Thursday, July 30, 2009

What I've been listening to this week

The Vaselines - Enter the Vaselines
Remember when you were in like, 10th grade and Kurt Cobain told you to like the Vaselines, so you went out and bought The Way of the Vaselines: A Complete History on cassette? Then your band covered “Molly’s Lips” for Battle of the Bands and you got your ass kicked after the show for playing such “faggy music” by that kid with “Pantera Rules” scrawled on his book bag in Sharpie? Oh, high school – the best years of your life. Hearing this reissue made me wonder for a second why I ever bothered to listen to anything else post my introduction to the Vaselines. The bonus demo and live material (an even more complete history!) is fun, if a little rough, but so what? You like Wavves.

The Thermals - Now We Can See
Sure summer is bypassing Michigan right now, but I’ve still been craving good summer music. This record is doing the trick. I figured, “Okay, they’ve got four records out now and people seem to love them, I guess it’s time to give the Thermals a chance.” Though “I Called Out Your Name” sounds an awful lot like “Jeane” by the Smiths. But I don’t have a problem with that – it’s a totally underrated Smiths song.

Japandroids - Post-Nothing
Post-Nothing comes just in the nick of time. With the break-up of Oxford Collapse, Japandroids will now be my go-to band for super fun, loud indie-boy rock. Unless I’m in the car with my girlfriend where there is currently an “anything but Japandroids” rule. I can’t be the only person who thinks that “I Quit Girls” sounds suspiciously like "Mayonaise" by the Smashing Pumpkins. Because it totally does. That was always my favorite track on Siamese Dream though, so acceptable.

Olden days record bonus!

Isaac Hayes - Hot Buttered Soul
It is hard to separate Mr. Hayes from Southpark and Scientology, but in 1969 he released Hot Buttered Soul, and it really is the high point of his legacy. There’s no “Chocolate Salty Balls,” but his take on Burt Bacharach’s “Walk On By” is one of the most amazing songs ever. It’s one of those perfect tracks that totally doesn’t feel as long as it is – and it clocks in at about 12 minutes. The rest of the album is great, but "Walk On By” alone makes it a must have.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Wonder Twins: Johnny Headband, Pop Project and Office at Small's 7/25

This week's Metro Times has another Wonder Twins installment - an evening with Johnny Headband and friends. It was a great show, but D'Anne was EXHAUSTED the whole time due to the fact that she and her wife had a BABY on July 20th! My little nephew is the cutest guy ever and I'm so happy for them. They're destined to be the best moms ever. For real. This kid's in amazing hands.

Of course it also shows how very different MY maternal instincts are from my sister's, as I thought that since the baby was born Monday, that would give D'Anne plenty of time to get situated and stuff so I could drag her out to a rock show that Saturday. Though I know she enjoyed it, I've never seen a more deliriously tired person at a show. But that added to the fun in some ways. Well, for me.

Also in this week's MT is my review of the new Zoos of Berlin. So, so good. They're playing that amazing BBQ bonanza at the Crofoot this Friday and using the occasion as a CD release. I hear they're the last band of the night, so don't like, have a baby today and expect to be up for it. But otherwise, you should go.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Animal Collective Jr.

It’s a common phenomenon: A band strikes a chord with the populace and other bands of a similar nature start popping up, though few of them end up having the staying power of the original act. 90’s boy bands were a great example of this. The popularity of New Kids on the Block fueled a boy band scramble that brought us the likes of The Guys Next Door (who even had their own TV show), Take That (New Kids with British accents - plus their Donnie had dreads) and most inexplicably, Linear (I think seeing their picture is what made me gay).

I’ve most recently noticed this “sound-alike” phenomenon with a slew of Animal Collective-esque bands. Back in the day, the major labels were awesome at blatant popularity coat tailing. If this were the 1990’s, the big label folks would think nothing of telling their A&R guys, “What about that Animal Collection band the kids are raving about on their Twitters? Let’s get us one of those!” Next thing you know Warner Brothers would be pushing “Zoo Bunch” and Arista's “Mammal Group” would be getting heavy rotation on MTV’s Buzz Bin.

