Posted 20 hours ago

Song of the Day: September 2, 2014

Replacements, “Achin’ to Be”

It’s been one helluva two week cycle for indie-rock nostalgia.

First, there was the sheer spectacle of seeing Kate Bush performing for the first time in 35 years.

Then, there was act after act at this year’s Bumbershoot, ranging from an all-star cast of characters (members of R.E.M. and the Posies, not to mention Jody Stephens himself, the last man standing from the original lineup) re-creating Big Star’s epic downerfest Third to the Wu-Tang Clan’s triumphant set making clear their G.O.A.T. status to Dream Syndicate’s reunion (“Tell Me When It’s Over” is a H.O.F. song, let’s get real), then a little band from Minneapolis making their own reappearance after many years away from the game.

I could go on and on and on about what the ‘Mats have meant to me over the years; I played in bands that attempted to cover their songs, I totally identified with frontman Paul Westerberg’s melancholy outsider persona, and mostly just dug the hell out of their “Faces for the 80s” sweet & sour, wrong-in-all-the-right-ways, shaggy-dog method of muscling their way through a song, whether that song happened to be a Kiss cover or something as timeless as one of Westerberg’s seemingly endless river of beautiful-loser originals. 

There are probably a few songs/moments I would love to have seen in the band’s set (an acoustic encore of “Here Comes a Regular” comes to mind) but that feels like nitpicking considering the sheer breadth of the setlist and the fact that Westerberg, Tommy Stinson, touring drummer Josh Freese (ex G ‘n R) and guitarist Dave Minehan (ex-Neighborhoods, both of whom played with Westerberg back in the ’90s) looked energized, played their asses off, sounded as tight-yet-sloppy as I remembered from their heyday, and included a faltering Jackson 5 cover (“I Want You Back”) as part of the evening’s entertainment. 

But when the Batman-shirted Westerberg sang these lines (a song that, as he laughingly put it, was from our ‘short-lived country/western period that didn’t fly so good’)… 

Well, I saw one of your pictures
There was nothin’ that I could see
If no one’s on your canvas 
Well, I’m achin’ to be 

…It made me remember what I loved about this band so much in the first place.

Welcome home, ‘Mats. Your idiot nation has awaited you. (CdB) 

Posted 21 hours ago

Song of the Day: September 1, 2014

New Pornographers: “War on the East Coast”

I’m back from 2 weeks in Idaho, ready for the fall, ready to get back to work, ready for the school year.

The sound track for the past couple of weeks as I hiked through the burn zone of last year’s terrible Beaver Creek Fire, rafted down the Salmon River and dozed on the banks of the Big Wood creek was the latest from BC supergroup New Pornographers who have released their best LP since 2005’s awesome Twin Cinema.

No surprise to Music War followers that I’m a Dan Bejar disciple and while Neko and Carl and Kathryn’s tracks are great—today’s SotD is my fave track on the album. The video is great too—a single take in which Dan and Carl wander around the LA River while shit blows up. The best part about it is that Carl is lip-synching Dan’s lyrics, while Dan just hangs out and smokes. (mize)

Posted 1 week ago

Song of the Day: August 26, 2014

Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel, “Don’t Give Up”

Long before there was Bjork, Tori Amos, Bat for Lashes or Little Boots (she also counts artists as diverse as Johnny Rotten and Outkast’s Big Boi as fanboys), there was Kate Bush.  A true original — a bloody-minded eccentric hell-bent on pursuing her own muse to the exclusion of nearly everything else going on around her, pop or otherwise… the female equivalent of David Bowie in terms of being so far ahead of her time that work she created decades ago still sounds fresh and extraordinary today. You can call her the Miss Havisham of British pop; a notorious recluse still capable of unleashing magic and wonder among the masses.

This week here in London marks Bush’s first live outings in 35 years — a phenomenon recently documented by the New York Times — that sold more than 77,000 tickets in 15 minutes, with black market prices now fetching somewhere in the range of £2000. 

“Somewhere there’s a place where we belong.” And tomorrow night, that place will be the Eventim Apollo, where a passel of Kate Bush fanatics from across multiple continents (including yours truly) will be gathered, singing along in a key we can’t hope to reach, and generally identifying with a room full of people around them we/they hadn’t known existed for more than three decades.  (CdB) 

Posted 1 week ago

Song of the Day: August 19, 2014

Ryan Adams, “The Shadowlands”

Of all the many, many things Adams has done, Love Is Hell is (by far) my favorite front-to-back experience. It’s not often that you hear of a record that’s been turned in, as completely fantastic as this one (literally not a single bum track to be found on it, even the Japanese and French expanded versions), that the label then rejects as “too sad” for release. Maybe Adams and Jeff Tweedy have discussed Wilco’s ridiculous Yankee Hotel Foxtrot experience? 

