Tag Archives: Music

Self’s Cover of “What A Fool Believes” Is No Joke

I was trolling around the Internet a few weeks ago and stumbled upon a super-cool cover of The Doobie Brothers classic “What A Fool Believes” by a band called Self. What makes this cover so interesting is that the band takes the Doobie’s funky groove and spins it as a power-pop song. Adding an extra layer of sugary charm, the band performs the song on toy instruments. This works much better than you’d think. Apparently, the band put out an entire album of songs performed on toy instruments called GIZMODGERY back in 2000. I guess this sort of thing would be considered “twee” and should make me roll my eyes harder than Liz Lemon, but for whatever reason, this works for me.

enhanced-buzz-27911-1359652419-4

Ugh, this is so “twee.”

There’s a very Beck-like track on GIZMODGERY called “Trunk Fulla Amps” that is also worth checking out if you’re interested. I don’t know why I’d never heard of Self until recently, though that name surely couldn’t have helped their cause. The band seems to consist of Mike Mahaffey, so I suppose the name is a bit of a joke about the band really being one person? But then I see other names on the album credits, so it’s not strictly a solo project…so who knows. I do know that Mike should have dubbed his band Self (band) because that’s how one as to search for them online. I ran into a similar situation recently while searching for more Loco Ono music. Apparently, that name is popular with a bunch of small-time bands (of varying quality).

43e44136.jpeg

But I digress, “What A Fool Believes” is a great song made even better by the twinkling daycare sensibility of Self. This is exactly the sort of thing I expect from a good cover song, in that it’s not a direct copy. The song isn’t necessarily elevated into something greater than the original, instead Self’s cover is a pleasant, albeit wacky, sideways shift. Incidentally, my opinion of The Doobie Brothers has shifted over the years, thanks in large part to my love of a certain white-haired singer from St. Louis. Perhaps the band is due a larger, more in-depth examination in the weeks and months ahead?

Anyway, am I crazy or is this a really cool cover? Are you a fan of Self (the band)? Chime in below in the comments.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Tegan & Sara Vs. Middle Class Fashion

It was 2004 when I was first introduced to Canadian pop duo Tegan & Sara. I’m sure I’ve written about it many times before, but in a nutshell: “Little” Steven Van Zandt turned me onto them via his radio show. Somehow, Little Steven was finally able to penetrate the thick cloud of testosterone swirling around my brain and he convinced me that women could rock and there was nothing wrong with a dude listening to “girl music.” Sure, it’s funny to look back on this now as some sort of revelation, but I was young and dumb smack dab in the middle of the country.

Since that time, I’ve followed Tegan & Sara’s careers with great interest. [Sidebar: I can’t believe SO JEALOUS, my favorite album of theirs, is 12 years old. Where the hell has the time gone? ] Over the years the duo have morphed from indie darlings to a much more mainstream act. Besides appearing on TV and the radio, the concert venues have been getting larger and larger. It’s all very exciting and I’m honestly very happy for them that they’ve found success. However, I’ve noticed that as their popularity increases Tegan & Sara seem to move further and further from the indie rock/folk sound that I loved so much when I first discovered them. This first became noticeable on their 2009 album SAINTHOOD. When it first came out I enjoyed SAINTHOOD, even though I noted that the sound skewed a bit more synth-pop than their previous albums. Then in 2013 they released HEARTTHROB, the album the launched them into the popular consciousness with the single “Closer.” When I heard this song in a JC Penny, I knew that Tegan & Sara were officially entering Kings of Leon territory.

 

static1.squarespace

If their new album was a cool as their eye make-up I swear to God they’d be my all-time favorite band. And, this article would not exist. So really, everyone would win.

 

Let me pause in order to make two things perfectly clear. First, I’d like to say that there is nothing wrong with a band evolving and changing over a period of time. I have a lot of trouble with this because on an emotional level, I just want things to stay the same forever. Like most humans, I profess that I love change and that chang is good all the while fearing change. Intellectually, I know The Beatles are a better band than say AC/DC because none of The Beatles records sound the same. The Fab Four changed and grew over the course of their albums and the world was all the better for it. When a band doesn’t grow and change over time they turn into a factory, endlessly producing the same product over and over. To the point where I honestly can’t tell the difference between the last 4 AC/DC albums. I love AC/DC and bands like them (The Ramones also come to mind) but let’s face it: doing the same thing over and over isn’t the same as jumping from “Love Me Do” to SGT. PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND.

So while I poke fun of sell out bands like Kings of Leon that started out making cool garage rock with dirty lyrics who went on to become Mom Rockers, I can’t begrudge them from trying something new. Even if that new thing isn’t what I want. With Tegan & Sara, I wouldn’t want them to pump out endless clones of THIS BUSINESS OF ART or IF IT WAS YOU for the next fifteen years. I dearly love those records, but I don’t think that would make Tegan & Sara happy nor would it make me happy ultimately. Maybe I don’t like this new dance-pop direction they’ve taken, but who’s to say that this won’t lead them towards something new that I will love.

 

0007184545_10

Middle Class Fashion: purple power.

 

Tegan & Sara but out a new album recently, an album called LOVE YOU TO DEATH.  Guess what? I didn’t really love it to death. I listened to it exactly once, because I’m a fan, and then I promptly forgot about it. The only thing I can exactly recall about it is that it’s painfully short. Like barely clocking in at 30 minutes short. Ten tracks short. The sort of release that feels like a band running out of steam. As I write this, I just pushed play on the album and right from the first song (“That Girl”) I find that I don’t hate this music. It just isn’t as good as “Time Running” or “Walking With A Ghost.” It’s not that Tegan & Sara are wrong and making less-inspired music, it must be that I just don’t like this sort of electro-pop music, right? Wrong.

