Monday, April 27, 2009

Presenting the loverly Kate Cooper

Felt bad about putting up a picture of Boeckner instead of Ms. Cooper in my last post, so here's a photo of the awesome aussie. Cute, huh?

Songs of the Week (4/26)

Almost getting this out on time:

'Thy Will Be Done' by Handsome Furs

You know I only put this song on the list just so I could have another excuse to post a picture of Dan Boeckner. Seriously though, this song somehow reminds me of Boeckner's opus, 'This Heart's On Fire.' Although 'Thy Will' doesn't quite reach the same dizzying heights, it's pretty damn awesome. As usual, I have no idea what Dan is singing about, but the words maintain a wonderful impressionistic effect: "White blinds on the kitchen table, white blinds being knocked down one by one," "Late at night when the party's over, we'll swim like fish through the sea until the morning sun." And really, it's all about the power chords, and Boeckner's impassioned caterwauling.

'Horizons' by An Horse

This one kind of crept up on me at the end of the week, and now it won't let me go. I haven't really had the time to parse the lyrics, although they seem to convey something about sea voyages as a metaphor for looking for love. With a power-pop chorus as catchy and relentlessly insistent as this song's, however, good lyrics aren't a necessity. Vocalist Kate Cooper seems to me be kind of like the female Ted Leo: a punk rock guitar hero churning out delectable pop songs about the agonizing subtleties of relationships. I kind of feel like if this band were doing the trendy lo-fi thing, they'd be getting a lot of play from the pretentious music taste-makers. Naturally, I've got a huge crush on Ms. Cooper. Sigh, too bad she's gay.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Best Sound Opinions show. Ever.

Finally got around to listening to last week's podcast from my favorite radio show, Chicago NPR's Sound Opinions. Pretty dull show overall, Jim and Greg spent most of the show talking to some record store owners about, yawn, the struggles of the record store business. There were a few highlights, like the weird (but still awesome) version of New Order's 'Temptation' that Greg plays, and the hosts' conflicting views on Asher Roth (I haven't heard enough from the bro to pick a side, but 'I Love College' is garbage). As is customary, the show ended with recorded messages from folks who call in to comment on the show. So the first guy comes on, and he's blathering on about the Beatles reissuing their catalogue on CD, and my eyes rolling back into their sockets. Then, all of a sudden, I hear a stab of guitar noise, and then a sharp bass line seared into my dura mater begins, and I know its the opening to the Dismemberment Plan masterpiece, 'The Ice of Boston.' And I know that it means they're about to the play the message I phoned in 2 weeks ago about their 'Best Pop Lyricists of All Time' show. Of course, I called in to rep the godly Travis Morrison, and to give a shout out to the aforementioned 'Ice of Boston.'

As one would expect, I kind of cringed a little hearing my voice played back over the radio. Not sure if it was due to my cell phone reception, or I was just really mumbling, but it was pretty hard to hear a lot of the things I said. My pronouncement of "Dismemberment Plan" and "Morrison" in particular were lost in the mix, not a good thing when you're trying to rep your favorite band, like I was. Additionally, it all sounded very scripted to me (which it was). All that considered, I'm really surprised that my call made it on to the show. In final analysis, I think it must have been a testament to the respect that the creators have for the Dismemberment Plan, and possibly their sympathy with my characterization of the group as "one of the great, forgotten bands of my generation." Anyways, hearing myself on the radio, not too thrilling, my life is still the same. Hearing the D-Plan rock out to 'Boston's soaring chorus on my favorite radio show, however, was priceless.

Check it out: (skip to the very end, with the call in segment, and wait until after the guy who talks about the Beatles). 

