Month: September 2015

Covered: My Morning Jacket (Special Edition)

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.

Normally, we highlight a specific song for this feature, but this week we are instead celebrating a group’s history of creating fantastic covers.  Over the years, My Morning Jacket has demonstrated an amazing aptitude at covering classics from a variety of genres, from classic rock to metal to pop to R&B.  They have done songs from the likes of The Velvet Underground and Black Sabbath and Lionel Richie, and those are just selections from a couple of shows that I attended.   Each member is a remarkable musician, and Jim James possesses a unique voice that is not only remarkably powerful and emotive, but one that is incredibly versatile as well.  However, no matter how many covers the band may play in a set, each song retains the definitive character of a My Morning Jacket track, which separates them from your typical decent bar band (though they do make for a great wedding band).

One of My Morning Jacket’s most celebrated covers is their take on Eyrkah Badu’s hit “Tyrone”, an early recording that still occasionally pops up in the band’s setlist from time to time.  Instead of analyzing the similarities and differences between the cover and the original, we are merely going to share the video of the time that the two artists joined together to produce a memorably thrilling performance.

Feats of Strength: My Morning Jacket

In honor of their show Wednesday night at the Keller Auditorium, we are declaring this to be My Morning Jacket Week.  Today, we take a closer look at one of their greatest songs, “Lay Low”.

My Morning Jacket broke through with the critically-acclaimed album Z, a diverse record that saw the band expand their sound by incorporating numerous diverse influences (including dub and reggae) into their brand of gothic Southern rock.  Not only was it an artistic triumph, it was a commercial success, as it served as an introduction for many to one of the best-kept secrets in indie rock.  I was personally able to convert many of my friends into fans with the help of both Z and the accompanying live album Okonokos, and they have remained devoted to the band to this day as a result.

The centerpiece of the record is the power ballad “Lay Low”, which endures as a highlight of the band’s live show.  The song is broken up into two parts, a tender, but groovy, first half, and an instrumental outro which features a blistering guitar solo from frontman Jim James.  The brilliant solo itself is an obvious draw, a great blend of musicianship and showmanship–it features a beautiful melody that captivates the audience, while also throwing in a handful of flourishes like a series of quick hammer-ons and deep slow bends, that show off some technical chops without drifting into “wankery”, for lack of a better word.

However, it is how James’s solo is incorporated with the rest of the band that makes “Lay Low” such a great song.  Throughout the solo, the other members are complementing James’s work and laying down an excellent foundation, including Carl Broemel’s second guitar counterpoint melody.  The song’s climax is when all five members lock into this wonderful groove, in a moment that still gives me chills to this day.  It is captured perfectly in the video from Okonokos embedded above, when at the 5:05 mark the camera switches to a center-band shot that zooms out until everyone is in view.

It is not just the solo, but the work of the whole band, that created such a masterpiece.

Over the Weekend (Sept. 21 Edition)

News, new music, videos, and other fun stuff to help you get through the week…

After months of waiting, Run The Jewels finally released their highly-anticipated Meow The Jewels, a joke-remix album for charity that had several producers and musicians recreating the brilliant record Run The Jewels 2 using only cat noises.  If you want to take a listen, a free download is available through the RTJ website, and yes, it is about as ridiculous as you would expect.  As you enjoy such great remixes as “Paw Due Respect”, be sure to read El-P’s interview with Deadspin discussing the project.

Of course, if you want to listen to a more traditional version of Run The Jewels, we highly recommend that you check out their electrifying performance with TV on the Radio for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, if you have not done so already.  Speaking of Mr. Colbert, he had a busy week last week, with the highlight probably being his vocal assistance on Pearl Jam’s cover of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ In The Free World” to close out one of his shows.

The team-up between Colbert and Pearl Jam was part of a promotion for Saturday’s Global Citizen Festival, with Stephen helping to host and Pearl Jam closing out the festivities.  One of the highlights of Pearl Jam’s set had to have been Eddie Vedder’s performance with the one and only Beyonce of Bob Marley’s classic song “Redemption Song”, though you may have to search for the video yourself as different versions keep getting deleted.

In other news, The Strokes informed announced to the crowd at their recent D.C. show that the band will soon be recording a new album, which we personally hope will be better than Comedown Machine.

