Friday, April 16, 2010

Where Are We Now?

This blog is retired. We're now at Old Man Rocking.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Why So Blue?

There are few things in life as joyously satisfying as discovering new music. (Ok, there are others, but this is a music blog, so c'mon...) The best kind of discovery is a new artist, fresh to the scene, whom you can track from day one, watch them bloom (and, likely, ultimately fade). You buy the album, see the show, wait eagerly for the next release, and so on. Personally, I don't have many discoveries like this these days. Back in the 80's, when I was dj'ing and had access to more new releases than I could count, sure. Even after college, when I had the time to haunt record stores and try things out, maybe. But these days, I just don't have the time. Yes, there are those rare occasions when I spend an hour or two listlessly surfing around, clicking on the online samples, trying to find something new... but I just don't do it that often.

Anyway, that's one kind of discovery. But in some ways even cooler is the discovery of some long-forgotten artist you had never heard of before. No, you'll never know the pleasure of seeing them live, or picking up their next release... but it can be pretty damn cool to have instant access to the artist's entire history, snag their entire catalog at once, a wealth of new (to you) music in an instant.

This is kinda the latter. Thanks to the fine folks at Not Lame (my main source for more power pop and indie pop than I'll ever get around to actually listening to... geez, there's a lot out there, but Not Lame does a better job than any other online store of making it available... sign up for their newsletter today!), I stumbled across a 70's Scottish band called Blue. What, you never heard of them either? Their work is long out of print, but Not Lame got hold of their 1973 self-titled debut and made a limited number available. If you're a Badfinger fan, this is for you... yes, a little Big Star, a little Raspberries, but at root this is the great lost Badfinger album. Catchy, mellow pop tracks with great hooks and gorgeous harmonies. I'd always figured that fellow Scots Teenage Fanclub were entirely Big Star-derived, but I'm guessing they grew up familiar with Blue. Don't get me wrong; it's a flawed album. Too many of the tracks veer into 70's soft pop territory, the sort of thing you might find on a compilation hyped on a late night informercial featuring a hand-holding couple walking on the beach. The lyrics can be sappy boy-girl stuff. And don't get me started on that one faux-calypso track. But, still, overall, one of those albums that on first listen had me thoroughly pissed that I had to wait 36 years to hear it.

Here are a few YouTube samples:

And another one from the debut (no video, just audio):

I also managed to track down their follow-up album, 1974's Life In The Navy, which sounds like it could be a Village People disco album but, nope. (No sign of this being in print, so I had to settle for a vinyl rip someone had posted online.) It's not quite as consistent as the first album, but still decent enough. It's got more of an Americana vibe to it, laid back California country, with a healthy dose of CSN (not to mention a track that's a pretty direct rip of Neil Young's "Down By The River," but lord knows there are worse songs to mimic). If the first album was their take on Badfinger, this one is the great lost Brinsley Schwarz album, country-tinged American music as played by a UK band.

Here's a sample from the second album (one of the songs I like least, but it's all I could find online):

They stuck around for a few more equally obscure albums. At some point Elton John jumped on the bandwagon, producing them (but failing to bring them any additional fame, aside from a lone semi-hit single). Not terribly interested in those albums, based on what little I've read -- more overproduced, a bit glammy and a bit cheesy. You be the judge -- here's something from 1977's Another Night Time Flight:

Anyway, if you can track down that first album through Not Lame (or, if they're sold out, find an online rip)... do it, and do it soon. Don't wait another 36 years.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

New Mix: Eleventh Dream Day

As far as single artist mixes go, this one's pretty incomplete, more of a narrow sampler than a fair overview of an artist. Chicago-based Eleventh Dream Day have been kicking around, on & off and in various formations, since the mid-80s, but this mix (and my interest in the band) focuses on their trio of great, guitar-driven albums from 89-93. Which means I skip their noisier, lo-fi post-punk early work and the series of more sedate, moody albums they've been steadily issuing over the past decade and a half. Leaving 80 minutes of sheer sonic joy, when bandleader Rick Rizzo was a force to be reckoned with.

EDD draw their sound in large part from the dark post-punk Americana of, say, Dream Syndicate, with raging leads straight out of the Neil Young & Crazy Horse songbook; dual guitar lines suggest hints of Television and early Feelies; the occasional blending of male/female vox also brings to mind X and jangle-popsters the Reivers. But the most obvious analogy is Yo La Tengo. Vocalist with a Lou Reed-infused sing/speak vocal style? Check. Petite wife on drums and occasional vocals? Check. Building rhythms culminating in screeching guitar solos begging for more volume than your stereo can muster? Check.

Their first solid album was 1989's Beet, and it's a doozy. Loads of killer tunes, and very little filler. "Testify" is bluesy and intense. "Bomb The Mars Hotel" is a delightful, boisterous tirade about blowing away deadheads, and, while I suppose I might be among the targets of such a purge, it's hard not to smile when Rizzo screams "No more dancing bears!" with twisted fury. And my favorite track's always been "Teenage Pin Queen," five minutes of slice-of-middle-America drawn from a roadside bowling alley, quiet guitar finger picking building to a stabbing frenzy and fading to a quiet coda. It's freakin' awesome, folks.

The band then peaked with 1991's Lived To Tell. Not a dramatic change from Beet, though the songs are even more consistently strong. Drummer Janet Bean gets a more pronounced role, bringing a bit of a pop sensibility to some of the tunes. There's also a bit more dramatic range, plenty of rave-ups but also some slower tunes where Rizzo's guitars have time to stretch out a bit. Hard to pick a fave here, though I'm partial to the one Bean vocal lead, the straightforward pop-punk "You Know What It Is," which sounds like a long lost Nuggets track as covered by Sleater-Kinney.

If there's any weakness to these two albums, it's the paper-thin production, with little low-end to be found (I have the original versions of the cd's; they were later reissued, but dunno if they compensated for this with any remastering). The production gets beefed up on 1993's El Moodio, the final album before they left their label and starting trying out some new sounds. This time, there's far more pop, far more bass, and some of the band's best work; on the flip side, the tracks are much more hit & miss (like later work), with a handful of slower tunes which meander a bit too much for my taste. Still, it's worth owning simply for "After This Time Is Gone," one of the great lost indie-pop tracks of the 90s. Shimmering, jangly guitars, Rizzo & Bean's vox intertwined perfectly, and an absolutely killer hook. Nearly as good is "Makin' Like A Rug," Bean's vocal spotlight, with a three-chord hook accented by a buzzsaw bassline and murder ballad lyrics to (literally) die for. "That's The Point" is another shot of punk-pop simplicity. A few other solid upbeat tracks reminiscent of the prior two albums as well, but, like I said, a handful of skippable tracks as well.

So there you go. You can probably find these albums in a cut-out bin somewhere, and you really need to check 'em out.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Drone Your Sorrows

Went on a mini-shopping spree lately, one of those expensive Internet runs where you pick up something you like, plug it into and other shopping sites to see what other discs people who bought that one are also buying, and next thing you know it's an hour later and you've got a half dozen cd's in the mail and you're nervous about the next Visa bill.

