Videos, news, and other fun stuff as you recover from the worst playcall of all-time…
The coffee in Seattle probably tastes extra bitter today after yesterday’s Super Bowl loss, but the weekend wasn’t a total bummer for them since Friday night saw the “reunion” of supergroup Mad Season for a special event. Blabbermouth has videos of the show which featured original members Mike McCready and Barrett Martin joining the Seattle Symphony to perform a trio of the group’s songs. The evening also featured guest appearances from other Seattle grunge superstars like Chris Cornell, Jeff Ament, Stone Gossard, and Matt Cameron, as well as native Seattleite Duff McKagan. As an added bonus, the stars also performed a couple of songs from the classic Temple of the Dog tribute album.
We also have a couple of new music videos this week. First, Deerhoof released the video for “Black Pitch” from La Isla Bonita, and it revolves around singer Satomi Matsuzak enjoying the coastal scenery despite the cold temperature outside.
Then we have Run The Jewels’s second appearance in today’s linkfest, since they just put out a video for “Lie, Cheat, Steal”.
If you’re in the mood for lists which prominently feature the Pixies, we have a couple for you. First, there’s PASTE ranking the 80 Best Albums of the 80’s, and then there’s Consequence of Sound looking at the Top 10 4AD albums for that record label’s thirty-fifth anniversary.
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.
Fans of the forever-underrated Big Star were thrilled with the recent release of Live in Memphis, which captures a semi-reunited version of the group performing a homecoming show back during the early 90’s. While it is somewhat of a disappointment that bassist Andy Hummel and guitarist/singer Chris Bell were not a part of the tour, it’s still a wonder to hear the majority of the band’s impeccable catalog in a live setting competently captured (and it’s especially moving to hear Alex and Jody cover Bell’s gorgeous “I Am the Cosmos” and dedicated to their deceased friend). Still, despite many of the high points of the album (personally I loved how high Jody Stephens’s drums were in the mix, and the use of reverb to really bring out his integral contributions to many of the band’s best songs), many of the reviews can’t help but reveal the disappointment at finding out that the delicate favorite “Thirteen” didn’t make the cut.
“Thirteen” is universally beloved for its touching depiction of early teenage love. The initial scene of the first verse perfectly captures the innocence of that time, when the biggest concerns were a partner to walk home from school and whether that special someone would accept your invitation to that week’s dance. The second verse is memorable as well, with its generational standoff over music and the comfort that allies find in their shared love (“Rock ‘n’ roll is here to stay/come inside where it’s okay”). And the final verse offers both a view that exaggerates the situation (“Would you be an outlaw for my love?”) and also diminishes the stakes (“If it’s so, well let me know; if it’s no, well, I can go.”). The lyrics are accompanied by some of the most beautifully recorded acoustic guitars ever, a trademark of the entire #1 Record album. Alex Chilton carefully picks a classic folk chord progression, mainly alternating between G and C chords, but also brilliantly involving the relevant minor chords as well to bridge the main sections. The guitar solo, in all of its simplistic glory, is also a perfect example of how modesty should be a path taken more often; a couple of precisely selected notes and a graceful little run can be all you need to add the necessary flourish to a song.
Today, Wilco released the rarities box set Alpha Mike Foxtrot, and for many who pick it up it will be the first time that they’ll hear their cover of “Thirteen” (among many other tracks–it’s nearly 80 songs across four discs, many of them previously unreleased). I managed to randomly find a copy of their single “Outtasite (Outta Mind) a couple of years ago which included this cover, so even though I haven’t gotten a chance to plow through the rest of the box set, I can at least comment on this track in particular. Wilco is careful not to overwhelm the tender ballad, but they also are able to add a couple of subtle touches that make it sound like a regular part of the Wilco catalog. The graceful backing piano, the more deliberately strummed rhythm guitar, and a gorgeous lap steel lead guitar all give extra color to the song, and make the song sound like a folk or old country standard. And Jeff Tweedy’s distinctive warble helps bring out some of the pathos inherent in the song, though Tweedy is a good enough musician to not overindulge in this regard, letting the melody and words speak for themselves.
I would be derelict in my duty if I also didn’t share Elliott Smith’s hauntingly beautiful version of the song. As one may expect, “Thirteen” is a natural fit for Elliott, as it allows him to use his well-honed style of gentle finger-picked acoustic guitar and his delicately yearning vocals to great effect. The result is a more mournful and melancholic reaction to this tale of nostalgia, and allows one to reflect the story through a different lens. You can find a more polished version (with more precisely picked guitar and vocals a bit higher in the mix) on the rarities collection New Moon, but this particular video was a pleasant surprise, as Elliott’s emotions really shine in the performance.
