Tuesday, November 30, 2004
For those of you too young to have seen the original in 1985 it was quite cool. It'd be great if they could pull one off that good again.
The Ashtray Hearts
The Ashtray Hearts of Free Election Records (their own self-started label) are another incredibly talented band from the diverse Minneapolis music scene. They will probably be labeled alt-country, but they are more than just another reiteration of twang accompanied by slide guitar and my-dog-just-died lyrics. Ok, so the lyrics are morose, but they are partnered with music better characterized as roots rock or folk and infinitely more substantial than most of what falls under the "alt-country" umbrella these days. They throw a bit of everything into the pot -- accordian, trumpet, banjo, piano, guitars, drums -- and are masterful enough to pull it all off. Check out mp3's of their singles "Still Shaking" and "Necessary Planes" here.
Calla of Young God Records is probably the most established band we have featured in Artists to Watch, as they have been around since 1998 and toured with the likes of Interpol, Sigur Ros, and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. We have nonetheless included the band in this week's edition because if they've managed to elude your radar, you really must remedy that situation pronto. Calla, formerly of Texas and now firmly planted in New York, is a three piece ensemble whose sound is reminiscent of My Bloody Valentine and The Jesus and Mary Chain, but with an edgier, darker, and perhaps more timely approach. Check out a mp3 from their new release Televise and a live performance and interview from KEXP here. The live KEXP sessions are acoustic and very, very good.
Monday, November 29, 2004
Tuesday, November 23, 2004
Director Alfonso Cuaron brought in Ian Brown of the Stone Roses to cameo in the last Harry Potter film Harry Potter And The Prisoner of Azkaban. Nice music taste Alfonso!
by Heather Huff
U2's How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb is the guitar album the band has promised for years. The Edge takes control of nearly every song and refuses to relinquish his dominance. That's not to say that HTDAAB is a loud riff-heavy album, but the guitars do set the tempo. With the Edge in the driver's seat, U2 delivers an album that is raw, bluesy, beautifully chaotic and less pop than the bulk of their previous work.
It may take a while for many of the U2 faithful to embrace the concept of HTDAAB, if they do at all. This is not an album saturated with the great, driving U2 melodies and choruses, which dig deep into your brain and refuse to come out. In fact, the song structure occasionally falls apart and the vocals sometimes fight with the instrumentation. Some will even find Bono's vocals on this album flawed, as his voice is hoarse and raspy at times. But don't miss the point, these imperfections allow the incredible emotional force of this album to shine through. You would lose that with over-production. This album's craftsmanship is increasingly apparent with each listen. If you can refrain from focusing on the tiny flaws here and there, you'll be able to see the brilliance.
The album opens with the danceable, almost punk-rock "Vertigo," kicked off by Bono with a defiant "uno, dos, tres, catorce." One, two, three, fourteen? What? Did he have a few too many pints? Could there be some greater meaning? Speculation on the internet is all over the place, but the theory holding the most water is that the 14 represents HTDAAB, as it is the band's fourteenth release. Regardless, it works. The foundation is simple, the guitar riffs are heavy and the song is fun. Just don't expect the rest of the album to sound like this.
The classic U2 ballad on the album is "Sometimes You Can't Make it on Your Own," written by Bono for his father who died in 2001. The song starts at a slow tempo driven by acoustic guitar, then steadily builds and climaxes towards the end as the sound thickens and Bono starts belting it out. While Bono's vocals aren't perfect on this one, it's a good thing that the producers fought any urges to enhance them or ask for additional takes. His raw emotion comes bleeding through in a way it probably wouldn't in a perfect studio version.
The anti-war anthem, "Love and Peace or Else" begins with a bass/synthesizer distortion which may cause some to reach for the skip button. You really shouldn't, as you'd miss the albums most innovative track. Five different producers touched this song, including Brian Eno, who also pulled synthesizer duty. (See the liner notes here). The distorted intro eventually gives way to a heavy rhythm, which morphs into gritty blues and then evolves into something increasingly lighter as the guitars rise. You'll need to listen to this one often and at full volume.
"Original of the Species" is the outlier on this guitar-based album. Those who don't care for the album as a whole will likely favor this song. It is driven by vocals and piano and, unlike most of the other songs, has a true chorus. Ringing guitars chime in midway to complement one of Bono's most powerful vocal efforts on HTDAAB.
