News, new music, and new videos to help you start the week…
When the Eagles of Death Metal first debuted in 2004 with Peace, Love, Death Metal, it would have been hard to believe that the side project of Josh Homme fronted by Jesse “The Devil” Hughes would still be around over a decade later. But sure enough, the guys are set to return this fall with the cleverly-named Zipper Down, and last week they released a video for the track “Complexity”. It is the perfect match of ultra-serious post-punk black-and-white aesthetics and ultra-goofy scuzz rock.
The craziest news of the weekend was an Instagram post that showed a member of the Wu-Tang Clan in the studio with a legendary film composer, as GZA shared a picture of him working with Vangelis. This unique collaboration is sure to produce some memorable results.
There are hundreds of other sites that you could visit to get a rundown of what happened at last night’s MTV Video Music Awards, including Kanye’s acceptance of the “Video Vanguard” award, but we would like to share with you a bit of news about Mr. West that probably was not discussed at the VMA’s. Kanye is set to do a special show at the Hollywood Bowl to perform his album 808s & Heartbreak in full, marking the first time that he would produce a live show from the unique record infamous for its heavy use of autotune.
Lou Barlow has been an integral part of several significant groups that helped shape the alternative music for decades now (Dinosaur Jr., Sebadoh, Folk Implosion), so it is always worth checking out whatever it is that he records. NPR has the stream for his newest solo album, Brace the Wave, available for streaming this week in advance of its September 4th release.
A few #longreads for your perusal as you relax this weekend…
Now that you have read our extensive look at the discography of Wilco, be sure to read Jeff Tweedy’s interview with Rolling Stone talking about the creation of Star Wars and how the band is already working on the next record.
The New York Times has an in-depth piece that takes a thorough look at the evolution of the “Creative Economy”, and in particular scrutinizes the way the music industry has developed in the wake of technological advances. While I would take some of the conclusions they reach with a grain of salt, the article is worth reading to see the process of how they came to develop these arguments.
Another weekend, another anniversary–this time, Stereogum is taking a look back to the year 2005 and the release of Kanye West’s second album, Late Registration. Considering his continued impact on popular music, it is somewhat amazing to realize Kanye has only been around for a little more than a decade, and this well-written piece makes the argument that Late Registration stands out from the rest of Kanye’s formidable catalog.
Finally, Pitchfork has a piece that uses the twentieth anniversary of Rancid’s hit “Time Bomb” as a jumping-off point for a look at the history of 2 Tone Ska, analyzing the differences between its development in the UK and the US as well as how the social issues that were a central part of the music decades ago still are relevant today.
In Part 1 of our examination of Wilco’s discography, we began with a look at the origins of the band and finished with an analysis of their biggest commercial success. Today, we take a look at the second half of Wilco’s career, as they emerge from their tumultuous early years and solidify into one of the most consistently riveting live acts in the country.
A Ghost Is Born Though Yankee Hotel Foxtrot would ultimately prove to be a high point for the band, the process took a toll on the group. As the band dealt with the external difficulties that arose from their record label troubles, the group was also once again experiencing internal struggles, culminating with the departure of multi-instrumentalist Jay Bennett. In addition, Jeff Tweedy was coping with an addiction to painkillers stemming from his chronic migraines, which would affect the promotion of YHF‘s follow-up.
My entry point into Wilco was A Ghost Is Born, so I have always held it in higher esteem than most, but I still insist the album represents the band’s creative peak. The band’s sonic explorations had a more clear focus, and instead of being merely ornamental flourishes, helped support the songs themselves, like the Krautrock-inspired “Spiders (Kidsmoke)”. The album is loaded with some of the group’s best pure rock songs, from “Handshake Drugs” to “Theologians” to “At Least That’s What You Said”, the last of which features the most scintillating and inventive guitar playing of Jeff Tweedy’s career. The tour in support of A Ghost Is Born also spurred the creation of one of the greatest live records of all time, Kicking Television, a two-disc compilation that served as an effective showcase of the genius underlying that album.
Sky Blue Sky With their record label situation fully resolved and a lineup finally settled, Wilco decided the time was right to relax a bit, and the result was the release of the laid-back Sky Blue Sky. It is the ultimate lazy summer album, perfect for unwinding with a beer after toiling under the hot sun mowing the lawn, though chilling after engaging in hard labor is hardly necessary for enjoyment. This is around the time when the band began to be tagged with the derisive label of “dad rock”, and though it is somewhat accurate in reflecting the nature of the music, it need not be taken as an insult. Sometimes, the mood is just right for easygoing jams like “Either Way” or “Side with the Seeds”, though Sky Blue Sky does feature the most epic guitar jam of the group’s career, with the three-headed attack of “Impossible Germany”, led by Nels Cline’s impeccable lead playing.