One of my favorite albums to come out this year is III by Middle Class Fashion*. This album shares many of the same musical genetic components of the new wave of Tegan & Sara albums. The difference? Middle Class Fashion don’t do a serviceable job, they’re borderline brilliant. I actually think they’re brilliant, but I’m afraid to jinx them by throwing that sort of label around. The songwriting is tighter and more inspired, the arrangements are lusher and more interesting on III than they are on LOVE YOU TO DEATH. I’ve wanted to write about III and Middle Class Fashion since the album came out earlier this year, but I’ve been completely gobsmacked by it. The songs are all catchy and the lyrics are really interesting, but I have no idea what the songs are really about. Literate and mysterious, Middle Class Fashion remind me of REM’s Michael Stipe singing about how he’s gay without anyone in middle America picking up on that. My favorite song on III is a song called “86” which I think is both a reference to “86-ing something” and the year the lead singer was born, but honestly, that’s probably not even close. And I kind of love that about “86.” Compare that with the single off of LOVE YOU TO DEATH, “Boyfriend.” There’s nothing subtle or mysterious about “Boyfriend,” the song is pretty much what you think it’s about. I’m a fucking dunce and I know what that song is about.

What’s the difference between a band like Middle Class Fashion and Tegan & Sara? Besides the fact that Tegan & Sara are super-well-known. Middle Class Fashion are in the early stages of their careers, I suppose (III is the band’s third album, kinda like LED ZEPELLIN III, which makes me love them all that much more). But I think the difference between the two bands is more than just the chronology of the life of these bands. Middle Class Fashion exude a level of artistic confidence that Tegan & Sara had but somehow lost. I’m not privy to all the behind-the-scene goings on with either band, but I’ll wager someone in a very slick looking suit is influencing the artistic choices Tegan & Sara are making. Middle Class Fashion are probably doing exactly what they want to do and that comes through in the music. Also, the songwriter/singer in Middle Class Fashion is a fucking genius operating on a different level than the usual rock/pop singer-songwriter**.

Though on the surface Tegan & Sara and Middle Class Fashion have a lot in common, really this is an apples-and-oranges comparison. Tegan & Sara have somehow wandered into the same sonic playground of Middle Class Fashion and suffer greatly through the comparison. I hope that this phase of Tegan & Sara’s career ultimately results in more interesting music and I hope Middle Class Fashion keep making great records. And if Middle Class Fashion want to genre-hop they’ve more than earned that right, as far as I’m concerned. I’ve got an open mind and will follow artists I like down any rabbit hole, even if it’s just for one listen.

 

 

*Okay, so don’t kill me, but III is 11 tracks and 28 minutes long. But ya know, this is a good kind of brevity…

**Fun fact, I once stood behind the dude in Middle Class Fashion in line for beer after a show. I worked up the nerve to tell him how much I enjoyed their then-current album JUNGLE. No way in hell would I have done what with the singer.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Loco Ono’s Hella Bummer “Sunny Day” is Awesome

I spend way too much of my free time trolling the Internet searching for bands and songs that will be My Next Favorite Band. Most of the time, I come up empty handed. Sometimes I find a song or two that’s decent, though nothing really special. And then, once in a blue moon, I find something magical. At this point, I almost dread finding that magical song because it feeds fuel into my music-finding furnace. This past week I pinched my nose, took a deep breath, and went on a deep dive into the dark alleys of the Internet.

10419016_1084193541621261_4637591570175229947_n

And it happened, I hit paydirt. “Sunny Day” by Loco Ono is everything I love wrapped up into one incredible three-minute forty-eight-second song. The track is part-grunge, part-shoegaze, and all awesome.The pounding, almost tribal drums that open the song instantly grabbed my attention. The song is sung by a very gentle, cute-sounding girl…but she’s singing about dying and rotting “one sunny day.” I’m a big sucker for this sort of juxtaposition, no matter how many times rock chicks pull it–it always works on me. Then the guitars kick in and I instantly started swooning. The song has a pretty trippy animated video that apparently cost the band next-to-nothing to make, which makes me love them even more.

I have spent the past few days trying to find out everything I can about Loco Ono, and boy the info is in short supply. Near as I can currently tell, they hail from the UK and this is their only song that’s commercially available. The track, as previously mentioned, has a video on YouTube and appears on a compilation album on Bandcamp called LONDON VS. BOGATA. I spent 2 pounds and downloaded the song on Bandcamp just so I could listen to it over and over on my way to work. The band has a few more tracks posted on their Soundcloud page which I’m looking forward to digging into just as soon as I finish this post.

Check out “Sunny Day” and let me know what you think in the comments below.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Rock N’ Read: Complicated Game Inside The Songs of XTC

‘I think it was the middle of 2000 when I was introduced to XTC via the band’s final swan song APPLE VENUS VOLUME 2 (WASP STAR). I remember being totally blown away by the band and eagerly devoured that album as well as the 1999 release APPLE VENUS VOLUME 1. I’ve always been a fan of lush, literate pop songs and that happens to be XTC’s specialty. I dove head first into XTC’s back catalogue and was surprised to learn that the band start out as a punk/New Wave outfit before slowly morphing into a Beatle-esque pop band. One of the reason the band never took off is because the band famously stopped touring due to lead singer/songwriter Andy Partridge’s stage fright. Partridge retreated from the spotlight after 2000 and the band only popped up on my radar occasionally when they released a smattering of demos and alternate takes of their previous output. The band remained a bit of a mystery to me, outside of their music for years, and other than one grizzled-looking CD Warehouse employee I never met anyone that seemed to be aware of them. I recently learned that Partridge has stepped back into the spotlight a bit via Twitter and writing for a few other artists (namely The Monkees whose new album I have previously reviewed).

