Thursday, February 15, 2007

If Music Be the Food of Love...

We were snowed in on Valentine’s Day, second day in a row. Time to get warm by the fire and sort through all the new music that’s come my way in the last few weeks…

Here’s where I spent my own cash money:
1. The SHINS – Wincing the Night Away (SubPop)
Terry plays this just about every day, and it’s a tribute to this band that I haven’t gotten sick of it yet. Terry also tells me that he’s read a number of reviews slamming the Shins for getting big and experimental. I can hear that the sound’s a bit more polished, and there are more strings and keyboards than before, but it still sounds like the Shins to me, and it still sounds pretty damn good,
2. NELLIE McKAY – Pretty Little Head (Hungry Mouse/Sony/BMG)
I was surprised to see the Sony designation on the label. Didn’t those corporate weasels try to shut this release down? I bet I would really love Ms. McKay in concert – she’s a smartass, and I like that in my female singers (see Lily Allen). But this second release, like her debut, is a 2-disc set, and a lot of the songs sound like little throwaways, fun to entertain the concert crowd, and maybe they’re here as a souvenir of great night out, but a lot of them drift by without feeling fully formed.
3. VARIOUS ARTISTS – Different Strokes by Different Folks (Epic/Legacy)
From my queue, and they’ve raised the price to $6.99 per, which just seems like so much more of a commitment than $5.99 somehow. Having seen this collection in the overpriced Starbucks racks, I will accept that this is still a deal and Terry was delighted’cause he’s a huge Sly fan. I thought he’d find the idea of redoing these classics blasphemous, but he loved it.
4. OF MONTREAL – Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? (Polyvinyl Record Co.)
This band will play the State Theatre in Falls Church on March 6, and I have my editor’s permission to preview the show. The CD, on first listen, had me grooving along and laughing out loud at the clever lyrics – for about the first half. And then it just got kind of annoying. I will revisit for the story, and hope to see the show. This release is just the tip of the iceberg for a band with a half dozen releases, so I’m betting they can put on a good show.
(After buying this neatly packaged CD at Best Buy for $10, I got a promo copy in the mail, but I will only list it once as I still have the purchased copy in the original shrink wrap, and intend to exchange it.)
5. JOHN MAYER – Continuum (Aware/Columbia)
Subtitled “Music by John Mayer” which adds a layer of pretense to the enterprise, but I will give the guy credit as a guitarist and occasionally great songwriter (“My Stupid Mouth”) with horrifying lapses in taste (“Daughters,” Jessica Simpson). Another purchase.
6. SUFJAN STEVENS – Presents Songs for Christmas (Asthmatic Kitty)
Yeah, I know I’m far behind to be listing a Christmas CD now, but it is was, indeed, a 2007 purchase. I tried to special order this sweet little boxed set from my local Barnes & Noble in time for the Cool Yule compilation, but the store never got it in. I wound up buying it in early January through so as not to miss out on the initial edition, with all the cute stickers and stuff. So it will be the first out of the box next November….

Traded for at the CD Cellar:
7. BREAKING and ENTERING – soundtrack (V2)
Music by Gabriel Yared and Underworld. At first listen, this seemed so soft as to be inconsequential, but I trust these artists to grow with time, and so they had in the second listen. A surprising change of pace for Underworld, known around our kitchen as the high NRG go-to act for boosting our lazy asses, but successful in its quiet grace.
From the $1.99 clearance bin:
8. HOPE OF THE STATES – Winter Riot Dust Rackets (Epic)
I may already have this CD single, but I couldn’t risk it. I have such fond memories of the band’s performance 2 years ago at CMJ, I’m hoping they will return sometime.
9. SHELBY LYNNE – Epic Recordings (Lucky Dog/Sony Music)
Having totally missed the point when they had her on the label, Epic trades in on Lynne’s hard-earned post-Epic credibility by reissuing some early tracks. They didn’t even bother with a nice cover shot or design above the clip art variety. A few keepers, but mostly generic tunes.
10. SPIRALING – Transmitter (Brizmuzik)
Wrote about this band many moons ago, working from a cheap advance, so I picked up this nicely designed official release.
11. VARIOUS ARTISTS – The Best of Broadway: The American Musical (Decca/Columba Broadway Masterworks)
No cover, so I didn’t know what was inside, but it turned out to be a 20+ collection of tracks of singalong fun, and it’s easy to skip the song from “Phantom of the Opera.”

This is all you need to know about this:
DIE HUNNS are about to hit the road in support of their new Volcom Entertainment album, “You Rot Me.”

