Archive for May, 2009

May 31, 2009

M83 – Kim & Jessie

When I make my top 10 favorite albums lists at the end of the year, it’s a given that I haven’t heard all the albums released that year. Had I heard M83’s album Saturdays = Youth during 2008 it would have been on my 2008 list. Half of it is a love letter to the 80’s. It hits all the right notes of melodramatic melancholy. Half of it is his typically excellent electronic shoegaze. Anyway, I was listening to it recently while making a mix CD for someone, and I picked “Kim & Jessie”. I wondered, since it’s a big 80’s song about lovers(?), if it had a neat video. And sure enough, it does, but not one I expected. It’s too bad there isn’t some sort of music video channel or something like MTV used to be. It seems like you have to seek out videos on the internet in a way where it’s like “Gee, I wonder if they made a video for this. I’ll check out You Tube”. Anyway, wait until the first chorus, and you’ll see why I am posting this.

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May 25, 2009

ABBA Kill It

I make no secret of my love for ABBA. When I was a teenager, and my father and uncle would listen to them, I’d think what most people think: Lame and cheesy. But, as I got older I slowly began to like more and more songs by them. It started with “Chiquitita”, which sounded like a Ben Folds Five song to me, and “Fernando”, which is beautiful beyond judgement. I started listening to their ABBA Gold album, and slowly more songs took hold in my head. Now I think they’re one of the greatest groups ever. Definitely one of the greatest pop songwriters. And, as I said in a previous post, they’re also more punk than the Sex Pistols. I think what I appreciate about them most is their sincerity. There’s no irony, no bullshit. They really mean it. They can be fun, sad, and serious. They were adventurous with their instrumentation, and kept up with the times. People think of them as a disco group, but that only takes up a small portion of their music. No one could deny the beauty of Agnetha and Frida’s vocals. And, lyrically, they were more complex than you may first think, especially towards the last two albums when their marriages were falling apart. Their vocabulary in particular will surprise you. I recently bought ABBA Albums containing all their albums, plus a disc of non-album tracks and b-sides. There are plenty of great songs beyond their well known ones. Here are two live performances, both from the Super Trouper album: “On And On And On” and “Me And I”. Yes, it’s cheesy on one level. Get over yourself. They kill it live.

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May 23, 2009

Bat For Lashes – Sleep Alone and Daniel live

Her voice is stunning, and the songs sound even more wicked live.

May 20, 2009

Relapse: Good name for an Eminem album.

I’ve sold all my Eminem CDs. One day I realized, “really, I’m not 22 anymore.” I thought it had been seven years since Eminem’s last album, The Eminem Show, but apparently he put out some album called Encore in 2004. Oh. Apparently Eminem hasn’t matured at all as an artist. I’m sure by now you’ve seen the video to his lead off single to Relapse.

The guy is rap’s Weird Al. If you need a reminder, look at these past videos:
Without Me from The Eminem Show
The Real Slim Shady from The Marshall Mathers LP
My Name Is from The Slim Shady LP

The whole “making jokes about celebrities” seems so tired at this point. Kim Kardashian has a big ass! Sarah Palin is a MILF! These targets are easy, and the jokes are not creative or funny.

The second video from his new album is just like previous “serious” videos.

It’s just a continuation of how Eminem is so stressed and crazed that he’s gonna kill people.
Cleaning Out My Closet from The Eminem Show
The Way I Am from The Marshall Mathers LP

I’d include ’97 Bonnie & Clyde, but no video was made for that song. My point is that Eminem has become a gimmick. He used to seem dangerous, but now he seems safe and cuddly. That’s the problem when you repeat yourself. Showing people that you liked Silence Of The Lambs, Fight Club and Hostel isn’t scary. As far as the music, I think Dr. Dre is running on auto pilot. Lazy piano lines, generic beats, and synth spikes aren’t too thrilling anymore. It’s not terrible to listen to. But, I get the feeling after a few listens I’ll wonder why I spent money on it. Also, looking at the track listing, he has skits. Skits? Isn’t that done to death? And, again one is called “Paul” and one is called “Steve Berman”.

