Tuesday, November 25, 2008

HSW Newsflash: New Isbell record due out in Feb. 09

Exciting news from the Young Bill Clinton look-a-like front: Jason Isbell and his fantastic backing band, the 400 Unit, will release a new album in early 2009. It won't be released by New West, as the wonderful Sirens of the Ditch was, but rather by Lightning Rod Records, a small indie label whose roster is just Isbell and singer/songwriter James McMurtry.

Here's the scoop at Lightning Rod's homepage, tracklisting and all. Very much looking forward to this one! And tour dates are soon to be announced, so make sure you catch him live, too...

Monday, November 24, 2008

Overheard at the Music Store

How many times have you encountered the fellow music lover at your local music store, only to hear the most ridiculous statements erupt from their mouth? Here is a chapter from one of my recent ventures to the old record store.

I'm flipping through endless stacks of worthless used (or new) stuff, and suddenly Mr. Scenes McGee and his crew encroach. Slowly picking up bits and pieces of the conversation, I pretend to look at the same CDs over and over again, all the while burying my chin in my chest and biting my tongue as I try not to laugh at their exchange:

Dude #1: Hey look, Andy Griffith.
Dude #2: (Chuckles at appearance of album) That's funny. Y'know he's from North Carolina.
Dude #1: Yah, I heard he, like, founded Mt. Airy after he made the show.
Girl #1: Yah? I heard he was a deck*! *ə used to emphasize pronunciation.
Photo courtesy NY Magazine.

We invite you to share with us your favorite record store conversations.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Never Is Too Soon

As a connoisseur of bar trivia, I'm often subjected to the playlists of shithead trivia emcees with the sort of inflated sense of self-importance that ONLY emceeing bar trivia can warrant. "Ah, look at them. Bending to my every whim. I ask questions--THEY answer. At my command they get up and walk over to me, drop their answer in the bucket. Sometimes they even ask me if they got it right. They need me. Ah, what ho! My 'TrivMix' shuffle has made its selection. Let us bask in the arbitrary roulette of the shuff--and indeed life--by pantomiming the shaking of a Polaroid photograph during the appropriate bars of 'Hey Ya'." And then of course every sorostitute in the bar has to say "OH, girl I know every word to this song!" when "Baby Got Back" comes on. Newsflash: So the fuck does everyone.

I've been to trivia nights at at least a half-dozen bars, so I don't think this stereotype is particularly unfair. Suffice to say that no matter the bar or host, the setlists are staggeringly similar. It's a very specific kind of suck, as you may know. It's the kind of songs--like "Baby Got Back", "Hey Ya", or anything by Journey--that are almost impossible to hate because of their silly/endearing qualities, but damned if we'd ever listen to them willfully. And, frankly, we wouldn't lament it if we never actually heard them again.

WHICH brings me to the meat of this here post: Songs that, frankly, I'd be OK if they were to never reach my ears before I croak. We all burn out on songs or records, leading to extended shelving periods. I'm not talking about that. That scenario usually results in a rewarding rediscovery down the line. We're also not talking the obvious stuff that floods the airwaves--your Nickelbacks, Fall Out Boys, Mileys, etc. They're not worthy of discussion.

We're talking songs that have been wrung dry of all effect; that provide no utility other than background music at lame parties and, of course, trivia nights.

Bon Jovi - "Wanted Dead or Alive"
I'd like to point out that I think Bon Jovi sucks. Whenever I hear a Bon Jovi song, I can only see one image: Tico Torres, clad in weightlifting gloves, spinning his drum stick between every snare hit. That's it. Except when I hear "Wanted Dead or Alive". Then I think of the most contrived song ever written.

HEY U GUYZ IM ABT TO SPIN MAH STIX

The Gourds - "Gin & Juice"
First of all, it's not by Phish motherfuckers. Secondly, the Gourds are a bad-ass group. I have a feeling they'd be all right with never hearing this either. The song is just too antiseptic and polished for my tastes. And the knowledge that it's hailed as an anthem at frat parties everywhere (Hey Brody, check it bruh, black people music without the black people!) is incentive enough to throw it on the trash heap. A much more worthy white guy covering a rap song can be heard here.

