Friday, January 30, 2009

Digital Delights and Actual Discs

After the previous mentions of preferring actual to virtual albums, I gotta admit I was pleased to discover an email with an offer to download a zip file containing
PETE DOHERTY - Grace/Wastelands (emimusic)
In March, Britain's drug-fueled Peter Pan will turn thirty years old. And days later, will release his first solo album, after tabloid- and chart-topping adventures with the Libertines and Babyshambles. The record was produced by Stephen Street (The Smiths, Blur, Kaiser Chiefs), features Blur guitarist Graham Coxon on all songs except one, plus Scottish singer/songwriter Dot Allison sings on "Sheepskin Tearaway" and the other Babyshambles help out.
VAN MORRISON - Astral Weeks Live (emimusic)
This download came my way early in the new year, but the process hit some speedbumps and I couldn't get to the file right away (another reason I prefer real CDs).

And today, after a training session and workshop at the Tyson's Apple store, I dropped the previously mentioned bag of misfit CDs at the CD Cellar. The guy didn’t want one third of the bunch at any price, but I got enough in credit to bring home the following (and a Looney Tunes DVD):

The LAST SHADOW PUPPETS - The Age of the Understatement (Domino)
In-store play works. As I was browsing the racks, searching in vain for the new Animal Collective and a band called Pilot Speed that Terry has wanted me to find ever since he heard them on a Starbucks compilation, I was hearing a fine sound from the store stereo. One track reminded of the kind of grand pop fun of a James Bond theme song, another had a Kinks-ian vibe. I checked the Now Playing display and found this 2008 release. It had been described well in the press, and I think Alex Turner is a talented cutie, so the tipping point had come. Listening in the car on the ride home, I think I’m gonna like it.
The girls like these guys, and I've always enjoyed when they pop up in the car rotation, so I grabbed this 2002 production by Tchad Blake and Mitchell Froom for a mere $1.99. And it's actually a double, with a bonus disc of unreleased tracks like "California" done live.
NSYNC - I Want You Back (RCA/BMG)
50 cents for a 4-track single that I might enjoy and might just sell off to an ebay Justin Timberlake fan. No risk.
RANDY NEWMAN - Harps and Angels (Nonesuch)
Just read an interview with the great Mr. N in a British magazine and wanted to hear the full, uncut version of “A Few Words in Defense of Our Country.” I played that track in the car but decided that listening in the car with the window open (I was sneaking a smoke) wouldn’t allow me to hear the lyrics with the clarity and attention they deserve.
Mom loves this guy, but has only one other album by him (the one I gave her for Christmas) so I chose this 2003 release based mostly on the appearance of an older song that I’ve always liked, “The Way You Look Tonight.” Mom was delighted and we put it on during dinner, but I wasn’t thrilled with the way he did the song. Fred Astaire still owns that one in my heart.

Oh, and after the in-store system played The Last Shadow Puppets, the counter dude played the new Killers. I liked the first song but that "are we human or are we dancer" one is truly annoying. I still have some love for the first CD, but it's been downhill ever since.

And we end the night with The Gaslight Anthem ripping it up on Letterman. I downloaded "The '59 Sound" from emusic late last year, based on a Rolling Stone Review and one track heard on WXPN during an NYC road trip. It was late in the game, but they came close to making the year's Top Ten. A good job, boys, but the sound mix was lousy. Even my mom asked, "does he have a microphone?"

O/CD Tally: 21

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

More on CDs vs. MP3s

I spent a large part of the day organizing the overflowing stacks and boxes of CDs that were blocking the area around my desk. It had gotten to the point that, after I'd trip and curse, I still couldn't find things I wanted to hear even though I knew there were in there somewhere and what's the point of that?

I tried to be ruthless in deciding what I really wanted to keep, and filled a grocery bag's worth of various discs - mostly from 2008 press mailings - to take to the trade-in store. Maybe half of them I had a chance to listen to, and I apologize to the rest. But I need to make space for the new year's bounty. As it is, I'm falling behind in tracking many fine new albums that have come in so far this year.

My facebook status for today: "Marianne has too many CDs (cry me a river)."

Yeah, it's a nice problem to have. And then there's all the downloads I've been pulling in, too. As I mentioned in the last post, the Village Voice didn't run my full comments about preferring physical CDs to zip files and audio streaming.