I dunno maybe I’m just too old for this shit. Maybe I gotta be a teenager.

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May 13, 2009

This Is Where I Live

Vodpod videos no longer available.

May 10, 2009

Wanda Sykes at White House Correspondant’s Dinner

I’m posting this just for the new asshole she rips Rush Limbaugh at about 12:20. She had a lot of great lines.

May 10, 2009

Obama’s White House Correspondant’s Dinner Speech

Worth watching just to hear a President say “Wassup?!” and not sound like an idiot. He delivers a joke as well as he does a speech.

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May 8, 2009

Animal Collective – “Summertime Clothes” on Letterman

“Summertime Clothes” from Merriweather Post Pavillion has totally been my gateway song for Animal Collective. As I said in my last post, I’ve had a hard time liking Animal Collective. I owned Sung Tongs ages ago, and actually sold it to a used CD Store. But, Summertime Clothes is a hands aloft rave anthem. As they abundantly proved on Letterman last night. Fuck knows what those dudes behind them are doing.

May 6, 2009

Top 10 Favorite Albums 2009… so far

Yes, it’s only May 6th. That means 2009 has existed for only four months and some change. But, I can easily make a list of 10 albums that came out this year that I love. 2009 can end now. Most of the links below are to YouTube videos, and I hope you’ll click on them. In alphabetical order:

1. Art Brut – Art Brut Vs. Satan: Let’s face it, you listen to Art Brut for Eddie Argos, his blunt British voice and his acerbic lyrics. On Vs. Satan he drops more of his signature lines like “I fought the floor and the floor won” and “Why is everyone trying to sound like U2, it’s not a very cool thing to do.” Art Brut are a music geek’s band. Argos constantly recalls rock and roll’s history, and spends half the album talking about how much he loves music. How can you not love a band who writes a song called “DC Comics and Chocolate Milkshake”, which is about just that. Their music is deceptively simple, and seven minute final track “Mysterious Bruises” proves, to me at least, that they’re accomplished songwriters. Art Brut’s first album, Bang Bang Rock & Roll was a favorite of mine, but for some reason It’s A Bit Complicated didn’t quite connect with me as much. I can’t put a finger on what the difference is, but their new album is back to form.

2. Bat For Lashes – Two Suns: You can compare her to Kate Bush, Annie Lennox and others, but no one truly sounds like Natasha Khan. I see her witchy, mystic aesthetic as only continuing a great female tradition. Her voice is unique and powerful. Her way with rhythm and percussion, using tympani, shakers, bells, handclaps and whatever else is, in my opinion, her signature. I loved Fur And Gold, and I think this album is worlds better. “Sleep Alone” is my favorite song of the year so far, with its pulsing bassline, grooving beat, and vaguely Indian guitar. Khan was somehow able to impress Scott Walker enough to lend his voice to the theatrical closing duet “The Big Sleep”, and she stands shoulder to shoulder with someone I consider possibly the greatest living male vocalist. And, of course “Daniel”, which apparently is really about The Karate Kid character and amounts to a great new wave pop song that is in no way as cheesy as it sounds. I could say lots more, but maybe you should look at her performing “Daniel” and “Sleep Alone” on British show Later… With Jools Holland. That should convince you.

3. Camera Obscura – My Maudlin Career: This is what romance and heartbreak sounds like. If you like Camera Obscura already, you’ll know they’ve been building to this album. Much of My Maudlin Career is full on classical pop, songs like “French Navy” and Careless Love” melodically driven by strings. Other songs, like “Honey In The Sun” are horn and organ driven affairs. Their music is modern 50s and 60s pop, reminiscent of Roy Orbison, girl groups, and country. The album is produced with tons of reverb and echo, which gives it a dream-like quality. Traceyanne Campbell’s voice and lyrics are as sad and lovely as you could ever ask for. Example, “I know you mean well, yes I know that you do, but sooner or later you’re gonna break me in two” from “Towns and Cities”, later saying “Oh still I wanna tell you I love you best”. This album is how you imagine your heartbreak would sound if it were music. And, it should be played loud like you mean it.