You'll hear a lot of people say that HTDAAB sounds like early U2. While it does have the raw emotion and loose production which defined their early work, the sound is new and fresh. No, this is not U2's greatest album, but it is nonetheless important. It is testament to the fact that U2 still has the heart and drive of a newly formed, struggling band. Unlike many other bands that crank out sloppy, uninspired albums late in their career, 26-year old U2 fights as hard on their latest album as they did with their first.
Monday, November 22, 2004
McCartney just finished collaborating on Band Aid's remake of "Do they know it's Christmas?," which features the knightly one on bass instead of vocals. He is also recording a new solo album with Band Aid 2004 and long-time Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich.
Related Stories: Band Aid back with less Pop; Bono tells Robbie Williams and Justin Hawkins to Walk On
Sunday, November 21, 2004
So, I approached the recently released 500 Greatest Songs of all time list with a good measure of skepticism. The voters included 172 singers, songwriters, musicians, producers, music critics and industry executives who were asked to focus on the music of the 60's and 70's. That focus is apparent. The breakdown of songs per decade looks like this: 40's = 2; 50's = 71; 60's = 204; 70's = 142; 80's = 57; 90's = 21; 00's = 3. The Beatles, Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones account for more than 1/5 of the entire list with 117 songs. Dylan snagged the top spot with "Like A Rollin' Stone."
While the list appropriately awards the Beatles, Dylan and the Stones for revolutionizing songwriting, it undervalues or outright ignores many subsequent groundbreakers. According to the group assembled by Rolling Stone, the past 14 years brought us only 24 songs worthy of the top 500 list. The only songs up to snuff from this decade belong to Eminem and Outkast. With the exception of an over-hyped "Smells Like Teen Spirit" weighing in at Number 9, grunge was largely overlooked. None of the other bands responsible for breaking the infamous Seattle movement, such as Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots and Soundgarden, made the list. The few recognized pioneers who came after the Beatles/Stones/Dylan triumvirate, such the Pixies, the Smiths, R.E.M. and Pavement only had one or two songs on the list.
Even the Pop music Generation X grew up with didn't fare well, as Michael Jackson only has two songs on the list, Madonna one and Whitney Houston zero. I'm not arguing that songs such as Jackson's "Thriller" and Houston's "I Will Always Love You" should be included, but their absence is notable considering songs of Dionne Warwick, Sonny and Cher, and R. Kelly made the list.
So read the list with a grain of salt Gen-X, Y and Z, this is your parents' list compiled by your parents' magazine. They do throw you a huge Nirvana bone, but don't expect them to recognize much of music that shaped your life. But those under 40 shouldn't be discouraged, the list has enormous value as a reference to songs from an era which shaped our musical landscape, songs everyone should know. If bringing awareness to songs in danger of being forgotten in this short attention span, MTV-world is the purpose of this list, Rolling Stone succeeded.
Other Artists notably absent: Talking Heads, the Supremes (though Diana Ross has 3 songs on the list), Nick Drake, Gram Parsons, Don McLean, Sting, Elliott Smith, the Pretenders, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nine Inch Nails, Ella Fitzgerald, Carly Simon, Van Halen, Morrissey, Duran Duran, 10,000 Maniacs, Bon Jovi and the Dead Kennedys.
Friday, November 19, 2004
A while back, Caitlin Cary told us in an interview to go out of our way to discover an up and coming band from Raleigh, N.C. named Goner. Wow, I can't believe it took me so long to heed her genius; I may never stop kicking myself. Their sophomore release from Bifocal Media, How good we had it, is Pop college style. I am hesitant to tell you that they have no guitar player, because it might take you a while to figure that out otherwise. Their sound is nonetheless full and key-board driven with strong bass, solid drums and Michael Stipe-like vocals. Check them out here.
Uh huh, that's right, Girlyman. Stop laughing because this trio of two women and one girlyman from Brooklyn is no joke. Their gorgeous harmonies blend male and female voices in a way that is reminiscent of Peter, Paul & Mary, but much more modern. Their arrangements are multi-layered, weaving in slide-guitars and mandolins. Lyrically they are as quirky as their name suggests, but their hooks do not disappoint. Their debut, Remember who I am, was self-released on Clever Shark Records. Check it out here.
