Over the Weekend (July 7 Edition)

Hope everyone had a fun holiday weekend, with all fingers and toes still intact.  On to the news and videos:

Big news last week as Death Grips broke up, just in time for me to miss seeing them on their tour with Soundgarden and Nine Inch Nails.  To tell you the truth, I wasn’t fully expecting the group to show up, considering their history, but it’s a bummer nonetheless.  The “break-up” makes sense, in either their own narrative of being an art project or an outsider’s perspective of being a pure troll-job.  At least we can say that a lot of rich people gave them money, and they repaid that debt by giving the public a lot of cool music for free.

Some might say that the biggest news was the leak that Pink Floyd is releasing a new album, but this is only significant for people who never listened to The Division Bell and don’t care that Roger Waters is not involved in the new project.  Still, if you’re looking for an excuse to turn out the lights and fire up Wish You Were Here, might as well make it this one.

Or you could listen to “Wish I Was Here”, a collaboration between Cat Power and Coldplay for the new Zach Braff film of the same name.  I don’t remember much of the movie “Garden State”, but if it got more people to listen to The Shins, I’m perfectly fine with its existence.  I still get chills listening to “New Slang”.

Continuing with another (un)expected collaboration, Rolling Stone has the latest video to result from the Miley Cyrus/Flaming Lips partnership, this time with special guest Moby.  Yes, drugs were involved.

Jack White is continuing to clear out his vault, and announced the release of a single from his band The Dead Weather, along with a live album from The White Stripes.  Pitchfork has the details if you’re interested.

If you’re in the mood for some reading, you could do better than read the AV Club’s Hatesong feature, which continues to be a waste of time for most everybody involved.  This past week saw a comedian complain about Rage Against the Machine’s “Bulls On Parade” because…he was in 8th grade and didn’t like his classmates that liked the song.  AV Club, you’re better than this.

If you need something to lift up your spirits after that, no worries: we finally have a new song from Death From Above 1979.  The track “Trainwreck 1979” made its debut on Zane Lowe’s program on BBC Radio 1, and you can catch it at about the 1 hour and 54 minute mark.  Be sure to set your cursor back a couple of minutes before that, as Zane explains the significance of You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine to many music fans, even if it never sold all that much.  It reminds me of “Sexy Results”, but a quicker and dirtier version of it.  In other words, it’s grimy, but still has a good dance beat.

[Edited to add:] The band has uploaded a lyric video for “Trainwreck 1979” and have also included information to pre-order the new album The Physical World on their Facebook page.

Still bored?  Check out some Best Albums So Far lists, courtesy of Relix and Stephen Thomas Erlewine.  Several the albums we’ve touted appear on both lists, so good news for us, but they should also provide the opportunity to discover other new artists as well.

And last but not least, Spoon continues to release new tracks from its upcoming release, They Want My Soul.  The band released “Do You”, plus Brit stopped by the BBC Radio 6 studio to do a quick acoustic show and interview.


The Coldplay Dilemma

According to the rushed pace of the standard Internet cycle, it’s probably more than a little late to the game to do an in-depth discussion on Coldplay at this point.  I mean, their new album came out nearly a month ago!  Even if you were interested in reading a thinkpiece on the band, you probably have had your fill weeks ago.  You’re probably even less inclined than usual to read a semi-glorified album review for something that you could have listened to multiple times already.

Of course, these are issues separate from the fact that it’s Coldplay that would be the subject of analysis.  The mere mention of their name is enough to get Internet Folk riled up to offer their witty take, usually a negative one at that.  Then again, I’m not the first person to acknowledge this fact, as most pieces on Coldplay are offered from some sort of an apologist’s perspective.  So I’m just going to lay my cards on the table: I’m a Coldplay fan.  As I’ve put it before, “That’s right: I have opinions on Coldplay b-sides.”

That’s a pretty great b-side.  See also “See You Soon” and “Careful Where You Stand”.

Now here’s where we go over all the caveats.  I’m a fan in the sense that I will buy each of their albums as they’re released, but there’s no guarantee that I will continue to listen to them as the years go by (in fact, it’s been several years since I’ve listened to X&Y, and I’ve made it a point to specifically not-listen to that album over the years–the play count on my iTunes for that album remains at zero, and you can go back three laptops and find that to be the case).  I’m a fan in that I will occasionally offer a defense of their musicianship or some of their works, but I’m not one to go out of my way to convince people.  I’m not exactly the zealous advocate that Coldplay may require.

I still listen to their first two albums fairly regularly, and I would argue that Parachutes and A Rush of Blood to the Head are two of the best albums of the 00’s.  It’s striking that often you will find that many of Coldplay’s detractors will concede that there are at least a couple of good songs on those albums; what’s even more impressive is that there isn’t a general consensus on what those specific songs are, and if you add the vote totals up for each song, you would end up with votes for half of each album.  “Shiver” or “Don’t Panic”, “Everything’s Not Lost” or “Spies”?  “The Scientist” or “Amsterdam”? ,”Clocks” or “Politik”?  It’s easy to make a case for any of these songs (except for “Yellow”, which was of course their first breakthrough hit–I won’t stand for any argument for it, and it’s the one area where I’ll agree with the detractors.  Go figure).