XTC-Andy-Partridge-cover.jpg.CROP.promovar-mediumlarge

Writer Todd Bernhardt has spent the past decade interviewing Partridge on many of XTC’s greatest songs. Apparently, these interviews were posted on a now-defunct fan website. His book Complicated Game: Inside the Songs of XTC collects and expands upon these interviews. This sort of book, a back and forth conversation between a writer/reporter and an artist, is probably my favorite type of long-form music writing. I love hearing an artist talk at length about their work. I eagerly dove into the book, ready to finally get insight into some of my all-time favorite pop songs. And to that end, Complicated Game succeeds in spades. My only issue with the book is that it dives very deep into the mechanics of these songs. If you’re a musician and a can follow Bernhardt and Partridge’s conversation about chord changes and keyboard filters, then this book will be a treasure trove of information. If, however, you aren’t a musician and are a bit of a dunce like me you’re going to be a bit lost in a good chunk of the book. There are great behind the scenes tales and for the most part, Partridge answers all of Bernhardt’s questions with honesty and aplomb (no dodging here).

The best chapters focused on the band’s most famous song and one of their more obscure songs. I found the chapter on “Dear God” to be highly illuminating. “Dear God” has fascinated me for many reasons and I was very interested in learning about the song’s development and the how and why it was initially left off of the band’s album SKYLARKING (and how it got added back once the song took off and became XTC’s biggest hit). The reasons behind its omission aren’t quite what I was expecting and its addition to the tightly structured concept album SKYLARKING is less problematic than I’d always considered. The chapter on one of XTC’s side project The Dukes of Stratosphere songs was also very intriguing. I’d always wanted to know how the psychedelic alter-ego band came about and how this project’s songs were crafted. Those two chapters made Complicated Game worth every penny for me. The insight provided into the band’s other songs were interesting as well, though there were a few songs not covered that I’d have liked to have read about. The book also spends quite a bit of time discussing Swindon, the English town where Partridge lives and wrote about extensively in many of XTC’s songs. I’d always pictured a Kinks-esque VILLAGE GREEN type hamlet but Complicated Game paints a more realistic version. I was a bit disappointed that the band’s bassist, Colin Moulding, didn’t get as many props from Partridge as I’d have thought. Sure, Andy was generous on more than a few occasions when discussing Moulding’s bass parts…but he didn’t gush the way I’d have thought. I know the two had a bit of a falling out, but this still struck me as odd. Perhaps I’m a bit too sensitive when it comes to Moulding, whom I have always felt was an overlooked genius.

I’d recommend this book to only the hardest of hardcore XTC/Andy Partridge fans. I think that if you’re a huge fan hungering for more information on the band and their creative process, you should check this book out right away. If you’re a casual fan or someone unwilling to sift through some serious technical music-talk, then you should proceed with caution. Andy Partridge is a humble genius and much of the discussion found in Complicated Game will go over your head (it went over mine). There are a few songs/chapters where Andy’s recollections are a bit on the sparse side, but even when the songwriter can’t recall every single detail he’s able to provide a lot of insightful analysis of the song. Lastly, I very much doubt that Mr. Partridge will happen upon this review, but if he does (or if Mr. Bernhardt sees this) I’d very much like to convey to him how happy I would be if he were put out brand-new music. Demos and fuzzy warbles are fun, but nothing beats fully-finished tunes. The song he penned for the latest Monkees album was a slice of brilliance the world needs more of these days.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

ROCK N’ READ: The Rap Year Book

Earlier this summer I was in Barnes & Noble, haunting the Arts & Entertainment section. I was looking for a good book to read on the history of punk music, what I found instead was a really good primer for rap music. Shea Serrano, a former columnist on the now-defunct Grantland website, has crafted a nice introduction to the genre. Far from being definitive, The Rap Year Book: The Most Important Rap Song From Every Year Since 1979, Discussed, Debated, and Deconstructed provides a nice introduction to a rap novice (such as myself). Like the rather lengthy title suggests, the book is broken up into chapters by year starting in 1979 and ending in 2014, each chapter focuses on the most important song of said year. Serrano opens each chapter simply with a “What This Song Is About” and “Why It’s Important” section before proceeding to wax philosophically about the merits of that years song. This longer, essay portion of each chapter is followed up with a colorful infographic or illustration that ties somehow into the subject matter of the song featured. These are all really amusing, though I didn’t get to enjoy them as fully as I’d would have liked because I bought the Kindle version of the book and most of them didn’t display properly on my iPad.

1016_rap-yearbook-cover.jpg

The Rap Year Book chronicles the maturation of the the genre and illustrates not only the massive creative talent behind the music, but also maps out the various genres and sub-genres that contributed to the birth of rap. Despite being a thoughtful, articulate explanation of why each song is most important song of a particular year, this book is divisive as hell. Anytime one tries to pick “the best of the year” in any subject, there’s going to be some hard choices made. Refreshingly, at the end of every chapter there is a “Rebuttal” section where another writer gives a brief explanation of why an entirely different song from that year is actually the best song. Some of these short mini-essays could have been fleshed out themselves into interesting chapters. I found this to be a ballsy move on Serrano’s part and helps to illustrate just how the author doesn’t 100% fully believe that his picks are the only correct picks for song of the year.

