Saturday, April 30, 2011

Revisiting: The Grates - Gravity Won't Get You High

On this lazy Saturday morning, I decided to listen to the Grates first album, Gravity Won't Get You High, for the first time in years and am totally surprised by how good it still sounds. If you don't know the Grates they're a Brisbane band that girls who look at Etsy every day will probably like. The band (drummer, guitarist, singer, no bass - although the drummer has departed since the second album) specialise in joyous indie pop tunes that get caught in your head and are as catchy as whooping cough (oh the joys of caring for my niece and nephew).

There is a childlike glee to this album (which they subsequently over thought on their second record) but it isn't without edge - the song Feels Like Pain is a legitimate primal howl of anger. But for the most part, it doesn't get any deeper than simple rhymes and playful tunes. Gravity is a remarkably consistent listen across it's 14 songs and doesn't ask for anything more from the listener than to have fun with it. No one here is claiming the be the next Lou Reed and for a Saturday morning surrounded by kids painting pirates and ballerinas, it's the perfect accompaniment.

From their youtube page, I got directed to Facebook where they have the first single off their new album (although I hate having to 'like' something to hear a song). It actually sounds pretty good with some early Breeders type harmonies and a more restrained vibe than Gravity. I'll be curious to see how it turns out but if you're looking for a breezy, summery type of album for a change of pace, you won't get much better than Gravity Won't Get You High. Alright, back to Etsy for me...


Friday, April 29, 2011

Jane's Addiction: End to the Lies review

My love for Jane's Addiction is as deep as the ocean but I have always been of the opinion that once you have the two records you need, anything good they produce beyond that is gravy. Unlike much of my Jane's brethren, I was not a hater of their comeback record Strays - it had some ok tracks, Navarro was smoking as usual but it was overproduced and the bass player wasn't strong enough to drive the music (and that's always been their secret weapon, it's all about the bass providing the musical foundation for the theatrics of Farrell and Navarro).

As the first taster of The Great Escape Artist (due August), this gets me pretty excited about the prospect of some good new Jane's tunes. Rather than come out with a generic rock song that competes with their classics (Strays' Just Because tried and failed), they've chosen to launch the album with a slow burn assault which bodes well for the upcoming record. Musically, the song is dense with torrents of Navarro magic raining from the sky which sounds colossal and has a heavy groove courtesy of TV on the Radio's David Sitek. Further, Farrell sounds fired up and in fine form. Even when he sings possibly the worst line in Jane's history, "You were the foreskin/I was the real head" it sounds like the old swagger is back. Some of Jane's best songs are when Farrell is railing against someone or something and the unmentioned protagonist in the lyrics gets the pointy end of the Farrell stick here (possibly literally given the that line).

There has been a lot of talk about Sitek's influence on the band and while there's some trademark studio trickery here, it doesn't sound like TVOTR because the magic alchemy of Farrell, Navarro and Perkins is too strong to be muted by another voice. I guess we'll have to wait and see how Sitek balances out the equation when the album is released but based on End to the Lies, I think there is the possibility of awesomeness ahead.


Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Beatles are time travelling super villains from the future




If you've ever seen Back to the Future 2, you know the main plot line is that arch nemesis of the McFly's, Biff Tannen, goes back in time and gives his younger self a copy of all the sports results for the next fifty years allowing him to become a millionaire through astute betting. Currently, I'm staying with my Mum and after listening to a whole load of Beatles, I can only deduce that John Lennon and Paul McCartney did the same thing as Biff.

As a healthy sceptic with a vivid imagination and way too much time on my hands, I think that the evolution of the Beatles from a rock n' roll covers band to Let It Be is just too immense to be truly believable. Let's face it, Lennon and McCartney are time travelling villains.

How so? Well, I believe in an alternate universe John and Paul had been toiling away quite successfully around the greater Metroplitan Liverpool area in a bunch of well regarded Skiffle bands until the mid 70's. However, larger success had eluded them and a whole raft of amazing artists had transformed rock n' roll particularly Cliff Richards' psychedelic opus Lieutenant Salt's Broken Cardiac Organ's Gang Troupe. John and Paul knew that their chance at rock n' roll stardom had passed them by.

That is until they went out on a tear one night and took so much LSD that they managed to trip through space and time back to 1960. Fortunately for them, McCartney had a sheet music book in his bag entitled the The Easy Chord Book: Best of the 60's which he was using to re-arrange popular songs for their skiffle group. Realising the enormity of the opportunity, Lennon and McCartney tracked down their younger selves and explained the situation. If they released the greatest songs of the 60's in chronological order from the book over the next ten years before anyone else, they could make millions and be seen as the greatest musical innovators in the history of music. Down with the plan, young John and Paul quickly formed the Beatles refining their skills over the next few years so they could release album after album of mind bending awesome music.

All was going well as John and Paul claimed songwriting credits on everything even though they had stolen it from a bunch of unwitting musicians who were yet to write the songs. Brian Wilson said he wrote Pet Sounds in reaction to the brilliance of Rubber Soul but little did he know that he actually wrote half of Rubber Soul in another dimension and that's why he liked it so much. George and Ringo were none the wiser taking their lead from John and Paul's direction.

All was going well until the song's started running out but future Lennon and McCartney had not prepared their younger selves for this. Contrary to popular rumour, Yoko was not the cause of the Beatles' break up, it was the combination of the songs running out and an argument over a pear Lennon was planning to eat. McCartney ate it while John was at the corner shop and Lennon really loved his pears. And the rest, as they say, is history...

Anyhow, that's the true story of the Beatles, they were in fact song stealing musicians from the future. Well either that or they were totally awesome...

Where's this guy when you need him?


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Beastie Boys: Hot Sauce Committee Part Two Review

There was a period of about ten years where every single party I attended someone would inevitably put on Ill Communication, Check Your Head or Paul's Boutique. These three albums were ubiquitous for so long that the Beasties were just part of the every day fabric of my existence. I can't say I ever didn't like anything they did but there was a certain point where I stopped listening and it seemed unnatural to put on a Beastie Boys record. I am happy to report that the Hot Sauce Committee Part Two may be the point where I start listening to them again.

It seems amazing that the Beastie Boys would release an album this great this far into their career. Their previous pure hip hop record To The 5 Boroughs (2004) received stellar reviews which I never really understood. It seemed like a very self-conscious album where they moved back to an old school minimalist approach rather than the more experimental records listed above. While it was ok (much of it in reaction to 9/11), it wasn't an album I wanted to return to and sounded like they had reached a point in their career where they were unsure what they were doing and were doing what they felt people expected rather than what they wanted. Hot Sauce is a return to the instrumental based grooves of Check Your Head/Ill Communication and is all the better for it. The entire set of songs sounds like the band found some deep well of inspiration and mined it for all it was worth. Any hint of the self consciousness that undermined 5 Boroughs has been dispelled and the entire record brims with invention and confidence.

