2/14/2017

Sister's Gonna Work it Out

Never been big on Beyonce and can't really see what the fuss is all about. But the fuss has been undeniable: not since Madonna in her decades-ago heyday has a female pop artist garnered the devotion of the masses like Mrs. Carter has, which also includes a significant amount of critical admiration, as well.

But Beyonce's fans have so much emotional investment in her career that her perceived snub at this past Sunday's Grammy awards exploded into as far reaching areas as treatises on how the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, aka the Grammys, by failing to properly recognize the greatness of Beyonce's most recent album, have put into question the role of the popular black artist in our society and how...

Oh, please. Calm the fuck down. So the Grammys goofed. Big deal.

I am not for a second defending whatever faux pas the Academy made in this particular case, but being surprised about this is akin to discovering that it snows in the Northeast in February. Deserving artists are snubbed year after year. It happened to Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix. Bob Marley's children have waaaay more Grammys than he ever got. And we all know how Jethro Tull was once infamously awarded Best Metal Performance (?) over Metallica. (For those unaware, JT isn't even a metal band.)
 
YMMV, of course, but being disappointed about Grammy awards is too much of an investment for anyone.

2/13/2017

Quote of the Day: 'Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip'

"People for some reason, and this happens, had been sharpening their knives for Aaron Sorkin and I don’t know why. It’s like you’re about to give birth and people are standing around and the baby is born and immediately they start saying, 'Why is he crying? Why isn’t the baby standing and talking? You’re not a good parent!' And that’s what they did to Studio 60, they immediately leapt on this new creation and immediately compared it to West Wing and any other movie he’d done..."

- Actor Steven Weber from the cast of Sorkin's Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip on the unfair attacks that led to the demise of the show.

Pop Life (and death)

Here's something to ponder: a significant portion of music fans under the age of 25 barely know who Prince is. Sobering, huh? The go-to explanation is that the young folks who consume music via YouTube or streaming services aren't that hip to the late Minneapolis Monarch because the man was no fan of these platforms and made sure his music wasn't featured on them. No more. As of yesterday, Grammy Sunday, Prince's catalog will be available via Amazon Music, Napster (?!), Pandora and Spotify

On the one hand, any opportunity for people to discover this legendary artist's music is a beautiful thing. However, one can’t help feeling kinda weird about something he vehemently opposed in life now being a reality, less than a year after his death. Hmm…

12/10/2015

Mr. Jones' 21 Favorite Films of the 21st Century (so far)

[As always, when attempting this kind of exercise, familiarity and poignancy—as well as considerations of time, space, length, reader interest, etc etc etc—will inevitably lead to some favorites falling by the wayside. But such are the pitfalls of compiling a list of any kind, although slightly less stress is involved when the main criteria is favorites. And so, with that out of the way, and in alphabetical order by film, have at them. Cheers. - KJ]

All Things Must Pass: The Rise and Fall of Tower Records [2015]
Colin Hanks’ documentary deftly pays tribute to the iconic record store chain founded in his hometown of Sacramento, CA. Aces.

Amores Perros [2000] 
Three different tales—all involving dogs and love, hence the title—converge at a spectacular Mexico City car crash with dire results for all involved. This film was one of the main culprits behind the international resurgence of Mexican cinema.

Auto Focus [2002] 
Greg Kinnear’s winning portrayal of fellow thespian, the late Bob Crane—depicted as a sociopath with an insatiable sexual appetite he needed to visually document for later enjoyment—is a sight to behold.  

Best in Show [2000] 
Christopher Guest’s crowning achievement is the still biting This is Spinal Tap, but this dog show mockumentary—with a dog owner who literally has two left feet!—is close behind.                                                   

Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me [2012]
Cult power pop heroes get their long-deserved big screen props in this heartfelt documentary.

Bowling for Columbine [2002] 
Sadly, Michael Moore’s record-breaking documentary on gun violence is as timely as ever. Maybe even more so.

Children of Men [2006]
An innovative and profound sci-fi flick; pregnant [no pun intended] with symbolism—it’s a modern-day nativity story of faith and hope amidst the bleakness and despair of a world fraught with infertility, chaos, terrorism, and jingoistic nationalism run amok.

The Dark Knight [2008]
All three films are top-notch, but the middle chapter of the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy hit especially hard.

Ghost World [2001]
Always reaching top spots in comic book-to-movie polls, director Terry Zwigoff's adaptation of Daniel Clowes' graphic novel is, like its source, a cult classic. It's also the last time its leads, Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson, were on equal professional footing. (What ever did happen to Birch?)

