Wayne Coyne has been making the rounds discussing With A Little Help From My Fwends, the tribute album to Sgt. Pepper’s that The Flaming Lips and various colleagues put together, including this interview with Newsweek where he discusses favorite and least-favorite Beatles tracks.
A couple of weeks ago we linked to a commentary published by the New York Times entitled “Streaming Music Has Left Me Adrift.” The opening paragraph gives hints of a potentially much better piece, one that highlights the connection between musical product and consumer in a much more eloquent fashion. There was an opportunity to explore how the creation of a physical production of music can help inspire an emotional attachment in the listener, especially when one considers the effort that went into procuring the damn thing in the first place. Instead, we ended up with the online equivalent of the stereotypical prick who works at a record store yelling at the world at large to get off his lawn.
There is some merit to the complaint that ease of access to an entire universe of music has cheapened our connection with it. As the author alludes to, it definitely took effort to attempt to seek out music that wasn’t already played everywhere, whether it be to take the time to research through magazines and the like, or simply purchasing albums with the hopes that you got lucky that it was worth the inflated sticker price. This is an entirely different world from today, where you can instantly search for a band based on a mere mention of their name and then fire up a sample immediately afterward to get an idea of their sound. If you make a mistake, no problem, all you lost was a couple of minutes of your time; if you’re lucky and find something worthwhile, hey, purchasing the album is only a click away (or selecting it for your Spotify/Pandora/whatever streaming station). You’ve lost all the risks and have a similar reward, but in the process you don’t experience the disappointment of the lows, but also miss out on the joy of going through all the effort to find a new favorite band.
The article doesn’t spend much time on this conceit, but instead goes in a different direction to discuss the split between alternative/indie and the mainstream. Again, there are ways in which this could provide an illuminating discussion. One could explore the different machinations that explain the dissemination of different musical trends, or simply come up with a way to eloquently describe the merits of underground music. Instead of these potentially worthwhile exercises, the author chose to simply complain that it’s not as easy to impress people with his knowledge of esoteric artists.
The key problem with the entire piece is that the writer reveals that he is forever stuck in high school, trying to position himself as some elite outsider who calls out the masses about his superior taste in music. The problem now is instead that we cannot properly acknowledge this guy’s pure fucking awesomeness for taking all this time to curate a knowledge of obscure musical acts. It is now this man’s awful burden that there are now thousands of people that can share in his “love” of particular bands, and woe is him that he can’t immediately judge someone based on the fact that he or she owns the same CD as the author does.
At the heart of the matter is the belief that the author is that music is a dividing force, instead of a unifying one. He selects new music based on its ability to separate himself from the ignorant masses, and if the mainstream catches on, it signifies a defect. Instead of being glad that there are potentially more people than ever that can become fans of great music, this fucker is pissed off he has to share. What a douche.
Also, if you’re going to make your big point by quoting LCD Soundsystem, then you should make sure you fully understand the irony inherent in their song “Losing My Edge.” Hint: you didn’t get it.
We here at Rust Is Just Right enjoy the Halloween season, especially since it gives us the perfect reason to indulge in our love of all things horror. So, of course we’re going to use the holiday as an opportunity to show some of our favorite scary music videos. We don’t think we have the authority to say that these are the scariest, or that these selections form any definitive list, but we hope you enjoy them in all their terrifying glory.
Before the revival of the zombie craze truly took hold, Phantom Planet made a great video depicting the making of a low-budget zombie horror story for their single “Big Brat”.
I remember jumping for the remote to try and change the channel as quickly as possible once the faces started melting and the shit truly hit the fan when I saw Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” for the first time.
Before Daft Punk won the hearts of the people with Random Access Memories, they had the worst record sales of their career with Human After All. This may have been partially due to their horrifying video for “Primetime of Your Life”. Though they more than capably proved their point about the perils of eating disorders, the skeleton motif may have been too effective.
[So that we don’t stress your browser, we’ve got plenty more videos (including a few legitimately terrifying ones) on the next page.]
Last week, we took an in-depth look at Television’s brilliant debut album, Marquee Moon. As one would expect, we spent a fair amount of time discussing the brilliance of the instrumentals on the album, noting the excellent work of each member of the band beyond the usual praise for the dazzling and intricate guitar. For this edition of Feats of Strength, we’re going to be cliche and examine the band’s excellent guitar-playing, but do so for a song that is often overlooked: the album closer “Torn Curtain”.
