Month: August 2015

Over the Weekend (Aug. 17 Edition)

News, new videos, and other fun stuff to help you begin your week…

There had been rumblings for a while now, but now it can be confirmed that Flight of the Conchords are reuniting.  Fans of the hilarious HBO show featuring Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie should be delighted to hear that not only are they making plans to head out on tour next year, but that they are in the initial stages of writing a full-length movie.

The best song of 2014 finally has a video, as Death From Above 1979 shared the music video for “White Is Red” today.  Instead of following along with the riveting narrative described in the song, it mainly consists of footage from the documentary on the band, Life After Death From Above 1979, serving as a very effective advertisement for the film.

Switching the focus to more recent releases, Tame Imapala released a video today for a condensed version of Currents standout “Let It Happen”, focusing on the travails of one of the weariest travelers you will ever see.

Deerhunter released the first single of their upcoming album Fading Frontier this weekend, with frontman Bradford Cox first teasing fans by playing “Snakeskin” on his radio show.  The song is livelier than you might expect considering Deerhunter’s recent material, and you can check it out for yourself as the band has released a video for the song as well.

In another surprise, Talib Kweli has released a free album called Fuck the Money that is available through the website Kweliclub.com.  All of this is of course for free, in case the name of the title was not clear enough for you.

Rage Against The Machine will be releasing a concert film this fall from their recent reunion, as fans from around the world will now be able to see their free concert from London in 2010.

Foo Fighters = content.  Ultimate Classic Rock has the story of how Dave Grohl ended up singing “My Hero” to a crying fan at a recent concert.

Finally, we have a couple of useless lists for your enjoyment.  First, Rolling Stone has compiled one of those extensive, vague lists that only exist to get people arguing, this time ranking the 100 Greatest Songwriters of All Time and attempting to show off some fancy web tools at the same time.  A more interesting list is the AV Club Inventory that takes a look at “20 Great Songs Orphaned By Their Namesake Albums”, a concept that took me a few minutes to understand but is nonetheless a pretty cool idea.

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Catching Up On The Week (Aug. 14 Edition)

Some #longreads as you plan a trip to Burma

The big event this weekend will be the release of the N.W.A biopic Straight Outta Compton, but before you hit the cineplex you may want to brush up a bit on your knowledge of the legendary group.  Pitchfork has an extensive feature documenting N.W.A’s relationship with “reality”, as well as a behind the scenes look at the creation of Dr. Dre’s comeback album, inspired by his work on the film.

Stereogum published an essay this week taking a look at the way hip-hop’s relationship with classic soul music has evolved over the years.  There are many sections where the explanations are obvious, but the piece is still worth checking out for the occasional nuggets and background information on production techniques that may not be so obvious.

We are still a few weeks away from the release of their new album Ones and Sixes, but nevertheless this Stereogum profile of Low is worth reading if you are not already hyped for the return of one of the most consistently great rock bands of the last twenty years.

For those of you who need your oral history fix, the Washington Post has an extended look at the story behind the 1995 version of the Lollapalooza festival.

Finally, we have linked to interviews with frontman Stephen Malkmus and guitarist Scott “Spiral Stairs” Kannberg, and now we can link to an interview with Pavement bassist Mark Ibold conducted by Noisey.  And because you surely have not had your fill of discussing the career of Pavement, Consequence of Sound has a comprehensive look at the band’s entire catalog, EPs and all.

Review: Ghostface Killah and Adrian Younge – Twelve Reasons to Die II

Ghostface Killah is probably long due for a vacation at this point, but it would seem unwise to stop an artist on such a creative hot streak.  Twelve Reasons to Die II is the third album Ghostface has released in less than a year, and the compelling and gripping record is not only a worthy sequel to the 2013 original, but probably the best of the recent trio.  Adrian Younge once again proves to be the ideal collaborator, backing up the imaginative and gritty storytelling of Ghostface with a musical accompaniment that is engrossing yet subtle.  Younge’s production never overshadows the emcees, but it is still packed with enough fascinating nuance and clever ideas that it begs for closer listening.

