So, here is this month’s first update of the notes. You might note that a few of the releases are not included. I tried to get to them, but just ran out of _______. However, the ones I left should tide everyone over until next month. (Right?).
As you might know…I am a huge Husker Du fan. Husker Du came out of the Minneapolis Scene at the same time as The Replacements and Prince. (not so much of a Prince fan…but The Replacements are in my top 5 of all time). Check out Husker Du here: “Makes No Sense At All” (http://youtu.be/J1sYN0PuRs4 ), “Don’t want To Know If You Are Lonely” (http://youtu.be/eoKeH7JYE48 ), and an amazing live version of “Pink Turns To Blue” (http://youtu.be/5kwRNXLjPS0 ).
Husker Du self destructed ( like many bands do) after several years of hard touring and intense personal strife between Bob Mould and Grant Hart who both formed bands in the wake of the Du’s destruction. Grant Hart formed Nova Mob (also awesome!) and Bob formed Sugar. Sugar was the perfect blend of Du’s punk rock and Bob’s knack for writing catchy pop songs. The result is two albums of melodic greatness that are somewhat overlooked but serve as the blueprint of where alternative rock took off into the mainstream. Start with Copper Blue which is the more accessible of these two records. From the opener “The Act We Act,” this record is a blistering pop assault with easily the catchiest rock songs you are likely to hear. I used to try to compare albums to this one, but as everything fell short…I gave up. Try “A Good Idea,” “Changes” “The Needle Hits E” … aw heck, try them all. I listed a couple of different in the earlier notes. Released in 1992, Copper Blue was NME’s album of the year (You can find “Helpless” here: http://youtu.be/oUf1sObmhr8).
Sugar’s FUEL (File Under Easy Listening) was according to Bob a difficult record to make (Read his book – fascinating!) as the struggles in his personal life were impacting his music. If you listen to the lyrics on these records they are quite personal. However, the music on FUEL is equally on par with Copper Blue. Truly – there are very few artists as creative as Bob. Be forewarned if you look for other records, particularly his solo records these are all over the map with forays into electronic and dance music. On FUEL, try “Gee Angel,” “Gift” and “Believe What You are Saying.”
Finally, on Silver Age, the latest release Bob comes full circle and returns (sort of) to his roots. The guitars are loud again and Bob’s writing reflects where he is today. Rarely do guys as old as Bob make records which are direct and in your face. Amazing. Try “Star Machine,” “The Descent” (http://youtu.be/8MdhsCeasBQ ), and “Angels Rearrange.”
Check out Bob live at the 9:30 Club on 09/15/12: http://youtu.be/Q-bbz2nVQzc .
Making a return after a long time away are the Blasters. If you were alive in the 80’s (and I suspect a couple of you were not) then the Blasters were one of the shows you had to see. This record is the first record from the band since 2005 and has all the original members except Dave Alvin (who is still pursuing his own brand of American music). This latest release is still a trip through time with a return to the Rock n Roll/R&B hybrid that gets your toes a tapping. Try “Fun on Saturday Night,” “Jackson” ( a duet with Exene Cervenka of X…this is a Johnny and June Cash Classic) and “Penny.”
The Killers are an enigma to me. Over the span of several albums they have written some sustainable classics songs with Brandon Flowers distinct vocals driving the harmonies, but the have also laid some piles of crap along the road ( “Human” comes to mind). The new record, in my not so humble opinion, suffers in the same fashion, but there are some terrific songs …hence its inclusion. Sure…there is some revisiting of past glories but it is music – its supposed to move you, remind you of where you’ve been, and where you might go. The bombastic choruses are still here but like classic 70s rock you would be disappointed if they were not. So try not to be to harsh…there is still stuff worth listening to on this record. So why not start with these: “Runaways,” “The Way it Was” and “Heart of a Girl.”
What happens when you get a twisted old guy (David Byrne formerly of the Talking Heads) with a twisted young girl (Annie Clark aka St. Vincent)? You get a unique pairing of very different voices resulting in a challenging and really good record. As there is a nearly 30 year age difference, Byrne (60) and Clark (29) the time shift really helps explain the resulting weird anti-funk experimental record. What I loved about this record was that it is non-conventional but inspired and different than what is passing for mainstream music. Try “The One Who Broke Your Heart,” “Lightning” and “Dinner For Two.”
