2/28/2013

Better Late...

The news of Pearl Jam's debut album Ten [Epic-1991] recently surpassing, appropriately enough, 10 million units sold in the US--which will be awarded Diamond status--via 4,000 copies sold the second week of February, brought about a couple of interesting tidbits. One is the fact that a 22 year old album from the so-called grunge era still sells a brisk amount of copies at this late date and at a time when free, mostly illegal downloads are how a wide swath of folks acquire their music; also, Ten is only one of 4 albums which have "gone Diamond" at this early point of 2013: Hybrid Theory (Linkin Park), Confessions (Usher), and 21 (Adele). Hmm...


2/22/2013

20 Years Ago Today: 'Pablo Honey'

RADIOHEAD
Pablo Honey
[Parlophone-1993]

It's not surprising, given what has transpired since it was released on 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 fame--and 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 this week, 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.) If nothing else, it hints at what was to come with The Bends two years later. And that's not a bad place to be, then or now.

2/21/2013

Damned If You Do...

NATALY DAWN
How I Knew Her
[Nonesuch-2013]

Best known as half of YouTube sensation Pomplamoose--along with fellow multi-instrumentalist Jack Conte--Dawn's solo debut is a lush collection of singer/songwriter Americana which has 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 is fishy here. Why aren't the folks at Spin and other like-minded critics praising her distinct and engaging voice, the well-crafted songs, the wistful Americana? We realized we're not really crazy about the album; a conclusion based on how the songs on How I Knew Her lack the necessary pull to drag themselves up from their frequent preciousness and occasional forced quirkiness, and nothing to do with her internet past. (The title track is stellar, tho.) But something did not add up. Hmm...
It was at this point that we 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 geek 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. Jeez...

We don't care for Dawn's musical politics (her defense of Amanda Palmer's free musicians scam was deplorable) and Conte comes across in interviews like a soulless douchebag better suited for writing beer jingles, but this album should be judged on its own merits and not based on some bullshit 21st century bias engaged in by those who have the least amount of cred in the world of music criticism. You are the ones Frank Zappa was referring to, kids, when he famously said "Most rock journalism is people who can't write, interviewing people who can't talk, for people who can't read." Try to do better, will you? You too, Nataly.

2/15/2013

20 Years Later: 'Houdini'

MELVINS
Houdini
[Atlantic-1993]

Although the major labels were as clueless as to what "the kids" wanted in the early '90s as they'd been in the mid '6os and, accordingly, opened their checkbooks to anything that even remotely resembled the new status quo, it's safe to say the Melvins may not have been signed by Atlantic to a three album deal were it not for their close ties to a certain former roadie of theirs by the name of Kurt Cobain

The Nirvana frontman partially produced and played on Houdini, the first and arguably the best of the Melvins' major label trifecta. (The other two, Stoner Witch [1994] and Stag [1996], are both quite worthy additions to the Melvins catalog.) Depending on your point of view, Houdini may or may not be the band's greatest moment, but it is their best known and best selling album to date; a record as powerful in 1993 as it is in 2013. If we're not mistaken the word for that is "timeless".

Highlights: "Hooch", "Night Goat", "Honey Bucket", "Copache". 

Might As Well Jump

Under the headline "David Lee Roth Wants Michael Anthony Back in Van Halen" in Ultimate Classic Rock's news section, the music website gave a misinforming, sensationalistic recap of a recent interview the Van Halen frontman gave Rolling Stone magazine.

Upon inspection of the RS interview itself even the most disconnected reader could easily deduce UCR exaggerated the whole Michael Anthony angle just for the sake of page views/hits. Diamond Dave does regret that a full-on reunion of the original VH lineup hasn't happened but this was a passing comment in 'it would be nice for the fans' mode within the context of an interview whose bulk is devoted to discussing his other musical endeavors--dance music; working with Marilyn Manson/Rob Zombie guitarist John 5 on an autobiographical musical--as well as his daily conversations with Alex Van Halen, his desire to see VH play the likes of Bonnaroo and Coachella; and what's it's like living in Japan, where he's resided since May of last year.

Bottom line: the Michael Anthony thing was a blip and and nothing more. Certainly not the Earth-shattering revelation it was made out to be by the online music magazine. Lame, UCR. Very, lame.