Friday, April 24, 2009


So I attended a free Jandek show at NYU's Kimmel Center today. I'd never heard his music before, but I was intrigued by his fascinating Wikipedia entry. I've also been known to occasionally dabble in 'weird' music. I was sort of expecting a freak show when I went, and, long story short, I got pretty much that. The show had already begun when I walked in, and Jandek and his band were making some cacophanous noises. Jandek, in all black and a black cowboy hat that mostly covered his face from view, was sitting with his guitar on his lap and playing it like a 13 string steel pedal guitar. In addition, there was a saxophonist, a drummer, a bass player, and beautiful young woman singing (although it was more like she was making ethereal high pitched noises into the microphone). The whole song was basically a freaky, atonal jam, and was pretty awesome. In subsequent songs, the woman (name Biba Belle according to my ticket) did strangely hypnotizing dances across the stage. I was seriously in love with this woman. The set list was basically split between freaky jams, and freaky poetry readings. In the latter, Jandek would recite bizarre free verse narratives related generally to drinking, relationships, and existentialism. Unfortunately, it wasn't terribly compelling stuff. I preferred the jams. The musicians were all fantastic, but my favorite, as usual, was the drummer. He had a way of playing where he'd spastically his the sides of the snare rather than the actual drum part, and he'd occasionally bust out some ridiculous rhythms. Jandek's guitar work was also pretty compelling. Basically, he avoided any real chords, and used his ax to make weird noises that somehow sounded good.

Can't say I really enjoyed the show, in fact, when it ended, I was proud of myself for having sat through the full thing. Not that it was too strange for me. Seeing shows from The Boredoms, and Spires That In The Sunset Rise last year, weird music doesn't really faze me. Occasionally I'd realize how silly everything I was witnessing was, and I'd start chuckling. A few altchicks in the back row were really getting into it, screaming "I LOVE YOU JANDEK" at very inopportune moments. At one point, I looked around the auditorium, and realized that I was probably sitting in a room with the 40 or 50 most pretentious music fans at NYU. Not sure how I felt to be in such rare company.

One more thing. Pitchfork just blew up my spot by touting the new Woods album. Can I just say that I bought it a week ago, and really enjoy it?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

We're caught in a landslide

I'm addicted to, a database of song lyrics where people come on and post their interpretations of the meanings of song lyrics. I always feel guilty going on the website because I feel like lyrical interpretation should be something that I 'do on my own.' It's kind of like being stuck on that really impossible puzzle in Zelda, and then finally bowing to the pressure and going online to look at a walkthrough to figure out what to do (not that I've ever done that). So far, I've only gone on to look at song's that I've lived with for a long time, and the effects on my appreciation of the music have been ambiguous. For instance, it's exciting to finally know what Ted Leo is talking about in 'Parallel or Together?', but the apparent meaning of the song doesn't quite click with the meaning I'd assigned to it from dozens of listens. My personal interpretation had more significance to me than the much more likely explanation posted on the website. On the other hand, the posted interpretations of songs like the D-Plan's 'Back and Forth' and Wolf Parade's 'Shine A Light' have increased my appreciation for them even more. At the same time, when some of that lyrical mystery is lost, the songs lose some of their intrigue, some of their raw excitement, to me the listener. 

What's my point here? I don't think that anyone should get too hung up on the 'actual' meaning of a song's lyrics. What is far more important is the listener's own personal interpretation, and how the words make him or her feel. For me, 'Parallel or Together?' will always be about loneliness and longing (although I guess the 'proper' interpretation sort of falls along those lines). As consumers of art, we are free to make of it what we like, and how music affects us and makes us feel is what really matters.

