Thursday, February 26, 2009

Aw naw

I've been on a real country music kick lately. When I say "real," I don't mean in the literal sense, because all I've actually been listening to is Neko Case and Will Oldham, who are just hip country music singers for the young pretentious crowd. I'd love to get in to "real" country music, but its a scary prospect. I'm not talking about Toby Keith, Tim McGraw, and whoever else is big in West Virginia right now. I mean like the real godfathers, universally revered names like Merle Hagard, Hank Williams, Willie Nelson, Patsy Cline, etc. Except something in me rebels against the thought of listening to real country music, a sort of knee-jerk reaction I suppose. As children, many of us learn to hate country music and look down our noses at those who like it. What's the usual line about people's tastes in music?: "I like everything except country and classical." What is this reactionary fear of country? Sure most of what you hear on the radio is mainstream, over-produced slop, seemingly targeted at a very specific audience. But then again, exactly the same thing can be said about modern R&B. Yeah, most of it is crap, but ever-so-often you'll get a 'Love In This Club,' 'I Can't Believe It,' anything by R. Kelly, etc. What I'm trying to say is that their is a pervasive anti-country music prejudice in the country, of which I am tragically a victim. One of my higher goals as a music listener is to always keep an open-mind about whatever I listen to, no matter who made it. A fool's mission, perhaps, but something to aspire to. Obviously, country music is case in point of my struggles. Hopefully I'll be able to triumph over my country-phobia, but until then, I'll be stuck with Phosphorescent, Palace, and that awesome country song by the Shins.

By the way, have you heard the new Neko joint? It kills.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

This post is not (explicitly) about music

It could be possible to trace the roots of my Bjork obsession to seeing her dressed in this little number while watching the academy awards in 2000. The audacity to so boldly and openly mock the whole red-carpet glamour thing left quite an impression on me (throw in the video to 'Human Behavior,' and I was head over heels). Anyways, the occasion for this life-changing moment occurred do to the fact that Bjork was nominated for an oscar for original best song in the movie Dancer in the Dark, in which she starred. Naturally, I've had a longstanding curiosity to see said film for quite some time, and I finally did last night thanks to the wonders of Netflix 2 week free trial period (note to self, must cancel by March 6). So, how did Bjork fare in her career's only major movie role?

Bjork herself does quite well: she is very convincing and commands the audiences attention, a feat that she maintains throughout the film's interminable 140 minute run time. The movie itself, however, is nothing short of terrible. I don't even know where to begin in my criticism. The plot is utterly improbable, and much of the time it makes absolutely no sense. The first half of the film takes place at a turgid pace, and seems to be a very realist portrayal of the struggles of a Czech immigrant working a blue collar job in the US in the 1960s to pay for an operation that will save her son from going blind. She herself is almost blind, and is running out of time to earn the money she needs. This half of the movie was actually tolerable, if not boring and painfully depressing. However, the plot completely flies off the rails in the second half, landing Bjork's character Selma in the absurdly ridiculous situation of facing death by capital punishment. Sorry for not putting up any spoiler warnings, but I would strongly discourage anyone who was thinking about seeing this movie from doing so, and now that you know the end, you don't have to. Not only was the plotline patently absurd, but the characters tended towards being very thingly drawn. The aforementioned Selm is so unrealistically simple-minded that in the big court scene she refuses to give testimony that would save her because she 'made a promise' earlier in the film to a character who would become her persecuter. The movie's saving grace is the series of remarkable performances from its entire cast, in a perfect example of making lemonade from lemons. And what a cast it is: Bjork, Catherine Deneuve, the guy who played Steve Buscemi's accomplice in Fargo, the lady who played the ravaged prostitute in American Psycho, and the lady who played the farmer's wife in Men In Black. Mostly, however,  I just felt bad for the 2 leading ladies for having to maintain their composure and dignity in this pile of revolting crap.

One more thing: the movie's musical sequences were awful. Were they supposed to be self-parody? I hope so. I still love Bjork with all my soul, but Lars Von Triers can suck a dick.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Top 5: Songs of the City

Off the dome, top 5 songs about the 'city experience'. 

