Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Do We Ask Too Much Of Buck 65?

Stop giving us free music, oh great one.

Don't look at me like that. If you have been following Mr. 65's new Dirtywork series of weekly free downloads at myspace.com/buck65, and you downloaded the third and latest offering on Monday, "Death of Me," a barely audible and very awkward poem-plus-cheap-drum-bloops, I'll bet hard Canadian dollars you thought the title was a joke about his songwriting mortality. The "tune" is pretty contemptuous for a trustworthy artist who made two the decade's best works of art (Talkin' Honky Blues and Secret House Against The World, both Canada-only, both astonishing) and calls his new premature work period "unexpectedly fruitful." Fuck, I believed the guy when he unleashed the first taste of Dirtywork, the instant classic "Indestructible Sam," which exemplifies everything great about this country-rap-pastiche icon: uptempo rapping over lively banjo-folk about the tall tale of some guy from the days of railroad that some gangsters tried to kill several different ways and times and always escaped and showed up for the work the next day. The song is unbelievable fun, evocative of spaghetti westerns and recent Decemberists folktales and Wiley E. Coyote cartoons all at once, with Buck's inscrutable cool and gruff drive putting the tune into gear. I hope it becomes the live staple it deserves.

Then the so-so "Days on End" was released, a kind of treading-water trip-hop track that inoffensively goes nowhere. But after "Death of Me," I'm wondering whether my expectations are too high for what's basically bonus music, the kind of realm only outtakes and b-side experiments go to, stuff not worth paying for but worth the gander for free. Assuming the rest of Dirtywork goes the way of "Death of Me," I'll award it the choice cut it deserves for "Indestructible Sam." But is it even fair to stick the miss in Buck's canon? I feel conflicted. The tracks are obviously toss-offs that aren't valuable enough for real albums, but he's generously trying to keep something on the conveyor belt, which once in awhile awards a great lost novelty like "Sam." I don't want to punish Buck's reasonably consistent 2001-2006 output with a stain like that, but is a release a release?

I've been digging little gifts that great bands have awarded me as MySpace exclusives: The Hold Steady's Ac/Dc-charged "Hot Fries" and the egregiously undownloadable cover of Sonic Youth's "Bull In The Heather" by The Go! Team certainly beat most outtake/compilation cut ephemera. iTunes has alot of exclusive prizes too, most recently The Decemberists' delicious "Culling of the Fold," a murderously fun Crane Wife leftoff that beats just about anything on the album itself. And great bands have made histories of fan favorites that are far too transcedently insane for the burden of album sequening, most notably Clem Snide's touching and hilarious "Mike Kalinsky," about an asthmatic Joy Division fan you likely went to high school with, and The Dismemberment Plan's nomination for Song of the Decade, "The Dismemberment Plan Gets Rich," an intentional "B.O.B." for indie-rock that gets by in hyperactive double-time with bobbing bass, whizbang sound effects and barely sensical lyrics about the band's fictional megalomaniacal Wall Street takeover, a riot that doesn't exclude prank-calling John Gotti, getting tips about Ginger Ale companies in Canada and getting caught aboard a boat with seven tons of opium (their response: "Color us embarassed!"). On the 2001 Juno & The Dismemberment Plan split EP, the bread in a forgettable Juno sandwich is the B-Side of the Decade, "Crush," a cover of the now-obscure one-hit wonder Jennifer Paige's actually kinda-great 1998 Billboard hit. They fuck it in the ass sideways and turn a salacious, winking disco stomp into a creepy indie-stalker's lament as a six-minute Death Cab dirge. Genius. Too bad the genius doesn't apply to Juno's "Non-Equivalents" or their "ironic" cover, an all-live instrument take on DJ Shadow's "High Noon" (bad choice, they could've at least had the taste to pillage Endtroducing. . . . ). But "Crush" and "Gets Rich" could've never been album cuts so it's best their home doesn't even try to maintain consistency. So I could either lament the fact that two of the Plan's best performances live in a halfway house or I could praise Mount Thurstonmoore for their existence at all.

I guess I feel the same way about "Indestructible Sam," which Buck hits out of the park for no reason other than to indulge his wayward muse. If the remaining two songs of his five-part gift to fans don't live up to it, it'll be enough until the next album, which itself may not have a killer like Secret House's "The Floor" or Blues' "Roses And Blue Jays." It most likely won't have a "The Centaur" so I'm not kidding myself. But I'll take what I can get and worry about the canon when I'm dead. Bands like They Might Be Giants never had much use for it anyway, they just make as much output as they can and let the fans sieve through for their own favorites. But even though I won't bite the hand that feeds me "Indestructible Sam" (or "Protest" or "Out of Focus" or "Devil's Eyes"), it's a little jarring to hear such a naked and unborn piece of crap like "Death of Me" see its way into the world too early (or at all). Better luck next week, Buck.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Chris From We Are Scientists Will Fucking Cap You

He's got a fucking gun.

You know the guy in We Are Scientists who kind of looks like a cross between old-school Weird Al Yankovic and one of my uncles? That guy does not play around. I am dead serious; he will fucking kill you. From Stereogum's report on Oct. 23, an account of some postshow webforum drama after their Sheffield, Oregon stop:

"One audience member, however, lost some respect for bassist Chris Cain after failing to receive his autograph after the set. Under the name Leroy Brown, the fan posted his compaint on the band's message board:
Re: was at the Sheffield Octagon last night.

Oct 22nd, 2006, 3:42am

Though the gig was fantastic. I even got Keith and Michael to sign my ticket afterwards. Im gutted that Chris refused to sign it because he was more interested in the ugly, skanky groupie that was hanging off him! So Chris, you've gone down in my estimation. I thought if anyone would sign my ticket it would be you!! Do yourself a favour and lose the groupies and interact with your real fans a bit more mate

One problem, though. That skanky groupie is actually the band's tour manager Storme Whitby-Grubb. And Leroy? Well, he's just a nutsack full of catshit. And probably feeling pretty stupid after Chris posted this response:
Re: was at the Sheffield Octagon last night.

Oct 22nd, 2006, 10:15am

Hey, Leroy Brown. Glad you enjoyed the show last night -- I really am, but I'm a little bit furious with you. Here's why, you shitpiece: that "skanky groupie" who was "hanging" on me when you asked me for my autograph last night? Her name's Storme Whitby-Grubb and she's our tour manager, and a good friend of mine. Did she look a little bit like this?