Wilco (the Album) The band continued to mine the same vein of Sky Blue Sky with the release of Wilco (the Album), a record that at the time seemed like a fine addition to the Wilco catalog but has come to be regarded as one of their least essential recordings. Cuts from the album have for the most part disappeared from the band’s setlist, and while there are several pleasant moments scattered throughout (ranging from the soaring “One Wing” to the beautiful “Everlasting Everything” to the restless “Bull Black Nova”), it rarely leaves a lasting impression on the listener.
The Whole Love Wilco switched gears with the wide-ranging and adventurous The Whole Love, which saw the band scratching that itch for the experimental for the first time in years. For the first time since A Ghost Is Born, it seemed the band decided to challenge themselves, an intention that is clear from the outset with the multi-part opener “Art of Almost”. In addition, Wilco prove that they still have a playful side, as seen with the bouncy “Dawned on Me” and the goofy “I Might”, and that they are not afraid to cut loose, as they do with the boisterous “Standing O”. In many ways, The Whole Love served as a perfect encapsulation of all facets of the Wilco sound.
There you have it. Oh, because everyone likes lists, here is the definitive ranking of Wilco albums, which also doubles as a handy step-by-step guide to working through their back catalog.
Last Friday, Wilco released their ninth studio album Star Wars in a more tangible form than “downloadable files”. We already published our review of their excellent new record, but there are probably several readers who may have been intrigued by what they heard in Star Wars but have yet to take the plunge into Wilco’s extensive back catalog. Sure, the band helped simplify the process a bit by releasing the greatest hits collection What’s Your 20?, but a compilation only gives you a partial glimpse of the evolution of the band. So we are here to provide this handy guide to the Wilco discography, broken up into two easily-digestible halves.
A.M. In order to understand the poor reputation of Wilco’s debut album, one needs to know the circumstances of its creation. Wilco was formed after the breakup of the beloved and influential underground alt-country act Uncle Tupelo. Tensions had been simmering for a while and came to a head just as Uncle Tupelo was breaking into the mainstream, and irreconcilable differences between the two primary songwriters resulted in the group being split into two bands. Jay Farrar formed Son Volt, while the rest of Uncle Tupelo lined up under Jeff Tweedy to form Wilco. The initial critical consensus was that Jay Farrar, who wrote the bulk of the material for Uncle Tupelo, had the stronger debut with Son Volt, and Tweedy’s group suffered in comparison.
However, when you separate the album from the drama that surrounded its release, A.M. holds up much better. Without those expectations of living up to Uncle Tupelo’s past work, one can enjoy the record for what it is: a light and fun country-tinged rock album. The band keeps the song structures simple and the tone is very playful, and the inclusion of some of these early songs in recent setlists has been a pleasant surprise. Those connoisseurs of fine taste, Beavis and Butt-head, knew what was up.
Being There Critics were quick to dismiss Wilco after A.M., but they were quick to reverse themselves when the group released Being There, one of the few double albums that actually works as a double album. Being There hints at the direction the group would take in subsequent albums, with its shift to a more serious and melancholic tone. The album also marked Wilco’s beginning into more experimental production touches, most notably their initial forays into incorporating noise and other similar elements into their songs, as can be heard with the opener and audience favorite “Misunderstood”, a relatively straightforward three-chord ballad that is marked by little details like an alarm beeping in the background as well as the big noisy crashes that interrupt the flow of the song periodically.
The division into two discs makes sense from a sonic perspective, with the first disc primarily composed of upbeatrockers with the second one focused on more acousticnumbers. Though the entire album could fit onto a single disc, the split helps prevent the listener from becoming overwhelmed in attempting to listen to eighty straight minutes in one sitting, and allows the listener to choose a side that more appropriately reflects the mood. It is a testament to the balance of Wilco’s sound that each disc is qual in quality.
Summerteeth After earning plaudits for Being There, Wilco decided to cut loose a bit and go in a poppier direction, a decision that caused a split with the group’s fans at the time. Summerteeth is a bright, lush album filled with huge arrangements and a sparkling production that allows all the musical layers to shine. The album moves at a brisk pace, but the peaks represent some of the best work that Wilco has done in their career, including the groovy “Can’t Stand It”, the driving “A Shot In The Arm”, and the ebullient “Nothing’severgonnastandinmyway(again)”. Still, amid all the happiness, the record is probably best known for the stark, bleak “Via Chicago”, with its memorable opening line “I dreamed about killing you again last night, and it felt alright to me” and its several band freakouts. In the middle of all that turbulence, however, there is still that incredible descending melodic hook that persists throughout and drives the song, summing up the theme of the record.