Thankfully, none of the following bands are the product of a garish and offensive major label market share grab. And chances are there is somebody out there who loves Animal Collective so much, they want to listen to any band with a similar sound. There are probably many others (like me) who will hear these and think, “I’ll just stick with Animal Collective, thanks.” But if you are an obsessed Animal Collective fan who's hunger cannot be satiated, these bands are for you:

Our Brother the Native– When I first heard the name of this band, I thought it might be yet another Randy Chabot pseudonym, especially since I first saw the name on the listing for the Frightened Rabbit show at the Magic Stick a week or so ago. Though not another Randy side-project, they are local – from Ann Arbor. Also, apparently their parents adopted a baby from one of Michigan’s many Indian reservations, a fact that inspires their musical explorations. I made that last part up.

Alvin Band – This is a side project from one of the guys from Miniature Tigers, not the Chipmunks as I originally assumed. Much to my dismay, the press release for Alvin Band's Mantis Preying record contains the following line: “While stationed in Phoenix, AZ during the recording of Miniature Tiger’s Tell It To The Volcano Rick holed up in a friend’s bathroom with a microphone and a Powerbook and went to town.” Um, I really wish this was worded differently. Maybe leaving out the “holed up in a friend’s bathroom” and the “going to town” part would be a good start. Regardless of this unfortunate imagery, there's some interesting stuff here.

Sin Fang Bous – My sister is in love with this band, but I can’t help but wonder if this is largely influenced by her love of this SNL skit where Kristen Wiig plays Bjork. This is my favorite of these three, even though the record cover hurts my eyes. Then again, Merriweather Post Pavilion's cover hurts me eyes too, so…

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The confrontation between the stream and the rock

Is streaming the answer to the record industry's woes? The New York Times had a story about this yesterday. I don't know - I can only go by my own life, but the notion of "streaming" makes me antsy. I guess they're working on ways to make streaming more portable and flexible, but for me I picture being chained to my computer listening to music. I don't even have the patience to watch a music video on You Tube, let alone sit still for a whole record. Plus, my personal answer to the question is, "Who cares? It's hard for me to really feel bad about the "record industry" as a whole as I have no real sympathy for industries that treat their customers with complete contempt (see also health care and the airline industries).

But I'm also one of those people who still loves the physical product. Of course, this means that by and large I like vinyl records - particularly those that come with a download or a CD as that seems to be the best solution and gives me exactly what I want. I've always liked vinyl better but until recently it seemed impractical seeing as I had no way to play it. Now that I have a record player again, my fondness has grown and my obsession with record store hunting is more enthusiastic than ever.

A lot of my love for vinyl is nostalgia. Going through my dad's records as a kid was one of my favorite past times. I didn't even know how to work the record player, but I loved looking at the covers. I would stare at the sleeve of the Beach Boys Endless Summer or Elton John's Captain Fantastic & the Brown Dirt Cowboy for hours. Then when I was old enough to use the record player, those with my favorite covers were the first I wanted to hear. This may explain why I never listened to Seals & Crofts Greatest Hits.

My sister and I also had a little Fischer Price record player and a small case full of hand-me-down 45's. We loved listening to virtually anything - from Rick James' "Superfreak" to Donovan's "Mellow Yellow." I remember going to garage sales with my mom and being allowed to get a few 45's froma big sleeveless stack. We chose solely on the visual appeal of the label, judging the musical contents only after the fact. I remember crying when through my carelessness I managed to crack our copy of Dexy's Midnight Runner's "Come On Eileen."

Of course, during my indie record store clerking days in the late-90's, I was all about CDs. Most people were. Unless of course, somebody in your family died and suddenly you were saddled with musty boxes of records. THEN you cared about vinyl as in, "Hello indie record store - here are my dead grandpa's records that I have no use for, can you please give me money for them? What do you mean you don't want this moldy, scratched copy of The All-Time Greatest Hits of Roy Orbison? It's a collectible! He's dead!" Honestly, we hated looking through people's old records. There was no market then for old Van Halen and Procol Harum records. But now apparently people are buying these things once again, so I guess you just never know what's gonna happen.

