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Archive for May, 2008

SOUNDTRACK: RUSH-Snakes and Arrows Live (2008).

Rush puts out a lot of live CDs. They started out back in the 70s by doing a live record after every four studio records. Then at some point they broke the pattern and just went nuts with the releases. The pro and con of a Rush live CD is that it sounds pretty much exactly the way the studio record does (because they are perfectionists, they duplicate the studio solos exactly). So, why get a live record? because it’s fun to hear them duplicate these sounds live! If that means nothing to you, then you’re probably not a musician. Anyway, their recent live shows have been a lot of fun because they have been really experimenting with their set list, playing some of their more obscure tracks that they haven’t played live in years.

This CD is no exception, and in fact, it may be my favorite live Rush release for three reasons: 1) They play “Entre Nous,” a wonderful song that I’ve never heard live. 2) They play “Natural Science” and “Witch Hunt” back to back…two of my favorite Rush songs ever. 3) They do NOT play “Working Man” or the first album medley that they have been playing for far too long to end their sets. Some other highlights: Neil changed his drum solo! I always thought that the whole point of the “solo,” aside from showing off how much you kick ass at your instrument, was to improvise something fun. Well, Neil Peart has been doing the same drum solo for something like five years. It was a song unto itself at this point. It was the only place I could think of where you’d see people air drumming to a solo, and actually doing it right. So, thankfully, that piece of percussive mayhem has been updated.

Two observations thought: 1) I feel that the sound of the album isn’t very good. It seems rather muddy to me. I’m not sure why exactly, but I expect better production from them. 2) And this is the most shocking observation: the songs are SLOWER than on the record, or on any other live instance. Some songs aren’t that noticeable, but there are several where the tempo is clearly not as speedy. I suppose this makes sense since the fellows aren’t young any more, and I suppose it also allows Geddy to keep his voice from having to reach the super high notes of years ago (his voice sounds great by the way), but for a band that never changes anything, it’s quite a shock!

Incidentally, I also just listened to the Pearl Jam Live at the Gorge CD right after the Rush one and it is amazing how different two bands could be live. There’s not a missed note or a flub or, really, anything unscripted on the Rush set. I don’t think there are any overdubs, but it’s pretty much perfect. Whereas on the Pearl Jam set, they are so casual, so mellow, and clearly having so much fun (not that Rush isn’t having fun, it’s just a different kind of fun). And, of course, there are major screw ups on the Pearl Jam set. The third song is completely flubbed. On “Betterman,” a song they must have played hundreds if not thousands of times, someone, I assume Eddie Vedder hits a terribly wrong note at the end of the soft introduction. And then he mocks himself for not practicing. Very funny, very good natured.

Of the two, I don’t really have a preference, but it’s nice to have the two styles to choose from.

[READ: May 22, 2008] Free Food for Millionaires.

I found out about this book when a patron asked me to put it on hold. It was totally a case of judging a book by its title. And I didn’t know if it was fiction or non-fiction, but I wanted to see what it was about. So, I read the blurb, and it is a novel which follows the life of a young Korean woman as she struggles to make her way in New York City. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: X-More Fun in the New World (1983).

This is one of the first CDs I ever bought. When CDs first starting coming out, I was a freshman in college. There was a woman in a nearby dorm, Anita, who was super cool and had great taste in music. I, of course, had a major crush on her, but never said or did anything about it. Oh well…we’re each happily married now, so all is well. Before college I was big into…the metal. High school was all about getting into as many metal bands as I could. When I got to college, my eyes were opened to all kinds of interesting music. And, even though I liked punk as well as metal, I had never heard X before. Anita had some older brothers and they taught her well, and she, in turn, passed on the joys of X (and, interestingly, Cat Stevens). So, when I got my first CD player, I rushed out and bought a Rush CD and More Fun in the New World. Part of the reason I bought this was because I didn’t want to get something I already had on vinyl. And, over the years it has become a hugely favorite CD for me.

More Fun in the New World is a great bit of Reagan-era punk. I mean how great an opening line is: “Honest to goodness, the bars weren’t open this morning. They must’ve been voting for the president or something.” Or, an even better chorus: “It was better before before they voted for whatshisname. This was supposed to be the new world.” The saddest bit is how relevant the lyrics still are today. This song was recently reintroduced to me on the Pearl Jam Live from Easy Street EP, when John Doe duets with Eddie Vedder and they ad lib “It was better before before they voted for whatshisname (and his dad).”

Some interesting things about X are their country roots (they created a side project called The Knitters, that was much more countryesque than X) and the great duets of John Doe and Exene Cervenka. They brought great off-kilter harmonies to their songs of despair and longing.