To which my delightful cousin-in-law posted (I'll repeat it so you don't need to refer to the comments area):
"Physical vs audio files debate. Hmmm, you get more quality in the plastic disc version until you scratch it. I always find it annoying that only a handful of CD's contain the encoding that has the track data on that. The great power of ripping them on the computer is the power to search, organize and cook up your own playlists. I'm such a picky person that I love the ability to download a single 99 cent song from an album from Amazon (with no DRM nonsense) rather than cough up $15 for an album. If they really wanted plastic to be competitive they would create encoded CD's that can play on multi-speaker arrangements (like concert DVD's today). Wait a minute, already have that with Netflix streaming in..."

Which gives me a great excuse to post what the Voice didn't use:

I miss CDs. In 2007, on my blog (I gave them the URL, hoping for some hits!), I tracked the number of CDs that I purchased or got in the mail from publicists or bands, plus a handful of full-lengths that I downloaded from press sites or bought through iTunes and emusic. The grand total was just over 1000.

In 2008, I stopped counting, but I know there were many fewer physical CDs sent - the preferred delivery system became zip files and streaming. That makes sense when time is of the essence for a story, but it doesn't when it's pushing a new band I know nothing about. I get a half-dozen emails a week asking me to download a new release to check it out.

I know...I'm complaining about being offered free mp3s (cue the world's smallest violin as I assume the martyr pose) but I miss liner notes and band photos and a better sense of who these new artists are - just the kind of thing I get from CDs. And I don't have the time, bandwidth or hard drive space to store dozens of albums that I may or may not want to reference. I honestly try to give everything that comes through the door a fair listen and it's easier when I can grab a few CDs as I head for the car or the office.

I know I’m a dinosaur in the digital world. And I still love me the vinyl, too.

and that's where I'll leave it for now.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Look, Ma - I'm in the Village Voice!

Didn't realize that the Village Voice Pazz & Jop Poll went up this week, so today's easy-peasy post is a link to my ballot for same. Yes, I know I put this list up some time ago, but it looks so much better in its official form.

Part of the fun of the poll is to see which other critics chose the same albums or singles I did. And seeing those cases where I'm the only person to pick a particular title. This year, I was all alone in mentioning, on the full-length side, Johnny Flynn's "A Larum" and the Gabe Dixon Band's eponymous (always liked that word) debut.
As for singles, I stood solo in singling out Ben Folds and Regina Spektor doing "You Don't Know Me." (odd, I just noticed that the Voice misspelled Spektor!)

And though I wrote a longer piece about still preferring physical CDs over zip files and audio streams, the editors chose a shorter clip about my waning way of life.

And while I was pulling this together, I dropped into my emusic account and downloaded two new releases that, given the track record of the performers, have an excellent chance of getting on next year's list:

ANDREW BIRD - Noble Beast (Fat Possum)
BON IVER - Blood Bank (Jagjaguwar)

which brings us to the O/CD Tally: 14
(I have other CDs, both sent, purchased and found, that I will add on soon)


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Reasons to Be Cheerful, Part One


Change comes to inaugural concerts

On Sunday, a concert celebrating President-elect Barack Obama's upcoming inauguration featured -- as our own Joan Walsh, who was on the scene, has documented here -- quite a lineup. Bruce Springsteen was there; so were Beyonce, Bono, Pete Seeger, Garth Brooks, Jamie Foxx and many others. What a difference four years makes: The list of performers at a concert celebrating George W. Bush's re-election reads quite differently.

From Bush's remarks at the "America's Future Rocks" concert, as released by the White House:

Listen, I want to thank all the entertainers who were here today. How about Hilary Duff. She was fantastic. (Applause.) Thank you, Hilary. JoJo -- JoJo is here -- yeah. (Applause.) Rubin (sic) Studdard -- you talk about a success story. (Applause.) Ryan Cabrera, I appreciate Ryan being here. (Applause.) How about Three Doors Down? (Applause.) Pretty cool guys, right? Seem cool to me. (Applause.) Fuel -- I appreciate Fuel being here. (Applause.) Jason Sehorn -- I'm honored that my friend, Jason -- and I'm really proud and pleased that he brought his wife, Angie Harmon. (Applause.)

I want to thank Steve Baldwin for being with us today. I'm honored that Steve was here. Erika Harold, Miss America 2003 -- what a fine person Erika is. (Applause.) How about Kelly Purdue, the "apprentice." (Applause.) Next thing you know, the guy will be running for President. (Applause.) Nancy O'Dell -- I'm honored that Nancy is with us. I appreciate you all coming.

