Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Compact Disc/mp3 review no. 3: xx by the xx



This band is completely new to me but when I read that they regarded themselves as inside the post-punk revival genre I knew I had to investigate. What I found was an incredibly quiet, minimalist, alternative band unlike anything I've heard before. The xx received critical acclaim from Rolling Stone with their debut album and made it onto Pitchfork's Top 100 of 2009 with songs "Crystalized" and "Island".

There's a good amount of sincerity to their work and it doesn't seem to me like they're distorting they're sound or pulling any punches to make themselves more marketable. Normally on any given debut album you get the impression that there are two or three songs the band worked on in anticipation that these would bring them success while the other tracks are, even if the effect is only slightly noticeable, a bit lackadaisical in comparison. This phenomenon disrupts the listeners' ability to grow acclimated to the album's sound even if only for a little bit. There is not a bit of filler on this album and it feels like one long musical sentence rather than a series of abbreviated entries like most bands' debut albums seem to be as they find their sounds.

Despite the fact that none of these tracks seems like it was meant to be a "hit" in the conventional sense, the whole album plays with a deliberate and quiet beauty that I rarely get to hear, especially from new artists. It would be hard to select any of these tracks for a single or radio play because they're all so interwoven. I'm going to recommend that anyone who likes the tracks I've listed above simply take my word and hear the whole album all the way through because you won't be disappointed.

The songs play at a slow tempo and are filled with clean (without overdrive or distortion) guitars treated with delay. There is percussion too and the occasional keyboard but it's bit rarer than on conventional rock albums since the guitars and bass quietly provide most of the beat with drums as merely a fitting accompaniment. The vocals go back and forth between male, female, and a duet of the two. I'd describe the album as slightly melancholic and very contemplative. It's not kill yourself depressing but I can definitely hear some sadness in the overall sound.

In closing, this album is beautiful and I don't think anyone could hate it but if you're looking for a hard-driving rock album then you'll need to look elsewhere. If you're a mainstream rock listener then you might have a hard time getting into xx but if you can appreciate the beauty of calculated minimalism you'll love it like I do.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Concerts in Houston!

In the past two months, saying I've dropped a dime on concert tickets is an understatement. I continue to hear news that more and more bands/artists I like are coming to Houston and I can't help but buy the tickets! Anyone reading the blog from Houston or in the Southwest US should take note because these bands are on tour and maybe they're coming to your city!

Dick Dale: King of the surf guitar and a childhood hero of mine, this guy pioneered the genre of surf-rock and introduced new playing styles to American rock music. He practices martial arts, he's never drank or done drugs, and recently recovered from cancer and still puts on enthusiastic performances at 72. I asked this guy via email about some guitar tabs not expecting much since he's a pretty big name but he replied back to me with a personal email! Incredibly nice guy who I've always wanted to see and now I'll finally get a chance. He's playing at the Houston House of Blues on Sunday the 14th of March. Oh yeah, and he wrote that song "Miserlou" for the begininning of Pulp Fiction which is sadly, the only reason knows 90% of my generation knows about him. Great song but there is so much more to his music:



Yes: Everyone knows about this prog rock band so I won't go too much into them but I'm excited since their lineup is original with the exception of keyboard player Rick Wakeman (who's being replaced by his son, Oliver Wakeman) and lead vocalist who's unfortunately taking some down time because of some respiratory issues. It'll be a great show. I love everything they've done.

Jeff Beck: An incredibly influential lead guitarist who hasn't achieved enough commercical success, in my opinion, after playing with the Yard Birds with Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton. He occupies the number 14 spot on Rolling Stone's list of top 100 guitarists of all time (the only list of theirs I actually trust or respect). Blues and Jazz are his main areas of expertise and he'll be playing the 27th of April at the Verizon Arena.

The Dead Weather: Side project of Jack White and members from the Greenhorns, the Kills, and Queens of the Stone Age. Excellent band. They've only got a single album out at the moment but it's a very strong start. Make sure to listen to their cover of Gary Numan and the Tubeway Army's "Are Friends Electric?" it was where I first heard them. The cover was on an EP released before their debut album, "Horehound" and can be purchased on iTunes.


Dark Star Orchestra: DSO has been around since 1997 and have won accolades as being basically the best Grateful Dead Cover band ever. I've listened to them a lot and totally agree. The guitar playing and vocals are just like Jerry's and even people who've attended real Dead concerts back in the day agree with me. They'll be playing March 4th at the House of Blues.