Any and All Beach Music (Especially "Carolina Girls")
As a 20-something in South Carolina, I've been obligated happy to attend at a handful of weddings in the past year or so. Why, you ask, does South Carolina come into play? Because it's a state that actually considers 'beach music' to be a viable genre. If you're unfamiliar with beach music, just imagine the Golden Oldies collection was unceremoniously butt-raped by Jimmy Buffet after a night of shag-dancing and Margaritas. Hits include "Under the Boardwalk" and "I Love Beach Music", but if I was pressured to choose one beach music song to eradicate from the face of this planet, it'd be the crap-a-thon "Carolina Girls". Giving privileged Charleston girls a further sense of entitlement via a trite tribute song is the last thing we should be doing.

*****

My choices are in. Howsabout you?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Weird Fishes/Arpeggi

Radiohead - Weird Fishes - by Tobias Stretch

By now, Radiohead's In Rainbows has sunk in to most fans' minds and can start to be interpreted in other ways. One of those ways is a video contest for Radiohead songs by Myspace.com and aniboom.com, who will host video submissions.

The winners are up. I saw this one tonight and was blown away. The songs many layers and open-ended lyrics make this one a difficult to pin down visually, but I think Tobias Stretch nailed it. First of all, stop motion animation is REALLY HARD WORK. Secondly, all of the puppets had to be constructed, posed, photographed, all with the final concept in mind. The result is fantastic.

Not only are the characters fun to watch; the landscape is beautiful, and Tobias' employment of time lapse adds another dimension to the scene. He also uses editing to his advantage to create the effect of motion as well as increase the sense of depth from the downward shots, as if the characters were really flying. I've not watched the other submissions yet, but this one sets the bar high. My favorite video interpretation from the new album thus far.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Toadies - No Deliverance

Full disclosure: This was written for the Free Times (Columbia SC) as a preview for their recent appearance at Headliners. This is the unedited version. The edit can be found here

###

Time can be cruel to a band. Take the Toadies for example.

Neither esoteric enough for indie rockers nor thrash-worthy of metal adulation, the Dallas quartet are something of a post-grunge anomaly, like the Pixies meeting Metallica in Texas.

Rising to prominence on the strength of “Possum Kingdom,” the lead single from 1994’s Rubberneck, their snarling, Southern-tinged folk tales strangely resonated with listeners during the Hootie heyday and propelled the album to platinum status.

But despite the momentum produced mainly by that massive, memetic song, they have largely fallen into irrelevancy, their records proliferating used bins beside contemporaries such as Toad the Wet Sprocket.

Embroiled in label interference, their 2001 sophomore effort Hell Below/Stars Above, almost didn’t see the light of day. When bassist Lisa Umbarger left shortly thereafter, they disbanded, their legacy only a small touchstone in the annals of modern rock.

Flash forward a few years. After a stint with Burden Brothers, lead singer Vaden Todd Lewis decided it was time to again test the water. Bolstered by a string of successful shows for their core Texas constituency, (And perhaps the appearance of “Possum Kingdom” on Guitar Hero 2) they officially re-banded. And tepidity be damned, they contracted a new bassist and embarked upon that atavistic ritual known as the reunion tour.

Now on the road in support of their recent Kirtland Records release, No Deliverance, Toadies are touring some of the same clubs in which they cut their teeth, albeit a bit older and wiser.

But don’t let the graying hair or the back-to-basics approach confuse you. They belie nothing of the bare-knuckled, disconcerting tour de force that is still the Toadies. At its core, No Deliverance feels as if the band never went away, offering ten stark aural attacks that amp up the psychotic stomp of their previous releases. If nothing else, it serves as a good primer to their iconic riff carnage and a fitting bookend for a band often maligned as a one-hit wonder.

Some like to say that time heals all. As far as the Toadies are concerned, much like their mid-90’s brethren The Meat Puppets sang, some things will never change.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Cuttin' Onions: Ten Musically Themed Onion Stories

This week's edition of The Onion featured a fantastic article ridiculing the esoteric nature of Steely Dan enthusiasts and the doubters who find their music to be overwrought cheese. Me, I'm kinda caught halfway. They're pretty good songcrafters but I've never really felt the urge to add a record to my collection. Notwithstanding, the article is fantastic satire. So here are ten of my favorite musically themed Onion stories, in no particular order.

1. Nation Planning Surprise Party to Cheer Up Conor Oberst

Why It's Funny: A doe-eyed, perennially dejected white kid who's gained fame for being such is always a target rife for parody.

