Month: May 2015

Farewell, Dave

On Wednesday night, America will say goodbye to David Letterman, a comedic genius who has been revolutionizing late night television longer than I have been alive.  I missed out on the NBC years, so I learned about all his most memorable bits secondhand.  Instead, for me he was always the guy on CBS facing off against the Leno juggernaut.  As a kid, I appreciated Leno’s easy humor more, but over the years I began to appreciate Letterman’s sarcastic wit and his ironic take on comedic conventions, and eventually fully embraced his approach.  In my mind, “Is This Anything?” is the pinnacle late night achievement.

An underrated part of Letterman’s legacy was his willingness to book unconventional musical acts.  In our brief run so far, we have spotlighted performances from favorite bands on the show several times, and we probably should have shared several more.  Over the years, the Late Show has provided several great groups with their first major exposure on a network, and it was always a joy to see Dave himself get a kick out of many of the bands that performed.  Of course, let us not forget the contributions from the brilliant Paul Shaffer and the CBS orchestra; there were few things cooler to watch than seeing Paul join in when he was digging what he heard, like he did with Red Fang a few months back.

So, thank you Dave.  You will sorely be missed.  And I hope you finally get a sweet drumset for yourself.

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Over the Weekend (May 18 Edition)

New music, new videos, and other fun stuff as we recover from illness*…

Run The Jewels are seemingly intent on releasing videos for every track from last year’s stellar release Run The Jewels 2, and the video for “Early” might be their best one yet.  The video tackles the topic of police brutality like previous single “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)”, but opting for animation this go-around.

Ghostface Killah has been extremely busy lately, releasing 36 Seasons last year and Sour Soul with BADBADNOTGOOD earlier this year, and later this summer he will be releasing the sequel to the fantastic concept album Twelve Reasons To Die.  Today Ghostface released the first track from the collaboration with Adrian Younge, with fellow Wu-Tang member Raekwon contributing to “Return of the Savage”.  Stereogum has the SoundCloud link.

Tame Impala keeps trickling out new tracks from their upcoming album Currents, as “Eventually” was released last week.

Noisey talks to Yuck’s Max Bloom about one of his favorite new bands, and he uses the opportunity to talk about Vaadat Charigim.  It was pretty obvious that Max had great taste in 90’s indie rock considering his band’s own albums, and it sounds like he has a great ear for shoegaze as well.

Rolling Stone has the surreal short film that Soundgarden used to introduce their Superunknown tour, so those of us who were unable to attend that tour can find out what they missed.

Having previously compiled a playlist for another band with an expansive and eclectic discography (Built To Spill), the AV Club provides a service once again for those looking to get further into the music of Blur.  The result, sad to say, is not particularly good, and features the writer completely misunderstanding the Metacritic grading system (as witnessed multiple times in the comments, where she defends saying that The Magic Whip got “mixed reviews” when by their own metric Metacritic gives it a “Universal Approval” stamp).

Finally, the music world lost one of its greatest members, and a true titan, with the death of B.B. King late last week.  Billboard provides an excellent look at King’s legendary career.

*We apologize for our absence, as a stomach flu hit our writing staff with a vengeance last week.  We will run the planned Thursday post tomorrow, and then proceed as normal.  Not only did we lose two days of articles, but the illness also prevented us from covering a performance from one of our favorite live acts, Local H.  Hopefully they swing by again as soon as possible.

Review: Earl Sweatshirt – I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside

Despite the huge buzz and heavy praise that has surrounded him through his brief career so far, it has taken me some time to appreciate the artistry of Earl Sweatshirt, outside of his appearance providing the hook for Frank Ocean’s “Super Rich Kids”.  However, when the news came that he was releasing an album entitled I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, I knew I would have to be tracking down a copy; the last time the mere mention of an album title had me scrambling like this, Atmosphere had just released When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold, and that became one of my favorite hip-hop albums of that year.  Much like Atmosphere’s record, I Don’t Like Shit is a deeply introspective and reflective album, though it is a much darker musical journey that is distinguished by its grim and spare production.

Earl’s often extremely laid-back flow can make a codeine user appear as hopped-up as a meth addict, but on many tracks the deliberateness of his delivery helps emphasize his lyrics.  The album begins on a bright and playful note with the intro “Huey”, but this mood is quickly replaced by a more ominous tone that haunts the rest of the record.  Earl creates drum tracks that are heavily processed to emphasize unnatural tones, and the eerie synths and other industrial touches recall early Wu-Tang solo records.