In case your’e wondering, here are Serrano’s picks/chapters of the book:

1979 “Rapper’s Delight” The Sugarhill Gang

1980 “The Breaks” Kurtis Blow

1981 “Jazzy Sensation” Afrika Bambaataa and the Jazzy Five

1982 “The Message” Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five

1983 “Sucker M.C.’s” Run-DMC

1984 “Friends” Whodini

1985 “La Di Da Di” Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick

1986 “6 in the Mornin’” Ice-T

1987 “Paid in Full” Eric B. and Rakim

1988 “Straight Outta Compton” N.W.A

1989 “Fight the Power” Public Enemy

1990 “Bonita Applebum” A Tribe Called Quest

1991 “Mind Playing Tricks on Me” Geto Boys

1992 “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang” Dr. Dre, featuring Snoop Dogg

1993 “C.R.E.A.M.” Wu-Tang Clan

1994 “Juicy” The Notorious B.I.G.

1995 “Dear Mama” Tupac

1996 “California Love” Tupac, featuring Dr. Dre and Roger Troutman

1997 “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down” Puff Daddy, featuring Mase

1998 “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem” DMX

1999 “My Name Is” Eminem

2000 “Big Pimpin’” Jay Z, featuring UGK

2001 “Takeover” vs. “Ether” Jay Z vs. Nas

2002 “Grindin’” The Clipse

2003 “In Da Club” 50 Cent

2004 “Still Tippin’” Mike Jones, featuring Slim Thug and Paul Wall

2005 “Gold Digger” Kanye West, featuring Jamie Foxx

2006 “Hustlin’” Rick Ross

2007 “International Players Anthem” UGK, featuring Outkast

2008 “A Milli” Lil Wayne

2009 “Best I Ever Had” Drake

2010 “Monster” Kanye West, featuring Rick Ross, Jay Z, Bon Iver, and Nicki Minaj

2011 “Niggas in Paris” Jay Z and Kanye West

2012 “Same Love” Macklemore and Ryan Lewis

2013 “Control” Big Sean, featuring Kendrick Lamar and Jay Electronica

2014 “Lifestyle” Rich Gang, featuring Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan

 Obviously the first chapter, 1979’s “Rapper’s Delight” by The Sugarhill Gang, is an important chapter because it kicks off both the book and the genre itself. Other standout chapters (in my humble opinion) are 1989’s “Fight the Power,” 1990’s “Bonita Applebum” (cited here as the “first true rap love song”), and 2006’s “Hustlin.” I really enjoyed the chapter on Rick Ross’ “Hustlin” because I liked finding out what a complete and utter bullshit artist Ross is. The evolution of rap songwriting from brutally autobiographical to the fanciful bullshit stylings of Rick Ross is a fascinating transformation. I also really appreciate how well-represented Kanye West during the 00’s.

There’s a Spotify playlist available that features the songs mentioned in the book and it’s just as essential. Overall, I think the careful thought and intelligent analysis of The Rap Year Book make this a must-read for anyone even remotely interested it the both rap music and modern black art. Even if you don’t agree with all of the choices for song of the year, there is so much good analysis of lyrics, artist backstory, historical context, and in-depth interpretation this is one year book you’ll actually want to revisit.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Spring/Early Summer 2016 Album Lightning Round: A Whole Lotta Love

My buddy Ovidiu Boar over at Tangle Up In Music has a really nice recurring column where he combines a bunch of short album reviews into one long post. I’ve got a pretty large backlog of albums to review that came out over the last few months so I’m adopting (read: stealing) his format in order to purge myself of these albums. I believe in giving credit where credit is due, so go check out Ovidiu Boar and his fantastic website.

Alright, now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, here’s a couple of albums I’ve been meaning to review:

WEEZER (White Album) by Weezer

Weezer_-_Weezer_(The_White_Album)

Weezer are one of those bands that I sometimes wish would just stop recording and retire. But every time I completely write them off the band turns up with a decent album. The last time Weezer surprised me was back in 2008 when they released THE RED ALBUM, and that was nearly a decade ago. Since that time, the band has continued to tour and released albums. None of them were very good/memorable and when they came out, I didn’t hear anyone talk about them. I’m not sure what’s going on with Weezer, but when the best song your band’s put out in 8 years is a cover of “Unbreak My Heart,” it might be time to hang up your boots. Then last month, when I was listening to the new Monkees album, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that my favorite track was written by Rivers Cuomo. Which got me excited about the new Weezer album, which is again self-titled and will henceforth be referred to by its color designation. THE WHITE ALBUM doesn’t have anything on it as good as his Monkee’s song “She Makes Me Laugh,” but the album isn’t a disaster. In fact, there’s some pretty good stuff on it. Before I praise the band, however, I have to acknowledge that once again the single is the worst part of a Weezer album. “Thank God For Girls” once again features Rivers embarrassing-as-hell rapping. I’m not sure who keeps telling him he can pull this off, but I wish they’d be honest with him. Rivers: you can’t rap, please stop.

“(Girl We Got A) Good Thing” should have been the single! It’s a great pop ballad that actually would have fit nicely on that Monkee’s album I keep mentioning. A fun, throwback pop song, it’s the kind of track the band’s marketing should be pushing. The album opener, “California Kids” is another track I really enjoy.  Both of these songs have a Beach Boys-by-way-of-The Cars sound that I really dig it.