2/10/2013

It Was 35 Years Ago Today: 'Van Halen'

VAN HALEN 
self-titled 
[Warner Bros-1978] 

Like Are You Experienced? a decade prior, Van Halen’s self-titled debut ushered in a world-class, and ultimately, hugely influential electric guitarist that changed the rock and roll landscape irrevocably. But it’s just more than Eddie VH’s jaw-dropping chops that made this album a hard rock classic and one of the greatest debuts of all time. It’s also the larger-than-life David Lee Roth persona; the locked-in rhythm section of Alex Van Halen and Michael Anthony, including the latter's contribution to the criminally overlooked vocal harmonies; and--most importantly--tunes, tunes, tunes. Among them, such classic rock radio staples as “Running With The Devil”, “Ain’t Talking ‘Bout Love”, “Little Dreamer” and the incendiary covers of “Ice Cream Man” and The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me”. Still the shit 35 years later.

2/08/2013

A Classic Revisited: 'El Mayimbe'

FERNANDITO VILLALONA
El Mayimbe
[Kubaney-1983]

The Dominican Republic's best known export may be the numerous baseball players it has sent to the majors, some of whom are among the biggest names in the game. There's also designer Oscar de la Renta (betcha didn't know that one, huh?) and actress Zoë Saldaña. But up until recently, its major musical export was merengue and Juan Luis Guerra its biggest star, both home and abroad.

However, the 21st century has not been kind to merengue and its purveyors; overtaken in popularity by bachata--which JLG hepled popularize on a wider scale--as well as reggaeton and other urban musical manifestations, we're now a a few decades removed from the genre's classic era, which was arguably the '80s. And no one was bigger in that timeframe than Fernando Villalona.

A charismatic and engaging vocalist who initially rose to prominence in the early '70s at the ripe old age of 16, Villalona later joined the seminal Hijos del Rey, but left shortly thereafter when his popularity began eclipsing that of the group. He subsequently embarked on a solo career which yielded a string of enduring hits and in El Mayimbe--which features future star Alex Bueno on background vocals and über arranger Andres de Jesus on alto sax--released one of the greatest albums in merengue history. It's not hyperbole to state few albums represent merengue at its modern day apex as well as El Mayimbe does.

The living, breathing embodiment of a rock star, Villalona's meteoric rise and immense popularity was often overshadowed by a seemingly unrelentless drug addiction that threatened to derail his career and may have achieved that effect to a certain extent. But this 1983 classic is a reminder of not only his boundless talent and influence on a generation of merengueros, but is also a snapshot of an era in which modern merengue reached its greatest creative and popular heights.

Highlights: "Tabaco y Ron", "Los Saxofones", "Dejame Volver",  "Mi Pueblo", "El Gusto".

White Flag




So, Greg Ginn is not only reforming one of 2 versions of Black Flag hitting the road in 2013--neither one includes Henry Rollins tho Ginn's lineup is actually releasing an album (?!)--but has started a new band called Good For You. Judging by their first single, one has to wonder who this mediocre Black Flag ripoff is good for.

Good For You's debut album, Life is Too Short Not to Hold a Grudge (SST), will be released Feb. 26th.

2/04/2013

The Waiting is the Easiest Part

MY BLOODY VALENTINE
MBV
[self-released 2013]

Here's something not uttered since 1991: My Bloody Valentine have a new album out.

The first release by the shoegazer legends in 22 years does not introduce itself with the bang that led off the classic Loveless all those years ago but with the delightful narcotic haze of "She Found Now" with MBV mastermind Kevin Shields on lead vocals. It sets the tone for the rest of the album, particularly the first half, which underutilizes drummer Colm Ó Cíosóig, whose steady grooves are sorely missed.

Inevitable comparisons between Loveless and MBV are sure to come in the following days and weeks. (The one rather embarrassing similitude which will surely rarely, if ever, surface is how this album took longer than Chinese Democracy to see the light of day.)
But it's rather pointless to size up a a two-decades-later followup against a landmark record, particularly when the former does not reveal itself to be of similar stature. Of course, the question remains: Was it worth the wait? That answer depends on your particular devotion to My Bloody Valentine. And judging by initial fan reaction--including a 3-hour crash of the band's website--it seems as if just being able to enjoy a new album by these guys is nothing short of a state of bliss. All others tread cautiously.

2/03/2013

Alive and Well

DEAD YOUNG FRIENDS
The Legion
Brooklyn, NY
2/2/13

Playing the backroom of this popular Williamsburg spot on a snowy and rather chilly Brooklyn night, vocalist/guitarist Jorge Strofer debuted the new lineup of his Dead Young Friends as a trio for the band's first ever gig in its new hometown. Despite a slight bout of jitters, the band acquitted themselves quite admirably during a strong 40 minute set of Cure/Church-influenced pop tunes which included selections from their debut album Lizards--"We Are Alike" and "Forza" were particular highlights--and both tracks from their new single "Going Away From Me" b/w "Weak".

With a new album coming soon and a string of upcoming local dates already lined up, DYF are on their way to having their presence keenly felt very soon, in hipsterland and beyond.