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot Considered by many to be Wilco’s masterpiece, the album was close to never being released at all, as documented in the film I Am Trying To Break Your Heart. The initial rejection by the band’s label seems quaint now, with its reputation as an anti-commercial record seeming overblown as the years have passed; the fact that Reprise did not think it could sell the record based on pure pop songs and ready-made singles like “Heavy Metal Drummer” and “I’m the Man Who Loves You” says more about their own skills than anything.
However, there is the faintest hint of merit to the label’s concern, as a lot of the songs are gussied up with unnecessarily bracing production flourishes. These random elements obscure some of the most gorgeous and eloquent songwriting of the band’s career, though it was their clear intent. It is an album that is meant to be off-putting on the first few listens, but the hints of what lay underneath the surface are enough to entice closer inspection. Live editions of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot tracks help strip away some of the artifice to reveal the heart of the songs themselves, and may be a better entry point into the record, but when one gets comfortable with the material, it is easier to appreciate all those extraneous touches.
In the world of Spiritualized, there is no such thing as subtlety; it seems that every song (and perhaps every lyric) that Jason Pierce writes is a matter of life and death. Pierce’s subjects usually revolve around personal failings and attempts at redemption, whether it be through drugs, religion, or some other means, and he matches the grand scale of these topics with music that is equal in scope. Spiritualized albums have become known for their multi-part epics that alternate between a wide variety of disparate genres, accomplished with the aid of a bevy of musicians and vocalists to help create dense layers of instrumentation. Over the course of a career, the method can seem formulaic, but it can produce some truly glorious results.
Sweet Heart, Sweet Light is bookended by two soaring sing-alongs, “Hey Jane” and “So Long You Pretty Thing”. The latter is a triumphant reflection of what has transpired over the course of the album, while “Hey Jane” is more of a fiery call-to-arms that helps give the record its initial spark. Both songs create serious goosebumps in the listener, even though they accomplish this through different means.
Obviously, one of the keys for creating a song that compels an entire audience to sing along is writing a killer melody that both catches the ear and is easily repeated, a skill that Pierce has in spades. But with “Hey Jane”, Pierce uses a more subtle technique that helps enhance the effect of the jubilant outro. The majority of the song is built on a straightforward, chugging rhythm that propels the song forward. As the song builds towards its climax, Pierce introduces a solo guitar that plays a riff that foreshadows the final melody. This is laid on top of the previous chugging rhythm, and combined with Pierce’s vocals that echo the underlying rhythm, creates a sense of tension that builds with every measure. The two figures compete against each other, until finally the tension is released with the mantra of “Sweet heart, sweet life; sweetheart, love of my life”, which takes a similar sweeping shape to that of the guitar. From then on, it is simply a matter of repeating it to your heart’s content, but know that the “victory” is that much sweeter as a result of that initial “struggle”.
New music, news, and other fun stuff to help start your week…
Last night marked the end (?) of the beloved and bizarre animated series Aqua Teen Hunger Force, but before the show officially said goodbye, the folks at Adult Swim enlisted the help of a legendary artist who is a surprisingly devoted fan: Patti Smith. Smith gave a brief interview to Pitchfork explaining both her love of the show and how she ended up recording the song for the series finale.
Over the weekend, a pretty goddamn awesome supergroup convened up in Seattle to pay tribute to the legendary punk album Raw Power from Iggy & The Stooges. Mike McCready from Pearl Jam, Mark Arm from Mudhoney, Barrett Martin from Screaming Trees, and Duff McKagan from Guns ‘N Roses got together for the charity gig in support of radio station KEXP, and Stereogum has some of the footage from this memorable gig.
Foals are set to release their latest album, What Went Down, this Friday. They have releasedseveralvideos to help build anticipation for the new album already, and today the group released their latest with a “CCTV” version of the low-key “London Thunder”.
!!! announced dates for a tour this fall, and I highly recommend that you check your calendars to see if you are free the night they hit your town, because there are few things in life that are as fun as a !!! show. The band also shared a goofy lyric video for new single “Freedom ’15”, off their upcoming album As If, which will be released on October 16.
Finally, enjoy killing some time with a couple of lists. First, Willamette Week offers the 21 Best Songs About Portland, which does a fair job of covering the city’s unusual musical history. Due to a technicality that the song must explicitly reference Rip City in some capacity, the best song about Portland was excluded, but otherwise it was a solid attempt. And then for the giant time-waster, Pitchfork has decided to use this as a dead week to promote their list of the 200 Best Songs of the 80’s.