5. Raised in the City - The Replacements

Good song, but not quite one of the Mats' best. It makes the list however, because it was the song that they gave to Peter Jesperson of Twin/Tone, which resulted in their getting signed to the label, and the rest is history.

4. Language City - Wolf Parade

The best song off their second full length, and its all about disaffection for the general madness of city life. And it's a Dan Boeckner tune, so its got some fantastic hooks. Kind of how I feel about NYC sometimes.

3. N.Y. State of Mind - Nas

Can't really say I identify with this one as much, but its so hard that there's no way I could leave it off the list. Nas spits relentlessly bleak imagery of life in the Queensbridge projects over the most gutter beat DJ Premier ever dropped. 

2. The City - Dismemberment Plan

It feels like travesty not to put this number one. City living can be pretty lonely sometimes, and who better to document this emotion than Travis Morrison? Add some gnarly keboards, angular guitars, and god-like Joe Easley drumming and you have a masterpiece, straight-up.

1. New Town (live) - Life Without Buildings

As depressing as life in the city can be, it can be incredibly exciting. Thanks to Sue Tompkins nonsensical lyrics, I'm not sure this song is actually about the city. But the chugging post-punk guitars, busy snare and cymbal work, and impassioned shouts curtesy of Ms. Tompkins evoke the sense of awe I feel when emerging from the subway into the bright lights and loud sounds of downtown at night better than anything else I've ever heard before.

And yes, more on Ghostface to come, I promise. 


How many girls you got fucked yo?
How many nuts you might bust?
How many shots, gunnin' for the dome?
How many cakes we bake yall?
How many L's we smoke? At a time?

1. Ghostface Killah

We the illest since Magic Johnson/ No disrespect/ The metaphors keep me out the projects/ The rap connects keep me correct/ Eh yo I wrote this on Donnie's roof/ After his funeral, on one knee/ Thinkin' his killers followed me/ So to my nigga Donnie, up there/ Won't you please tell God that we fucked up here?/ We got beer, weed, guns, AIDS, all these obstacles its hard to make it nowadays/ Why's the devil winnin?/ Some say its our fault/ If that's the answer, you know smokin can cause cancer/ Let me drop a bracelet, leave a chain behind/ My tape stay at the beginning 'cuz thats how we rewind/ You know how we dine/ We don't eat swine, and we don't drink wine/ If you don't bring me some motha-fuckin cognac I'll kill you/ I can't feel you/ ain't in my senses and it ain't in my dollars/ I fuck with rotweilers, no leashes, no collars/ Brolic scholars, that's Ghost Deini!

... stay tuned for even more insightful analysis ...

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

I was musing on the progression of my musical "heroes" from the beginnings of my love affair with pop music to the present. Here's a rough chronology:

1985-~1994: ? (Raffi?)
1994-1997: The Beatles
1997-1999: David Bowie
1999-2000: Curtis Mayfield
2000-2002: Marvin Gaye
2003-2004: Prince
2004-2005: MF Doom
2005-2007: Ghostface Killah
2007: Ted Leo
2007-2009: The Replacements/Dismemberment Plan
2009-present: Neko Case

Certainly a vast oversimplification, and Belle & Sebastian probably deserve a place somewhere in there. Interesting to ponder though.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

My corporate thugz is like "nah Hov, talk that shit!"

Right back at it, and my surprise (?) pick at #2 is:

2. Jay-Z

I struggled mightily over the decision of whether Nas or Jay-Z should come out ahead on this list. My heart, of course, lies with Nas, for the reasons listed in my earlier post, and also because in many ways I hate Jay-Z (more on that in a sec). In the end, however, I had to go with Jay because this list, unlike pretty much anything else I will write on this blog, is meant to be semi-objective, and when all is said and done Jay-Z is just a more skilled rapper. And just to bring in the c. 02/03 beef for fun, the 'Takeover' is much better than 'Ether', and that that "One good album every 10 year average!" was pretty damning.