To be honest, Hot Sauce is a perfectly sequenced party album with little filler and a number of high points. Imbued with swinging live drums, hot bass lines and the psychedelic 70's funk texturing of keyboardist Money Mark, this is easily their most enjoyable record since Ill Communication. It rocks with such heavy grooves that it's hard not to be excited by it - listen to Say It and try and stop that involuntary head nod. Don't Play No Game I Can't Win is a thrilling combination of a reggae/ska foundation and a stellar guest turn by Santigold. Current single Make Some Noise is impossible not to love with it's duck like synth line and rolling rhymes that recall the Beastie's at their finest.

It seems every record Beastie Boys record has an obligatory 'punk' song and on Hot Sauce it is Lee Majors Come Again. This is no Heart Attack Man (and I mean this in a positive sense). While retaining that good old punk rush, the delivery seems much more languid and assured than their previous forays into the genre. Unlike their other songs like this, Lee Majors actually sits cohesively into the album rather than being the song you fast forward. First single Too Many Rappers (featuring Nas), OK and Crazy Ass Shit are all great songs and the quality barely dips throughout the entire album (possibly Funky Donkey and the short instrumentals being the weak links).

The recent star studded short film (which the video above is taken from) has gotten the band a lot of attention but it is entirely unnecessary. There is no need for it or any bells and whistles here as this is a great hip hop record. If you ever liked the Beastie Boys I can assure you that you'll like this. Hot Sauce Committee Part Two is streaming here.


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Radiohead: Supercollider/The Butcher review

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my dissatisfaction with the King of Limbs - it just seems like a rootless idea of an album rather than anything of lasting quality. As Rino astutely commented at the time, it sounded more like "a Thom solo work" than a fully fledged Radiohead album. The Supercollider/The Butcher ep was released to coincide with Record Store Day and was then subsequently available as a free download to anyone who had bought Limbs. I've spent a week with these songs (so as not to rush to judgment) and actually like them better than anything on that record. They'd certainly sound more at home on Eraser than on In Rainbows but I think they instinctively feel more Radioheady.

Supercollider is a seven minute song cycle that is meditative and languid with no obvious chorus and is probably the closest Radiohead will get to trance music. Of note, Thom Yorke's voice is beautiful in this song and swells and ebbs with the orchestration that surrounds the repetitive beats that underpin the song. The song feels much more dynamic than the material on Limbs and after a few listens starts seeping into your brain. I think this might be a perfect of example of the sound the band were going for on the album but failed to reach - late night headphones and a glass of wine headfuck music. The obvious problem with this song is that one thing Radiohead do very well is tracking their albums and I fail to see how a seven minute trance song would have fit into the short and sweet aesthetic of The King of Limbs. However, with a bit of embellishment on the other tracks and a different track order this could have easily been the centrepiece of that album.

The Butcher, on the other hand, is much more immediate than Supercollider. With a tribal drum pattern that is as ominous as the dark discordant bass keys that propel the tune, it fights for your attention and has all the threat and doom of classic Radiohead. Again, Yorke's singing is top notch and while the content is as obtuse as ever, again, this song feels much more complete and enjoyable than anything on the recent record.

It's not unknown that Radiohead release strong b-sides but releasing an ep a few weeks after the main album with songs that seem infinitely stronger is definitely some of the weirdest, backward arsed promotion I've ever come across. Maybe these songs would seem out of place or weaker if they'd been included on the album itself but the demise of Radiohead as a purveyor of quality tunes might have been grossly exaggerated based on the evidence here.

Update: my crack at a new track listing can be found here.


Monday, April 25, 2011

Played out: REM

I know REM have a new album out and it's supposed to be good but for some unknown reason I can't bring myself to listen to it. To be honest, I haven't been able to listen to them in years. My good friend who is a big fan gave me a copy of their last proper album Accelerate and I couldn't get past five songs. I have absolutely no idea why this is as I used to be a big fan.

Now, when I say big fan, I was a fan in the most unorthodox sense. While I liked their early stuff and was a fan of the their commercial breakthroughs (Green, Out of Time, Automatic), the two albums I liked the most were the often reviled Monster and completely dismissed New Adventures in Hi Fi. I'm not saying this to be willfully contrary as I think there's a strong case that can be made for both these albums. While Monster is remembered as their big rock move, the album's underlying darkness and Peter Buck's wild use of tremolo makes for an exciting listen. Post Monster, REM signed some ludicrous record deal for millions and then released New Adventures which sold about ten copies worldwide. Actually, it sold ok but was a significant dip on their previous sales which isn't a problem although this is where people often pinpoint the beginning of REM's decline. Personally, I would argue that REM would still be the biggest band in the world if it wasn't for Patti Smith (who paradoxically was the reason why they became the biggest band in the world in the first place).

Michael Stipe has often spoke of the impact Patti Smith had on him as a young man and how it was the inspiration for him to become a musician - no Patti Smith, no REM. As such, I guess it's no surprise that New Adventures first single was E-Bow the Letter which featured Smith as guest vocalist. Too bad it was a terrible choice of first single. I would contend if they had released Bittersweet Me or the Wake Up Bomb (followed by the overlooked album highlight Be Mine), they would have kept the momentum that had been building since Out of Time going but one dud lead single choice stopped the engine dead. You may ask 'well, how do you know this?' Here's the reason: in 1996, I was walking past a building site and the roofing guy was singing along to Bittersweet Me at the top of his lungs and punching the air with unbridled joy - now that's a lead single.

Many people blamed the departure of drummer Bill Berry (post-Adventures release) as the reason REM lost the plot but I'm not sure that's true. The following Up (1998) was actually a pretty great record and Reveal (2001) had its moments too. But I really think E-Bow the Letter was where people fell out of love with REM, not because it's a bad song, it's just doesn't work as a single - at all. When you achieve a certain mass of fans beyond the core rabid listeners, the challenge is to keep them engaged (if you want them). E-Bow the Letter is like leaving a turd in a flaming bag on the doorstep of the casual fan.

Anyhow, the next album was Around the Sun which was an unlistenable piece of shit and for me was where I really lost interest in the band. The problem is that this falling out of love has affected the entire back catalogue and I can barely bring myself to listen to any of their albums much less listen to anything new. When they pop up in my life, I'm reminded of how great a song Drive is or the lush emotional rush of Strange Currencies or the sheer sonic presence that Losing My Religion commands, but it doesn't compel me back into their arms or inspire me to seek out their new music.

I'm not sure if this is because I have moved on musically, the timbre of Michael Stipe's voice or just the general REM sound but there seems to be nothing there for me now. To be honest, there's a sense of loss there because we (REM and I) had some great times together but my falling out of love of with them seems permanent.


Sunday, April 24, 2011

The kids are alright... (or the dude got old)

I'm not around kids very often but for the public holiday I'm staying at my folk's place in Queensland and have spent the last twenty four hours with my niece (7) and nephew (5). My niece is particularly enamoured with music and trying to explain how a vinyl record works to a kid who doesn't really understand how a cd works, let alone a cassette, is a fun challenge.