Thursday, November 18, 2004
The cd stays true to Rusted Roots' Eastern and African influences, and features the
Pittsburgh-born band's original line-up: Michael Glabicki (lead vocals, guitar), Jenn Wertz (vocals, guitars, percussion), Liz Berlin (vocals, guitars, percussion), Jim Donovan (drums, percussion, vocals), Patrick Norman (bass,
guitar, baritone vocals, percussion) and John Buynak (electric guitar, percussion, flute).
Wednesday, November 17, 2004
Tuesday, November 16, 2004
U2 will also dominate the air waves of BBC1 radio today, with a two-hour live performance from Dublin on Zane Lowe's show, guest appearance on Jo Whiley's show, and a heavy presence on the station's play list. BBC1 radio is broadcast live here. If you miss it, BBC1 usually posts recordings of their live shows, so you'll probably be able to listen in after today as well.
Monday, November 15, 2004
Perhaps fearing a fan revolt, singer/guitarist Ben Gibbard posted an explanation on the DCFC website. He thanks Barsuk profusely and downplays the move's potential impact on their musical integrity with the following:
Postal Service fans may still have something to worry about as DCFC's move to a major label may distract Gibbard from his critically acclaimed side project on Sub Pop Records.
Here is a detailed list of the changes that will occur now that we are on Atlantic Records:1) Next to the picture of Barsuk holding a 7", there will be the letter "A" on both the spine and back of our upcoming albums. I hope all of you can deal with this list.
Saturday, November 13, 2004
Speaking of SNL, those of you silly enough to buy an Ashlee Simpson CD when her daddy and MTV told you she had indie cred can now exchange the lip-synching hoedown queen's CD for something better. The Horrified Observers of Pedestrian Entertainment (H.O.P.E.), Rhino Records and the Knitting Factory will trade you for another artist, such as Elvis Costello, the Ramones, Ray Charles, Joni Mitchell, Aretha Franklin or the Grateful Dead. Bring your CD to the Knitting Factory in NYC or visit www.hopeinamerica.com for more information on making the exchange.
Friday, November 12, 2004
This week's batch of "Artists to watch" has a little something for everyone. Enjoy.
Justin Jones is a brilliant new singer song-writer from southern Virginia. He has an easy-like-Sunday-morning sound reminiscent of Gram Parsons and early Tom Waits. Whether you call it alt-country or hillbilly soul, his debut Blue Dreams is a heartfelt collection of story-telling songs delivered with a stunning authenticity. What distinguishes Jones from the bevy of singer song-writers of today is his ability to tune out the world, to lose himself in his craft. While others are busy proving themselves radio-worthy and struggling with the weight of their own self-consciousness, Jones delivers his haunting stories with the poise of someone who will be content with his music whether he becomes a star or not. Because of this, he is much more poignant and heartbreaking than those other guys who are trying too hard to capture something that comes to Jones naturally. Check him out here and get on the bandwagon before he explodes.
These days you don't get more hipster indie-rock than Portland, Oregon and Star Time International Records. The Joggers hail from both. The band is art-rock more in the style of 80's college rock than the other indie-darling bands on their label, such as the French Kicks and The Futureheads. What sets these guys apart and makes you say "whoa," is their four-part harmonies. Who does that? Well no one, not since the 1800's anyway. Check them out here. These guys are smart, but they are also fun.
Appropriately, The Teeth, complete with a pair of twins sharing lead vocal duties, come to us from the City of Brotherly Love. Their sound is experimental and quirky, earning references to Pavement and the Talking Heads. At times they are piano-driven and airy, but they can also be guitar-based and frantic. Either way, they are refreshingly interesting and worth checking out. Discover them here.
Thursday, November 11, 2004
Related Earvolution Story: Band Aid back with less Pop
Update: Be sure to mark your calendars for next week's U2 Super Tuesday. MTV.com and VH1.com will premier U2's How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb one week prior to it's release. Check out their artist page on VH1.com here and MTV.com here for more information. U2 will also dominate the air waves of BBC1 radio on Tuesday, with a two-hour live performance from Dublin on Zane Lowe's show, guest appearance on Jo Whiley's show, and a heavy presence on the station's play list. BBC1 radio is broadcast live here, so listen can to it live even if you are not in the UK. If you miss it, BBC1 usually posts recordings of their live shows, so you'll probably be able to listen to it after Tuesday as well.