To those who know my mixed feeling towards Jay-Z, the fact that I can put him so high on this list should stand as a true testament to his ability. Sometime around The Black Album I began to loathe Jay-Z, and began secretly rooting for his failure. I was elated when Kingdom Come was a critical failure, and disappointed when American Gangster was universally lauded. I used to think the source of this anger was Jay's extreme overconfidence, and constant harping on the "Greatest Rapper Alive" concept. But every rapper ever is guilty of perpetrating those crimes, and I've come to the realization that my distaste actually stems from his whole label executive, corporate takeover, media darling, well dressed, Beyonce-betrothed, non-threatening, hottest interviews, everybody's favorite rapper persona. I was finally able to get past all of these non-music related things one day when I was listening to Kanye West's 'Never Let Me Down,' and Jay's second verse came on: 'Who else you know been hot this long?/ Started from nothin' but he got strong/ To a rock from a pebble/ Pedaled rock before I met you/ Peddle bikes, bought my nephews peddle bikes because they special.' What that verse reminded me was the two crucial things about Jay-Z: his infinitely malleable cadence, and his ability to, with high frequency, pull-out brilliantly clever lyrical gems. Regarding the former, I've debated my brother about the relative merit of 'Ghetto Anthem (Hard Knock Life)', contesting its claims of lyrical idiocy with the fact that Jay sounds so good, regardless of what he's saying. The same argument can be brought to bear on many Jay-Z other songs and verses, to the point that he almost always sounds good even when he's saying stupid or obnoxious things. On the lyrical front, Jay-Z just has an intangible ability to come up with incredible lines that don't rely on being story-driven, progressive, or deeply though-provoking. On top of these things, Jay-Z really has been consistently great over a very long time, and he really isn't slowing down much (although I'm not terribly impressed with the 'Brooklyn We Go Hard' joint). Longevity + consistency + occasionally brilliant lyrics + untouchable 'style' (or 'flow', or whatever hot slang kids are using in the streets these days) = 2nd greatest rapper in history.

Having just heaped praise on him, I feel justified in taking one last pot-shot: worst pre-song ad-libs ever.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

My karaoke saved my life

Did you know the post title is the name of an actual book (almost)? I'll have to check it out. What comes next is my set list from karaoke a couple nights back, along with a personal appraisal of my performance of each number. My memory of what I sang gets a little hazy from deeper into the night, but here's what I think I remember doing:

1. Hungry Heart (Springsteen) - Underestimated Bruce's singing abilities, probably tried to sing in too high of a register.

2. Friday I'm In Love (The Cure) - Nailed it, despite my apprehensions over not knowing the words. Didn't quite work in Robert Smith's accent, unfortunately.

3. Kiss (Prince) - This was the one I was really excited about, and I did a decent job. Of course I didn't sound as good as I do when I sing it in the shower, but it was fun. Worked in some sexy dance moves too.

4. Gin & Juice (Snoop Doggy Dogg) - Knocked it out of the park on this one. Proved that reading the monitor is for suckers.

5. This Charming Man (Smiths) - Another home run. Morissey is easy to sing, and I was really getting in to the showmanship part with gesticulations and getting down on my knees. Unfortunately things started going downhill from here.

6. Rock Your Body (Justin Timberlake) - Bit off more than I could chew. After the relative success of my falsetto on Kiss, I though I could handle this. Not even close, but the audience had a good time.

7. I Wanna Be Your Lover (Prince) - Kind of regret this one, Prince was old news at this point. At least the ladies were still into it (maybe I'm making that up).

8. A Milli (Lil Wayne) - As we were getting kicked out of the room, I decided to do something hardcore. Unfortunately the monitor was showing some really weird lyrics maybe from a remix or something, and I couldn't follow along. Eventually some dude just came up and unplugged the mic while I was still rapping.

I'm sure I did other stuff in there, but that's all I remember. Good times.


Friday, February 6, 2009

Last one ...