For the sequel, Ghostface tightens the narrative and simplifies the action, focusing purely on the revenge aspect from the original.  RZA helpfully provides narration of key plot points, but the bulk of the guest work is handled by Ghostface’s frequent partner Raekwon, who is enlisted for the role of fellow gangster “Lester Kane” and serves as the primary co-star in this saga.  This time around, there is a similar amount of violence and a bit more melodrama (plus a surprise twist at the end), and while there is not the same creative spark that characterized the original, it does set up nicely for a sequel.

Younge incorporates similar musical elements that he used on Twelve Reasons to Die (organ flourishes, vibrato guitar), but does so more sparingly this time.  The result is a production that is evocative of the original in spirit, but still stands out as its own work.  Younge tamps down on some of the campier elements, relying less on Italian horror-type themes from the first album and utilizing more 70’s-era soul and R&B grooves, as heard on tracks like “Get the Money”.

The great news is that compact disc versions of the album come with a free disc of all the instrumental parts, which really helps highlight the brilliance of many of Younge’s compositions.  But the album truly works as a collaboration, and it will likely leave you hoping for another installment to the saga to be released as soon as possible.

Requiem For A Radio Station

As one of those Luddites who still has not gotten on the streaming bandwagon, I still care about what happens in the radio industry.  And before you think otherwise, I am not even talking about that new-fangled satellite radio, but terrestrial FM radio.  Part of this may be the result of sentimentality, due to my years in the industry working as a DJ and music director, but this is mainly because FM radio is still a consistent part of my daily life.  Whenever I drive anywhere, my first instinct is to switch on the radio, fiddle through my presets, and then put the car in gear as the appropriate soundtrack for the journey plays.  There is a CD loaded into the stereo for backup, but mainly my interest is in hearing a mix of songs that either are not in my collection already or would not immediately come to mind for me to select.  I have enough trouble selecting an album for every jog and trip to the gym, so it is a welcome relief to not have another situation where I need to shuffle through my extensive musical library.

One of the few perks of living in Salem is that while we are in the middle of nowhere, we are within driving distance in all directions of somewhere.  In this particular case, we are smack-dab in the middle of both the larger Portland and Eugene markets, which means that as I drive around town I can choose between two sets of radio stations.  Even within just a smaller spectrum of alternative/rock radio, this meant at least four stations from which to choose.  However, that number is slowly dwindling.

Recently, KFLY in Eugene abruptly switched formats, from a hard-rock playlist to a…I have no fucking clue, the robot programmer has decided to not give a shit about genre and just play whatever is available.  The worst part about the situation is the way the corporate overlords handled the situation, as they simply fired the entire staff of KFLY without warning.  For two weeks, listeners had no idea about the behind-the-scenes drama, as KFLY simply played reruns of old shows, a common tactic during the summer.  This situation is reminiscent of another recent incident, when KUFO in Portland was converted from a hard-rock station into an right-wing all-talk station, with a lineup of only nationally-syndicated shows.  At least we have the small consolation that KFLY is still playing music.

However, neither of these situations compare to the first time I encountered a format change.  When I was a young kid growing up in Louisiana, my favorite radio station was an alternative rock station called “The Tiger”.  Listening to The Tiger was an essential part of my morning routine, as well as the soundtrack to homework in the afternoon.  I remember one morning when I turned the radio on after taking a shower, only to hear the familiar strains of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” coming through my speakers.  Sure, this was strange, but The Tiger had done promotions before where they would play whatever song people would want for a fee to be donated to charity, so my first assumption was that they were in the middle of conducting another charity drive.  I had to leave for school before the song finished, so I could not confirm my suspicion.  However, when I returned from school that afternoon, The Tiger was playing another classic rock song.  The same with the next day, the day after, and every week until I left town.  I was heartbroken; it was almost as if a good friend had left without saying goodbye.

I still fucking hate Led Zeppelin to this day.

Wilco, Live at Edgefield

Edgefield is easily one of the best venues in Oregon, and it is too bad that we were unable to see more shows there this summer.  However, if it ends up that we only make it out to Troutdale one time this year, Wilco certainly did their best to make it worthwhile.  The band entertained the sold-out crowd with a career-spanning, thirty song set that captured every aspect of the group’s sound.