Kicked off this particular spree with Dos, the second (dos, get it?) album from San Francisco drone/garage band Wooden Shjips. And it's great, by the way. A mere five tracks, running 5-12 minutes each, blending Krautrock and psychedelia and good ol' crunchy garage band jamming into a throbbing package of sonic bliss. I'm particularly fond of the epic "Down By The Sea," which (as I'm not the first to point out) is a bit derivative of Yo La Tengo's brilliant "Pass The Hatchet, I Think I'm Goodkind" but, hey, good song to be derivative of; a basic Led Zeppelin-ish 3-note bass riff played over and over for 10 solid minutes, first topped by the band's usual hushed, almost indecipherable vocals, then a building guitar jam that makes you roll down the car windows and blow out your speakers. Oh, and the rest of the album is pretty fantastic as well.

So here's a little live Wooden Shjips to make your head explode:

Next up was Ambergris, a 2008 release from Minneapolis-based Flavor Crystals (alas, an import-only, so had to splurge). Liked this one just as much. Again, there's a definite Yo La Tengo vibe here (ok, I love Yo La Tengo, so I like to look for them in pretty much everything I listen to, so sue me), albeit the more mellow, dream-pop side of the band. This is headphone-friendly psychedelic mood music, pretty and lush and dreamy, without the harder-edge garage band sound of the 'Schjips. Late night music for sure. Though that's not to say it's hook-free, and some tracks are almost catchy. For the more traditional-minded of you out there, if you like pre-Dark Side Pink Floyd, you'll love this.

Here's a live take on "Guppython" from the album:

So once I ordered that one, Amazon told me I simply had to purchase the Black Angels' Directions To See A Ghost -- 2008 sophomore release from the Austin, Texas band who, as their name would rightly suggest, are straight out of the Velvet Underground playbook, but once again driven through with an unhealthy dose of psychedelic drone (and perhaps a chunk of the Doors). A little less original-sounding than the bands above (though I'm using "original" in a very loose sense for all of them), but it's still good sonic fun.

I know, you want to hear 'em, don't you?

Fourth & final purchase on this li'l buying jag, another one suggested by Amazon once I ordered the Black Angels & Flavor Crystals, was the 2006 self-titled debut album from L.A.'s Darker My Love. This one moved (slightly) off the steady drone of the other albums into Nuggets-derived straightforward garage band territory. Doesn't make you reach for the headphones, but you might shake your hips. As the name suggests, there's some bleaker-sounding stuff here, almost Joy Division-esque in spots, though it's still undeniably trippy, with overtones of the 80's Paisley Underground bands like Dream Syndicate here & there. Not essential, but a good, solid album.

But why trust me when there's a video on the ol' u-tubes?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Raining On Your Parade

Not sure why I waited so long before compiling this mix -- shortage of material, I suppose -- but it's about time. Rain Parade were one of the greatest bands ever, or at least of the 80's indie scene, though, alas, a classic example of a band whose debut album was so out-of-the-park fantastic that they never quite recaptured the same magic. Rain Parade were at the heart of the original Paisley Underground -- like-minded L.A.-based indie pop bands in the mid-'80s with a penchant for Nuggets-styled psychedelia and other retro-stylings -- alongside other legends like Dream Syndicate, the Long Ryders, the Three O'Clock (and, yes, the early pre-fame Bangles). Their debut, 1983's Emergency Third Rail Power Trip, remains one of my all-time faves, a breathtaking blend of the Byrds circa Notorious Byrd Brothers and Revolver-era Beatles (or at least the Lennon tunes); clean jangly guitars blended with buzzing Rickenbackers, trippy but hopelessly catchy as well. They tread a fine line between deliriously droning psychedelia and chiming pop not too far removed from fellow college radio champions R.E.M. Brothers Steven & David Roback fronted the band but, sadly, David departed after the first album (teaming first with Dream Syndicate's Kendra Smith as Opal, and later finding brief mid-90s fame with Hope Sandoval as Mazzy Star). Brother Steven soldiered on, and 1984's ep Explosions in the Glass Palace was, though shorter, still solid, with "You Are My Friend" and "Blue" nearly as strong as the debut and "No Easy Way Down" a headphone-friendly blend of the Doors' "The End" and any number of Nuggets garage bands. (Both the album and follow-up ep were compiled onto a single cd, and it's undeniably a must-own.)

Things sorta fizzled after that. In 1985, they released the "live" album Beyond The Sunset (I use the term loosely, as, despite some polite clapping between tracks, it sounds polished enough to have been recorded in the studio). Mostly amped-up versions of tracks from the first album and ep (not indispensible, but still great), plus a few unreleased songs and a killer (though thoroughly loyal) cover of Television's "Ain't That Nothing." Then came their swan-song, 1986's Crashing Dream, a polished major label release that, while not terrible, loses most of the trippy edge from the earlier work. The only truly great song here, "Don't Feel Bad," sounds like it could have been on the first album (and, since it was included on the '85 live set, it was presumably kicking around since the early days); other songs, while decent enough, suffer from the 80s production values that plagued a lot of otherwise strong college radio music of the era. (Neither Sunset nor Crashing got a proper cd release, to my knowledge, so I had to rely on vinyl conversions for the mix; flawed or not, they certain deserve better treatment than this.)

Steven Roback and other members of the band soldiered on, releasing a few albums as Viva Saturn. Nothing essential, much of the work sounded like standard-issue mid-90s alt.rock along the lines of a second-tier Luna. A few good songs per album, though, so still worth hunting down for fans of Rain Parade looking to squeeze a few more drops out of the once-genius combo.

Here's "No Easy Way Down" (the version from the live album, I think, and already I'm regretting using the studio version on my mix)...

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Mixes Updated (Again)...

Updated the Pop Kulcher CDR Mix page again. Couple new single artist mixes. First, a tribute to the Vulgar Boatmen, a hastily-collected sampler from the 3 early/mid-90s releases from this Midwestern (sort of) jangle-pop band. VB were actually a pair of songwriters based in Indiana and Florida, who swapped and recorded songs but toured as two separate units. They (obviously) never made it big, largely due to being somewhat anachronistic (mining the same college radio jangly-guitar sound played out by early R.E.M., the Connells, Winter Hours, etc. a decade or so earlier, albeit with a bit more country twang in spots) as well as lacking much dynamic range (they pretty much alternated between mid-tempo folky pop and slower country-tinged tunes, with the former dominating this mix). Still, for those who like melodic, melancholy acoustic-ish Americana, this is certainly likeable, and even occasionally quite good.

