What We're Listening To

JELLYFISH Spilt Milk [Charisma]
PEARL JAM Ten [Epic]
THE POSIES Amazing Disgrace [DGC]
PREFUSE 73 One Word Extinguisher [Warp]

What are YOU listening to?


2014: The Year in Review (Sort of)

Another 12 months, another abridged and personalized version of a yearly recap. Let’s get crackin’, shall we?

FLYING LOTUS You're Dead! [Warp]

When older music fans—in this case, anyone over the age of 35—complain about a dearth of compelling popular music, they are often told to dig a bit deeper past whatever the mainstream is offering and they'll be eventually rewarded. Aside from the fact that having to delve far below the surface is already a tacit indictment of popular music, the search has often been unimpressive and many a time fruitless for us. There are exceptions, of course. And Flying Lotus is a big one.

We're not gonna burden you with even more hype for Steven Ellison's outfit but when each album is more breathtaking than the last, while ably navigating thru such diverse terrain as In A Silent Way-era Miles Davis, Zappa-like fusion excursions, classic R&B, hip-hop, and electronica, the accolades are not just deserved and warranted but as intrinsic as the talent involved in creating these tunes.

SUN KIL MOON Benji [Caldo Verde]

In lesser hands, this could’ve easily turned into an embarrassing example of an hour’s worth of navel gazing, but Mark Kozelek is no stranger to the nakedly personal, and his deft touch makes his tales feel as familiar as a shared experience. Benji’s stripped down, mostly acoustic instrumentation and stark, yet vivid production manage to evoke a panoramic backdrop to his most honest record yet. 

Runner up:
Beck Morning Phase [Fonograf/Capitol]
TV on the Radio Seeds [Harvest]

YES Heaven and Earth [Frontiers]

For the last 20+ years every album released by the one-time prog rock kings comes across as little more than a weak attempt at recapturing a fire long ago extinguished. Each album, at best, Yes-like; self-parody at worst. Sadly, the new age-y Heaven and Earth—which in a bit of irony is more akin to a solo album by departed long-time vocalist Jon Anderson—is no exception.

Runner up:
U2 Songs of Innocence [Island]

Sia decides to become a pop diva.

There's already a glut of those. How 'bout a moving songstress, instead?

PINK FLOYD The Endless River [Columbia]

The revamped leftover tracks
from the bland late '80s/early '90s
incarnation of the band are often
reminiscent of '70s Floyd classics
Meddle and Wish You Were Here 
and actually turned out to be 
a fitting tribute to late keyboardist Rick Wright.

Weezer “Back to the Shack”

Rivers Cuomo decides to apologize on behalf of Weezer, himself and Gen-X for, in recent years, not “rockin’ out like it's ‘94”. You’re forgiven, dude. Ha!

FOO FIGHTERS Sonic Highways [Roswell]

If you’re going to record an album in 8 different cities to highlight their influence on popular American music and soak up their respective vibes, putting out your standard run-of-the-mill FF record is not gonna cut it.

YO LA TENGO Extra Painful [Matador]

An expanded edition (2 CDs) of the New Jersey trio’s landmark 1993 album Painful and finest collection of songs, littered with rare goodies and extras.

The howling over U2's new album being downloaded to every iPhone by Apple. 

Was it, in hindsight, a bad move to give virtually every iPhone user a copy of the the Irish quartet's most recent album? Perhaps, seeing as haters would and did have a field day with this development. But these same folks would likely bitch and moan if U2 deposited $1,000 in their bank accounts, free and clear. Truth is, if these particular iPhone users woke up to find the latest release by Johnny Whatshisname on their phone, they'd surely wonder how it got there for all of five seconds, and then promptly erase it. But it was U2's new one, and since haters gotta hate...

Streaming services paying extremely miniscule royalties to artists while playing the 'altruistic victim' card.

“At least they’re not illegally downloading your songs” isn’t really a business model, bub.


New albums from Duran Duran, Noel Gallagher, Gang of Four, The Raconteurs (wishful thinking?), Smashing Pumpkins and, yes, Guns ‘N’ Roses

Stooges drummer Scott Asheton; the great Bobby “Blue” Bland; GWAR's Dave Brockie, aka Oderus Urungus; bassist extraordinaire Jack Bruce; jazz trumpeter Donald Byrd; Devo guitarist Bob Casale; Argentine rock icon Gustavo Cerati; singer Joe Cocker; founding member and bassist for Jethro Tull, Glenn Cornick; jazz/flamenco giant, guitarist Paco de Lucia; jazz keyboardist and producer George Duke; entertainment attorney and artist champion Don EngelPhil Everly of the legendary Everly Brothers; the one and only Cheo Feliciano; Big Star producer/engineer and mentor, as well as founder of Ardent Records/Ardent Studios, John Fry; original Foreigner bassist Ed Gagliardi; songwriting legend Gerry Goffin; acclaimed bassist/composer Charlie Haden; pioneering rapper Henry Lee Jackson aka Big Bank Hank of The Sugarhill Gang; guitarist Ronny JordanBobby Keys, saxophonist (Buddy Holly, John Lennon, Rolling Stones); Faces keyboardist and Rolling Stones collaborator Ian McLagan; producer Rick Parashar (Pearl Jam, Temple of the Dog, Alice in Chains, Dinosaur Jr.); Arrows songwriter/guitarist Jake Hooker (“I Love Rock and Roll”); Ramones original drummer, founding member and producer, Tommy Ramone; The Jazz Crusaders’ Joe Sample; American music icon Pete Seeger; jazz giant Horace Silver; singer/songwriter Sonia Silvestre; The Outfield guitarist John Spinks; Static-X frontman Wayne Static; revered drummer/teacher Sam Ulano; guitar legend Johnny Winter; the incomparable Bobby Womack.