What originated in Baltimore, and is now a world wide collective, The Animal Collective follow up their critically applauded 8th album Merriweather Post Pavilion with Centipede Hz. This four piece unit probably owns the psychedelic indie/ experimental genre. Animal Collective consists of Avey Tare (David Portner), Panda Bear (Noah Lennox), Deakin (Josh Dibb), and Geologist (Brian Weitz). Records released under the name Animal Collective may include contributions from any or all of these members; the lineup is not uniform – and possible explains why their records offer varying and unique perspectives. Centipede Hz picks up where Merriweather Post Pavilion left off in some ways with its variant of the Residents music sonically updated but most importantly, reaches new areas of the psychedelic range with melodic pop elements interspersed. That is, imagine if the Residents actually used conventional song structures and Andy Partridge of XTC was writing the melodies and you have Animal Collective present day. Try “Applesauce,” “New Town Burnout,” and “Today’s Supernatural.”
Amanda Palmer, like Animal Collective, occupies a different space in the rock music world. Aside from the controversial nature of her personality, the former Dresden Dolls singer is a freaking rock star. On Theater is Evil, her kickstarter funded project raising in excess of $1Million, Amada Fucking Palmer (her other nom de plume) shows why you can ignore the cult of personality surrounding her and concentrate on some great songwriting. The musicality of these songs is undeniable. Try “The Killing Type,” “Want it Back” and the very dark “Trout Heart Replica” ( A nod to Captain Beefheart’s classic third album Trout Mask Replica). This is easily one of the best albums of the year.
Toronto’s Billy Talent is a personal favorite. Playing Buzzcocks’ inspired melodic punk rock for almost twenty years, Dead Silence is their 5th record and for the life of me, I cannot explain they have not with more success on this side of the border ( for those in Canada, I’m talking about the U.S. side). Every record is consistently excellent and this record continues that trend. Catchy, melodic punk rock that sounds great turned up loud in the car. Ben Kowalewicz has a unique vocal sound that carries these well written songs into new territory for the band as they try to move their version of punk rock forward into new territories. Avoiding the temptation to move faster and harder, this collection of songs is the first of a planned trilogy (like Green Day – only better – Come to think of it, Ben’s voice does sound a little like Billie Joe’s) of albums in the upcoming year. I definitely am looking forward to more. Oh yeah…play loud! Try: “Love Was Still Around,” “Hanging By a Thread” and “Viking Death March.”
On The Scarlet Beast O’ Seven Heads, German composer Konstantin Gropper aka Get Well Soon has produced a classical music influenced pop record which easily could be the score to a film. The songs, all philosophical and somewhat oblique, are well thought out and the arrangements are definitely interesting. While this type of music usually gets little play on my iTunes, I was captured immediately and frankly I can’t explain why. Gropper’s voice is not compelling and I am not much for cello or other orchestral elements, but I listened to the entire record – straight through on my way to court one afternoon. So, judge for yourself. I was completely caught off guard. Try: “The Last Days of Rome,” “Courage, Tiger” and from the Bonus Disc “Lesson 1: You are Welcome.”
I’ll bet you were surprised to find I’d dropped a Kiss record this month? Right? Well, this is not any Kiss record. This is the record that likely changed a lot of soon to be punk rock kids lives. Certainly Kiss influenced the Replacements. ( Really, if you think about it, you could name dozens of bands that incorporate Kiss into their sound). As a teenager, my mom bought me my first ever Kiss record Dressed to Kill. As I think about it, Kiss, Queen, The New York Dolls, and the fortuitous discovery of the Buzzcocks album Singles Going Steady are largely responsible for the love of music I obviously still have. However, it was this record…..Destroyer… that opened my eyes to the magic of music. Johnny Rotten sang Alice Cooper’s “I’m Eighteen” at his audition for the Sex Pistols, and many a punk rock band will claim Kiss as their rock n roll saviors. It is undeniable that punk rock evolved from these 1970’s acts. For me, Destroyer indelibly marked a sharp right turn in rock n roll for me. In my hometown of Whitehorse, BC, this record at my high school created the great divide. It was us vs. them (@$#@ hippies!!!). There was no radio play as the only radio station was CBC – and they surely were not going to play Kiss! Destroyer was subversive – there was the sappy ballad “Beth” that was a hit (This was rock????) but in hindsight, this was genius. Here they were “popular” but what about the rest of the record? Well, you would be hard pressed to find three better songs to start a party in 1976 “Detroit Rock City,” “King of The Night Time World” and “God of Thunder.” I played these three songs so much, I didn’t know that “Beth” was even on the record. I was a junior in high school and every Friday and Saturday Night no matter what party I was at, this record was on repeat. This 2012 version, remixes this classic record, adding some elements and in some cases cleaning up some vocal issues. While it does lose in some cases the rawness of the original, this is still a great reason to give this record a listen. ( I just try to ignore all other aspects of what a bunch of sell-outs they later became. Disco Kiss? Really? After that they lost relevance….