Broken Bells premiered a new concert film over the weekend entitled Live at the Orpheum, and the group shared a new track to help promote the movie, an upbeat track with a jittery disco beat called “It’s That Talk Again”.

Don Cheadle has a new film about Miles Davis coming out next month, and Vulture has a brief primer on the legendary musician for those who would appreciate some background before seeing the movie.

And finally, be sure to set your DVRs or plan your schedules accordingly, because Austin City Limits announced that they will be taping shows with Kendrick Lamar as well as D’Angelo and the Vanguard in the next few weeks.  Both of those should be memorable performances.

Catching Up On The Week (Sept. 25 Edition)

Some #longreads as you enjoy the cool autumn weather…

This weekend marks the tenth anniversary of the release of Wolf Parade’s Apologies to the Queen Mary, and considering we named this site after a lyric from the album, we think this is a rather significant milestone.  Even after hundreds and hundreds of spins, the album still captivates our attention and remains one of our favorites.  We may write our own appreciation in the future, but for now, feel free to read Stereogum’s appreciation of this classic album.

Fans of grunge will be glad to see that they have plenty to read this weekend.  First, Chris Cornell has an extensive interview with The Stranger, and second, Alternative Nation has drummer Barrett Martin’s liner notes for the reissue of Sweet Oblivion from the Screaming Trees, one of the best and most underrated albums of the 90’s.

Finally, Pitchfork takes a look at the effect that Kanye West’s left turn with 808s & Heartbreak had on contemporary hip-hop.

The “Happy Birthday” Copyright: An Update

Last year we published a piece discussing the controversy behind the copyright claim to the song “Happy Birthday”, and included a brief rundown on some of the legal claims cited in the lawsuit challenging the copyright itself.  This week, a federal judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, in an opinion finding that the publisher Warner/Chappell Music Inc. did not have a valid claim to the lyrics of “Happy Birthday”.  Though one could find news of the result of the ruling from numerous outlets, it was difficult to track down a copy of Judge King’s opinion so we could analyze the opinion ourselves.   Eventually, we were able to locate a copy thanks to the Los Angeles Times, and the very least we could do is share their upload or Rupa Marya v. Warner/Chappell Music, Inc. with our readers.

It is important to note the distinction between the melody and the lyrics, and the different copyrights that are attributed to each element; this point is discussed on page 10 of the opinion, with the court noting that at this point it is the copyright on the lyrics that are in dispute.  The song that we all know as “Happy Birthday” uses the same melody as a song that sisters Mildred and Patty Hill had previously written, “Good Morning to All”, with a new set of lyrics substituted in their place.  The opinion provides the timeline of how the two songs were intertwined, and the convoluted history is why determining the origins of the copyright has been so difficult.

The rest of the opinion goes into deeper detail about the facts specific to this case and the precise legal standards involved, and their relative importance to you may vary.  But the case should serve as a reminder to the public about the importance of owning the compositional copyright.  Every song has two copyrights–one copyright for the composition (what is written), and one copyright for the performance (what is heard)–and it is the compositional copyright that is the money-maker.  That is the copyright which generates the most royalties, including the mechanical royalty that kicks in for covers, as well as the royalties from public performances (live performance and digital transmission).  Now you can see why “Happy Birthday” could be a great source of revenue for a company.

The saga of “Happy Birthday” is not over just yet, as many loose ends remain.  However, it became much harder for someone to make a claim on the next public performance you hear of that song.

Review: Low – Ones and Sixes

What Low has accomplished over the course of their two-decade-plus career is truly astonishing.  Not only have they never come close to releasing a mediocre album, but they still sound as vibrant as ever, with their creative spark still burning bright.  Though as pioneers of the “slowcore” genre they are known for their minimalist tendencies, Low still is finding new sounds to explore and ideas to develop, which makes Ones and Sixes an excellent addition to their brilliant discography.

Ones and Sixes is an excellent summation of the different paths the band has pursued since the release of Things We Lost In The Fire.  The band alternates between the warmer milieu of their recent work (C’mon and The Invisible Way) with a dip back into the icier moods of albums like Drums and Guns. The influence of that often-overlooked album really shines through with the incorporation of electronic drums on tracks like “Congregation” and “Gentle”, the latter of which evokes a more downbeat version of With Teeth-era Nine Inch Nails.