If you look closely, the cat from the Star Wars cover is hanging out by Glen.

If you look closely, the cat from the Star Wars cover is hanging out by Glenn.

Wilco kicked off the show with a mini-set of their entire new album, Star Wars, entering the stage to the noisy opener “EKG” before playing straight through the entire record.  The crowd ate it up, with a fair portion having already memorized many of the lyrics from last month’s surprise release.  The new material translated well live, with the band staying faithful to the record, besides Nels Cline adding some embellishments and Glenn Kotche indulging in an extended drum solo between songs.

To Jeff's delight, it finally got dark enough.

To Jeff’s delight, it finally got dark enough.

Once “Magnetized” closed out the “opening set”, Jeff Tweedy greeted the crowd and the band launched into a roaring version of “Handshake Drugs”.  For the most part, the band kept the energy up during the main set, flying through uptempo numbers like “Dawned on Me”, “Heavy Metal Drummer”, and “I’m the Man That Loves You”.  Wilco did not just stick with the fun, bouncy songs though, as they played a varied set that covered all the assorted genres the band has flitted with over the years.  The group delighted the crowd with their moody, noisy freakouts in “Via Chicago” and “Art of Almost” as well as the introspective favorite “Jesus, Etc.”, but the audience truly came alive with the epic, extended guitar workouts of “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” and “Impossible Germany”.

For the encore, Wilco went retro

For the encore, Wilco went retro.

For the encore, the band eschewed amps and went old-school with a full acoustic lineup, with even keyboardist Mikael Jorgensen picking up an axe at one point.  The band began with a solemn rendition of “Misunderstood”, featuring an ending that stood in stark contrast with the way the long-time live favorite has been performed–instead of an ever-escalating repetition of the “nothing” part in “I’d like to thank you all for nothing at all”, the band gradually played softer, with members dropping out, finishing with Tweedy whispering the final notes in a powerful moment.  Bassist John Stirratt then got a turn at the mic as the band played “It’s Just That Simple” from their debut A.M., followed by an even earlier selection as they played “We’ve Been Had” by pre-Wilco group Uncle Tupelo.  Special guests (and Portland residents) Peter Buck of R.E.M., Janet Weiss of Sleater-Kinney, and Scott McCaughey joined in for the second of two Mermaid Avenue selections, livening up “California Stars” with an extra dose of familial feeling, before the band closed out with a relaxed take on “A Shot in the Arm”.

Wilco proved once again why they have been consistently one of the great live acts of the past two decades, and we wish we could have seen more of Speedy Ortiz’s opening set.  Unfortunately, Portland’s terrible Sunday traffic only allowed us to see a handful of songs from one of our favorite new bands, but we liked what we heard, even if most of the crowd seemed relatively indifferent.

Over the Weekend (Aug. 10 Edition)

New music, news, and other fun useless stuff as you recover from an unexpected night out…

Last week we linked to an interview with guitarist Spiral Stairs as he revealed his favorite Pavement songs, and this week we can share the thoughts of another member of the band.  Stephen Malkmus talked to Newsweek about several of the songs that appear on the rarities compilation The Secret History, Vol. 1, providing background on their creation to the best of his ability.

90’s-influenced noise-rockers Deaf Wish shared the video for their single “On”, capturing the strange ending to what was apparently a bizarre television show.

Earl Sweatshirt also released a video this week, sharing a gloomy animated vision for “Off Top” from his stellar recent release, I Don’t Like Shit I Don’t Go Outside.

Alternative Nation has footage and background from an early Alice in Chains show, recorded in December of 1989 in Pullman, Washington.  The show takes place months before the release of their debut album Facelift, so it provides an interesting record of the group moments before they hit it big.

Hutch Harris contributes a great review to The Talkhouse, a site where albums are discussed and reviewed by other artists, providing a critical and loving assessment of the newest solo album from guitarist Albert Hammond, Jr. of The Strokes.