We briefly mentioned “Torn Curtain” in our previous feature, but it’s definitely worthy of further examination. There is a wonderful dichotomy between the restraint shown by the careful and deliberately paced music and the emotional and expressive lyrics, which are filled with various declarations and descriptions that sound like something out of a soap opera. Consider the memorable chorus, with a reflective and cathartic Tom Verlaine mourning the passing of time with the other members emphasizing the words “years” and “tears”, while accompanied by straight-forward rhythm section that accentuates each beat, with a delicate piano twinkling over the top. Fred Smith anchors the song with a sturdy bassline, with the occasional rhythmic flourish–pay particular attention to his sixteenth-note pickups in the second verse for example–while also providing some necessary counter-melody. Billy Ficca also delves deep into his bag of tricks to loads the song with countless little drum fills and ornaments, beginning from his rolls in the beginning that change pitch with added pressure, to various accents using his ride cymbal to a keen use of his kick drum to accent certain beats.
Though there are stellar contributions all around, it’s Tom Verlaine’s solo guitar that stands out, especially his epic finale. Throughout the song, he and Richard Lloyd trade riffs as they build on a simple minor key progression, relying on elliptical licks and strategically-placed open strings to subtly color the chord changes. Verlaine has a nifty little solo that does a good job bridging the second and third chorus, but its true greatness is the fact that it foreshadows a second, more gorgeous solo after the third chorus. Initially, it seems like the song will end after the third chorus, but Tom gradually begins to improvise around the lead lick introduced in the third chorus. He steadily picks up steam as he incrementally makes his way up the neck. As Verlaine works his way up the scale, he ratchets up the tension both by spending more time on each step and by increasing both the number and sweep of each bend. The listener keeps waiting for the natural resolution of the solo, but Verlaine keeps delaying his march to the summit, until he finally hits the peak on a last gasp series of bends (6:20-6:23). But right when he gets to the top, Tom abruptly breaks the tension by creating the illusion that his string has snapped, suddenly dropping to the bottom of the neck with a jarring riff using his bass strings.
It’s a stunning moment, and the result is a unique tone that’s instantly memorable; whenever I think of this song, this is the part that I think of instantly. And despite this “drawback”, as the song fades away, Verlaine valiantly tries to make his way up the neck again. When looked at in its entirety, it is then easy to see the guitar solo as a metaphorical depiction of persevering through various obstacles, even when one falls down the mountain, mirroring many of the themes of the lyric. The solo also should serve as a lesson for aspiring musicians, as it’s proof that it’s not necessarily the notes, since the solo revolves around a fairly basic scale, but the rhythm and the touch that are most important. That’s where a musician truly conveys his emotion; a decent melody is nice, and can result in a reaction from the listener, but without the right rhythm or touch, they will never make a true connection with the audience.
This weekend was the annual Bridge School Benefit, and I’m sure additional videos will be trickling out over the next few days, but so far there have been two featuring Pearl Jam that are definitely worth viewing. First, there’s the band hanging out with “Uncle Neil” as they perform “Throw Your Hatred Down”, a track from the Pearl Jam-backed Neil Young album Mirror Ball.
Then there was the Temple of the Dog “reunion” as Chris Cornell joined in to sing “Hunger Strike”:
Speaking of Chris Cornell, his regular gig Soundgarden today released a brand new song, “Storm”, which you can stream here. It’s got a nice, dark groove driven by Ben Shepherd’s bass, and might be deemed a spookier cousin to “Superunknown”. It will appear on the band’s upcoming rarities compilation, Echo of Miles: Scattered Tracks Across the Path, whose tracklist can be viewed here. The three disc set is scheduled to be released on November 24.
Speaking of Stereogum, they have an interview with Radiohead drummer Philip Selway to discuss his second solo album. Selway’s contributions to his main gig are sorely underrated, and his solo work is definitely worth checking out.
Sure, they made a movie about him earlier this year, but it’s probably worth the time to check out PASTE’s oral history of James Brown, courtesy of his bandmates, in preparation for the new HBO documentary Mr. Dynamite.
It is October, so that means it is time to analyze and celebrate one of the great Halloween albums of all-time: Television’s Marquee Moon. Many of you are probably confused by that particular claim, but don’t worry, we’ll get back to it and explain ourselves in a bit. There is no argument however that Marquee Moon is one of the greatest guitar-rock albums of all-time, but in addition to that distinction, it can also be argued that the album is capable of bending the rules of time and space itself. How else could a band that was on the vanguard of the Punk movement have created the seminal Post-Punk masterpiece with their debut album? It is a conundrum that should puzzle both music historians and physicists alike.