File Under: Fizzy Reading

See a Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody
(with Michael Azzerad)
[Little, Brown-2011]

Perhaps we went into See a Little Light a bit unprepared but we weren’t expecting Mould to dedicate a significant chunk of ink to his romances—long-term relationships, flings, one night stands and unrequited crushes, all reflected thru the prism of his awakening as a gay man—and his stint as a writer for World Championship Wrestling, when he could be delving into more details about the internal dealings of Hüsker Dü or, say, the making of Sugar’s Copper Blue or the impetus behind his creative process. The end result is approximately half of this tome coming across as unnecessary overshare.

And while he does cover the entirety of his professional career, we don’t learn much past the fact that Mould has made good money, maintains decades-long business relationships with his attorney and booking agents, and that anyone holding their breath for a Hüsker Dü reunion had best re-caliber their expectations in that regard. Overall, Mould could’ve shed a bit more light on his lengthy career and not so much on the peripheral, non-artistic aspects of his life.


More Captain Obvious than Sgt. Rock

An old friend once asked if we thought the music industry was racist. We replied that, in our humble estimation, the biz cares only about one color: green. After all, how else do you explain Caucasian-run major labels that had no problem releasing records made by African-American artists denouncing “white devils”; seemingly concerned only with the financial bottom line? In other words, as long as the music was selling those so-called militant rappers could call their record company patrons—and other of the same ethnicity—whatever epithet they felt like.

Having a couple of our songs placed in a few indie films is pretty much the extent of our involvement in the film business—Hollywood experts we are not. But it stands to reason that an art by committee industry in which the final product is often focus grouped to death, would be all about maximizing profits. Which is why we were a bit confused by Chris Rock’s much talked about essay in the most recent issue of The Hollywood Reporter, in which he states the film business is “a white industry”, which largely hires its own, and that black and brown folks are a minority. Also, water makes things wet.

Of course, African-Americans, Asians and Hispanics are not as visible as Caucasians in Hollywood—we’re not as prevalent in overall numbers in American society either. Rock also states that he thought he'd never live to see "black movies making money" and "expected to make money on the same scale as everything else." So, what’s the problem? Now, if Hollywood would rather NOT make money than hire black and other minority folks, then we’ve got a ballgame. Otherwise...


Luís "Terror" Días (Jun. 21, 1952 - Dec. 8, 2009)

What We're Listening To

MICHAEL HEDGES Beyond Boundaries: Guitar Solos [Windham Hill]
TALK SHOW self-titled [Atlantic]
CHRIS WALLA Field Manual [Barsuk]
YES Tales From Topographic Oceans [Atlantic]

What are YOU listening to?

John Winston Lennon (Oct 9, 1940 – Dec 8, 1980)


Sometimes You Should Judge a Book by its Cover


I Don't Know What You Know Me From: Confessions of a Co-Star [Doubleday]

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying [Quirk]

Self-Inflicted Wounds: Heartwarming Tales of Epic Humiliation [Harper Collins/It]

Let's start off with the good stuff: Tyler’s lifetime-spanning collection of personal and professional failures—a testament to bad judgement, fearlessness and, of course, stupidity—is sprinkled with blurb praise almost as funny and irreverent as its author’s often cringe-inducing stories. Meanwhile, Leifer’s brief tome is recommended by the likes of Larry David, Jerry Seinfeld and Paul Reiser, as the basic Mom Lit it happens to be. Tyler is witty and self-deprecating while Leifer’s showbiz self-help book is plain, soporific and redundant. (Unless you weren’t aware that showering and being on time for a job interview is a good thing, that is.) Boring, uninformative and not very funny, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying is not much more than name dropping schlock. Good grief what dreck!

When Greer isn’t whining on and on about how people recognize her but can’t pinpoint exactly from what movie or TV show, or getting defensive about being an only child—a subject not very appropriate for someone pushing 40—I Don't Know What You Know Me From briefly touches on her family; growing up in suburban Detroit; the service industry jobs of her youth; her (sorta) long distance marriage with its attendant stepmom duties; and how little, if at all, she had to struggle in Los Angeles on her way to becoming a steadily employed working actress. This one is probably for hardcore fans—you know, the ones who actually know she is—all others should pass.


Happy Birthday

The one and only beloved Prince of Darkness, and rock and roll icon John Michael Osbourne (66).