Rogue Wave: Are an indie rock band from Oakland California who I've been listening to for a long time. Their playing styles vary a lot by song but I've noticed a nice demonstration of post-punk play between quiet and loud in most of their songs, especially in songs like "Harmonium".






Thursday, February 11, 2010

45 Record Review no. 1: The Doors- Gloria

This won't be a long review but I picked up an interesting 45 yesterday. It's a Doors cover of Gloria, by Van Morrison and Them, a cover I didn't even know they did. I picked it up for about five dollars and it says it's a promotional copy not for commercial sale, which makes it a pretty cool collectors item for someone like me who really loves the Doors.

There's no B-side but it's a pretty good cover that integrates classic Doors sound of keyboards and thumping bass with Jim's ad hoc interjections of regular speaking among the singing. I think that even people who hate the doors with a passion will admit that this isn't a bad cover and that the original song certainly ain't bad. I add this last part because I always try to judge covers, even the kind I'm unabashedly fond of, for people who might not be huge fans of the artist or new listeners. If it has appeal to people who don't even identify too much with the artist then chances are, it's a great cover.

Check it out:

Alexander McQueen is found dead in his London home

I'm not an expert on high fashion and I won't pretend I am when I'm writing this entry but I did admire the style and creativity of British designer, Lee Alexander McQueen. My fiancé introduced me to McQueen's work a couple months ago. She's really into high fashion, makeup, and knows more about style than I could ever hope to know. She showed me all sorts of dark and bizarre shoes, dresses, and other pieces of clothing that resemble nothing I've ever seen before: not even in other high fashion. I figured that since this blog is about music and culture that McQueen's untimely death is something that all of you would want to know about. Look at this video to get an idea of the man's strange but inspiring genius:

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Compact disc/mp3 album review no. 2: Friendly Fires by Friendly Fires


I found this band in a weird, roundabout way. The story starts with me listening to an old post-punk band called Section 25. They were on the Factory Records label, the same label Joy Division and New Order were signed to, I'd found them on Factory compilation I'd just bought on iTunes and that I plan to review some time soon. I was listening to one of their songs and saw that it was called "Friendly Fires" and I thought to myself, that's a strange title but I think I've heard it somewhere before. It turns out that I'd spied it, and you'll all probably notice that this is a recurring theme on my blog, on the title of a song on one of Pitchfork magazine's top 100 songs lists. The song was called "Paris" and so I downloaded their debut, self-titled, album to see what all the fuss was about (the song on the Pitchfork list was remixed by someone else so I had no idea what Friendly Fires actually sounded like by themselves).

I was pleased to find a thoughtful but dancy electronic band upon listening to Friendly Fires. Though they're heavy on synths and super-streamlined electronic production there are plenty of times where the old-school, bass driven post-punk beats leak through to reveal their influences. FF's drumbeats and soulful funky vocals fit in perfectly with cool electronic contemporaries like James Murphy's LCD Soundsystem. I expect great things from FF in the future.

I'll keep it short and let you all decide what you think, if you haven't already heard the album, but here are some of my favorite songs from Friendly Fires:


Lovesick^


Jump In The Pool^


In The Hospital ^

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A Recap of the Who's halftime performance

I don't know how I forgot it but I haven't talked about the Superbowl halftime show and let me just say that it was very good. If you missed it, the halftime act this year was one of my favorite bands of all time: The Who. They played a medley of their most popular stuff since they only had about fifteen minutes to play but for the most part it didn't feel rushed or cheapened.

Roger Daltrey always rocks but that night he was in rare form, his voice didn't sound raspy in the least and sounded very much like classic Who. I went to see them play about two years ago and it was an amazing show despite Daltrey and Townshend's obviously advanced ages and it seems like they haven't aged a bit since then.

The set was a medley of the following songs:
-Pinball Wizard
-Baba O Reilly
-Other parts of Tommy
-We Won't Get Fooled Again

pt. 1


pt. 2

Jack White takes action against USAF

Jack White will take action against the US Air Force after they re-recorded and used "Fell in love with a girl" without permission in a Superbowl ad. White was courteous in his reply though unlike raving anti-war nutcases like Sheryl Crow. He said "The White Stripes support this nation's military, at home and during times when our country needs and depends on them. We simply don't want to be a cog in the wheel of the current conflict, and hope for a safe and speedy return home for our troops." I missed the ad but I don't know why the Air Force would use that song anyway. Seems like a strange choice. I would have used "little cream soda" because it's a little more bad ass. Or even "Aluminum"! Oh well though, I can't blame Jack. They never asked for permission. God bless the troops though.