High Fidelity [2001]
Fans of Nick Hornby’s novel sighed with relief when it was announced fellow music geek John Cusack would bring it to the big screen. Despite shifting the story from England to the US—in this case Cusack’s beloved Chicago—it works beautifully. Hornby thought so, too.

Igby Goes Down [2002]
Burr Steers is best known as the screenwriter for the deplorable Matthew McConaughey-Kate Hudson romcom How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days and for playing Roger (aka “Flock of Seagulls”) in Pulp Fiction. But he wrote and directed this loosely autobiographical comedy drama which is likely the shining gem on his resumé. Stars the excellent Kieran Culkin in the title role.

Mean Girls [2004] 
A love letter to ‘80s teen comedies, this Tina Fey-written, Lindsay Lohan-starring vehicle is the real deal. 

Mystic River [2003] 
Million Dollar Baby [2004]
It’s become a cliché itself that Clint Eastwood’s movies avoid the much maligned Hollywood happy ending. But these two—the former about the ramifications of a long ago sexual child abuse case and its ties to the killing of a current local mob boss’ daughter; the latter a meditation on true family and tough decisions disguised as a boxing film—are nothing but stellar filmmaking.

Ocean's Eleven [2001]
An ensemble cast with no filler, led by Messrs Clooney and Pitt, this is the rare remake that actually improves on the original.

Old School [2003]
Fight Club reimagined as a frat house comedy? Yes, please.

Sideways [2004] 
Failed writer and staunch oenophile takes his soon to be married best friend on a final bachelor romp thru California wine country. Hijinks ensue. Actually, Alexander Payne’s buddy flick is so much more than that.

The Simpsons Movie [2007]
No cable, Netflix or YouTube for this one—we actually made our way to the theatre to pay tribute to the first family of Springfield.

61* [2001] 
This Billy Crystal-directed account of Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris’ chase for the all-time home run record during the 1961 major league season is our all-time favorite sports movie. Period.

Snatch [2000]
No sophomore slump for writer/director Guy Ritchie, who followed his popular 1998 debut film Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels with this smash hit which mines a similar crime/comedy vein. And yeah, even after repeated viewings Brad Pitt is still unintelligible. 

Thank You for Smoking [2006]
A clever and humorous satire that zings both sides of the cigarette fence.

10/23/2015

Groovemasters: Hunter and Amendola Live

CHARLIE HUNTER + SCOTT AMENDOLA
Bonafide
NYC
10/22/15

It's one thing to have guitarist extraordinaire Charlie Hunter dazzle with simultaneous guitar and bass dexterity on his custom, 7-string, hybrid instrument, via his numerous recordings. But to witness such brilliance up close is nothing short of a decidedly jaw-dropping experience. Add the nimble and equally inspired drumming of Scott Amendola and one just might be at a magical loss for words.

Playing with the spontaneity of two adventurous jazz pros jamming in someone's living room, Hunter and Amendola--who clearly hails from the Joey Baron school of highly creative, stunt drumming--both awed and delighted the assembled crowd with spirited renditions of respective originals, as well as covers ranging from classics like Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" to pop hit "Royals" by Lorde. But their swampy New Orleans-infused Cars medley ("Bye Bye Love"/"Good Times Roll"/"Let's Go") must be heard to be believed. Awesome.

10/20/2015

Lost and Found: 'Teenage Sex Therapist'

OWEN MAERCKS
Teenage Sex Therapist
[Feeding Tube Records - 2014]

Being a dedicated music artist is like standing on a street corner asking the passerby if they are interested in having a conversation about a topic near and dear to you. If you’re lucky, a crowd of like-minded folk will gather to hear what you have to say. But more often the not, they won’t be interested in the topic and/or your delivery or in all likelihood won’t even stop to ask what it is you’re going on about. Hindsight might make clear you had nothing interesting or substantive to communicate, but when it’s actually the opposite and you’re ignored for reasons both fickle and frail, that’s gotta hurt.

In 1978 Maercks’ Teenage Sex Therapist went dramatically unheard or, alternately, unloved among those who had the opportunity to hear it. Yes, his Beefhart-ian take on post-punk/new wave wasn’t going to climb the charts, then or now. But this was accessible, workman-like art rock that deep down was catchy as fuck. Surely it would’ve found an audience had it gotten the right attention, particularly at a time when kindred spirits such the B-52s were just a year away with their own outside-the-norm statement of musical purpose. But it was not to be.