Considering the often bleak subject matter, Earl wisely restricts the running time on I Don’t Like Shit, wrapping up the album in a concise fashion in slightly less than half an hour.  Lyrics deal with death, anxiety, depression, and the emptiness of fame in a frank and honest manner, but the album avoids merely dwelling in misery.  Though it is dark, I Don’t Like Shit is never oppressive, which makes it easier to digest over repeated listens.

Earl’s ability to maintain a strict standard in his editing is something that his fellow Odd Future mate, Tyler, the Creator, needs to learn.  His latest, Cherry Bomb, starts off promising enough, with its nods to N.E.R.D.’s catalog that are fun and engaging, but the album slides off the rails by the end.  It is certainly an improvement over the practically unlistenable Wolf, but Tyler still has trouble harnessing some of the potential seen on Goblin.  Tyler has shown some great talent with his production over the years, and I often prefer his particular delivery when he raps, but he continually falls into the same traps over and over again.  Experimentation can be exciting, but not every idea needs to be heard, and shock tactics result in diminishing returns.

Feats of Strength: Radiohead

Nearly twenty years after its initial release, Radiohead’s OK Computer has been endlessly praised and analyzed.  Critics and fans alike have not only pored over every note and probed the meaning of every lyric, but they have also made sure that everyone else knows of their discoveries and efforts.  Not only is this kind of behavior ripe for mockery, but it begs for the album itself to be taken down a peg, with ClickHole delivering perhaps the perfect take with their “oral history” of the album’s creation.

Though discussions about the album have become ubiquitous over the years, and as a result it may have lost its spell on some fans, I still feel an intense personal connection with OK Computer.  Not only do I enjoy revisiting all of my favorite parts that have been more-or-less implanted into my brain after hundreds of spins, but with each listen I am still discovering previously unheard details lurking beneath the surface.  Each member of Radiohead makes several memorable contributions to the album, from the group’s three-headed guitar attack, to Phil Selway’s inventive drum fills and steady beat, to Colin Greenwood’s melodic and thumping bass.  Colin’s basslines are often overlooked, but he usually performs parts that are significant for a song’s success.

“Exit Music (For A Film)” was indeed written for a film, and though the fact that it was inspired by the ending of Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet may cause some people to roll their eyes,* the movie ended up inspiring two of Radiohead’s best songs (the other being the menacing and magnificent “Talk Show Host”).  It begins with Thom Yorke alone on his acoustic guitar and singing sweetly to his “Juliet”, with a ghostly artificial choir joining in for the “chorus,” which provides not only a haunting effect but also the slightest touch of bombast.  The song returns to a solo Yorke for the next verse, before Selway’s expertly-produced fill kicks the song into the next gear, as the rest of the band, including Colin’s distorted fuzz bass, joins in for the bridge and outro.

Usually, the bass tone is treated as a set-it-and-forget-it kind of thing by most bands.  Guitarists will trade out guitars for each song to get a specific and precise tone, but many bands just stick the bassist with one bass, and even then the bassist rarely even does anything as simple as adjusting a knob or two to get a different sound; whatever specific sound the group arrived at for their first practice probably will cover the bassist for the rest of his/her career.  So when a bassist does something like stomping on a fuzz box to add some effects to the bassline, it tends to get noticed by most listeners.  However, because the tone can be so distinctive, it is probably best to use an effect like distortion only sparingly so as to not overdose on the sound.

In “Exit Music”, Colin’s use of a distorted bass fits perfectly.  It serves as an excellent counterpart to Ed O’Brien’s ethereal, high-pitched guitar melody, grounding the song by rumbling around in the muck.  Colin also executes a brilliant transition from a straight-ahead chug in his initial part to a big, swinging triplet counter-melody during the song’s explosive climax.  It is a glorious moment that remains mesmerizing to this day.  Colin has used the fuzz bass to great effect in later songs, like the hypnotic riff in “The National Anthem” as well as the delirious “Myxomatosis”, but in my opinion “Exit Music” is still the best use of that specific tone.

*They have been showing Luhrmann’s version of The Great Gatsby on HBO a lot lately, and even though I expected from the previews to see that Baz truly did not understand the novel, it was amazing to see in the forty-five minutes or so that I watched how a director can make so many incredibly poor decisions.  Just everything from the acting, sets, dialogue, etc.–complete trash.