These dark, mysterious tracks fit perfectly alongside soaring guitar-based ballads, like the dazzling “Lies”, which may have one of the most gorgeous climaxes that the band has ever recorded.  This sublime moment is immediately followed by the epic “Landslide”, which is possibly Low’s heaviest work to date.  With its heavy distortion and extended dissonant outro, it is sure to be a highlight of the group’s upcoming live show.

There are other intriguing subtle production touches on Ones and Sixes, most notably the use of some natural distortion in the recording and mixing process that gives a rawer feel to certain moments, providing a nice contrast to the otherwise pristine tone found throughout the record.  In addition to their inspired instrumental experimentation, Low once again makes great use of the harmonies of the husband-and-wife team of Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker, with each also given their own time to shine.  Their hauntingly alluring vocals are perfect complements to the exquisitely constructed melodies, and that combination together should be more than enough to draw in new listeners.  Of course, this should come as no surprise to old fans, since Low has been consistently excellent for a number of years, but they will certainly be pleased to hear that the band has created an excellent capstone for their fine work of the past decade.

Random note: I have not seen an explanation of the title, but my guess is that “Ones and Sixes” is a reference to dice, and the minimum/maximum that one can get; therefore, the record might be seen as an exploration of highs and lows.  Just a theory.

Kraftwerk, Live at the Keller Auditorium

On Saturday night, legendary electronic act Kraftwerk put on a show that can be truly described as “unique”.  It is difficult to even call what we saw a “concert”, since it is unclear how much of what we heard was performed live.  However, the audience did not pay a fair amount of money just to hear some of their old favorite tracks, but for the totality of the experience, and in that regard Kraftwerk put on a memorable show.

Just four men and their podiums (or podia).

Just four men and their podiums (or podia).

The group constructed a career-spanning set, creating medleys from each distinct era of the band’s history, and the accompanying visuals provided the uninitiated with the appropriate notice as to what album was being covered.  The songs were not mere rote reproductions of what can be found on their records, but updated in a way that blended newer ideas with the basic elements that made up the classic Kraftwerk sound.  It was an intriguing combination, which evokes the fundamental paradox of Kraftwerk’s music as it exists in the 21st century–how does one continue to try to approximate the sound of the future when what was previously composed now sounds so retro?

The melding of old and new also was explored with the visual presentation.  The show was presented in 3-D, and there were several moments sprinkled throughout where the crowd was dazzled by the technical feats on display.  Yet at the same time, most of the visuals were fairly simple in design, as were many of the motions.  For instance, the section for Autobahn could be described as the most accurate depiction of the Out Run arcade game ever created.

The appropriate materials necessary for enjoyment of the show.

The appropriate materials necessary for enjoyment of the show.

Kraftwerk has always experimented with various levels of automation, and as such it was difficult for the audience to determine as to what exactly was “performed”.  For the entirety of the show, we were presented with four men standing behind wide podiums, with no real hint as to what each member was contributing to what was being heard; it was not until halfway through the set that I could tell that Ralf Hütter was in fact singing some of the lyrics, or that he was playing a synthesizer.  The sole exception was the beginning of the encore, where in a brilliant touch “The Man-Machines” were literally replaced by robots.  This is why I cracked up when audience members were giving ovations to specific members as they exited the stage one-by-one, because it was impossible to determine who was playing what.

The most beautiful game of Out Run you have ever seen.

The most beautiful game of Out Run you have ever seen.

Overall, it was a very cool experience that anyone with a level of appreciation of electronic music should try to catch at some point.  Then you can also spend hours afterward contemplating the nature of time and space and man and machine and past and future and so on and so forth, all with a nice pulsing beat as background.

Over the Weekend (Sept. 21 Edition)

New music, videos, and news to kick off your week…

Eagles of Death Metal are set to release their first album in seven years, and the duo sat down for an interview with Rolling Stone that was in equal parts hilarious and eloquent, which should not be a surprise to anyone with a passing familiarity with their particular exploits.

Another fun interview worth checking out is the one SPIN conducted with Wayne Coyne about the twentieth anniversary of Clouds Taste Metallic, which touched on such topics as to how The Flaming Lips ended up on the Batman Forever soundtrack and the circumstances of the departure of guitarist Ronald Jones from the group.

