Tuesday, February 28, 2006

scholarly music reviews

You ever wonder what music reviewers are thinking when they are reviewing bands? All too often it seems to be their own egos. Or their MA theses. Or some alien record mysteriously given the same title as a record you know you heard that didn’t sound like that.

Here are five sentences from some reviews we love to make fun of. Let’s take a look.

1. “Edgy dissonance plays hopscotch with fluid concordance in ‘Tubby,’ as Hammond whammy sounds skip and trot along with Oteil’s signature bass lines.”

--by Sarah Moore

Hopscotch? Does that mean Edgy Dissonance was thrown into Fluid Concordance, only to be retrieved by (someone??) and taken away from Fluid Concordance? It sounds like Edgy Dissonance is somebody’s rebellious teenager who keeps sneaking out of the house to meet up with big, bad Fluid Concordance. And that almost sounds dirty. It makes me feel dirty.

2. “Joyce once wrote to his wife ‘the two parts of your body which do dirty things are the loveliest to me.’ Likewise, it’s an ugly, scatological desire that is captured musically on Akron/Family, with time and pitch-correction stripped away, drums bleeding into the red, old-timey holler-aping four-part choruses in outer-space, 90’s-era string emulators, acoustic guitars, and mandolins plaintively hymno-tizing flatulent trumpets and damaged Casiotone arpeggiation, wooing them into the center of songs that never congeal…songs that blow kisses to dead lovers followed by fart sounds.”

--by William S. Fields

An ugly, Joycean scatological desire is wooing ambiguous pronoun “them” into the center of songs. Now that’s just bad writing disguised with intimidating (and stupid) words and references.

3. “Woman King will provide eager Iron & Wine fans a welcome holdover between proper albums, but the EP also serves a larger developmental purpose, marking one more evolutionary hop for Sam Beam, and christening a new genre-- post-basement.”

--by Amanda Petrusich

...and now we’re making up words, Ms. Petrusich. Is “basement” a clearly defined modifier for a musical genre? Is it enough of a term to add a “post” onto the front of it? No ma’am.

4. “Consider [Jenny] Lewis the Emmylou Harris of the Silverlake set.”

--Entertainment Weekly

That’s just plain dishonest. I mean, have our standards fallen that far in the 35-40 years or so since Miss Emmylou ruled the folk music roost?

5. “These efforts have gone far beyond R.E.M. and Elephant Six’s Faulkner-ized mysticism, focusing less on the Dixie’s arcane, gothic romance and more on the enduring sonic memories the region birthed through the first half of the 20th century.”

--by Andrew Gaerig

What enduring sonic memories the region birthed through the first half of the 20th century? Does anyone have a clue what this writer is talking about? The Dixie? Note to author: One must not substitute “The Dixie” with “The South” unless one has the excuse of being an ESL student unused to writing articles.

How would you guys rank these in terms of badness? Is incomprehensibility worse than dishonesty? Does reading a review with 70+ words per sentence make you a “smarter” music fan?

We call shenanigans.

Monday, February 27, 2006

through the scraps of human ear

...mmm tasty! This is not so much a review of Blue Velvet as it is an attempt to gross you out and mishmash key terms in a late-night attempt at wordplay. Yeah, moving on... It's Through the Sparks, and the record is AudioIotas: Scraps for the Human Ear, although I liked my version better.

Demo collections, usually released after a band has gained some degree of notoriety, can be unpredictable. Typically, though, I tend to love listening to studio bootlegs and alternative takes of songs I've heard before--it lends a new perspective to the songs at hand and helps the listener view the musicians recording the songs as creative people involved in an ever-morphing process, something I can admire as a writer. In any medium of expression, the possibilities are endless; some things just work and others don't, and there's always the pervasive thought that no matter how well you do something, it can be changed to be even better... if you could only figure out how.

Last week Tinymixtapes.com reviewed AudioIotas, a solid collection of demo recordings by Through the Sparks. The reviewer gave a brusque listen and wrote up a facile review comparing the band to Coldplay, U2, Wilco, and the Jayhawks. Admittedly, that's not necessarily a bad roster, but I felt the record deserved more attention.

The band's EP Coin Toss was released a few months earlier and contained a midsection of memorable songs, but I've found that my favorites are from AudioIotas. The reviewer remarks, "This is a strong collection in need of a touch of organization; these guys could be great if they just stay focused on a single idea for an extended period of time." He's probably right, yet if forced to pick throwaway tracks I'd be hard pressed to dispose of any of the "ideas."