New Releases

It's Tuesday and that means new releases. But since it's December there's not much in the way of actual brand new material, as the holiday season is traditionally littered with box sets, compilations, reissues and, of course, Christmas albums. Here's some notable albums released today (reissues marked with an asterisk):

AC/DC Rock or Bust [Columbia]
GARY NUMAN From Inside –soundtrack– [Phineas]
PIXIES Doolittle [4 AD] *
WU-TANG CLAN A Better Tomorrow [Warner Bros]
YO LA TENGO Painful [Matador] *


Male Bassist in New Smashing Pumpkins Lineup; End of Days Feared

Billy Corgan unveiled the new Smashing Pumpkins lineup in Chicago this past week, which includes bassist Mark Stoermer of The Killers and Rage Against the Machine/Audioslave drummer Brad Wilk. As previously reported, Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee, who recently recorded with the band, will not be joining the Pumpkins due to commitments with his own band, who are on a farewell tour that won't conclude until late next year.

According to Consequence of Sound, the Pumpkins show at Chicago's recently renovated, 800-capacity Thalia Hall this past Wednesday night was a success, praising the new songs culled from the upcoming Monuments to an Elegy album [Martha's Music/BMG], despite misgivings about the new rhythm section:

Wilk’s heavy-handed playing felt out of place on some songs and was downright sloppy on older cuts like “Hummer” and “Drown”. Stoermer, meanwhile, was unusually shy, hardly ever looking up from his fretboard.

Read the whole CoS review here.

One and All (We Are) [live debut]
Being Beige [live debut]
Tiberius [live debut]
Tonight, Tonight
Drum + Fife [live debut]
Glass and the Ghost Children
Stand Inside Your Love
Monuments [live debut]
Bullet with Butterfly Wings
Fame [David Bowie cover]

Burnt Orange-Black


Faith No More Play Their First U.S. Show In Nearly Four Years at Amoeba Records

There's a Song For That

Three years ago, at the 2011 American Music Awards, actress/comedienne Jenny McCarthy complained about the difficulty of finding “a man’s man” in Hollywood.

I’m from Chicago. I’m from the South Side, where guys eat meat and potatoes. They don’t know what a vegetarian means. They’re a guy through and through. Out here, they want to borrow my makeup and concealer. I want to bring a little bit of importing into my life hopefully, and look for guys outside of L.A.,” she told Access Hollywood.

McCarthy has since married former New Kid on the Block Donnie Wahlberg. So, our question is, Wahlberg: man’s man, or did she settle?


Quote of the Day

He can play 15 instruments. I can’t play Lotto.

- Chuck D on his Public Enemy bandmate and musical prodigy, Flavor Flav.


Milestones: 'The Futurist'

The Futurist 

The haunting piano instrumental that Robert Downey Jr. plays at the end of the movie Two Girls and A Guy [1997] piqued our interest in his then-unbeknownst to us musical side. Scanning through the film’s end credits we were even more intrigued when we learned it was one of his own compositions.

That particular song, "Snake", is not included in The Futurist. What can be found on this album is mostly piano-driven singer/songwriter material reminiscent of Elton John’s "I Want Love", in whose video Downey Jr. appears as the protagonist. 

Sadly, due to The Futurist not doing too well sales-wise, Iron Man decided to put the kibosh on his music career. Too bad: this is a moving full-length debutone that should appeal to an audience looking for mellow, more adult-contemporary farefrom a talented musician better known for his day job and run-ins with the law. Guests include former Yes vocalist Jon Anderson on "Your Move" first half of his old band's "I've Seen All Good People" medley; and legendary jazz bassist Charlie Haden, who performs on a heartfelt cover of Charlie Chaplin’s "Smile", appropriately enough.

"Kimberly Glide", "Little Clownz", "Your Move", "Details", "Hannah", "Smile".

Coming Attractions: Joni Says 'No', Cobains Say 'Yes'

Last year we commented on a rumor that Taylor Swift was to play Joni Mitchell in an upcoming biopic. Well, it turns out it was more than a rumor: the pop songstress was indeed chosen to play the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer [class of '97] on the big screen in an adaptation of Girls Like Us, a book written by Sheila Weller which focuses on the influence of Mitchell, Carole King, and Carly Simon. The great John Sayles was hired as screenwriter with Kate Jacobs set to direct.

But Mitchell put the kibosh on the project. "I said to the producer, 'All you've got is a girl with high cheekbones.' It's just a lot of gossip, you don't have the great scenes."

Meanwhile, HBO will air Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, an authorized documentary about the late Nirvana frontman which has the blessing of Cobain's family, in 2015. Montage of Heck was written, directed and produced by Oscar-nominee Brett Morgen.

Victims of Revisionism: '90s U2

Interesting how U2's experimental/ironic '90s were welcomed and lauded at the time; the band celebrated for leaving behind their earnestness and breaking from its past. It was a new decade and U2 were supposedly discarding the trappings of their collective '80s persona, embracing irony and fun, their reinvention hailed everywhere. Yet 20 odd years later, it seems like a 'what-were-they-thinking?' revisionism has started to take hold. Hmm...