“Do You Wanna Get High?” has a catchy chorus that (subject matter notwithstanding) also would have made a good choice for an album single. Near the end THE WHITE ALBUM loses steam, particularly on “L.A. Girlz” which is as dumb as the track’s spelling. Thankfully, the album redeems itself with the  fantastically sublime campfire singalong closing track “Endless Bummer.” This is hands-down my favorite track on the album, mostly because it’s the kind of sad sack song Weezer used to be really good at writing.  Any song (or album for that matter) with the lyrics “kumbaya makes me violent/I just want this summer to end” can’t be anything but awesome. Weezer, I’m glad you’re still out there plugging away. Hopefully it won’t be another 8 years before they put out another good album.

 

PAGING MR. PROUST by The Jayhawks

939ef47004151915970f6a7067007411

The Jayhawks are one of those great 90’s college rock bands I don’t ever hear enough people talk about. I’m not exactly sure why they never reached the same legendary status of their peers R.E.M, but they really should have become household names. The last Jayhawks album I listened to was RAINY DAY MUSIC from 2003, which if you haven’t heard is fantastic and worth checking out. The Jayhawks are an Americana/Folk-Rock band that sometimes sound an awful lot like Neil Young & CSNY so if you’re a fan of that kind of music, The Jayhawks are probably your next favorite band.

PAGING MR. PROUST features the same brilliant harmonies and guitar playing one would expect to find on a Jayhawks album, but with an extra shade of darkness. I’m not sure how to explain it, but this music reminds me of autumnal sunset. There’s a cool edge bleeding into the band’s warmth and a lonely feeling permeates the album. PAGING MR. PROUST opens with “Quiet Corners & Empty Spaces” a song drenched in 60’s era folk. The harmonies kick in and I suddenly remembered why I love this band so much. “Lovers of the Sun” with it’s quiet melancholy is achingly beautiful and my favorite track on the record. My second favorite song is the harder edged “Comeback Kids,” which is a great love song that isn’t afraid to sound a little spooky. Another standout track, “The Devil In Her Eyes” features a stratospheric guitar solo at the end that recalls Mr. Young’s PSYCHEDELIC PILL record from a few years back.  “Dust of Long Dead Stars” with it’s Romantics-esque guitar riff is another standout track.

Not everything on the album fires on all cylinders, and there are sadly a few duds on the album. I have tried to love “Lost the Summer” but just can’t connect with it. The track’s intentionally cold, detached feel is no doubt the barrier preventing me from enjoying it. I can intellectually see that it’s great, with some fantastic guitar work, but it just doesn’t move me. Similarly, the scratchy/glitchy sounding “Ace” is more filler and less album track. I’m not sure why the band felt that this needed to be included on PAGING MR. PROUST. Still, these minor blemishes can’t distort the overall beauty of this Jayhawks album.

 

THE GETAWAY by Red Hot Chili Peppers

34433F5D00000578-3592170-image-a-1_1463440052471

I nearly copied and pasted my opening paragraph from my Weezer review. The Red Hot Chili Peppers are yet another 90’s band that I sometimes think should just give up the ghost and retire as legends. I found their last album, 2011’s I’M WITH YOU, to be pedestrian and highly forgettable. The band’s last truly great album was 1999’s CALIFORNICATION (I really liked parts of STADIUM ARCADIUM but being a bloated double-album take it down a few notches in my book), which if you’re keeping score was a really long time ago. I’ve never really been a real big Chili Peppers fan, but back in 2012 and 2013 the band released a bunch of songs recorded during the I’M WITH YOU sessions–songs that weren’t featured on the album. These songs, collected as I’M BESIDE YOU, are some of the best songs I’ve ever heard from the band. I actually need to sit down and do a write-up on these tracks because they are outstanding. So, these amazing b-sides are what piqued my interest for THE GETAWAY.

How is the album? It’s pretty good. Nothing on the album is as great as those b-sides from 2012/2013, but there are some good stuff on THE GETAWAY. The title track is a great, classic late-era Peppers-sounding track. With a funky beat and that distinct electric bass that’s come to define the band, it starts the album off right. Sadly the album can’t maintain this momentum and becomes a bit underwhelming, with one too many un-funky tracks for my liking. Besides the aforementioned “The Getaway,” I also enjoyed the equally good “Dark Necessities.”

And while the album never drops off, never to regain the heights of that one-two-punch, there are good tracks sprinkled throughout the rest of the album. For example, I enjoyed “Detroit” the band’s love letter to that hardscrabble Michigan city. The buoyant “We Turn Red” sounds like a single waiting to happen, it’s a great song that recalls the band’s earlier efforts. I wish the bulk of the album had been as energetic, the only other track on THE GETAWAY that comes close to being as interesting is the shimmering dance track”Go Robot.”And while I don’t think it’s fantastic, it’s worth checking out the album closer “Dreams of a Samurai” which besides being very strange, seems to reference the recent death of Scott Weiland.

Sadly, I don’t think I can recommend THE GETAWAY but there’s enough interesting stuff on the album that I also can’t outright dismiss it. If you’re a diehard fan you’ll probably be pleased enough with the record, everyone else should just stick to the singles. And, of course, stay tuned for that post on those amazing b-sides the band put out a few years ago.

 

That’s it for now. I imagine I’ll have to do one more of these to get myself fully caught up. Chime in below if you’ve heard any of these albums and agree/disagree with me (I love hearing how wrong I am).

 

 

 

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Send Defending Axl Rose To See Kanye West

Hello. Well this is awkward. A few weeks ago I found out that Kanye West would be touring in support of his latest album/magnum opus THE LIFE OF PABLO. Normally, this would be great news except he wasn’t coming to the city I live in. I was pretty bummed out. Then, a few days after my birthday, my parents got to see Guns N’ Roses in Kansas City. While very happy for them, this also really bummed me out. I should have gone to that show, but unfortunately a new job and a new baby (plus lack of money) meant that I’d have to skip seeing GNR. I’m barely able to live with myself, people. I swore that the next time a “Holy Fuck!” artist went on tour I’d do everything in my power to go and see them.

Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 9.45.12 AM

Which leads me to Kanye. I was once offered free tickets to see Kanye open for U2, but I had already made unbreakable plans was was forced to pass up the opportunity. My relationship with Kanye started in the fall of 2005. I was living in the dorms at the University of St.Louis-Missouri when hurricane Katrina hit. The kids studying in New Orleans were distributed to colleges all across the nation. I remember sitting on the front porch of my dorm building, smoking Camel cigarettes, when a van pulled up and deposited two such refugees. The school representative helped them with their luggage, gave them vouchers for food, and then basically said “good luck” and drove off. I could tell that these kids were shell-shocked and in need of help. I didn’t really know anyone in St. Louis at the time, having just moved there myself, so I sympathized with them. I took them out for lunch and we became friends. They introduced me to Budweiser (up until that point I did not know there was any variety other than Bud Light), Tyler Perry movies, and Kanye West. LATE REGISTRATION had just dropped and they insisted that I hear it. That was my gateway to rap music, a gift that continues to enrich my life over ten years later.

This year’s LIFE OF PABLO is my number one favorite album. It’s the album I listen to when I run and when I speed to fast on the highway. In short, I need to see this man, but I can’t afford a trip and concert without help. Please take a moment to consider donating to my Go Fund Me campaign.  It feels weird asking for this money, but at the same time you’ll be getting something out of this, too. For starters, I plan on writing extensively about both the lead-up to the concert, the concert, and my post-concert thoughts/feelings. Maybe some of you would pay to NOT get my thoughts on a Kanye West concert, to those people I say: “Why are you still reading this post?” I’m going to reward my top donors with a thank you package and wear the names of everyone who donated to the fund on a special t-shirt when (if?) I attend the show.

I promise not to be annoying about this and post about it ad nauseam. I also won’t make this a “thing” that I do for every concert I go to. I can afford a $35 ticket to see Weezer in the city where I live, I don’t expect people to pick up the tab on that sort of thing. I do feel like I’ve turned my readers onto good albums and songs over the years. And I know I’ve made you laugh (at least once) even it was at me and not necessarily with me…that has to be worth a buck or two, right?

Tagged , , , , ,

Train Hilariously Cover All of LED ZEPPELIN II

“Dear God, why?” That’s what I thought when I logged into Spotify last week and spotted Train’s new album DOES LED ZEPPELIN II. I’m still not 100% sure why the album appeared in my feed. I know it’s not because I’m a huge Train fan…maybe it’s because I love Zeppelin? Just so we’re all clear, the Train in question (who just released a top-to-bottom cover of the second Led Zeppelin album) is the San Francisco alt-rockers best known for their 2001 album DROPS OF JUPITER.

I can’t believe that I’m writing a post about this band. Train is one of those incredibly forgettable bands that came and went without anyone really noticing because of how bland they are.  “Drops of Jupiter” is one of those obnoxious ear-worms that infect you and cause you to embarrass yourself in the grocery check-out line when you start quietly singing it under your breath. The only thing more vanilla-boring than Train are The Fray (don’t get me started). The more I think about it, the more I realize how the late 1990’s/early 2000’s were a truly dismal time for Top 40 pop-rock.

unnamed

The album artwork is just as inspired as the music.

Anyway, this complete cover album is totally baffling to me on two levels. The first is: why does this exist? I don’t think I’m being (too) cheeky when I pose this question. What does it serve to make an album that covers a legendary album like LED ZEPPELIN II? This ties into my second “why?” in regards to this album: why would you release an album of covers that sounds exactly like the original? If I want to hear the second Zeppelin album, I can go and listen to it anytime I want. It still stands up today as one of the finest blues-inspired hard rock albums. If I want to hear another artist cover songs that love, I usually want said artist to bring something to the table. DOES LED ZEPPELIN II is so ridiculously slavish to the original (fantastic) recording, that it literally does not need to exist. There is no point. Sure, the production is a little cleaner, the guitar playing not quiet as tight, and the vocals a pale imitation of Robert Plants legendary performance…but the whole package sounds so much like Zeppelin that most casual listeners might actually mistake it for the original album.

I think that most of us would agree that an ideal cover presents a familiar (or unfamiliar) song in a new light. The best covers are more interpretive than mimicry. That’s why something like Gary Jules’ cover of the Tears For Fears song “Mad World” is so outstanding. Rather than reproduce the song verbatim, Jules took a great track and slowed it down turning a sad song into a wonderfully somber dirge. The same goes for Johnny Cash’s cover of the Nine Inch Nails song “Hurt.” When I think of both of those songs I almost never think about the original versions–that’s how good those two covers are.

Train had to have known that the kind of Gus Van Sant-devotion they were exhibiting on the Zeppelin project could only be viewed as an exercise in complete wankery. Surely the point of such a stunt is to show off that it could be done. I guess it is impressive that such a lame, mediocre band could record such an album…but the fact that they chose to record DOES LED ZEPPELIN II just goes to underscore why I find them so hilariously irrelevant. Hey Train, want to show smarmy bloggers like me that you’re not lame? Take the skill you used to create DOES LED ZEPPELIN II and make your own epic record.