Embedded above is the best (and most accurate) song about Portland. You have probably heard it before.
A handful of #longreads to help you pass the time this weekend…
This week marked the anniversary of several important albums, and there are of course tributes to these records for those who feel the need to revisit the past. For instance, today marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of Facelift, the debut album from Alice In Chains. Loudwire has a recap of the history of one of grunge’s first big hits, an album that has held up surprisingly well after a quarter of a century. There is a surprising amount of diversity on Facelift, especially on the second half of the record, and it is well worth revisiting if you have neglected listening to it in its entirety lately.
Another classic album that was released the same day was Jane’s Addiction smash hit Ritual de lo Habitual, and Rolling Stone has a track-by-track breakdown of the record with singer Perry Farrell and guitarist Dave Navarro. If you have never listened to the album because you have heard “Been Caught Stealing” enough times in your life, you are missing out.
Summer still has a few weeks remaining, so there is plenty of time for you to enjoy the debut album from White Reaper in its proper setting. White Reaper Does It Again is energetic, carefree garage rock delivered at a breakneck pace, which makes it perfect for blasting at full volume with the windows rolled down/pulled up/smashed open. The music is unlikely to leave any lasting impact on the listener, but sometimes life is about the journey and not the destination, ya know, and why not make that journey as packed with adrenaline as possible?
White Reaper offers a simpler and more streamlined version of the garage rock that is currently enjoying its moment once again. The guitars pound out simple riffs and chord changes, taking a backseat to the thunderous drums of Nick Wilkerson on most tracks who pushes the tempo and thrills with rollicking fills. Tony Esposito’s vocals are processed to hell and back in a way that recalls Jay Reatard, and his melodies are often similarly pop-influenced. White Reaper distinguish themselves from their brethren with the often over-the-topuse of keyboards, but Ryan Hater’s contributions help add some much needed color to a formula that has the danger of otherwise feeling flat.
White Reaper Does It Again is an album whose sole focus is making sure the listener is having as much fun as can be packed into a half hour. There is a disposable nature to the music, but even if its significance is merely ephemeral, there is still something to be said for enjoying the moment. Just crank it up, bop your head, and revel in the folly/glory of youth.
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 see the girls walk by dressed in their summer clothes; I have to turn my head until my darkness goes.”
The heat is still relentlessly bearing down on anything that dares to venture outside, so now is as good a time as any to analyze one of my favorite “summer” songs. Even in a career packed with hits, “Paint It Black” manages to stand out in my mind as among the Rolling Stones’ best work. “Paint It Black” is nearly fifty years old, but it still sounds as fresh as it did when it was released in 1966, even after endless replays on radio and its inclusion from films that range from the brilliant to the ridiculous.
Many would point to the contributions of Brian Jones as being the key to the song’s success, and at first glance this would seem appropriate. His composition of that simple but memorable melody, as well as his use of the distinctive tone of the sitar, stands out in most people’s mind when they recall the song. The incorporation of Indian influences certainly distinguishes the song from the rest of the Stones’ catalog to that point and marked a watershed moment in Western pop culture, but the real power comes from a more subtle element.
It is the second instrument you hear, right after the the melody is introduced, that is the engine that truly drives the song; once Charlie Watts starts pounding those toms, the song belongs to him. It has long been fashionable to diminish the importance of Watts to the group,* mainly due to the fact that he is not as flashy as the next generation of rock drummers that followed in his wake. Though there are a significant number of musicians that will vouch for his technical expertise, his particular strengths will always make him an underrated member to the public at large. If one takes a few minutes to analyze his part to “Paint It Black” however, it becomes clear how his beats help shape the sound of the Stones, as it is the tension between the mysterious, languid melody and Watt’s insistent, galloping drumbeat that gives “Paint It Black” its energy and verve. The two parts are locked in battle, only to be released once the song hits the chorus, and the piece reverts to a more conventional rock form. It is completely counterintuitive to normal compositional techniques to create a rhythmic complement to this melody that would incessantly push the beat in this manner, but it speaks to the genius of Watts that he would match an Eastern melody with a Western rhythm so seamlessly.
In the five decades since its release, “Paint It Black” has inspired countless bands to cover the song. The incessant drumbeat highlighted above has made it a popular choice amongpunk bands, and that dark, menacing melody has made it a favorite of several metal acts. It has also inspired some fascinating versions, two of which derive from the same artist–Eric Burdon first performed a cover with The Animals, emphasizing the song’s more ominous elements, and then developed an epic version with War that aside from a few brief moments hardly resembles the original. Not only that, “Paint It Black” also inspired a revered group to fail miserably with their own original take.