Despite the “punk” label, the songs are only punk in attitude, not music. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BEAUTIFUL SOUTH-Superbi (2007).

I reviewed all of the Beautiful South records a few posts back. This one had not been released in the US at the time, and as far as I can tell has yet to be. But I ordered the import and here it is. Reviewing this is somewhat irrelevant as the Beautiful South have officially disbanded. It’s quite a pity as this album shows no sign of creative drop off. In fact, this album is one of their best.

The variety of styles in songs is really impressive. And each song contains the trademarks of The Beautiful South: incredibly poppy/happy sounding songs with good verses and catchy choruses combined with acerbic lyrics about relationships breaking up, and, interestingly, inanimate objects.

Some songs: “Manchester” is such a wonderfully winning song, with the great line, “if rain made England great it made Manchester yet greater.” All along, with such a great catchy chorus…. Even a bleak song like “When Romance is Dead” comes out beautifully in a striking duet. And speaking of duets, there’s a new female voice added to TBS on this record. Alison Wheeler is number three. I guess the bitterness of Heaton’s lyrics are hard to take sometimes. Wheeler does a great job. She has a strong voice and maintains a continuation of style to the previous women:

Paul Heaton, the singer and de facto leader, released a solo album a few years back under the name Biscuit Boy, and it was much the same, if slightly more dancey. Story is that he’s got a new solo album coming out in July, and I’ll bet its pretty great too.

[READ: April 2008] Superbad.

I ordered this book from McSweeney’s and, as you’ve heard before, I didn’t know much about it. I did know it was not related to the movie of the same name, however. In fact, here’s a pretty funny letter from Greenman to Seth Rogen about the name Superbad. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PEARL JAM-Live at Easy Street (2006).

This is a live EP of Pearl Jam playing at the Easy Street record store in West Seattle. Wikipedia says their set list had 16 songs; however the EP (which is only about 25 minutes) has 7 songs. The EP is really great, though, as it contains some terrific punk covers in addition to some classic PJ tracks. It also makes the set seem like it was much more fast and furious than it actually was. The disc speeds up really quickly with the one minute “Lukin” and then jumps right a cover of The Avengers’ “American in Me” and then a song later, a fabulous cover of the Dead Kennedys “Bleed for Me” (complete with right-on squealing guitar noises), and then, the biggest surprise a great cover of X’s “The New World” (complete with guest vocals by John Doe). They end with a great rendition of “Porch” and then they’re done. I suppose it is more for completists, but i you’re not a big PJ fan, but like their harder stuff, this is a great EP to check out.

[READ: May 6, 2008] “Bullfighting

This story focuses on 4 middle-aged Irishmen and the bonds they create by meeting weekly for pints to talk about…nothing. Donal and Elaine have been more or less happily married for years. All of their kids are grown, and Donal is, well, satisfied with his life. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: The LEMONHEADS-The Lemonheads (2006).

I was a big fan of The Lemonheads back when they were riding the wave of indie pop fame back in the 1990s. Evan Dando was a poster boy of hunkiness, and he was paired with alt-pop-queen Juliana Hatfield. (Immortalized in the Barenaked Ladies song “Jane” in the line “no Juliana next to my Evan.”) I even lived near them in beautiful Allston, MA (although I never saw them). Sarah and I even used “Into My Arms” as the entrance song at our wedding reception.

Having a favorite band disband when they are doing pretty well is always a mixed blessing; obviously you don’t want them to break up, but you also don’t want to see them descend into badness.

But even weirder is what appears to be the inevitable reunion. So many 90s bands are reuniting for better or worse: Dinosaur Jr, Meat Puppets (although they never really went away), The PIxies (with no album…yet) and even the grandfathers: The Police. I’m not big into the “reunion” thing, as it mostly seems to be just a cash in, and I have yet to get the Dinosaur Jr. record–even though I loved them back then, and I hear it’s very good (and I still may get it)–but I had to go for the Lemonheads.

And I’m really glad I did. I regret not getting the solo Evan Dando records that came out (and are now out of print) because it’s clear that he hasn’t lost a thing. The songs on this record (even though they are not all written by Dando) sound like classic Lemonheads. The main difference is that the guitars are a bit louder, having something of a grunge feel that the Lemonheads never had even during the height of grunge (even though they were punkier on their early releases). The melodies and vocals feel like the Lemonheads, but something about it says “it’s been a while and we’ve learned some new tricks”

Right from the start though, it’s like welcoming back an old friend. Dando’s voice sounds great. The supremely catchy verse/chorus structure falls right into place, and the lyrics go from funny to vulgar and back. There’s not a bad song on the collection. They’re mostly short (about 3 minutes) and range from fun rollickers like “Black Gown” and “Poughkeepsie” to darkly countryish “Baby’s Home.” There’s even a few solos by head Dinosaur Jr man J Masics (which of course makes me want to get the new Dino Jr record). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TANAKH-Tanakh (2004) & Ardent Fevers (2006).