Unfortunately, the music world suffered a great loss with the unexpected death of keyboardist Isaiah “Ikey” Owens earlier this week. Like many fans, I first heard of Ikey when the formation of The Mars Volta was announced. Back then, once we consoled ourselves after the disintegration of At the Drive-In, we eagerly looked forward to the next project of Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez. Once it was revealed that they were adding a keyboard player in to that mix, as well as bringing in ringers like Flea and John Frusciante, we were intrigued as to what the final product would be.
Ikey often brought a subtle presence to the songs, with his contributions often difficult to distinguish at first due to the bombastic nature of many of the guitar arrangements. But careful listens that many of the melodies and textures were Ikey’s, and his keyboard playing was an integral part of the overall Mars Volta sound. And even from behind his rows of keyboards and organs, Ikey was an engaging stage presence who would always grab your attention; for instance, when I think of the “Inertiatic ESP” video, it’s his headbobs and glissandos that I remember first.
After working with The Mars Volta for years, he eventually joined up with Jack White in his “Buzzards” all-star backing band, and anyone who has had the fortune of seeing Jack’s solo shows these past few years knows just how special that lineup is. It was while on tour in Mexico with Jack White that Ikey’s unfortunate death occurred, and out of respect for him that the rest of White’s tour dates in the country have been cancelled.
Of course, considering the great talent of Ikey, other groups were eager to hire him as a guest musician. A quick glance at his guest appearances on Wikipedia indicate that artists from a wide variety of genres respected his skills, including El-P, Saul Williams, and Mastodon. Truly, the world lost a great musician.
Some videos and other fun stuff as you realize that while the calendar says “fall”, the weather outside says otherwise…
We’re excited to hear the return of TV on the Radio, and they’re giving fans a glimpse of Seeds with their video for “Happy Idiot”. It stars Paul Reubens as a race car driver trying to drive away from memories/visions of Karen Gillan. Whatever is occurring exactly, we’re not sure, but the driving metaphor matches up nicely with the insistent beat.
New videos perfect for a lazy summer day and more…
Karen O released a video for “Rapt” from her upcoming solo release, Crush Songs. The song is a delicate lo-fi bitter ode to love, while the video sees Karen O floating underwater. That should be enough to intrigue you.
This weekend saw an unexpected collaboration, as Jack White popped up at a Beck concert, and White joined in for classics like “Loser”, “Pay No Mind”, and “Where It’s At”. The video at Pitchfork gives an incomplete view of what happened, but the glimpses that we see make it seem like a fantastic partnership. Their respective tours mirror each other a bit, so perhaps this we’ll be only the first example of a possible union.
Check out this solo acoustic performance from Adam Granduciel of The War On Drugs, performing “An Ocean In Between The Waves.” The performance shows that even without all the gauzy synths and hazy atmospherics of the album recording, it’s a damn good song that’s still extremely powerful.
The group clipping. has gotten a lot of attention for its experimental take on rap and for being one of the few hip-hop acts on Sub Pop, and they had the music world buzzing last week with their latest video, for “Story 2”. The song is a harrowing tale of a father’s returning home to find a tragedy has occurred at his house, with the style and flow changing as the terror increases once the father realizes what happened. The video follows the same storyline, though it’s shot to show only the father’s lower body, which makes it all the more unsettling. It’s probably one of the best videos you’ll see this year.
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”.
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.
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.
Spoon played Jimmy Kimmel Live last week, with tracks from their upcoming album They Want My Soul. We had previously heard “Rent I Pay”, but the band also debuted “Rainy Taxi” at the performance. The first is a ragged, stilted rocker that Spoon has perfected over the years, but the second is a groovy, uptempo number that fits in some of the dissonant touches that the band does so well, and should be a live favorite.
Fans in Oslo were treated to a Pearl Jam rarity, as the band performed “Strangest Tribe” for the first time. It’s a beautiful, somber song that can be found on the Lost Dogs compilation, and was originally released as one of the fanclub Christmas singles. A hearty thanks to the fan that filmed this special occasion.
Rolling Stone has Jack White’s entire Glastonbury set on its site, which included a quick cover of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” (a specific choice that the article has details about), and also a link to a previous performance with some choice covers including a take on The Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog”.
We recently saw the release of new albums from Jack White and The Black Keys (events which readers of this site should be very much well-aware), and while we were happy to hear new music from these great artists, that was not all that returned. If you were to read up on any of the news surrounding these releases or the reviews themselves, you were bound to find the same tired joke/trope/criticism in every piece: these artists were merely “ripping off” old music. Often this would be accompanied by the added attack that these were white men getting rich off of black music. While there is an element of truth to this, it’s time to stop resorting to this same hackneyed cliche.