I am probably not a good judge of normative music consumption behavior, as most everybody I talk to about music is well beyond the typical "casual music consumer." I have no idea what somebody who's last two music purchases were three Michael Jackson songs from iTunes the day he died and Journey's Greatest Hits at Walmart after the last Soprano's episode thinks of the ever changing face of music consumerism. Or if they even do. But I'm hoping the eventual norm is a healthy mix of digital freedom with new and used vinyl collecting. How the actual "record industry" fares in this is the least of my concerns. They blew it a long time ago.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The real reason I left North Carolina

Yes, when people ask me, "Why did you come back to Michigan/Detroit?" I always have great answers - I missed my family, I wanted to be present for the birth of my sister's baby, I love the cultural richness of Detroit, it's where I belong, etc. etc. But as much as all that stuff factored in, the REAL reason were the fucking big, flying cockroaches. If somebody would've said, "In the state you're moving to there are inch-and-a-half long cockroaches that are basically everywhere! You don't even have to be a dirty crack whore to find them in your place of work or residence. Oh, also they can fly." I never would've moved there. Never. Yes, I know "cockroaches are everywhere, even in Detroit!" but it's not the same. At all. Witness the power of the Southern cockroach as a single roach almost brings the Magnetic Fields to a screeching halt during Merge Fest:

And THAT is something I do not miss.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

What I've been listening to this week

Those Darlins - Those Darlins
These ladies played the Pike Room the night of the Nine Mile Overpass Tanker Truck Explosion (7/15: Never Forget) and I’m going to just run with the idea that their presence in Pontiac is the reason nobody died, because why not? They’re like a super fun mix of Wanda Jackson, Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers and the Exciters. Their song “The Whole Damn Thing” has been stuck in my head all week. It is about getting drunk and eating an entire chicken by yourself. Like you haven’t been there (I actually haven’t been there).

Wye OakThe Knot

I’ve long been a fan of sad bastard music so it’s really no surprise that I’ve been listening to this record so much. Squalling feedback- drenched guitar interspersed with glacially paced haunting melodies ala Low, Red House Painters, Pale Saints etc. Jenn Wasner has that matter-of-fact-yet-longing alto voice like Georgia Hubley or Jennifer O'Connor that I’m a sucker for. Wye Oak is a nice break from the Dan Deacon wackiness I typically associate with Baltimore. Then again, I don’t know that much about them – maybe they wear neon dinosaur masks and pass out roller skates to audience members during live performances.

I am still not sure if I like this record on its own merits, or because it reminds me so much of Auto-Tune the News. But oh, how I love Auto-Tune the News. If Ron Paul did a guest spot on
LP, it could easily push it into my top ten of the year. I’d even settle for Katie Couric. Without that, it does sound like white kids covering Montell Jordan and R. Kelly songs, but there's nothing really wrong with that. Let the kids have their fun.

Olden days record bonus!

Tracy Chapman – Tracy Chapman

The dread-sporting lesbian prophet Tracy Chapman once said, “Poor people gonna rise up, and get their share.” She also said, “I don’t want no one to squeeze me - they might take away my life,” which seems a little misguided and paranoid, but it’s the first part that’s got me thinking. I’m typically not one for “protest music,” but “Talkin' Bout a Revolution” is probably more relevant today than in 1988 when Ms. Chapman originally thought “finally the tables are starting to turn.” Today honest, hardworking people are losing their jobs or doing more work for less pay and being kicked out of their houses as they watch CEOs of failed companies get set up for life despite their reckless fuck ups. Maybe she was on to something with this whole, "whispering isn’t the best method of revolutionary communication" thing.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

What I've been listening to this week

Bat For Lashes - Two Suns
I'm really surprised by how much I like this. I've lived by the rule that, if you're singing about "knights in crystal armor" or some shit, and you are not Kate Bush, then forget it. Even the initial press about the record all but said, "Laura, stay far away," explaining that Two Suns was a concept album where Natasha Khan dukes it out with a blonde alter ego named Pearl. This all sounded a little too Strange Little Girls or American Doll Posse for me. But I find I keep gravitating back to this - it's just such a great blend of Siouxsie, 80's 4AD and 60's girl group sounds. Plus Scott Walker guests on the last track. Scott Walker.

