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Archive for January, 2008

quest.gifSOUNDTRACK: SUPER FURRY ANIMALS-Hey Venus! (2007).

sfa.jpgI’ve been a fan of Super Furry Animals for years. Their early stuff is really wacky and psychedelic Britpop (even if they are from Wales). They sang songs about hamsters and they drove around on tanks, and their B-Sides collection was package like a big rubber, well, rubber, with a reservoir tip and all!. And yet even with Gruff Rhys’ peculiar accent, the songs were catchy as all get out, and they rocked pretty hard.

Their infamy grew when they released a song at Christmas called “The Man Don’t Give a Fuck” which sampled the Steely Dan line from “Showbiz Kids” “you know they don’t give a fuck about anybody else” about 100 times as a never-ending chorus of their song. They gave Steely Dan pretty much full writing credit, so that’s not where the controversy came from. It was that the song had the word “fuck” in it like 150 times. And it went to #1. During Christmas.

Ha!

Anyhow, many albums later, the Furries had started to mellow somewhat. They had a minor disco-tinged hit with “Juxtapose with U” a few years ago. And then their 2003 album Phantom Power was a very mellow, almost folksy album (still weird and psychedelic, just folk-sounding). So, one assumed that they were following in the tradition of fellow Welshies Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci and just beginning to mellow with age. But no! Hey Venus! is their most rocking album in ages. It’s a short 30 minute blast of fun and catchiness, with just enough weirdness to make people stick up their nose and say “what are you listening to?” a few minutes before they start humming along.

It starts with the great “The Gateway Song.” Lyrics: “This is a gateway song;” 43 seconds of intro into the heavenly poppiness that is “Run-Away.” SFA still know how to write catchy fast upbeat rockers! But you know that SFA have not gone completely straight laced when they have a song called “Baby Ate My Eightball” and the great, weird “Suckers!” Oh, and just check out the cover art!

I’m sure this is not for everyone, but it’s certainly worth checking it out to see if you can expand your mind a bit!

[READ: January 20, 2008] The World of Quest.

This is a cute fantasy comic intended for all ages. I’d never heard of it before Sarah got a free copy from the publisher. (more…)

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i.jpgSOUNDTRACK: THE FUTUREHEADS-News and Tributes (2006).

news.jpgI enjoyed the first Futureheads album very much when it came out, but I balked at getting this sophomore release because they were part of that whole new angular-rock wave, and I didn’t want to stay caught up in the hype. Well, I relented because I’d continued to hear good things about this record, and I’m glad I did.

For me, The Futureheads sound like The Jam, mixed with a little Gang of Four edginess in their chords, and most intriguing of all, a bit of Queen in their vocals. This odd mix is totally up front in the second song, “Cope”. A choppy guitar, a voice that sounds like the Paul Weller and then at the end of the first line, all the guys sing the word Go! in a 4 part harmony that sounds partially machine-like; I almost thought it was a ship’s whistle when I first heard it. And, yet on subsequent listens it’s just four guys singing slightly off notes–note screaming at all, I can’t even really imagine how they do it– and it sounds great! I don’t know how they could duplicate that sound–which is so beautiful and unnerving at the same time–live, frankly.

And each song has little idiosyncrasies like that that really make this record fun to listen to. I think the reason I didn’t hear The Jam as an influence right away is because to me The Jam are smoooooth. (more…)

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abstinence.jpgSOUNDTRACK: PEARL JAM-Live at the Gorge 05/06 (2007).

gorge.jpgPROLOGUE: When Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction came out, it galvanized the three friends I had with the most disparate musical tastes. I knew an indie rock guy, a metalhead, and an industrial/goth guy, and all three of them loved Appetite for Destruction. It was the only record that they all agreed on. I thought the same would happen with Pearl Jam’s Ten. But, the goth guy didn’t think it was dark and sleazy enough (like GnR) and the indie guy found it too commercial. And, actually, I only talk to one of the three of them these days anyhow.

I’m usually pretty cynical about celebrities. And, I know well enough that rock stars who say “We love you” and “Hello, Cleveland” are, at best, pandering to us. And yet, there are some who seem sincere enough to be believed.