4. Neko Case – Middle Cyclone: As I said in my earlier blog entry, Neko Case is an inventive, unique songwriter with arguably the best voice in music. Middle Cyclone is an emotional, dramatic album. It’s poetic and artistic. It’s organic and natural. “This Tornado Loves You” is one of the greatest love songs I’ve ever heard, literally told from the point of view of a tornado and a great metaphor for what love can feel like. She makes her covers of “Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth” and “Don’t Forget Me” her own songs. Her songs shift and change, like in “The Pharoahs” where it starts with one melody, and quickly shifts to a whole new melody. She does dark noir, like the sax laden “Red Tide”, or bright and fun like “People Got A Lot Of Nerve”. Really, she can do no wrong in my eyes. And yes, I even like to listen to the end track “Marais La Nuit” which is a 30 minute recording of frog song and night ambience.

5. The Decemberists – The Hazards Of Love: I was pretty skeptical when I heard that the new Decemberists album was going to be their “rock opera”. I was pleasantly surprised, because I think this album is pretty fucking great. It continues the traditions of Pink Floyd and The Who. They even recall Heart with the vocals of Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond) on “The Wanting Comes In Waves”. But, it sounds like The Decemberists. I barely know what’s going on in the story. Something about a girl getting kidnapped and some guy trying to get her back from a Queen? No? Oh well. It rocks, has harpsichords, strings, banjos and accordians. Like a Decemberists album. There are multiple vocalists and musical themes are repeated throughout, just like a rock opera should sound have. They really pull off the whole thing. It easily could have been a disaster.

6. The Juan MacLean – The Future Will Come: I listened to nothing else for two straight weeks. Like I said in my blog entry, I feel like this album is what the last 30 years of electronic dance music has led to. It’s fun, sad, and great to drive to.

7. The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart – S/t: Their feedback drenched guitars and precious male and female vocals will remind you of a few shoegazing bands. But, so what. Their debut album has 10 fantastic songs. From the drumless opening track “Contender” to the pounding “Be My Baby” drums of last track “Gentle Sons”, all you’ll think is that this is a great band to have around. Especially when they find time for the sweet brit-pop of the acoustic guitar driven “Stay Alive”.

8. Royksopp – Junior: Their third album is a happy medium between their debut, Melody A.M., and their second album, The Understanding. The pretty downtempo of one has been married to the pulsing electropop of the other. You have the pounding techno track “This Must Be It”, sung by The Knife’s Karin Dreijer Andersson, which they drop four songs into the album like they could do it in their sleep. Then the pretty whimsical pop of “Miss It So Much”, sung by Lykke Li (which reminded me how much I love her voice). The string epic “Royksopp Forever” starts off like an Air pastiche, but in the middle shifts into a gorgeous song befitting it’s name. Royksopp are known for being great producers, and this album sounds amazing. It’ll fill your headphones with clicks and whirs and synths, “True To Life” being a great example. I think ultimately what sets Royksopp apart is their music is fun to listen to, and it sounds like they had fun making it. After all, lead off song is called “Happy Up Here” and it samples the video game Space Invaders.

9. St. Vincent – Actor: I like this album more than her first album Marry Me. This album is lush with strings and woodwinds. Some songs groove, some songs float. Songs meander in different melodic directions at will, and at times will suddenly surprise you with sections of loud guitar and percussion. Annie Clark has a lovely voice, and the whole album is gorgeous to listen to. The more times you listen, the more you notice. She seamlessly and artistically mixes rock, jazz, classical, and electronica. There’s so much going on, and it just came out yesterday, so I really can’t begin to discuss specific tracks right now. You should see her live, she’s adorable and a great guitar player.

10. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz!: I can’t add much more than my previous blog entry. Provided they don’t break up for some reason, it’s safe to say YYYs are one of this generation’s greatest bands. I really never thought I’d enjoy string versions of YYYs songs as much as I do…

I feel I must comment on one more album:

Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavillion: I’ve had a hard time “getting” Animal Collective. Each album is welcomed with tons of praise and love. And, I get that they’re talented, and I agree they have a truly original sound. But, their albums always have seemed like aural soup to me, with little for my ear to grab on to. Animal Collective mix folk, ambient, Beach Boys style vocals, psychedelic rock, etc etc etc. But, their newest album is a conscious effort to streamline their sound into four to five minute structures, and I have to say I really enjoy it. Especially “Summertime Clothes”, which is an actual electronic dance song with a great beat. Their music can be joyful, like “Brother Sport”, and they’re like a playful kitten you can’t help but warm up to despite how pretentious I think they can be. And, they can sing. I have to admit that. I’m going to have to give their earlier albums another chance now.

May 3, 2009

Music Snobbery

Much of music writing is surrounded by saying “____ sounds like / pays homage to / is influenced by / rips off ____”. I do it myself. I think it has value as a reference point, since music writing is attempting to put in terms of written language something that is aural. But, I think to get hung up on it as “_____ sucks because _____ did it first” only leads to denying yourself great music. I think at this point in history, 2009, there is little that has not been done before. No band or artist truly defies comparison anymore. Even Animal Collective, who are about as an original sounding band as you can find today, can be compared to the Beach Boys, The Beatles, The Orb, etc. Getting hung up on this kind of thinking is what separates a snob from someone who appreciates and enjoys good music. I think a term like “retro” is losing it’s utility. Music, whether from the 50’s or from the 80’s, is all part of the world’s collective consciousness now. The question is, do you find it enjoyable? You like the Jesus And Mary Chain. Great. The Raveonettes and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club are clearly influenced by them, and have made enjoyable albums that recall their sound. Saying “I liked them better when they were called Jesus And Mary Chain” only serves to make you, who didn’t create either music, feel superior. All that ultimately should matter is whether or not you enjoy what you hear. I think most people, if they get past the nose aloft snobbishness, would realize that The Raveonettes take all their influences and write great songs. But, we all can’t be innovators in life. It’s insane, and probably leads to hypocrisy, to expect that of the music we listen to. To put a fence around the sound My Bloody Valentine pioneered, and say “no others shall drink of this well” would deny the world great music like The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart. Talent is less subjective. I can’t write or play shit. After all, music is an art form and not all of us are artistically inclined. But, I think to simply define musical talent as “were you the first to create this sound” is far too strict and limiting. And, that is what you do when you dislike a band simply on the basis of “yeah, I liked them better when they were called ____”. Music makes the world a better, more bearable place. Snobbery only denies yourself a life enhancing, at times life changing, thing.

Finally, there’s a subtle distinction to be made between enjoyment and artistic appreciation. And, a lesson I had to learn in life is to separate the two. I had to stop caring if music I enjoyed listening to was also critically highly regarded. I enjoyed Britney Spears’ last two albums, but will I say she herself is talented? No. Think of it this way: I don’t like onions. People ask me, “How can you not like onions?” And, my only answer is, “They go into my mouth, and something in my brain says that I don’t like how they taste.” Music, in the end, is the same. Taste can be refined over time, especially if you take in more and more music. Perhaps if I ate more onions, more kinds of onions, I’d appreciate them more. It took a long time for me to appreciate Steely Dan. And, maybe all it took was a maturing of my musical palate. Yes, I just compared Steely Dan to onions. But, maybe I won’t ever like onions, just like I have never really liked The Cure. And, that’s OK.