Songs of the Week (4/20)

I know, I'm even later on this than I was last week, but I had some epic posting to do last night (god, I hope no one reads that entry, I say some pretty embarrassing things). So here's my top songs from last week, only 2 of 'em this time:

'I'm Confused' by Handsome Furs

Damn, this song just sounds like confusion. After Wolf Parade's second, Mount Zoomer, I feared that Dan Boeckner had already passed the pinnacle of his song writing powers. To be fair, the 4 jams he authored for that album were all quite good, and far outweighed the contributions of Mr. Krug. However, the album had nothing to rival the power of "Shine A Light" or "This Heart's On Fire", the emotional centerpiece and conclusion, respectively, of the Parade's Apologies. I never listened to all of the first Handsome Furs, release, but what I did hear was similarly below Boeckner's Apologies standard. However, 'I'm Confused', the lead single off the new Furs joint, demonstrates that Boeckner is back at the top of his furious garage-onslaught game. Unlike most of the Furs stuff, Alexei's synths and drum program don't sound cold and alienating here. In fact, they create the perfect backdrop to Dan's heroic, workman riffs and characteristically impassioned vocals. The lyrics fall into the Boeckner tradition of being difficult to interpret precisely, but transmitting general sentiments quite readily: "And if you're feeling destructive/ There's something to do/ Sometimes we all get confused."  I know I've posted this already, but if you haven't seen the video yet, watch it post-haste because it's so damn good.

'Ashamed' by Deer Tick

Thank you, Rob Holowka, for introducing me to this wonderful band. At first it sounds like some backwards looking, Dylan worshipping, World Cafe baiting run-off. But after a couple listens, John McCauley's larynx shredding growl gets under your skin, and then you start to listen to the lyrics, and holy shit: "I am the boy your mother wanted you to meet/ But I am, broken and torn, with halos at my feet/ And with your purest light, darling, shine on me/ I should have been an angel, but I'm too dumb to speak." McCauley chronicles the overwhelming shame that has crippled his character. Like a good storyteller, McCauley doesn't go into the details of the incriminating act, but invokes biblical imagery of heaven and hell in depicting the story of this individual's fall from grace, and the resulting collapse of his relationship with his partner. McCauley does manage to steal some of Dylan's gift for pop melody in conveying his tale. I've been digging on the version from the Daytrotter Session, but I'm sure the original is just as good. 

Monday, April 20, 2009

Da Drought Iz Over

For a while there, it seemed like going to shows was a non-essential part of my life. Since Passion Pit way back in February or whatever, I managed to avoid concert attendance for a solid 2+ months (save a brief set by Menya at the Blender Theater in March). However, last saturday was shaping up like a Sam Cooke song for me, so ventured out to the Mercury Lounge for the first time ever to accompany my friend to a show by the Aussie power-punk duo An Horse (just say it like an Aussie and it will make sense). I knew relatively little about this act other than what I'd heard on my beloved 'Sound Opinions' radio show, but I was wonderfully surprised. The group consisted of one chick shredding the electric guitar and singing, and one dude pounding at the drums. Despite the simplicity of their set-up, it was a powerful set, full of raw, confessional emotion delivered through the magic of hooky punk riffs. The highlight was certainly the final song when the headlining act, emo post-rockers The Appleseed Cast spontaneously invaded the stage playing all manner of outlanding percussion instruments. I'm almost ashamed to admit how hilarious I found the dude rocking the cow bell to be. My friend and I stuck around for the first 4 songs by the aforementioned Cast, but when she wanted leave, I lamely acquiesced due to my dread of the 90+ minute journey home awaiting me. Nonetheless, An Horse rocked my socks off, and fired up long hibernating feelings within me without my having even been familiar with their music prior to the performance. All this, however, was a warm-up to the show I witnessed earlier this evening.

I traveled back to Ithaca and skipped my Monday class solely for the chance to see the beautiful Neko Case and her boyfriends do a show in the wonderfully gothic but intimate State Theater. I was that guy, the awkward 20 something going to the concert with my unhip parents in my old hometown. We rolled up right at the start of the set by the openers Crooked Fingers. I found it highly enjoyable, probably due to a combination of their laid back music, the 3 beers in my system, and being able to sit while watching them. Their set was followed by 20-30 minute lull, which consisted mainly of my awkward interactions with my parents and Ithaca folk I hadn't seen for a few years. I was starting to lost my buzz, which contributed to the slight sense of anxiety I felt as I waited for Neko to take the stage. These feeling reached a climax as the lights finally dimmed, and the woman of my dreams took the stage.

