Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Other Blog

Dear CPF Blog 2009,
I know it's been awhile, and I can see why you feel I've been neglecting you lately. We've been together a long time and you deserve an explanation. It's not that I don't care about you, and I don't want things to end between us, but you see, there's been...a complication.
I've been seeing another blog.
Well, it's not actually a blog. It's almost like a job. This rich newspaper guy has started an online service and he's inviting writers to sign up and submit stories, picking a topic - mine is Digital Music - and then posting on a regular basis to build up traffic to the larger site.
What we have here is all about love, baby. You know that.
But this other blog...there's money involved. Not a lot. At least not now, but there's a chance that, if people like the idea and visit often, it might turn into something.

And just so you know that what we have together is truly special, I want to lay it all out on the table, so you can see where I've been. Here are the first 10 stories I've posted elsewhere...
Awesome New Republic
Amazon music samplers
Lily Allen, remixed
Lollapalooza CD
Owl City
Flaming Lips
R.E.M. live EP
Coldplay live CD

See? It's not like it is between you and me.
Nothing has changed between us, dearest CPF blog, and I know we still have many great times to come.
But for now, I hope you will forgive me if I sometimes appear a little distracted and don't always seem like I'm there for you. I'll make it up to you, dear blog.

P.S. And just so you know, I've been tested. No viruses.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Too Many Downloads, Not Enough Time

The trouble, for me, with digital downloads is that they get pulled into my iTunes library and may never be heard from again. Publicists send zip files, which are quick and convenient, but they offer nothing to hang onto – there’s a line of text with a song and album title and an artist name. Unless I have a need to listen for a possible story, or a few favorable notices nudge me to check them out, they might as well be invisible (what is the audio equivalent of invisibility?).

People who seek, download and/or buy music are acting on a desire to have the songs. My reception is passive. There’s a folder on my desktop labeled, “Do I want these?” and I may pop in occasionally to see what’s taking up space on my hard drive. Or, as I am doing tonight, I tell the iTunes to list material by “Date Added” so that I can review what’s come over the network in the past few weeks. Either way, there are plenty of albums that may never get the attention – or the dumping – they deserve.

I know. Cry me a river. Too many free songs is a problem any music lover would like to have. This is not a complaint so much as an explanation as to why some recent releases have been overlooked. And why, even when they're tallied, they may not have proper record labels listed (another failure of the system). Here, for the O/CD Tally, are some of the albums that have arrived lately through digital delivery:

These are keepers:
WHITE RABBITS – It’s Frightening
Saw this band do “Percussion Gun” on Letterman and needed to hear it again ASAP; asked for a copy from the publicist the next morning. After almost daily repeats, it remains one of my favorite tracks of the year so far. Percussive (as the title foretells, with two big drums struck in tandem), energetic, quirky and recommended to Radiohead fans, as the lead singer’s voice is Yorke-ian and the songs refuse to bow to tradition.
WHITE LIES – To Lose My Life
A little bit of Killers glam, a touch of New Order moodiness.
COLDPLAY – LeftRightLeftRightLeft
You can complain about Coldplay if you want, but Chris Martin has a sense of humor about himself (check out his hilarious episode of “Extras” with Ricky Gervais) and the band is giving away a free download of this 9-track live album on their website. I wrote about it in my new “job” (hey, I got over 130 hits today) as Digital Music Examiner.
SONOS – SonoSings
Another story I did for examiner.com, sharing a stream of the a cappella sextet’s version of the Jackson Five’s “I Want You Back” (it was in the can months before Michael died, so they weren’t jumping on the bandwagon/hearse). I was sent the full CD, due in September, which has a sterling array of songs from writers like Bon Iver and Bjork, though I would call the cover of the Bird and the Bee’s “Again and Again” a mistake, as there’s little point in trying to top Inara George’s sweet, layered vocals.
IGGY POP – Preliminaires
Iggy’s getting positively chanteuse-ary here. “I Want to Go to the Beach” sounds like something Leonard Cohen might sing, with bass notes that sound like a bullfrog’s croak. And I’m not sure that I mean that in a bad way. Hey, he’s freaking Iggy Pop. If he wants to sing slow, sad songs and someone wants to send it to me for free, I’ll give it a try.
The BLUE VAN - Man Up
Two great songs here (so far) – “Man Up,” which puts the grow-a-pair message to a great pop/rock beat, and “Silly Boy,” which sounds like a Supergrass rave-up.
STAX SAMPLER - Various Artists
If amazon is gonna keep offering free samplers from cool labels, I intend to keep taking them.