Over the Weekend (May 11 Edition)

New music, new videos, and other time-wasters to kick off your week…

Fans of Aphex Twin should be thrilled with the massive amount of free music that he released today.  There is a zip file with over 2 GBs worth of music available for download, as well as a YouTube playlist of over 200 songs, though the amount of overlap between the two has yet to be determined.  We had seen evidence before that Richard James was hard at work in all those years between releases, but it is great to finally hear more of the results.

Courtney Barnett is an artist that has been receiving a huge amount of buzz lately, especially after her recent appearances at SXSW.  We have been rather skeptical of the praise so far (our reaction to her recent single that has begun to get radio airplay is that it sounds like “Molly’s Chambers” with a female version of Mark E. Smith yelling over the top), but we have to admit that we enjoy the fun video that was created for “Dead Fox” that was released today.

Sharon Van Etten will be releasing a new EP next month, and today she released another track off of I Don’t Want To Let You Down.  Pitchfork has the SoundCloud link for “Just Like Blood”.

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah are currently on tour celebrating the tenth anniversary of their self-titled debut, and Stereogum has the premiere of an acoustic version of “Let The Cool Goddess Rust Away” from that seminal album.

And finally, have fun with a variety of useless lists this week.  The most ambitious is SPIN’s 300 Best Albums of the Past 30 Years, which if anything is at least diverse, and at least makes an attempt in a lot of cases to avoid merely following along with consensus opinion.  Diffuser provides a handy list of 19 Influential Grunge Musicians that they claim “you’ve never heard of,” but whatever the accuracy is of the second part of their claim, it serves as a handy guide for diving into the Seattle scene beyond the Big Four.  Then there is NME’s contribution, a list of the original titles for famous albums, which has more than a few mildly amusing anecdotes.

Catching Up On The Week (May 8 Edition)

Some #longreads as you make plans for Mother’s Day

In case you were unaware, Mother’s Day is this Sunday, so let this be a reminder to make plans if you have not done so already.  Over the years, there have been plenty of tributes to Dear Mama, though few of them are truly memorable.  The AV Club takes a closer look at an overlooked effort from Menomena, examining the backstory from their album Moms and one of its most personal tracks, “Baton”.

The biggest release of the week was My Morning Jacket’s latest album, The Waterfall.  While we work on our own review of the record, we recommend that you read this Stereogum essay to help provide some perspective, as it analyzes the album not only within the My Morning Jacket discography but in context of trends of the past decade in rock as a whole.

This week’s most entertaining piece was the oral history of the immortal Redman episode of Cribs, courtesy of Thrillist.  Yes, Redman actually lived in that tiny apartment.

Rolling Stone interviewed Dennis Lyxzén to get the story of how after their successful reunion tour that the time was finally right for Refused to record a follow-up to their classic The Shape of Punk to Come, and what to expect from Freedom.

Trunkworthy published an ode to one of our favorite Wilco albums, the underappreciated Summerteeth.  To this day, it is still one of my favorite records, and hopefully when Wilco stops by later this summer they play more than a few cuts from it.

Review: Blur – The Magic Whip

Over on this side of the Atlantic, news of a long-awaited Blur reunion album has been greeted with a collective shrug.  It is a reaction that is indicative of the band’s general reception in the US, but not befitting of the group’s sustained greatness over the course of their career.  Most American listeners remember Blur more-or-less as a one-hit wonder (“oh yeah, those guys that did the ‘Woo-hoo!’ song!“), which is a shame because that particular attempt to taking the piss out of grunge is hardly indicative of the band’s diverse body of work.

Blur’s albums have been eclectic and sprawling affairs, with the band shifting effortlessly between different genres over the course of the record, and The Magic Whip follows that template as well.  Unlike the band’s previous work though, there are no big singles to be found on the new record; it is unlikely that a crowd favorite like “Tender” or “Beetlebum” or “To the End” will emerge from this set of songs.  Fans should not be discouraged however–though Blur does not reach the peaks that they have in the past, overall this is perhaps the band’s strongest group of songs since their self-titled release, and it improves with every listen.

It is rather remarkable how little The Magic Whip resembles the typical comeback album.  The effort compares favorably to the recent Dinosaur Jr. reunion, as Blur sounds like they never broke up in the first place; listening to The Magic Whip in conjunction with the rest of the band’s discography, the novice listener would have no idea that there was a sixteen-year gap between the new album and the previous full-lineup incarnation.  There are no attempts to cash in on any modern trends, nor are there any painful attempts to recapture the glory of their youth; perhaps this is the payoff for all that restlessness and genre-shifting from their previous albums earlier in their career.  Blur never really had a typical sound, so they are free to experiment however they would like.