My first experience with the band Television was back in high school, during my initial forays into exploring the origins of punk rock. I read several articles and books that discussed Television’s history and their influence on the New York punk scene as one of the original CBGB’s bands, and I quickly set out to track down copies of their first two records. (Let us all take some time to acknowledge the fact that I approached punk rock in the nerdiest manner possible: research.) There was one specific aspect of Television’s music which each piece emphasized that captured my attention, and that was the band’s masterful guitar-playing. Being a budding guitarist myself, it was clear that it was vitally important for me to listen to these albums to help develop my own skills. As a child of the 90’s though, I was completely unprepared to process Television’s approach to the guitar: a heavy emphasis on the treble strings (and no power chords), intricate but decidedly unflashy solos, and little-to-no distortion (at least of the kind with which I was familiar). It all seemed so alien to me, and considering the portrait of the band that made up Marquee Moon‘s cover art, this may not have been a bad guess.
Most puzzling of all to my adolescent mind was how this pleasant if slightly bizarre album could be considered “punk” (it was a hopeless endeavor at that time to begin to comprehend what the hell “post-punk” could be, beyond the most literal definition, so that was not a pressing concern at the time). But after several repeated listens and a gradual appreciation of the context in which the band flourished, I came to understand that even if there seemed to be little connection to The Ramones on the surface, they were both made up from the same basic DNA and were a reaction to the same movements in music. The musical parts of “Friction” may have been much more complex than “Blitzkrieg Bop”, but one could easily see that both songs were stripped down to the barest elements in contrast to the bloat of prog or disco.
Television proved that “punk” didn’t have to mean “easy,” as each member of the group was an expert on his instrument. The twin-guitar attack of Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd has been universally lauded, and rightly so, but their other two bandmates should be given their proper due as well. Fred Smith crafted some amazingly beautiful bass lines, shifting between providing an impeccable rhythmic foundation and creating innovative counter-melodies, and Billy Ficca was a genius behind the kit, anchoring the songs with intricate rhythms and delicate textures, effortlessly shifting between different patterns and providing the perfect accents to each musical phrase. As for Verlaine and Lloyd, it should be apparent how they inspired generations of guitar players, from the early post-punk of bands like Wire to contemporary indie rock bands like The Strokes. They were a perfect tandem that fed off each other beautifully, alternating between unique chord choices and lyrical solos, interspersed with bits of brilliant one-off figures and licks.
The centerpiece of the album is the title track, an epic monster clocking in at over 10 minutes (Fun Fact: on the original vinyl edition, the song faded out before it hit ten minutes, but the CD version keeps the original recording intact and includes the full version, while still listing the vinyl running time of 9:58). Its intro of dueling guitar riffs (Lloyd providing the double-stop alarm-type bit, Verlaine the countering quick swirl) is instantly memorable, but also merely a hint of what is in store. The verses give way to an instrumental pre-chorus that shifts the song into something much more rhapsodic and cinematic with its winding guitar lines, followed by a chorus that gradually increases the tension with its ever-escalating chord changes. Lloyd’s guitar solo after the second chorus is a master class in terms of both beauty and efficiency, with its mirroring of the melodic structure of the chorus accompanied by some gorgeous personal flourishes. But it is the second, much longer solo by Verlaine and its accompanying full-band instrumental section that is the real show-stopper–the solo provides a brilliant example of how an improvised, meandering take can help ratchet up the tension, and the constantly-ascending full-band breakdown pushes the song to its limits. Lloyd eventually joins in, and the two guitars overlap into similar winding lines, until the whole band suddenly becomes a single cohesive unit as they dramatically repeat in unison a series of sixteen eighth notes. As the band makes its way up the scale, cracks begin to form in the union, as the drums begin to approach a frenzy and the bass peels off with some additional flourishes, gliding up and down the neck. But together the band pushes the melody to the very top, culminating in a gorgeous explosion as the summit is reached, with little guitar twinkles helping add to the effect.
Even to the untrained ear, it is clear that from the music alone “Marquee Moon” is a special song, but now consider the instrumentals in conjunction with the intriguing and mysterious lyrics. “I remember how the darkness doubled; I recall, lightning struck itself. I was listening to the rain; I was hearing something else.” The imagery of those first two lines captures a wonderful sense of dread, first with the description of an ever-enveloping darkness, followed by the contrast of the light cutting across the dark. The lines also baffle the listener as well, as he/she contemplates the physical possibilities of how lightning can strike itself. The next two lines help set up the listener for an uneasy scene, as things may not be what they seem: amid the rainstorm lurks an unknown…something. It’s the perfect opening for a horror story! The other verses support this interpretation, first with the meeting with the strange man down at the tracks, whose seemingly perceptive advice of don’t succumb to either the highs or lows of life taking on a darker edge when placed in context with the rest of the song, followed by the scene in the third verse of the Cadillac pulling from out of the graveyard, grabbing the narrator, driving back in, and throwing the narrator into the graveyard. Spooky stuff. After this scene is the long instrumental section, which can be interpreted as the narrator’s journey through the graveyard, with the culminating unison riff being the aural equivalent of the Big Reveal in a horror movie of the Monster or the Terror. The song ends with a repeat of the first verse, which could indicate either that time has looped back on itself (much like how a “post-punk” classic can also be created at the beginning of the punk movement), or that underneath what seems like a restoration of what’s normal lurks a dark undercurrent.
