12/22/2013

2013: The Year in Review (sort of)

As has been the case over the last few years, we've been quite underwhelmed by the world of pop culture in general, so once again this wrap up is an abridged and personalized version of what we would normally put together at this point of the year. Basically, just a bunch of faves from the past 12 months. So, with that in mind, dig in and enjoy!


FAVORITE ALBUM

Minor Alps Get There [Barsuk]

Released on the last week of October, it showed up late but surely made up for it: the debut album from Minor Alps (aka soft-singing superduo Juliana Hatfield and Nada Surf's Matthew Caws) is a textbook singer/songwriter album for the 21st century: rooted in classic songwriting but imbued with the breezy irreverence of a new era. More please.




Runner up:
David Bowie The Next Day [Columbia]

Took him for granted, eh? The Next Day reminded us all why we should never do such a thing. Quite possibly the best thing to come out all year. (Hated the album cover, tho. Ugh.)



BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

My Bloody Valentine mbv [self-released]

Definitely not worth a 22 year wait, but probably not worth a 2 year wait, either.


Runner up:

Todd Rundgren State [Esoteric]

In what can only be described as an effort to further destroy his recording career by seemingly rescuing the remnants of a discarded electronica record circa 1989, Rundgren confirms he has lost the plot. And the bitter irony of a legendary producer making records that sound like cheesy demos is almost too much to bear.



FAVORITE SINGLE

Nataly Dawn "How I Met Her" [Nonesuch]

Unfortunately, for the most part, Dawn's engaging voice, well-crafted songs, and wistful Americana lack the necessary pull to drag themselves up from their frequent preciousness and occasional forced quirkiness, which is her solo debut album's biggest hindrance.


Oh, but that title track is nothing short of wonderful and arguably, the best constructed piece of pop music released in 2013. Stellar.




FAVORITE NEW MUSIC (from new artists)
Bipolar Sunshine "Fire" from the Aesthetics EP [Polydor]
Chance the Rapper "Juice" from the album Acid Rap [self-released]
Coasts "Oceans" from the Paradise EP [Tidal]
Lapland -self-titled- [Hundred Pockets]
Wolf Alice "Fluffy" [Dirty Hit]


LEAST FAVORITE OBJECT OF HYPE

Haim

Three 20-something L.A. sisters grow up playing playing street fairs in a band with Mom and Dad. As teenagers 2 of the 3 are in an all-girl band that signs with a major label. When that runs its course, they incorporate their youngest sibling, established/famous people see them play (Julian Casablancas, Jenny Lewis), sign with Jay-Z, potty mouth/filter-lacking older sister makes for good copy ("Bass face"), and...voilá.


That "origin story" is a whole lot more interesting than Haim's music, which resembles somewhat plastic late '80s/early 90s radio-friendly R&B, but has been repeatedly compared to Fleetwood Mac (!!!) by a plethora of so-called music journalists. (Who, btw, are the people Frank Zappa was referring to in his legendary quote: "Most rock journalism is people who can't write, interviewing people who can't talk, for people who can't read." Amen.)


Haim : Music :: Girls (HBO show) : TV



FAVORITE REISSUE

In Utero: 20th Anniversay Edition [DGC]



The main criteria from the fan P.O.V. remains the same for In Utero as any other reissue: Do you love this album enough to repurchase it, along with the extras included in an expanded version? Nirvana’s studio epitaph probably doesn't need an invitation to your collection, one way or another, but the 2013 Albini mixes alone could be reason enough to re-evaluate the album, or at least judge it in a slightly different light.


FAVORITE CONCERT MOVIE

Jane's Addiction Live in NYC [UMe]



The album version of Live in NYC [Universal] can reasonably hold the listener's attention on its own, but the DVD of the proceedings is as close to a rock and roll circus as we've seen in ages. Or at least, one big awesome party.


STRANGEST BULLSHIT MUSIC BUSINESS DOUBLE STANDARD

Nataly Dawn dissed for not staying on the cheeseball route

Dawn is best known as half of YouTube sensation Pomplamoose--along with fellow multi-instrumentalist Jack Conte--whose claim to fame is funny, classic pop covers of Top 40 hits. Yet her solo debut, How I Met Her [Nonesuch] is a lush collection of singer/songwriter Americana which earned mixed reviews and a Spin magazine "Worst New Music" designation, despite fitting the profile of the type of album that passes for a critical favorite these days. Of course, critical faves tend to be measured by the music and/or the artist's relationship with a certain degree of authenticity and Dawn's viral past hinders that authenticity in the eyes and ears of quite a few reviewers. The same flip-flopping folks who deem it "rockist" to evaluate popular music artists by this standard, mind you.


Something was definitely fishy here. We asked ourselves why the folks at Spin and other like-minded critics weren't eating up Dawn's record? We thought about it for a minute and shortly thereafter arrived at a 'Eureka!' moment.