Once A Rush of Blood to the Head made Coldplay the biggest band in the world however, it would undercut the identity that gave them their success in the first place: that they were the underdog.  It’s hard to believe the person singing a lyric like “So I look in your direction, but you pay me no attention” from “Shiver” when he’s married to Gwyneth Paltrow, or that the frontman of the best-selling band on the planet would be contemplating suicide, as in “Amsterdam”.  They were no longer the plucky underdog, they were not the confident favorite.  This would even box the band in musically, as they built their reputation on more intimate, simple songs.  Even when they would explode with emotion, there was still an element of restraint.  Sure there are big and brash pounding chords on “Politik”, but they resolve to a delicate conclusion by the end (pay close attention to the subtle melody that overlays the chords, that is the true movement in the song).

X&Y is the sound of a band spinning its wheels as it realizes it has these issues.  Luckily, the group realized that from an artistic perspective, that it needed a change in focus (they never would have a problem from a commercial perspective–X&Y opened up at #1, as they would for the rest of their career).  The band realized that they needed to alter their style, and hiring Brian Eno was a great way to start.  That’s why Viva la Vida works much better as an album–they realize their place, but they also realize that now they can indulge in more adventurous musical experimentation.  Mylo Xyloto was conceived similarly, except any subtlety was brushed aside in favor of amplification of all their traits, good and bad.  It’s still better than X&Y, but it would take a conscious effort on my part to seek out (most of the time I forget the album even exists, honestly).

Sadly, with the recent turmoil in Chris Martin’s personal life, the band could conceivably claim the mantle of their earlier albums.  Musically, it makes sense as well–after a couple of albums of experimentation, the time is ripe to return to the original formula and make more intimate songs.  Ghost Stories does that, but in the process it seems to miss out on the strengths of those early albums.  Guitars are generally discarded and drums are programmed, with only the bass given much of anything to do.  By de-emphasizing their instrumental strengths, it often has the aura of being a Chris Martin solo album more than a Coldplay album.  This was a band that had an underrated guitarist that would use novel chords, provide incisive leads, and had a complete mastery of tone, and a group that had a drummer that had a wonderful rhythmic sense and had great control over both powerful hits and subtle flourishes.

Despite these flaws, Ghost Stories does have its merits, and at least shows that the band is still willing to engage in musical left turns (the multi-tracked vocals reminiscent of Bon Iver in “Midnight” are an example where the experimentation works).  It will make a fine late-night album, but it won’t take the place of Parachutes or A Rush of Blood to the Head quite yet.

Over the Weekend (May 5 Edition)

New music, new videos, new articles, and even new music lessons for you this week, so no complaints this Monday.

The Black Keys will be filling up the newsfeeds of most music sites this week, in preparation of the release of their new album Turn Blue next week.  For those who want an early listen, it’s streaming through iTunes, or if you want your new Black Keys given to you in a more piecemeal fashion, Slate has the video of the band performing the new song “Bullet in the Brain” for Zane Lowe.  And for those of you who are more visually-inclined, the band has released a video for early single “Fever”.  It finds the band adopting the lo-fi aesthetic of other videos like “Lonely Boy” and “10 A.M. Automatic”, and features Dan Auerbach as a haggard Evangelical preacher trying to inspire his flock, while looking as if he’s afflicted with the malady from the title.

Coldplay performed two new songs from the upcoming Ghost Stories on the most recent episode of Saturday Night Live, and Pitchfork has the video of the songs, plus Chris Martin’s appearance in a sketch as well as an unrelated sketch about the perils that come with daring to speak ill of the goddess Beyonce.

The Antlers are continuing to tease fans with details of their upcoming album Familiars, providing SPIN with the stream of their latest track “Hotel”, which reminds me quite a bit of Burst Apart‘s “I Don’t Want Love”.  The music is still as gorgeous and haunting as ever, and I can’t wait to hear the new album.  Also relevant to my particular interests is the fact that after seemingly skipping out on Portland for their upcoming tour, they will actually be visiting the Rose City as a part of the just-announced MusicFest NW lineup this August 16-17.

Sharon Van Etten shot an interview and performance with the AVClub for their Pioneering series, and for the occasion she chose to cover Bruce Springsteen’s “Drive All Night”.  Check out the videos here.

For those looking for a #longread for the week, I recommend this Billboard article which excerpts the Fredric Dannen book Hit Men and discusses the long battle over the royalties for Meat Loaf’s mega-selling Bat Out Of Hell album.  It’s infuriating to see the treatment of the original producers by Sony and their continued attempts to duck out of their obligations for proper payment.  In case you had any lingering sympathy for the major record labels, this should help extinguish that pretty quickly.