She has a playlist on my brother's computer which ranges from Katy Perry to Justin Beiber to Usher - a pretty broad range there but it has a few surprises. When I first started listening to music as a kid, it was mainly inspired by soundtracks to movies (in fact, the first cassette I bought with my pocket money was the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack) and it seems this trend continues on through my niece. I was surprised to find Staying Alive and a track by Jonsi in her playlist but they both appear by virtue of being in the soundtracks to Madagascar and How to Train Your Dragon. We can only hope that some kiddie movie soundtrack in the future features Fugazi to expand the kid's minds (although Ian MacKaye is already a step ahead of me on this).

Apart from that, she has a number of songs from the 80's which seem largely influenced by my brother's penchant for new romantic kitsch. However, I think I must be getting old. We took a trip to the beach and on the way we listened to Hot 91.1, the Sunshine Coast's non-stop schlock hottest hits of now, tomorrow and forever. As we journeyed down the highway, we were hit by such musical geniuses as Jason Derulo, Chris Brown and a bunch of shit I can't remember but the kids were singing along to. I know there is always a lurid element to pop music but it just seems that much more explicit these days while being unrelentingly catchy (I also noticed that everyone says their names at the beginning of the song which I guess is to distinguish themselves because they are all cut from the same shitty template - mild hip hop mixed with cheesy Euro beats).

Am I being an overprotective uncle or is popular music pushing boundaries of what is reasonable? I don't really listen to the radio much (well, ever, I don't even own one) but sometimes hearing and seeing this stuff in the company of children really reminds you of how adult some of the content is. Sure I grew up with innuendo I didn't really understand (hello AC/DC), but today it doesn't even feel like innuendo, it's just quite blatant. I don't think you can protect children from this but seriously... aww dagnamit, my hearing aid has fallen out again. Mavis, can you passing me my walking frame? Dude got old...


Saturday, April 23, 2011

Nick Cave is the man

Last night, I was listening to the Grinderman 2 album and it struck me that Nick Cave is the fuckin' man. There are few artists that maintain a high level of quality output and most either peter out into mediocrity (U2) or release nothing and play the greatest hits tour over and over (The Eagles - although referring to them as an artist is a stretch). Nick Cave is one of the few artists I can think who is still releasing albums as vital and as interesting as when he started.

Ok, he may never write another Mercy Seat or The Carney (who could?) but Grinderman 2 is a visceral and exciting record which captures something that the Bad Seeds albums have been missing of late - the psychotic and demented presence of Cave live. Seeing Nick Cave live is different from listening to him on record - he is simultaneously lunatic, preacher and loverman begging, seducing, chastising and screaming at the crowd. A man possessed. A man unleashed. Grinderman seems to capture that rampant energy on record.

That's not to say the Bad Seeds have been slouches either. While I think Nocturama was a miss and Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus passed me by, everything else is pretty awesome, even the drug fucked stuff from the late 80's. Further, he's also writing books (shit), screenplays (good) and soundtracks (excellent, especially the Jesse James one). It seems that as he's gotten older he's hit the productivity overdrive button and gone for it. I'm particularly excited about the next Bad Seeds record which will be the first that features Ed Kuepper as part of the band - it'll be interesting to see the competing egos and styles of Ellis, Cave and Kuepper go head to head.

Cave's vision and voice is so singular that it is unmistakable and original. People throw around descriptions such as literary and Gothic but his work defines genre or classification. I guess I would describe it as Southern-neo-classical-biblical-grime-vaudeville-punk-apocalyptic-freeform-blues-love-songs-from-hell or some such thing. But Nick Cave, even at his worst and indulgent, is never less than compelling.

I would contend that there are few artists forging a prolonged singular path though music - in a world where Nickelback exists it almost seems a miracle that there are musicians like Cave, Tom Waits, PJ Harvey etc... Despite this, when Nick straps on his tele and grapples it like he's wrestling with a wounded beast, you know this is a man who is not slowing down, not compromising and not giving a fuck. He's producing music that is passionate, messy and inspired. That's why Nick Cave is the fuckin' man.


Friday, April 22, 2011

PJ Harvey makes my heart beat a little faster...

Thanks goes to Pitchfork for putting me onto this - PJ Harvey's San Francisco concert can be downloaded from NPR here. Now that's something nice to wake up to on a wet Saturday morning...


Essential playlists: Good Friday

Ministry - Jesus Built My Hotrod: Gibby Haynes describes the finer points of the bible especially the bit about "ding ding donga dong dong ding dong dingy dingy son of a gun."

The Dandy Warhols - Hard On for Jesus: I'm sure no one was ever offended by this song.

Soundgarden - Jesus Christ Pose: Rock stars don't know Jesus.

Sugar - JC Auto: Bob Mould rocks the fuck out of his persecution complex.

Spacemen 3 - Walkin' With Jesus: I'm sure the son of God would have appreciated hallucinogens.

Yes, I know I'm going straight to hell. Thanks for coming.


Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Church of Rock

Matt raised a good point the other day that as disciples of the Church of Rock, our heroes are often flawed individuals who have committed some reprehensible acts. My heroes (male and female) are a collection of swindlers, adulterers, sex addicts, drug abusers and pirates but I love them all. I think this is because the rock game is an unforgiving mistress and sometimes you have to be an arsehole to succeed.

I guess that is the redemptive power of rock n’ roll because we can overlook things that if they happened in our everyday life would be unforgivable. If you’re like me, music has given more solace and support through the years than any religion could but the people have been my saints, spirit guides and saviours are often not very nice.

For example, if you’ve seen that Johnny Cash film, that was a pretty polite version of his early years (he seems far worse in his autobiography) and he was a bit of prick really. Even Dave Grohl (the nicest man in rock apparently) admits in the Back and Forth documentary that he didn’t handle the evolution of the band too well and his treatment of the original drummer and second guitar player is pretty bad (not Dave!). His decision to re-record the drums on the second album without telling the actual drummer was a pretty low move but then I think it would be hard to be a drummer in Dave Grohl’s band period. Even Saint Joe Strummer’s personal life was a little unsavoury.

On this, I highly recommend the book Our Band Could Be Your Life. It tells the story of the American underground music scene in the 80’s and has great accounts of Black Flag, Hüsker Dü, the Butthole Surfers (a must read), Minutemen etc… It charts the evolution of these bands from their highs (often drug induced) to their nefarious lows and not everyone comes off looking so great. Sonic Youth come across as exploitative mercenaries who appropriated and rode on the backs of better bands. Bob Mould’s part in the dissolution of Hüsker Dü makes him sound like a power hungry egomaniac and the chapter on Dinosaur Jr is an abject lesson on how band dynamics can drag you to hell. That being said, I can forgive all these and admire these people because of the impact their art has had on my life (except for Sonic Youth because they suck).

So when we kneel at the altar of rock, our saints are often miscreants with questionable morals and more shades of grey that a big shady grey thing. However, as Matt pointed out, it doesn’t matter. Our saviours may be flawed but they seem ultimately better role models than any real saint even if they’re only teaching you about three chords, a broken heart and how to take cocaine anally. What? Too far?