Alberta Cross, Petter Ericson Stakee and Terry Wolfers met in a London pub several years ago, and that relationship evolved enough for them to manage to find their way to New York and become the greatest indie opening act in North America – Oasis, Portugal the Man, Bat for Lashes, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Shins, etc . On Songs of Patience, their fifth release and second LP, Alberta Cross opens up their sound a little bit, playing their British Indie influenced Americana with gusto. This is most obvious on “Bonfires” an acoustic ballad that reminds you of Wilco. Though don’t be mislead by this song, the rest of the record balances neatly the indie pop leanings, with other truly terrific catchy rock songs. I found something new with every listen and I’ll bet you’ll discover something you like. Try the pop gem “Wasteland,” “Wait,” and the aforementioned “Bonfires.”
Ariel Pink, who really sounds like early Beck, is already a critical favorite, and this record should make the band a popular favorite. That is, if there was any place to discover new music except in this freaking drop box and a couple of great websites like Consequence of Sound, Pitchfork, and NME. Mixing a wide variety of influences these are simply pop songs influenced by Los Angeles’ alternative music scene. Nine records into a career, Ariel Pink still hasn’t found popular success, but this record might change that – at least for those who like alternative, 90’s sounding, Alex Chilton/ They Might Be Giants influenced garage pop. What is surprising is that this Beverly Hills High/ Cal Arts student collection of lush songs found on Mature Themes crosses a number of boundaries, with shimmering guitars, and catchy melodies and odd lyrical themes. There is something irresistible about these songs. Try: “Mature Themes” “Only in My Dreams” and “Pink Slime.”
Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. That is how I feel about Seattle’s Band of Horses. Some records the band just does not get their ideas off the ground and as a consequence, they become just another faceless alt-rock band. Kind of like Hootie & the Blowfish, Switchfoot, Papa Roach, Three Days Grace, 30 Seconds to Mars…well you get the idea…bands who are catchy enough but not distinctive such that you play the record once and then ask yourself a bunch of why questions…Why did I buy that? Why do I like that? Why do I not give the album away? Well, I think this time Band of Horses has found the answer. Playing a mixture of slow rockers and ballads, on Mirage Rock , the bands forth record, there is some magic. Sure, their mixture of Neil Young-ish countrified rock is an acquired taste, but the well performed harmonies on a much rawer sounding record than their massively overproduced last record (Infinite Arms). There is a little Rolling Stones edge to some of the tracks, particularly on “Electric Music” which may have something to do with having the 70 year old Glyn Johns producing this record. Try: “Slow Cruel Hands of Time,” “Knock Knock” and “Everything’s Gonna Be Undone.”
Remember “Brick” by Ben Folds Five (who are really a three piece?). Well Ben Folds Five after a lengthy lay off (last record was 1999!), and Ben Folds still has the knack for writing witty, thoughtful lyrics hung on fascinating characters. Characterized as “Alt-Rock” this description falls short, because these are rock songs with a jazz trio feel – intense, personal and mature I was captivated by this aggressive and diverse record. Particularly on “The Sound of the Life of the Mind” you get that the Ben Folds Five have figured it all out. Perched on the edge of greatness after 20 years, these songs are intelligent and remind you why you continue to listen to this type of music and not merely fall prey to the piles of dung that masquerade as popular music ( Justin, Xtina, Taylor Swift ( Yes her too, Eve!). Try: “Erase Me” “On Being Frank” and “Thank You For Breaking My Heart.”