In my mind, the different styles give voice to the band's potential range; "Backyard Bombshelter" and "Gold-Plated" would be folk-rock favorites if performed by more widely known, established bands, and "Sci-Fi Lie" has a unique yet retro, dreamy 60s high school dance feel to it that strikes me every time I hear it performed live. Probably one of my favorite things about this band--that is widely demonstrated on the record--is their ability to feel old and new at the same time. It's a tragedy that so many folks are missing out on them.

That said, the songs on AudioIotas often sound as if they were recorded underwater; not that I'm big on crisp production, but more clarity would endear these tracks to more people, I would guess. Then again, I suppose lesser accessibility is the price paid for a chance to listen to what's going on behind the scenes.

Here are two songs from AudioIotas and an exclusive demo from Through the Sparks' current recording sessions. It's quite different, but it might very well be my new favorite. Let us know what you think.

Through the Sparks - Gold-Plated
Through the Sparks - Sci-Fi Lie
Through the Sparks - Invisible Kid (new demo)

Sunday, February 26, 2006

samecore sadcore

If I've got the rumor right, Trespassers William is one of those bands that caught on because of strategic placement on The O.C. and other such shows. As much as I'd like to, I suppose I can't fault them for that; after the airing of these shows, the re-release of Different Stars put them on a lot of "favorites" fan lists. Rightly so; "Lie in the Sound" is one of the most beautiful slowcore, prom theme-sounding songs since Mazzy Star's "Fade into You" with its pretty melody, haunting female vocals, and gently undulating guitar.

It was the perfect song for that moment on Smallville where Clark and Lana are in love but there's conflict 'cause she's so pissed off about all the secrets he keeps from her even though he saves her life in almost every episode. You know, they're slow dancing in Clark's barn bedroom while "Lie in the Sound" plays softly in the background but then all of a sudden Lana goes mega-bitch and storms out while the music grows louder and Clark gets this painful look on his face as he watches her go. Yeah, Trespassers William is perfect for moments like that.

And, they've got a new record coming out this Tuesday called Having. It's the same slowcore, Elliot Smith-on-depressants sound; in fact, a lot of these songs could've fit on Different Stars and nobody would've said anything. Maybe the bass is cranked up a bit more, and hooks are more difficult to find; overall though, same ole, same ole.

I'm digging the artwork, though. check it:

Trespassers William - What of Me
Tresspassers William - I Don't Mind

How does Trespassers William compare to other slit-your-wrists bands like Red House Painters and Cocteau Twins?

Friday, February 24, 2006

More Neko Case Day!

Man, Leah beat me to it! She's a quick and crafty one, that Leah. Not a procrastinator like me. :)

I'm not sure about the whole Gary Oldman thing...I personally like to pretend that I am Neko Case, not that I'm, um, Oldmaning her. I always feel a strange comraderie with redheaded musicians/actresses. Like I admire them but at the same time I wonder, "Could that have been me if I was a better singer or if I had ever learned how to play the guitar or if my mom had put me in that commercial when I was 3 or 4 like she wanted instead of listening to me whine that I didn't want to do the commercial because I mistakenly thought it would require moving away from my friends just to film it?" But anyways...whenever I hear a Neko song, I can't help but vainly try to belt it out the way she does with her powerful voice, even if I don't know all the words and I'm just singing phrases here and there. So if you see me out driving while caterwauling in a particularly spirited fashion, Neko's probably blaring out my car's speakers.

A couple more Neko songs in honor of Neko Case Day!

Neko Case - Star Witness
Neko Case - Margaret Vs. Pauline
This title makes it sound like the song is about a senior citizen catfight. Now there's a song that needs to be written! Can't you see it? Scrappy little Pauline ripping off Margaret's wig because Margaret invited widower Gene to the Senior Social and she KNEW that Pauline had a crush on him! Somebody needs to get to writing this musical gem.

ahhh, Neko

I thought Traci was going to do this, but she's MIA. I'll sub...

Neko Case is to indie rock fans as Angelina Jolie is to mainstream movie lovers: most fans, men and women alike, want to Gary Oldman* her. Don't you want to Gary Oldman her? It's because she's fiery hot, and she's got the voice to match her hotness.

Here's two tracks off of her upcoming release, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, apparently named from a list ordered "Noun Noun Verb Article Noun" from which Ms. Case just picked a word from each column. That's the only idea we got because otherwise it doesn't make no Gary Oldmanin' sense.

Whatcha think?

Neko Case - Hold On, Hold On
Neko Case - At Last

Traci may post another song or two from this record later on.