Future of the Left - Travels With Myself and Another
If you were to tell me that one of my favorite albums this year would contain the lyric, "Slight bowel movements preceded the bloodless coup," I would've considered that the end of our friendship. I would've insisted you return the Ace of Base/bhangra mix I gave you, because that is only for true friends. But alas, our friendship is safe thanks to my love of this record. As my friend Tim said, "It's refreshing to hear someone ripping off the Jesus Lizard properly." Word.

Darling Imperial - I Know Everyone You Know
I first saw Darling Imperial at Baker's Streetcar during Blowout, and I really liked them. Their new EP strengthens the initial Aimee Mann, Pretenders vibe I was getting from their live show. I've had "Company You Keep" stuck in my head a lot this week, but I like the whole EP - except, perhaps due to my long held prejudice against songs with girls names in the title, I do skip over "Emily." They are actually playing a show tomorrow night at the Belmont, the details of which are listed in the column on the side bar. Go see them live.

Olden Days record bonus!

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark - Architecture & Morality
Yes, I know, Pretty In Pink, "If You Leave," Duckie is your dream boy... I know, I know. But 1981 is where it's at as far as OMD is concerned. That 80's throw back electronic stuff that you like is great and all, but it's amazing how well a record like Architecture & Morality holds up, and how much of it fits right in with Handsome Furs, Deastro, Junior Boys etc. If you find it at your local used record shop, snag it.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Wonder Twins Review: Wyandotte Street Art Fair

This week's Metro Times has yet another Wonder Twins review. As this post title suggests, we spent some time at the Wyandotte Street Art Fair. Through the power of the written word, you can experience the adventure and maybe even smell the kettle corn (mmm... kettle corn). The one thing the piece doesn't really say, is that Wyandotte is a surprisingly cute town. I don't spend a lot of my time in the "downriver area," (is that still what it is called?) but I was really charmed by Wyandotte's old timey stores and bars. Plus this whole 'dotte Arts Project is up to some cool things. Although it took me until the middle of Dan Miller's set to realize that "'dotte" is short for "Wyandotte." I'm dumb. I've also always wanted to check out this Modern Exchange place in Southgate. It has had a couple interesting shows in the past that caught my attention, but I get the feeling it's like a "teen space" or something, and that if I went there for a show I'd feel like a lesbian chicken hawk. Or at least, I'd feel like the all-teens-besides-me audience would think I was a lesbian chicken hawk. Which I am not. Anyway, if a good show is coming up there that will attract an audience that is not primarily 16-year-olds, somebody should let me know.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

NPR's got the musical goods

Two NPR music-related things have my attention at the present moment. The first one is "Rock 'n' Roll Summer School" on the All Songs Considered blog. As they say, "Every Wednesday through the summer, we're posting quick introductory-level surveys of elements of rock 'n' roll from the 1950s. These overviews are not intended to be comprehensive; instead, they're designed to help curious listeners dive in and explore some of the genre's often-overlooked building blocks. Whether you're a novice or a rock snob, join the conversation..." So far they've done Jump Blues, Chess Records and Doo-Wop. So yes, you've missed some classes, but there is plenty of time to catch up and not flunk out like you did in Community College.