Little Cream Soda


Aluminum

btw, I just recently got tickets to see the Dead Weather in May and am so excited! I'll provide lots of pictures and video.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Compact Disc/mp3 album review no. 1: Rook by Shearwater

I raved about these guys last year, during my semester abroad, when I first encountered "the snow leopard" on pitchfork's list of top 100 tracks of 2008. They're slow, pensive, and really interesting. Shearwater hails from Austin Texas, formed in 1999 and have been active on a large scale since 2001. Like I said, I hadn't even heard of them until 2009 and haven't investigated their earlier stuff yet, like the Theives EP from 2005, but was really impressed by their first full album "Rook".

The lead singer's vocals (Jonathan Meiburg) can be described in no other way but angelic. He has mastered the art of changing the dynamics (literally dynamics, as in volume) of his voice in the most dramatic of ways. When he sings in a soft falsetto he reminds me slightly of Thom Yorke but then he also has the ability to belt out loud, tortured-sounding, vocals when the song calls for it like in the song "Century Eyes". Just as their singer's vocals alternate between quiet and loud so does the band's music. Besides "the snow leopard", the best song to highlight the band's penchant for playing with dynamics would be "on the death of the waters" which starts off very quiet and slow but momentarily explodes into loud guitar playing and drumming at about 1:35. Just as I've compared Meigburg to Radiohead's stylings I'll also say the same about the music but only because I feel the same way after listening to the music in either of these bands. Unlike Radiohead, there are essentially no electronic instruments in the ensemble besides bass and guitar but I guess I'd say that it evokes the same kind of quiet melancholy as Radiohead does, punctuated by periods of not-so-quietness. They're incredibly original and I can't wait for them to put out another album or EP.

I'll have to go back and listen to their earlier albums as well.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Some of my pet peeves: useless hipster scum

Being a blogger and an admirer of many sorts of music I realize that one might make the mistake of categorizing me as a "hipster" and before anyone jumps to that conclusion, let me stop you all.
I can't emphasize this enough: I HATE HIPSTERS AND POSERS! (and the two terms are normally synonymous, in my experience)

Just because you dress snappily, have Chuck Taylors on your feet, wear thick black glasses, smoke Parliament Lights religiously, and have heard one song by the Smiths does not make you an expert on the Smiths, for example. Letting on that you know more than you really do about culture is definitely a trick for boosting one's self esteem (and we all do it now and again) but it's not a grounds to build and authentic character upon or develop your identity. The favorite reply of the hipster to any sort of commentary on art or music, whether or not they know about the thing in question, is invariably "yeah man!" They long to appear groomed and cultured without ever lifting a finger to fulfill this desire. There's no shame in saying "no man, I haven't heard of that band. Tell me more about them" or "no I've never read that book. What's it about?" And the hipster is not capable of saying things like that.

They'll normally possess a rudimentary knowledge of existential or intramundane philosophy, wear it on their sleeves and vehemently deny the existence of anything transcendent. They lean left normally (which despite my conservative world-view doesn't normally bother me) but in a slavish, apathetic sort of way that leads me to believe that they've adopted these beliefs out of convenience rather than real conviction. My philosophy is live and let live when it comes to the beliefs and lifestyles of others but that doesn't mean I can't vent every now and then, haha.

In addition to these vexations two things I find most hipsters lacking in are class and ambition. By and large, they have the etiquette and polish of five-year-olds but have access to mommy and daddy's money to spend on tickets to see bands they barely know, PBR (or whatever happens to be the hippest beer at the time), as much pot as they can possibly smoke, a closet sized apartment that gives them the illusion that they're independent and living in the real world, and tuition for art school without every really accomplishing anything there. Of course I'm painting a narrow and perhaps unfair picture of the garden-variety hipster but when you're sitting in a coffee shop surrounded by them boasting about the huge bag weed they just purchased with the money their parents gave them for books, you can't help but get a little annoyed.

They bellow loudly about "aw man I love that band!" in a pathetic attempt to attract the company of other hipsters who will agree with them and in doing so stroke each others' already tumid egos. Now, it's true that I enjoy many (probably even most) bands that hipsters do but I couldn't give two shits who knows that I do or not. I mean, I love writing/talking about music but I do it because it like to write and inform other people who might enjoy the same music, not because I want rack up points on any sort of hipness scorecard.