Purchased downloads:

The BIRD and The BEE – Please Clap Your Hands EP
Just grabbed this today, another amazon special - 5 tracks for 99 cents. The title comes from the first song here - “Polite Dance Song,” also on the recent full-length, “Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future.” Good stuff, including the lovely cover version of the BeeGees’ “How Deep Is Your Love” that is part of the pair's regular concert set list.

Oberst and Co. opened for Wilco at Wolf Trap earlier this month and it was a great way to see them. When he isn’t at the top of the bill, Oberst has to put aside the self-indulgence (and self-regard?) that tarnished his headlining show at DAR Constitution Hall a few years back. He’s damn talented, to be sure, but too many people have told him so and at the earlier show, he took the audience’s adulation for granted, which hurt the set. This album also seems to find him more relaxed and maybe even happy. And that makes for a better experience for us, too.

I heard some buzzing about this band, so I got this from my emusic account. Gives me that happy, poppy but not sappy, Belle & Sebastian vibe.
EELS – Hombre Lobo (Vagrant)
Another emusic purchase and, despite having it on my playlist for three weeks now, I haven’t heard a note. Which kinda proves the point I opened with…

Year to Date O/CD Tally: 236

Friday, July 17, 2009

42 Years Ago Tonight...

...I was at Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, watching Jimi Hendrix open for the Monkees. I won the tickets from the WMCA Good Guys, and my parents let me fly home from their upstate NY summer cottage to see the show, 'cause I had to be there to see my pre-fab four perform.

My sister's boyfriend's younger brother took me, as a favor. He could have cared less about the Monkees, but now he has bragging rights, too.
Although Hendrix didn't set his guitar on fire (damn), he did a lot of things that left us teenyboppers confused and the parents in the crowd somewhat shocked. He left the tour soon after.

Quick 1's and 0's

It's all about the digital stuff these days. There's so much actual live music I should be recapping here - Wilco (so good!) and a multi-act bill at Jammin' Java last week and the Mid-Atlantic Band Battle, also at J2 just the past two days.

But I'm pressed for time right now, so I'll just provide a few links.

First, the latest Washington Post previews, which went out today.
In the Arlington/Alexandria Extra section, we have:
Big Bad Voodoo Daddy at the Birchmere
and in the Fairfax Extra, there's:
The Woodshedders at McLean Park

And, if you're the type who notices even minor changes, you might have seen the little notice on the top right of this page, asking you to visit my new online digital music column.

I've just started writing a regular thing, three times a week (or more; it's up to me) for examiner.com, an online group associated with the Examiner newspaper chain. I have the fancypants title of Digital Music Examiner and my aim is to point people to cool digital-only music and to legal downloads, esp. those that promote new artists. And I'm free to roam around other topics, too, provided there's some type of digital hook.

Please visit my home page and take a look at my first few stories. Even better, subscribe (just give an email eddress) and you'll get a quick email whenever I post a new story (I am spam; spam I am?) but no other junk. Unlike this blog, done for the sheer love of it, there's actual money involved in the new column. Not much yet, maybe never, but every hit helps the cause.

And please feel free to point me to cool online music sites, good music that is free and legal to download, or interesting news of the Brave New Digital, Musical World.