The second is from Carrie Brownstein's Monitor Mix blog. It is impossible not to love Carrie Brownstein - yes, for Sleater-Kinney, but also because she is half responsible for this. This week she is on a quest to explore and embrace the music of Phish, and it is awesome. It includes pictures and video of her journey and makes me wish I was a Phish fan in Portland so I could go to the meet up and give her my favorite bootlegs. Wow. I just thought and subsequently typed that.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Top Musical Let Downs of 2009 So Far

While thinking about this “best of the first half of 2009” business, I realized that, yes, a lot of great stuff has come out already this year, but I’ve also had a few musical let downs. Just knowing some of the following records were coming out I had already mentally prepared a spot for them in my best of list, so I was particularly crushed when they didn’t even merit honorable mention… I will bitch about them now.

God Help the Girl - God Help the Girl
When I read that this Stuart Murdoch project, “features an array of female vocalists, Neil Hannon of the Divine Comedy, the members of Belle and Sebastian, and a 45-piece orchestra” I pretty much peed my pants. I even forgot that I really didn’t care for Belle & Sebastian’s last record. Now, there are a couple great songs - “Perfection as a Hipster” featuring Mr. Hannon and the title song (which reminds me a lot of Lightning Love) for starters. But the bulk of the record sounds like really boring singers doing uninspired covers of songs from Tracey Ullman’s early 80’s "girl group" record You Broke My Heart in 17 Places. Really, the best thing about God Help the Girl was it made me want to dig out and reappreciate You Broke My Heart In 17 Places.

PJ Harvey & John Parish – A Woman and a Man Walked By
I have loved Ms. Harvey for just about ever. Rid Of Me is one of my favorite albums of all time, and considering the recent trend of remastering and reissuing 90’s indie rock favorites, I’ve been keeping my fingers crossed that this gets the deluxe treatment. Now, the last time these two paired up in '96 it didn’t result in a perfect record, but it was still really good. “That Was My Veil” is still one of my favorite Harvey songs. But this time around I just couldn’t get into it. I don’t know – maybe I’m still holding a grudge because of White Chalk. But A Woman and a Man... just seems hard to digest and scattered.

Jarvis Cocker – Further Complications
Oh, my mid-to-late 90’s Brit Pop lovin' days… Jarvis Cocker could do no wrong and the songs “Disco 2000” and “Common People” could cure anything. Remember when he jumped onstage in '96 and drunkenly mocked Michael Jackson’s totally sanctimonious Bit Awards performance? That was awesome. But sadly the new record isn’t. I was excited to hear he was pairing up with Steve Albini for this record – it seemed like such a perfect mismatch – like Albini could be MC Skat Kat to Cocker’s Paula Abdul. But it just doesn’t seem to work that well. Cocker just comes across as a creepy old British dude who always wanted to be in a Roxy Music cover band. The last song on the album takes over eight minutes to prove the easy to verify fact that Cocker should probably not try to be Barry White. But really, when I heard Cocker sing the line, “I want to refrigerate this moment…” I knew it just wasn’t going to work out.

The Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca
This really wasn’t really a highly anticipated release for me – but I loved the song they did with David Byrne for the Dark Was the Night compilation, so that put them on my radar. Then Bitte Orca came out and everybody was losing their minds over it, so I decided I had to hear it. And really, it’s not a bad record, it just doesn’t make me lose my mind or even come close. It reminds me of The Silent Years meets School Of Language and really, I’d rather just listen to The Silent Years and School Of Language.

So there you have it. Happy Independence Day America. Now get off the internet and go blow up some prepacked, colorful explosives made in China to celebrate this joyous occasion.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Wonder Twins Review: Midsummer Nights in Midtown at MOCAD

Though I had started off with great intentions and planned to check out a couple dates of the Midsummer Nights in Midtown fest this June, I only managed to make it to one of the last evenings of programming. The MOCAD hosted and Slavic Soul Party and League of Electronic Musical Urban Robots and about 550 folks turned out. D’Anne and I wrote a little something for the Metro Times about it. Go read it to honor the passing of Michael Jackson.

Also, the Eat This City “Top Whatever of the First Half of 2009” lists have been posted. I was asked to participate this year and you can see my list and the lists of tons of other people here. You will also learn that I hate sausage.

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