It seems as if fellow critics' main beef with Dawn and her album is that instead of following her band's cute Lady GaGa and Beyonce covers and going the Carmin route--gimmicky covers on YouTube leading to a trashy Black Eyed Peas/Top 40-type career--Dawn decided to cash in her viral chips as an earnest singer/songwrit­er instead of the abominable cheesy musical theatre geeks fascinated with lowest common denominator hip hop and auto tuned bullshit that is Carmin.


Truth is, if this album had been made by someone plucked out of obscurity and without the stigma of internet inauthenticity, Spin and Pitchfork would be all over it. But they want their viral sensations to stay in their place and continue being their pet monkeys; never attempt to rise above anything Bieber-esque. It's like a perverse variation on the indie rock elitism of not liking an artist as soon as they become popular. And it stinks.



UNFORTUNATE MUSIC BUSINESS TREND

Digital sales are down 2.4% and sales at both chain stores and independents have suffered a 17% drop, as well.


FAVORITE DEVELOPMENT TO LOOK FORWARD TO IN 2014

Jack White announced the release of a new Raconteurs album.


GOODBYE

The Divinyls' Christina Amphlett; Soft Machine’s Kevin Ayers; original Yes guitarist Peter Banks; singer Bobby “Blue” Bland; Trevor Bolder, bassist for Uriah Heep, Wishbone Ash and David Bowie’s Spiders from Mars; former Iron Maiden drummer Clive BurrBenjamin Curtis, original guitarist for The Secret Machines; jazz great Donald Byrd; singer/songwriter JJ Cale; Chi Cheng, Deftones bassist; Joey Covington, drummer for Jefferson Airplane; jazz keyboardist and Frank Zappa sideman George Duke; Slayer guitarist Jeff Hanneman; singer/songwriter Richie Havens; original Let's Active bassist Faye Hunter; producer/engineer Andy Johns; country legend George Jones; Blue Oyster Cult founding guitarist/keyboardist Allen Lanier; Ten Years After’s Alvin Lee; producer and Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek; Devo drummer Alan Myers; The Troggs’ vocalist Reg Presley; producer Phil Ramone; the one and only Lou Reed; Tonight Show drummer Ed Shaughnessy; singer/guitarist Tony Sheridan, who gave The Beatles their start as his backing band; Stan Tracey, “godfather of British jazz”.

12/03/2013

Old Geeks, New Records

The question of relevance, when it comes to a veteran rock outfit is, no doubt, a thorny proposition to ponder. But it comes into sharp focus when said act has been out of the public eye for years, or even decades. One thing is certain, tho: whatever argument in favor of a return is certainly hindered if there really isn’t an audience anticipating the artist’s most recent offerings.

As opposed to the return of The Pixies and My Bloody Valentine—the former getting a tad burned by the recent release of an EP of new material, which follows a sold out reunion tour and subsequent, enthusiastically recieved live jaunts; the latter releasing their first album in 22 years to much praise—seminal hardcore band Black Flag and ‘70s AOR stalwarts Boston—polar opposites if ever, despite their respective leaders being tech geeks who didn’t see a place for themselves in the mid ‘70s rock and roll landscape—have endured much in the way of discord and indifference, respectively, of late. Black Flag’s first album of new material in 28 years seems to exist in a sort of nebulous area: although not a return to form, it's definitely not an embarrassment a la The Weirdness (c’mon, Iggy!) but not exactly vital, either. It doesn’t suck and Black Flag fans should not avoid it, is probably the most accurate if not entirely charitable synopsis. (Vocalist Ron Reyes does kick ass throughout the proceedings.) 

 
Longtime Boston vocalist Brad Delp committed suicide in March of 2007. Aside from guitarist Tom Scholz’s layered guitar sound Delp was the band’s single most identifiable sonic asset, and some might argue its best. Unfortunately, his posthumous appearance on Life, Love & Hope is wasted on tepid, badly produced material that would’ve sounded dated 20 years ago and could only be of interest to Boston completists. Eventually, even the most talented of athletes have to retire, their bodies no longer responding to the challenges of their chosen profession. Musicians don’t have that obstacle but sometimes, as Boston’s new album particularly proves, it might be a good thing if they had some sort of equivalent. 

11/28/2013

Kinder, Gentler Rogue Policeman

ANDY SUMMERS
Mysterious Barricades
[Private Music-1988]

Whether he was pursuing a variety of musical tangents out of artistic restlessness or found himself adrift after the breakup of the Police and tried the ‘let’s see what sticks’ approach, Summers’ solo output over the last 30 years has wandered from pop-rock, avant-garde guitar duets with Robert Fripp, new age, modern jazz, Brazilian classics and back to pop-rock again.

But his first time out as a solo instrumentalist, Summers went down a new age road, going as far as signing with Private Music, a label founded by Peter Baumann of Tangerine Dream, and one of the subgenre’s premiere record companies. Mysterious Barricades bears some similarities to Summers’ first collaboration with Fripp, I Advance Masked [A&M-1982]—particularly on “Shining Sea” and “Emperor’s Last Straw”—but from the moment the gentle, peaceful guitars and synths of lead-off track “Red Balloons” make their presence felt, it’s clear this is a less angular, more relaxing endeavor than those alongside the legendary King Crimson guitarist.