Truth is, those guys wrote great songs AND lackluster songs before, during and after Achtung Baby [Island-1991],  Zooropa [Island-1993], and Pop [Island-1997]. Our only beef with them is they let critics and not their own vision dictate their path. As none other than Bruce Springsteen himself stated in his speech at U2's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, "[H]old the McDonald's arches on the stage set, boys, we are not ironists. We are creations of the heart and of the earth and of the stations of the cross -- there's no getting out of it."



'Death Metal Angola'

An award-winning rockumentary that casts the music against the backdrop of an African nation devastated by war. Directed by Jeremy Xido. (In Portuguese with English subtitles.)

A Tale of Two ECs: Clapton, Costello and Racism

We've always found selective judgement both fascinating and frustrating in equal measure. (Actually, more of the latter, to be honest.) How two people in the same field could commit a similar act and yet be viewed drastically different is a trait we find deplorable, and one we've encountered everywhere from the public life of celebrities to the private life of family, friends and associates. And of course, it happens in the music business as well: We firmly believe that if the vast majority of those who complained about finding a free copy of U2's recent album on their Apple device had instead encountered the latest release by some unknown, they would've treated it like spam and simply erased it, with no further to-do. But it was U2, so they had to pour on the hyperbole and bitch and moan endlessly about the whole thing. Haters, yo.

But here's a much more touchy scenario: alleged racism. Let's start with Elvis Costello.

Costello caught much grief when a March, 1979 drunken argument with Stephen Stills and Bonnie Bramlett at a Columbus, Ohio Holiday Inn bar, devolved into Costello making racist remarks about James Brown and Ray Charles. Costello held a press conference in New York City a few days later in which he apologized for trying "to outrage these people with about the most obnoxious and offensive remarks that I could muster." Costello was forgiven by Ray Charles who declared "Drunken talk isn't meant to be printed in the paper." (James Brown never weighed in on the subject.)

Eric Clapton, on the other hand, fared much better despite a much more damning outburst.

On August 5, 1976, Clapton said the following from a Birmingham concert stage:

"Fucking wogs, man. Fucking Saudis taking over London. Bastard wogs. Britain is becoming overcrowded and Enoch [Powell, conservative politician infamous for his 1968 anti-immigration "Rivers of Blood" speech] will stop it and send them all back. The black wogs and coons and Arabs and fucking Jamaicans and fucking [indecipherable] don't belong here, we don't want them here. This is England, this is a white country, we don't want any black wogs and coons living here. We need to make clear to them they are not welcome. England is for white people, man. We are a white country. I don't want fucking wogs living next to me with their standards. This is Great Britain, a white country, what is happening to us, for fuck's sake? We need to vote for Enoch Powell, he's a great man, speaking truth. Vote for Enoch, he's our man, he's on our side, he'll look after us. I want all of you here to vote for Enoch, support him, he's on our side. Enoch for Prime Minister! Throw the wogs out! Keep Britain white!"

How much flak did Clapton catch for that? Zilch. Has he apologized for it? Nope.
This was his immediate response:

"I thought it was quite funny actually. I don't know much about politics. I don't even know if it would be good or bad for him to get in. I don't even know who the Prime Minister is now. I just don't know what came over me that night. It must have been something that happened in the day but it came out in this garbled thing... I thought the whole thing was like Monty Python. There's this rock group playing on-stage and the singer starts talking about politics. It's so stupid. Those people who paid their money sittin' listening to this madman dribbling on and the band meanwhile getting fidgety thinking 'oh dear'".


So, why the double standard? Why was Costello eviscerated and Clapton been the human embodiment of Teflon? Sure Costello gets to make albums with The Roots these days, but he apologized profusely for his drunken outburst. Clapton, on the other hand has recently reiterated his support for Powell and denied that the late politician's views, or Clapton himself, were racist. Sold.



Song of the Day: "Song for the Orca"

An animal revenge fantasy set to a catchy melody, today's Song of the Day comes from The Dismemberment Plan frontman Travis Morrison's solo album Travistan [Barsuk-2004].


One from the Vaults: 'Secaucus'


One of the most underrated and lesser known quality rock acts of the ‘90s, The Wrens’ full-length debut is one hell of a ride. Let's put it this way: if The Replacements’ main influences had been the angularity of Wire and Sonic Youth crossed with the melodic gifts of The Raspberries, Secaucus is what they may have sounded like.
When post-Secaucus the new owners of their label, Grass Records, offered the scrappy New Jersey quartet a new $1m deal to stay in the family, provided they actively commercialized their sound, our heroes decided to pass on the 7-figure payday, thus entering into a 7 year limbo from which they eventually emerged with the critically acclaimed The Meadowlands album [Absolutely Kosher] in 2003. (Btw, Grass became Wind-Up, home of Creed and Evanescence. So, that’s what they had in mind, huh?)

Highlights: "Yellow Number Three", "Rest Your Head", "Dance the Midwest", "Hats off to Marriage", "Destruction/Drawn", "I Married Sonja".

Music News

- Reverberations from Taylor Swift's decision to remover her catalog from music streaming service Spotify are being felt industry-wide, as evidenced by statements made by Sony Music Entertainment CFO Kevin Kelleher at an investor conference in Tokyo this week.