Anyway, a friend of mine called this song “heartbreakingly sad and lovely, all at once.”  Which is pretty much Adams’ stock in trade. And my favorite pairing of sounds and emotions possible. Plus: the Greg Leisz Telecaster solo that ends this weeper is perhaps one of the Top 5 six-string flights of fancy ever taken. I could just sit here for days with that on repeat, singing it note for note. When was the last time you found yourself doing THAT? (CdB) 

Posted 2 weeks ago

Song of the Day: August 15, 2014

Raveonettes, “Killer in the Streets”

Finally, it’s Friday.

I was all set to write a post about the broken state of our beloved music industry and how sad it is that a band as fine as great Danes the Raveonettes (whom I first saw at a ratty little club in Austin during SX, about a decade ago) is forced to self-release what might be the most interesting album of their career, the surprisingly nuanced and angry Pe’Ahi.

But instead I’ll write about how sneaky-smart it is that this duo has decided to work outside the constraints of an increasingly dysfunctional pop pigpen, with an emphasis on what a surprisingly nuanced and angry album this is.

Pe’Ahi (its title come from a legendary Maui surf spot, kind of a funny obsession for a pair of expat Danes) is a fairly marked departure for the Raveonettes: whereas previous albums sounded like one-key homages to the JAMC, this one includes instrumentation not previously heard on the pair’s work (harps, xylophones, choral vocals and breakbeats all work to fight through the usual 6-string distortion field) and a kind of swing I haven’t noted before. If you turned Fleetwood Mac’s “Hypnotized” upside down and frosted it with hip-hop, you’d have a poison cupcake called “Killer in the Streets.”

Check out frontman Sune Rose Wagner’s lyrical attack here:

I got no secrets I got no friends
But I got a hold of you
They say you’re trouble I say you’re fine
I always crossed that line
Your rose-colored socks
Your sun-bleached hair
You piss me off at times
I don’t really care

Dude lost his father last Christmas, and the ghost of dad’s infidelities, emotional frigidity and a general interpersonal chilliness abounds. Turns out that the killer Sune speaks of might very well be… himself (metaphorically speaking).  Which just might make for their best album, released in the only way that makes any sense. Damn.  (CdB) 

Posted 2 weeks ago

Song of the Day: August 12, 2014

Elliott Smith, “Miss Misery” (Good Will Hunting Edition)

"Sonofabitch.  He stole my line." 

This one is for Robin. (CdB) 

Posted 3 weeks ago

Song of the Day: August 11, 2014

Slaughterhouse, “Say Dat Then”

You had me at the downbeat, son: the most RZA-sounding thing since the early Wu-Tang days. Spooky, dope, ethereal. With a touch of LBC in the mix. (CdB) 

Posted 3 weeks ago

Song of the Day: August 10, 2014

Warpaint, “The Chauffeur” (Duran Duran cover)

The fact that this song was such a blatant quasi-poetic come-on back in the 80s when the Durans first released it (along with a video wing-clipped by MTV for its supposed adult content — the year after “Girls On Film” became the first short ever banned from both MTV and BBC) hasn’t prevented a random assortment of acts ranging from Deftones to Sneaker Pimps to Hidden Cameras from attempting to cover it.  But none of these versions have been able to divine the moody mystery of Simon LeBon’s notebook prose quite like the all-female L.A. quartet Warpaint’s take, which leaves the spookiness and sexiness intact:

And the sun drips down bedding heavily behind
The front of your dress all shadowy-lined
And the droning engine throbs in time with your beating heart. 

I heard this on the mighty KCRW while driving around the freeways of L.A. recently and it stopped me pretty much in my tracks. Sing blue silver. (CdB) 

Posted 4 weeks ago

Song of the Day: August 3, 2014

Helmsley Morris: “Stay Loose”

Clancy Eccles is probably best known for his ska classic “Fattie Fattie”, but dig a little deeper and you’ll find he was behind some of the most important rock steady, ska and bluebeat jams ever to come out of Jamaica. Fortunately for us, the Heartbeat Records compilation of his greatest tracks “Rock Steady Intensified”—originally out in 1990—is back in print (or whatever the digital version of that is). The track I just can’t stop grooving to is today’s SotD, a smooth joint from Helmsley Morris that has become both my summer jam and also my personal motto. Stay Loose, Music Nerds. (mize)

Posted 1 month ago

Song of the Day: August 2, 2014

The Woodentops: Everything Breaks

No big back story, just a great track from the vaults from a time when the guitars were a little more jangly. (mize)

Posted 1 month ago

Song of the Day: August 1, 2014

Lana Del Rey, “Ultraviolence”

Like the self-appointed cultural tastemakers at Pitchfork and NME, I think I might finally be coming around on the Artist (and Boarding School Runaway) Formerly Known as Lizzy Grant. 

She’s mining the same sad turf that Amy Winehouse located on Back to Black (but without obvious paeans to real-life rehab drama, despite the fact that she’s been there, done that), staking out the music of the 60s where girl groups fell off the pop-chart cliff in favor of Summer of Love/Altamont’s dead end.

This is an album in love with its loneliness and desperation. And I dig.