Yeah, that's our tour manager, Storme. I'm not a violent person, Leroy, but I'd love to whip you raw with my belt right now, you stupid child, for two reasons:

(1) You slandered my friend, Storme -- assumed that since she's a girl (a girl with a walkie-talkie and a staff-seargent's demeanor), she's a hanger on instead of a puppet master; and called her an "ugly, skanky groupie", despite the fact that neither a total stranger nor a close acquaintaince of Storme's would ever describe her using any of those three words. So you're explicitly a liar.

(2) You're a liar by exemption. You neglected to mention that at the time you requested my autograph, you were standing at the side of the stage, completely out of civilian territory, without any reason for being there, and approached us as we came off stage after an hour and fifteen minutes of playing music. At a time like that, what we love to do is to head down to the dressing room for ten or twenty minutes and have a beer and change out of our soaked pants (we piss them a lot during the shows). Later, when we leave the building, we typically sign every last body part of every single person who has bothered to hang around to say hi. But as we leave the stage? Common sense should probably have told you this is not the time to try to shoot the shit with us. I'm glad Keith and Michal signed your ticket -- I'm sure I would've done the same if Storme hadn't been there shielding me from you and tugging me along -- but I'm also sort of amazed you'd have the cheek to first sneak backstage, then get in our faces as we walk off-stage, and finally -- and this alone is what makes you a nutsack full of catshit -- come on this message board and accuse me of cheating on my girlfriend.

The moral, Leroy, on the off chance you're as fucking thick as you seem:
- Impose on a person's kindness if you must, but don't then criticize him if he doesn't reward you for doing it. Instead, accept that you took a shot and it missed, and take a minute to shake off the blush of momentary shame that accompanies imposition.
- Don't concoct facts that can interfere with another person's family, unless you're doing it out of revenge because the other person did something equally despicable to you. In a case where the horrible thing he did was not to sign your ticket, slander is a pretty big overreaction.

Leroy, you've gone down in my estimation a bit, too, mate. Here are your options: You can apologize, which I would prefer, because I'm a sucker and have no use for antipathy and would love to sign your goddamn lease for you in golden ink next time we meet. Or you can contest even one word of what I've written above, in which case -- and I'm going to phrase this humorously in order to defuse any sense of false bravado that might otherwise attach, but in essence I'm not kidding even a little bit -- if I see you again we're going to have a duel in the street."

Audience douche: pwn'd.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Lady Sovereign: Selling Herself Short?

Lady Sovereign: obliterated after one drink

Lady Sovereign - Public Warning (Def Jam)

Let's pretend Jay-Z knows what he's doing for a moment. The strategy is this: throw anything at the wall and see what sticks. He knows plenty of people are waiting for the new Young Jeezy. He knows Ghostface still has a fairly large audience (larger than woeful Method Man's anyway) and people who ignored the Wu in the 2000s are beginning to realize he's worth keeping their eye on. He's pretty sure Rihanna can crank out one perfect jam for the next few summers until she tries something artistically ill-advised. And running into the Killers and Fall Out Boy down at the office a few times a week, he recognizes an alternative audience, one that he hopes to expose his personal favorites The Roots to. But what should he do with his strangest commodity: a 20-year-old 5'1 white girl from Britain who raps (big deal) over grimy electrodance that hasn't really broken in the States (hmmm), unless you count the established Missy Elliott. Even the much-hyped M.I.A. got snared up by Interscope for her universally lauded debut album to bomb commercially.

So when Lady Sovereign released her debut/singles-comp, Vertically Challenged, on Def Jam last year, it predictably didn't make much of a splash, even though the blogosphere ate it the fuck up. "Next Big Thing," yada yada. So it comes as a bit of a shock that "Love Me Or Hate Me," the first single from Sov's new full-length, Public Warning, debuted at #1 on TRL, which may or may not be still relevant in its post-Carson denouement. I couldn't even tell you how relevant Sov will be in three years, I mean, is anyone still talking about Dizzee Rascal?

But Sov is more than a walking gimmick with considerable talent, if Public Warning and the Vertically Challenged manifesto "Ch-Ching" ("I got fifty things to say in a cheeky kinda way") are any indication. For one thing, she's a female rapper who not only doesn't sell her body in her songs and videos, but she kind of mocks sex in a giggly, prepubescent way ("I don't have the biggest breasteses/But I write all the bestestses"). The only TRL-topper I can think of to do that (not counting Missy Elliott, who, doesn't have a choice about selling her Rubenesque body, especially since she seems like she really wants to in her recent slimmed-down and sexed-up hits) is Pink, but Pink is more of the Avril Lavigne sort, who sneers at anyone who looks at her tits even though she always shows up to the VMAs half dressed and drunk. Plus, Sov doesn't seem to harbor any insecurities about being a tiny, pale beanpole.

Not that there's anything wrong with that, as she already knows. Her whole shtick has a playfulness and an all-inculsiveness that I worry has both won her the inexplicable TRL success and a novelty tag that might wear out too fast. For one thing, I could go without her mentioning her height in every single song. We get it, you're short and yet a badass on the mic (why are those mutually exclusive?). And Public Warning would be much stronger if it didn't repeat so many old songs: "9 to 5" is an inauspicious opener, and if we're gonna repeat every song off the already-intact Vertically Challenged, why not include its best track, "Ch-Ching?" Small complaints, yeah, but sometimes those caveats are what keep a B+ from a A-. The new songs are on Warning are certainly deserving, particularly an awesome stretch from the party-planning "Gatheration" to the punk guitar on the title track to the admittedly irresistible "Love Me or Hate Me" ("If you love me then thank youuuu/If you hate me then fuck youuuu") to the deliciously arch "My England," which mocks clueless Yanks and points out that Sov prefers spirits to high tea and being dirrty to squeaky clean. "Hoodie" and "9 to 5" remain filler though, and "Fiddle With The Volume" and "A Little Bit of Shhh" remain stronger in their previous singles-comp context bum-to-bum with their bonus remixes. "Random" is fun anywhere, but I'd hope that the increasingly vital S-O-V starts from scratch on her next one and she might release the classic she's flirting with, while she's still hungry. She doesn't want to end up like Jean Grae and miss her shot, does she?

Public Warning: B+

OutKast: The At The Drive-In Of Rap?

this station is certainly non-operational

OutKast is the At The Drive-In of rap (hence the title of this entry, lolz). They are both acts in a genre (hiphop and emo) who spent three or four albums making themselves gradually no longer belong in it. Then they each released a near-masterpiece in 2000 (Stankonia, Relationship of Command) that brought their extreme polar sensibilities to the forefront and held them together (somehow) for an entire record. Each act features one completely bogus lyricist. Both bands flamed out after these records, and went on to receive unwarranted solo success with overblown and laughably pompous side projects on one end (The Love Below, The Mars Volta), and moderate success receding to the conventionally banal on the other (Sparta, Speakerboxxx). One thing history leaves out is that both bands sucked. Neither OutKast or ATDI ever came close to the great leap forward of their breakthroughs before success, and after it neither could reconcile their separate artistic ambitions when it came time to handle a worldwide audience.