Long story short, I am ready to declare that the narrator has become a zombie.
It is clear then that “Marquee Moon” is a perfect Halloween song, but what about the rest of the album? The song is not only the centerpiece of the album in terms of track placement, but it also serves as a showcase to a lot of the musical ideas that are the connective tissue of the record. The double-stop guitar figure is given a slight variation in the very next song, “Elevation”, for example, and “See No Evil” is the title of the opener, which makes the horror themes even more apparent! It is also simply difficult to disconnect the song from the rest of the album, as each song flows beautifully into the next. Television also provides wonderful bits of dark humor throughout Marquee Moon, perhaps best exemplified by the song “Venus”. I was hoping that because of the lines “Then Richie, Richie said: ‘Hey man, let’s dress up like cops. Think of what we could do!” the song would find a place somewhere in a movie that came out this summer, but that didn’t turn out to be the case. Instead we will have to strike out on our own to consider the subtle beauty of the explanation that “I fell right into the arms of Venus de Milo” (a line that took far too many listens for me to realize the irony inherent in the claim), instead of having it soundtrack a scene of crazy hijinks.
Marquee Moon is simply an exquisite and dazzling album through and through, with each of its eight songs a classic in its own right. Perhaps the greatest example of the beauty of the record is the underrated closer, “Torn Curtain”. The ballad is filled lyrically with melodrama and over-the-top emotion, but is balanced by a delicate and nuanced restrained musical accompaniment, before the two components become intertwined with a triumphant final guitar solo that provides the perfect conclusion to the album.
But the album is more than just brilliant guitar compositions; as I mentioned before, there are plenty of fantastic bass lines and stunning drum parts throughout the entirety of Marquee Moon. So listen to the album a few times to get a feel for the beauty and majesty of the guitar, spin it a few more times to pick up on the intricacies of the rhythm section, and then repeat it again a few more hundred times–because even though the album is nearly forty years old, it will never get old.
We here at Rust Is Just Right try to keep things positive, and avoid easy targets for snark. One, there’s plenty of other outlets for that kind of dismissive attitude, and two, with so much great music available, why should we dwell on the negative and waste time discussing what’s shitty? That said, sometimes there is a need for balance, and the constant praise of what’s great can seem repetitive and tiresome. So, let’s shake things up a bit: instead of seeking out another example for our feature Feats of Strength, let’s take a look at its natural counterpart—The Airing of Grievances.
Now, I’m sure many of you will notice the video and title and think, “Way to go on selecting an easy target.” What could be an easier target than cheesy, late-80’s hair metal? It’s the music criticism equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel, or whatever cliche you may feel like applying to this exercise. But I come today to discuss “Here I Go Again” out of love, not malice. Sure, it’s not high art, but there’s a lot to appreciate about one of the greatest WINDOWS DOWN/VOLUME UP songs of all-time: a catchy chorus, Tawny Kitaen doing gymnastics on various car hoods (video version only), riffs that…exist. It’s a veritable cornucopia of awesome components! Some of this love may stem from its placement in a pivotal scene in the cinematic classic Old School, but who cannot honestly appreciate one of the great Power Ballads of all-time, overly-melodramatic intro and all?
But there is one part that is irredeemably awful, a figurative shitstain on this aural masterpiece. Last week we discussed the brilliance of the guitar solo in Wilco’s “At Least That What You Said”, and well, this week we have its diametric opposite. Make no mistake: this is a terrible, terrible, terrible guitar solo. It begins at around the three-minute mark with an intro lick that sounds like a beginning guitar student learning the basic components of a scale. That isn’t enough to torpedo the entire solo–plenty of guitarists have recovered from poor melodic choices (even though there is some question of whether we should cut them any slack considering that they could probably take some time to do another take for the album). But then for the next few measures, the guitarist displays an absolutely complete lack of rhythm, just stumbling over some of the lamest ideas ever committed to tape and not even doing the rest of the band the courtesy of staying in time. He then finishes off this travesty by tossing in a few cheesy guitar tricks (some random palm-muting and a pinch harmonic thrown in for good measure) before launching into a completely ridiculous double-time scale run up the neck, topped off with a high-pitched bend flourish, with Ridiculous Guitar Face included. Granted, we are dealing with the dregs of butt-rock here, but dammit man, we should have at least SOME standards.