Aside from Maercks himself, we have noted guitarist—and former Maercks bandmate in Monster Island—Henry Kaiser, to thank for the existence of Teenage Sex Therapist, having gotten Maercks up to Monterrey, CA to record the album over a few days with a band Kaiser selected and rehearsed in advance. (No Skyping or prior exchange of files, kiddies—remember, this was 1978.) Because of Kaiser’s involvement—and, let’s face it, the vagaries of life and the lottery-like aspect of the Internet—Maercks’ lone release has now found a home in the record collections of quite a few sympathetic fans, having gotten a proper release by the Massachusetts-based Feeding Tube Records. For those of us who missed its wonderful courtship with brilliance the first time around, discovering Teenage Sex Therapist is a source of both joy and reaffirmation: the former is self-explanatory; the latter lies in the hope that great music eventually finds an audience, especially while its creator is around to bask in the somewhat muted glow. 

Highlights: Nary a duff track here but “Sleeping With Great Works of Art”, “Information”, “Asleep and Awake”, “Nancy Calls Collect”, “Hoh!” and “Intense Young Man” deserve special attention.

10/17/2015

Mr. Jones' 21 Favorite Singles of the 21st Century (so far)

[As always, when attempting this kind of exercise, familiarity and poignancy—as well as considerations of time, space, length, reader interest, etc etc etc—will inevitably lead to some favorites falling by the wayside. But such are the pitfalls of compiling a list of any kind, although slightly less stress is involved when the main criteria is favorites. And so, with that out of the way, and in alphabetical order by artist, have at them. Cheers. - KJ]

AUDIOSLAVE "Cochise" [2002]
The first—and biggest—rock supergroup of the first decade of the 21st century didn't always gel, but when they did...

COLDPLAY “Yellow” [2000]
Boy, have these dudes caught grief. But long before the weirdly titled albums, "Sgt. Pepper's"-style band uniforms, the arrival—and subsequent departure—of the high profile Hollywood actress, and the questionable need to make a statement with every release, there was a simple yet heartfelt pop song that took the world by storm.

DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE “The Sound of Settling” [2003]
We almost went with the most excellent “Cath…” but this infectious, joy-imbued, short and sweet nugget of ear candy from their breakthrough Transatlanticism album [Barsuk], was too hard to pass up. Just might be our fave song of the 2000s. Yes, we love it that much.

FREELANCE HELLRAISER "A Stroke of Genius" [2001]
Talk about the sum of its parts: never cared for either Christina Aguilera or The Strokes, but this mash up truly lives up to its title. Arguably, the standard bearer for mash-ups.

GRIZZLY BEAR “Two Weeks” [2009]
This time the Brooklyn “cool” kids were right. Oh, yeah.

GUIDED BY VOICES “Glad Girls” [2001]
Uncle Bob’s best-sounding/produced album, Isolation Drills [TVT]—recorded in NYC, btw—is the home of this shoulda-been-a-monster-hit.

INCUBUS “Megalomaniac” [2003]
Lumped together with the nu-metal mooks of the late ‘90s, these guys were always a lot more interesting than that mostly sorry bunch. This fiery bastard is proof.

INJECTED "Faithless" [2002]
This Atlanta quartet never got much love while in the spotlight but this tune is modern melodic hard rock—with a catchy chorus the size of a house—at its finest.

IRON & WINE
"Woman King" [2005]
Sam Beam is one of the most gifted songwriters today. (And a master at interpretation, as his gorgeous solo acoustic cover of The Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights” clearly demonstrates.) This one is but a highlight from his vastly impressive catalog.

JLS "Maco Jones" [2003]
A vicious slab of molten, in your face, slow-grinding metal, this is a track for the ages. 

NORAH JONES "Don't Know Why" [2002]
Only the most jaded among us—and we’re founders/card-carrying members of that club—could escape the intoxicating charms of this Jesse Harris-penned ballad.

LONGWAVE "Wake Me When It's Over" [2003]
One of the early ‘00s NYC outfits poised for fame, it never happened for these dudes. But this tune remains one of the finest recorded moments of that scene's brief heyday.

A PERFECT CIRCLE “Judith” [2000]
Few have perfected the metal-meets-
The Cure aesthetic like these guys. This track—with its David Fincher-directed video clip—is just...

QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE "The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret" [2000]
Whatever you do/don’t tell anyone.” Gotcha.

THE RACONTEURS “Steady as She Goes” [2006]
The Joe Jackson-indebted debut single from Jack White’s post-White Stripes outfit is a big fave ‘round these parts. "Find yourself a girl and settle down / live a simple life in a quiet town..." Rarely did straightforward advice sound so good.

DUNCAN SHEIK "White Limousine" [2006]
He’s a big deal on Broadway these days, and while his previous output never really did much for us, the title track from his 2003 album is simply a solid lesson in songwriting and arrangement in a pop music format. (Special props for the deft atmospheric/“color” guitarwork.)

SPOON “Don’t You Evah” [2007]
The Natural History were a talented NYC-based band from the first half of the '00s that never really took off, despite a solid EP and album on the hip, also NYC-based StarTime International label, and an even better self-released album. It is on the latter, People I Meet from 2007, that you'll find the original version of "Don't You Ever", which Spoon covered on their highly acclaimed record Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga  [Merge] that same year. Spoon's take is a little more polished and produced—and arguably the best track on their album—while the original has a lot of heart despite being about cold feet, heh heh. Great song in any version, regardless.

U2 "Beautiful Day" [2000]
In the midst of the avalanche of boy band/nu metal/prefab teen star nonsense that was the late ‘90s/early ‘00s, this one arrived like a truck of ice water in the desert, as the Irish legends reclaimed their place among the heathens.

WEEZER “Keep Fishin” [2002]
Three minutes and five seconds of pure ear-candy bliss, in the same vein as Cheap Trick’s Live At Budokan classic "I Want You To Want Me", plus the equally ebullient Marcos Siega directed clip: a faux Muppet Show episode featuring Kermit and the gang panicking over the disappearance of Weezer drummer Patrick Wilson (who’s been kidnapped by none other than Miss Piggy) moments before the band is due to perform. Awesome.

PHARRELL WILLIAMS “Happy” [2013]
The haters can knock it all they want, this one will always make us…well, you know.

ZWAN "Honestly" [2003]
Billy Corgan has written some great tunes and you may get to hear many of ‘em if you catch the latest of incarnation of Smashing Pumpkins on the road. Sadly, this gem won’t be one of ‘em.

8/17/2015

Mr. Jones' 21 Favorite Albums of the 21st Century (so far)

[As always, when attempting this kind of exercise, familiarity and poignancy—as well as considerations of time, space, length, reader interest, etc etc etc—will inevitably lead to some favorites falling by the wayside. But such are the pitfalls of compiling a list of any kind, although slightly less stress is involved when the main criteria is favorites. And so, with that out of the way, and in alphabetical order by artist, have at them. Cheers. - KJ]

RYAN ADAMS & THE CARDINALS III/IV [Lost Highway-2010]
If you are of the faction that enjoys Adams’ alt-country leanings but have more of a hankering for his rock and roll exploits—namely, um, Rock n Roll [Lost Highway-2003]—then the final Cardinals album is the one for you. Adams and his mates are in full-on rock mode here and despite the common quality control pitfalls of a double album, they amply succeeded in putting together a batch of rockin’ tunes that don’t let up and coalesce into a consistent album. The Cardinals’ final bow was quite the farewell and arguably one of Adams’ best overall.

BECK Sea Change [DGC-2002]
Returning to the full-on singer/songwriter mode he mined on 1999's Mutations [DGC] with even better results, Sea Change was Beck’s breakup album. And while the man is in fact grieving over the demise of a long-time relationship on disc, Sea Change is not a dark, mournful listen. No. This is a slow, sadly beautiful piece of music. A late night or Sunday morning record of the highest order with simple, heartwarming songs driven by wonderfully recorded acoustic guitars and supple arrangements. A classic.

BRIAN BLADE & THE FELLOWSHIP BAND Season of Changes [Verve-2008]
A gifted drummer whose talents extend into composition as well, Blade has played with many a great, including Charlie Haden, Herbie Hancock, Daniel Lanois, Brad Mehldau, Joni Mitchell, Joshua Redman, and Wayne Shorter. He also leads the Fellowship Band, one of the finest jazz ensembles out there. Season of Changes, their third album, is incredibly accessible, pregnant with soaring melodies that never pander, while firmly planted in the jazz realm yet eschewing unwarranted instrumental indulgence. No gimmicks, tricks or nonsense, this is the real deal.