* Gary Oldman = the f-bomb

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

whoop that trick, mahyinn

If you haven't yet, check out Hustle & Flow, mahyinn...

...then, check this shit out! This is Man Man, whose new record, Six Demon Bag, was released this Tuesday on Ace Fu. It kinda reminds me of a musical burlesque; it's pretty freaking weird but entertaining, nonetheless. It's definitely influenced by Tom Waits, and the singer's voice reminds me of Isaac Brock's at times.

Whatever you decide, I think we can all agree that these guys will not be on critcs' 2006 best-of lists alongside this year's safe, tepid, non-moving indie rock records. *coughjennylewiscough* ahem... bit of a cold there--seems to be going around.

For you: "Feathers," "Ice Dogs," and just for fun, "Young Einstein on the Beach." The last one I just cannot stop laughing uncontrollably at. aaaahhhahahahahahahaha!!!!! help. me.

Man Man - Feathers
Man Man - Ice Dogs
Man Man - Young Einstein on the Beach

Frozen Chimpanzees

So everywhere I look these days, some publication or blog is salivating all over Arctic Monkeys, the UK's hottest new import. They were selling out shows in London before they had ever recorded an album. Many have already crowned them as THE band of 2006, the successor to Clap Your Hands Say Overrated's throne. And once again, I don't quite understand the hype. I'm not the type of person that dislikes a band just because the indie elite deems their CD a "must-have." I love many bands and musicians that have been hyped to death. I usually enjoy Britrock but right now Arctic Monkeys are leaving me a little lukewarm. I haven't heard all of "Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not" so I'm trying not to make a definitive opinion yet.

Arctic Monkeys - I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor
This is a song perfect for flailing pasty white boys in the pit. Feel the aggressive testosterone!

Arctic Monkeys - Fake Tales of San Francisco (expired)

Their label has some demo mp3's if you're interested.

Arctic Monkeys: Next Big Thing? What do you think?

Monday, February 20, 2006

Hem tour in support of No Word from Tom

Hem @ Workplay; Birmingham, AL

Hem makes it through Birmingham about once a year, drawing slightly more of a crowd each year and charging slightly more for tickets each year. Although I feel sympathy for the folks who skip the annual Workplay Hem-fest, I can’t help but feel like part of a small, elite group of fans clued in to the fact that Hem is one of the best folk/Americana bands making music right now.

For this tour, fans got to see a stripped down version of Hem featuring songwriter Dan Messé on piano and accordian; Steve Curtis on guitar, mandolin, and backing vocals; Gary Maurer on guitar and mandolin; and the lovely Sally Ellyson on lead vocals. The harmony of these instruments blends so perfectly live that listeners become malleable clay responding with shivers and warm approval to each crescendo and fall of the songs. It’s a reaction fans can count on, and that’s probably why Hem gets a healthier crowd every time they visit the city.

Claiming Workplay as one of their favorite places to play, Ellyson confided that they had chosen Birmingham as the place to debut four new songs off of their upcoming release, tentatively titled Funnel Cloud. Despite the band’s confession that the songs had never before been played live, each new song sounded as effortless as their live staples such as “When I was Drinking,” “Sailor,” and cover songs “Jackson” and “The Tennessee Waltz.” Gary Maurer’s mandolin solos were a complex yet flawless intermission to Ellyson and Curtis’s unique vocal harmonies. A friend commented on Messé’s preference for playing below “middle C” on the Yamaha baby grand piano, and once my attention was called to it I began to notice the full-bodied warmth these octaves gave to Hem’s overall sound.

--Find this review in its entirety (in a few days) and other recent concert at Tinymixtapes.com--

For now, here are some mp3s off Hem's new collection of covers, demos, and live recordings titled No Word from Tom. Both of these were played at the show: an outtake of a Hem original from their first LP Rabbit Songs and a cover of the Fountains of Wayne song "Radiation Vibe."

Hem - Radiation Vibe
Hem - Betting on Trains

Sunday, February 19, 2006

What do prog-rock and grocery muzak have in common? Jim O'Rourke!

Supergroup Loose Fur--consisting of Jim "I ruin records" O'Rourke and Wilco's Jeff Tweedy and Glenn Kotche--released their self-titled EP in 2002 to a mixed bag of critical reviews. It had the dissonant, noisy freakout "So Long" but was concluded by "Chinese Apple," which was by all accounts absolutely beautiful. Man, I still love both those songs.