Dressed in tight jeans, a black tank top, and looking slightly haggard thanks to a fiery bloom of tussled greasy red hair, Neko's appearance didn't disappoint. Wildly strumming an acoustic guitar, her band kicked off with a storming version of 'Maybe Sparrow,' followed by one of my current song-of-the-year candidates, 'People Got A Lotta Nerve.' This was all well and good, but something happened during their next song. Neko and her back-up singer Kelly mentioned something about 'the cheesecake factory' that I didn't follow, then launched into 'The Pharoahs' off Middle Cyclone. I like this song, but it isn't quite one of my albums favorites. However, something about watching Neko perform her songs, and witnessing her create the unearthly sounds of which she is known, caused the emotional undercurrent of her writing took hold of my conciousness. Singing along to the song, I suddenly felt a weight on my chest as she hit chorus, and my pipes started choking up. Additionally, my vision started blurring, and I realized tears were coming to my eyes as she sang "I want the pharoahs, but there's only men!" If she had gone to the chorus a second time, I'm sure the waterworks would have breached my eyelids, but mercifully the song ended before this could happen. Keep in mind, this has never happened to me at a concert before, and before last week, I had only "cried" once in maybe the last 8 years. But this emotion occurred 3 more times over the course of the performance, during 'The Red Tide,' 'Margaret Vs. Pauline,' and 'That Teenage Feeling.' The latter was probably the highlight of the show, not surprising given it's status as the centerpiece of Neko's masterpiece Fox Confessor LP. What's amazing is that the band probably didn't do even half of the songs I'd hoped for, but I was riveted throughout their entire set. I don't think I've ever felt as intensely the sense that I wanted a show to go on forever. And it's not like the band or Neko did anything that radical. There was some great stage banter, with Neko keeping it real by flipping off the audience, dropping multiple F-bombs, and talking about watching porn. What really moved me about the show, I think, was how personal I realized the songs were to this woman, and how acutely emotional were the feelings that prompted them. Maybe my love of Neko derives from my envy of her unbelievable, god-given vocal chops (my undying fantasy is to be a great soul singer). However, unlike so many others, she maximizes her talents by making moving and (relatively) challenging music. The fact that she's a babe doesn't hurt either.

In sum, great show, possibly a 'transformative experience,' and a sign that it's high time I got back to hitting the concert scene.

Friday, April 17, 2009

$15,000 and three Playstation 3s!

My roommate Nate just forwarded me this article about Snoop Dogg from 2006, and I must say that it is, without question, one of the greatest pieces of journalism in the history of the printed word. Even if you're not down with Snoop, or loathe RS as much as I do, you must read this. I laughed, I cried. You will too.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Alt radio, I missed you.

Finally I've got something to listen to while I'm making dinner. 'The Alternate Side' plays on Fordham radio (90.7 FM) from 10 to midnight Mondays through Fridays, and it's solid listenin'. I was spoiled last year by Chicago public radio, which delivered good news radio every evening (as opposed to NYC public radio which plays boring-ass jazz or classical after 7). 'The Alternate Side' plays 'popular' indie jams, so as one might predict, their selection tends to be pretty tame. However, they've come through in the clutch many times over the last week since I started listening: 'Polar Opposites' Modest Mouse, 'Oh My God' Ida Maria, 'I Feel Better (live)' and 'Good Arms Vs. Bad Arms' Frightened Rabbit, 'Knotty Pine' Dirty Projectors, 'In the New Year' The Walkmen, assorted songs by Fleet Foxes and Arcade Fire, etc. Unfortunately, its not all good: they've given me two songs by the Raconteurs plus another one by Jack White's new band over the last couple days. However, when upcoming song-of-the-week 'I'm Confused' by Handsome Furs came on the other night, it was damn near transcendent. It definitely beat 1010 Wins, listening to the Knicks get blown out, or 'Funk Master Flex Night' on Hot 97.