Here's a live Vulgar Boatmen video for you:

Also added: A mix commemorating the early, psychedelic-tinged pop years of ye olde Brothers Gibb (or, as it's titled, The Mildly Psychedelic Bee Gees, 1967-1969). A somewhat guilty pleasure, mining the brief period when they walked a fine line between respectable (if typically bland) Beatles-inspired mildly psychedelic pop and sappy baroque balladry. A few legitimately great songs and a lot of entertaining if not terribly adventurous numbers. Mostly culled from the first 3 (recently reissued) albums, plus a smattering from 1969’s Odessa, their much-touted “classic” double album which, while overly orchestrated and pretentious by a long shot, established them as (almost) deserving a spot alongside some of their psychedelically-inspired British peers of the day. (After that, they briefly splintered, reuniting for a series of relatively lackluster sunshine pop albums in the early 70s before stumbling into disco glory.)

And the video...

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Mixes Online... Updated

Updated the Pop Kulcher CDR Mix page. Enjoy.

Friday, February 20, 2009

X Saves The World

Just got back from a short vacation, which, alas, is pretty much the only time I get any leisure reading done these days, and enjoyed a quick run through X Saves The World: How Generation X Got The Shaft But Can Still Keep Everything From Sucking, an entertaining and frequently spot-on analysis of Gen X culture & relevance by journalist Jeff Gordinier. [Full disclosure: I knew Jeff in college some 25 years ago, when we both worked at the college radio station, and have been reading his musical & cultural musings ever since.] I was inspired to make a mix of some of the music celebrated (or at least name-checked) in the book, with a couple spoken-word interludes from movies & tv shows written about as well. (Music, tv, and movies are only part of the book's focus; Jeff looks more broadly at various cultural, ideological, and philosophical touchstones of the post-boomer crowd which had a hot media run in the '90s before being overtaked by a more complacent, commercially-exploitable batch of cretins.)

I should note that I didn't spend my post-college years in a post-modern ironic existential haze, working a McJob while spending the evenings contemplating the desert skies (like the characters in Doulas Coupland's iconic, if ultimately disappointing, 1991 novel Generation X) -- my own course was more prototypically yuppie (law school, legal practice, house in the 'burbs). Still, I share the cultural waypoints and some of the mindset taken on by Jeff, from indie rock to Tarantino to Stewart/Colbert to, yes, Obama, and was definitely nodding my head in agreement (or at least amusement) with much of what he had to say. Obviously, we all have our variations. When it comes to great albums from 1991, I'll still take Teenage Fanclub's Bandwagonesque over Nirvana's Nevermind, and, for all its obvious impact on the commercial radio scene, "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was not as much of epiphany for me as it was for Jeff (far less so than, say, Pavement's Slanted & Enchanted, the album that most strongly affirmed the continuing relevance of rock & roll after the 80s college radio scene faded). And I don't share his reverence for the Smiths; when it comes to a musical wake-up call in the 1980's, it's R.E.M. all the way for me (though we see eye to eye on the Replacements and Sonic Youth).

Anyway, the mix came out pretty nicely, both as a stand-alone piece of music and a soundtrack to the book. Tried to be as sprawling as possible, capturing various facets of the Gen X vibe (both 90s heyday and 80s forerunners) while limiting myself entirely to songs or artists cited in the book.

Incidentally, my favorite part of the book was probably Jeff's analysis of the rise & fall of Gen X culture in the media consciousness by juxtaposing the videos for "Smells Like Teen Spirit" (1991, malcontented youth wreaking pure anarchy in the gymnasium) and Britney Spears' "Baby One More Time" (1999, conformist teen sex bombs dancing joyously in the gymnasium). Very, very sad.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Holdin' Steady... And More On 2008

As noted in my Best of 2008 post, I haven't quite jumped on the Hold Steady bandwagon, another much-hyped band that I should probably like more than I do. Dunno, maybe it's those Springsteen by way of Bob Mould vocals that fail to win me over. Nonetheless, perseverence does sometimes bear fruit, and in this case, a listen or two later, I've ended up reaching the inevitable conclusion that "Sequestered in Memphis" (off Stay Positive) is one of the truly great rave-up songs of 2008. Great sound, great lyrics, and (maybe it's the lawyer in me) it's hard not to love a song with the refrain "Subpoenaed in Texas, Sequestered in Memphis." So the final burn of my Best of 2008 disc ended up subbing this great tune in place of Calexico (yes, a fine band, but their slow-burn Americana doesn't quite make for mix-tape fodder, at least not a primarily upbeat mix).

Here's the video:

Further reflections on the 2008 mix: The Drive-By Truckers' Brighter Than Creation's Dark probably does a better job of capturing the current economic mess better than anything else out there, and "Righteous Path" totally nails the zeitgeist (sample line: "More bills than money, I can do the math, [but] I'm trying to keep focused on the righteous path."

But the song that may be the charmer of the year is Vetiver's "Swimming Song," off the Americana-tinged all-covers collection Thing Of The Past. Can't say I've ever listened to much Loudon Wainwright III, who wrote the original (nor, for that matter, his various musically-inclined family members who seem to be all over the place these days), but, damn, if this song doesn't bring a wistful tear to my eye every time I play it...

Here's the original, not radically different from the cover, albeit a bit more folky than the bluegrass-Americana-pop Vetiver version:

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Best Of 2008 -- Initial Mix

As the amount & variety of new music I pick up decreases each year, my traditional “best of the year mix,” which I’ve been doing for well over a decade (see 'em all on my mix page) is becoming increasingly a “mix of songs from new cd’s I just happened to buy this year.” So, yeah, I’m sure I’m missing an awful lot of great stuff, which with luck I’ll manage to discover over the next five years and eventually incorporate into a new & improved reissued version (though I have yet to do that with any of the prior mixes I’ve wanted to revisit, but still, there’s always hope...).

Which leads us to this past year. I picked up maybe five albums I really liked (My Morning Jacket, Vampire Weekend, Drive-By Truckers, Fleet Foxes, R.E.M.) and then a bunch of albums which were either pretty good or just ok but had at least one or two tunes worth remembering. Plus some decent music that was just too downbeat to work well on a mix that I try to keep relatively poppy (i.e. Beach House, Sun Kil Moon). And, by the way, I keep trying to get into the Hold Steady but, nope, still don’t care for ‘em that much and they didn’t make the cut.

Burned the initial mix this weekend (might still swap out a tune or two, we'll see); links to YouTube videos for most of these below.

My Morning Jacket’s “Aluminum Park” (from Evil Ways) may be my favorite track of the year, a perfect little rock & roll anthem in the classic rock mode. (“I’m Amazed” was a close second.) Vampire Weekend’s self-titled debut was the album I probably listened to most this year (though it took me a few listens to catch on); “A-Punk” is the most obvious selection, though there were another three or four that would almost as easily have worked here. I don’t necessarily love Mates of State, but “Get Better” is a delightful song (with an outstanding video, by the way). Death Cab For Cutie’s Narrow Stairs wasn’t quite as great as their last two albums, both of which I rank as among my favorite albums of the past decade, but it’s still good enough that it was tough settling on a single selection; while “I Will Possess Your Heart” was a fine (if overlong) single, “Long Division” is a bit more immediate. The Ben Folds album was kinda mediocre, but “You Don’t Know Me” was a throwback to the kind of pop he used to write pretty effortlessly, and the duet with Regina Spektor, while way too cute & precious, is nonetheless infectious. R.E.M.’s Accelerate wasn’t the return to glory that some critics proclaimed, it was indescribably better than the last three albums; “Mr. Richards” was my favorite song, but “Man-Sized Wreath” (like a half dozen others on the album) is a far more catchy and obvious selection here.