Definitely a late night record and an ideal soundtrack to surrendering to Morpheus; and yes, that was a compliment.

Highlights: the aforementioned “Red Balloon”, “Shining Sea” and “Emperor’s Last Straw”; "The Lost Marbles", and the title track.

11/19/2013

We Need More Ambitious Lovers

With a staggering resumé well-known to those versed in New York’s downtown music scene of the ‘70s and ‘80s—which includes DNA, The Golden Palominos, and The Lounge Lizards—“skronk” guitarist Arto Lindsay formed Ambitious Lovers with keyboardist and long-time collaborator Peter Scherer in the mid ‘80s. 

Although much more pop and radio-friendly than anything in Lindsay’s past, the Lovers’ hybrid of funk, new wave and Brazilian music (Lindsay often sang in Portuguese) never took off with mainstream audiences despite being under the auspices a major label. And, sadly, the band’s plan to name each album after the seven deadly sins stalled at three—Envy [Virgin-1984], Greed [Virgin-1988] and Lust [Elektra-1991]—with the Lovers' breakup. 

In keeping with their origins, Ambitious Lovers often featured fellow New York-based musicians Joey Baron, Bill Frisell, Melvin Gibbs, Vernon Reid, Marc Ribot and Nile Rogers, among others. These days, Lindsay maintains an active career as a solo artist, collaborator, producer (particularly in Brazil: Carlinhos BrownAdriana Calcanhotto, Vinicius CantuáriaGal CostaMarisa MonteCaetano Veloso, and Tom Zé are some of the artists he's produced) and often working with Scherer on various projects.


This particular tune, "It Only Has To Happen Once", is an old favorite from the Greed album. 

11/13/2013

It Meant a Lot

KEITH RICHARDS
Talk is Cheap
[Virgin-1988]

After refraining from going on the road for Undercover [Rolling Stones/Columbia-1984] The Stones decided to also not tour behind Dirty Work [Rolling Stones/Columbia-1986], exacerbating the growing rift between Mick and Keith, the former investing much of his time in a burgeoning solo career, of which She’s The Boss [Columbia-1985] was the first salvo. Meanwhile, Jagger had not played guitar on Dirty Work—first time that had not happened since Sticky Fingers [Rolling Stones/Atlantic-1971]; various drummers filled in for Charlie Watts on the album, since he was badly addicted to heroin and alcohol at the time (which was Jagger’s reason to veto a tour in support of the album); and long-time road manager and occasional keyboardist Ian Stewart passed away shortly after Dirty Work was completed. In other words, the Stones were in shambles. So, Keef ended up doing the one thing he’d no interest in ever doing: going solo himself. 


Assisted by multi-instrumentalist/producer Steve Jordan—who’d played drums on Dirty Work and been the drummer in the band Keef put together for the Chuck Berry tribute Hail! Hail! Rock and Roll!—Keef wrote some songs, put together a band called The X-pensive Winos (Waddy Wachtel--guitar, Ivan Neville--keyboards, Charley Drayton--bass and Jordan on drums), signed a deal with Virgin Records and released his solo debut, Talk is Cheap, in early October of 1988. 


Top 25 in the UK, Top 40 in the US, Talk is Cheap got positive reviews and was jokingly referred to as the best Stones record in a while. But the record itself was no joke: among the highlights, leadoff single “Take it So Hard” was classic Keef; “Make No Mistake” a tasty soul ballad; and “How I Wish” is quintessential latter-day Stones at their best. Maybe it was for the best that Mick and Keith went their separate ways for a bit. Nah, strike that: it was for the best; no ifs, ands or buts.

From Genesis to Non Revelations

GENESIS
self-titled
[Atlantic-1983]

We tend to cover album milestones with a certain frequency here. Whether it’s an iconic album, a personal favorite, or both, we’re no strangers to commemorating the anniversaries of records that matter to us. This time we’re going to make an exception and focus on an album that does not meet the above criteria but is worthy of our analysis, nonetheless.


Generally speaking, self-titled albums tend to be debuts. And when they're not, there is a tendency to dig a bit deeper into this particular significance, often ascribing an artist defining, statement-of-purpose label to the decision behind not naming the release. And while there are surely instances of that to be found—'a scattered, sprawling and indulgent piece of work, by a lethargic, yet often brilliant quartet which no longer operates as a unit', seems to be the message behind the nomenclature of The Beatles’ self-titled release aka ‘The White Album’—more often than not, the self-titling of an album, deep into an artist’s career, has no real significance.

In this particular case, the decision to self-title was based on writing the songs as a unit, a valid yet uncommon reason for not naming an album, but then again, these gentlemen used to be bandmates with someone who had a very interesting take on all of this: Peter Gabriel decided his solo albums would all be self-titled; like issues of a magazine, he likened it to. Until his record company put a see thru sticker of his fourth and called it Security [Geffen-1982], Gabriel had managed a trifecta of self-titled albums. That he called his three following albums So [Geffen-1986], Us [Geffen-1992] and Up [Geffen-2002], respectively, probably says more than he wanted to let on about his views on naming albums, but we digress.