OutKast's Southernplayalisticadillacmusik and ATLiens aren't awful albums, but they sure aren't relevant. The latter's few exceptions (the stanky "Ain't No Thang" and the superfly "Player's Ball") can be found on their premature and unwanted best-of, Big Boi & Dre Present....OutKast, which also features their best song, "The Whole World," which actually achieved Dre's goal of being too weird for hiphop and Big Boi's of a tight, hooky song structure to rein in Dre's lofty ambitions, in perfect harmony. Turning point Aquemini is a more solid record whose best moments (the psychedelic "SpottieOttieDopalicious," the down-home "Rosa Parks") can still be found on the best-of, save for the unexpected and wicked Raekwon showcase "Skew It On The Bar-B." But Goodie Mob's similarly down-home and psychedelic Still Standing, also released in 1998 from ATLiens coming into their own, is far more successful, not to mention consistent and effective. Then they made Stankonia, a hiphop record so great, even its skits are funny. It's so great it beat Eminem, PJ Harvey and Kid A in Pazz & Jop, and had three huge hits to boot (the awestruck "B.O.B.," the so-fresh "So Fresh, So Clean," and best of all, the now-classic "Ms. Jackson," a song about dumping Erykah Badu). Six years later, only Ghostface's Fishscale can do something like 24 tracks without flaming out. Stankonia ain't Fishscale, but it's damn close; I could live without "Snappin' & Trappin'" or the title track, but those are more akin to charming failures that go on b-sides rather than actual flaws. And it's even more of a miracle they had it in them, since Big Boi's a pretty modest rapper and Andre's a pretty terrible one.

At The Drive-In also has a premature and unwanted best-of, This Station Is Non-Operational, named after both a lyric from their most well-known song and a joke about band breakups. As you probably guessed from it, the band's sense of humor is pretty bad. And that's one reason why they shouldn't have covered The Smiths or Pink Floyd for it, the other being a Floyd cover is like a warning sign for the shit that follows. Unlike OutKast's, which makes an excellent case for second-guessing their pre-Stankonia catalog, ATDI's compilation is one of those fuck-you best-ofs designed by the band to make you check out the real albums. It's poorly organized, missing most of their best album (including two actual singles), and was either sequenced at random or their back catalog is just that crappy. Yeah it has plenty "for the fans" and all that garbage, but for a cult-fave, they would've been better off with a rarities comp. I barely remember Acrobatic Tenement, was unimpressed by Vaya, found a couple tracks on the more melodic In/Casino/Out arresting ("Napoleon Solo" and "Hulahoop Wounds") and see no reason to believe they had Relationship of Command in them. By the time they surprised the world in 2000, Command was just a brilliant meeting of minds that resulted in a great punk album. Grand Royal was a major label run by the Beastie Boys, meaning they had a big budget yet also big artistic allowances for their artists, which sometimes results in absolute greatness (The Dismemberment Plan's Emergency & I made on Interscope's dime, Dave Matthews' ATO releasing Ben Kweller's Sha Sha). This was one of those times. Korn's producer Ross Robinson was just the guy to beat the intensity out of an unknown punk band from El Paso, and together they made an album that combined the exploding drive of a thousand shitty nu-metal bands that don't know how to use their power, with the soul and tunes of a great rock band tinged with a sense for the weird. Yes, Cedric Bixler-Zavala screamed about wishing wells and smokestacks and "manuscript replica" at the time, but no one had any reason to believe the band could turn out to be that pretentious when they called in Iggy Pop for a guest vocal. Then they broke up. Jim Ward brought the band's other two pop anchors with him to Sparta, who made Wiretap Scars, a shitty album with one great ATDI soundalike ("Air") and lots of bad ones. They bored me to death opening for Pearl Jam and I think they're up to their third record.

The Mars Volta are up to their fifth or sixth with this year's Amputechture, which I don't need to hear to know I'll hate. With Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Bixler-Zavala, there is true talent available in the band, and without three arena-rock dimwits with no songwriting skills to call them on their bullshit, they will never make another good record. 2003's De-Loused In The Comatorium is a concept album about God knows what, and reeks of unlistenable overkill except on, yep, the one that sounds the most like ATDI! "Interatic ESP" is fast, 4:52 (short by Volta standards) and has some truly awesome stop-start chuggery and a cool tango-y accordion outro. It's easily the record's best song. 2004's Frances The Mute had more sporadic good parts, but it was even more pretentious. The songs are all stuffed into five long-ass "suites," ensuring that the few good moments (mostly in the salsa-rific "L'Via L'Viaquez") can't be skipped to. Mute's "short" track (about 5:10) was an awful ballad called "The Widow" with an embarassing video (children eating strange black goo out of an ice cream truck? it must be a metaphor for the corruption of our police state) that landed it in Billboard's top 5. Suites and Latin song titles and bad prog-ballads flavored with salsa? A dealbreaker. I will not be listening to Amputechture. But God, am I craving Relationship of Command.

Unfortunately, OutKast is way too culturally relevant to dismiss for good. I'd really like to, though. Once Dre became (clears throat) Andre 3000, he turned into an unstoppable asshole. For one thing, the man hates rap. He also hates his partner. You can hear the indifference on 2006's "big reunion track" "Mighty 'O'," which would've been fun if either rapper lived up to its can't-fault-it-for-trying beat. Idlewild the album has a serious problem managing to be more pretentious than Idlewild the movie, a musical set in the 1920s by two rappers with meager acting abilities (who also aren't from the 1920s or make music in a 1920s style). Actually, the movie's not bad if you come in expecting a dogshit vanity project and come out feeling 2/3 fulfilled. The album is the year's most boring hiphop record though, and the rappers must've known something since they mostly used old songs in the flick. I count maybe three and a half good songs based on music alone. "Mighty 'O'," "Call The Law" and "PJ & Rooster" actually benefit from the concept, swung up with a nice urgency that lends them a vitality OutKast is really lacking these days. "Idlewild Blue (Don't Worry 'Bout Me)" is the half, because it's a respectable stab at harmonica blues-stomp from a guy I could go without ever hearing a respectable stab from again. It's too bad Andre 3000 discovered rap before he discovered nostalgia for genres he thinks are above it, we almost could've avoiding having to deal with him at all.