Best line: "The country feels really bad that he's going through such a rough spell, so next Friday, everyone who can should meet in Omaha with balloons, funny cards, and silly little gag gifts." - Quote attributed to one of the party's 4000 planners

2. 37 Record-Store Clerks Feared Dead In Yo La Tengo Concert Disaster

Why It's Funny: This was published in the wake of the Great White pyrotechnic folly, in which a rock club caught fire and nearly 100 fans (and I believe one of the band) perished. A tragedy for sure, but a brilliant parallel to use such a snob-friendly act in a satirical piece. I enjoy this one so much I actually have the headline and main photo as a fridge magnet.

Best Line: "All I can do is wait and pray they'll find them," said Bert's Discount Records owner Bert Halyard, who lost clerks Todd Fischer and Dan Harris in the collapse. "They were going to start an experimental/math-rock band together. Dan had a really nice Moog synthesizer and an original pressing of the first Squirrel Bait EP."

3. Yngwie Malmsteen to Change Midde Name to "Fucking"

Why It's Funny: 'Cause Yngwie Fucking Malmsteen, that's why.

Best Line: This one is just a bumper photo and the headline. But the picture is perfect:



4. Ask Sir Mix-a-lot

Why It's Funny: The "Ask" advice column is an ongoing feature the Onion has been doing for as long as I can remember; not with Mix specifically, but with any person, creature, or object serving as the columnist. Others include "Ask a Bee," "Ask Raymond Carver," etc. They all feature responses that have absolutely nothing to do with the question, but are just apropos-of-nothing ramblings by whomever the columnist happens to be.

Best Line: (in response to a question from Peeved in Peekskill) "Dear Peeved, Who's afraid of my big bad weenie / Rub it and see if it's got a genie / Gonna make disappear this 10-inch zucchini / Just like Houdini / M-I-X to the A-L-O-T rappin' / Wanna see yo' butt cheeks flappin' / Mix want the honeys with the big back doors / So drop them drawers, whores. Unh."

5. Teen Who Just Discovered Led Zeppelin Starting to Piss Friends Off

Why It's Funny: Because this was me. Tons of adolescent males go through the "Zeppelin Is The Greatest Thing to Ever Happen to Music" phase; this article is a perfect rag on dudes just like me who, from age 16-19, got more of the Led out than most do in a lifetime.

Best Line: "It's getting to the point where you're almost afraid to go to a movie with Mark because John Paul Jones' second cousin might be an extra in it." - Quote attributed to friend of the subject of the story

6. Donald Fagan Defends Steely Dan to Friends

Why It's Funny: Because Steely Dan is one of those bands that has a feverish fanbase and an almost equally feverish army of detractors. A brilliant scenario to have one of the cofounders find themselves defending the band the way a superfan might have to.

Best Line: "You can't just write it all off as 'shitty jazz fusion' because there are a few horns in the band. And what about 'Bodhisattva' and 'Show Biz Kids' on Countdown To Ecstasy? Don't sit there and tell me that those tunes don't rock." - Quote attributed to Donald Fagan

7. Bill Gates Finally Getting Into Radiohead's Kid A

Why It's Funny: Kid A is the classic 'grower'. I feel like most people needed some time to digest it; why shouldn't a mega-billionaire be allotted the same kind of grace period?

Best Line: "I liked 'Morning Bell' and 'Optimistic,' but the rest just seemed like this intentionally weird mess. Then I took it out again maybe a month ago, and it finally started to sink in. Now I think I even like it better than OK Computer." - Quote attributed to Bill Gates

8. Bob Marley Rises From Grave to Free Fratboys from Bonds of Oppression

Why It's Funny: What's not to love about this? Fratboys are so, so, soooo easy to ridicule and the pros at the Onion know how to do it right. The college/frat-boy obsession with Bob Marley doesn't go much further than an appreciation for weed culture. I'm sure Bob would feel indebted to them for their undying support...

Best Line: "Frata mon's life is hard," said Marley during a press conference Monday at Iowa State University's Acacia fraternity. "Professor, he flunk you all the time. Policeman, he ticket you for the noise. Board of Regents, they make so many rule, try to keep the fraternity music down."

9. Bassist Unaware Rock Band Christian

Why It's Funny: 'Christian Rock' is such a joke of a genre in the first place, it was a ripe and juicy fruit for the Onion to pluck. It's just so funny how Christian 'rockers' try to mimic actual rockers so carefully, essentially downplaying their faith in some sort of bait-and-switch attempt at amassing a fanbase. Hilarity ensues when that scenario is taken to the point of actually recruiting an unaware band member.