One more concert review, then I swear I'll get back to the top mcs countdown. Wednesday night I attended the sold out Passion Pit show at Bowery Ballroom with a few friends, 2 of which I would qualify as borderline super-fans. We arrived in time for the second opening act, the inappropriately named Paper Route, who did not in fact play emo or twee-indie pop. Instead they played U2-esque arena rock, which seemed tragically inappropriate to the size and constituency of the venue. I felt kind of bad watching the show, because I felt like I was doing the group a disservice by not pumping my fist, singing along, and raising a lighter throughout their set. Although U2 isn't really my thing, I kind of enjoyed some of their stuff, but did my best not to show it.

Passion Pit came on a little after 11, and, to quote Peedi Crak, the hoes went retarded. These guys are clearly very popular with the moderately hip, 20-25 female crowd, and everything song was enthusiastically received by the audience. The lead singer, Michael Angelakos, is kind of goofy looking, but the fans ate him right up. Actually, the guy has a really incredible voice, much better live than I was expecting. His falsetto sounds more fleshed out and tangible in person than on record, and he demonstrated incredible control of it throughout the entire performance. This was one of several unexpected delights of the show. Another was the first song the band performed, something new that I assume will be on their upcoming album to be released in May. Unlike most of the other group's songs, it leaned heavily on electric guitar, which was accompanied by swooping synths akin to ca. Apologies Wolf Parade. Of course Angelakos' soulful crooning lent the song an extra dimension, and the uptempo number was the show's highlight for me. Unfortunately, the other new material they debuted wasn't nearly as compelling, mostly just par for the course synth pop that I kind of forgot immediately. However, the band set the house on fire with its EP stuff, especially 'I've Got Your Number', 'Better Things', and 'Sleepyheads'. Amazingly, the set was over in less than 40 minutes (including encore) which might not have been surprising given the bands limited song repertoire if not for the fact that they didn't even play one of their best songs, 'Cuddle Fuddle'. Other than that oversight, however, the show was a lot of fun. Not sure if this group will be able to pull out as many good hooks for their full album as they had on the EP, but no matter what Angelakos has real chops, and I've got at least one good song to look forward to on the upcoming release.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

I left new york city girl, without you

Last night I caught Frightened Rabbit playing the final show of a tour lead singer Scott Hutchinson claimed had been going for 10 months straight. Considering I saw them perform at 3 other stops on this tour, I'd say it was a appropriate that I made it to the final stop on their tour. It went down at Le Poisson Rouge, a cool basement bar/venue on Bleecker. Don't remember the name of the opening act, but it was a male and female duo that did quiet, laid back folk music. And the woman sounded a lot like Isobel Campbell. The crowded house mainly talked through their entire set.

Now, my feelings about this band are pretty strong, so one might expect I would give these guys high marks no matter what. In fact, my enjoyment of this show was drastically compromised by its format. It was billed as "acoustic," even though they definitely plugged in instruments for a number of songs. What actually transpired was that the group knocked the energy level down a few notches, dropped various pieces from their songs, and let Scott do the whole show sitting down. This was a huge disappointment to me, because my favorite songs by this group are the rousing, uptempo fist-pumpers. The arrangement of the show definitely played to the group's slower, more folksy tendancies. Unfortunately, I often felt like I was sitting in on one of those evervating 'World Cafe' guest spots, or even worse, an episode of VH1 'Storytellers.' Many of the songs devolved into full audience sing-alongs, which left me feeling nauseated. All of this adds up to what could have been an absolute disaster of a show, and it might have been, if not for the fact that Scott Hutchinson was obviously, and unappologetically wasted.