More anon!

Monday, July 06, 2009

Farewell, Trusty Harman Kardon T3OC

The old turntable is dead, long live the new turntable.

I’d been procrastinating about dealing with the very old Harman Kardon that ceased to function after I tested an equally old Fleetwood Mac bootleg on it (an editorial comment, perhaps?) but finally fought my way through the cords and wires to do a check on it. Having declared it officially dead and saying a few memorial words of thanks, I connected the new USB-compatible turntable that was my birthday present last year.
Having tested it once, I had it in storage for the days when I might have time to dive into major vinyl-to-digital conversion. And while I still don’t think I can devote myself to loading software and learning the process anytime soon, it was certainly fun to play with the sleek new component. Don’t tell my poor husband, who envisions those groaning shelves of LPs one day disappearing but, even after I convert any/all to mp3s, there will always be vinyl in my life. You can have my favorite records when you pry them from my cold, dead hands!

It seems only appropriate that, when speaking of vinyl, one should honor DJs, even if many are working digitally these days.I’m not sure how DJ Lobsterdust goes about creating his (could it be her?) stuff, but the
that College Girl’s BF gave me is full of cool stuff. “Call Me Aready,” a mashup of Blondie and the Temptations “Get Ready” is way fun and “Train It Up,” where the Clash’s catchiest song is paired with a Marvin Gaye party groove, is another winner.
CG's BF also gave me a treasure trove of downloads:
ARCADE FIRE - B-sides and Live Tracks (???)
The live tracks come from various performances on KCRW (L.A.'s uber-cool NPR station) and BBC Radio, including a scorching 11+ minute concert finale starting with “Neighborhood #3,” and a cover of a most favorite Talking Heads tune, “Naive Melody.” The vocal here is even more fragile than Byrne’s original, but the steel drum is a nice touch and having a full-length CD-R full of new Fire is sweet, indeed!
And, in other gifties, he gave me:
GRIZZLY BEAR - Veckatimest (Warp)
The band’s myspace page, where you can stream the wonderful track, “Two Weeks,” and get free downloads of other songs, describes its sound as “Indie/Acoustic/Experimental.” That’s a good start, and you can add comparisons to Beach Boys and Crosby, Stills & Nash, thanks to the beautiful harmonies and maybe some Harry Nilsson, due to the occasional faux-naive bright pop. Could be a contender for one of the year’s top ten.

Actually it’s been a brilliant week for new music in our house, including two purchases with My Own Cash Money:
WILCO – Wilco (the album) (Nonesuch)
PHOENIX – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (Glassnote)
When my husband buys flowers, I tease him that he’s not earning Brownie points with me, since I know he loves flowers himself. Likewise, though I bought these two CDs as “gifts” for him, he knows damn well I wanted the music, too. There is some sacrifice on my part, however, because he plays any new album he loves every single day, sometimes twice, and I am unable to escape repeated listening. Thankfully, both albums here show acts at the top of their game, so I'm cool with the repetition.
This Wilco is more straightforward than its previous experimental efforts, although the wonderful guitar work of Nils Cline still offers a bit of quirk factor - and some definite George Harrison homage - to ward off any sense of “same old.” And yes, that’s Feist singing on “You and I.” Still wishin’ and a hopin’ that I might score some tickets for the Wolf Trap show this Wednesday.
As for Phoenix, I was happy to find the band’s two previous albums in the deep files since this new one is so good I want to revisit and explore the sound’s evolution. Hubby and I both hear a happy Beach Boys summer vibe within the dance pop and he keeps talking of a Kings of Leon-style rock twist, but I don’t. We can disagree on the details and still agree that it’s worth hearing again. And again.