The Watson Twins were just fine backing Jenny Lewis a couple years ago, but don’t really have enough strong material to make for a solid cd of their own; still, their folkie adult-oriented-pop is pleasant enough, particularly the catchy "How Am I To Be," and the sort of thing I have much more patience for in my advancing age. The Drive-By TruckersBrighter Than Creation’s Dark was one of the year’s coolest releases, southern rock for people who kinda hate southern rock, and it was killer trying to settle on a single song; “Righteous Path” may not be the best tune, but I do find it compelling. Flight Of The Conchords, on top of having one of the funniest shows on cable, make music which stands up ok even without the show, particularly the joyous “Business Time” (though it may hit a bit close to home lyrically). Not a huge fan of Jenny Lewis’ second solo album, which I find much duller than most of her Rilo Kiley material, but “Carpetbaggers” is the closest thing to a solid pop track, and the duet with Elvis made me feel less bad about excluding his Momofuku album on this year’s mix. The Sea & Cake, who have been quietly releasing mellow, jazz-infused Americana for, like, forever, don’t always make for great mix music – much more background-friendly than foreground-friendly – though this year’s Car Alarm album had a bit more electricity than some prior work.

The Ting Tings are a bit too dance-oriented for my taste, but “Shut Up And Let Me Go” is an amazing blend (or rip-off) of Franz Ferdinand, Blondie and Chic, and a definite guilty pleasure that I may end up regretting down the road. The Fleet Foxes’ full-length debut got critical raves, pastoral Beach Boys-influenced vocal stylings and all; I don’t like it as much as when it first came out, but it’s still pretty amazing, and "White Winter Hymnal" is rather breathtaking. Can’t say I was totally excited about the Magnetic Fields’ decision to run their usual offbeat synth-pop through a Jesus & Mary Chain wall of noise on the aptly-titled Distortion, but I guess it made up for the somewhat lackluster music they’ve been releasing since the epic 69 Love Songs box set. Perennial power popper Matthew Sweet hasn’t exactly been terribly relevant over the past decade, but each new album has a handful of tunes which, if not memorable, are catchy enough. I probably should like Los Campesinos!’ post-Pavement boy-girl indie rock more than I do, but the male vocalist is a bit irritating; still, the music (and the female vocalist) is catchy enough, and it's tough not to bop along to "Death To Los Campesinos." Calexico may be a bit too quiet for this sort of mix, but their rust southwestern Americana stylings do help break things up a bit. The Raveonettes’ latest 50s-girl-group-by-way-of-Jesus-and-Mary-Chain album isn’t much of a departure from prior releases, but it’s still great, and "Dead Sound," well, shit, what can you say?

I’m not a major Ryan Adams fan; Whiskeytown was pretty good, but his solo work is painfully erratic. Couple solid tracks on the new one; as usual, I’m sure there’s a fantastic Ryan Adams’ Greatest Hits coming one day, but the albums are, well, whatever. She & Him, like the Watson Twins, are one of those acts I would have scoffed at a few years ago, but they work pretty well for a guy in his 40s who needs some mellow folk-pop when he’s reading the Sunday Times; nice video for "Why Do You Let Me Stay Here." MGMT’s Oracular Spectacular is hit & miss, synth & guitar indie rock with a touch of the Flaming Lips (whose Dave Fridmann produced), but damn if “Kids” isn’t one of those songs that sticks in your head every time it comes on the radio. The Explorers Club is a total Beach Boys rip-off (rather than just a BB-influenced band like Fleet Foxes), but I can’t think of a band (other than maybe the Wondermints) who pull it off so well. Cat Power had another album of covers this year and, whatever, it’s fine, I guess, particularly "New York." I grow less interested in Pavement frontman Stephen Malkmus with each new release, and liked this year’s Real Emotional Trash a lot less than his last one, but it’s still Malkmus. Vetiver’s Thing Of The Past is a collection of acoustic Americana-ish covers, but since I don’t know any of the (relatively obscure) originals it sounds new to me, and a pretty nice way to end the mix.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Guilty Pleasures -- The Mix

First off, let’s just get this out of the way – the very concept of a “guilty pleasure” reeks of rock critic elitism. The idea of feeling guilty about deriving personal pleasure from a particular song (or any other form of art) assumes some measure of objective quality to art, such that if you happen to like something that critical consensus deems unworthy it’s somehow embarrassing. But, let’s face it, some songs and artists are kinda crappy. Banal, kitschy, derivative, whatever – admit it, when you have company over, there are some cd’s you leave out for them to see, and some you hide in a closet somewhere. And just as there are some artists whose total coolness can buy you all the rock hipster cred you need, there are some things that can cost you that cred twice as fast. Though, then again, knowing exactly what music will draw critical derision, assures you its own measure of cred if you know enough to listen “ironically.”


I like these songs.

One of the earliest guilty pleasures is no doubt the Monkees. Just as the Beatles, Stones, Dylan, Brian Wilson, etc. were turning rock & roll into a critically worthy art form, the Monkees hit the tubes and brought with them everything the rock intelligentsia was obligated to disdain – they didn’t write their own songs, play their own instruments, or, for that matter, really exist as a band. And those songs – sappy 2:30 pop songs just as fm radio was starting to explore longer and more innovative album tracks. But, a few decades later, stripped of context, there are some killer pop tracks that you’d have to be a fool not to like. Incidentally, once the Monkees themselves tried to be taken seriously, producer/creator Don Kirschner came up with a band who would never demand that they be allowed to play their own instruments or write their own songs or exert any creative control whatsoever – the Archies. Yet for a wholly fabricated cartoon band, the formula still worked – some hopelessly catchy pop tunes. Sure, “Sugar, Sugar” was the record-breaking hit, but there are some other fine tunes as well.

Neil Diamond has long been one of the least respected figures in rock – maybe it’s the glittery outfits, his acting performance in The Jazz Singer, or every song he’s written since 1976 (and most before then as well). But there were still some fun tunes in his early days. “Shilo,” about a boy with an imaginary friend, isn’t necessarily one of them, but for some reason it always gets stuck in my head.

Tommy James & The Shondells had a half dozen major hits in the 60s. Then he dumped the band and became a Christian-slash-country singer. “Draggin’ the Line” was from his early solo days, a cheesy song, but it’s also totally fab (and his last real hit).