Wednesday, November 10, 2004
Tuesday, November 09, 2004
The reunions just keep on coming. The latest to follow the comeback trend is 1960s supergroup Cream. The group, comprised of Eric Clapton (guitars, vocals), Ginger Baker (drums), and Jack Bruce (bass), will reportedly reunite for multiple shows at London's Royal Albert Hall, the site of their pre-breakup swan song in 1968. In their two short years Cream had enough of an impact to warrant induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993. They are after all responsible for one of the most memorable guitar riffs in history found in their megahit "Sunshine of your Love."
Monday, November 08, 2004
Both shows feature Baltimore's Elise Major (click to listen) and The Streamers from New York City. Come check it out, I'll be at one or both!
Many will probably dismiss the latest John Lennon release, Acoustic, as another batch of songs yanked out of the vault and thrown together by Yoko to ad to her billions. Half of the songs on this release are clearly demos and half of those are poor quality, so unfortunately that belief may resonate. I don't know the woman, so although I find her vilification unwarranted; I'm not going to pretend to know her motivations. But that's all irrelevant. This album should be recognized for its enormous value. It is a gift to John Lennon diehards, singer-song writers, and fledgling guitarists.
As the title suggests, all of the songs are performed by Lennon alone with his acoustic guitar. "Watching the Wheels" is the clear standout and reason enough to give this album 4 stars. It is simply song writing at its best and should be studied by every aspiring song writer. This stripped down acoustic version also seems like a more appropriate canvas for his feelings of leaving his Beatles super-stardom and the machine of the music industry for a life of domesticity with his family. There was definitely something lost between the recording of this version and the version on Double Fantasy.
Rough around the edges demos, such as "God," give us invaluable insight into his song writing process. There are a few live songs on this release as well, including a beautiful version of "Imagine," thrown in to hook those casual listeners who know little of his post-Beatles work. Hopefully along the way they will discover other greats such as a soulful, stirring version of the proletariat anthem, "Working Class Hero."
No, Acoustic is not perfect, but to listen to this album is to eavesdrop on a studio session with one of the greatest song writers of the century. This is what his Unplugged might sound like; or, rather, this is what his rehearsal for Unplugged might sound like. Despite it's rough edges, or maybe because of them, Acoustic is still greater than 95 percent of what MTV tries to package as brilliant song writing.
Now, I have saved the really incredible thing about Acoustic for last: Yoko dedicates it to "the future guitarists," saying, "John always played from his heart. I hope you will learn to do the same." Then she does something amazing and, as far as I know, unprecedented: she included the chords along with the lyrics for all of the songs, with chord diagrams in the back! What a beautiful, generous woman. We can only hope she starts a trend.
Thursday, November 04, 2004
This week's batch of "Artists to watch" is on the mellow side in the hopes that we can all start to heal post-election. Crank up these three hot new releases and escape.
West Indian Girl
For a band named after a strain of LSD purported to induce tribal hallucinations, they are every bit as trippy as you would expect them to be. But don't think jam band, think experimental Brit-pop southern California style. West Indian Girl artfully blends acoustic guitars, pianos, and straightforward melodies with experimental sound effects and samples. If that scares you, don't fear, their dip into electronica is not so overdone that it muddies the solid foundation of their accomplished musicianship. Check out their new self-titled release on Astralwerks Records.
As of right now this Washington, DC based band is unsigned ... but you can count on that changing soon. Their tremendous following and the deafening buzz surrounding their recent debut has caught the eye of several music industry insiders. These guys are clearly professionals and they have come out swinging with a solid, well-produced first effort. Monopoli's self-titled EP is indie-pop at its best -- instantly addictive with catchy hooks, but original and substantive enough to satisfy your inner music-snob. Their sound is stripped-down and pure and incredibly captivating. They will grab you with heart-breaking vocals and a Coldplay-like ability to emote, but in their own new refreshing way. Catch them now before they make their big break.
Steven Kattenbraker is an emerging singer-songwriter compared to such greats as Elliott Smith and Leonard Cohen. Those comparisons should tell you that this is a songwriter to take seriously. His self-titled release delivers poetic lyrics with a soothing baritone voice, accompanied by an expertly played acoustic guitar. Check him out now; he'll restore your faith in the singer-songwriter genre.
Monday, November 01, 2004
Look for the new cd in late spring/early summer 2005. These ladies have ground it out for a decade and hopefully they'll get a boost out of this change of scenery.