― Alex Koppelman

"Squish Squash Applesauce"

The impeccably dressed military woman on the Metro train heading into DC on Inauguration Day eve was explaining to her two charges - the 10-ish black boy (I believe he was her son) and the 12-ish white girl - that there would be "squish squash applesauce" when they left the train on the way to the Kids Inauguration Ball, where the Jonas Brothers, Miley Cyrus and others would be performing.
I thought of getting out at that station to see if I could score a ticket, but opted instead to walk the mall and feel the vibe there.

Having attended the Clinton Inauguration (even with tickets, I could barely make him out in the distance) - a great but retroactively "OMG-I'm-claustrophobic!" experience - I wanted to touch the hem of this great event and then enjoy the Big Day from the comfort of my basement TV zone.

It wasn't S-S-A on the mall this evening, but there was a happy buzz - smiling faces, street fair vendors ("Can a brother get a dollar for an Obama decal?") and TV crews filing live reports. (One lonely guy kept asking, "Anyone here from Philadelphia?" but got no takers while I was there.)

MSNBC had the biggest news presence, and I saw Chris Matthews broadcasting "Hardball" while I wandered past to get to the Capitol.

And on the way back, I watched "our Keith," as another stylish black* woman put it, walk from the NBC make-up trailer to the NBC potty-trailer and then into the broadcast booth. Would have loved to see Rachel, too.
(*I'm not Stephen Colbert; I see color, and I love seeing all the color coming together. That's why I bring it up.)

And then, on my way to walk past the White House ("nah, nah, nah, nah, hey, hey, hey, goodbye...") I met a nice guy who seemed to be enjoying the evening as well...

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Waiting for a Lame Duck to Waddle Away

I am preparing a tally of a new batch of used CDs and the tale of a visit from one half of the late and lamented indie wonders Troubled Hubble, but right now I'm watching Saturday Night Live and marveling at how great Fleet Foxes sound, and how nervous they look (maybe this is really Frightened Rabbit?). And sloppy, too. It's not that I mind that guy bands wear jeans and don't comb their hair, but any woman who appears on a live musical stage has got to look sleek, polished, clean and great half-naked or she will not be allowed to get on that stage in the first place.

Sorry, I just had to get that out. And I still blame Madonna.

But generally, I'm in a fine mood, awaiting the new era. Here's a fun email invite I got recently:

No reason; I just dig the graphic.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

"We are all going down..."

I couldn't help but think of Laurie Anderson, deadpanning the words of a calm pilot in the face of disaster, as I see TV clips of a commercial flight landing (safely!) on (in?) the Hudson River. Oh, New York City, you always have such amazing stories to tell!

As for me, it's been a day. Things got done, choices have been made (good ones, I think, though I won't go into detail here) and the momentum of the new year remains strong. And as we watch the lame duck waddle into the sunset, I say yea.

But we're here for the music, so I drop by briefly to add two new Post previews to the assembled archives:

Dave Ihmels (local singer/songwriter) at FireFlies

Bill Emerson and Sweet Dixie (bluegrass) at Holy Cross Lutheran Church.

I have an exit strategy - Say my piece and get out.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Tally Ho!

Let the Obsessive/CD counting begin!

Today I took a few bags of cast-off items to my local thrift store and, of course, spent time looking through the shelves of CDs, being sold for just $1.50 each! I talked myself out of some that were in less than ideal condition, plus a few that I may well already have at home (such doubts are an occupational hazard of the obsessive collector). Still, I got a dozen:

PRACTICALLY EINSTEIN - I Want To (Oddman Records)
This local NoVA band’s name pops up occasionally when I’m searching venues for shows to cover for the Post. Might as well have a copy of the disc on hand so I can consider them. Uh-oh. Just noticed - this is a 1998 recording!? I wonder if the band sounds anything at all like this anymore. It would probably be a bad sign if they did.

POISON - Poisons Greatest Hits 1986-1996 (Capitol)
Insert joke here about how this full-length should be an EP. My first thought was simply to get it as a joke for Birthday-Coming Girl (Jan. 24), with whom I wasted many hours watching the deliciously wretched “Rock Love” in a perversion of mother/daughter bonding. But then I saw the title “Unskinny Bop” and realized I actually want one of these songs! Also contains two previously unreleased tracks for which I hold out little hope.

U2 - War (Island)
No, it’s not one of the new deluxe reissues, but jeez, it was only a buck and a half! I wonder what my vinyl copy might fetch on amazon...?