JON BRION Meaningless [Straight to Cut Out-2001]
The Los Angeles-based producer/multi-instrumentalist/composer is a name familiar to anyone who has perused the liner notes to records by Fiona Apple, Eels, Jellyfish, Aimee Mann, Rhett Miller and many more. And although he has only one album under his own name at this point, it’s clearly a winner. Released on Brion’s own label and almost guaranteeing it very limited exposure despite the artist’s high profile production/session work, Meaningless is a wonderful album in the singer/songwriter vein with a healthy dose of classic pop chops definitely worth seeking out.
 
BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE
Feel Good Lost [Arts & Crafts-2002]
One of the privileged few who have gone thru the reverse sophomore slump—their second album, the Juno Award-winning You Forgot It In People [Arts & Crafts-2002] was their critical and commercial breakthrough and set the stage for members Leslie Feist and Emily Haines to become stars in their native Canada—this beloved collective started out as a 2-man operation on this, their debut album. Before the group swelled to around a dozen or so members and became an indie rock powerhouse, Brendan Canning and Kevin Drew put together dreamy, mostly instrumental soundscapes that can be as effective a soundtrack for late night seduction as for a sober Sunday morning.

ROBERT DOWNEY JR. The Futurist [Sony Classical-2004]
A mostly piano-driven singer/songwriter album reminiscent of latter day Elton John, The Futurist is a moving full-length debut from a talented musician better known for his day job and past run-ins with the law, and one that should appeal to anyone looking for mellow, more adult-leaning fare.

FREELOADER Cantina Claqueur [JSS-2005]
Sort of a more down home version of Wilco—2/3 of the band were from the South—but edgier than Tweedy and company, on their sophomore release killer grooves and blissful vibes effortlessly share space with hooky, deep-fried licks. Of special note is "6 Train", a stunningly beautiful acoustic tribute to the band’s adopted home of NYC, courtesy of frontman Scott Sinclair, a talented guitarist and vocalist, not to mention a keen lyricist, with a gift for atmosphere and observation. Why this kickass trio didn’t blow up…

GUIDED BY VOICES Isolation Drills [TVT-2001]
Amidst a couple of lo-fi masterpieces, the Rob Schnapf-produced Isolation Drills has the highest quality sound to quality song ratio in the GBV catalog, which also makes it a perfect starting point for the uninitiated, as well as the studio album that comes closest to capturing the energy of their legendary live shows. (Isolation Drills features Elliott Smith playing keyboards on a couple of tracks.)

JUMBO D.D. Y Ponle Play [BMG US Latin-2001]
The exact opposite of what is commonly known as a sophomore slump, the follow-up to the Monterrey, Mexico quintet’s tentative 1999 debut Restaurant [BMG US Latin] is quite a spirited affair. Chock full of soaring choruses, solid playing and held together by a finely tuned production approach that gives the proceedings its underlying fluidity, D.D. Y Ponle Play is a rousing rock and roll record from start to finish.

THE LEMONHEADS self-titled [Vagrant-2006] 
Released almost 10 years to the day after their last studio album—the spotty but noteworthy Car Button Cloth [Atlantic-1996]—Evan Dando dusted off his nom de band and showed the young’uns how it’s done. The old pop/punk pin-up (along with The Descendants rhythm section of Karl Alvarez and Bill Stevenson, the latter also serving as the album’s producer) was smart enough to rejoin us with a gem of a disc that recalls the joyous, infectious sound of their '92 classic It's A Shame About Ray [Atlantic]. As the All Music Guide plainly states, this was "the right kind of return for a band that should never have gone away in the first place."

AIMEE MANN Bachelor No.2 or the Last Remains of the Dodo [Superego-2000] 
With the exception of ‘Til Tuesday’s debut we’ve not been big supporters of this lady’s work, before or since this album. But this one, oh, this one…    

JASON MORAN The Bandwagon: Live at the Village Vanguard [Blue Note-2003]
Moran is tremendous. And The Bandwagon, recorded live with his trio in NYC, is a gem. His covers of Brahms’ "Intermezzo, Op. 118, No. 2"—one of the most sadly beautiful pieces of music we’ve ever heard within the realm of jazz—and the standard “Body and Soul” are pure genius; Moran’s own “Gentle Shifts South”—featuring sampled members of his family narrating their genealogy—is not be missed. Oh, and his reworking of “Planet Rock" is none too shabby, btw.