Tucson Arizona’s Calexico has produced consistently interesting music for more than 20 years. Not surprising then is that Algiers, is consistently good with the duo, Joey Burns and John Convertino, finding new ways to keep their distinctive roots rock flavored with the chilies that make you want to keep snacking on this latest offering. Look underneath the songs and you find that their latest record recorded in New Orleans, captures the spirit of the city without any of the lingering depression of a city in turmoil following Hurricane Katrina. For those old enough, the music on Algiers is reminiscent of the Meat Puppets, and with each listen you discover more stuff to like. While not a complete success, this is a worthwhile listen, especially for a quiet evening at home. Try the lovely ballad “Hush”, “Black Heart” and “Para.”
I would have dropped a band called Death By Unga Bunga on you without evening listening to it because of the great name. However, ask yourself, with a name like that you know it is going to be awesome! Capturing the balance between 50’s British rock, garage rock, and the Slickee Boys, Death By Unga Bunga demonstrates why you should move to Norway!. Think the Hives are great? I do. Well on The Kids Are Up To No Good, the second offering from Death By Unga Bunga I think the late 60’s Rolling Stones/ Seeds crown has been taken. Try “I Wanna Go Wild” (http://youtu.be/Ky7MBCwBgOw ), “Jenny”( http://youtu.be/EH3E-6hDxVs ) and the “Violent Femmes.” (About violent femmes – not the band!).
Divine Fits is the moniker of indie superstars Britt Daniel (Spoon) Dan Boeckner ( Wolf Parade/Handsome Furs) who with New Bomb Turks drummer Sam Brow have created something that reminds you of both creator’s current bands. What is different is that for a “super group” type project, these songs really are good – they are catchy melodic and more often than not inspired. The lyrics could utilize some polishing, but like every great artist, they can sell that fucker, strong, when it doesn’t look like it will work. Try “What Gets You Alone”, the cover of the Boys Next Door’s classic “Shivers,” and “Flaggin a Ride.”
The Early November have been kicking around for a while. I thought they might end up dead after being plagued by the dreaded “emo” tag early in their career (bet you though I was going to say early in November, didn’t you? See Rooms Too Cold) but they recovered only to break up in early 2007. Well, they are back and In Currents is a very strong record, well written, with the songs that had them perched on the brink of popular success. That is, exactly where they left off. Ace Enders vocals are strong and interesting, which is why this record works so well. If you start with title track “In Currents” you immediately “get” why this band works. You just want to sing along, strap on your air guitar, and play along in your room. The vocals a crisp, the choruses big. So, have some fun, put this album on in your car, roll down the windows, and sing along. Go ahead. That feels good doesn’t it? Still emo, this record works pretty well for the genre. Try “ In Currents,” “ A Stain on the Carpet” and “Like A Kid.”
Elvis Costello. I could write the book. Really, I loved this guy at the peak of his greatness. See his first four records which stand among the best rock records of the last 50 years. My Aim is True, check This Year’s Model, check. Armed Forces, check, Get Happy, check. Sometimes bordering on irrelevant, Elvis Costello’s muse has taken him every place he should be and some he shouldn’t. What is crazy is that Elvis is so productive that it is difficult keeping up. Also, for his early genius, and really it was genius, his record company has almost wrecked his recording career, because they have put out more worthless reissues and repackages of his work that any other band, other than the Who. So where do you begin? Well, on the The Return Of The Spectacular Spinning Songbook, Elvis from his last tour with the help of a wheel on stage where special guests get to spin to pick a song, helps you decide exactly why the genius still remains. This tour is kind of a greatest hits thing with Elvis digging out classic gems from early in his recording career such as the Nick Lowe penned classic “Heart of the City” “Radio Radio” and Mystery Dance” and including new takes on other classic tracks such as “Everyday I Write The Book.” If you missed Elvis before, or thought that the old dog was tired, The Return of The Spectacular Spinning Songbook reminds you of why Elvis is still the king. Try “Watching the Detectives” “Lipstick Vogue” and from his last album “National Ransom.” It’s good to see that Elvis is sometimes, still angry.