At least Big Boi makes do with what he's given, a drawl that's not unpleasant and a penchant for funky horn charts, a Funkadelic rhetoric not to be ashamed of that half-saved Speakerboxxx even though it flames out after "Ghettomusick," "Bowtie" and the never-will-be-"Hey Ya!" "The Way You Move." Andre couldn't swing anything in 2003 and The Love Below is a Prince-fetish indulgeathon that forgets Prince played instruments and coughs up only "Spread," "Happy Valentine's Day" and "Hey Ya!" for all its bloated reputation, all overly reliant on repetition, none featuring so much as a rap, and all designed to make white people who want to like black music, not to mention alt-rockers who want to like deep music, throw their wallets. Or it's not a calculation and Andre's an idiot who himself thinks it's deep. Either way, it sucked and abused the funky privileges of Stankonia's expansive playfulness. Every time I think about it I want to dismiss OutKast for good, but Dre's becoming such a can't-not-watch lunatic I expect to see Flavor of Dre on Vh1's prime-time lineup by 2010. I mean, he has an animated show coming out on Cartoon Network with all original music and voiceovers. Who's paying him for this shit? Didn't Idlewild make like 4 million in its opening week? Wasn't "Hey Ya!" all the way back in 2003? And yet I can't look away.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Mwah Mwahh Mwah Mwahh Muhhh

You will never be her boo.

Regina Spektor - Begin To Hope (Sire)

In 2004, I jumped to download new-songstress-on-the-NYC-block Regina Spektor's Soviet Kitsch once the Nellie McKay comparisons rolled in, nevermind that "Strokes' favorite singer" garbage, and dozed off pretty quickly to a record I felt was way more Tidal than When The Pawn (that means it sucked). Replaying, it's hardly the worst thing I've ever heard, especially from a singer-songwriter whose weapon of choice is piano, but it's certainly not as good as Begin To Hope, the reason I replayed it at all. Now that McKay's jumped the shark only two albums in (what do you expect from even an intelligent auteur whose debut is a double?) with Pretty Little Head, which her label rightfully decided mostly unfit for human ears, and Fiona Apple remains consistently great but mostly humorless still, it's the perfect time for this very quirky minor artist to make her move. So she did.

Where Kitsch bores so hard so instantly its arid veneer obscures its vastly major peak, "Your Honor," a hilarious thrash-punk anamoly about a fight that takes up a whole 2:10 of the record, Hope starts with a 1-2-3-4-x-6 sequence so perfect it could win a bowling tournament. For one thing, it carves Spektor's identity as the poppy one, with McKay the too-good-for-music satirist now turning out Broadway cred, and Apple as the middle-class NYC single gal confessioneer. The one-two "Fidelity" and "Better" are easily her two sweetest and simplest melodies, set to perfectly catchy minimalist backdrops, a plinking 4/4 pizzicato for "Fidelity," the should-be single, and straight three-chord rock for "Better," the is-the-single. My girlfriend thinks her vocal quirks would be too much for one of our friends who's big into Postal Service-Old 97's power-pop, but I don't see why radio's more likely to eat up the quirky-sung "will you feel bettow/bettow/better?" any more than the quirkier-sung "It breaks my ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-heaaaaart." For "Samson," she slips back into piano-love-confession wallpaper, only sung so sweetly it brings to mind Liz Phair's excellent "Dance of the Seven Veils" rather than something Fiona Apple threw at radio back when she was a concert-destructing psycho. "On The Radio" comfortably marches back to the thumping 4/4 of "Fidelity" and on-the-beat plinking pizzicato, and with an allowance to skip the truly boring "Field Below," the record peaks one last time on "Hotel Song," a sexy dance number sung as if she were Ronnie Spektor instead, with girl-group style cooing about owls and whales and bags of cocaine pieced together so smoothly the Pipettes would pull her hair out for it. So then this fluke sequence of great chick-singerness is supposed to sink back to all those singer-songwriter traps that mar say, Rufus Wainwright and Ben Folds' records, right? Not so fast.

Then she gets experimental on Sire's ass, and if "Apres Moi" isn't a deliciously bratty punkfest like "Your Honor," well, "Your Honor" ain't a mini-opera partly sung in Russian either. "Apres Moi" can go toe to toe with anything on Extraordinary Machine, too, both qualitywise and "difficulty"-wise. She definitely saves the weird shit for last, and my name is Kimya if it's not as captivating as the "pop" stuff. "20 Years of Snow" mocks her own operatic turns by sneaking a "stare at your booooooooooobs" into her own series of overwrought "oooooooooooo"'s over propulsive and strange chord patterns in a weird time signature. Or maybe she's mocking Fiona? "Snow" is certainly the most Machine-like track here out of several runners. The album's token rocker this time is a medium-fast single-string raveup called "That Time" where she lists a bunch of adorable "times" she did only one thing (ate tangerines, smoked Marlboros, read Shakespeare) with a kind of dark twist at the end where she ODs, twice. I say "kind of" because Spektor's quirky delivery is hard to draw blood from on the sincerity front, even when she whispers the anti-punchline. Also because the serious moments never last long enough to ruin the funny ones, a wise decision, even though the easiest song on the record to take seriously follows. "Edit" builds an entire song around a diss to ex-boyfriend Julian Casablancas ("you can write but you can't edit"), which cuts extra harsh since First Impressions Of Earth flounders in its too-long second half. Begin To Hope doesn't. A singer-songwriter with no traps to fall into even on her major label (even the limited-edition bonus disc of Hope scores with the vomit-themed "Uh-merica"), the title Begin To Hope feels like an invitation to get into her canon now that it's finally happening. She seems content in her ambitions, so I don't have much reason to fear Spektor's next album will be another Pretty Little Head, but here's hoping. A-

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Fun List: The Greatest Lyricists of All Time

He comes from Chino, so all your threats are empty.

In rough order of importance, I listed below just about every songwriter I believe to be noteworthy in the great pantheon of lyric writing. Yes, I left off Bono and 2pac, wanna cry about it? I might've left out a handful, but I certainly covered the majority of personally significant artists I've experienced.