If interested, check out their website, where they apparently broadcast around the clock. 

Monday, April 13, 2009

Songs of the Week (4/12)

These are actually the songs of last week, but whatever, here goes:

1. 'Beautiful Girls' by Deer Tick

I certainly didn't appreciate the original version of this song when Sean Kingston dropped it in 2007 and it blew up on urban radio. I was probably turned off by Jamaican accent tinged, auto-tuned crooning and slick, schlocky r&b radio production values. However, the John McCauley's rendition with his band Deer Tick exposes it for what it is: a great bit of r&b song writing in the tradition of Smokey Robinson. "You're far too beautiful girl, that's why this will never work/ You'll have me suicidal, suicidal when you say that its over." Simple, honest lyrics about the agony of love wrapped up in an upbeat, catchy melody (that borrows heavily from Ben E. King's 'Stand By Me'). Far from being the cliched white indie group doing an ironic cover of a hit urban song, Deer Tick approach the material with passionate reverence and innovation. They throw in some countryish harmonies and play up the 50's r&b roots of the song by adding in an organ and smooth guitar licks. The result is invigorating, especially as the song reaches its climax and McCauley transitions into the lyrics of 'Stand By Me' without flinching. Check it out now, it won't be up on myspace forever.

2. 'Lady Pilot' by Neko Case

In the runup to the Neko concert I'll be attending a week from today, I've been listening to her 3rd full length, Blacklisted. I don't know if I've listened to the album enough to get a handle on it, but at least one track so far shines out as easily one of Neko's best: 'Lady Pilot.' Haven't fully deciphered the lyrics yet, but I think the song has something to do with a lady flying a plane at night and maybe there's a crash. The one line that won't get out my head is Neko's full-throated declaration midway through that 'We've got a lady pilot, and she's not afraid to die!' Its probably all some dark metaphor for something, but what really makes this song is Neko's powerful pipes over catchy acoustic strumming. I really hope she reaches back into her catalogue and does this one ...

3. 'Cherry Chapstick' by Yo La Tengo

Rarely can I tolerate songs over 6 minutes long, but when one comes along that can rock me from start to finish, I know its great. I also have a hard time falling in love with songs whose lyrics don't 'move' me. However, 'Cherry Chapstick' is a rare breed: a long, heavily instrumental jam that just kills me. All that shoegazy goodness packed into tight hooky riffs that repeat over and over again but mutate spontaneously throughout the song into new wonderous sounds, but all the way keeping locked in step to a constant, driving groove. The more Yo La Tengo I here, the more I recognize their undeniable musical brilliance.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

emo shit

I really liked the girl,
Had dreams about her,
Thinking to myself sometimes, it got louder
 - Ghost

Givin' your all again, until you
Run yourself dry again, until you
Feel like you could die or this might end
- Ted Leo

I love you more than I did when you were mine.
- Prince

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Remember the 90's alt radio?

I was chillin in the NYU weight room today, and they were blasting some radio station playing 90's modern rock hits. When I walked in there was a rock cover version 'Sexual Healing' playing. I don't even think I need to say anything else. Next up came 'I Will Buy You A Garden' by Everclear, I song that I admittedly dug as a middle schooler. Hearing it again after all these years, I realize how wimpy the song actually was, and how terrible were its lyrics. However, there's no denying that it had a very hooky melody, although the melody was virtually the same as that of the vastly superior Everclear hit 'Santa Monica' (an incontestably awesome song). Everclear was followed by another nauseating cover, this time of 'Ring of Fire.' Man, that was bad. The radio started blinking in and out during the song, and at first I assumed someone had just shut it off because the song was so terrible. Unfortunately not, and I had to withstand the remainder of that atrocity. Bad 90's covers, ugh. Remember 'I'm A Believer'? Ah, that was painful. I had pretty much given up hope, but then 'Everlong' by the Foo Fighters came on and saved the day. Listening to that one again, it almost made sense how a group like Nickelback could continue to make music, straining for the great heights of grunge-pop awesomeness. Improbably, it got even better, as Pulp's 'Common People' came up next. I think I actually started mouthing the lyrics, which must have looked pretty ridiculous to all the bros who were broing out in the weight room. I finished about midway through the song, but stuck around long enough to hear Jarvis sing "Because you think that poor is cool!" on the chorus at least once.