Gabriel’s influence pops up on Genesis in the form of leadoff track and first single “Mama”, which harkens back to Gabriel’s third album [Mercury-1980], on which Phil Collins played drums, and which later influenced his own “In the Air Tonight”. The band’s most successful UK single—which contains a maniacal laugh by Collins, inspired by Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five’s hip-hop classic “The Message”, making the song a doozy of a trivia game answer—"Mama" opens the album seemingly implying a more direct return to the band’s art rock roots. No dice.

“Mama” is a ruse; Genesis is the album that marks their official delving into the straight up pop music sweepstakes and the unforgivable “Illegal Alien” is part of that Faustian development. Yeah, towards the end of the album they take a stab at such prog-leaning, Duke [Atlantic-1980] and/or Abacab [Atlantic-1981] approved fare with “Silver Rainbow” and “It’s Gonna Get Better”, but by then the damage has been done.

Genesis is the last of the band’s transitional albums before they unofficially became The Phil Collins Show, which is oddly fitting for a self-titled album, but there you go.

10/31/2013

Tribute or Rip-off: 10 Songs that Sound Like Someone Else

The recent Robin Thicke vs. the estate of Marvin Gaye debacle has left a bad taste with plenty of music fans and reminded plenty of folks of the blatant similarities—intentional or not—between numerous songs released over the years. With this list we’re not gonna concentrate on, say, two metal bands with individual songs that sound suspiciously alike or artists who’ve based their careers on sounding like another artist, but with artists aping the sound/style/vibe of another artist as a one-off and not plagiarizing an actual song. Here we go, in alphabetical order by artist:

1. AMERICA “Horse with No Name”
Man, did these guys get grief for allegedly ripping off Neil Young back when this song was released as their debut single in 1972. To add insult to injury, it replaced Young’s “Heart of Gold” atop the charts in the US. But America have never shunned from admitting the song was indeed inspired by Young, even though the backlash was quite harsh at the time. Pretty sure the royalties from this one—it’s their biggest single—helped ease that quite a bit, tho.

2. BEATLES “Two of Us”
Even a highly original act has influential sources they swear by. According to the late Ian MacDonad in his Beatles chronology Revolution in the Head, John and Paul spontaneously broke into the Everly Brothers’ “Bye Bye Love” after running thru this one in the studio.
  
3. BECK “Debra”
Mr. Hansen has disowned this one in recent years, but his sonic emulation of a certain purple monarch was reportedly the highlight of many of his late ‘90s set lists.

4. FOO FIGHTERS “Wheels”
He’s admitted to being a fan, played drums with him on SNL, and begrudgingly turned him down to join the Heartbreakers to start the Foos, so the fact that Dave Grohl wrote a song in the same vein as a Tom Petty tune should surprise no one.

5. JELLYFISH “Joining a Fanclub”
The late great San Francisco quartet recorded some classic yet distinctive power pop on their 1990 debut album. But their influences really came to the foreground the second time out, especially on this track, which would not be out of place on a mid-‘70s Queen album.

6. SIMPLE MINDS “Don’t You Forget About Me”
Back in 1985, EVERYONE thought this was Billy Idol when they first heard the song that broke Simple Minds in the US, courtesy of the John Hughes teen flick, The Breakfast Club. Truth be told, it was offered to Mr. Sneer first, who promptly turned it down.

7. THE STROKES “12:51”
Somebody reeeeeaaaaaaally likes that first Cars album, huh?

8. SUGAR “A Good Idea”
Even tho it’s still news to fans of both artists—even at this late date—it’s a fact that Bob Mould always envisioned what has become, arguably, the most popular track of his post-Hüsker Dü career to be a Pixies tribute. And not just the music and the arrangement, but the lyrics, too. Of course, Black Francis and co. were big Hüsker Dü fans, so this one brings it around full circle.

9. WEEN “Freedom of ‘76”
Did the boys from New Hope, PA pay tribute to Prince or the classic Philly ‘70s soul they both grew up with on this track? We’ll let you decide.

10. WILCO “Heavy Metal Drummer”
According to Ira Robbins’ Trouser Press Guide, "aping Pavement [on this song] is an amusing but worthless parlor trick”. Maybe. Cool tune, tho.

10/20/2013

Like That Roberta Flack/Donny Hathaway Song

In our '00s recap we put together a list of bands who'd broken up during that decade, as well as a solo artist who'd retired. As of late 2013, a third of 'em have returned. (Although one of 'em was a one-off.) Which ones do you see coming back?