Well now them boys're back with the not so wittily titled Born Again in the USA, and this record is much more even, if less appealing. Prog rock roots abound in addition to the piano ballad bookends that plagued much of Wilco's A Ghost is Born. Yeah, thanks, O'Rourke. Man, that guy.... he works fine in the background as a producer (read: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and maybe somahdat Sonic Youth stuff) but has a tendency to infuse a lot of his music with this weird, 80s grocery store muzak vibe that I have a hard time warming up to. Icky.

Said vibe is not pervasive enough on this record to ruin the songs, but it lingers a bit. See for yourself, why doncha? Here's "The Ruling Class," which Tweedy and his drummer Kotche (*swoon*) have been playing at a few solo show, and "An Ecumenical Matter," a mellow instrumental jam stuffed in the middle of the record:

Loose Fur - The Ruling Class
Loose Fur - An Ecumenical Matter

Images from Google when searching for "Loose Fur":


Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Rawkin' like Nashville, Hailing from Detroit

I love Bloodshot Records honky-tonk. In fact, those are the words that come to mind when I see a Bloodshot artist's record: honky tonk. Next month, my heros at Bloodshot will re-release the supurb, Stones-circa-Exile-on-Main-Street-tinged Starving Winter Report, recorded by the Detroit-based Deadstring Brothers. Hopefully these fellas (and gal) will find themselves a bigger audience this go-round. Here are two songs from the upcoming record, the first of which is exactly what it looks like: a cover of Robbie Robertson's "Get Up Jake," originally performed by The Band (*swoon*).

Deadstring Brothers - Get Up Jake
Deadstring Brothers - Starving Winter Report

And since I had to go and mention The Band I have to go and post a previously unreleased track from A Musical History that I just cannot get out of my head. Here's their cover of Jimmy Drew's "Baby Lou":

The Band - Baby Lou

FINALLY, the only track worth listening to off alt-country darling Rhett Miller's upcoming solo release is a lovely song on which he is accompanied by piano player and sultry chanteuse Rachael Yamagata. Here's that one, a gem among some pretty ugly rocks, poorly figuratively speaking.

Rhett Miller with Rachael Yamagata - Fireflies

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Happy Chocolate Candy Day

So it's Valentine's Day. And what says "Happy Valentine's Day" like a shoddily handmade card crafted with love? Here, I made you this animated e-card. Be careful, the glue's not dry yet.

My Valentine's Day Masterpiece! (expired)

And in honor of the holiday, here's some twee electropop to take the edge off the fact that it has been 3 years since the debut of The Postal Service and they probably won't put out another album anytime soon.

Electric President - Insomnia
Electric President - Grand Machine No. 14

And for the young lovers, a song from the new Belle & Sebastian.

Belle & Sebastian - Another Sunny Day

Monday, February 13, 2006

My Morning Band of Horses

Band of Horses toured with Iron & Wine in April '04, and as concertgoers stuffed themselves into our small local venue to spy Sam Beam's glorious beard, the venue staff quipped that "Band of Horses is working on their sound, and you can take that however you want." That's because Band of Horses sucked pretty hard, and most of us couldn't wait for them to get their scrawny asses offstage. Yeesh.

Turns out, though, their April '06 release Everything All the Time is gonna rock in an 80s hair band / My Morning Jacket kind of way. The lead singer does a pretty mean Jim James impression, and if MMJ can't outdo Z for future releases, we might petition to send this guy in as James' replacement.

Anyway, here's a few tracks off that upcoming release. Let us know what you think. 'Preesh.

Band of Horses - I Go to the Barn Because I Like The
Band of Horses - The Funeral

A New Beginning...

Remember me? I've had a little work done since the last time you saw me and I've changed my name, but I'm the same ol' music blog you knew before, only better! I've been quite the prodigal blogger. I'm sorry I left you for so long. I've missed you horribly but all these changes were for you! Did you miss me? Oh, let us never part again!

During our time apart there were photo shoots and late night strategic meetings, among other things. All preparing for the launch of a bigger and better music blog. And now without further adieu, I present to you RED BLONDEHEAD. Joining me in this venture is my good friend, the lovely and talented Leah. Leah actually gets paid to write about music, and I'm lacking in the music writing department (Traci's music review: "I like this. I think it has a good beat, makes me feel dancey all over! Listen!") so she is a wonderful addition to the blog. Plus, Leah is THE FUNNY. And she will probably post 2 entries for every one I post. We plan to bring you mp3s, music reviews, reviews of music reviews, and snark! (and possibly some vitriol towards Jenny Lewis from Leah...but not from me because I kinda like her and her kneesocks and Keds ensembles. shhh, keep it on the downlow)

So here we are...we're just a music blog, standing in front of a reader, asking for you to love us.

Red Blondehead