PS: No sooner did I pen this than one of my favorite KEXP DJs, Troy Nelson (also a member of Seattle-based Young Evils), just spun another track from the record. Fate, up against your will? (CdB) 

Posted 1 month ago

SoTD: July 28, 2014

Shabazz Palaces, “They Come in Gold”

If you close your eyes and squint really hard into the middle distance, you can kind of make out Seattle experimental hip-hoppers Shabazz Palaces where Digable Planets used to be. Which makes sense, since Palaceer Lazaro (nee Ishmael Butler) used to go by the handle “Butterfly” when he was a part of that pioneering crew.

The new album, Lese Majesty, appears to be only marginally related to the collective’s 2011 debut, Black Up, consisting as it does of seven different song “suites” of varying length (totaling 18 tracks organized by semi-theme).  One critic, upon hearing the entire thing for the first time, suggested there was “No need for drugs, or even the dazzling light show, since the music’s fathoms-deep dubscapes and strategically predatory beats equaled the angular and smoky psychedelic visuals—each track already dazzled by a universe of deep-space stars, clouds of galactic gases, and the bright trails of wandering balls of ice.”

It’s like that. Seatown, represent. (CdB) 

Posted 1 month ago

Song of the Day: July 27, 2014

Momus: “How to Get —and Stay— Famous”

Nicholas Curry, aka Momus, is one of pop’s greatest intellectuals—as comfortable writing for Wired Magazine as he is writing about Japanese kawaii culture.

Hysterically, the Wikipedia entry gets it pretty close: “Momus is fascinated by identity, Japan, Rome, the avant-garde, time travel and sex.”

Having recorded for three of my favorite labels of all time, Creation, el Records and Cherry Red, he’s been creating biting, cultural commentary for 30 years. My favorite song of his might be ‘The Homosexual’, a revenge narrative about sleeping with the wives and girlfriends of the “insecure Englishmen” who had mistakenly called him gay throughout his life (a theme thought probably cut a little close to home to me at highschool in conservative Arizona in my pegged jeans, Jim Reid haircut and brothel creepers!)

But since this is a family blog, lets stick to my second favorite track, today’s SoTD, which laments Curry’s lack of chart success despite years of trying and has maybe his most self reflective lyric:

And Lord, what will it take, what will it take to get me to be and to stay famous?

Am I going to have to sell my soul to the stylists and the tailors of this world

If I’m not to go down in history as one of the failures?

Lord, teach me the boy band dance routines. 
Above all teach me to be tame, bland, blind and blameless

Cos that’s the hardest thing of all, to be aggressive and yet remain harmless

To edit out my impure thoughts when you know so well, Lord, that I’m shameless

Principled, amoral, provocative, confrontational and shameless


Posted 1 month ago

Song of the Day: July 26, 2014

Spoon, “The Ghost of You Lingers”

Extraordinary Cap Hill Block Party set from these Austin indie survivors last night — the crowd at the MainStage was live (Moshing! How ’90s!), the band was clearly energized by what they saw happening in front of them, and the setlist covered new material (killer) in addition to songs as far back in the catalog as 2002’s Kill the Moonlight. 

I’ve probably seen Spoon a dozen times or so over the years, but have never seen them attempt this skeletal number from Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga — it never struck me as anything that could be pulled off live until I saw it last night. It’s as strange, moving and unique as anything in the Britt Daniel Knapsack, its repeated staccato piano almost OCD in its insistence as he wrestles with the Spirits of Relationships Past.  Special. (CdB) 

Posted 1 month ago

Song of the Day: July 20, 2014

HTRK, “Give It Up”

I’ve written about the Ghostly International label before; HTRK (pronounced “Hate Rock”) are just the latest instantiation of what I love so much about the imprint.

It’s almost impossible to discuss HTRK without referencing the tragedy that has stalked them like, well, a ghost: even the press release that announces the return of the Aussies-by-way-of-London-boomeranging-back-to-Oz duo explicitly mentions the 2011 suicide of founding member Sean Stewart during the recording of the band’s second album, Work (Work, Work). So there’s a pall hanging over the album before you’ve even heard it.

But that’s where it ends; maybe the best comparator I could make for this record is Massive Attack vs. Mad Professor’s “No Protection,” which took the group’s breakthrough “Protection" album and filtered it through a dub blanket that rendered it almost unrecognizable (and perhaps a tad sunnier, if more blunted) vs the original. 

This is where the surviving duo of Jonnine Standish and Nigel Yang get to bury their, uh, ghosts — upbeat and expansive where HTRK’s preceding albums were dour and claustrophobic, “Psychic 9-5 Club" essentially feeds the banalities of life through a shower of happy pills, sunshine and surf, delighted to still be alive and finding itself surprisingly optimistic despite being surrounded by constant reminders of the cruelty of everyday life. One of my favorite albums of the year, informed as it evidently is by the minimalist exercises of Tarot Card reading, fasting and the sunnier clime of Sydney, HTRK’s latest demands to be heard in its quietly determined way. (CdB)