CAN YOU SAY HOBOKEN? 6 - Various Artists (Brave Entertainment Group)
I wouldn’t have bothered with another compilation of obscure artists from the hipster enclave, but then I saw the name of an old pal, Chris Butler (late of the Waitresses) doing a song called “Keith Moon!” (love the exclamation point), so I had to check it out.

SWING AROUND THE WORLD - Various Artists (Putumayo World Music)
“A global swing dance party that’s fun for the entire family!” I recognize the Squirrel Nut Zippers and Oscar Peterson, but that’s not the point here. I want to be taken away to exotic lands where I don’t know the language but can still feel the beat. Anybody else remember when Putumayo had a store in Soho with funky, fun fashion?

IMMORTAL BELOVED - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (SONY Classical)
I almost passed up this CD when I noticed that the contents read “excerpts from...” a list of Ludwig’s best-known numbers. Then I realized I need Beethoven for Dummies.

MADELEINE PEYROUX - Careless Love (Rounder)
I know I have a Peyroux CD somewhere in the house. And I know I like her voice. But is this the title I already have? Oh, heck, it’s still sealed, so I can probably get my money back at the trade-in store if it’s a dupe.

The BLACK CROWES - Greatest Hits 1990-1999 (American)
Back in the summer, I interviewed Grace Potter, who was opening a show for the Crowes at Wolf Trap, for the Post. I really wanted to go to the show, and bought this CD at Best Buy to psyche myself up for the show. But I never broke the shrink-wrap and didn’t get to the show and wound up returning the CD for credit. So now we come full circle.

JOHN MAYER - Room for Squares (Aware/Columbia)
I have a copy of the album with a different cover and, I believe, a few different tracks. That one is, I believe, an earlier (collectible?) release and this is the one that made him a huge star. Want to make a comparison.

BARENAKED LADIES - Everything to Everyone (Reprise)
Slowly but surely (and relatively cheaply), I am working towards the full catalog of this fine, funny band, whose charms I discovered rather late in their career (‘round “Stunt”).

OUTKAST - Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (Arista)
Remember how huge this album was? “Hey-Ya”? “The Way You Move”? “Roses”? At the time, a teenage neighbor burned me a copy, but I like to have the real deal, especially for an album with such a lasting pedigree. Funny/sad note re this once invincible act - even the used CD store wasn’t interested in a copy of “Idlewild” last time I was there. And BTW, while the Korean cashier in the back of the thrift store examines every CD to count the discs, the younger woman at the front cashier doesn’t, so buy your 2-CD sets from her!

American Eagle: AN ESSENTIAL MIX - Various Artists (Warner Bros.)
Except for PM Dawn, Olive and Muse, I don’t recognize the artists on this 10-track compilation, but the latter is a favorite of College Girl’s ex, a nice guy who she’ll hopefully stay friends with, and I’ll pass this one to him. Of the eight tracks I’ve heard so far, only one’s a keeper - “Sunbeam” (as in “Jesus wants me for a...”) by Submarine. I haven’t gotten to the Muse track yet, but I’m not sure ex is gonna want it. Everything here is totally jacked up with hyper dance beats, to numbing effect.

And so, the first O/CD Tally of the New Year: 12

Tonight: Camper Van Beethoven at the State Theatre.
Tomorrow: photos of same (I hope)

Monday, January 05, 2009

Thinking 'Bout the Best of '08

Midnight tonight is the deadline for the Village Voice's 2008 Pazz & Jop Poll. I finished my ballot about 9 pm, so I felt good about being so early. (Last year, I was pushing the 'send' button as the minute hand was slowly ticking to the day's end).

It's always hard to settle on the final 10 albums/singles and there are always a few late acquisitions that are hard to judge in context against those that have had months to make their mark or fade from attention.

For instance, I've had TV ON THE RADIO CD's “Dear Science” for just the last two weeks and am very much liking it. It’s a little late in the game to consider it for the year’s best, but it slipped past me before and the publicist was kind enough to send it along. Sometimes, the best criteria I have for what makes the list is which albums I would like to run away with and explore fully. This is one of them.