Not sure if Queen is a guilty pleasure or not – they seem to go in and out of vogue. But they were definitely on the uncool list by the end of the 70s. Still, they were a big part of my childhood, and I’ll always get a kick out of the run of singles from that era.

America sucks; pale, crappy imitation of CSNY, with some of the most atrocious lyrics ever written. Yet, like 98% of Americans, I have a copy of that damn greatest hits cd. Not sure why. Maybe ‘cuz we used to sing these songs at camp, or they were inescapable on 70s classic rock radio. But I kinda like a couple of the songs, at least as background music, though I’d rather claw my eyeballs out than ever hear “Muskrat Love” again.

AC/DC, while always hugely successful, are a critic’s nightmare. Repetitive and largely uninteresting, simplistic blues-metal, horny teenager lyrics. But a few songs that nobody ever turns off when they come on the radio.

The Bay City Rollers were, like, the hugest band in the universe (or at least am radio top 40) when I first started getting into music in the mid-70s. I had all their albums, which I later destroyed. Still regret doing that. Major fun, here, people. Trust me, the BCR hipster revival is on its way.

Not much of an ELO fan, however popular they once may have been. But the shoo-bop 50s-sytled chorus of this still makes me happy.

Mid/late 70s-period Fleetwood Mac, the Buckingham/Nicks era, was obviously one of the most successful bands ever. Which alone is good reason to hate them. Plus, Christine McVie’s songs were sappy, and Stevie Nicks’ were, whatever. But Lindsay Buckingham, at least his songs from that era, was a fine songwriter and an underrated guitarist. Plus, the production is amazing.

Sweet were another band all over the top 40 when I first got into pop music (and Desolation Boulevard was one of the first albums I ever bought). These days it seems like the stigma isn’t really there (at least for their old bubblegum songs and their early glam/rock hits), so not a lot of guilt left. But by the late 70s, as they became more of a dull metal band, they were both a critical and commercial disaster. Still, “Love Is Like Oxygen,” their last hit, is immensely fun, albeit one of the most stupid songs you’ll ever hear.

Which brings us to the 80s. The Moody Blues, their art/prog days behind them, started moving into a more adult contemporary kinda sound, which made them even sappier than they used to be. But I really do like 1981’s Long Distance Voyager for some strange reason.

While the ’70-’75 prog era of Genesis, with Peter Gabriel at the helm, remains somewhat respected (excepting those with a total prog aversion), the Phil Collins era is another story. While they started moving huge volumes of product, they steadily moved from the holdover art rock sound of the Gabriel days to 3-minute pop songs. 1980’s Duke was the last gasp of the original band’s sound (though already knee deep in pop); 1981’s Abacab, with horns and increasingly cheesy keyboards, was probably the breaking point for most old fans. Yet I still find something about that album charming (though they lost me after that).

Guilty pleasures start becoming fewer and farther between after that. Maybe it’s because, without the youthful association I feel for much bad 70s music, bad 80s music was just… bad. In the mid-70s, I listened to crappy top 40 because that’s all I knew, so I have some youthful nostalgia for that music. By the early 80s, I knew better, and didn’t listen to as much popular music (especially once I got into college radio in the mid-80s). Still, there are some new wave-y tunes that, though maybe too commercially popular and critically reviled to be cool, I have to admit liking. The Rick Springfield track is pretty lame, but certainly fits the bill. For a kitschy new wave sound, there were a million to choose from, but the Missing Persons tracks seemed particularly apt. And Katrina & The Waves… well, actually, their first few albums were legitimately good (before they rerecorded the tunes with horns and big 80s production and made them suck). Not sure if the Dream Academy song counts or not; it’s just a long-forgotten one-hit-wonder, but one I really liked at the time.

For some reason, we skip over an entire decade here, but I just couldn’t find much from ’85 to ’95 that I liked but shouldn’t have. I think I was just pretty oblivious to popular music at that time, or at least didn’t form any attachments to songs that I can’t explain liking. Maybe it was all the hair metal shit back then, which might qualify as guilty pleasures but for the fact that I got no pleasure from it.

The Rentals were a Weezer spin-off, with one solid hit and… well, never listened to anything else by them. The Gin Blossoms’ brand of lukewarm Americana is pretty much reviled (or at least ignored) by the critical masses, lumped in alongside other faceless artists from the height of Alternative radio (Toad the Wet Sprocket anyone?); yet I kinda liked ‘em. And this tune, from the soundtrack of the abysmal Empire Records (now running almost every night on cable and something of a guilty pleasure itself), is undeniably great. Or deniably, I guess.

“Tumthumping” was huge until the backlash began. But it was a great anthem, and if it didn’t get so damn popular I’d bet more people would be willing to admit liking it.

“Steal My Sunshine” is another in a string of not-so-terrible 90s one-hit-wonders, but stands out as particularly charming (and particularly annoying, but the charm wins out).

Could only come up with one true guilty pleasure from the past ten years, and that’s that Kelly Clarkson song. No explanation needed, and none will be provided.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Guilty Pleasures On The Radio -- Christmas 2008 Edition

I don't listen to the radio much, because of that little part about it sucking so bad and all. Bought a new car stereo last year solely so I could have an in-jack where I could plug in my iPod and listen to 14,000 songs of my choosing plus Rachel Maddow show podcasts. As opposed to, like I said, music that sucks, and right wing nut job talk radio. But, still, on occasion I do like to stab blindly at the buttons and see what's what. So for the past week or too there's been this insistent little tune that I keep hearing, kind of annoying, waaaaay to repetitive (why oh why do some artists who come up with a catchy chorus feel the need to play it 30 times over before the fade?), but, still, undeniably the sort of thing that plays over and over in your head for hours afterwards. The bassline rips off Joy Division in parts, the vocal stylings at times remind me of Of Montreal, maybe some early Weezer in the mix... no clue. Finally googled the lyrics last night, and turns out it's some act called MGMT, produced by the Flaming Lips' producer, which makes sense. Song's called "Kids," and, foolishly, isn't even the single.

So there you go. Can't imagine ever buying the album, and I'm going to be sick to death of this by New Years, but for the next couple days it'll do. Cool little amateur video on YouTube (not official, but might as well be).

Monday, December 15, 2008

Ellipsis Journalism

Lazy, I know, but let's just pick up with a bit of ellipsis journalism... Haven't picked up a ton of new releases; for some reason, I find myself too lazy to investigate stuff I haven't heard. On the one hand, it's a whole lot easier these days than in my record-buying youth. Back then, I pretty much had to buy the whole slab of vinyl, bring it home, and hope for the best; now, thanks to our friends the Internets and the Googles I can sample stuff 'til I'm blue in the face, cross-link to related artists, and drop a whole wad of cash in a matter of minutes. But it's almost an embarrassment of riches, and sometimes it just feels too overwhelming to know where to start. So instead I just buy box sets and reissues of stuff I've already owned on vinyl or cassette and, increasingly, on first-pressing cd, meaning I'm now buying stuff for the third time. Yes, I'm the total picture of the vapid consumer...

