind Led Zeppelin III, while the steady back porch cadence of "A Boy's Best Friend" reveals just how well this band can arrange a tune. Meg and Jack would reach higher peaks later in their career, but I think this will always stand as the most concise record of the band's aesthetic.