Most of the albums sent to me are done so to pitch upcoming shows, so here’s a sampling of who’s coming to Town:
12.NANCI GRIFFITH – Ruby’s Torch (Rounder)
She’s written some lovely songs, but I’ve never been a big fan of her reedy voice, and it gets particularly squeaky on some of the tracks here – a collection of covert tunes. It’s a fans-only event as far as I can see. How can you not prefer the gruff contrast of Tom Waits’ grizzled voice on the original “Ruby’s Arms”? Anyway, for those who like this kind of thing, she’s playing the Birchmere on March 17th.
13. The BROKEN WEST - I Can't Go On, I'll Go On (Merge)
Yet another fine indie band and there are two chances to catch ‘em soon opening for other fine indie bands - March 23rd with the Walkmen, and
April 3rd with the Long Winters, both at Rock and Roll Hotel.
14. SHAW-BLADES – Influence (VH-1 Classics Records)
So here we have Tommy Shaw (of STYX) and Jack Blades (Night Ranger) and they, too, have recorded an album of cover songs, done in frighteningly similar style to the originals. Wasn’t the first version of Seals & Crofts’ “Summer Breeze” enough to last a lifetime? There’s a serviceable version of Steely Dan’s “Dirty Work,” but I still don’t get the point.
Playing at the Birchmere on March 26th.
15. RICHARD BUCKNER – Meadow (Merge)
Buckner will be appearing at the IOTA on February 19th, part of a US tour with Kent, OH's Six Parts Seven. Frankly, it’s the latter that’s got me intrigued. 6P7 just released Casually Smashed To Pieces (Suicide Squeeze Records) and will serve as both opening act and Buckner’s backing band. 6P7 creates instrumental music that has often been used in music beds for their syndicated programs) and has had friends like Modest Mouse, Iron and Wine, Pedro The Lion re-working some of their older songs. Here’s one called ”Stolen Moments” Coming to Jammin Java February 20th.

His press bio says he’s got 72,000 friends on his MySpace and a live "tour van cam" with nightly webcasts of his concerts across the US. He also rounded up some choice players for his album, including Pete Thomas (from Elvis Costello's Attractions).
17. TONY LUCCA – Canyon Songs (Rock Ridge Music)
He’s a veteran of the Mickey Mouse Club, and was heavily inspired by the classic folkies of the Laurel and Beachwood Canyons, where most of this album was either written and or recorded. The trouble with being a singer/songwriter these days is finding a way to stand apart from the pack. How many James Taylors can there be? Lucca strikes me more as a Livingston Taylor – not a major talent, but capable and pleasant, sure to show the audience a good time.
And BTW...
THE YOUNG KNIVES CD “Voices of Animals and Men” was listed here before, and gets a US release through RykoDisc in March. And here’s a heads-up on them coming to town – the Black Cat, March 5th. Suprisingly, they’re playing the back stage.

Promos, but no tour dates ‘round here just yet:
18. CHUCK E. WEISS - 23rd & Stout (Cooking Vinyl)
Subtitled "Deranged Detective Mysteries," this is one for the offbeat, pseudo-jazz Tom Waits fans, of which I am one.
19. 8-BIT OPERATORS - The Music of Kraftwerk Performed on Vintage 8-Bit Video Game Systems (Astralwerks)
Sounds like a gimmick, right? And yeah, it kinda is, but it also zips – and blips – by with a bright bounce. Not something I would have rushed out to buy, but fun to have,
You gotta have balls to release a debut CD that runs across 2 discs, but this “polychromatic art-pop” band from Austin, TX makes it worth the listener’s time investment. Frontman and founder Robert Harrison's was in a garage rock band called Cotton Mather, and now he’s heading a group that brings out the Beatlesque harmonies and hooks, “Revolver” era.

YTD Total: 39

Thursday, February 08, 2007

It's Pazz and Jop Time Again

The annual Village Voice Critics Poll came out this week, and – as this is the one poll I’ve participated in for the past 15 years or so - it’s always fun to see what their broad selection (dozens, maybe even hundreds) of music writers considers the best of the year. You can see the overall results here and, if you like, my personal ballot.

Part of the fun is seeing where my picks stand as regards the top ranked CDs. Am I still plugged in? Am I hip to what’s happening? What’s my street cred, dawg? As usual, I’m on the softer side of Sears.

While I was part of the herd for albums like The Decemberists (I still feel bad for leaving them off my list last year), The Thermals and Regina Spektor, all of whom placed in the Top 50, there’s two discs in the Top 10 that I wouldn’t know if they licked my face (more likely they’d just call me names) – Ghostface Killah andClipse. No, I’m just not the hip-hop type, and since I have to buy the majority of my mainstream market CDs, I don’t hear a lot of that brand of buzz stuff. Only 9 other critics joined with me in giving props to Josh Ritter, and no one else at all placed Matt Nathanson, World/Inferno Friendship Society , The Cat Empire or Teitur
in their Top 10.

I was more in tune with the pack on the singles, since those get airplay in the general marketplace. I was in on the #1 single with everybody else –Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy.” But the success of that group really reinforces my position in a way. It’s a rare hip-hop record indeed that reaches across the demographic (even more than racial) divide to grab me. The single I stood totally alone in praising was The Editors’ “Munich,” but the tally says that a few people had chosen it in 2005.

Does this all mean that, ultimately, I’m more of a pop girl than a rock chick? Nah. I just like what I like.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Things I Learned This Weekend

Even when I'm not "working," music is everywhere, and stuff I want to share/learn more about sneaks up on me, as it did throughout this weekend.