But, when the box set is something like Genesis 1970-1975, it's definitely worth it, even though this is definitely a case of buying albums for the third time. My old vinyl is long gone, and the original cd's were pretty crappy sounding. The reissues from a few years back were ok, but nothing like the new versions, which really sound like I'm hearing them for the first time. I know there was some criticism of the Phil Collins-era boxes, which according to some reports were over-compressed and harsh-sounding, a common theme with some remasters these days. I picked up the Duke remaster, and, while I can sort of hear what they're talking about, it still sounded a lot better than my older copy of the cd. But whatever shrillness I picked up on, and other fans complained about, is definitely not the case with the Gabriel-era box, which sounds just stunning. I would have bought the box if only to, finally, have a copy of Trespass that sounds like it was meant to. This album has always been underrated in my mind; though folkier and a bit less intricately woven than later Gabriel-era albums, I think it's beautiful and a joy to hear; while closing track "The Knife" became a concert staple, I think "Stagnation" is the stand-out track here (and "Looking For Someone" comes close). Where my old vinyl, and the original cd, sounded kinda shitty, full of hiss like an old tape left in the glove compartment, the new reissue is just breathtaking. (This is the case not just with the DVD audio disc, which you'd expect to sound great, but with the standard audio cd as well.) Haven't watched all the video goodies from the box yet, but sooner or later I'll get around to it. Also endlessly fascinating are the Jackson demos on the bonus rarities cd; kinda cool to hear the original attempts at songs that were later rewritten and worked into later albums. (Though all of them got significantly better in their final versions.)...

...While we're talking reissues, also got Pavement's Brighten The Corners, the latest of the 2-cd deluxe reissues that Matador has been dribbling out (4 down, 1 to go). As with the others, the sound is great, it's nice to have all the contemporaneous b-sides in one place, and the assortment of BBC performances and other rarities make for nice (albeit wholly dispensible in this case) additions. I'm not a huge fan of the album -- the magic of the first two full-lengthers is gone, though I probably like this one more than its predecessor and its follow-up. As with the prior one, for some reason they relegated some of the catchier tracks to b-side status ("Westie Can't Drum," "Winner Of The..."), so the rerelease gives you an opportunity to program your own improved tracklist.

I picked up the new Mates of State album, and it's ok, though haven't spun it many times yet. But I love this video:

...a few other things I've picked up but haven't listened to enough to have much of an opinion on? Jenny Lewis' Acid Tongue, Elvis Costello's Momofuku, Lambchop's OH (Ohio), probably some other things as well.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Night Of Chill Blue

Been a bit quiet, but that doesn't mean I haven't been busy burning useless mixes.

Can't say I've listened to a whole lotta Chills lately, but, ah, back in the day... For those who blinked and missed 'em, the Chills were part of that holy triumvirate of wonderful postpunk bands from New Zealand who appeared on the Flying Nun label back in the early and mid 1980's, alongside The Clean and The Bats. Where the Clean were pure garage band rawk with a healthy dose of the Velvet Underground in the mix, and the Bats were a more acoustic, poppy band reminiscent of mid-period Feelies (and thus, also, with a touch of the VU to them as well), the Chills dosed that lofi sound with some keyboard-driven melancholy and melodicism. (Other fine bands of the era included the Verlaines, Straightjacket Fits, and Look Blue Go Purple.)

Their early ep's, captured on 1986's fantastic Kaleidoscope World collection, are pretty amazing and age well. Their first full-length, 1987's (now out of print) Brave Words, had a few more great songs, though some of the pop songs got buried in a very murky mix. They cured that with 1990's (also out of print) Submarine Bells, a catchy indie pop album that blended well with what was dominating the pre-Nirvana alternative radio/MTV 120 Minutes airwaves; the lofi garage sound was gone, and while it may have been a bit too polished, there were a handful of truly catchy tracks. I kinda lost sight of them after that, eventually picking up 1992's Soft Bomb but not their 1996 swan-song Sunburnt. Anyway, all the highlights are here, reminding me of this band's unique charm. They're still apparently kicking around, returning after a decade-long hiatus with an EP (don't have it) and maybe some more on the way.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Take Our Test

Got one of those chain letter rock tests via email today. I don't usually take the time but, hey, it's Sunday night, nothing's on.

1. What was the last CD you bought?
The Chills, Soft Bomb (planning a Chills mix, and had a hole in my collection).

2.If you had the choice of only downloading songs or only buying CDs:
Buying, absolutely. I’m old fashioned that way.

3. What artist do you have the most CDs?
If you count live discs, the Grateful Dead, by a mile (with Phish running right behind). If proper studio releases only, probably Guided by Voices, but I'd have to check.

4. Your Favorite CD.
The Clash, London Calling.

5. What do you consider the greatest Album of all time?
Not sure I get the difference between this & the previous question – I assume the test’s author is distinguishing between what’s viewed through the critical eye as great, and what you just happen to like more than anything else. I think London Calling is my favorite albumbecause it’s the best album ever recorded, but, if push came to shove, I might have to give a slight edge to the Beatles’ Abbey Road, or maybe the Stones’ Exile on Main St., or possibly Who’s Next, or maybe Dylan's Blonde On Blonde.

6. What's the most you ever paid for a CD?
I don’t think of any cd’s I own as particularly expensive. But one standout purchase I remember is a Genesis bootleg, Gabacabriel, a 3-lp vinyl bootleg capturing the lone “reunion” show with Peter Gabriel and Genesis in 1985. I paid around $50 for it at the time, which was a lot for a kid (I was probably around 17 or 18 at the time). It sounded like crap (I’ve since replaced it with a cd version, and the sound isn’t much better), but damn was it cool.

7. What was the last concert you saw?
Drive-By Truckers this summer, I think. Been a very slow fall for me.

8. Have you ever sold a ticket for more than face value?
Nope. Had some big offers for Dead cover band Dark Star Orchestra a few months back (couldn’t make it), but still sold ‘em at face. Just a matter of general principles for me.

9. Have you ever traveled to a different time zone or country to see a concert?

10. Best live band ever.
Tough one. I think a toss-up between the Who (’68-’73) and the Stones (’69-’73), though I never saw any of those shows in person. Of the bands I’ve actually seen live (not counting the Who, who I only saw well past their prime), I’ll go with Yo La Tengo.

11.What's the most you ever paid for a concert?
Don’t remember. Probably one of those all day festivals like Fleadh or the Bridge show.

12. Who had the greatest impact on popular culture, Elvis or The Beatles?
The Beatles. Elvis may have gotten the ball rolling, but the Beatles had more lasting impact. I’m pretty confident that rock & roll as we know it today would still be here without Elvis, but I don’t think I could say that about the Beatles.

13. Can you breakdance?
You must be kidding. I'm still struggling with the two disco moves I learned in junior high.

14. Favorite song you don't have.
I’m pretty sure I own all my favorites.

15. Favorite album cover.
King Crimson, In The Court Of The Crimson King, or maybe Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures.