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

GOOD TIMES! by The Monkees

Can somebody please tell me when it was that nostalgia became such a huge commodity? I don’t remember there being so much reverence for the past when I was a wee lad. Sometime in the 1990’s when they started adapting shows like The Brady Bunch and Lost in Space into feature films is when I became aware of nostalgia for the first time. I used to think it was kinda sad/lame, but now that I’m turning into an old fart I’m beginning to see the appeal. Anyway, I bring all this up because when I first heard that The Monkees were going to put out a new album in 2016, I was pretty much nonplussed but I could smell the nostalgia in the air. These long lost reunions never yield anything close to good, so I wrote the whole concept of a new Monkees album off.

the-monkees-good-times-album-rivers-cuomo

The Monkees were never really my thing. Besides being too young to watch their television show, I was born in an era where they were considered a joke. A sad, pale corporate imitation of The Beatles. Growing up I was a Beatle-fan and had no time for The Monkees and their less-than serious 60’s shtick. It wasn’t until I got much older that I learned that while The Monkees weren’t exactly serious musicians, they had a ton of real talent backing them up. People like Carole King and Harry Nilsson were penning songs for the imaginary TV-band. It was around the time that Gorillaz came out that my attitude towards The Monkees started to change. Perhaps I’d judged them too harshly. Less of a band and more of a cultural happening, The Monkees occupy a very strange (very meta) part of 1960’s culture.

So what about this new 2016 album, GOOD TIMES? Well, I got interested in it a bit once I found out that Adam Schlesinger from Fountains of Wayne was going to produce the record. Then I found out The Monkees were tapping Andy Partridge of XTC and Rivers Cuomo of Weezer to write songs. Then I heard the album would feature new covers of Harry Nilsson and Carole King songs–and the deal was sealed for me: I had to hear this record. It’s a strange thing to log into your Spotify account and boot up a new album from The Monkees. But that’s the world that we live in now, so that’s what I did a few weeks ago when the album was released. To my shock, GOOD TIMES! is a fantastic pop album that’s a ton of fun to listen to. Is this groundbreaking, earth-shattering music? No. Is GOOD TIMES! a soul-lifting, life-inspiring album that reaffirmed my love of music? Not quite. Is it the best Monkees album of all time? Yeah, it is.

I realize that statement, “best Monkees album of all time,” might seem like faint praise…because it is…but remember this is band that put out “Last Train to Clarksville.” While not the greatest song of all time, “Last Train To Clarksville” is a one of the better bubblegum pop songs from any decade, not just the decade when Brian Wilson and Paul McCartney were at their pop zenith.

GOOD TIMES! opens with Nilsson’s “Good Time,” a soulful, sweaty party song. Lead singer Davy Jones has sadly left us, so Micky Dolenz does most of the singing (though Jones does appear posthumously on one track, the Neil Diamond-penned “Love to Love”).

“You Bring the Summer” is a lovely, charming pop ditty that recalls the quaint, innocent teenybopper party songs of the early 1960’s (read: before the drugs really hit). Written by Andy Partridge, the track sounds like it’d belong on the gentler-side of one of his Dukes of Stratosphere recordings. There are a couple of odd British phrases (i.e. “sun cream” rather than “sun screen”) that add a glaze of weirdness to an otherwise basic (albeit very proficient) pop song. Rivers Cuomo’s song “She Makes Me Laugh” is easily the best song on the album, a sunny song of love and devotion. The track artfully blends Beatle-esque rock with Beach Boys-like backing vocals. This is the sort of song you hear and when you get to the end you hit “repeat” so you can go again. The only part of “She Makes Me Laugh” that bums me out is the fact that Rivers isn’t able to conjure up a song like this for Weezer. Whatever happened to Mr. Cuomo and Co. can’t be blamed on a lack of talent–Cuomo can still write a really great song. I guess there’s always the next Weezer album, but I digress…

Another really great track is “Me & Magdalena,” a soft ballad written by Ben Gibbard of Death Cab For Cutie. The song has a dreamy, twilight feel that’s very comforting…it took me a few listens before I picked up on the fact that the song is ostensibly about death/dying. It’s not the buzzkill that you’d think and is head-and-shoulders above the rest of the material on the album (i.e. it’s more than just a fun pop song). This song is so good, in fact, it’s got me thinking I need to revisit Death Cab (a band that I never really gave a fair shake to if I’m being honest).

“Birth of an Accidental Hipster,” the strangest track on the record, has the most interesting pedigree. Written by Oasis founder Noel Gallagher and Paul Weller of The Jam, “Birth of an Accidental Hipster” is weird. There are weird vocal effects and the song yo-yos between faux-psychedelia and campfire sing-a-long. The first time I heard it I was convince that it was the worst song on the record. Then I saw that it was written by two to of the best British songwriters of the last 30 years, so I gave the track another chance. Then I gave it another chance. And another. Eventually the song wove it’s magic on me and it’s one of my favorites on the record. But like “Me & Magdalena” it doesn’t feel like a Monkees track, it’s a bit of an outlier. But that’s a good thing.

“Wasn’t Born To Follow”is a Carole King/Gerry Goffin song that was most famously covered by The Byrds. The song has a pastoral, Kinks-like quality that I really dig. Like the Harry Nilsson track that opens the album, this older song is less bubblegum than those written by the youngbloods. It would have been interesting to hear an album of just these type of songs. I found the tonal shifting with these more meaningful songs and the new bubblegum was a bit dizzying. GOOD TIMES! is front-loaded with new, sugary songs and ends on decidedly more adult fare.