Tanakh are part of the whole Montreal subculture that I really like. Even though Jesse Poe, the founder lives and records in Virginia, somehow he got involved with the Quebeckers. They release CDs on the venerable Constellation and Alien8Records labels. They also released two CDs in relatively quick succession. The reason I didn’t give any prelude about the band as a whole is because these two discs are so different that it wouldn’t be worth it.

Tanakh. This is a two disc set. It contains 2 songs. One is about 58 minutes the other is about 28 minutes. Each song is a long (obviously) improvisational piece. There’s about ten people involved in the recording, and while there are some clear traditional instruments involved: guitar, bass, drums) there are also scores and scores of ambient noises, non ambient noises (at one point I’m pretty sure you can hear duct tape being pulled off the roll). And on and on. Whether or not this type of thing is your cup of tea will determine your tolerance for it.

The 58 minute piece starts with a two note motif that fades away and returns. It reminds me in some ways of the early 70’s Pink Floyd side-long pieces which start off as songs and then have freak outs in the middle and then return to the motif. The big difference of course is that Tanakh’s freak outs are more noise than music. The 28 minute song had less of that wild improv in the middle, and I think is the more satisfying of the two. Of course, it’s pretty hard for me to listen to a 58 minute song straight through, as my commute is only 30 minutes, so some of the momentum gets lost.

In the past, Tanakh records were a little less willful, and, as it turns out, so they are in the future.

Ardent Fevers. This record is a stunningly beautiful collection of songs. It is so radically different from the self titled album that it’s hard to believe the same people were responsible. The liner notes for this album are from a fan who says he listened to this album and this album alone for several weeks on a long trip, and I can totally see that. I had listened to it a number of times and really enjoyed it. When I re-listened to it the other day I couldn’t believe how good it all sounded. It was as if it had aged well while put away. The melodies seemed stronger, the pieces more catchy, everything about it is great.

But what does it sound like, you ask. Despite the darker nature of the songs, they exude a calming effect somehow. They contain, usually, a nice strong riff, sometimes accompanied by horns, often with a repeated and hard to ignore motif. The songs build and build, yet never reach a fury or even a major crescendo. And despite this, the songs never feel like they are unfinished. They just build in strength until they stop.

Jesse Poe’s voice is a soft, low, almost-speak. Comparisons are not too useful–although he sounds so much like one singer who I just cannot place–but perhaps, like a sweeter Tom Waits, or a less depressed Tindersticks. The overall feeling of the album is kind of dark, yet there are all of these uplifting moments (like the horns or a great surge of acoustic guitars) that lift you out of the gloom. I hate to sound so fawning about this record, and yet I think it’s a really great piece. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ART BRUT-It’s a Bit Complicated (2007).

Art Brut is a really great punky band from England. Their first album contained two great singles: “Formed a Band” and “My Little Brother.” The premise of the band is that they play fast but melodic songs–they’re punk, but not thrash, and the songs are crisp. But the really unique aspect is the singer, Eddie Argos, who basically talks rather than sings, in his strong London accent. In fact, in “Formed a Band” he states: “And yes, this is my singing voice; It’s not irony; And it’s not rock and roll; I’m just talking; To the kids.”

This sets the stage for the rest of that album and this, the successor. Now, a band like this is stuck with two options: continue with this style of speaking/singing and possibly become a novelty or move on to a new style, thereby belying the lyrics from their manifesto. They chose option one. And the good news is that, while not making a better album that the first one–which is pretty fantastic–they come up with a slightly more mature album, which is still pretty great.

When your style of music is almost a gimmick, it’s not easy to get past that. The first two or three times you listen to the record, you are totally sucked in by Argos talking to you. Sometimes he’s yelling, sometimes he’s almost singing, and most of the time he’s being cockily self-deprecating (how you do that, I’m not sure). And you start to think of the band as little more than a spoken word record with backing music. Until you start to listen to the music. Then you gain a fuller appreciation for the band. The musicians are all top notch, playing rhythmic and catchy punk. Some songs have great chugga chugga riffs, others have really catchy guitar soloing type riffs, and all the time, the songs maintain a verse/chorus structure that keeps the songs from being simply rants set to music.

The album is fast and furious. The songs are funny without being twee, or tiring themselves out. The closest band I could compare them to is King Missile. Those of you who remember “Detachable Penis” from the 90s know King Missile. (more…)

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