Ought just came out with their second album last week, and Sun Coming Down has been greeted with rave reviews so far.  For those looking for a taste as to how the new album sounds, the band shared the video to the almost-title track “Sun’s Coming Down” last week.

With the breakthrough success of their album Sunbather still fresh in the minds of critics and fans, Deafheaven’s New Bermuda is set to be one of the most highly anticipated releases of the fall.  They should be highly pleased with the release of the song “Come Back”, as it incorporates many of the elements that people loved about Sunbather with some additional metal touches thrown in for good measure.

New Bermuda is not the only big album being released next Friday, as V from Wavves is also coming out on October 2nd.  The band shared the wrestling-themed video for the single “Way Too Much” last week, and it should get you pumped.

DIIV released the single “Dopamine” last week from their upcoming album Is The Is Are, and you can take a listen to the driving and infectious jangle-pop track through the band’s SoundCloud page.

Diffuser provides a look at the history of the photograph that Rage Against the Machine used for the self-titled debut, providing a bit of context to the unforgettable image of  Quảng Đức’s self-immolation.  Elsewhere on the site, you can find a pretty good list of the 25 Most Underrated Albums of the Past 25 Years, which we can say because we agree with many of the choices.

And finally, in not-unexpected news, the band Viet Cong has announced that they have decided to change their name.  The group still has a few shows left on its tour, including a date in Portland, but have not settled on a new name yet.

Catching Up On The Week (Sept. 18 Edition)

A large number of #longreads for your weekend reading pleasure…

Alternative Nation recently talked to Mike McCready of Pearl Jam for an extensive interview that touched on a variety of subjects, including his work in Mad Season, his songwriting approach, and what the future holds for his main gig.  As always, McCready comes off as one of the nicest guys you will find in rock.

Fellow Seattle legend and sometimes-collaborator Chris Cornell was interviewed by the AV Club for their Set List feature, wherein they took a retrospective look at his varied career so far, offering insight into the Soundgarden reunion among other topics.

Elsewhere on the AV Club, Everclear’s Sparkle and Fade was analyzed for the site’s Permanent Records feature, providing some nice perspective on an underappreciated classic.

DIY talked to Foals as they prepared for the release of What Went Down, with the band discussing their recording philosophy and attitude towards writing new material.

Bradford Cox of Deerhunter opened up for a rather bizarre interview on Grantland.

Finally, we are not sure when this article was originally published, but we just came across this look back to the recording of …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead’s classic Source Tags & Codes in Magnet, where the band discusses the making of the album as well as its effect on the rest of their career.

Tokyo Police Club, Live at the Doug Fir

Last night’s Tokyo Police Club show at the Doug Fir captured the vibe of being packed into a basement for a house party, except for the fact that floors were not nearly as sticky and the band was way more professional and polished than whomever Dave could bribe to play for a case of cheap domestic.  The devoted showed up in full force last night, ready to sing along to to tracks that date back to the group’s first EP, and the group complied with an enthusiastic and lively set.

David Monks mid-rock-out maneuver

David Monks mid-rock-out maneuver

The band kicked off the show with a modification to their recent setlist by opening with “Breakneck Speed”, slightly altering the lyrics to say “it’s good to be back in Portland” in a nice bit of showmanship.  “Hot Tonight”, an effervescent highlight from their most recent album Forcefield soon followed, and set the mood for the evening.  The new material mixed in well with the old material, with the group focusing heavily on songs from the Champ era in filling out a twenty song set.

We were even treated to a couple of new songs, with bassist/singer David Monks giving a bit of the backstory for “PCH”, noting that the events of the romance took place on that highway that was, to paraphrase, not that far off from here.  Another highlight was fan-favorite “Bambi”, complete with an extended intro that did a great job in disguising what was to come, as well as early cuts like “Nature of the Experiment” and the infectious “Your English Is Good”.  For the encore, we were even treated to a cover of Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone”, which managed to accomplish the difficult task of captivating this crowd packed with hipsters.

A good look at the friendly fellows

A good look at the friendly fellows

Openers The Domestics did a great job with their pop-rock set, effectively setting the mood for the rest of the night.  The local act kept the audience’s attention with a varied setup, switching between instruments and vocalists, all the while delivering punchy and engaging songs.  They will definitely be a highlight on many bills around town.