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Saint Joe Day

I'm not a huge fan of the Hold Steady - I often describe them as what it would sound like if Bob Mould fronted the E-Street Band. That being said whenever I hear that song Constructive Summer, I just really love the lines:

Raise a toast to Saint Joe Strummer
I think he might have been our only decent teacher

While the Hold Steady offer me little else, the idea of celebrating Joe as a saint strikes me as a fantastic idea. I think we should make it an international public holiday and day of remembrance.

It could be a day to celebrate the righteousness of positive action, inclusivity and the boundless optimism that Joe embodied. I mentioned in an earlier post that I met Joe Strummer very briefly. He shook my hand but there was a certain casual positive radiance coming from him. It’s hard to describe, whether it was charisma or just the shock of shaking hands with a hero but there was something about him that made the world a better place.

With this in mind, it could be a day for all those Joe represented: the punks, the rockers, the family men and women, the oppressed, the rastas, the lovers, the fighters, the pirates, the beautiful, the ugly, the shoplifters, the squatters, the activists, the kids, the women, the outlaws, the cowboys, the protestors, the rioters, the gunmen, the outsiders, the planet, the music lovers, you, me and everyone else his life touched.

So I figure Saint Joe Strummer Day should be on August 21, his birthday. I thought I’d flag this idea early because I guess I’ll have to write some Government official or something about making it a public holiday. Also, how do you become a saint? I guess being awesome and in the Clash is enough for sainthood, so let’s all get together to celebrate St Joe Day in August.


Monday, April 18, 2011

Soundtrack of your life Part 4: The Re-make

For a change of pace, I thought I'd return to an old favourite for the day. This is the fourth consecutive year I've done this viral, bloggy list thing (click here for Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3) and I think it's a bit of stupid fun. A tad disappointing this year as I always like it when a totally inappropriate song comes up. Anyhow, this is the Soundtrack of my Life this year.


1. Open your library (iTunes, Winamp, Media Player, iPod, etc)
2. Put it on shuffle
3. Press play
4. For every scene, type the song that's playing
5. When you go to a new scene, press the next button
6. Don't lie and try to pretend you're cool - first songs only

Opening Credits
Waking Up
First Day of School
Falling in Love
Fight Song
Breaking Up
Life is Good
Mental Breakdown
Getting Back Together
Paying the Dues
The Night Before the War
Moment of Triumph
Death Scene
Funeral Song
End Credits

So for me it's:

Opening Credits: Standing In The Rain - Hüsker Dü

Waking Up: The View From The Afternoon ­- Arctic Monkeys

First Day of School: Upward Over The Mountain - Iron & Wine

Falling in Love: Get Acquainted (Distinctive Sound) (Faux Pas) - Gotye

Fight Song: With Tired Eyes, Tired Minds, Tired Souls, We Slept - Explosions in the Sky

Breaking Up: Feel Good Hit Of The Summer (Reprise) - Queens of the Stone Age

Prom: The End of the Line - Metallica

Life is Good: Gorgeous - Kanye West Ft. KiD CuDi & Raekwon

Mental Breakdown: Strange Fruit - Twilight Singer

Driving: Flex - Dizzie Rascal

Flashback: The Lovecats - The Cure

Getting Back Together: Superunknown - Soundgarden

Wedding: DLZ - TV On The Radio

Paying the Dues: Live and Let Die - Guns N'Roses

The Night Before the War: Thank You Space Expert - Mogwai

Moment of Triumph:
Wild Flower - The Cult

Death Scene: Southern Accents - Johnny Cash

Funeral Song: Richochet - Faith No More

End Credits: In The Drugs - Low

...and scene.


Sunday, April 17, 2011

Explain it to me: TV on the Radio

For a long time, a number of friends who I respect have being trying to sway me onto the charms of TV on the Radio. Despite listening to all their albums multiple times, I still like exactly three songs and remain largely mystified as to what all the fuss is about.

Today, I gave their widely acclaimed new album a listen and by track 5, it felt like it had been playing for about six hours. While there are elements that I like (mainly Tunde Adebimpe's vocals, the horn stabs and some of the atmospherics), I'm still trying to wrap my head around what makes this band so special. As I sat there sighing and generally complaining/mumbling, I asked my girlfriend what I was missing. Her response, "You have to listen to Return to Cookie Mountain. The other albums are good but it's really Cookie Mountain that makes them special." So I gave it a listen. The result was I was bored.

As I listened to it, I had the following conversation:
JH: Is this good?
GF: Yeah, it's good isn't it! Wait. What?
JH: I asked 'is it good?' Not that it was good.
GF: It's great. You just have to get used to the vocals.
JH: I like the vocals, that's not the problem. It's like they keep piling random shit onto the track and seeing what sticks.
GF: (definitively, walking off) It's good.

As I said, I like those three songs (a whole lot in fact) but there seems to be some disconnect to me between the accolades the music receives and the music I'm listening to. I will persevere though as it sounds interesting and I want to like them, maybe I need to listen to it in the right context. Am I supposed to be stoned or something?

TV on the Radio. Anyone care to explain it to me what I'm missing?


Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Wash Up: Record Store Day is today!

So, to celebrate Record Store Day, Sydney has put on its finest wet weather and gale force winds for the occasion. Despite the shiteous weather, I made it out to Redeye Records to pick up some new tunes. I have to confess that I am saving for an overseas trip so I have a weekly music budget and the days of going in and blowing $1000 on records is sadly behind me (for now). However, I decided to pick up a few things:

I think Let England Shake is definitely one of the best albums of the year and I'd been holding off getting a vinyl copy until after I got back from travelling overseas. Apparently, I couldn't wait although I was tossing up between this and a $20 copy of the new Low album.

By the time I got to Redeye, a lot of the Record Store Day exclusives had sold out but I decided to get this vinyl only Foo Fighters collection of covers, mainly to hear their take on Hüsker Dü and the Angry Samoans. The cover of Never Talking To You Again, is just Grohl solo strumming his guitar live somewhere - it's passable even if it is a Grant Hart song. That being said, they make a fair fist of Gas Chamber. I am yet to hear their covers of Wings and Gerry Rafferty...

I picked this album (Walk On, 1982) up on a whim just because it has a couple of tracks of Terry and McGhee with Lightnin' Hopkins so I thought I'd check it out. I also got to pick a free record from a bargain bin for buying music today and opted for a Bat For Lashes 12 inch.

If you're anywhere else in the world right now and Record Store Day is just dawning or happening, I'd urge you to head down to your independent record store and pick up some new music. Support these people because my local record store is like a community centre for record nerds and without it, where would they go? Think of the children, the displaced hipsters and the goateed guys with pony tails talking about Can and go and buy a frickin' record already.


Friday, April 15, 2011

Record Store Day Countdown 2

To celebrate Record Store Day tomorrow, I'm recounting some of my favourite vinyl purchases.

Not only my favourite Elvis song but I love the look on his face in this picture. That's the look of a man with the self awareness that he is the coolest person on the planet at that moment in time.