Best Line: "Actually, Jack writes a lot of songs about chicks," (bassplayer Brad) Rolen continued. "'Your Love,' 'When You Return,' 'I Confess'... I don't know if they're all about the same girl or lots of different ones, but one thing's for sure: Jack loves the pussy."

10. Dave Matthews Not That Into Himself Anymore

Why It's Funny: As phases go, the "Dave phase" is one of the more common among us children of the 90s and oughts. The quirkiness and warmth of the Dave Matthews Band captured our collective attention for a while before it kinda became clear that the band was past its prime. I wonder what happened? Still, there are those who won't give up the fight. The Onion made it clear that Dave is not among them, which equally mocks Dave's fall-off in quality and the obsequious fanbase.

Best Line: "Rock music with a violin? I don't know," Matthews added. "Seemed cool once."


Any I missed? Search through the Onion Archives and you'll probably find dozens more.

Friday, November 14, 2008

November 12, 2008: M83 w/ School of Seven Bells

Tremont Music Hall-Charlotte, NC--Wednesday night I trekked to Charlotte after a rigorous day of yardwork to enjoy yet another of my favorite bands, M83. Frenchman Anthony Gonzalez (and formerly Nicolas Fromageau) are, in their "own "language, an homage to the 80s days of dark/progressive new wave/pop a la Flock of Seagulls, The Cure, Tears for Fears and Depeche Mode but with more modern, progressive, ebb-and-flow elements of the -gaze genre.

M83's authentic sound stemms from Gonzalez's zeal for 80s pop culture and his attention to detail, right down to the vintage analog equipment.

In a small moment of jubilation, I filled up my car with gas for $1.99/gal., ate some udon and veggies before arriving at the Tremont Music Hall. Perhaps the decaying Mecca of a post-hardcore/metal/etc. scene, what Tremont lacks in accommodations, it more than makes up for in superior sound equipment and ample supply of staple PBR tallboys.

The show was held in the smaller "Casbah" section of the venue, but quickly filled up. I'd heard there was a leak in the larger venue. A very reasonable $16 ticket got me in the door and lined up by the small stage, cramped among the toolkits of electronic wizards. The crowd was (and I hate to use this word) ecclectic; I saw a mix of thirty-somethings looking for a new spin on the genres they grew up with, hipsters taking their 80s fandom to the razor's edge, some rather discreet concert goers not dressing the part and a surprising number of kids who probably never lived through the 80s.

The opening band, School of Seven Bells, started promptly. I hadn't heard them; but, being on the same bill, I had high expectations which were not let down. The group consists of former Secret Machine Benjamin Curtis, flanked by twin sisters and vocalists Alejandra and Claudia Deheza.

Anchored by body-moving, contemplative beats and distraught chords from the house that Bjork built, the girls' haunting melodies evoke a Natalie Merchant style of apocalyptic bliss. By the time they finished, I found myself longing for more of their performance.

After a brief interval, Anthony and the band made a humble entrance to the stage--a status that they held throughout the entire evening. Sticking to their guns, the group wasted little time getting into the crowd anthems. "Don't Save Us From the Flames" debuted early on, followed soon after by the newly-christened "Kim & Jessie." Little was said between works, except for a gracious thank-you from Gonzalez.

While I'm not yet entirely familiar with the newer "Saturday=Youth," we heard most of the catalog from this album. Recent addition Morgan Kibby more than fulfills the female vocalist role missing from Gonzalez's roster. Her voice adds a solid, sharp depth and contrast to the at-times chaotic music.

Most of the band's turn-of-the-century work focuses on instrumentation rather than vocals and song structure, and I worried about how they would express that in their live show. But they are obviously very passionate about their instruments and music, making the live show no chore to watch.

While I wish I had wandered a bit closer to absorb the energy and emotion of the group, I was blessed with the good company of tranquil, like-minded fans with which to share the experience.

Friday, November 7, 2008

George's summer in live music #2: Tom Waits; Fleet Foxes

2. Tom Waits
July 5th, 2008
Fox Theatre
Atlanta, GA

Fleet Foxes
July 5th, 2008
Drunken Unicorn
Atlanta, GA

Staying at a cheap-o roadside motel seemed only fitting, as Mr. Waits built his legend on similar environments. Be they dive bars, creepy barns, diners, motels, tenements, small towns, ratty wharfs, dingy neighborhoods: Tom Waits has always found gritty and gloomy more interesting than shiny and flashy.