Bob Dylan
Liz Phair
Eef Barzelay (Clem Snide)
Travis Morrison (The Dismemberment Plan)
Tom Waits
Kurt Cobain (Nirvana)
Eric Bachmann (Archers of Loaf, Crooked Fingers)
Buck 65
Lou Reed (The Velvet Underground)
Kimya Dawson (The Moldy Peaches)
Michael Stipe (R.E.M.)
John Darinelle (The Mountain Goats)
Rhett Miller (Old 97's)
Stephin Merritt (The Magnetic Fields)
Ghostface Killah (Wu-Tang Clan)
Polly Jean Harvey (PJ Harvey)
Shane McGowan (Pogues)
Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes)
Jenny Lewis (Rilo Kiley)
John Linnell/John Flansburgh (They Might Be Giants)
Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam)
Ben Gibbard (Death Cab for Cutie, The Postal Service)
Dean Wareham (Luna, Galaxie 500)
Thom Yorke (Radiohead)
John Lennon (The Beatles)
MC Paul Barman
Lucinda Williams
Nellie McKay
Craig Finn (The Hold Steady)
Amy Rigby
The Notorious B.I.G.
Paul Westerberg (The Replacements)
Lee Ranaldo (Sonic Youth)
James Mercer (The Shins)
Tim Kasher (Cursive)
Anna Waronker (that dog)
Jemina Pearl (Be Your Own Pet)
Paul Simon
Jens Lekman
Cody ChesnuTT
Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth)
Ani DiFranco
Jonathan Richman (The Modern Lovers)
Lou Barlow (Sebadoh, The Folk Implosion)
Del The Funky Homosapien
Regina Spektor
Billie Joe Armstrong (Green Day)
Mike Doughty (Soul Coughing)
Jeremy Enigk (Sunny Day Real Estate, The Fire Theft)
Todd Snider
Colin Meloy (The Decemberists)
Brother Ali
Vast Aire (Cannibal Ox)
Joe Pernice (Pernice Brothers)
Isaac Brock (Modest Mouse)
Elliott Smith
Black Francis (Pixies)
Serj Tankian (System of a Down)
Corin Tucker/Carrie Brownstein (Sleater-Kinney)
Stephen Malkmus (Pavement)
Jack White (The White Stripes)
Kanye West
Warren Zevon
Black Thought (The Roots)
(EDIT: Nas)
Ed Hamell (Hamell on Trial)
Sage Francis (Non-Prophets)
Leah Archibald (Wide Right)
Kathleen Hanna (Bikini Kill, Le Tigre)
Erykah Badu
Jeff Tweedy (Wilco, Uncle Tupelo)
Exene Cervenka (X)
Jill Scott
Stuart Murdoch (Belle & Sebastian)
Doug Martsch (Built to Spill)
Adam Schelisinger (Fountains of Wayne)
Freedy Johnston
Mr. Lif
Bradley Nowell (Sublime)
LL Cool J
Slug (Atmosphere)
Britt Daniel (Spoon)
David Byrne (Talking Heads)
Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth)
Eugene Hutz (Gogol Bordello)
Layne Staley/Jerry Cantrell (Alice In Chains)
Pete Townshend (The Who)
Wayne Coyne (The Flaming Lips)
Rivers Cuomo (Weezer)
Bruce Springsteen
Cee-Lo (Goodie Mob, Gnarls Barkley)
Fiona Apple
Iggy Pop (The Stooges)
Lauryn Hill (Fugees)
Jean Grae
Rufus Wainwright
Neil Young
Mick Jagger (The Rolling Stones)
E (Eels)
KRS-One (Boogie Down Productions)

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Darkness: Justin's cry for help?

don't you get it? it's a demon train, why aren't you fucking laughing??

So, Justin Hawkins quit The Darkness, apparently due to a struggle with coke addiction, which is really fucking weird, considering the title track off their last record and its video either poked fun at or praised coke addiction (and AC/DC album title ellipses). Fuck, the record starts with someone snorting up. So am I to now believe that that wasn't a joke on '70s junk-rockers? What is going on? And don't give me that "researching your roles" shit, The Darkness. I want answers. And I'm probably going to have to take Darkness albums seriously to get them.

This is fine with me of course, because Permission To Land was one of 2003's best records. Not only was mock-metal a great joke that deserved to be dusted off (This Is Spinal Tap didn't have any punchlines involving the word "cunt," did it now?), Land was a Queen/Crue record delivered with the skill and accuracy of the metal boys with the hooks amped up and without any of the trappings of "real" hair metal records, meaning no shit ballads or epic shows of boner-headed grandeur, and certainly no funny lyrics that weren't that way on purpose. This was "Tonight I'm Gonna Rock You Tonight" done with smarmy British wit for 40 minutes, only when's the last time you hummed a Spinal Tap song? Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer's songs were more than serviceable for the film, but the Spinal Tap soundtrack didn't have the pop quotient to make those songs hits in 1983, even if 1983 wasn't ground zero for chart irony.

One of Permission To Land's great jokes is its astonishing casualism, that Hawkins could dole out phrases like "extracurricular activites" or "you soiled my obsession, you cunt" and get away with it in his squealing Rob Halford shriek. Musically, it's flawless. Ten songs leading with an expert Angus Young riff ("Black Shuck"), four perfect single-ready pop songs in a row (the perfect ballad "Love Is Only A Feeling" disappointingly never made it to radio in the States) and they crank up the rawk ("Love On The Rocks With No Ice") and glam (the gorgeous "Friday Night" with its twin-guitar outbursts) before settling down with a romantic ode to masturbation ("Holding My Own"). It was the perfect joke record, one you could play long after the jokes (the genital warts in "Growing On Me," Justin's voice) got old. And like any good sport, The Darkness did all the right things, insisting in interviews that the catsuits and Thin Lizzy tees weren't ironic, making videos where pterodactyls make love to spaceships.

Then things lost steam. One Way Ticket To Hell...And Back was as funny as its title. The jokes were either lost on American audiences entirely ("English Country Garden," "Hazel Eyes") or just not funny (the singer of a hair metal band worrying about going bald, fat chicks with jiggly arms, calling a song "Knockers"). The only tune with radio potential sounded exactly like their only American smash and was about coke ruining your septum and giving you the runs. And while the music was still mostly solid thrash-pop, even on the flat jokes I've mentioned, particularly the soaring "Dinner Lady Arms," it wasn't as fresh or inviting as Permission To Land. Yeah, yeah, novelty acts don't strike lightning twice. But still, this new crop of them (Electric Six, Jesus H. Christ And The Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse, Wolfmother) definitely have more substance and songcraft to their wit than say, Sparks or Gwar. There was reason to hope. And who knows, maybe this in-rehab-with-Pete-Doherty stunt is a hoax for The Darkness' ridiculous career of Behind The Music-satire ahead of them. But it's probably not. Recontextualizing the first album's "Givin' Up," a hilariously mean song to heroin addicts, it comes off more like Hawkins' pitiful indictment to himself than any kind of humorous. Maybe beneath those catsuits the guy really hates himself. "One Way Ticket" makes no sense now though; what would motivate a cokehead to do a song "satirizing" coke addiction for his joke band? Especially one as honest as it turned out to be: "Tickets" includes the line "but my septum is in tatters and I've still got the runs." The reports of Hawkins' rehab stay show him grateful to have any septum left at all.