Yesterday, I talked about how the first Queens of the Stone Age record's naked chick and motorbike aesthetic was a strangely poetic representation of the stunted adolescence that is rock n' roll. On that same level, this is why I love this record cover because Neko Case decided she wanted to create the perfect cover that would appeal to a 14 year old boy. Beautiful red head on the hood of a hot car holding a sword - works perfectly for this 14 year old (and one of my favourite albums of the last ten years too).

Great record but how cute was Aretha back in the day? The other thing I like is that when grouped alphabetically with my other records, Franklin sits between Flying Lotus and Fugazi - hectic and eclectic.

This is a greatest hits album by Icehouse that my girlfriend bought me for Christmas. Icehouse were a huge band in 80's Australia and lead singer Iva Davies' voice sounded vaguely like late period Bowie. But despite that, on this cover he is rockin' the most amazing curly mullet you will ever see. See it yourself if you dare.

I found this NME single release at a record fair and while having a bunch of bands on it, the main attraction is Hüsker Dü covering Ticket to Ride, which you can hear here. It's pretty terrible in some respects but oh well. By the way...

...did I mention I met Bob Mould?


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Record Store Day Countdown 1

(That's me in Egg Records a while back - before I got fat. I am holding an Indecent Obsession record from the $1 bin).

These days if you have a computer you can pretty much find any music you want and get it instantaneously. While this is very handy when you get a hankering for a particular album late at night (for example, I really needed to hear LL Cool J's Walking with a Panther and within in minutes it was blasting out of my stereo), I still prefer to have the physical object particularly on vinyl if it's available (yes, I am one of those nerds). Growing up, the thrill of the music was accompanied by closely studying the artwork and liner notes of your latest purchase to look for the hidden messages and revel in its beauty or ugliness. I still love to do this as an adult.

Second hand vinyl shopping was destroyed in Australia by the advent of ebay. You used to be able to pick up good bargains in thrift stores and garage sales and second hand record stores were bountiful. However, everyone got savvy to this intranets thing and the general feeling amongst my vinyl nerd friends is that a lot of good records went offshore. Plus with iTunes at your disposal, why would you go out and buy a record?

As such, one of the few places you're guaranteed of picking up good records in Australia is your local independent record store which seem to be decreasing day by day. Fighting falling cd sales, big corporations and downloading, most of the independent record stores soldier on through love rather than profits and provide a valuable community service that Amazon or Ebay cannot replace. There's nothing like browsing through racks of vinyl, talking shit with the guy behind the counter about some obscure record or just soaking up the ambiance that is record nerdom. My local record store is Egg Records, a place where I've spent many hours hanging out with my buddy Steve who works there and spending way too much money on records.

This Saturday is Record Store Day where stores around the world will be selling exclusive items from supportive musicians and generally celebrating the existence of these magical places. I'm definitely onboard with this initiative and would say if you have a local independent record store, go and buy something this weekend - even if it is one of the bazillion $2 copies of Hole's Live Through This you see everywhere.

To celebrate the day, I'd like to share a few of my favourite vinyl purchases which I've bought browsing through record stores. Apart from the music, these are the reasons these records hold a special place in my heart.

I own a bunch of Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee records which I generally play on a Sunday morning while I'm reading the newspapers. The sound is mainly folk blues based around acoustic guitar and harmonica. The weird thing is I don't think that I'll ever buy a cd of this music, I will only listen to this on vinyl because to hear it any other way feels wrong. This music needs its cracks and pops.

Being a big PJ Harvey fan, I have always loved the cover of Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea. There is something amazing about it which I can't put my finger on. I think it's her look combined with the colour and movement in the background that I love. Obviously, having it on vinyl just makes it that much bigger and more beautiful.

I love to cook to Tres Hombres which is just as well because check out the centrefold:

Lord knows what that Tex Mex concoction from 1973 is but I'm surprised there isn't grease stains on the record from that picture. Looking at it, I'm sure Billy Gibbons is still digesting that meal 37 years later.

While I know the first Queens of the Stone Age record has been re-released with the cd cover on it, the original pressing looked like this. Now, my lefty politics thinks that this is a terribly sexist piece of shit cover. However, I think there is something perfect about a big rock record that has a half naked women on a motorcycle on the cover - it just speaks to the incredibly male-centric juvenile nature of the genre in some poetic way. Oh boys, you're so sophisticated...

Did I mention I met Bob Mould?


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

If you watch only one thing on the internet today...

Neil Young Inducts Tom Waits - "Make It Rain" and "Rain Dogs" from Anti Records on Vimeo.

...make it this.


Explosions in the Sky: Take Care, Take Care, Take Care review

I've been holding back on writing a review of Take Care, Take Care, Take Care because I just feel churlish and a pedant for not liking it. Largely, I was of the opinion that it was a bunch of meandering pap and a pretty weak Explosions record. Having a couple of more listens, I've softened on that somewhat but I think it is far from their best. While I think there are a few good tracks, there is nothing here that really moves me or makes me love it - it just doesn't sing to me.

In the realms of 'post-rock', I'm more of a Mogwai man than an Explosions man. I tend to think the Scots balance the beauty, muscularity and experimentation of the genre in more interesting ways than Explosions. That's not to say Explosions haven't produced some exceptional music, the best of which I would contend is The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place (which sounds extra beautiful on vinyl).

For any longer piece of music, it often relies on repetition, light and shade and I guess this is my problem with the album. To pull off ten minutes of endless repetition in post rock, you need to have rock solid hooks, interesting digressions or melodies that rise and fall but make the listener join the journey the band is taking (btw to pull off ten minutes of endless repetition in electronic music you just need drugs). To be honest, I find the material here lacks that essential hook and I find myself drifting off rather than listening to the music.

At this point, I think it's easier for me to go through it track by track to let you know why I'm struggling. Things start well with Last Known Surroundings, a song which grows on you after a few listens and has enough bombast and sonic textures to make you love it. The problem here is that the next two songs do nothing for me whatsoever. Human Qualities meanders aimlessly until the big release at the seven minute mark but by then it's too late to make the song interesting. This is followed by Trembling Hands which I thought was ok until I heard it in the context of the album - it just doesn't fit and is annoying. It seems to me it is a song the band would love playing live but is less enjoyable for the audience (a common problem - look how much fun these guys are having - too bad the song sounds like shit to the crowd). The song is just ok to my ears but contextually it is all wrong.

I think the strongest song here is Be Comfortable, Creature as it has a hypnotic riff that recalls their earlier work. In particular, this song features some exquisite guitar tones that soar across the last couple of minutes of the tune. Postcard From 1952 suffers a similar fate to Human Qualities, a big rock ending without an engaging build up is of no use to me. The final song (Let Me Back In) starts quiet, goes loud, ends quiet but ultimately does nothing. All three of the last songs have similar descending riffs throughout but Be Comfortable, Creature is the only one that sticks with you - the rest don't grab you as they should.