Ryan Adams *
Armor For Sleep
At the Drive-In ^
Audioslave
The Dismemberment Plan *
Ben Folds Five *
Freeloader
Guided by Voices *
The Mayfield Four
Ministry *
Oasis
Red House Painters
The Rollins Band
Run-DMC
12 Rods
Violent Femmes
XTC
Zwan

* reunited
^ one-off reunion

10/17/2013

Never Had Anything to do with Kansas


TOTO
self-titled
[Columbia-1978]

This week was the 35th anniversary of the release of Toto's self-titled debut, which has always come across as the one piece of anti-schlock in the band's catalog, particularly during their commercial heyday. Well, nothing like revisiting an album decades later and having hindsight crush any possible positive re-encounter you may have had in mind. Weak prog flourishes, under-cooked yacht rock, and stylistically all over the place, the album is redeemed by one bonafide classic: "Hold the Line", which was inexplicably buried deep into Side 2 as Toto's penultimate track. Huh?

Toto hasn't aged badly production-wise, but its scattershot, lowest common denominator approach to songwriting--which, with one exception is all the work of keyboardist David Paich--is exactly what one would expect from a bunch of '70s session musicians accustomed to playing on a plethora of commercially successful records. Then it got bigger and worse. But that's a story for an other day.

9/26/2013

Milk It

NIRVANA 
In Utero: 20th Anniversary Edition
[DGC-2013]

It’s a bittersweet irony that the 20th anniversary edition of In Utero was released on another anniversary: that of its predecessor, the album which made Kurt Cobain a household name and In Utero was seemingly a reaction against. The latter meme has been bandied about for decades and a song itself (“Radio Friendly Unit Shifter”) has been cited as the torchbearer for Cobain’s disdain for Nevermind [DGC-1991]. But in the end the gambit backfired: In Utero has never eclipsed Nevermind in any way, shape or form, and despite being the final studio album by the most significant rock band of the ‘90s, it has largely receded to background status, barely eclipsing Bleach [Sub Pop-1989] in that regard. Its best songs remain powerful, yet rarely heard these days (“Serve the Servants”, “Heart Shaped Box”, the aforementioned “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter”) and its two most enduring tunes (“Pennyroyal Tea” and the sadly, beautiful “All Apologies”) live on in their stripped down versions from the band’s live MTV Unplugged album instead. Nirvana never did become The Jesus Lizard 2.0, either.

If there’s one thing accomplished by this expanded 20th anniversary edition—which includes the album’s original mix, a 2013 mix, and assorted b-sides, outtakes, demos—it’s to shine a light on how finely tuned a microscope there was on Nirvana at this point in the band’s career. The infamous original mixes by producer Steve Albini for singles “Heart Shaped Box” and “All Apologies” (which garnered so much animosity and controversy between the various factions involved, not to mention feeding the press’ obsessive appetite for all things Nirvana in the wake of Nevermind), are not that far off from Scott Litt’s later mixes. The Albini mix for  “All Apologies” has louder, slightly more nuanced guitars. That’s it.

As for the reissue itself, the main criteria from the fan P.O.V. remains the same for In Utero as any other: Do you love this album enough to repurchase it, along with the extras included in an expanded version? Nirvana’s studio epitaph probably deserves better than a blunt, plain invitation to your collection—the 2013 Albini mixes could be reason enough to re-evaluate In Utero, or at least judge it in a slightly different light—but if its creator’s intent was to alienate and distance ourselves from his last batch of songs, simply because we were partial to the ones which came right before it, we should, at the very least, contemplate honoring his last musical request.

9/17/2013

Their Aim Is True

ELVIS COSTELLO & THE ROOTS
Wise Up Ghost
[Blue Note-2013]

As he pushes 60, it’s obvious to even the most casual of observers, punk’s literate Angry Young Man has mellowed considerably over the years. But Elvis Costello’s penchant for placing himself in different and sometimes disparate settings from his own has been a constant throughout his career: from the album of country covers Almost Blue [Columbia-1981] to his collaborations with The Brodsky String Quartet and Burt Bacharach, respectively, the former Declan McManus likes to mix it up, as it were.

And when you couple that with the rare music geek/musician combo that is Roots leader ?uestlove, and release your efforts on the legendary Blue Note label for that extra bit of hip cachet, this is the kind of joint venture that should’ve gone down ages ago, just for the marketing orgasm alone. But don’t believe the hype. Not most of it anyway.

Wise Up Ghost is the proverbial mix of chocolate and peanut butter making a valiant attempt at reaching for Reese’s Pieces glory and only intermittently getting there. (“Viceroy’s Row” might be the perfect distillation of their respective talents.) Both sides rise to the occasion for the most part, but it works best when Costello pushes The Roots closer to his corner, as opposed to the instances where he seems a bit lost, as if he recognizes the buildings but not the neighborhood.

9/09/2013

Here Comes Your Band

THE PIXIES
EP-1
[self-released-2013]
 
It was probably not necessary to time the backlash against the Pixies—once the dudes put out an official release sans bassist/vocalist Kim Deal—who quit the band in the midst of the sessions for this EP and made it formal this past June—the knives would be sure to come out. Maybe an egg timer would've sufficed.