It's still not clear why he's leaving the band, though. Wouldn't going sober sharpen his humor? It certainly never ruined his voice, and his kinda-funny solo prog-ject British Whale (myspace.com/britishwhale) is easier to take knowing it's on the side of something. The Darkness is planning to forge on without him, which is a metal joke in itself. . . if Hawkins is their Ozzy, could they possibly find someone funny enough to be their Dio? I just assumed as the hilarious singer and lyricist that Hawkins was the genius of the group, so I have a feeling my Darkness attachment ends here, unless his addiction is indeed a joke and those faceless guys behind the headbands and axes really are plotting some kind of career-long fake drama. But judging from the quality of their latter jokes, and their inability to retain their hold on even MTV's priority list, I think we're about to see some seriously long fading career burnout. Tragic, really.

The VMAs: Awesome, Oh Wait.

Mmmm. . . Mmmu. . . Mmmowww. . . Mmmmaaaugh. . . .

Confession: I love the Video Music Awards. Nowhere else do you get a shitload of celebities at their most spooky and incoherent who (here's the big one) attempt to make fun of themselves and actually come out worse off. You also get more wtf moments than any other awards show or televised event, from the surprise guests, to the seemingly randomly chosen winners, to two or three actual good performances. It's like ten trainwrecks at once. On TV. With Guns 'n Roses. I missed last year's, which I've heard was a wise decision, what with Diddy hosting and giving out money to crowd members. But this year's had its share of watchable (and laughable) shenanigans:

- For no reason at all other than to get bragging rights to it (as if Beyonce and Def Jam prezhood aren't enough), Jay-Z announces the show from a rooftop, because he can.

- Justin Timberlake is great. Status Ain't Hood has good reason to call it early as pop album of the year. Kept it simple, no crazy sets or dancers, just tasteful tanning-bed lighting and his feet. He starts with a new song and then improves "SexyBack" by giving equal dancefloor time to Timbaland in a move that's far more Prince than MJ. Torch = passed.

- Even better is JT's random decision to build shelves for Jack Black's dressing room in what is to be one of many bits that makes no sense and is completely lolxorz, for once. Black is as usual on 50% the time and off or repeating himself the rest. On the bright side, most of his introductions were brief. His opening bit was cute and not nearly as annoying as it could've been. Montel Williams shows up for no reason at all. All of a sudden he abruptly switches it over to the Raconteurs and LOU FUCKING REED PLAYING "WHITE LIGHT/WHITE HEAT" HOLYFUCKINGSHITJESUSANALCHRIST. This moment is never improved on, even though the Raconteurs play 20 seconds or so of about 6 or 7 different songs throughout the night, including fellow less effective but barely less awesome suprise guest Billy Gibbons for a jam on "Cheap Sunglasses."

- Lil' Kim makes an entrance better than T.I., Chamillionaire, All-American Rejects, the Jackass crew, Fall Out Boy and Axl Rose put together when dudes dressed as prison guards lead her out decked in an orange prison jumpsuit she tears off to reveal an insanely hot corset. And she doesn't even perform.

- I will never, ever be optimistic again. James Blunt makes no sense at all by winning Best Male Video for a song no MTV-viewer likes. Unless Oprah's entire audience was among the voting bloc, there is no explanation for "Gold Digger" getting shut out from what I thought was no contest (Nick Lachey?). Kanye looks UNHAPPY, with a snarl on his face that totally reads "I lost to this dick?"

- Andre 3000 looks like a fucking moron, as usual, yet is totally appropriately attired to give the Black Eyed Peas their Best Hiphop Video award, which bugs me alot, and I like the damn song. Fergie's like the only one who does anything on it besides will.i.am moaning "She's got me spinninnnnng." Taboo is dumber than a Simpson when he says "Positive hiphop can really make it," which probably made Kanye seethe harder. Who would've thunk all that was keeping Dilated Peoples from their precious stardom was an ex-Mouseketeer singing about her tits and junk? Iriscience probably watched that and shot himself.

- Shakira and Wyclef do the year's best non-Cee-Lo-related hit with a great but somewhat predictable performance...it was only a matter of time before Shakira fused her bellydancer shtick with a Bollywood schtick. Either way, it's great to see Wyclef milking a teat that ain't Lauryn's, and Shakira's hips really do pass the polygraph.

- I question 50 Cent's manhood in his glittericious "50" shirt, but not LL's, which is firmly intact, even after "Headsprung."

- Ludacris and Pharrell do a shitty song no one knows or cares about that only serves to signal their decline. At least Ludacris is saving up well-typecasted acting parts for hibernation. Though the two emerge out of a giant bank vault, which is pretty cool, the Pussycunt Dolls march out for the last minute to basically distract the audience from how bad the acual performers are. It makes me wonder if MTV threw an emergency switch they had waiting to deploy these robot sluts on standby just in case these dudes sucked. "We have a code red, deploy skanks!"

- Kyle quits Tenacious D for the billionth time. If you ask me, he's better off as a Black Eyed Pea.

- Jessica Simpson is completely devoid of subject-verb agreement. I actually think she's gotten dumber; she probably holds it against Nick Lachey for holding her back from her full moron potential. I don't believe for a second she was able to hold her shit together in the studio long enough to sing even one full take of "A Public Affair." Whoever Pro-Tools'd that deserves a purple heart for bravery. I wonder if she gets this confused when she's giving head to her father.

- The Pussycat Dolls win Best Dance Video for a song so bad that Snoop refuses to go up and accept the award with them even though he's probably the only vocalist on it who wrote his own parts.

- Ok Go is pretty awesome. I'm kind of embarassed I'd never seen this video before, as it looks just like the kind of thing Youtube was made for, as everyone told me it was. but they recreate it faithfully enough to me that I can't imagine how the actual video could be any tighter. An inventive idea, but not a good way to get famous. I doubt a single person in that building could hum this song. Very Devo, very Talking Heads, very unlikely to ever be seen at the VMAs again.

- Shaun White is just the latest in a long line of celebrity athletes, chefs and politicians outside of the entertainment world who have no business crashing the entertainment world.

- The All-American Rejects are boring, jocky and derivative of many things, but mostly Owen Wilson at his most Dupree. I had no idea they were even close to this popular. Their singer looks uncannily like Dean Wareham from Luna. Their performance is the straightest I've ever seen on this show. Panic! fans are definitely going to be pissed off that these guys won something; there will be merciless MySpace blogging (re: personal experience alert).