NYU gym playlist 4/6/09:

1. 'Sexual Healing' - i don't know who, but i hate this band
2. 'I Will Buy You A Garden' - Everclear
3. 'Ring of Fire' - see track 1
4. 'Everlong' - Foo Fighters
5. 'Common People' - Pulp

Monday, April 6, 2009

I come directly at ya OG neck

Another chapter in the history of great hip-hop guest verses:

This pleasant fellow is the rapper known as Peedi Peedi aka Peedi Crakk, the author of my favorite rap verse from 2008. Rising Down, the album released by the Roots last year, opened with a devastatingly hard trifecta of tracks. Intro 'The Pow Wow' is an apparent phone conversation from 1994 between Tariq 'Blackthought' Trotter, Ahmir 'Questlove' Thompson, and an unidentified 3rd dude from the group. Basically the conversation devolves into the three screaming expletives at each other, and the phone distorts their voices into one unanimous roar that fades out into the gutter beat of track 2, 'Rising Down.' As far as rap intro's go, it's one of the greatest I've ever heard, up there with 'The Pretty Toney Album' and 'Illmatic.'

Track 2 is pretty raw, featuring a sub-ghetto beat and great guest shots by Mos Def and Styles P. However, it, and the rest of the album, are completely upstaged by Peedi Crakk's work on the 3rd track, 'Get Busy.' The song is progresses nicely, with bleak production reminiscent of the Neptunes work on Hell Hath No Fury. Blackthought and Dice Raw spit menacing, but fairly average verses over the tough beat before Peedi jumps in on third, scatting his way into a scintillating free-associative rap laced with gangsta violence and cliched misogyny. In spite of the lyrical content, Peedi's verse is a masterpiece of delivery, his nasally voice riding the beat with a sort of improvisational perfection, while imparting comic gems such as the following: 'You know I'm politically incorrect/ At the show, I start of with a 'Can I get a ho?'/ And the hoes go retarded/ The po-po tape off the stage for caution.' Lines like these might seem standard in the Lil' Wayne era, but even on his best days Wayne can't match the verbal dexterity exhibited by Crakk here. Sadly, the verse is over in a flash, always leaving me fiending for more. However, maybe that's what makes it great: ~40 seconds of unmarred rap perfection. Rare indeed, especially in the Lil' Wayne era. Hmmm, perhaps I should check out more of Mr. Crakk's work ...

Kanye: Bowie or Prince?

So is Mr. West the David Bowie or the Prince of our generation? Arguments for the former:

Stylistic chameleon. Future/ outer space fixation. Tremendously musically innovative, switching from one style to the next with extreme success. Experimental. Trendsetter. Sells his personality as part of his music. Everything he makes is good. Penchant for overly elaborate concerts (see picture). 

Arguments for Prince analogy: Native midwesterner. Self-obsessed. Stylistic chameleon. Experimental. Occasionally wears ridiculous outfits. Everything he makes is good. Black dude. Makes 'urban' music, but incorporates sounds from traditionally 'white' music. Moderately to extremely obnoxious and annoying personality. Occasionally terrible lyricist. Extremely eccentric, and will probably go crazy and change his name to a symbol/release triple albums no one buys/make a black and white movie about being a gigolo on the French Riviera.

Personally I'll side with Prince connection, but elements of both are tempting. It remains to be seen whether West will maintain the longevity of a Prince/Bowie, but he's got the consistency thing going so far. Just a reminder that although Kanye maybe the most brilliant musician of my generation, his musical trajectory so far is not without precedence.