First in line is—who else?—Pitchfork with their 1.0 review, which declares “There is no Pixies in this Pixies” and derisively aligns the song “Another Toe in the Ocean” with Weezer circa their self-titled 2001 comeback record aka The Green Album. (How the mighty have fallen: not even Weezer can escape the wrath of P4K’s bullshit revisionist history.) “If one of these songs had started playing over the credits of an American Pie knockoff...you would not blink.” Who barfed in your Fruit Loops, dude?

To be fair, the first three songs on EP-1 (“Andro Queen”, the aforementioned “Another Toe in the Ocean” and “Indie Cindy”) might be a tad more Frank Black and the Catholics than the mothership. Which is all the more surprising since it was helmed by none other than Gil Norton, who produced Doolittle, Bossanova and Trompe le Monde for the band. But the fourth and closing track, “What Goes Boom”, is what you’d expect from Charlie Thompson and his co-horts at this stage of the game: a nod at their past that’s not too reverential but nevertheless makes a point of reminding you what in fact you’re listening to.

So, is it a classic? Of course not. But it’s no embarrassment. And even though EP-1 is the band’s first official release of a new collection of songs since 1991, expectations aren’t as high as those faced by MBV, another beloved alt-rock institution which also hadn’t put out anything official since Nevermind

The Pixies are back as a regular recording unit, and if the nomenclature of this EP is any indication, there will be more where this one came from. Bottom line: Can’t see Pixies fans not enjoying this. Unless they’re a self-absorbed, Johnny-come-lately twit at an influential but ultimately harmful, noxious music website. All others proceed at will.

Subterranean Homesick Aliens










RADIOHEAD
Pablo Honey [Parlophone-1993]
The Bends [Parlophone-1995]
OK Computer [Parlophone-1997]
Kid A [Parlophone-2000]
Amnesiac [Parlophone-2001]
Hail to the Thief [Parlophone-2003]
In Rainbows [ATO-2007]
The King of Limbs [ATO-2011]

On September 13th, 1993, comedian Conan O'Brien made ​​his debut as host of Late Night with Conan O'Brien. As it turned out, his first musical guest was a British quintet from Oxford named after a Talking Heads song, with a growing buzz and whose debut album had been released in February of that same year.

It's not surprising, given what has transpired since Feb. 22, 1993, that the band's latter day fanbase would shun a debut album which led the object of their undying and unwavering obsession to be nicknamed "the British Nirvana"the record was produced by the renown "grunge" team of Sean Slade and Paul Q. Kolderie, of Pixies and Hole fameand was named after a Jerky Boys skit. (Of course this tidbit is somewhat shocking proof that the Oxford quintet once had a sense of humor.) But rather than a skeleton in their proverbial closet the band's uneven initial long player has its moments, including "You", "Anyone Can Play Guitar", "Ripcord", "I Can't" and–-to Thom Yorke's everlasting chagrin, we imagine–-their most famous song: the anthem of self loathing known as "Creep".
Although Pablo Honey held the title of Radiohead's weakest album until The King of Limbs showed up and blew it out of the water 2 years ago, it's not the filler-laden dud many would lead you to believe. In reality, it's always been a snapshot of a young band with a few decent songs attempting to find its footing. That their songwriting grew in leaps and bounds over the following two albums has sharply overshadowed Pablo Honey's simple charms in the two decades since its release. (Even Jonny Greenwood believes it's been underrated.) At the very least, it hints at what was to come just two years later.

If for some reason Radiohead had called it quits after Pablo Honey, "Creep" would have been its lone claim to fame; their legacy a "one hit wonder" label forever affixed besides their name. Fortunately, this was not the case. What followed was an amazing album, a remarkable leap in terms of songwriting and production and, arguably, the blueprint for '90s Brit-pop. Produced by the great John Leckie (Stone Roses, XTC ) and engineered by Nigel Godrichthe latter to become a close associate and collaborator of the band in the years to comeThe Bends elevated Radiohead's status via five singles"High and Dry", "Planet Telex", "Fake Plastic Trees", "Just" and "Street Spirit (Fade Out)"as well as album tracks that became favorites ("Bullet Proof ... I Wish I Was" and the title track). In fact, Cast, Coldplay, Travis and a host of others should cough up royalties to Radiohead, grateful for having created this record. But the band's big musical statement was just around the corner.

 What else can be said about OK Computer that has not been repeated ad nauseum in the more than decade and a half since it was released? That it's an incredibly visionary album in which Radiohead further pushed their own musical boundaries? That not only is it one of the great albums of the '90s but of all time? That it was Dark Side of the Moon for a new generation? That producing it established Nigel Godrich's career? All that and more has been written and discussed about this great album that managed to presciently capture the empty feeling of the crushing daily routine, rampant consumerism, political disenchantment, and social and emotional alienation that marked Western life in the beginning of the 21st century.
Only three singles were released from the album: "Paranoid Android", "Karma Police" and "No Surprises". But despite the high caliber of these songs, OK Computer works best as a concept album, though it wasn't formally conceived as such. 

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 Tom 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 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.  