- Pink gives me mixed feelings. She wins Best Female Video for basically biting the hand that feeds her (a hand she kind of still needs at this point in her career), and acts like it when she goes up to accept (besides being trashed). It's probably the night's only legitmate good song to win something, yet it feels wrong. I can't believe "Ain't No Other Man" and "Hips Don't Lie" are getting shut out with all these noms, and Pink didn't even perform.

- Chamillionaire is introduced to my life by winning for a video I've never heard of which beats out T.I., who I thought was a lock based on all this stupid internet hype (aren't you good for anything anymore O Great One, wise Magic 8-ball of the future? First Snakes on a Plane bombed and now this??). Not as faceless as I assumed, Cha makes a kinda funny rant about 20/20 canceling a supposed interview with him on racial profiling. Most articulate Houston rapper I've yet to witness. I wonder if his record's any good (EDIT: I did get The Sound of Revenge and it is real good).

- Beyonce: fantastic. She is quickly living up to her boyfriend's record of showstoppers. Every time I hear it, "Ring the Alarm" sounds a thouand times better than the last. Sexiest costumes of the night, detective trenchcoats with skimpy shiny black tight outfits underneath. Beyonce's thighs are astonishing. Special bonus: the only performer of the night to hit all her notes. Second bonus: a dead-on Janet Jackson homage, furturistic Rhythm Nation bangs and clangs and elongated pauses and all. The peak. With all due respect to Lou Reed, he cannot dance like that.

- T.I. nails the formula for a great basic hiphop performance. Triumphant, basic song ("What You Know"), triumphant, basic backdrop ("king" spelled out in lights, unoriginal but effective), still not alot of charisma or skills. Never gonna be Jay-Z but maybe he'll settle for Snoop?

- Justin Timberlake finishes building Jack Black's dressing room shelves. Jables really doesn't care.

- All-American Rejects beat Gnarls Barkley's disgustingly undernominated smash for Best Group Video. What happened to the Mtv2 award? Cee-Lo is perfect for that shit.

- Flavor of the month Rihanna becomes her own fucking metaphor by presenting an award for Best Ringtone to the guy from Linkin Park's rap group, basically passing the baton from one faddish nobody to another, for a faddish award.

- I balls-out love Panic! At The Disco's performance even though it was completely predictable and they're everything that's wrong with kid music at the moment. they outchuff My Chemical Romance, who are reportedly at work on a grand opera concept record about death or some shit. I don't care how many LJ headlines it's quoted in, "I Write Sins Not Tragedies" is a good song by a forgettable band using the bucks raked in from their drama-geek shtick to complete their not-unappealing vision of hoopskirts and ruffles. Their agent should call Andre Benjamin's. I am in shock that MTV makes them edit the word "goddamn" to kind of "--ahhdamn" but even more that they lose Best New Artist to Avenged Sevenfold minutes later.

- Funnier than any Jack Black line is the girl from Little Miss Sunshine's inability to pronounce "Avenged Sevenfold." This is some fucked-up shit. The band of disgusting-looking Southern goths are suprised as anyone, maybe even they know deep down how much they suck and how over their kind of music is. But I don't overestimate the self-awareness of Southern goths.

- Britney Spears and Kevin Federline are intentionally funny for a minute and unintentionally for way longer. I wonder if K-Fed can pronounce "Avenged Sevenfold."

- Beyonce outclasses the room by destroying the competition for Best R&B Video, for a song she knows is a toss-off, yet still rapes anything else in its category.

- Why do people keep giving Kanye scripts when they know he's just gonna go "George Bush doesn't care about black people" on their ass? He is stumbling over himself introducing the awesomest, most legitimate Vanguard Award tribute of the last ten years of MTV, for Hype Williams, who set the stage for the hiphop current more than he probably knows. The video montage is pretty sweet, with fish-eye lenses, weird setpieces, letterbox widescreens, and slo-mo marches in front of explosions, and pretty much every hallmark of lavish hiphop video from 1997-2006. Then Busta comes out in the yellow raincoat and Missy comes out in the Hefty-bag/jeep dealie and destroy the room with "Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See" and "The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)." I'm awestruck because this is the first serious nostalgia I think I've ever had (re: I am old). I remember seeing "The Rain" and "Mo' Money Mo' Problems" on MTV and HATING them, and almost ten years later my entire musical spectrum is now upside down and a nutso like Busta Rhymes is considered a forefather. Man. Williams has a lot of people to thank, he informs us. And yet his acceptance speech feels (emphasis on feels) way shorter than James Blunt's. Besides being economic, it's quite humane and reasonable, too (i.e. no shout-outs to Slim Thug).

- Apropos of nothing, Sarah Silverman hilariously gores Paris Hilton with anorexia-baiting like "When I heard your new single, I thought it sounded like it was being sung by a fat person."

- Christina Aguilera sabotages all the credibility and hype she's earned this year by performing a totally un-MTV Celine Dion crap-showcase instead of a totally un-MTV Andrews Sisters ripoff. Fuck Christina Aguilera.

- Lou Reed and Pink present an award together which makes Reed look oddly cuddly towards a generation he obviously loathes and makes Pink look oddly punk in the Johnny Rotten sense. Her asshole antics earlier now have a proud context of drunken eff-you legacy as a launchpad. Too bad she already did a record with the Rancid guy and it went nowhere. Lou stops looking cuddly however and kind of backs into the comfortable shadows of obscurity after presenting AFI with the award for Best Rock Video. God-ugly Davey Havok looks pretty hilarious just stammering with his pale, heavily-pierced jaw on the floor, "Lou....Reed.....Lou Reed....!"

- The cast of Jackass is hilariously mean to Fall Out Boy as if they were the drunken jocks giving FOB's geeks a hard time. I swear I heard Patrick Stump whine "Stop it!" when those bozos kept making him turn around. Then Wee Man picked him up. Twisted jerk I am, I root for the tormentors.

- Al Gore is introduced by Queen Latifah to make a "SexyBack" joke and shows slides of our decaying planet = WTF. He can't be way too smart for the room if he's dumb enough to present this here. Although, replace "dumb" with "bold" and you might also have a true statement. Son of the MTV president he is.

- For some reason, J.Lo is still considered by MTV to have the clout to snare an appearance this late in the show. She's dressed like one of the fingers in a rubber glove and does nothing.

- Panic! At The Disco suprise everyone and win Video of the Year for their Moulin Rouge-meets-MySpace pastiche. Probably the least universal, most subcultural win in this category ever. I love that Promise Ring and Get Up Kids fans will deny (or is it not realize?) what they've wrought here. Let the webforum backlash begin. A tard named Six thought it outrageous to jump onstage and "promote" his new MTV show that will suck. He's obviously never watched the VMAs before, because no one blinked.