In other purchasing news, amazon had a steal of a deal last week -
DAVID BOWIE – Diamond Dogs: 30th Anniversary Edition (Virgin)
19 tracks for $5.oo. Much as I love deluxe editions in physical form (liner notes! photos! fancy slip cases!), I doubt I could afford to spring for this one in full format. And I didn’t realize until I got the confirmation email that it was really only $4.oo since I’d forgotten a one dollar credit, good for any download, thanks to a recent purchase, in physical form, of
IDA MARIA - Fortress ‘Round My Heart (Mercury/Fontana)
Ever since seeing this dynamo rock the house at CMJ two years ago, I’ve been waiting to take her Bjork-meets-Lily Allen music home. “I Like You So Much Better When You’re Naked” has been getting airplay on KCRW, and it’s a cool song, but the hint of novelty act in the title doesn’t tell the whole story. I hope she’ll be coming ‘round again soon as I can only imagine how much fun she'll be to see now that I know the songs.

I’ll finish off today’s CD round-up with a handful of acquisitions from a visit to the trade-in store two weeks ago.
ANNIE LENNOX - Unplugged: Cold 3 CD Single Box (RCA/BMG)
Each CD has the same studio version of “Cold,” and then three additional live tracks. The first, marked “Cold,” features songs from the “Diva” release, including one of my favorite heartbreakers, “Why.” The one marked “Colder” offers Eurythmics cuts like “Here Comes the Rain Again.” And the final one (you guessed it) - “Coldest” - has the single track that sold me on the entire $11.99 package when I heard it on the store’s listening station - a ripping version of “River Deep Mountain High.” The packaging isn’t all that great, and amazon shows the Japanese import version going for $44 and up (this one’s from Holland) so I suspect I will ultimately burn a nice single CD of Lennox live and put the set up for sale.
10,000 MANIACS - Trouble Me CD single (Elektra)
Back in the Day, I used to do promotional writing for Elektra Records. The guy in charge of the marketing department, an old skool industry Class Act (at least in my mind) named Hale Milgrim, oversaw some of the coolest swag and promotional packaging ever. I worked for his associate, a clever woman with a stylist’s eye and they were nice enough to share some of the cool booty with me. I was there when 10,000 Maniacs released the album from which this song came, but I don’t remember this groovy CD single packaging. It was a time when vinyl was still the primary format, so who knows. Anyhoo, this 3-track, 3-inch CD single comes in a die-cut cardboard cutout of an elephant (elephants were a motif of the album) that’s about the size of 7-inch vinyl single and, when you move the elephant’s trunk, it pushes away the cardboard title card that covers the animal’s back like a saddle and the single is exposed. Too damn cool! ($3.99)
The OC MIX 5 - Various Artists (Warner Bros.)
The $1.99 clearance bins are now stacked beneath a table and hard to access, so it appears their days are numbered - although the guy bought every CD I had in my bags, including some that seemed doomed to the cheapie section, so who knows. At any rate, I saw few of the slimline or cardboard covers that indicate possible advance releases and a cursory glance at the big batch showed few reasons to dig in deeper. But I did find this “Harbor School Classbook ‘05-’06” with a few worthwhile tracks, like “Daft Punk is Playing at My House,” and songs by people I want to know better - Rogue Wave, Youth Group, Of Montreal. We listened to it on the long ride upstate and it was just what a compilation should be - like an hour spent with a hip radio station.
WYE OAK - The Knot (Merge)
This one is an advance CD, but I found it in the regular bins for $3.99 and deemed it worthy of the extra two bucks to get a jump on the the July 21 release date. I misplaced it soon after purchase and only recently found it, so no comments yet.

YTD O/CD Tally: 225

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Isn't It Nice to Be Home Again?