Covers have long been a part of the repertoire of The Feelies, with most of their albums incorporating at least one. The band does an excellent job in making their selections, choosing songs from reveredartists that fit perfectly with the group’s style and strengths. If the listener is paying attention, it is easy to hear traces of the original version with each take, but each cover integrates the band’s trademark jangly guitars and post-punk tendencies in such a way that they smoothly blend in with the rest of the album. Without prior knowledge, the casual listener would have no reason to suspect that a particular song was a cover.
It is unlikely that there is anyone out there whose first encounter with “Paint It Black” would be The Feelies’ version, but it is remarkable how well the cover fits with the rest of their debut album, Crazy Rhythms, even as a tacked-on bonus track to the CD version that was recorded years later. The cover is in many ways fairly reverent to the original, and in the live version it is clear how the band feeds off the pounding energy of the drums. What is rather remarkable is how closely the guitars match with the Eastern-tinged elements used by the Stones, when The Feelies are merely using their traditional clean tone with a slight chorus effect.
In a vacuum, it could be argued that this is not a particularly remarkable cover; though it packs a lively punch (and would make a great addition to any live show), it merely accentuates what was great about the original rather than improves upon it. However, it does illustrate the significance of selecting a song that matches a band’s strength. At the very least, it is another chance for you to hear “Paint It Black” with fresh ears.
If there was a musician that ever defined the term “his reach exceeds his grasp”, it is Patrick Stickles. But goddammit, that is partly why I love his band Titus Andronicus so much.* As a rule, double albums are bloated, overstuffed affairs, and rock operas are doubly so, and The Most Lamentable Tragedy fulfills those expectations accordingly. But Stickles has poured his heart and his soul into this epic production, and has the requisite amount of chops to prevent the whole album from falling apart. For that alone he should be commended; the good news is that Stickles should be praised not only for the audacity of the entire enterprise, but for writing several songs that rank among the band’s best work.
It is best to look at The Most Lamentable Tragedy as an attempt to rewrite the band’s entire history to this point. Not only are there several callbacks to each of the band’s previous albums (for instance, there is the continuation of the “No Future” series that dates back to their debut, The Airing of Grievances, there is also second act closer “More Perfect Union” which refers to The Monitor‘s opener “A More Perfect Union”, and “Mr. E. Mann” which bears an obvious relationship with “(I Am The) Electric Man” as well as “I’m Going Insane” with “Titus Andronicus vs. the Absurd Universe (3rd Round KO)” from Local Business), but the narrative of the opera recasts many of the struggles that Stickles tackled before. Even the rock opera concept is an extension of the Relationship as Civil War metaphor that defined the concept album The Monitor, which many regard as the band’s greatest work to date. One does not have to be intimately familiar with the complete history of Titus Andronicus to enjoy the album, but as is the case with the many historical references and literary allusions that are sprinkled throughout the record, it certainly helps.
One should be fully prepared for the sprawling affair that is The Most Lamentable Tragedy just by glancing at the packaging, since the sticker announces it is a “29 song, 93 minute” opus, but even that simple declaration is playing a bit fast and loose with the facts–many of the tracks are seemingly arbitrarily cut up, and the album contains multiple “songs” of pure silence, including a seven minute “Intermission”. The term “rock opera” also should serve as a huge warning sign, as the album suffers many of the same issues that plague previous attempts at the form, namely songs that are heavier on plot than hooks and drama rather than melody. However, when Stickles indulges his most grandiose instincts, he creates some of the album’s finest moments, such as in the orchestral sweep of “More Perfect Union”. When was the last time you heard a bass clarinet in a punk song?
There are other standouts that will easily become highlights of future Titus Andronicus shows, from the furiously energetic “Dimed Out” and “Lookalike”/”I Lost My Mind” combo to the multi-part epic “(S)HE SAID/(S)HE SAID”. Another sure to be crowd favorite is the boisterous sing-along “Come On, Siobhán”, which in a change of pace for Titus recalls the Midwestern sounds of John Cougar Mellencamp instead of the standard Jersey influence of The Boss. There are enough great Titus Andronicus songs scattered throughout the record that one is tempted to separate the wheat from the chaff and stuff it onto a disc with a fifty-minute runtime instead, but that would fly in the face of the entire point of the album. It is a sprawling mess because manic depression is indeed a frustrating mess. The Most Lamentable Tragedy is what it is, flaws and all.