Overall, GOOD TIMES! is…well…a really good time! A handful of these songs will probably haunt my playlists for years to come. I wouldn’t call this an all-timer by any means, but for a 2016 Monkees album, GOOD TIMES! is pretty outstanding. Worth noting, there a bunch of non-album tracks that one can hear depending on the venue by which they consume the record. On Spotify/digital streaming services, the bonus tracks are “Terrifying” written by Zach Rogue of Rouge Wave and an electric uptempo version of “Me & Magdalena.” I’m not a fan of the latter, but “Terrifying” is damn good and probably should have been included on the album proper. I’m half tempted to seek out the other bonus tracks just to see what other fantastic nuggets were omitted.

Put aside your preconceived notions and give GOOD TIMES! a shot if you’re a fan of any of the songwriters mentioned above and/or if you’re a fan of old-fashioned pop music.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Will Axl Put the “A” in AC/DC?

From the files of “Too Strange For Fiction” comes the rumor that W. Axl Rose, your friend and mine, is going to step-in as lead singer and finish AC/DC’s current tour. Excuse me, what? Seriously, this is without a doubt the weirdest story I can personally recall involving modern rock music. But let’s take a step back to see just how we got to this (really freaking weird) place.

The former-current lead singer, Brian Johnson, announced on March 7th that he would be unable to finish the last 10 dates of the band’s tour. The reason? His doctor told him that continuing to perform would cost him his hearing. Let that sink in for a moment. Brian Johnson no doubt has access to the best healthcare available to human-kind (dude is in one of the biggest rock bands in history). I’m sure there was much “are you sure?” and second-opinioning made before such a lucrative tour was essentially placed on pause. When this story first broke, I thought “damn that sucks, but that’s the price you pay for being in a rock band.” Then it came out that Johnson lost his hearing as a result of driving race cars. Could there be anything crazier than losing your hearing from race car driving? Not being in one of the biggest, hardest rocking bands of all time…no driving a really loud car did his ears in.

acdc-axl-rose-Cropped-671x377

Like most people (I think) yours truly thought that this was finally the end of AC/DC. I remember thinking “Damn, first they lose Malcolm Young to dementia…then kick Phil Rudd out for going bananas/plotting murder…losing their lead singer is the end of this band.” Of course, I should have known better. AC/DC is the band that deified the death of their original (and best) lead singer Bon Scott. A true hellraiser, Scott was AC/DC and yet…after his death in 1980 after basically drinking himself into a stupor. Brian Johnson joined the band, and AC/DC released BACK IN BLACK. You know, the band’s most popular album, the one that even non-fans know entirely by heart. Besides being such a huge smash and a cultural milestone, BACK IN BLACK proved that it was possible for a band to not only move on after the loss of a frontman, said band could thrive. So why wouldn’t guitarist Angus Young want the show to go on and for AC/DC to get a new lead singer?

But this is where the story starts getting…strange. On March 15th comedian Jim Breuer (yes, the stoner-ish dude from SNL) stated that his friend Brian Johnson hadn’t quit the band for health reasons: he was kicked out. Breuer claimed that Johnson was planning on defying his doctor’s orders and finishing the tour. Before he had a chance to work out plans with the band, Breuer claimed Johnson was kicked out of the band.

Brian Johnson is 8 years older than Angus, whom Breuer claims wants to continue the band “for at least another 10 years.” So a much younger lead singer would certainly help AC/DC to solider on and make that sweet, sweet touring money. But who would be cast into the role of frontman? Speculation swirled online, with several people throwing their names into the hat for consideration. My favorite of these was Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist the lead singer from The Hives (whom apparently toured with AC/DC in the past as an opening act). Another interesting person in the running (maybe?) is the Marc Storace, the lead singer of Krokus. This choice seems more likely, as he was asked to audition for AC/DC to replace Bon Scott back in the 80’s, which he famously turned down.

I’ve been trying to figure out where the rumors of Axl Rose joining AC/DC originated from, and it’s a bit tricky. Apparently, both Rose and AC/DC where in Atlanta, Georgia (of all places) at the same time…and this geographical proximity launched the rumor. At least, I thought it was just a rumor. Then late this week, Malcolm Young’s son posted twice on social media that Rose was going to take over singing duties for the band. These posts were quickly pulled down, adding further fuel the the fire that this was serious and that there are negotiations happening right now for Rose to front the band.

Would Axl be a good choice for AC/DC? From a financial and marketing perspective I would say: hell yes. Both AC/DC and Axl could use the bump in promotion. AC/DC are as popular as ever, but having the lead singer from another legendary rock band would do wonders for their bottom line. Axl Rose also stands to reap the benefit$ as well. With the Guns N’ Roses reunion looming on the horizon, anything that Axl can do to increase his visibility and prove that he’s still a great frontman will only help put asses in seats and make him money. A Guns N’ Roses reunion is a certain money maker, but promotion costs money but joining AC/DC would be one helluva marketing campaign. And it wouldn’t cost Rose anything. Hell, if this all turns out to be an elaborate hoax, the reason neither side is coming out and squashing it is no doubt due to the tremendous interest this story has caused.

But that’s not really the question is it? Would Axl be a good fit for AC/DC in a musical sense? No, as much as I love Axl, I don’t think he’s the right guy to sing AC/DC’s songs. He’s not gruff and bluecollar enough to pull that off. Oh sure, one or two songs would be cool, but I can’t imagine he’d be able to pull of an entire setlist of songs from the band in any sort of believable way. And are they going to toss in a GNR song or two? I think that people would expect that and I don’t see Angus wanting to play any of those songs.

I feel really grateful that I had the chance to see AC/DC on the BLACK ICE tour in 2008. I’m also really grateful that I run an Axl Rose-themed blog in a year where we’re going to see a GNR reunion and a possible Rose-fronted AC/DC. Can you imagine what this is going to do to my page views?

Tagged , , , , , , , ,