I realize my assessment of hipsters has been harsh thus far but as a caveat I will say that I never judge a book by its cover. I might be sizing you up thinking that you're a crass, immature, piece of hipster garbage but I'll never cement that suspicion: I'll let you do it for me. If I talk to you and find out that you're a reasonable guy or gal who just happens to dress a certain way or hold certain beliefs that are consistent with hipsterdom or both, I won't think any less of you. There are plenty of people who dress in a "hip" manner, who listen to "hip" music who are thoroughly genuine and decent but there are also those who revel in the image in order to feel better than others or better than they really are. Because when I use the word hipster, it has a pejorative meaning. I use it to denote posers who use their hipness to belittle others or live in a fantasy world where they never actually have to act like grown ups.

And that is my pet peeve of the week.

Lightning Hopkins recieves more well-deserved attention in Houston

I'm personally fond of the blues and in the past two years have begun to dig deeper into the genre. Before I examined the genre more closely I was aware of the obvious modern blues staples such as Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, George Thorogood and even recent developers like the White Stripes and the Black Keys but beyond that had little idea of who was who in the vastly influential field. Then I got acquainted with people like John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters who turned the old, folk-oriented, delta blues of people like Robert Johnson into the more familiar sounding, electrified style of blues we all know today. One of the names I discovered in that group of blues musicians around in that liminal time between delta/folk-forms of blues and electric blues was Sam "lighning" Hopkins. He was born in 1912 and was schooled in both old and new-school blues and was one of the many who helped bring the genre squarely into the 20th century while retaining all the old traditions that make it uniquely American in origin. Sadly, I only found out about Hopkins when I moved to Houston, his home city, but ever since then I've really learned to admire the man and marvel at his playing abilities. Here's an example of his playing genius:



Well, at any rate, in addition to the statue that Houston erected in his honor the city is now planning to place an official state historic marker on Hopkins' house. This makes me very happy because I'm sure it'll only lead to more people stumbling across his name and discovering his awesome music.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Tragic: Jay Reatard's death found to be drug related


For those of you who haven't been reading my blog (99.99999% of the Internet), I've been following the developing details of my favorite garage-punk rocker's, Jay Reatard, death. At first, no one knew what caused the sudden death of such a young, active, seemingly healthy musician when he was found dead in his Memphis home last month. I was really upset especially because I saw Jay preform in December, met him before the show, got his autograph and got to chat with him briefly. He was a really nice guy and the show was superb. Here's a link to the original blog entry and here's the review I wrote of the last album he released before he died, "Watch me fall".

It's been discovered by the coroner that unfortunately, Jay died from toxic levels of alcohol and cocaine in his blood. We'll all remember him for his excellent music and kickass performances
RIP Jay, we hardly knew ya.

Breakfast in America: vinyl review no. 1




Breakfast in America is the Supertramp album containing the most hit songs out of their studio albums but unlike most popular albums that contain multiple hits, there's not a bad song on the album. The four popular songs got just enough press to conjure memories of past listenings without making the listener hate the songs. Even today the songs still live on, some songs in better ways than others. I think we've all heard that dumbass Gym Class Heroes song "Cupid's Chokehold" and it's criminally banal use of a riff from the title song of Breakfast in America and I think even people who barely listen to music can say that they've heard "The Logical Song". Then there are the two less popular but still recognizable hits "Goodbye Stranger" and "Take the long way home" which are some of the album's highest points.

It's pretty amazing what Rick Davies and Roger Hodgson can do with their wonky little Wurlitzer pianos. Songs like "Goodbye Stranger" are carried more by their piano playing and falsetto vocals than any guitar, drum, or bass that might be playing alongside. This album seems to me to embody the sound of Supertramp better than any of their others. There are plenty of songs dominated by keyboards and others that include more wind instruments and guitar, giving other band members chances to shine. The thing about Supertramp, and this album in particular, is the ballad style they choose which unlike lots of 70s rock places vocals and songwriting over elaborate guitar solos. Don't get me wrong, I love me some guitar solo but when I'm in the mood for more mellow, lyric-driven music, I've always got a friend in Supertramp.

I'd rate Breakfast in America high on any music-lover's list because even if you don't enjoy Supertramp as much as I do (especially the still excellent but less accessible albums like Even in the quietest moments and ...Famous Last Words...) you should at least find something special for you on this album.