16. You find the person of your dreams, everything you ever wanted in a person and their favorite band of all time is Poison, what do you do?
I married her. (Not Poison, but she likes primarily music that I hate far more than Poison. Love is blind, or at least deaf.)

17. If you could reunite one band with all its original members who are still alive, which band would you reunite?
Once Joe Strummer died, this became far less interesting for me. I suppose I’d like to see the Stones play a show with Mick Taylor.

18. If you could bring back one musician who died prematurely, which musician would you bring back?
John Lennon. Because then the previous question would have an obvious answer.

19. Where have all the cowboys gone?
Even they are voting for Barack Obama these days.

20. Favorite Lyrics.
Neutral Milk Hotel, “Holland 1945.”

21. Which band with a terrible name would you rename?

22. Who's the most overrated band of all time?

23. Favorite Soundtrack.
Valley Girl.

24. What's the deal with indie rock boys wearing thick-frame glasses and indie rock girls wearing librarian glasses?
Hey, we all need to belong.

25. If you could hang out with any musician, who would it be ?
Ira Kaplan (Yo La Tengo). He just seems totally cool.

The version I received has another 25 questions, but they're all of the "Beatles or Stones" and "Bono or Sting" variety, which I don't find terribly interesting or illuminating, for the most part. (Uh, Beatles and Bono, for what it's worth.)

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Ben Folds, Normal Guy

I’ve always wavered on the quality of Ben Folds’ music, both with his original Ben Folds Five trio and as a solo artist. On the plus side, his piano-based indie rock has always had a distinctive sound that sets it apart from most semi-mainstream left-of-the-dial pop from the past decade. He has a gift for melody, and, when not drowning in smarminess, the lyrics have an entertaining bite. On the minus side, there is a bitterness (and, let’s admit it, some misogyny) that can be distracting. And for all his songwriting gifts, he’s never really recorded an album that’s truly consistent from start to finish (though his solo debut, Rockin’ The Suburbs, came close, and the Ben Fold Five's Whatever & Ever Amen has a better-than-average ratio of hits to misses).

His latest, Way To Normal, is no great departure from this track record. A few jaunty pop songs, a few ballads that haven't quite grown on me, a few eccentric songs whose novely wears off halfway through first listen. If Rockin' The Suburbs was his joyous return to the fun, upbeat sound of the first few Ben Folds Five albums, and solo follow-up Songs For Silverman was a more ballad-heavy, lushly adult album along the lines of the Five's swan-song Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner, Normal seems like an attempt to straddle both sides of his stylistic range. Album opener "Hiroshima" (something of a rip-off of Elton John's "Benny & The Jets") starts off with a merry romp, and stays in the same mood for "Dr. Yang." After that, though, it's kinda all over the place. I liked the duet with alt-folkie Regina Spektor, and was reluctantly taken in by the unfortunately-named "Bitch Went Nuts," a catchy pop track dragged down by yet another excursion into Folds' well-worn hate-the-ex rantings. Otherwise, not so much. And the album doesn't really have a killer stand-out track approaching the sweeping beauty of Silverman's Brill-building-inspired "Landed."

All told, there were probably as many (or more) solid tunes on his recent soundtrack from Over The Hedge. Seriously, I'd pick that up first. Stuck within the confines of a children's animated film, Folds had to resort to clever lyrics that are bitch-free; plus, hey, a nifty middle-of-the-road cover of the Clash's "Lost In The Supermarket," can't go wrong with that.

Fortunately, the general unevenness of Folds' albums, plus a steady flow of worthwhile tunes on various ep's, b-sides and soundtracks, makes him ideal for mixing. Picking up Way To Normal and Over The Hedge gave me an opportunity to expand my old single-cd mix into a double-cd deluxe edition, and it looks something like this:

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Barack & Roll

Not a political blog, not a political blog (he keeps reminding himself)...

But, hey, here's the celebratory mix I assembled late Tuesday night while taking a break from watching the results roll in.

Just a little feel-good-ish music for the Wednesday commute. Mostly the kinda joyous, tuneful stuff that I can yell along with in the car. Because what I really want to do is take a (temporary) break from listening to the news and the pundits on the car radio and just feel all kinds of awesome. Barack freaking Obama.

Incidentally, the Shazam's fantastic "Super Tuesday" included here as the best (if not only) song about losing election, with a shout-out to America's new BFF Sarah Palin, you betcha! Say hi to Uncle Ted, apparently still holding Alaska's Senate eat, felony conviction notwithstanding.

The one last-minute addition to the mix, a bit out of sync but still necessary, is Rogue Wave's "Eyes" -- a song (and band) that had evaded my radar screen until recently, when my son & I started watching Heroes reruns on DVD and the track was featured prominently in the pilot episode. Sure, it borrows the initial guitar lick from Zeppelin's "Going To California," and is your basic Starbucks-friendly dad-rock acoustic folk-pop (see also, e.g., Matt Pond PA, Josh Ritter), but damn if that ain't the purtiest little song I've heard in a long, long time.

The big downer of the evening, alas, was the victory of ignorance and bigotry over equality and justice in California's marriage battle (as in two other states as well). I really appreciate that the religious wingnuts are fighting to save marriage and family -- yet, for some inexplicable reason (and despite having multiple gay neighbors, friends, and coworkers, and despite attending a beautiful wedding last week between two dear friends who just happen to both be women), my marriage seems to be holding up just fine. And, no, my kids have still not turned gay. Maybe we're doing something wrong?

Anyway, another battle, another day. Meanwhile, here's the happy:

And here's that Rogue Wave song... my apologies, but you WILL be humming this sucker all day.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Guilty Pleasures Revised: Genesis Edition

Updated the Guilty Pleasures page of the Pop Kulcher website. This time around I've added Genesis' 1980 mainstream-breakthrough Duke, my favorite album of the post-Gabriel era. (I suppose I like 1976's Trick of the Tail nearly as much, but that was a far less dramatic break from the early prog sound than the polished, radio-friendly Duke.)

It's always hard to say exactly what constitutes a guilty pleasure. I mean, we're not talking the Archies (or even Abba) here. Duke sold a veritable shitload of copies, and by any measure it's a pretty decent album (if one overlooks some of those ballads, at least). Still, for those of us who thrive on the artsy prog of the Gabriel years -- and I'm a diehard fan of those albums (particularly 1973's Selling England By The Pound, but the others as well, even the underrated Trespass) -- confessing to an appreciation of the Collins era (particularly after the first 2-3 albums) is a bit anathema. Hell, I even like the still-poppier follow-up Abacab, though after that I called it a day.

Of course, I remain loyal to the Gabriel era, and I'm counting the days 'til my pre-ordered copy of the 1970-1975 box set arrives in the mail. Probably the third or fourth time I've bought some of these, but (despite some highly negative reviews of the remastering job done on the Collins-era reissues) I'm hopeful for some sonic improvement (particularly on Trespass, my copy of which sounds like it was recorded in a wind tunnel) and excited about some of the bonus tracks and video extras.