- Axl Rose introduces The Killers with a freaky animal noise and a sadistic grin that looks like he just ate the vital organs of Velvet Revolver. All that was missing was Matt Sorum's spleen dripping down his chin.

- The Killers suck and have no business closing the show.

Monday, October 09, 2006

1870s nostalgia geek vs. 1970s nostalgia geek

yes, i intentionally sought unflattering pictures of these dudes, and google delivered. oh god it delivered.

Colin Meloy and Craig Finn are to literacy in rock what The Game is to making powerful enemies. That means they're legendary. Both are pasty, bespectacled indie rock icons who lead bands that pretend they're too good for the genre because they should've been born in different time periods. Both the Decemberists and the Hold Steady are mightily revered by almost everyone who's heard of them. Both placed in the top 40 of the Pazz & Jop Critics Poll last year. Both singers used to be in pretty good bands (Tarkio for Meloy, Lifter-Puller for Finn) who they ditched for better ones and subsequently fully realized their respective sounds. In Colin's case, that means he found the perfect theater-geek troupe with whom to play post-gig Quidditch (D&D became passe when Weezer released "Beverly Hills"), and Craig just found wittier drinking buddies to karoake "Glory Days" with by the time they're half-able to walk. Both bands are more popular than ever in 2006, having just released two brand new albums on the very same day, on their fancy new labels. They're also the two most lauded albums of 2006, Dylan aside. Pitchfork awarded Boys a 9.4 and Blender four and a half stars, those publications' highest-rated reviews this year, respectively. The Onion's A.V. Club gave The Crane Wife an A and in Rolling Stone, my personal God, Robert Christgau offered his seal of approval despite a few initial jeers at Meloy's conceptual ambitions. Starting out on Metacritic with a 92 for Wife and a 91 for Boys, they remain neck and neck at 86 and 85 as of this writing. These are clearly important records, for music listeners, and for the bands. In other words, the biggest indie word-of-mouth breakthroughs since Zach Braff and Adam Brody brought The Shins and Death Cab For Cutie into the average American home two years ago.

The Hold Steady likely made their all-time peak last year with Separation Sunday, a masterful rock opera about a chick named Holly Lujah who gets born again and stops being a drunkslut....or does she, asks the new Boys And Girls In America (Vagrant). The Decemberists made Picaresque, an album so overflowing with fancypants ideas and production their fans will forever consider it a career peak (of course it was their last before singing with a major) when all it truly marked was a mildly overrated cult band just getting started. In 2006, the playing field is a bit leveled. For one thing, The Crane Wife (Capitol) is unexpectedly kickass, which is saying alot for a record titled after an 11-minute multi-partite based on a Japanese folktale. Thankfully, Meloy also discovered some of the 70s kitsch Finn abjures: Sabbath riffs, disco, 11-minute multi-partites (well, maybe not those). A guy who knows his curlew from his veranda is expected to make albums like Picaresque forever, with lots of tales about a showdown of vengeance inside a whale's belly and the occasional flash of insight to the aughts, in this case, the Bush-shredding satire "16 Military Wives," with a hilarious video to match. It remains the Decemberists' single best song, great buildup, la-di-da chanting, miraculous horn arrangements, wonderfully catchy refrain. Picaresque occasionally came close to it ("The Mariner's Revenge Song," "On The Bus Mall") but The Crane Wife nearly always does.

Boys And Girls In America is slightly the opposite. Separation Sunday was near flawless, and while Boys only has one track that flat-out annoys ("Chillout Tent," and it's only the chintzy guest vocalists' faults...Dave Pirner and Elisabeth Elmore from theREPUTATION), it's a tad more resistible, more expected. You see it coming a riff away, every drug reference, every play on a girl's name, every slang term too young for its band members, every bit of wisdom about "Southern Girls." Separation Sunday's sly affairs with Born to Run and Zoso references were brilliant for their mystery--was "Hornets! Hornets!" actually supposed to sound like "Hold On Loosely"? Now that the cards are on the table (these aren't hip old indie-rockers, these are out-of-touch Springsteen geeks like your dad), America's fun relies solely on its songs. It gets it half right: "Stuck Between Stations," "Chips Ahoy!," "Hot Soft Light" and "Same Kooks" is a hell of an opening sequence. The only new trick in the bag is a keyboard ready to emit "Badlands" glockenspiels and switch to "Roundabout" organ swirls at a hipster's notice. The latter appears 2/3 of the way through the brilliant single "Chips Ahoy!," the most melodic song the band has put its name on, and tied with "Your Little Hoodrat Friend" as its most singable. "Hot Soft Light" has a shuffling thunderriff Ted Leo would kill for, but when side B announces the ballads, it becomes clear the band's trying too hard to become "accessible" and "melodic," and they're bypassing their natural abilities and veering into sap central by the time we reach "Chillout Tent" and the audacious, intentionally cheesy "Southtown Girls." Don't get me wrong, the album's fucking great by normal standards, it's just a warning shot for future efforts that might be saccharine enough to make this one look like Lifter Puller.

Or is it? myspace.com/theholdsteady features a juicy outtake you can download called "Hot Fries" that garage-rocks like it belongs on The Hold Steady Almost Killed Me. Likewise, The Decemberists have an iTunes-available b-side called "Culling of the Fold" that sounds like Clem Snide's "Something Beautiful" done merengue and sung by cutthroat Gypsy pirates or something. It beats nearly anything on The Crane Wife, which oughta frustrate the hell out of Picaresque fans. But the exclusiveness of both of these tracks seems to thumb their nose at anyone who believes The Decemberists or The Hold Steady have given up all they can offer. Maybe they haven't peaked yet, they sure aren't having that notion, and neither are the geeks who love them.
Both: A-

Sunday, October 08, 2006

kiss out the jams & nico

Nico's pre-Sunn O)))) days

This is my new blog, kiss out the jams. I named this very first post "Kiss out the Jams & Nico" because every good first album ever made features the phrase "...& Nico" in the title. A few examples:

1. The Velvet Underground - The Velvet Underground & Nico
2. Metallica - Kill 'em All & Nico
3. The Dismemberment Plan - ! & Nico
4. Puff Daddy - Puff Daddy & The Bad Boy Family & Nico Present No Way Out
5. Jewel - Pieces of You & Nico
6. Sunn O)))) - Sunn O)))) & NicO))))

I'm joking of course. Sunn O))))'s never made a good album, though I am sexually aroused by closed parenthesis and just enjoy typing "Sunn O))))" over and over.