The idea of the performance was that the group would perform songs at the audience's request. When the first song called out was 'Backwards Walk,' Scott dismissed it with a "That's a weird fuckin' song tae start with!" However, they did it, and one of the good things about the show was I got to hear stuff that I hadn't necessarily here them do at other concerts. In fact, the most poignant moment of the night for me was Scott's performance of 'Poke,' one of the, in my opinion, lesser songs from the last album. However, alone, acoustic, with the audience in an enraptured hush, the song's painful relationship portrait took on a vivid new meaning for me, especially during the powerful second verse. The group also did a lot of stuff off their first album, with which I'm not very familiar. 'Snake' was good, because afterwards Scott claimed that the song was about an actual friend of his, and not his penis. He also explained that 'I Feel Better' is the sequel to snake. No question, the between song banter was the best thing about the show. When someone requested 'Empire Falls,' Scott warned that he could only do half of it because he couldn't remember the rest of the lyrics. At one point a bottle of whiskey found its way to stage, from which Scott took a generous tug. During the sing-along to 'Keep Yourself Warm,' Scott called to the audience "Where won't you find love?" In all, I think they covered every song from Midnight Organ Fight, except 'Who'd You Kill Now,' a good half-dozen + songs from The Greys ("I love that fuckin song..." Scott slurred when someone requested the title track), and even the Christmas song. The perfomances themselves were actually pretty tedious though, and to my shame, I flirted with the idea of leaving early. Thankfully, my friend Kathleen told me to man up, and I stuck around through the encore, where the group covered a song by a group called "Entrance" I believe, which Scott described as a "band's band." In the end, I'm very glad I saw it though to the end. I love these guys, and can't wait for the next record. I just hope it ends up being more like their "electric" shows, and less like their "acoustic" ones. God knows they've got momentum behind them now.

Monday, February 2, 2009

The thermals go right to your head, the thermals have sex in your bed.

Finally, my first concert report for the blog. This one was a doozy. 

The Thermals show was playing at the Bell House in the Park Slope area of Brooklyn yesterday. It was sold out, and I didn't have a ticket, but I went anyways because I love this band. I got there a bit after 11 pm, when the show was scheduled to start, and lucked out when some dude pawned off a ticket to me. However, my luck ran dry there, as I and the rest of the crowd in attendance to see the Thermals show were forced to stand outside in the cold until after midnight while the early show at the Bell House finished up. A serious strike against the place, but once we were finally let in, it proved to be a good performance space. 

First up were the openers Nice and Pretty from Boston. I'd call their sound spastic post-punk, in the vein of the most unhinged work from D-Plan. In other words, I dug it, and the two frontmen had great stage presence. They did some great ad-libbing, and they had the tendancy to throw their bodies recklessly all over the stage during performances, sometimes hitting the floor or falling into the percussion area. The songs were pretty good too, and I left with the desire to check out their stuff later.

After a lightening quick setup, the Thermals were onstage and ready to go at about 1 am. A couple of revelations to me were that Hutch Harris is a pretty homely dude, and Kathy Foster is a complete smokin babe. They led off their set with a roaring version of 'Returning to the Fold,' their 3rd best song. It got the show off to a great start, and the crowd was really into it throughout. There was a lot of slam dancing at the center of the floor, and even the occasional body surfer. The Thermals ripped through one song after another, only stopping for the occasional awkward banter from either Hutch or Kathy, and covered probably half of The Body, The Blood ..., a number of songs from their first album, and a couple from their second. They also got a good half dozen or more from their new album coming in April, and I must say, I was impressed. Nothing blew my socks off, but each of the new songs was solid, so I'm anticipating a pretty good album. The only downside to the show was the late hour at which it was performed, and so by the time the band got around to performing their two best songs, 'Here's Your Future' and 'Pillar of Salt,' I was too sapped of energy to go completely bonkers. The band "finished" at around 2 am, and waited an exceptionally long time to return for their encore. In my dizzy fatigue, I had to keep chanting the mantra "heart of a champion" to maintain the willpower to stick around. It was worth it though. After some song from their first album, they surprisingly busted out a mean rendition of the Breeders' 'Saints' that I much preferred to the original. They closed things out appropriately with the anthemic theme song 'Everything Thermals,' and I was sent on my way with a 1.5 hour commute back home ahead of me. So was it worth it? Hell yeah!