Eddie Vedder is one of those sincere fellows. Ever since Pearl Jam took on Ticketmaster, they seemed to be using their fame and influence for the good of the common man (or at least the common fan). Since then they have donated to various charities, thrown their support behind a (in hindsight, bad) politician (Ralph Nader, a guy whose idealism I supported, but whose reality was less than ideal), and tried their best to muckrake against the current administration. So, when he thanks the audience for letting him share music with them, when he says he’s genuinely glad to be there, and when he acts moved by the show, it all seems genuine. Again, maybe he’s a good actor (although I just watched Singles, for the first time in many years, and Eddie and some of the other PJ guys are in it, and he’s not exactly a scene stealer) but I believe him.

This is all a long set-up to review this recent live collection. It’s a collection of three shows: one set is 3 CDs the other two are 2 CDs each. The first show is from 2005 and the second and third are their tour-ending shows of 2006. All of these shows were performed at The Gorge amphitheater outside of Seattle. From the talking that Eddie does, the Gorge sounds like a great place to see a show, and it sounds like there is camping on the grounds. I only wish they included photos of the show, as I’d love to see it.

The 2005 show starts out with a disc of acoustic songs. The band appears to be in unplugged mode, chilling out before letting ‘er rip in the second half of the show. As with most of their shows, the set list is long and varied. Their shows often clock in at over two hours, with a break at about the midway point. There is a decent selection of tracks from throughout their career, as well as a couple of covers. The notable aspect of this show is that Tom Petty is performing on the following night, and Vedder vows to keep him awake all night. He gets the crowd to chant “Hello Tom, Come down, Tom,” which, sadly Tom never does. But Vedder does a rendition of “I Won’t Back Down.”

The two 2006 shows are back to back two nights in a row. It sounds as if people camped out overnight. And there is some good-natured banter between Vedder and the crowd. What is especially interesting to me about this two-night event is that they play 61 songs over the course of the two nights and the only ones they repeat are “Alive,” “Corduroy,” “Even Flow,” “Given to Fly,” “Life Wasted,” “Severed Hand,” “World Wide Suicide,” and “Yellow Ledbetter.” It’s quite apparent that the band knew there would be lots of folks for both shows and they designed a nicely diverse set list for both nights.

There’s also an interesting shout out to the previous year’s show. On the last night he mentions the Tom Petty taunting from last year, and a large portion of the audience begins the “Hello, Tom. Come down, Tom.” chant.

If you’ve been a big fan of Pearl Jam (as I am) you probably have this. But if you’ve been a mild fan of Pearl Jam over the years, this is a great set to get. You’ll get all of the hits, you’ll get a bunch of songs you’re unfamiliar with, and you’ll get a band playing at its peak. The live renditions of their songs are typically fast and furious. There’s also a lot of room for improvisation. And, it’s a chance to see the lighter side of such a “serious” band. A lot of people used to like Pearl Jam but feel their works since Ten have gone steadily downhill. I disagree, but I think that’s because listening to the live versions of the songs makes you appreciate them even more. So, check it out, it’s well worth it.

[READ: January 8, 2008] The Abstinence Teacher.

My first book finished in 2008! And, I can only hope that this is a good portent for future books this year. Wow, this book was great!

(more…)

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This Christmas, I decided to list my 12 favorite Christmas albums. I have a rocky past with Christmas songs. Like every good Christian kid, I grew up singing Christmas songs. Then, as I grew a distaste for organized everything, for the commercialization of Christmas, and frankly, the astonishing disregard of Thanksgiving, I really started to rebel against them.

Plus, as everyone knows, you start to hear Christmas songs in November for crying out loud. I also worked a job where the only music we were allowed to play during the holiday was Christmas music. It was actually during this fallow period that I found out that there were some great alternatives to the standards.

Since that time, I have gotten married and I have two kids, and I really enjoy the feelings of hearth and home, and I want to share the joy of Christmas (and hopefully avoid the icky parts).

More back story: I grew up listening to big band music. My parents were just old enough that they didn’t really like rock n roll, so I got to listen to swing and big band and horns, horns, horns. I never really rebelled against that because it was pretty innocuous, but I did really start to miss it as I got older. And, what I found is that the Christmas songs that I like are the traditional ones sung by big band leaders. It was the “rock n roll” Christmas songs and some of the novelty songs that I really didn’t like. So, I try to avoid those as best I can, and I stick with the classics and some of these fun alternatives. (more…)

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