It’s a long way from upstate NY to NoVA – 10 hours with food/pit stops – and it’s always nice to be greeted by a little stack of new music waiting to be freed from the puffy bonds of padded envelopes.
Some of the new acquisitions were sent in connection with this week’s Post previews which went online today. So we’ll start there, and do double duty with tally and links.
The TEXAS CHAINSAW HORNS – Whiskey & Knives (self-released)
You can read more about the Horns, and about Fools & Horses, a regional act that has the potential to break big, at this preview of a pair of free outdoor shows.
(Here's Fools & Horses)

BENJY DAVIS PROJECT – Dust (Rock Ridge Music)
Part of the joy of doing the Post column is being sent music I didn't know about previously but really, really like. The first song on this album, "The Rain," grabbed me right away - smart lyrics and rootsy, layered musical accompaniment in a Counting Crows vein. This is a Louisiana-based band that's been around a while but is new to me. Happy discovery!

BJD is playing on a multi-act bill at Jammin' Java along with
TIM BRANTLEY – Goldtop Heights (Blackledge Music)

There was also a CD late-comer from a previous Post story.
PAT McGEE – These Days (The Virginia Sessions) (Rock Ridge Music)
You can read more about him here.
LUKE MITCHEM – It Won’t Last Forever (self-released)
This one's sort of Post-related, too. When I was at the Gabe Dixon show mentioned last time, I got into a chat with the guy at the merch booth and it turned out he was a musician, too. When I mentioned my Post stuff, he quickly reached behind the counter to present me with a copy of his own album. It's a quiet, introspective set, mostly just him and his guitar. Fair game, indeed, for a possible preview down the road.

The rest of the Welcome Home booty:
The DONNAS – Greatest Hits Vol. 16 (Purple Feather)
I love that women rock, and attention must be paid to the Donnas, who are celebrating 16 years of fighting the good fight. This retrospective includes two new songs, some b-sides and live tracks, alternate versions and re-recorded tracks. I don’t know their catalog well enough to know if the re-takes are a good idea, but I’m glad to have a chance to get to know them better. Out July 7.
The CLARKS – Restless Days (Clarkhouse Entertainment)
These Pittsburgh guys are a cult favorite in my house, thanks to a catchy little tune called “Saturday” from an album some years old. The press rep was sending me something else for a preview story, and was kind enough to include this so I could hear what the band is up to more recently.
GREAT NORTHERN – Remind Me Where The Light Is (Eenie Meenie Records)
Thoroughly enjoyed this group’s debut album and can say after a few listens to this new one that they’ve still got it - big but not pompous, tough and dark but not oppressive.
CHEICK HAMALA DIABATE – Ake Doni Doni/Take It Slow (Grigri Discs)
Can’t say much here until I get a chance to listen, but there’s a story to this guy – a DC-based musician who is a “resident griot,” playing traditional Malian music while also jamming with the Afro-pop community.
The DYNAMITES featuring CHARLES WALKER – Burn It Down (Outta Sight Records)
Due out September 15, this generic advance forecasts cool by virtue of the comparisons made on the back cover by critics from Harp and the New York Times, who evoke the Dap-Kings, the Meters and Marvin Gaye in their comparisons.
BOULDER ACOUSTIC SOCIETY – Punchline (Nine Mile Records)
This one gets a prize for sheer packaging creativity. I liked it from first glance for the old-fashioned helmet die-cut cover with the real see-through lenses. Then I took it out of the plastic to discover that the whole thing unfolds and refolds into a working 3-D stereoscope! Also included, a handful of double-sided inserts that you put into the viewer so you can see 3-D images of the band, in group and solo shots. Very, very cool! I put the album on today and first impression is that of a solid, if not overwhelmingly original band that plows the field of gentle Americana. I will listen again and give them the benefit of the doubt. Anyone smart and playful enough to create this kind of album package may well have the kind of musical surprises that unfold slowly.

Year to Date O/CD Tally (adding in 3 from last posting): 214

And, circling back to the Post for a moment, the online version of the paper finally got around to uploading my story on the Strawbs show at State Theatre late last month. I did an email interview with front man Dave Cousins and was rather pleased with the results, so better late than never,
here 'tis.

Happy Fourth of July weekend, everyone!