And finally, it was announced that singer Tunde Adebimpe of TV on the Radio has joined with vocalist Mike Patton (Faith No More, Fantomas, Peeping Tom, Mr. Bungle, etc.) and rapper Doseone for a project called The Nevermen.  Consequence of Sound has the details, including a SoundCloud link to the lead single “Tough Towns”.  After that, be sure to check out an edition of Kids Interview Bands that TV on the Radio recently shared, where the band finally answers exactly what kind of cookie can be found in Cookie Mountain.

Catching Up On The Week (Aug. 7 Edition)

Some #longreads as we are welcomed into old age…

Pitchfork has a few features worthy of your attention this weekend.  First, be sure to read up on how Fucked Up are working on charitable causes in their hometown of Toronto, most notably sponsoring the unique Long Winter concert series.  Then be sure to read the profile on Beach House as they prepare to release their latest album, Depression Cherry.  After that, you can finish up with this plea to stop ruining the concert-going experience of your fellow audience members by misusing that tiny, glowing screen that has become essential to modern life.  We here at Rust Is Just Right try to take that advice to heart, snapping only a couple of pictures during lulls in the show so as to create as minimal disturbance as possible.

The AV Club takes a look at the many narrative threads of the Rolling Stones’ classic “Brown Sugar” and the strange history of how Sticky Fingers was released.

And finally, Rolling Stone has an extensive oral history on Coolio’s smash hit “Gangsta’s Paradise”, and if there is anything that needs an extensive oral history, it’s that song.  1995 was an awesome year.

Review: Wilco – Star Wars

Wilco stunned the music world with the surprise release of their ninth studio album, Star Wars, a few weeks ago.  While we have seen some of the biggest pop stars on the planet undertake this kind of gambit (such as Beyonce and U2), it did not seem to be the kind of maneuver that the normally staid indie rock darlings would attempt.  However, the casual nature of the album’s release serves Star Wars well, as it fits the easy-going mood of the material; freed from the anxiety that comes with the build-up and anticipation of months of promotion, Wilco sounds as loose as it has ever been, and the result is the perfect album for a lazy summer afternoon.

Wilco reached their greatest commercial success with Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost Is Born, albums that were intricately composed and fussily produced, but there has always been a part of the band’s identity that pushed back against that instinct and ease up a bit.  Jeff Tweedy most recently indulged in that tendency with his Tweedy side project he put out last year with his son, but unlike Sukirae or Wilco’s Sky Blue Sky, the looseness of Star Wars is based more on having fun than simple relaxation.  Even on moments like the sweet “Where Do I Begin”, the band is not afraid of blowing up a lovely ballad to explode in a noisy and triumphant finish.

In a stark contrast with the multi-part layered epics on The Whole Love, the music on Star Wars is stripped down to its basic elements, with songs rarely stretched beyond three minutes.  Guitars with a touch of fuzz distortion dominate the sound, with multi-instrumentalist Patrick Sansone making it a three-guitar attack for most of the record.  The shift in approach creates a sharper and more rocking feel to the album, which is apparent on such songs as “More…” and “Random Name Generator”.  The downside is that Mikael Jorgensen’s keyboards are often lost in the shuffle and minimized for the most part, save for a key role in shaping the closer “Magnetized”.

As a gift to fans, Star Wars is a perfect treat.  Those that longed for the carefree days of the early years circa Being There should be more than satisfied with the album, and those that appreciate the knottier and denser material can appreciate cuts like “You Satellite” that stand out after repeated listens.  Though there were many that took advantage of the generous free download opportunity, most will certainly feel compelled enough to give their thanks by purchasing the album when it goes on sale in the near future.

As for the mystery behind the title and the goofy cover art?  Jeff Tweedy can only respond, “I cry at the joke explained.”

Feats of Strength: Tabu and “Be My Baby”

The quality that I appreciate the most about Netflix is the sheer breadth of its library.  As much as I loved spending time at local video stores, poring over their collections, the range of their selections paled in comparison to Netflix.  It is easy to pick up on unexpected gems which slipped under the radar, like I did a few weeks ago with the film Tabu.  While it was appreciated by many cinephiles, unfortunately for the most part the Portuguese movie went unnoticed by filmgoers here in the States.