And finally, for those of you looking for a little help in learning how to play the bass, check out this article from Dangerous Minds which provides an assortment of tracks featuring everything but the bass stripped out, courtesy of the website  Maybe this will help you graduate from Air Bass to an actual Bass.

Over the Weekend (Apr. 7 Edition)

This is a Monday that should be especially easy to handle, because there are a ton of new videos to watch and aid in your quest to find the best ways to procrastinate.

It wasn’t a bad weekend to stay at home, because Nine Inch Nails made a rare television appearance in performing for the legendary Austin City Limits.  SPIN has the video of the almost hour-long performance, but I’m not sure how long it will be up, so better watch this one as soon as you can.

Continuing a week full of Nirvana tributes, here’s a roundup of a few from various artists from this past weekend, including covers from St. Vincent and Muse.  Lost in the (understandable) fuss over Nirvana, is the fact that this weekend marked another terrible anniversary, that of the death of Layne Staley.  The Everybody Loves Our Town Tumblr has a link to his last performance with Alice in Chains.  And here is another strange way in which the stories have been combined, thanks to the use of Photoshop.

Lots of news for fans of Jack White (which includes us, of course), as he announced the upcoming release of his solo follow-up to Blunderbuss, with Lazaretto scheduled to hit stores on June 10.  In addition, he’s announced a string of tour dates and released the “liquidy” video of the instrumental track “High Ball Stepper” (embedded above), a great please of ragged blues-rock.

Speaking of Jack White, Weezer stopped by the headquarters of Jack’s Third Man Records to record an acoustic version of fan-favorite “Susanne”.  Hey, remember when Weezer not only wasn’t awful, but actually pretty great?  That song is from that era, and along with “Jamie” is the reason why I bought the expensive Deluxe Edition reissue of the Blue Album.

J Mascis always seems to be having something going on, from his work in his main band Dinosaur Jr. to his solo work to even his acting (he’s been a guest on Portlandia and will be in the upcoming film The Doublehere’s a clip of Richard Ayoade talking about casting J).  J also has a side project with Sweet Apple, and you can find the debut video “Wish You Could Stay” (with guest vocals from the great Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees, Queens of the Stone Age, and more)), as well as a stream of the entire album, The Golden Age of Glitter, on Stereogum.  The single is a pleasant, shimmery piece of guitar pop, so please click if that description intrigues you.

Coldplay has released a music video for their latest single, “Magic”, and it’s rather good.  It’s made in the style of a silent film (with Coldplay being the backing music, of course), and involves a storyline with Zhang Ziyi and, well, magicians.  It’s nice to have some visual flair to a song that’s going to be pretty omnipresent on radio for a few months.

And because we publish this pretty late in the day, this allows us to catch some news just as its breaking–like the fact that The Roots are releasing a new album next month.  …And Then They Shoot Your Cousin will be out May 13, and Pitchfork has the first single “The People Cheer”.

Over the Weekend (Mar. 3 Edition)

It’s time to settle into another week, and what better way to capture the futility of another Monday than a pointless list from Rolling Stone?  This time, the “fearless” editors decided to rank every single song that Nirvana ever played, and decided that a slideshow of 102 clips is the best way to accomplish this.  Sure, some of the anecdotes are a bit fun, but mainly I’m surprised that someone listened to everything in the With the Lights Out boxset.

I'm sure there's a better way to utilize the asterisk.

These songs were ranked in some arbitrary order by Rolling Stone

As technology and the marketplace has evolved in music over the last decade, new business models have emerged, and not always to the benefit of the artists.  For example, a lot of emphasis has been placed on streaming services in recent years, and while some artists have endorsed this development, others have argued strongly against it, including notably Radiohead and The Black Keys.  We plan on doing future explorations of this argument in the future, but keep in mind this bit of evidence offered up by Zoe Keating, who provided a breakdown of where her income from her music came from in 2013.  Also, something else to keep in mind when you hear mindless preaching about how new technology will save us all: Camper Van Beethoven had a higher net profit than Twitter last year.  $645 million greater.

In a bit of great news for those who enjoyed our essay on The New Pornographers, Under the Radar has an interview with Carl Newman talking about their progress on a new album.

Speaking of our own work, it looks like we’re not the only ones who felt the time was right to take a look back at Danger Mouse’s career so far.  Stereogum has an “Annotated Media Guide to Danger Mouse” that you may want to check out.

SPIN seems to have the British band beat down this morning, with news about Coldplay’s new album (due May 19) and the premiere of the Arctic Monkeys’ new video for “Arabella”.

And finally, what better way to feel better about the week ahead than a reminder about the genius of This Is Spinal Tap.  ShortList has a list of the greatest “real life” Spinal Tap moments.  Some of these are probably worthy of a Jeff Goldblum laugh.