Anyway my Top Ten CDs for 2008, starting with the runaway winner for Best Album of the Year:
Elbow - Seldom Seen Kid (Geffen)
and a close runner-up:
Vampire Weekend - S/T (XL)
The rest are in somewhat descending order:
MGMT - Oracular Spectacular (Columbia)
Johnny Flynn - A Larum (Lost Highway)
TV on the Radio - Dear Science (Interscope/4AD)
Flight Of The Conchords - S/T (Sub Pop)
My Morning Jacket - Evil Urges (ATO)
Death Cab for Cutie - Narrow Stairs (Atlantic)
Gabe Dixon Band - S/T (Fantasy)
Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago (Jagjaguwar)

and my Top Ten Singles (in alphabetical order, by artist):
Coldplay -Viva La Vida (Capitol)
Duffy - Mercy (Mercury)
Ben Folds & Regina Spector - You Don’t Know Me (Epic)
Flobots - Handlebars (Universal/Repubic)
Kings of Leon - Sex on Fire (RCA)
M.I.A. - Paper Planes (XL/Interscope)
Pretenders - Boots of Chinese Plastic (Shangri-La)
Thao and The Get Down Stay Down - Bag of Hammers (Kill Rock Stars)
Ting Tings - That’s Not My Name (Columbia) - Yes We Can (streaming video)


I leave you with a freebie:
Filter magazine online is offering a gratis mp3 from the forthcoming Bell X1 CD, Blue Lights on the Runway, which comes out March 3rd. (That’s the same day the new U2 is supposed to arrive, too, pitting two Irish faves against each other.) Click here for ”How Your Heart is Wired.”
Ooooh, says here that the band has done some “reshuffling” and is now a trio. Last fall, when Bell X1 was promoting its “Flock” CD, I had drinks in a DC Irish bar with lead singer Paul Noonan (mentioned in the Filter note) and Dominic Philips and Brian Crosby. I just went off to Wikipedia and they say that Brian is gone. Awwww....

Thursday, January 01, 2009

And Thus, We Begin Again

So here we are once more, facing the blank pages of a new datebook and hoping to fill in the days of 2009 with fun events, fine music and happy thoughts.

And my resolution is to blog better and more often, so hold me to it. (A few comments would be nice, so stop lurking and let's get interactive!)

The morning began in a nice New Year's way with the morning papers and late breakfast. And there, in the Washington Post, were two new regional section previews:
1. Camper Van Beethoven at the State Theatre
2. and a local band of veteran blues players,
The Deacons at Cowboy Café.

In pulling those pieces up, I saw that the last pair of previews was never posted here, so I'll add them, too:
The Lee Boys at the State Theatre
Levine School of Music Holiday Concert

While I did such bookkeeping, I watched a new DVD from one of my longtime favorite bands
FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE: No Better Place – Live in Chicago DVD (Shout! Factory)
To be released on February 24.

The concert was recorded for a Chicago TV show called "Soundstage," in a beautiful old theatre that gave the band a big stage area and some nifty video screens upon which to project images that related, however tangentially, to the songs.

I have been to a handful of FoW concerts and have always had a great time being in the audience to hear the band’s catchy, clever songs played well. But as much as I love this band, no one’s going to mistake these guys for Aerosmith in terms of presenting a riveting live show. These are not showy people; there’s no rock star attitude, no posturing or long solo indulgences. And in this particular show, shot in 2005, there’s no material from 2007’s wonderful “Traffic and Weather”album.

But you can’t take away from the music that is here – “Radiation Vibe” still makes me smile after all these years. And things lift off to an almost Real Rock Show rousing degree with a fine rendition of “Bright Future in Sales” but they censor a word in the line, “I gotta get my shit together.”

If all you know about Fountains of Wayne is “Stacy’s Mom,” you’re missing out on one of pop’s true pleasures. This DVD can serve as a souvenir for hardcore fans, a pleasant live almost-best-of for newbies, but you can enjoy the music as an audio experience without needing to stay glued to the screen.

According to the Shout! Factory web site, the DVD also features an “all new, never-before seen acoustic mini-set filmed live in the recording studio.” But that wasn’t on my promo advance. ;-(

Two more side notes:
1) FoW's Adam Schlesinger (who has earned Oscar, Tony and Golden Globe nominations for his film, television and theater work outside the band) recently joined with David Javerbaum, executive producer of “The Daily Show,” to write some of the original songs for "A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift Of All."

2) Fountains of Wayne is coming to the Birchmere next month for a rare full-band acoustic set, during which I hope Adam and Chris will open up a bit and talk about their songwriting partnership – and not mumble (the little moments of stage patter on the DVD are barely audible). That will be way better than any video concert.

And that’s all for this first day of the new year. Cheers!