NADA SURF Let Go [Barsuk-2003]
Avoiding the frequent comparisons to Weezer that plagued them since the release of their hit single "Popular" (which was also produced by former Cars frontman Ric Ocasek), Brooklyn-based rockers Nada Surf returned from a 3 year hiatus with an engaging, gimmick-free collection of top-notch guitar pop. Yes, the crunchy guitars are in the mix, but there’s a lot more subtlety, maturity and definition to their sound on Let Go. That doesn’t mean the tunes don’t rock: au contraire, mes amis. This is what a band sounds like when they’ve assessed their gifts and weaknesses, balanced them out, and delivered their very best.

THE RACONTEURS Broken Boy Soldiers [Third Man/V2-2006]
Jack White always had our respect, if not necessarily our admiration. That all changed when he teamed up with fellow Motor City singer/songwriter/guitarist Brendan Benson and the eminently talented Greenhornes rhythm section of Little Jack Lawrence (bass) and Patrick Keeler (drums) for one of the most anticipated pairings of the ‘00s. Like it or not, Broken Boy Soldiers answered the question, “What would the White Stripes sound like with a rhythm section carried by a real drummer?” (Sorry, Meg.)

RADIOHEAD Kid A [Parlophone-2000]
With a couple of classics under their belt, Radiohead once again surprised fans with a new musical direction on their next album. Disturbed by the legion of groups copping their style and disillusioned with the traditional parameters of rock music, vocalist and main songwriter Thom Yorke was motivated to go for a change of musical scenery. (Although, it must be said, "The mythology around [rock music] has run its course" is truly one of the most pretentious statements ever made by Yorke or any other rock star.)
Despite experimenting with an electronica-based sound, Kid A managed to retain much of the majesty of their previous album and undisputed landmark, OK Computer [Parlophone-1997], and reach the top of the album charts shortly after its release, later winning a Grammy for Best Alternative Album on the strength of "Everything in its Right Place", "The National Anthem", "How to Disappear Completely", "Treefingers", "Optimistic" and "In Limbo", among others.  

SUN KIL MOON Ghosts of the Great Highway [Caldo Verde-2003]
The debut album under the former Red House Painters frontman/main songwriter Mark Kozelek’s third moniker was universally acclaimed and for good reason. Nary a cover nor a duff track anywhere, Ghosts of the Great Highway is at times an acoustic elegy while also mining a Crazy Horse revisited terrain. Regardless, this is simply a hauntingly beautiful record by a talented artist who has been toiling in the not-so-bright spotlight while making some of the most timeless music of the last couple of decades.

MATTHEW SWEET Kimi Ga Suki [Superdeformed-2004]
Sweet and the land of the rising sun have conducted an equally requited love affair for some time now. So, four years after his previous official release, In Reverse
[Volcano-1999], Sweet got together with most of the crew from his landmark album Girlfriend [Zoo-1991]—except the late guitarist Robert Quine—returned to the studio and delivered this power-pop valentine to his Japanese fan base. Recorded in a week and produced, engineered and mixed at home by Sweet, Kimi Ga Suki is a raw, loose and wonderful showcase for the man’s plentiful songwriting talents.

TEARS FOR FEARS Everybody Loves a Happy Ending [New Door/Universal-2004]
With their classic panoramic production and a strong late-period Beatles influence in place, this album is nothing less than prime TFF. Granted, in an era of segregated musical tastes mainstream pop fans did not care and indie rock fans stayed away in droves. Which is a shame, since this is pop music of the highest caliber; written, performed and arranged with precise attention to detail but with enough kick to please pop purists and rockers alike. Nobody makes records like this anymore, but thankfully Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith made sure that at least one band still did.

VAN HALEN A Different Kind of Truth [Interscope-2012] 
After the Van Hagar era and the lone album with Gary Cherone, to expect a classic Van Halen record was nothing short of foolishness. That a damn good one appeared 14 years after the band’s last studio album and almost three decades since they’d parted ways with Diamond Dave was, well, as close to a miracle as anyone could aspire to, in this case.

THE WEBB BROTHERS Maroon [Warner Bros-2000]
Virtual unknowns here in their homeland—they got their first record deal in the UK and even snagged a slot at the Reading Festival—the Chicago-based sons of legendary songwriter Jimmy Webb haven’t had much commercial success in these United States. The critically lauded Maroon is undeserving of such neglect for, among other things, its catchy, sophisticated pop occasionally suggests a cross between Ben Folds and latter day Flaming Lips (especially on the last third of the album). Engaging and rewarding, Maroon may be just one more in a long line of hidden gems out there, but its dreadful commercial fate does not diminish its power and beauty one bit.