Last night, killing time while waiting for "Saturday Night Live" (wanted to see Lily Allen, and she was worth it), I pulled an old promo VHS out of the box to watch while doing other tasks and grabbed "Swing," a British film starring pop thrush Lisa Stanfield in a "wildly hilarious" (not) movie that also featured the E Street Band's Clarence Clemons. It wasn't much of a plot - guy gets out of prison, puts together a swing band, and wins back the girl who married the cop who put him away. Stanfield has a nice voice, and the soundtrack offered some Louis Jordan, too. Must remember to check into some old swing sounds...

Speaking of soundtracks, am on the lookout for the score to "Babel," a wonderful film the hubby and I caught up with on Friday night. Not as depressing as I feared, and full of heart-breaking moments to remind us of our common vulnerability in this fearful modern world. Beauitful music throughout.

Today, I reached back into the video box and found a promotional tape from the Sundance Film Channel with three episodes of the series "Keeping Time," about American roots music. The first episode had a long look at Nickel Creek, including a great live cover of Nirvana. Another band I need to find out more about. Also fun to see a segment on small labels with plenty of shots from SXSW, which I would like to attend some day.

And now, I've got "Extras" on, with Chris Martin taking a fine piss out of himself to promote the new Coldplay greatest hits collection. Since I've been attempting to organize the photo collection this weekend, I have handy two shots of Mr. Martin, taken at a long-ago HFS-tival. One is a stage shot....

The other picture is, for me, testimony to his good guy-ness. I was in the backstage bowels of RFK Stadium when the band came running by, headed for the stage, about to perform in front of a crowd of 50,000, previewing new material from the "X &Y" album, which was still weeks off. One of the young teens I was with took off after the band, running alongside them and trying to say hello. I tried, but couldn't stop her, and was steeling myself for some kind of negative response - which I could see as deserved, given the high anxiety of those last pre-stage moments. Instead, Chris Martin noticed my young friend, stopped in his tracks and asked "would you like a picture?" And she quickly passed the camera off (to me? to my daughter?) to capture a golden Kodak moment. So here's to you, Chris Martin. Maybe I didn't think "X & Y" was a riveting piece of work, but you've still got soul in my book...

Can't talk about this weekend in music without mentioning Prince at the Super Bowl. Points for a trooper who will put it all out there even with in a downpour - which made "Purple Rain" all that more effecting. And while we didn't get the butt-less trousers, that little trick he pulled, playing behind a scrim which made his guitar even more of a phallic symbol, kept alive the tradition of "WTF?!" Super Bowl musical moments.

Another piece of music news I discovered tonight, upon perusal of the James Brown memorial issue of Rolling Stone, is that my hands-down favorite contemporary music writer, Rob Sheffield, has a book out. This guy is laugh-out-loud funny in his regular columns for the magazine, and the one time I met him - at a CMJ conference a few years back - he came across as a genuinely friendly, no-pretense kind o' guy. The book is called "Love is a Mix Tape," an ode to his late wife, the equally charming Renee Crist, whom I had one delightful dinner with ages ago on a visit to LA. I can't wait to read it - going to Barnes and Noble tomorrow. (Flirted with amazon, but want Rob to get every penny he can.) His column ends with what appears to be an emal link, but it actually just takes you to the RS web site, so I couldn't send him a cyber note of congratulations.

Actually, I did take care of a little bizniz this weekend. Updated the closepersonalfriend web site to include the latest music previews for the washington post:
The Guggenheim Grotto at Jammin Java
Lennex, HumanRoom, et al at Arlington Cinema ‘n’ Drafthouse

I'm way behind on the O/CD tally, but here's a few new ones, with more to follow soon (they're piling up!)
1. SONDRE LERCHE and the FACES DOWN - Phantom Punch (Astralwerks)
Much as I love Lerche, his latest (fourth) full-length album, isn’t doing it for me. He recorded with his Faces Down band, several songs captured live in one take, and he’s clearly going for a more aggressive sound. And that’s the trick. “I didn’t want to be subtle this time around,” he says in the press kit, “I wanted every song to jump out of the speakers.”
Producer Tony Hoffer has worked with Beck, Belle & Sebastian and Marianne Faithful, but here he's more in his Supergrass mode. The problem for me is that Lerche is so charming and distinctive in his classic songbook pop mode, why would he want to trade it for a dime-a-dozen rock sound?
Due February 6th
2. LOST IN THE TREES - Time Haunts Me (Trekky Records)
This is a solo CD from Ari Picker, leader of The Never, who released a storybook album, “Antarctica” (with artwork by Picker), last year. It was quite lovely - as is this one, a compilation of songs, written over the last 7 years, that tends toward the more solemn and personal. A guy who’s spent time at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Picker has a classical flourish to his songwriting and used a 9-piece backing orchestra for this, including violins, viola, cello, upright bass, trombone, melodica and banjo. A nice change of pace. Here’s a link to the track ”Tall Trees”
Due March 20th.
3. The GUGGENHEIM GROTTO - ...Waltxing Alone (UFO)
The afore-mentioned Post preview was one of those I pushed a bit harder for since I really wanted to cover the band. They'll be at Jammin Java this Wednesday and I expect to be there, camera in hand.

YTD Total: 19