In the past, this was once a novel and significant complaint. There were vast amounts of people that had overlooked or were ignorant of the exploitation of artists throughout our history, and this form of criticism helped illuminate the struggle they endured. It’s why Chuck D’s lyric that “Elvis was a hero to most, but he never meant shit to me” could strike a chord with so many people, both in the fierce resistance by some of an attack on their idol, but also by the support of other communities who could point to how they were left out in the process of cultural appropriation.
It’s taken for granted at this point by many that Elvis built his “revolutionary” rock’n’roll sound off the rhythm and blues music of contemporary black artists like Little Richard. But this attitude that Elvis “stole” black music is an ultimately shallow analysis and illustrates a pointlessly reductive attitude. It’s a charge made without context. Elvis acknowledged the influence of black music and performers throughout his career, and made sure to point it out to others; his career shouldn’t be viewed in the same way as say, Pat Boone’s.
The problem with approaching music in only this way is that it completely reduces the role of the performer. A song is made up of several components, from the chord changes to the rhythmic patterns to the lyrical content and so on. While the strength of one part may dominate over the others, to rely solely on that part would make for boring and crappy music. The fact that we have a whole feature on this site (Covered) where we analyze different performances of the same song helps emphasize this point. Personal interpretation as well as individual technical skill are both vitally important elements and can significantly change the effectiveness of a song.
[This is where I would put up a video clip of the scene from Spinal Tap where the band spontaneously begins singing “Heartbreak Hotel” at Elvis’s grave, but you’ll have to make do with just the audio.]
The focus on deconstruction of the elements of a song to a simple common origin ignores the collaborative nature of music, and how new works of art are always indebted in some way to past works. New music is built on the ideas of old music, often through slight tweaks or modifications. A slight change may seem insignificant on paper, but the effects in reality are often significant–by changing the emphasis of the beat, you can switch a polka (hit the 1 and 3) into a rock song (hit the 2 and 4). Therefore to identify a song as employing a traditional 12-bar blues structure and then calling it a day is ridiculous. It invites the assumption that we have already found the One True Blues Song, and everything post Robert Johnson has been a waste of time.
You can play this game with just about any artist. The Ramones play sped-up Beach Boys songs, Nirvana is a slicker version of the Pixies, Rachmaninoff puts the bombast of Beethoven and the lyrical romanticism of Chopin in a blender, and so on. I’ve been guilty of this myself, namely when I complain that the EDM scene today is solely a rehash of the work Aphex Twin did over a decade ago, that it’s just “Windowlicker” with a heavy dose of “Come to Daddy”. But why limit ourselves to music? I mean, there’s no need for new video games when we already have “Pong”. And for that matter, what are you doing on your computer, when you have a perfectly good television over there? It doesn’t take much to show that the entire exercise is pointless.
None of this is to say that “rip-offs” don’t exist; artists still have to contribute something to the exercise. But pointing out that elements of a song bear a resemblance to previously recorded music is not an end in and of itself. Because Television used the double-hit ringing guitar in “Marquee Moon”, does that mean that Interpol can’t use a similar figure in “Obstacle 1”? It should be obvious to any listener that the two bands achieve different results using the same concept, with each having their own merits.
This should be just as clear with Jack White and The Black Keys. Yes, they are heavily indebted to old styles (namely the blues, but country and folk play roles as well) and they wear influences on their sleeves, but to deny the fact that each of them add significant personal twists on old ideas is idiotic. They’re also ready and willing to point out their influences and to try and convince their audience to check them out–Jack White is quick to mention Son House, and The Black Keys released an EP of Junior Kimbrough covers.
The “rip-off” argument at this point is close to outliving its usefulness, and comes off now as lazy and a desperate attempt to impress others with the appearance of some music knowledge. Hopefully we’ll see the end of it soon.
I finally have to deal with the moment that I’ve been dreading for weeks now, and that’s a discussion of Jack White’s latest solo album Lazaretto. It’s not a matter of disappointment with the record, or anything along those lines–in fact, I think it’s a pretty good record. The problem instead is that I feel I have no particular insight specific to this record to offer at all. As per the usual, White dabbles in different old-timey styles, while often adding a unique personal touch: here’s a more traditional folk song;, here’s the song where he inverts blues conventions and utilizes bizarre guitar tones, etc. It’s not that it’s formulaic, but at this point the audience should have a good idea in their minds of what a Jack White record sounds like, especially now that we have a variety of post-White Stripes work to analyze.