There is no denying the complexity of the songwriting nor passion of the band in these songs but it hasn't translated into a memorable listening experience. There is some joy to be found on the record but it is not their strongest suite of music - it is a passable entry into the Explosions discography. This is sad to me because it's an album I wanted to love and be excited by - I hope I'm wrong from these early listens and maybe time will change my mind (especially considering the packaging for the vinyl edition - sweet. Yes, I am that shallow).


Monday, April 11, 2011

The Wash Up: Sleater Kinney

Speaking about Janet Weiss recently got me thinking about has there ever been a more clearly delineated break in a band than Sleater Kinney? Sleater-Kinney were a punk/rock band from Olympia who came out of the riot grrl movement but far exceeded the confines of that limited definition. They are often given that condescending pat on the back, pretty good for a girl band, which is bullshit because they were were one of the great bands of the 90's/00's full stop, regardless of gender. Made up of Weiss and the twin guitar/singing duo of Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker, they're one of the fiercest live bands I've seen and made at least six great records (and one less great one).

In 2006, they announced they were going on 'permanent hiatus' which generally means either the band can't stand each other or they can't stand be on tour anymore. The general explanation was that Corin Tucker didn't want to tour with two small children which is fair enough. However, this came off the back of The Woods, an album that was a big stylistic change for the band which ditched the spiky punk of the past for a psyched out fuzzy big rock sound. It wasn't long into the tour for that record that the band announced their impending break.

Some five years later, it's interesting to see how the band has been split into two distinct camps. Corin Tucker released a solo record last year that sounds distinctly like classic Sleater Kinney although somewhat subdued. It features none of the big rock of The Woods and it's a joy to hear Tucker's distinctive voice again after such a long time.

Her bandmates Weiss and Brownstein have undertaken a bunch of projects* but have recently formed Wild Flag with Mary Timony (Helium) and Rebecca Cole (the Minders). The first taste of their music, Glass Tambourine, is all 60's psyche garage rock that refines The Woods aesthetic into a Stooges'esque freak out. It's pretty good actually.
Glass Tambourine by Wild Flag by Timedoor

So while the split is amicable, it seems that the two sides of the trio were heading in different directions musically. If you compare the two songs above and didn't know the major players in each band had played together previously, there is nothing sonically to suggest they ever did. Not that there's anything wrong with that, just an observation. But listening to these bands makes me miss Sleater-Kinney, if only because they frickin' rocked and I met my girlfriend at one of their gigs.

* I wonder if Janet Weiss regrets having a bird on her kick drum in the Entertain video after Brownstein's skit in Portlandia:

Just sayin'.


Sunday, April 10, 2011

Low - C'mon review

Sometimes I think genres of music are the stupidest thing ever particularly in indie rock. I've always found names like slowcore, math rock and sadcore to be reductionist and misrepresentative of the actual nature of the music. This seems especially true for a band like Low whose quietest work can be a joyous and emotive tour de force despite it's low key packaging (far from the sadcore label they are often tarnished with). Fortunately, Low's new album features some of their most beautiful and strangely accessible work to date.

I have to admit having mixed feelings about the last two Low albums. While I didn't particularly enjoy the forced rock-ness of The Great Destroyer, their last album Drums and Guns almost seemed too much of a retreat into the 'slowcore' aesthetic even if it was filled with jagged edges and a righteous anger about the war in Iraq. C'mon seems immediately brighter, lighter and upbeat than both these albums. This may be a product of yet another line up change as Low go through bass players like Spinal Tap go through drummers. While Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker (guitar and drums, husband and wife, vocalists and Mormons) remain constant, it seems this line up change has re-vitalised them. Steve Garrington who previously played keyboards for them now moves to bass duties as well.

The songs with Parker on lead vocals seem the strongest particularly the divine beauty and drive of Especially Me (above) and airy pop of You See Everything. Sparhawk's strongest moment comes in the slow build and thunder of Majesty/Magic. The songs build to the climatic Nothing But Heart, an eight minute epic which is the closest Low will ever get to a Neil Young raver. These are highlights across a strong set of songs which echo Low's earlier works without being a backward step or at odds with the bands sonic trajectory.

I have no criticism here as with a number of other acts of a comparable age, Low appear to be having a late career renaissance. This is a great record and I don't think it being called C'mon is a mystery - there is a rejuvenated and upbeat spirit that moves through even the slowest songs. It's hardly music to pump your fist to but it will move you. Highly recommended.


Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Greatest Of All Time Debate: Drummers

A few days ago, I made a mildly contentious statement in relation to the Beatles. My exact words were, “Let’s face it, Ringo sucks.” For this I received the ire of Rino who said Ringo is the greatest white drummer ever. I presume the race signifier is because there’s probably a billion amazing black jazz drummers I don’t know about but my brain kept going ‘surely Ringo can’t be the best’ but buggered if I can think of anyone else.

When I was talking about the Ringo suckage, I was actually talking about his singing and contributions to the Beatles songwriting canon rather than his drumming. However, I can’t help thinking that Ringo wasn’t the best rock drummer of all time, he was a good drummer who happened to be in the greatest band in history. Too harsh? Going back and listening to some of the later Beatles, I can see where Rino is coming from because Ringo was definitely at the top of his game. Just listen to Come Together - the drumming is amazingly restrained yet perfectly fitting the song.

The problem I face is that while I’m a connoisseur of drummer jokes, I would find it very hard to judge who is a good drummer and who isn’t. Apart from my lack of technical knowledge of drumming, how do you quantify it? I imagine it is a magic combination of technique and feel. Drummers would probably disagree. I have looked at a few drummer websites and the musicians they tout as the best are those prog guys like Neil Peart – ahh Rush, I can’t stand that shit. Like with any instrument, there are dilettantes who will always focus on the flashiest and most technical elements of it.

I totally understand this. When I was learning guitar, many of my fellow guitar playing friends were fans of guitar wankers like Satriani and Steve Vai. The problem is that those guys are all technique and no feel. I’d contend that listening to a Steve Vai record is like being dry humped by an over enthusiastic labrador - I appreciate the enthusiasm but no thanks, down boy. I accept that these albums are not for me but those guys wouldn’t even graze the bottom of my top 100 guitarists of all time.

But back to Ringo. When I was thinking through who would be better, I was drawn to the improvisational freak outs of Mitch Mitchell, the might of John Bonham and the bat-shit crazy pounding of Keith Moon. The only thing about them is that all these guy’s are dead and when I started to think about modern drummers, I’ve been scratching my head to think of anyone who might be a contender or has made an impression on me as a drummer. The other thing is that the classic rock guys are all British and the only modern rock drummers I can think of are American (apart from the Mogwai bloke) - strange how that works.

On this, one of the most memorable drummers I’ve seen is Janet Weiss from Sleater Kinney whose live drum sound was monstrous. While able to play gently, at full tilt her drumming is a propulsive storm of swing and destruction that transformed the music from Kill Rockstars punk into some transcendent, ecstatic rock action. While I didn’t really get into the fuzzy power-rock sound they embraced on their swansong The Woods, the album has ample examples of Weiss’s prowess – check this out.