A lot of conversation has taken place over the past week. What it all really comes down to is, how much value is the music company and the artist getting from the different consumption methods?  We are very encouraged with the paid streaming model. The key question is whether or not the free ad-supported services are taking away from how quickly and to what extent we can grow those paid services.”

- Music Key, YouTube's new music streaming service is now out in beta form and is being praised for its ease of use. Subscribers will need to sign up for a six month trial period attached to a payment format/method of their choosing and immediately have access to the service.

However, Global Music Rights, a music clearing house similar to ASCAP and BMI, which represents dozens of writers including Bruno Mars, Pharrell Williams and Smokey Robinson, has asked YouTube to remove some 20,000 songs by GRM affiliates. YouTube has acknowledged the request but has not acted on it as of yet, as required under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a federal protecting websites that host copyrighted content from third parties.

- Apple will be bundling its recently acquired Beats Music with their next iOS. According to industry analysts, the company wants to make sure it does not lose ground to YouTube's Music Key service.

- Starting next month the Billboard 200 chart will take into account downloads and sales of individual songs. The chart lists the best selling 200 albums of the week and will count the sale of 10 songs and/or the streaming of 1,500 songs as the equivalent of one album sale. Billboard feels these numbers are "accepted industry benchmarks."

- Idris Elba is releasing his first album, titled mi Mandela. “[M]y music is so much more truthful...than my acting is. Music comes from my soul. I can connect with you more through my music,” stated the acclaimed 42 year old actor, who is also planning a hip-hop album for future release.

"...stay calm, eat a peach and carry on..."

We're probably not alone in this, but every March there seemed to be a certain happy, mellow vibe in the air here in NYC. A feeling we've always ascribed to one thing: the Allman Brothers were in town. It’s not like we were big fans or anything—never had the pleasure of seeing them live, unfortunately—but there was just this…you know. And “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” seems to capture it perfectly.
The Brothers disbanded three weeks ago after a 45 year run, playing their last show at their beloved Beacon Theatre where, for 10 consecutive nights or so every Spring, they held court for more than 20 years. Gregg Allman once said that while Georgia was no.1 in their hearts, NYC was a close second. Right back at'cha.

This is a little tribute to them and to Duane Allman who would've turned 68 today.


What's Love Got to Do With It?

Convicted murderer and one-time aspiring rock star Charles Manson is getting married. The bride to be is an attractive 26 year old brunette by the name of Afton Elaine Burton, aka “Star”. The Illinois native has been corresponding with Manson for about a decade; she's been visiting him in jail since 2007, when she moved to California. According to Time magazine, Burton has been actively proclaiming his innocence via a few pro-Manson websites she runs. As for the upcoming nuptials, the pair have already obtained a license, although the marriage itself cannot be consummated: due to his life sentence conviction, the 80 year old Manson is not allowed conjugal visits.

As imagined, news of Manson getting married has gone viral and we've collected 5 interesting tweets (via Ultimate Classic Rock) on the subject:

Animated: 'The Life and Times of Tim'

Visually speaking, The Life and Times of Tim (HBO) made South Park look like a Michael Bay extravaganza, but the show which HBO considered an animated Curb Your Enthusiasm was nothing less than a half-hour of pure comedy gold.
Want proof? The first season episode “Latino Tim” / “The Priest is Drunk”--each half-hour was a two-fer--is especially hilarious.

The Life and Times of Tim aired for three seasons before being cancelled in early 2012.

New Releases

It's Tuesday, so we've got a smattering of the noteworthy albums released today:

BUZZCOCKS The Way [1234]
TV ON THE RADIO Seeds [Harvest]
ROBERT WYATT Different Every Time [Domino]

And since the holiday season officially begins next week, gift-oriented releases are also beginning to see the light of day. Among them:
DAVID BOWIE Nothing Has Changed [Columbia]
(3 CD set retrospective.)
JONI MITCHELL Love Has Many Faces: A Quartet, a Ballet, Waiting to Be Danced [Elektra] (4 disc box set.)
WILCO Alpha Mike Foxtrot: Rare Tracks 1994-2005 [Nonesuch]
(77 rare, non-album tracks.)
WILCO What’s Your 20? Essential Tracks 1994-2004 [Nonesuch]
(Best-of compilation.)
VARIOUS ARTISTS The Art of McCartney [Arctic Poppy]
(Tribute album includes performances by Alice Cooper, The Cure, Brian Wilson.)


Bountiful Crops


Seeing as this is the band’s first album since the death of bassist Gerard Smith and their bitter parting with the Interscope label, one would not expect Seeds to be as upbeat or as, dare we say, catchy, as it ultimately is. Could album number five be TVOTR’s decisive foray into the mainstream? Who cares? The important thing is, one of the very few righteous denizens of the musically bankrupt but incredibly hyped Williamsburg music scene of the ‘00s, has returned with a collection of songs that underlines why they mattered then and continue to do so now. The Album of the Year category just got a tad more crowded. Welcome back, gentlemen.

Music of New York, Time for Your Closeup (again)

To say New York City has a rich history of popular music is a pronouncement pregnant with understatement: it is, after all, the birthplace of bebop, hip hop, punk rock, and salsa; not to mention its nurturing of big band swing, house, hardcore and indie rock, and of course, musical theatre.