Of course, this doesn’t stop others from attempting to postulate on the supposed themes of the album, or worse yet, divine some sort of grand theory behind Jack White the artist and what it means for Our Culture. As one of the few cross-generational “rock stars”, White is a figure that no matter what he does is going to generate some interest, or at the very least some page views. Beyond learning about his origins, considering how striking the White Stripes were in contrast with the contemporary music scene, for the most part I never indulged in this impulse. To me, beyond chuckling at a few articles about his various idiosyncracies (who doesn’t love a good “record release by balloon” story?), Jack White was a guy that wrote a lot of great rock songs, and some that were not-so-great. My one concession to this line of thinking is the fact that my favorite Jack White moment is the beginning scene of It Might Get Loud, where he constructs a makeshift guitar out of various spare parts.
The scene helps show a lot of what I love about White as an artist–his practical ingenuity, his love of cheap crap, his ability to find music from the unlikeliest of sources, and the pure emotion that he puts into his music. I enjoyed Jack White before seeing the documentary, but I came away with a new-found appreciation about him as an artist.* The documentary also is worth mentioning because it helps define my critical viewpoint of Jack White: it’s usually one that’s in opposition to someone else.
I know that it sounds like the douchebaggiest position imaginable, but in reality it works as more of a grounding influence. “The White Stripes suck”/”Actually, they’re a pretty good band that shows how limits can actually result in even more creativity”; “The White Stripes are the best band in rock’n’roll”/”They’re really good, but come on, there’s a lot of filler in their catalog and you can’t say that every detour Jack White takes is one worth exploring”; “Jack White is a shit guitarist”/”He knows how to wring pure emotion out of his guitar, and the seemingly odd melodic choices are there for a reason–he’s not just randomly choosing notes, unless it’s in specifically appropriate circumstances”; “I never want to hear ‘Steady as She Goes’ ever again”/”…We agree on this.” I think that White Blood Cells and De Stijl are the Stripes’ best albums, with Get Behind Me Satan a severely underrated number three, especially considering how White was able to organically expand the sound with pianos and marimbas and still have it sound natural, and that Elephant despite its high points is not their magnum opus. I also believe that the solos in “Icky Thump” sound like an electric dog fart, and hearing that song in heavy rotation while I was working full-time as a DJ has to rank as the worst part of an otherwise great job. But I could listen to the guitar in “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground” forever.
At this point, it makes sense that Jack White continue as a solo artist; even though a lot of this discussion centers on his work with Meg White, his solo work does allow him to indulge in different styles outside of the pigeonhole he created with the self-imposed barriers of The White Stripes. And the listener has benefited as a result, and it’s led to some thrilling results. You’ll find some of the most amazing displays of pure musicianship anywhere at one of his live shows; it was amazing to watch how in sync the band was with one another, especially the drummer, as Jack would change tempos and arrangements often on a whim.
Yet, amid all this general awe, there is little that is particularly memorable about White’s solo work. There are no immediately identifiable high points, like “Fell In Love With A Girl” or “Ball and a Biscuit”; I kind of remember “Love Interruption”, but that’s only because it got fairly significant airplay and I still had to think a bit before I could remember its melody. This is essentially the problem that I have with Lazaretto as well–when it’s done, I feel like I just listened to a good album. Ten minutes later, if you asked me about any favorite moment, I would be stumped. No matter how much I admire the music, there is still that little extra that is somehow missing to make it truly great.
Still, I’m going to be on the lookout for the next time Jack stops by the Northwest.
*My opinions about Jimmy Page were completely confirmed, however, as he displayed once again that he is the most overrated guitar player in existence. I cannot stand his extremely sloppy playing, and that’s on top of his lack of creativity. At one point he was playing one of his old Zeppelin songs, and he kept fumbling and making mistakes, and I had to think “Couldn’t they have done at least another take?”
Now that we’re all properly psyched up after the US victory over Ghana in the World Cup, let’s get to some cool videos
Our favorite news from last week, which we mentioned on our Tumblr, was the announcement that Death From Above 1979 will finally record a follow-up to their stunning debut You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine. I’ve listened to this album hundreds of times since its release (and the handful of oddball EPs and singles to help complete the short catalog), and it never gets old. The Tumblr post has the video of one of the coolest late night performances you’ll ever see, with the band performing on Conan with a special guest who arrives halfway through the song, so check that out. We’ll see if this song makes the new album:
Mastodon released a video for their single “High Road”, and this one features some LARPers in a fierce battle.
The first few minutes of the new Elliott Smith biopic have been released and are available for viewing; I’m linking to the Pitchfork announcement because it also includes a link to their extensive oral history on Elliott, which is definitely worth reading if you have the time.