I imagine some people will roll their eyes when I mention Dave Grohl but I’d say listen to the final two minutes of A Song for the Dead and then shut the fuck up. I'm also a fan of Bryan Devendorf from the National because I think his drumming is particularly inspired (I particularly love the drums on Mistaken for Strangers). There's also probably some guy who played for Frank Zappa but unfortunately I don't care about that. I guess I could name a bunch of punk and metal guys but it seems a bit redundant because they're all playing from the same hymn book. Then ?uestlove from the Roots turns up and blows them all away anyhow.

I think I'll have to think on it further but if anyone who has a suggestion on who is currently the best rock drummer and the best drummer of all time, please let me know. Cheers.


Friday, April 8, 2011

Death Cab For Cutie: You Are A Tourist

For the majority of the time that I was aware of Death Cab for Cutie, I had no time for them. Stupid name, fey singing and a lack of attack made me dismiss them out of hand - I was simply too punk, too hardcore for them. But as with much of the music I now adore, it took the right time, the right song and the right girl to convince me that I was missing out.

As the first single, You Are A Tourist gives us the first indication of what their new album sounds like. The early reports were that Codes and Keys was driven much more by keyboard written material but this song reveals none of that direction. With a sparkling guitar line and memorable vocal hook, it seems Death Cab's core business of producing little indie pop gems remains unchanged.

What I think sets Death Cab apart is their lyrics and Ben Gibbard's ability to capture a moment or ignite the imagination or a feeling through a phrase. For me, this couplet resonates most:

And if you feel just like a tourist in the city you were born
Then, it's time to go

There is a certain sense of displacement in the lyrics which I can relate to in a very personal way. I know this is self indulgent but it also makes me like the song more.

Other than that, one element that most people miss in Death Cab is that the bass playing is always incredibly fluid and they have an understated groove that often propels the music in unseen directions. So, for a fan of the latter day Death Cab catalogue, You Are A Tourist fits snuggly into that discography. This is good news if you're already onboard the Death Cab and if you're not, move along, there's nothing here for you.


Thursday, April 7, 2011

True conversations of music nerds: Abbey Road

No Rubbish Abbey Road by randomesque

And now for something completely different... I recently decided that I would make my conversations with music nerds series a bit more interesting by actually recording a conversation. So I recently had a chat with Neil about his favourite album Abbey Road (Neil is an animator, artist and teacher whose work can be found here as well). The conversation goes from Neil's childhood memories of music to why Steve Jobs is a Terminator to who is the sexiest Beatle. Much of the conversation is disturbing and yeah, I really do speak like that... Oh and sensitive souls, we swear a bit too.


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Conundrum that is James Blake

Seems like I've been a bit grumpy this week so this is just a short note on something I actually love. I've been sitting on the James Blake album for a while now and I still don't think I'm ready to review it. The problem is it feels almost impossible to talk about in any coherent or meaningful way and I don't want to over analyse why I like it - some thing's shouldn't be questioned too much.

There is some music that just takes you by surprise. The Human Behaviour single was first time I heard Bjork and at the time I didn't really understand what I was hearing. Living in North Queensland and not being exposed to the London dance scene nor Bjork's otherwordly wail, all I knew was that I liked it even if I had no cultural touchstones to draw upon to contextualise it. I feel this way about James Blake.

On the one hand, there are echos of Antony and Bon Iver with Homogenic era Bjorkian electronics and a distinct whiff of dubstep but then on the other hand, when I hear a vocoder on Lindesfarne I I really have no idea what's going on because it warps into this truly distinct creature. Whatever is happening on this album is special - really special.

The music hovers and is unforced and much of the sound is unexpected and left field. The cover of Feist's Limit to your love (above) starts as a torch song until this mindbending bass kicks in (and trust me, through good speakers, the bass is so deep that inanimate household objects will move around your house like in the video). Lindesfarne II sounds like an outtake from Bon Iver's first album if Justin Vernon had been hanging out with Kanye's vocoder in that lonely cabin.

I don't think I'm saying anything new or substantial about this album, I think it's just one of those things you have to hear for yourself. An early front runner for album of the year for me.


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Explosions in the Sky: Trembling Hands

The new Explosions in the Sky album is out there (on youtube and other far more nefarious outlets) and I've been listening to it trying to wrap my head around the music. I find Explosions less immediate than Mogwai and I need time to work out whether it is genius or meandering pap. However, I would like to ask one question: what the fuck is with Trembling Hands?

Released a few weeks ago as a taster of the album, it signaled a slight stylistic departure for them with it's pounding Arcade Fire-esque drums and careening guitar lines. The thing is, it sounds like nothing else on the album and coming in at a lean three and a half minutes, contextually it makes no sense. Why? Well, the next shortest song is seven minutes in length and even when the band pick up the pace on the longer songs it is structured and considered. Trembling Hands is like throwing a hip hop verse into the middle of a classical piece. Weird shit.

The song seems like a statement without meaning, a point that ultimately means nothing. Its early release was misleading and on repeat listens to this album, pretty annoying because it undermines the flow of the record. Again, I reiterate my original question, what the fuck is with this song?


Monday, April 4, 2011

Where the hell is Bowie?

I was listening to some David Bowie last night and it occurred to me I haven't seen him in a while. It's not like I expect to bump into him at the supermarket but with a musician this influential, you expect him to be kicking around doing greatest hit tours or duets with lesser lights (hello Dylan and Cohen). He occasionally pops up to sing with some other band or is reported on being side of stage at some hip show in New York or wherever but where the hell is he?

I think he might have done the most perverse and subversive thing a rock star can do - retire gracefully. Sure, his last decade of albums weren't really a patch on his his 70's output but listening to his greatest hits is like listening to the greatest mixtape in history. SO many great songs, SO many different styles, SO much style full stop, it's hard to believe that such an artist existed. I mean who is the modern equivalent of Bowie? Gaga? Spare me.

Bowie could wear the costume in Labyrinth (the highest pants, the silkiest mullet, the piratest of pirate shirts...) and still be cool. I mean look at that video, he's singing with muppets and is so awesome he upstages them all.

So David, if you're reading, drop us a line, we miss you.


Sunday, April 3, 2011

Foo Fighters: Wasting Light review

For the last few months, Dave Grohl has been touting the new Foo Fighters album as a back to basics barn burning rock behemoth. All I can say is if you're talking about barn burning like this, you better not be talking about Farmville - I want apocalyptic visions of a whole valley of Amish barns on fire.

The promise of a great rock record with no filler is an enticing one to fans of the genre and Grohl has the pedigree to pull it off. The check list on the album was promising:
a) Grohl coming off drumming for Them Crooked Vultures inspired and ready to rock - check.
b) Re-union of Nevermind alumni Butch Vig and Krist Novoselic - check.
c) Guest appearance by Bob Mould - check.
d) Return of original line up member/Germs guitarist Pat Smear - check.