So, how 'bout an updated, 5 borough-centric, mini series on the subject? Sorta what Dave Grohl is doing with Sonic Highways on HBO but solely concentrated on NYC? In the right hands it could be all kinds of awesome.

Milestones: 1999

5 choice albums from the last year of the 20th century (in alphabetical order by artist): 

CHRIS CORNELL Euphoria Morning [A&M] 
The Soundgarden frontman’s debut album was met with modest sales and the disappointment of quite a few of his former band's followers, who were obviously expecting a retread of Superunknown [A&M-1994], or something. We praised the album, found it to be a natural progression from the work he'd done with his previous band, and noted how those who were surprised by it had not been paying attention to the evolution of Cornell's songwriting over the last few Soundgarden records. Reminiscent at times of Temple of the Dog, it’s still the best thing he’s put his name on as a solo artist. 

THE FLAMING LIPS The Soft Bulletin [Warner Bros] 
While being hailed as, arguably, the best rock album of 1999, at the time many were asking "Where’s the old noisy Flaming Lips I knew and loved?" Well, the feedback and white noise that made them (in)famous gradually gave way to keyboards, strings and other assorted sonic landscapes. 
A risky, but artistically viable—and subsequently, fruitful—step in the right direction, as far as we’re concerned, quite a few folks disagreed at the time: one particular reviewer disparagingly referred to The Soft Bulletin as a misstep where seemingly "… Led Zeppelin and Yes joined forces to back Neil Young" Nothing wrong with that in our book. Then or now. 

JUMBO Restaurant [BMG US Latin] 
Not sure if they were a modern, melodic pop/rock band (“Fotografía”, “Alienados Para Siempre”) or Local H’s Mexican cousins (just about everything else), Jumbo’s debut album is understandably a tentative affair. But the seeds of the Monterrey, Mexico quintet’s musical future were on that album’s “Siento Que”, a powerful anthem of longing and love on its last sighs that would subsequently come to define their sound, and is arguably their single best song. 
Restaurant got the band plenty of exposure within and beyond the borders of their native country and set the stage for their first true international hit. 

OWSLEY self titled [Giant] 
Following the demise of his band The Semantics—an early version of which included Ben Folds on drums (!)—after Geffen Records decided not to domestically release their debut album Powerbill (which sold 20,000 copies in Japan with no promotion whatsoever), Wil Owsley became a sideman for the likes of Amy Grant and Shania Twain. With the income from his guitar-slinger day job, Owsley started work on his self-titled debut album, which he recorded at home over the space of three years. This is still an undiscovered gem littered with old-school pop hooks, catchy guitars and muscular drums. The top-notch songs may benefit from the spot-on mixes by über-engineer Tom Lord-Alge, but like Nirvana’s Nevermind, this is one of those albums where the songwriting and arrangements are too strong for you to notice how polished it is—until it’s too late: by then you’re hooked for good. Sadly, Wil Owsley committed suicide in 2010.

XTC Apple Venus Volume 1 [Cooking Vinyl] 
After a protracted battle with their label, Virgin Records, that saw the band go “on strike” and not release any music for more than half a decade, main songwriter Andy Partridge decided XTC’s next two albums should be a mostly acoustic, orchestral disc and a rock-oriented record, respectively. Vehemently opposed was guitarist/keyboardist/arranger Dave Gregory, who preferred culling the best tracks for a single, and presumably more high-quality, effort. Gregory—for whom the mounting friction over the direction of the album led to his departure during its recording—was eventually proven right. But Apple Venus is not only chock full of gems (“I’d Like That”, “Easter Theatre”, “Harvest Festival”, “The Last Balloon”) it’s one of XTC’s very best.

What We're Listening To

CHICAGO TRANSIT AUTHORITY self titled [Columbia]
JASON FALKNER Can You Still Feel? [Elektra]
JOHNNY PACHECO El Maestro [Fania]
TEARS FOR FEARS Everybody Loves a Happy Ending [Universal]
WINGS Venus and Mars [Apple]

What are YOU listening to?

Jeffrey Scott Buckley (Nov. 17, 1966 – May 29, 1997)


Quick Roundup: New Releases

5 of the most notable recent releases:

FLAMING LIPS With a Little Help From My Fwends [Warner Bros]
After their irreverent 2009 tribute to The Dark Side of the Moon, and King Crimson's debut masterpiece In the Court of the Crimson King three years later, it’s no surprise the Lips chose to tackle Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and give the iconic Beatles classic an acid fried, psychedelic makeover. Truth be told, we were expecting an unmitigated disaster. And after listening to the first couple of tracks our suspicions were close to being confirmed. However, With a Little Help From My Fwends does have its moments (“Fixing a Hole”, “She’s Living Home”, “A Day in the Life”), although it gets points more for the concept than the execution.

FOO FIGHTERS Sonic Highways [Roswell/RCA]
The soundtrack to the Foos' travelogue/tribute to eight different U.S. cities bears very little influence of the locales where the songs were recorded: putting aside certain snatches of lyrics that allude to their geographical inspiration, Sonic Highways is in effect another set of the band's patented 21st century arena rock. If latter day FF fare is your cup of tea, drink up; if not you won't be otherwise won over with this batch of tunes.