If you've got the time, here's some live Duke:

And here's the real stuff ("Nursery Cryme"):

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Hey, We're The Replacements

The Replacements never saved my life. They didn't really open up a new whole world of music to me. To the extent my musical mindset was largely shaped during my mid-80s college dj days, it was largely the early albums of R.E.M. -- Murmur, Reckoning, the initial Chronic Town EP -- that I hold responsible. But the 'Mats (perhaps alongside, say, Sonic Youth and my 15-years-late discovery of Big Star) were strong contenders for second place. 1984's Let It Be wasn't life-changing... it was merely riveting. Great rock & roll, fun and rebellious and loud. I imagine that if I'd been born 20 years earlier, the Beatles would have been the band that drove my late-teen/early-adult lifelong love of music, and the Stones would have been what I turned to when I just wanted to rock. Instead, I had R.E.M. and the Replacements. (Not sure where exactly the Who and the Kinks fit into that analogy... maybe they would have been my Sonic Youth and Husker Du, or something like that.)

In any event, as the past two decades wore on, with the Mats long relegated to the dustbin of history (albeit with Westerberg carrying on with a solo career that never resonated with me the way his old band did), my time with the band's old work ebbed and flowed. (In contrast, R.E.M. is never far from my stereo.) Fortunately, the rerelease of the band's back-catalog this year (with the early Twin-Tone albums released last Spring and the later Sire albums coming out a few weeks ago) gave me an opportunity to reconnect with the band. Not surprisingly, my two best-loved Mats albums sound every bit as wonderful today as they did back in 84-85. Let It Be, their final indie release on Twin-Tone, was the work of a band evolving from a reckless, thrashing hardcore/punk-inspired band to a more mature band with a sublimely gifted songwriter at the helm, rough in places but surprisingly polished in others (most notably the timeless pop of "I Will Dare," the updated "Satisfaction"-themed young angst of "Unsatisfied," the powerful post-punk straightforward rock of "Favorite Thing," and the beautiful balladry of "Sixteen Blue"). And 1985's Tim, their major-label debut, saw the band taking a step forward in consistently strong songwriting, increasingly radio-friendly but still edgy, particularly on "Bastards of Young," "Left of the Dial," and "Little Mascara," perhaps three of the most well-written yet still-rocking college radio songs of the decade.

I'm less partial to the albums that preceded Let It Be, though they had their moments ("Shiftless in Idle" from the debut already showing Westerberg's remarkable lyrical gifts). In contrast, while I recognize the weaknesses of the post-Time albums, particularly their increasingly staid sound in a bid for mainstream acceptance, unlike some longtime Mats fans I think Westerberg continued to churn out a handful of timeless tracks per album right up until the end. (Though this wasn't enough to inspire me to pick up the reissues of the last two albums; my original copies are just fine, thanks.)

In terms of the reissues themselves -- a fair number of bonus tracks per release, of mixed quality (though having an official version of the solo acoustic b-side "If Only You Were Lonely," available on the debut, is alone worth the repurchase); the sound is cleaner than the originals, if a bit shrill in spots (a recurring problem with remasters), and, unfortunately, can't really fix the production deficits on the otherwise wonderful Tim (i.e. drums that sound like wet lasagna noodles slapped against the drum heads).

I ended up tossing together a 2-cd Replacements mix, pretty much all the Mats I'll ever need. As noted above, I've never quite felt connected with Westerberg's solo work (though there are some bright spots to be found), and thus only included a single solo track, plus a couple new "Replacements" tracks (really just Paul & Tommy) from last year's greatest hits package. It came out like this:

Now, how about that timeless anti-video for "Bastards of Young"?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Another Genius Move

Took a couple days off. Dunno, maybe its just the emotional toll of learning that, based on where I live and how I vote, I not only don't live in "Real America," but I'm "Anti-American." Does this parade of morons never end?

So, for now, just gonna go ahead an post my latest auto-generated iTunes Genius playlist, which got me through yesterday's commute. Felt like hearing Beulah's "Gravity's Bringing Us Down" (best crib of the Stones' "Happy" riff ever), and here's what we got:
1. Beulah, Gravity's Bringing Us Down
2. Neutral Milk Hotel, Communist Daughter
3. Built To Spill, Distopian Dream Girl
4. Essex Green, Don't Know Why (You Stay)
5. Yo La Tengo, From A Motel 6
6. Matt Pond PA, Last Light
7. Pernice Brothers, Clear Spot
8. Ambulance LTD, Stay Tuned
9. Cat Power, Werewolf
10. Rilo Kiley, Capturing Moods
11. Guided By Voices, Everybody Thinks I'm A Raincloud
12. The Thrills, Don't Steal Our Sun

And so on. Not bad. Still hoping that for Genius 2.0 they come up with a way to base a playlist on 2 or more songs, so you get more of a mixed-genre mix.

Now, for us "fake" Americans, here's 10 minutes of sheer, unadulterated bliss:

Sunday, October 19, 2008

New Mix -- "It's Angular!"

"Angular" is one of those terms that rock critics like to throw around, though it shows up in so many reviews that at some point you have to ask yourself whether it has any real meaning at all. I think, as a general matter, it tends to describe music with staccato guitar sounds, more clean than distorted, with a minimum of sustain or reverb. It also tends to be used to describe music which, rather than sticking to a standard blues-based riff or a simple, reconizable rock & roll chord progression, strays into more jarring chord changes. Sometimes it can be used to describe music which is simply minimalistic, with stark, crisp drums, bass & guitar but little smoothing around the edges. Anyway, this is my attempt to wrap all of that in a nice little 80-minute package.

Gang of Four is typically the band most associated with the term, and by some measure you can decide whether or not a song is sufficiently "angular" by deciding how much it sounds like Gang or Four. But, as the mix illustrates, a fair amount of punk and early post-punk was decidedly angular, the bare, jagged simplicity of the music a rebellion against the bloated, stadium-filling density of mis-70s hard rock and prog. The 80s and 90s indie scene had a few purveyors of the form, though bands like the Pixies and Pavement weren't exactly angular -- the guitar sound was a bit too rich, though the chord changes were suitably off-kilter and there were enough slashing guitar sounds swirling around to merit inclusion. And, of course, the 2000s have offered up a large number of bands with a retro-angular feel, perhaps most notably Franz Ferdinand, though acts like Modest Mouse and Interpol mine this territory as well.

Naturally, I had to include a stray Beatles track, for those of us who like to think the Beatles did everything first; yes, "Everybody Has Something To Hide (Except Me & My Monkey" is a fairly straightforward rock song, but those guitars...

Incidentally, I should add that I generally don't like my music all that angular -- I'm a bit of a traditionalist that way. But sometimes it's a nice break from more, er, rounded music.

Hey, here's an excerpt of that Gang of Four song, with Legos...