WILCO Yankee Hotel Foxtrot [Nonesuch-2002]
It’s been long enough that one can easily listen to the fourth Wilco album while forgetting all the inherent drama surrounding YHF. It also served, at the time, as the basis for an interesting thought experiment: What kinda record would Radiohead’s OK Computer have been if they’d hailed from the Midwest and had alt-country roots?

8/15/2015

Milestones: Sueño Stereo

SODA STEREO 
Sueño Stereo 
[BMG US Latin-1995] 

Despite what could be described as a cross between the dark yet accessible electronica of Depeche Mode’s Violator [Warner Bros-1988] and the panoramic soundscapes of U2’s Achtung, Baby [Island-1990], the band’s sixth studio album Dynamo [Sony-1992] failed to ignite the expected enthusiasm from either their fanbase or the rock en español crowd in general. (Lukewarm reception aside, the album is a shoegazer touchstone in Latin America.) 

But a worthwhile plateau had been reached: the use of a more modern and expansive palate had yielded significant musical dividends. And with the lessons learned—as well as the further groundwork laid by Amor Amarillo [BMG-1993], the solo debut album by frontman Gustavo Cerati—there would be plenty to work with next time out. 

Studio album number seven turned out to be their swan song, but what a way to go—electronica-treated, Beatlesque guitar pop, flawlessly performed, recorded and produced; a heady, spacey mix of 21st century rock and roll half a decade early, yet arriving not a moment too soon. (The album’s title translates as “stereo dream” and it couldn’t be more appropriate.) Not only the band’s best but one of the finest rock records ever recorded in Spanish. Released August 15, 1995.

Highlights: “Ella Uso Mi Cabeza Como Un Revolver”, “Disco Eterno”, “Zoom”, “Ojo de la Tormenta”, “Paseando por Roma”, “Planta”.

7/29/2015

Getting the Poison Out: The End of 'Californication'

Thanks to Netflix, and a year after everyone else—anyone who was still watching, that is—we’ve managed to settle the unfinished business we had with Californication, mainly to play catch up with seasons 6 and 7. As it turns out, unfinished business is one of the major themes of the final season. That and how increasingly over-the-top and devoid of much resemblance to reality the show had become. Let’s face it: there are ladies’ men and then there’s Hank Moody (David Duchovny). And no 40-something writer, no matter how attractive, gets that much ass for free. Sure, he has that self-destructive, bad boy streak than many women find irresistible but it’s just too much in this case. It’s almost as if your suspended disbelief has to pause and get its bearings.

Season 6 is a ridiculous rock and roll journey almost redeemed by the luminous Maggie Grace (‘Lost’) and a bonafide rock legend: Sex Pistol Steve Jones. But “almost” is the key word here since the plot lines are as atrocious as the bad accents and scenery chewing by most of the guest stars, not to mention the least accurate rock star-types seen this side of a Amish after school special. (The likely concoction of someone who quite possibly may have confused This is Spinal Tap with an actual documentary.) Oh, and Hank's best friend and agent Charlie (Evan Handler) pretends to be gay so he can sign gay clients. Yes, the results are disastrous and not as funny as anyone might’ve hoped. And Rob Lowe as Eddie Nero is exhausting and not in a good way. Whew.

Season 7, as we mentioned before, revolves largely around loose ends: the end result of one particular instance of Hank’s past sexual proclivities; Charlie and Marcy's (Pamela Adlon) marriage; and, of course, the on-again off again romance between Hank and Karen (Natascha McElhone). Their daughter Becca (Madeleine Martin), as always, represents the show’s emotional center and her appearances tend to imbue the proceedings with a bit of heft. But we don’t see much of her, since the show has veered too far off the silly end to employ Becca’s gravitas. Lowe as Nero makes a brief and unnecessary appearance but the guest star slot is redeemed by the return of Jones, as well as the welcome arrival of Michael Imperioli and Heather Graham. (The less said about her character's son Levon…)

Californication ends in a way that Hank Moody himself may have deemed lame: with a series of whimpering clichés that bear no relation to the lunacy of its previous episodes. As if someone in the show’s hierarchy finally had enough with the shenanigans and abruptly decided it was time to wrap it all up. Just like Hank, one assumes.