Amnesiac, meanwhile, is on the same wavelength as the previous album and was recorded during the same sessions as Kid A. But lacking similar presence, not to mention the same kind of impact as Kid A and taking into account that were recorded at the same time, it's not difficult to conclude that Amnesiac is a weaker, watered down version of Kid A, despite notable tracks as "Pyramid Song", "I Might Be Wrong" and "Knives Out".
  
The initial burst of faux studio verité–-a guitar being plugged into an ampmay well be an inside joke, signaling to Radiohead fans that the quintessential rock and roll instrument–-and a big part of the band’s early soundwas back to the fore. But the fact that the very next sound is an anxious, programmed beat is what’s most telling: the promised return to The Bends-era guitar play was not to be this time out. However, the beloved six-string is featured more prominently than on the previous two releases and ultimately lets Hail To The Thief come across as a more conventional recordfor Radiohead, anywaythan either Kid A or Amnesiac. This isn’t a dig: in fact, the songwriting and arranging are both close to the same level of artistry found on their masterpiece OK Computer, with Hail To The Thief including some of their very best work (“2+2=5”, “Sail To The Moon”, “Go To Sleep”,“There, There”, “A Punch-up at a Wedding”). This is the work of a band trying to find a compromise between classic songwriting and progressive/avant-garde experimentation; struggling between being true to the muse and not alienating and leaving its loyal fans behind. In lesser hands, this could spell death to a promising career. But Radiohead succeeds here way more often than not, and in the end that’s what makes this album such a wonderful listening experience: a love/hate relationship between man and machine that humbles one and humanizes the other. And we get to sit back and enjoy it.

After the expiration of their recording contract with EMI, Radiohead chose to release their next album on their own and let the public decide how much they would pay
–including nothing, if they so chosefor the digital download of this new album. This unleashed a whirlwind of opinions for and against from every conceivable corner of the music business: established and aspiring artists, critics and marketers, insiders and fans, etc. etc. etc. All this chatter eventually overshadowed the album itself, the brilliant In Rainbows

Kicking it off at a satisfying intensity level with the skittish, electronic Aphex Twin-influenced intro of “15 Step” and the krautrock-meets-Sonic Youth drive of “Bodysnatchers”, Radiohead’s heavily anticipated seventh studio album revels in moods and more often than not fails to return to the driving pulse which it starts off with. Sometimes it manages to do both. And the breathtaking, “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” is a wonderful example. Further on, the haunting “All I Need”, with its hints of Massive Attacklike flourishes is probably the most straightforward Radiohead song since “Karma Police”. And yes, it’s a love song. ("House of Cards" is another highlight.) As for the rather uncharacteristic album title, the music certainly evokes the mood and peacefulness that comes with that calming celestial bridge of colors.

Because of its mostly abstract and static nature, The King of Limbs sparked polarizing reactions at the time of it release. A few critics and some fans alike considered it a throwback to the less interesting aspects of Radiohead's heavily electronic incursions, while others found it to be both beautiful and inspiring. Notwithstanding the divergent views, The King of Limbs sold respectably and was nominated for five Grammy Awards.

8/26/2013

Not Ready for Prime Time...maybe

One of the more frustrating—or liberating, depending on your perspective—aspects of the music business is the lack of absolutes. Many people will give you their theories, artists will retell the story of how they established themselves, and plenty of folks out there will sell you allegedly sure fire methods and techniques that practically guarantee success—we wrote about those scam artists here a while back—but the truth is, there is no sure way to get to the musical promised land. And then there are the precursors to 'American Idol': industry professionals who will bluntly analyze the commercial prospects of your music. For a fee, of course.

Mike McCready—not the Pearl Jam guitarist of the same name, btw—heads up one of these services. Music Xray purports to go a step further than similar services and function as a ground zero for artists wanting to be heard, industry pros looking for the next big thing, and fans searching for “music and talent targeted to their taste”. Sounds pretty cool, huh? Sure, but inevitably there will be gripes. And McCready recently addressed one of these in a blog post. He started off by quoting music artists in the abstract.

“For generations musicians have been saying, ‘If only I could get heard by the right people… I know they would love my music. I know they would see my talent'.”

McCready then went on to state that sometimes when given access to a level playing field, which his service ostensibly offers, artists often discover they’re not good enough for the big time. He then goess into an e-mail exchange with a dissatisfied Music Xray user who believes she’s wasted her money on the service. McCready responds in a respectful, professional manner that while she’s got “talent and a fantastic voice”, she’s not exactly ready for prime time. He wraps up his response by informing the artist in question that the couple of hundred bucks she spent on Music Xray was of “tremendous value” since for that measly amount she has learned her “music currently is not appropriate for the music industry.” McCready adds that it’s rough out there and that “if you want to be signed to Atlantic Records you’d better be in the same league as Bruno Mars.”