Contrary to what one may expect, there is only a moderate influence that can be detected from Damon Albarn’s myriad side-projects since the band’s last album; there is a bit of dub that recalls The Good, The Bad & The Queen, a bit of the melancholy that marked his recent solo album Everyday Robots, but little that is reminiscent of Gorillaz.  Instead, it is a much more cohesive affair than what would have been predicted, especially considering the background behind the recording of the album (it was put together during the downtime of a cancelled music festival over the course of a few short days).  In general, The Magic Whip is a laid-back affair, and some of the album’s best moments are when the band takes it down a notch and stretches out a bit, such as in the drifting “Mirrorball” or the appropriately-named “I Thought I Was A Spaceman”.  Of course, Blur is never content to just stick around mining the same groove, so there are a fair number of uptempo numbers, most notably the cheery “Ong Ong”.  It is an effervescent song that is placed perfectly near the end of the album, serving as an excellent capstone to the record, and will have you singing along with its refrain of “I wanna be with you” long after the whole thing is over.

The True Terror of “It Follows”

One of the surprises of the spring season in the film industry has been the success of the low-budget horror film It Follows.  After weeks of buzz and strong word-of-mouth, the movie expanded to wide release and made back its budget several times over.  As a fan of horror, I eagerly anticipated seeing the film as soon as it swung by my neck of the woods, and was glad to hear that an original vision was getting so much praise and was being commended for actually being “scary.”  While I appreciated the skills displayed by the director and actors, and found it to be a well-crafted film as a whole, I felt It Follows ultimately failed to deliver on the terror that had been promised; perhaps the reason my assessment was so harsh was because of how impressed I was with another recent horror film, The Babadook, and felt that It Follows suffered in comparison.  Nevertheless, if there is one aspect of It Follows that I can unquestionably recommend for any prospective viewer, it is the film’s masterful and brutally effective score.

The music has long been an essential part of creating a successful horror film.  Who can think of The Exorcist without recalling its theme “Tubular Bells”, or remember Psycho without Bernard Herrmann’s whirling strings, or recall Halloween without John Carpenter’s unsettling and menacing piano score?  Even terrible movies have become classics in part due to their memorable soundtracks, like the goofy sound effects that serve as an alert that you are watching some part of the Friday the 13th franchise.  Last night, I even ended up doing an accidental experiment that helped confirm the specific power that music has in horror movies.  I saw a trailer for the upcoming Poltergeist remake in the theater, and chuckled a bit at the supposed scares, but those chuckles became full-fledged guffaws when I saw the trailer again later that night, but on mute.  There is nothing like seeing a silent killer clown toy trying to attack a little kid without the sound on.

In time, I believe that the score for It Follows will be recognized along with those legendary performances mentioned above.  Unlike those other examples though, it is impossible to single out a definitive theme or melody from It Follows; instead, the score is built on well-placed accents and unsettling motifs that help ramp up the suspense and build up a sense of dread as to what may happen next.  Disasterpeace, the score’s composer, does an excellent job of ratcheting up the tension for long stretches of time, before punctuating the music with jolts of terror.  The score is so effective in startling the listener that even after multiple listens I find myself being caught off-guard when my attention drifts elsewhere.

Disasterpeace does an excellent job of giving the soundtrack a retro feel without falling into the potential trap of sounding derivative; the brilliant use of synths helps evoke memories of the 80’s, much like the soundtrack to Drive, and the unnatural sounds and tones help instill terror in the listener.  The score also does a great job of manipulating dynamics, lulling the listener into false feelings of peacefulness and security, before exploding in sudden shrieks.  There are also moments where Disasterpeace vamps on a particular dissonant chord or riff, then suddenly shifts into a relentless, pulsating figure, which instead of releasing the previous tension, amplifies it to an even greater degree.

I am not sure when I will see It Follows again, but I know I will be revisiting its soundtrack time and time again.

Review: Built to Spill – Untethered Moon

For a number of years, Built to Spill has been afflicted with the same curse as Spoon: consistent quality.  Like Spoon, who have released a string of exceptional albums since 2001’s Girls Can Tell, over the last decade-and-a-half Built to Spill have steadily produced a series of very good records since the one-two punch of the classics Perfect From Now On and Keep It Like a Secret made them heroes of the indie rock scene.  Both groups have a dedicated fanbase that has passionately welcomed each new release, but to some extent critics have begun to take the quality of the work they produce for granted.  At this point, excellence is to be expected.