The amazing thing is that for years I never paid attention to the guitar solo; it was just kind of “there”. Maybe it was because we would get bored with the song and switch the station, or we were too jacked up that we would talk over it. I’m not dismissing any theory at this point. But good God, once I actually listened to the thing, there was no turning back. It is an absolute travesty. But let’s not dwell on the negative. Let’s take the restrictor plate off, and give the red dragon some juice, metaphorically speaking.
Covered is a feature where we examine the merits of various cover songs, debating whether or not they capture the spirit and intent of the original, if the cover adds anything new, and whether or not it perhaps surpasses the original. If we fail on those counts, at the very least we may expose you to different versions of great songs you hadn’t heard before.
I spent the majority of this past weekend binging on movies, including at one point watching the classic Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. If you’re like me and were born well after its initial release, the thing that is most memorable about the movie was the number of questions that Trivial Pursuit devoted to the film. Along those lines, trivia buffs should be well aware that despite seeming to be an incongruous pairing, one of the Academy Awards given to the movie was for Best Song, for the Burt Bacharach-penned “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head”. Academy members didn’t seem to be bothered with the anachronistic placement of such a song in a film about the Old West, probably because of how sweet the scene with Paul Newman doing bicycle tricks for Katherine Ross was, and let’s face it, it’s just a perfectly pleasant tune. Who could possibly hate its beautiful melody, or its lyrics filled with a sunny optimism?
For years, the version of “Raindrops” that I listened to the most was this cover by Ben Folds Five. I got it back in the early days of Napster, so for years I had no idea that the guy doing the intro for the band was Burt Bacharach himself, but such is the wonder of YouTube. On its face, the pairing makes perfect sense–with the prominence of piano in the Ben Folds Five sound, they’re somewhat forced to acknowledge the big pop hits that feature the instrument. And while Ben and his piano do a great job in capturing the spirit of the original, it’s the performance of the other two oft-overlooked members of the group, bassist Robert Sledge and drummer Darren Jesse, that draw me in the most. Jesse does a great job of keeping a great jazzy fill throughout and matching each change in dynamics, but its Sledge’s explosive fuzz bass bursts that set this version apart from the original. Sledge adds inventive new melodies and provides a nice blast of edginess, helping to enliven the climax and also making the originally tacked-on coda sound like a vital part of the song.
Both Sledge and Jesse are excellent musicians, which is why I always cool on following Ben through his solo career; while I appreciated the approach that Folds brought to the instrument as a fellow piano player and appreciated his biting and sardonic lyrics, the musical parts that most impressed me throughout their career were the bass and drums. Go back and listen to Whatever and Ever Amen and The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner with fresh ears, and make a concerted effort to pick out their contributions. It will give the songs a whole new meaning, and that much more enjoyable on playback.
Who knew the middle of October would be filled with tons of new videos and news to report?
Thurston Moore’s new album The Best Day comes out tomorrow, but today he released the Halloween-appropriate video for the track “Speak to the Wild”. Once you’ve collected yourself after watching it, be sure to check out his introspective interviews with The Guardian and Salon. Of course, you may want to check out the NPR stream of the album as you do so, which we linked to last week.
However, the biggest news of the day is the confirmation that Sleater-Kinney is reuniting. Early reports of their new box set that’s being released included a new single with the date “1/20/15”, and today the band confirmed that they will release their new album No Cities To Love on that date. In the Line of Best Fit link you will also see the lyric video for new single “Bury Our Friends”, a tracklist, and a list of tour dates. There’s no Portland date listed yet, but considering we witnessed their final show and their first “reunion” onstage with Pearl Jam, we can probably assume one will be added in the future.
Interpol released the video for El Pintor‘s “My Desire” today, and the grimy video also is appropriate for the season, filling the screen with plenty of the band’s trademark red and black.
Damon Albarn announced that he’s getting ready to get Gorillaz going again, with hopefully a 2016 release in the future, sure to please many fans of the side-project. However, it’s another group of his that I’m personally more excited to hear about, and that’s the fact that apparently The Good, The Bad, & The Queen was not a one-off effort, and that a new album from the band is written and ready to be recorded.