Of course, the Fox Theatre would belie that. It's an impressive place if you've never been: It sort of mimics a castle courtyard, a purplish ceiling dotted with starlights overlooking an ornate hall, full of rich reds and golds. But leave it to Tom to place a bizarre arrangement of horns and plates as the centerpiece ot his stage design. It looked like part of a Tim Burton setting.

I found my fifth row seat, and after a considerable wait--there were some ticketing issues, and Tom's people wanted to make sure everyone had made it in--the band entered to a thunderous applause, sans Waits. Each instrument was manned: Drums, stand-up bass, electric guitar, sax. A minute or so passed, and then out skulked Tom, taking long, fast steps and hunched a bit, with one hand steadying his trademark black derby, and the other jammed in his coat pocket. He reached his place center stage, and grasped the microphone stand with gusto, stretching his free hand towards us and wiggling his fingers. "Good evening," he roared, delivered with such dragonlike ferocity that I almost expected an accompanying fireball to blow over the first fifteen rows. Then the band tore into "Lucinda" which lurched along menacingly at the pace of a boiling chain gang.

Tom is a bitter pill, I of course recognize this. I don't expect folks to latch onto him the same way I would with Ryan Adams or Bob Dylan. His voice sounds like Satan's, his delivery is often frenzied and spastic, his music feels scarred and beaten. It took a lot of effort to appreciate Tom, to get past all the weirdness and the yelps and the clangs and theatrics. But on that day, I had never been more in awe of a performer. Literally, I was trembling when the man first entered my line of sight. It's as if he was a myth up until this point. And now I was in the presence of Tom Waits, a man whose 30 years' worth of records maintain a consistently higher standard than any other artist in my collection, a man whose art has never been compromised or pared, whose charm and charisma are as unique as they are undeniable.

The things I experienced that night were unbelievable. I saw a nearly 60-year-old man on the final night of a tour performing with the intensity and dynamism of a 25-year-old; I watched as Tom stepped away from the mike during the instrumental bridge of "Falling Down" and receive a thunderous ovation for his vocals up to that point in the song; I heard the woman seated next to me moan orgasmically as Tom crooned the chorus to "Hang Down Your Head"; I felt my spine shiver and shake as the whole crowd roared "Hoist that rag" again and again; and I fought off a growing throat lump as Tom breathed the lyrics to an absolutely crushing version of "Anywhere I Lay My Head" under soft blue light, which provided a poignant ending to the finest musical performance I have ever seen.

The night's excitement did not end with the show however. You see, the fine young harmonizers The Fleet Foxes were playing no more than a mile away. Two friends and I decided to try to catch their set, hoping they'd wouldn't be overlapping with Tom's performance. So we set off for the Drunken Unicorn. On foot. In Atlanta. At about 11 P.M. This was ill-advised, but had I been mugged and killed that night, at least I'd experience such fine spice of life as the Waits show.

Unfortunately our directions were a bit dodgy, and we found ourselves in a strange neighborhood, rooting around in backyards and driveways. We soon concluded that there were no Fleet Foxes to be found in the area, so we retreated a bit. Finally, we found at the Drunken Unicorn, arriving to the strains of lovely album closer "Oliver James," Robin Pecknold's vocals leading us in from the night like some dirty, bearded siren. It was a nice moment.

The hype machine was in full operation for the Foxes at that point. The place was PACKED. The venue wasn't very large--no bigger than a particularly spacious basement--and it was packed to the gills, full of uber-attentive fans. We wedged our way in, my two 6'4" friends were rewarded with a fine view of the stage. My 5'9"-on-a-good-day ass saw a few floating Fleet Fox heads. But, I must say, they sounded absolutely incredible. I didn't think they'd be able to replicate the album's harmonies so well; but I dare say I enjoyed them more live. Tragically, they were well into their set and we only caught about six songs, including the encore of Robin performing "Tiger Mountain Peasant Song" solo.

The walk back was, mercifully, much less eventful. We said our goodbyes and I hit the highway, reaching my hotel in a half an hour or so, and sprawling out on my king-sized, which, that night, was where I laid my head and called my home.

***

How lucky am I (and, indeed, are all of us) that the entire show was recorded in a very high-quality and legal fashion by NPR. Download it here (just scroll down til you see Tom's stuff). If you only listen to one song, DEAR GOD let it be "Falling Down". And then imagine being 5 rows back for that absolutely epic performance.