Considering the circumstances, it is remarkable not only how comfortable and laid-back Untethered Moon is, but how neatly it fits within the band’s catalog.  In the six years since the release of There Is No Enemy, not only did Doug Martsch scrap an entire album, but longtime members Brett Nelson (bass) and Scott Plouf (drums) left the band.  Though it took some time for replacements Jason Albertini and Steve Gere to get acclimated to the group in their live performances, the transition is seamless on the album.  It is still true that the most important components of a Built to Spill song are Doug Martsch’s guitar parts followed by his trademark vocals, but the new rhythm section has seemingly injected some verve into the songs and rejuvenated Martsch to an extent, even if relatively few of their individual contributions stand out (the drum fills on opener “All Our Songs” and the bass melodies on “Never Be the Same” serving as notable exceptions).

What is most surprising about Untethered Moon is how restrained the guitar-playing is for the majority of the album.  Doug Martsch established himself as one of the Guitar Gods of the alternative scene because of his mastery of each fundamental part of the instrument; not only could Martsch rip out a brilliant and searing lead or create a catchy and memorable riff, but he also was able to precisely construct multiple-part epics that not only perfectly integrated those leads and riffs but managed to surprise listeners with their originality.  Consider how easily classics like “Carry the Zero” or “Kicked It In the Sun” shift between seemingly disparate sections that are nonetheless tied together by Martsch’s inventive songwriting, and how seamlessly Martsch blended multiple interweaving guitar parts.  There are only a few scattered moments that recall Martsch’s previous guitar heroics; instead it is a few select riffs or the occasional quick melody that leaves an impression on the listener.  With its tight, concise songwriting and the relative rawness of its fidelity, the closest analogue in the band’s discography is There’s Nothing Wrong With Love from just over two decades ago.  It is not as if the band has come full-circle though; they are just digging deeper into their repertoire for inspiration.

Untethered Moon lacks a memorable single like the ferocious live staple “Goin’ Against Your Mind” or a cathartic hidden gem like “Things Fall Apart” that are definite standouts, but instead has several strong tracks that will compete to be designated as the listener’s favorite.  When the band hits the road in support of the album, fans should look forward to hearing the band incorporate the new material into their live sets without a hitch, though the particular songs chosen may be a surprise.  Untethered Moon proves that Built to Spill is a well-oiled machine that keeps chugging along, replacing and assimilating new components without any problems whatsoever, and able to continue to produce quality albums well into their career.

Over the Weekend (May 4 Edition)

News, new music, and videos as you recover from the decadence and depravity of this past weekend

Alabama Shakes has had a busy week: not only did they receive a rave review from this publication, but they learned that their album Sound & Color debuted at number 1, the first time they have earned such an honor.  To top it off, the band released the superb music video for the album’s title track, a subtle, heartrending tale that takes place in the unlikely setting of a spaceship.

It was a busy week for late night performances, with Modest Mouse stopping by Jimmy Kimmel Live, My Morning Jacket stopping by The Tonight Show, and Blur making their first US TV appearance in over a decade.  Blur has been hitting the rounds on both sides of the Atlantic, having recently stopped by Later…with Jools Holland to perform selections from The Magic Whip and also talk to the man himself.  Though the shows were broadcast previously in the UK, it was only recently shown here in the States on Palladia, so please forgive our tardiness.

We have been keeping you informed about the updates from Tame Impala about their new album, and now we can share that Currents has an apparently official release date of July 18th.  In addition, the band has released another track, the quick and punchy “Disciples”.

This afternoon, The Chemical Brothers released a music video featuring Q-Tip and directed by Michel Gondry, for a track called “Go”.  Yes, it still is 2015 and not 1998, for the record; the track appears on their upcoming album Born in the Echoes, which will be released July 7.

Finally, the music world suffered terrible losses this week, with the passing of Jack Ely, lead singer of The Kingsmen, and the legendary Ben E. King.  Portland’s connection to the recording of “Louie, Louie” makes Ely’s passing difficult to hear, and of course everyone is well aware of King’s contributions for The Drifters (“This Magic Moment”, “Save the Last Dance for Me”), as well as his immortal hit, “Stand By Me”.  They will be missed.

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