Just like we were probably the only ones on Earth who did not dislike Simon Cowell as a harsh 'American Idol' judge—they’re looking for the next Mariah Carey over there; if that’s not you, then you best skip 'AI' and its brethren, no matter what your friends tell you on Karaoke Night—we don’t really have a beef with McCready’s views. Furthermore, we  understand the type of service that McCready’s company offers and we're  sure it can be a valuable one. After all, it is quite possible that this artist has little commercial viability and that Mr. McCready’s assessment and that of his colleagues is correct. But, lest we forget, it was industry professionals who said guitar music was on its way out and rejected The Beatles; and industry professionals would surely reject, say, Robert Smith of The Cure if he were to appear as a contestant on one of today’s talent shows. (The number of artists who were rejected multiple times but were later signed on the strength of the same demo is legendary.)

Music Xray and its ilk thrive on artists' misapplied approach behind his initial quote above. Yes, artists hoping and trying to be discovered have all believed that reaching the right people is the first step to their success. However, “the right people” should be potential fans of your music not “suits”. Especially now that record companies want even more of their fingers in the artist's revenue pie and reaching potential fans on your own is easier than ever before.

Anyone who speaks the truth or has any common sense knows there is no silver bullet to achieve success and/or establish yourself in the music business. But perhaps the disgruntled Music Xray customer McCready quotes was better off spending her money trying to reach potential fans and not the approval of middlemen. (Hire a PR person; buy some online ads; hell, bribe an unscrupulous but popular music blogger...Malcolm X that shit.) At least that way she’d know for sure if the public likes her music or not. And whatever qualms Atlantic Records may have now, if people flock to her on her own in significant numbers, they’ll come calling. Even if she’s not as polished as Bruno Mars.

8/25/2013

Not Ready for Prime Time...maybe

One of the more frustrating—or liberating, depending on your perspective—aspects of the music business is the lack of absolutes. Many people will give you their theories, artists will retell the story of how they established themselves, and plenty of folks out there will sell you allegedly sure fire methods and techniques that practically guarantee success—we wrote about those scam artists here a while back—but the truth is, there is no sure way to get to the musical promised land. And then there are the precursors to 'American Idol': industry professionals who will bluntly analyze the commercial prospects of your music. For a fee, of course.

Mike McCready—not the Pearl Jam guitarist of the same name, btw—heads up one of these services. Music Xray, purports to go a step further than similar services and function as a ground zero for artists wanting to be heard, industry pros looking for the next big thing, and fans searching for “music and talent targeted to their taste”. Sounds pretty cool, huh? Sure, but inevitably there will be gripes. And McCready recently addressed one of these in a blog post. He started off by quoting music artists in the abstract.

“For generations musicians have been saying, ‘If only I could get heard by the right people… I know they would love my music. I know they would see my talent'.” 

 McCready then went on to state that sometimes when given access to a level playing field, which his service ostensibly offers, artists often discover they’re not good enough for the big time. He then goess into an e-mail exchange with a dissatisfied Music Xray user who believes she’s wasted her money on the service. McCready responds in a respectful, professional manner that while she’s got “talent and a fantastic voice”, she’s not exactly ready for prime time. He wraps up his response by informing the artist in question that the couple of hundred bucks she spent on Music Xray was of “tremendous value” since for that measly amount she has learned her “music currently is not appropriate for the music industry.” McCready adds that it’s rough out there and that “if you want to be signed to Atlantic Records you’d better be in the same league as Bruno Mars.”

 Just like we were probably the only one on Earth who did not dislike Simon Cowell as a harsh 'American Idol' judge—they’re looking for the next Mariah Carey over there; if that’s not you, then you best skip 'AI' and its brethren, no matter what your friends tell you on Karaoke Night—I don’t really have a beef with McCready’s views. Furthermore, I understand the type of service that McCready’s company offers and I’m sure it can be a valuable one. After all, it is quite possible that this artist has little commercial viability and that Mr. McCready’s assessment and that of his colleagues is correct.

But, lest we forget, it was industry professionals who said guitar music was on its way out and rejected The Beatles; and industry professionals would surely reject, say, Robert Smith of The Cure if he were to appear as a contestant on one of today’s talent shows. (The number of artists who were rejected multiple times but were later signed on the strength of the same demo is legendary.) Music Xray and its ilk thrive on artists' misapplied approach behind his initial quote above. Yes, artists hoping and trying to be discovered have all believed that reaching the right people is the first step to their success.

However, “the right people” should be potential fans of your music not “suits”. Especially now that record companies want even more of their fingers in the artist's revenue pie and reaching potential fans on your own is easier than ever before. Anyone who speaks the truth or has any common sense knows there is no silver bullet to achieve success and/or establish yourself in the music business. But perhaps the disgruntled Music Xray customer McCready quotes was better off spending her money trying to reach potential fans and not the approval of middlemen. (Hire a PR person; buy some online ads; hell, bribe an unscrupulous but popular music blogger...Malcolm X that shit.) At least that way she’d know for sure if the public likes her music or not.

And whatever qualms Atlantic Records may have now, if people flock to her on her own in significant numbers, they’ll come calling. Even if she’s not as polished as Bruno Mars.