I highly recommend that you check out Tabu at some point, but I wanted to highlight one of the most powerful scenes in the film and specifically how the careful use of music help contributed to its potency.  The story mainly centers around a long-ago love affair between a married woman and young drummer, set in the backdrop of colonial Mozambique.  Throughout the film, the director peppers in performances of the drummer into the story, splicing in clips of old Phil Spector classics and syncing them up with the actors, and providing an intriguing juxtaposition with the African setting.  The use of these oldies helps contribute to a feeling of nostalgia in the viewer, enhancing the narrative recollections of the drummer of his long-lost love.

The classic song “Be My Baby” has been used several times over the years specifically for evoking those feelings of nostalgia, most memorably in Dirty Dancing, but in this particular scene the director Miguel Gomes is mining the pathos inherent in the music.  In this scene, the couple has decided that it would be best to end the affair, though both are heartbroken by the decision.  We first see the result of the breakup through the eyes of Aurora, as she hears the song playing on the radio; we are then taken to the studio where the song is being performed, with Gian-Luca drumming along.  It is an emotional moment, as neither person can finish the song without crying–and because the scene is so expertly constructed, neither can the viewer.

The use of old Phil Spector songs is one example of the film’s several interesting and sly comments on colonialism.  For example, the version of “Be My Baby” from the climactic scene highlighted above is not the original song from The Ronettes, but a Spanish cover by the group Les Surfs.  Les Surfs were a family act from Madagascar that achieved their greatest fame from covering English hits in different languages, reversing in some ways the earlier scenes of the colonial musicians playing songs in their original form.  The central love story between the Portuguese colonizers ends up being a footnote in the revolution that would soon take place in Mozambique, with the narrator mentioning in passing how the events help spark the initial fighting.   And in fact the title of the film is a direct reference to Murnau’s silent film of the same name which explores colonialism from an earlier perspective.  There are many layers to Tabu, all of which are worth exploring.

Review: Tame Impala – Currents

It has become increasingly rare for indie rock bands to break through into mainstream success, and a psychedelic record about the comforts of isolation is probably the unlikeliest candidate to accomplish the feat.  Nevertheless, Lonerism became a hit and catapulted Tame Impala into the rarefied air of festival-headliners, and the pressure was on for Kevin Parker to see what he could accomplish next with his project.  For Currents, Parker has seemingly ditched synth-like-guitars for actual synths, giving his explorations into 70’s-era psychedelia a slick 80’s sheen, an initially jarring juxtaposition that reveals itself over multiple listens to be a smart approach to evolving the band’s signature sound.  The album does not provide the same gratifying pleasure of Lonerism, but Currents still provides an intriguing next step forward for Tame Impala.

The album kicks off with the absolutely stellar “Let It Happen”, a track that is a restless, pulsing, seven-and-a-half minute monster that is sure to be the highlight of any future Tame Impala live show.  It not only is a perfect example of Parker’s studio wizardry, but it is a compositional masterpiece–“Let It Happen” effortlessly shifts from one idea to the next, but never comes across as meandering, even as it effectively stops, restarts, and reverses itself mid-song.  While the song does an excellent job of not only setting the tone for the rest of the album, but preparing the listener for Tame Impala’s shift in style, it unfortunately overshadows everything else that follows.

Currents is a sonic marvel, and fans will deservedly pore over every note on the album.  The incorporation of dance elements and Prince-inspired R&B was an inspired choice, and the production on the album makes it the most modern-sounding retro album possible.  However, the album suffers from a saggy middle section, where compelling musical ideas are compromised by weak vocal melodies that fail to leave much of an impression.  Despite these flaws, the album picks up in its second half when it finds the groove again in songs like “Disciples” and “Reality In Motion”.

It is clear that Currents is a deeply personal record, and Parker’s passion really shines through the entire work.  Like other Tame Impala albums, it takes several listens to pick up on the nuances of Currents, but the music is fascinating enough on the surface that it never feels like a chore.  At the moment, it may not be the equal of Lonerism or Innerspeaker, but as it stands Currents is a welcome addition to the band’s catalog.