So with these ingredients, did Grohl pull off the rock album of the year? I want to say yes but Wasting Light is good but not great. There are some exceptional songs here but the album is let down by its track order as well as some weaker songs at the back end of the album.

The album starts with a quadruple punch of awesome. The first song Bridge Burning is exactly what Grohl promised and is a good old fashioned throw-your-devil-horns-to-the-heavens-and-air-guitar-rock-out moment. The final section where Grohl sings "Gathering the ashes" is the first goose bump moment on the record and is a perfect lead into the single Rope. At first, I wasn't that impressed by this song but after a few listens, it has the infectious quality of the Foo's best work - Dave sure knows how to pick a single.

Dear Rosemary
is a more plaintive work and features Bob Mould on backing vocals and guitar. The song wouldn't be out of place on any of Mould's later solo album and has a halting, emotive quality. The call and response between the two singers in the latter part of the song is an album highlight and shows why at his best Bob is one of the most distinctive and moving voices to come out of the 80's punk scene. This is swiftly followed by White Limo, which seems to be Grohl's tribute to Motorhead. If having Lemmy in the video wasn't enough of a hint, the solo is a pure Motorhead overkill. However, this is where things start to wind down on the album.

The next track, Arlandria, starts with a riff that is easily the worst thing on the album. However, this is the only time it is played in the song but stands out as a signpost in the shift of dynamics in the record. Pretty much every song from here has a muted verse followed by a thundering distorted chorus which is problematic - being drawn from the same template makes them very samey. Where the opening tracks swing and fight for your attention, the rest seem like assembly line rock for the masses. This is not to say the songs are not good, they're just not in the stratosphere that the early songs promised. I think this may be in part to the track order as I'm surprised no one noticed the lack of variety in the back end of the album. Despite this, Arlandria is actually a pretty good song despite it's shaky start and is ably followed by the remaining tracks but it is middling rather than compelling.

As with any rock record, I think it pays not to pay too much attention to the lyrics. They are singalong fun but not really particularly deep and more fodder for memorable melodies. There's no denying Grohl's sincerity but a lot of the stuff here is rock by rote and rhyme. That being said, Grohl has never sounded better as a singer - there is a lot of variation in his tone and voice on the album and let's face it, he has a pretty great rock scream.

So, Wasting Light is a solid rock record with some real high points but it is not the classic that Grohl has been talking up. As for all this talk of a return to grunge because of the Vig/Novoselic connection, I think that's bullshit given this sounds no different from the music Grohl has been peddling for the last fifteen years. It's definitely one of the best Foo Fighter records but I can't help but think they're an outstanding singles band but don't have the depth for great deep cuts. Maybe I'm being harsh as I've only had a good 24 hours with the record and the latter tracks will grow on me but at first flush - this is less barn burning and more barn bbq. That's ok because it's still good fun and worth the price of admission for any discerning rock fan. What more do you want from a rock record?

The album is streaming here.


Saturday, April 2, 2011

Dave Navarro can save the world

Jane's Addiction - End to the Lies by paniko

Last night before I went to bed, I listened to the new Jane's Addiction song which I think is actually pretty good. Even though it has some a Spanish DJ sounding far less sexy than the lady introducing Stop speaking over the top of it, it actually sounds pretty ace. As I lay my head down to sleep, Dave Navarro's riff was rolling around my head and it occurred to me that maybe he is the hero that the modern world needs.

How so? Well, if you're a fan of Jane's Addiction you know the MVP of their classic line up was Eric Avery, whose propulsive bass lines and songwriting laid the foundations for the only two albums that matter from this band (TV on the Radio's David Sitek plays bass and co-produces their new album which might make it interesting). But despite Perry thinking he was the star of the show, all the flash and colour came from Navarro's incendiary guitar playing. To be blunt, the guy can play the fuck out of a guitar. His playing is all shock and awe and even at his worst, he sounds like a best guitar player in the universe and that's why I think he could save the world. Here's some examples:

A) Say there was a Battle: Los Angeles style invasion. Don't send in the troops, just get Navarro to set up a wall of Marshall's and play the solo from Stop! at the invading alien hordes. Not only will this guarantee a retreat from the aliens, it will melt their faces off. (Haven't seen that film but heard it's shit - great trailer though).

B) Nuclear power on the nose and running out of coal? Get Dave to plug into the grid and play Mountain Song four times in a row. That's enough rock power to service a middle sized city.

C) Sure Navarro has played with such shit artists as the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Alanis Morrisette, P Diddy and Christina Aguilera but you know what? It doesn't matter. Dave Navarro can play an open e-string on a pawn shop guitar in a Rockhampton insane asylum while wearing a Hannah Montana shirt (unironically) while watching the latest episode of Dora the Explorer (unironically) and he will still be cooler than you or I will ever be. It doesn't matter if this guy is the biggest douchebag in the world (he may well be, I've never met him), there is no competition.

Did I mention he can play the fuck out of a guitar?


Friday, April 1, 2011

Lost classics: American Music Club: Mercury

I'm sure we've all been there at some point in our lives, where the girl/boy has left you and you're aching for their touch at 3:27am. Between the tears, alcohol and despair, the misery of heartbreak is your constant companion. You literally feel sick all the time and every conversation is a short road to tears, anger or late night calls pleading for them to return. There is a point where your heartbreak is pathetic and you are broken. And this is the the territory that Mark Eitzel (lead singer of American Music Club) explores with a candour that is devastating.

Now, I'm generally not a believer that you have to be in terrible pain or miserable to be a great artist. I draw the line with Eitzel though who seems to excel in the art of creating perfect songs for the miserable and the heartbroken which I presume is a result of turmoil in his life. Like Tom Waits, his songs are filled with the seedy underbelly of life: the destitute, the street walkers and the damaged.

For me, Eitzel's art was perfected on the 1993 album Mercury where he proved himself to be one of the greatest lyricist alive. I don't even flinch writing that, the lyrics on Mercury are astounding: insightful and perceptive at a level which escapes most songwriters. I have so many favourite lines on this album but they cannot be appreciated in isolation of the songs themselves. However, to give you an idea here's a verse from Apology for an Accident:

Well, I'm an expert in all things that nature abhors
Your look of disgust when I touched your skin
And I tried to figure what the world needs me for
So I replay the scene again and again

I think anyone who has done something stupid with an ex-lover and chastised themselves for days/months/years later can related to this. But this is only the tip of the heartbreak iceberg being served up here. The songs explore the many forms of misery that only a true depressive could revel in. As Eitzel confides:

When I spend too much time alone, I get afraid
Afraid that you’re gonna leave me breathing

Musically, this album flirts with alt-country before the term was widely known. Apart from the odd dash of distortion, the music is all acoustic guitars, pedal steel colouring and bar sodden blues. That being said, at times the music is woozy and off centred, like a drunk trying to walk in a straight line. This is no easy listening cruise because the music perfectly emulates the the drama unfolding in the stories being told.

It took me about six months to fully appreciate this album but it took my first heartbreak to really love it. This is music for the downtrodden but it is beautiful in every way. This album will change your life.