I picked it up, in good condition, for five dollars US.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Yo La Tengo 2010


I had the fortune to see that Yo La Tengo was playing this past Thursday night and snatched up some tickets to what turned out to be one of the best live shows I've ever seen, period.

When I read some concert reviews I was a little but uneasy since there were a lot of negative ones but then again, when have I ever let someone ELSE tell me what is good and what isn't? I mean, I don't like 95% of what the Beatles did and *gasp* I like Joy Division's first album Unknown Pleasures, a little more than their second album, Closer, the one critics tell me I should like more. People complained about Ira Kaplan's use of feedback which is something I'm normally a proponent of but still I was scared.

It was a bitch to find parking since my friends and I were a little late and I was worried that we might be missing another band opening for Yo La Tengo that I really like called "Times New Viking" but we entered Warehouse Live just in time. TNR rocked very hard. The lineup consisted of a drummer, guitarist, and organist; the first and last provided vocals. They were very loud, fast, and interesting. I really heard a lot of Velvet Underground and Modern Lovers in their punky, feedback-laden playing just as I did in their studio recordings. They weren't perfect but they definitely didn't suck.

Then Yo La Tengo came on and they opened with a cool, very spacey, progressive-rock-sounding, yet strangely minimalist number called "Nutricia". They played lots of songs from their newest album "Popular Songs" and a lot from their preceding album "I am not afraid of you and will beat your ass" and even a few I'd never heard of before. The variety of songs, tempos, volumes, and styles they played totally lived up to the eclectic nature of the entire YLT discography and made for an extremely lively and engaging show.

Pretty early on in the show, like three songs in, Kaplan said to the audience "this one is going to be a long show, whether everyone likes it or not!" to which we all replied with cheering and whistling and hooting and clapping. That's when I knew that the show was only going to keep getting better.

One of the funnier moments, albeit infuriating as well, was when some drunk dickhead yelled out "play sugar cube!!!" loudly enough for everyone to notice his drunkness and dickheadedness. The reason this outburst was funny is because YLT had already played "Sugar cube" a few songs earlier. I swear, these people are at every concert. They come to hear one song because it's popular and it's the only damn song they know. These idiots refuse to do there homework or delve into a band's discography. Why they pay 20 dollars to hear one song when they can simply pick up the album and learn at least to or three more songs, the day of the concert, is perplexing to me. It's sort of like when I saw the White Stripes and some bratty, liquored-up, yuppie girl kept yelling "fellinlovewithagirl!" over and over again. These stunods should just stay home and listen to their favorite one song looped over and over again while they drool on themselves.

Even though the whole set was all incredible, some of my favorite songs live were: Periodically Double and Triple, All your Secrets, If it's True, Here to Fall, Hankypanky Nowhow (this is a John Cale cover), More Stars Than There Are in Heaven, Nothing to Hide, and "Pass The Hatchet, I Think I'm Goodkind".

Kaplan jumped around from Keyboards, to guitar, to drums throughout the show and reminded us all how talented he is at each one and how dynamic each band member is (Georgia Hubley left her drums and played guitar in some songs and James McNew left the bass and played guitar and keyboard for other songs).

They were so passionate and obviously cared very much about pleasing the audience and playing a good set which, unfortunately, is a lot more than I can say about a lot of bands I've seen (even some of the best ones I've seen). I've never seen another musician live besides maybe Thom Yorke, who displayed as much passion and feeling while playing as Ira Kaplan did. You could see it in his face, his belabored movements, and the way he caressed his guitar and closed his eyes while playing. I was so lucky to catch them.

After the show I watched a cool local oldies band play in the other room and let my ears recover from the YLT set which was pretty loud at times. They're called the Allen Oldies Band and they played a pretty respectable set of cool oldies tunes like Woolly Bully and the like. After watching them play I had the privilege of meeting up with Ira Kaplan as I was walking out of Warehouse and let me tell you, he is a great guy. He was really nice and approachable and gladly answered my questions about YLT. I've even got the proof above. Apparently, just minutes after I left they played a set with the Allen Oldies Band though and continued on until 2 (doh!).

All in all, EXCELLENT show. One of the best live shows I've ever attended.


video
Beginning of "Here to Fall"^


video
Some sweet feedback from I forget which song. Watch Ira go!


video
A chunk of "Periodically Double and Triple"

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