PINK FLOYD The Endless River [Columbia]
The release of what was originally purported to be a series of leftover tracks from Pink Floyd's late '80s/early '90s Roger Waters-less incarnation (to see the light of day as a tribute to late keyboardist Richard Wright), was not the most promising of announcements. But the mostly instrumental Endless River is a pleasant surprise, often reminiscent of '70s Floyd classics Meddle and Wish You Were Here. If this is truly the end of the line for the band—and there seems to be every indication of that to be the case—it's not a bad way to go.

The most common reference point being used to compare this unlikely collaboration is the Lou Reed and Metallica disc Lulu. Think weirder. And heavier. Yup.

NEIL YOUNG Storytone [Reprise]
On Storytone, Young gives his fans a 2-for-1 with a literal solo album on which he accompanies himself on acoustic and electric guitar, piano, and even ukelele, coupled with a rock band/big band/orchestrated version of the same, in which he’s backed by those respective groupings. The solo album has its highlights (“Glimmer”, “Tumbleweeds”, “I’m Glad I Found You”, “When I Watch You Sleeping”, “All Those Dreams”), and while the bonus big band and orchestrated renditions don’t all necessarily work, they do offer an interesting glimpse of Young in a different setting.

Russell Tyrone Jones (Nov. 15, 1968 – Nov. 13, 2004)

Odd News of the Day: Patti Smith to Play Vatican Christmas Show

The woman who once sang "Jesus died for somebody's sins/but not mine" will be one of the performers at the Vatican's annual Christmas concert, Concerto di Natale, in Rome, on December 13th. Word is, Smith was invited by Pope Francis himself.

Concerto di Natale, which has been a regular event since 1993, will take place at Auditorium Conciliazione, very near the heart of Vatican City. This year's show will be broadcast on Christmas Eve.


Drum Chair to Chairman: Jimmy Chamberlin, CEO

According to a recent piece in The Guardian, the former Smashing Pumpkins drummer, and a legendary figure behind the kit, has tired of the rigors of the road and embarked on a new adventure as CEO of the Chicago-based LiveOne, a tech company whose main product, CrowdSurfing, is a an interactive streaming service for live shows. Chamberlin’s relationship with LiveOne began as an investor and advisor; he became CEO of the firm about a year and a half ago. But the basic platform and its potential was something that had appealed to Chamberlin way before his involvement with the company. 
[Chamberlin with Smashing Pumpkins, AOL Sessions, 2007.]

When I saw the CrowdSurfing application, it immediately took me back to scenarios with the Pumpkins. We looked at live streaming as another revenue source with the Pumpkins. [Billy] Corgan and I used to talk about it, but we always whittled that reality down to the way people consume the content. Somebody looking at the event through a laptop with crappy speakers isn’t going to drive the economics. We needed to wait for live streaming to get better.

LiveOne is also contemplating eventually expanding beyond music and delving into mega-church and political events, as well.

Happy Birthday

Singer/songwriter/producer and Raconteur, Brendan Benson (44).


Whole Lotta Loot

[Reunited Zeppelin: (L-R) Jones, Plant, Page.]

So, the entertainment media has been buzzing for the last few days with news of Robert Plant rejecting his share of a purported $800 million Led Zeppelin reunion payday, offered by Virgin’s Richard Branson. The vocalist’s publicist is on record calling the news item “rubbish”.

For the undetermined amount of reunion shows, Plant, along with guitarist Jimmy Page and bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones would each be paid an equal amount, while drummer Jason Bonham, son of the late John Bonham, would receive a fee. Use of a Virgin Airways airplane to travel from gig to gig—in the spirit of Zep’s legendary plane The Starship—would be among the perks enjoyed by the reunited hard rock legends. All this comes from an unnamed source—which has been the main basis of information for this development—who further stated Page, Jones and Bonham all signed up immediately, whereas Plant asked for 48 hours to consider, after which time he purportedly tore up his contract, pointedly refusing to participate and squelching the reunion, much to Branson’s dismay.

Now, we don’t have any inside track on any of this. But we are not one bit surprised Plant turned down the reunion. And anyone who has paid attention to his career over the last 30+ years since Zeppelin ceased to exist shouldn’t be either. As a solo artist—with the exception of his debut album, Pictures at Eleven [Swan Song-1982]—Plant has forged a deliberate path of renewal; his every musical statement a move away from the sound that brought him fame and fortune. Except to kindly mock it, of course.

The Ahmet Ertegun Benefit Concert in 2007 was a different thing; it was the band paying tribute to the deceased musical benefactor who, as Atlantic Records head honcho, took them under his wing and into the stratosphere, with Plant more than willing to pay his respects. But aside from not needing or wanting to revisit past glories, for a 66-year-old individual who is set for life—Plant is allegedly worth more than $150m—money seems not to be a determining factor at this point. And there is also, quite possibly, the desire to not be compared with one’s iconic 20-something self, for fear of inevitably coming up rather short. 

Happy Birthday

Singer/songwriter, guitarist/bassist, and as a member of both King Crimson and Emerson Lake and Palmer, respectively, a bonafide prog rock titan: Mr. Greg Lake (67). 


168 Million Streams Nets Songwriter $4k

Avicii’s release "Wake Me Up!" that I co-wrote and sing, for example, was the most streamed song in Spotify history and the 13th most played song on Pandora since its release in 2013, with more than 168 million streams in the US. And yet, that yielded only $12,359 in Pandora domestic royalties—which were then split among three songwriters and our publishers. In return for co-writing a major hit song, I’ve earned less than $4,000 domestically from the largest digital music service. 
- Aloe Blacc, from an open letter published in Wired magazine last week.

Just to put it in context, if those 168 million spins had been purchased copies/downloads, Blacc would've netted about $5M. No one is expecting sales numbers of that size—just trying to point out the staggering, Grand Canyon-size gap btwn $4K and $5M.

You can read his complete letter here.


Are Taylor Swift and Spotify Ever Ever Getting Back Together?

Taylor Swift has become the first artist in music history to release three albums with first week sales of a million or more copies. (The Backstreet Boys, Eminem, and N’Sync, each did it twice.) Her new album, 1989 [Big Machine Records], sold 1,287,000 units in that time span. (And that’s only counting full price sales and not discounted copies, such as those purchased via a promotion sponsored by Microsoft.) At a time when album sales continue to decline quite rapidly, this is no small feat. Actually, it was a big deal back when album sales were significant: only 18 other releases have managed to sell a million plus copies in its first seven days.

But this historic feat has been practically overshadowed by Swift’s decision to remove her music from Spotify. A betrayal of her fans; a savvy marketing ploy; cluelessness; greed; a show of solidarity for fellow artists; the move from the popular music streaming subscription service has been called all those and more. What it isn’t—to anyone who’s been paying attention, anyway—is a surprise: Swift has made her thoughts on the subject of streaming quite well known, to the point of penning a Wall Street Journal op-ed in that regard earlier this year. Right before the release of 1989, Swift further explained her views, stating she was “not willing to contribute my life’s work to an experiment that I don’t feel fairly compensates the writers, producers, artists, and creators of this music. And I just don’t agree with perpetuating the perception that music has no value and should be free.”

One of the most noticeable aspects of the debate over the removal of the Swift catalog from Spotify is how the vast majority of those opining know very little about how the business works. Swift has been accused of being greedy because she wants cold hard sales revenue in lieu of lesser, but still profitable, amounts she would earn from streaming services. Well, we’d like to know what definition of profit describes a songwriter earning about $100 for a million streams. (Yes, you read right— a c-note for 1,000,000 streams.) And of course there’s that old chestnut “You’re rich, you should let us have it for free or close enough”, an argument that would never work for those seeking products from Chevrolet or Whole Foods, but seems to be good enough to demand of artists. And then things took a turn for the humorous and perhaps a tad surreal when, in a page seemingly taken out of Swift's songbook, Spotify publicly begged her to come back, which she declined. Ha!

Never thought we’d find ourselves siding with Taylor Swift on any matter. But stranger things have happened and so…

Happy Birthday

Singer/songwriter Rickie Lee Jones (59).

Quote of the Day

A true doctor cares only about healing, let's not pay them either. Oh, wait...

- Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers keyboardist Benmont Tench.


Underrated: Colin Moulding

While his former bandmate, vocalist/guitarist Andy Partridge, may be the most prolific and best-known member of the British pop institution that was once XTC, Mr. Moulding has been no slouch: the writer of such classic tunes as "Making Plans For Nigel", "Life Begins At The Hop" and "Generals and Majors", is a wonderful vocalist with mean bass guitar chops to spare. 
Just check out "Earn Enough For Us" from Skylarking [Geffen-1987]; "The Mayor Of Simpleton" and his own "Cynical Days" from Oranges and Lemons [Geffen-1989]; and any of the previously mentioned tunes above for a crash course in killer bass playing.
[Left: Moulding in 1979.]


Happy Birthday

A very happy 4-0 to Mr. Mandy Moore: the ever prolific Ryan Adams.


Milestones: 'Amorica'



When The Black Crowes debuted in 1990 their sound was as out of step with the mainstream as the alt-rockers that took over little more than a year later. Hair bands ruled the day, but changes were afoot: on the strength of “She Talks To Angels” and the Otis Redding classic “Hard To Handle”, The Crowes sold 5 million copies of their first disc and established themselves as one of the ‘90s biggest acts.

With no big singles to its credit, Amorica, their third album, is best remembered these days for the close-up of the Stars ’n’ Stripes bikini with overflowing female pubic hair that graces its cover. However, it would be foolish to dismiss a high caliber album such as this solely on the basis of controversy and a lack of chart-busting action. Make no mistake, this is The Black Crowes at their best, for Amorica is pregnant with bluesy riffs, tasty grooves, and great songs that distill their Stones/Faces/Allman Bros. influences into one very fine brew; at once both heady and intoxicating. Drink up, baby.

"Gone", "A Conspiracy", "Nonfiction", "Ballad in Urgency", "Wiser Time".