Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Words, words, words.

One thing I've failed to mention up to now is my immense love of the (International) Noise Conspiracy. I spent late high school and all of college obsessed with the group, and up until the release of Armed Love couldn't get enough of anything they'd released. If you're a Refused fan, the idea of T(I)NC probably disgusts you, though if you're a fan of Text, the other Refused spin-off, you're probably so revolted by anything as danceable as T(I)NC that I question why you're reading something as trite as a blog in the first place. I happen to like both Refused and Text, but T(I)NC grabbed me first, so there lies my loyalty. Digression!

I'd learned of the band – and Refused, plus many other goodies – by watching Punk O Rama TV after Saturday Night Live one night in early 2001; the video for “Reproduction of Death” popped on after what was probably a skate shop ad or Chinkees video (this detail escapes me, sadly), and after watching more than a fair portion of poppy punk bands show me why Epitaph was the thing, I was suddenly refreshed by this intense quintet. In a time when everything on Southern California radio sounded like...well, crap out of SoCal...a group of raven-haired Swedes harking back to the '60s with James Brown-meets-Beck dance moves, mod suits, and an unapologetic tilt to the left was wildly new and fantastic. I did what any impressionable kid would do and slowly started snatching up their albums, which I absorbed and loved.

Exciting as their first few albums were, though, and amazing performers that they turned out to be, I started caring a little less when Rick Rubin polished them up and sucked the urgency out of their recordings. Three years ago, I believe, and yes, the band's set to release another Rubin-produced album sometime in the next year. But here's what's struck me in the long term: back when I was watching all those punk videos in the wee hours of night, the (International) Noise Conspiracy released a video for “Capitalism Stole My Virginity,” just before coming out with A New Morning, Changing Weather. It was definitely a bit cheesy, with some sort of party scene and camouflage outfits, but the video kicked off with a quote from Emma Goldman, “If I can't dance, I don't want your revolution.”

I know, even the quote seems cheesy, and yes, there are variations of it elsewhere. But it's only cheesy without a context. I gave no thought to the video or Emma Goldman, someone I certainly hadn't learned about in school (and wouldn't hear about in college, interestingly enough), and tossed these details aside until sitting around at the City Lights bookstore in San Francisco a few years later. I sat in the basement and plowed through half of a Goldman book, discovering that her reasoning was absolutely brilliant. She was a feminist anarchist who recognized the beauty of human individuality, explaining why a relationship between fully equal and intellectual man and feminist may lack passion, or why a fight for progress should be backed by sincere desire. She saw grey area, and I instantly loved her ability to rationally merge opposing sides. Suddenly the quote from that video a few years prior had a context, seemed less corny, and though I was at this point less excited by T(I)NC's music, I discovered a new reason to appreciate them, as they had turned me on to a new potential role model.

Which brings me to the real point of this post – and no, it's not an open letter on what the world owes Sweden. It's the connection between authors and musicians, and why music actually is important to pay attention to. I realized a few months ago that without music, I have no idea what kind of a person I'd be, because it's shaped me in so many unexpected areas. I'm not one to adopt every word a musician spits out at me and acknowledge that your ears have to filter everything that runs through them, but as a result of my T(I)NC discovery, I developed an interest in socialism and communism and began reading up on them to make up for what wasn't being taught in my high school courses. More recently, I'd found something online that mentioned Pete Doherty's alleged influences, a list that contained authors like Marquis de Sade, Graham Greene and Miguel DeUnamo – again, none of whom were taught in school. Of course, I was curious to know what had shaped ol' Pete and picked up books by all three, discovering first why Marquis de Sade wasn't appropriate for high school, but also realizing that, damn, Petey's got good taste in literature. Having only been a fan of contemporary American and British literature up until the fact, I changed my mind about dry, cynical writing and realized that there's a lot to be enjoyed when romantic wording and exclamation points are about. Thanks, Pete.

This isn't just about me, though; I imagine a great deal of people would find their viewpoints drastically changed and expanded if they sought out the recommended reading of their favorite artists. Music already forms subcultures through things like speech and manner of dress, but if music's influence on literary taste were a greater phenomenon, I can only guess that the average person would feel quite a bit smarter and learn of so many people and subjects that they'd missed out on in school. The author-musician relationship already runs in the other direction, to an extent, with literature about music like Nick Hornby's Songbook or The Perks of Being a Wallflower taking care to list the contents of an entire mixtape. For that matter, take any number of books that analyze and trivialize the subcultures created by music through sociological studies. But old-fashioned literature, promoted by musicians even unintentionally, is an occurrence that could cross-promote and benefit two industries while expanding the vocabulary of the average music fan. Plus, from the music fan's angle, if you grow out of your love of a band, you'd at least be able to take with you a lasting appreciation of the band for their method of exposing you to a new writer.

Lovage - Book of the Month (yes, and a wink-wink to you...)
(Purchase Music to Make Love to Your Old Lady By)

International Noise Conspiracy - Reproduction of Death (video)
International Noise Conspiracy - Capitalism Stole My Virginity (video)

Friday, June 22, 2007

Stubble-heads and so much more.

Feeling a bit uninspired by music at the moment, so I've just got a few bits and pieces here and there for the day. Bullet form it is!

*What does not appear in the LA Weekly this week that did appear last week? A preview of Sinead O' Connor's performance at the Silent Movie Theater, in which Libby Moyneaux begins with the words "Ol' stubble-head is back."

*I've been snapping up older music magazines as of late, and in the Jan. 22, 1998 issue of Rolling Stone, there contained a readers' poll in which Rolling Stone readers named Oasis' Be Here Now the best album of the previous year. Interestingly enough, OK Computer and Prodigy's Fat of the Land were #2 and #3, respectively. Nine years later, I wonder if those voters are still sticking with that order.

*The collection of early Nick Drake songs that's supposed to be here but was pushed back to July 10, Family Tree, is wonderful. Much simpler than his complete albums, obviously, not to mention that he'd fine-tuned his voice just a bit before recording those full albums, but this really highlights what a talented guitar player and songwriter he was. His mom and sister also appear on this as well - mom Molly Drake's original, "Poor Mum," is a highlight. Buy this now. Also, I'd found out about the documentary on him, A Skin Too Few, unfortunately too late to catch a screening of it in Los Angeles last year, and as of yet there's no DVD of it. However, someone's been grand enough to post the first twelve minutes of it in two parts on YouTube a while ago. To watch:
Part I
Part II

*If you happen to be in L.A. and like to venture downtown, the Art Murmur gallery is currently hosting a photography exhibit on men in drag, by Austin Young. It's quite a good time! Had a chance to see it the other day and was wowed by the vibrant colors, Jeffree Star portraits, and music video that Young had also prepared. The gallery's open between Wednesday and Saturday, 12-6pm, and is located at 129 E. 6th Street in downtown L.A.

*Finally! This air guitar business seems a big deal at the moment, and it appears yours truly will have the chance to see the L.A. Air Guitar Championships at the Key Club in one week. With luck, I'll return with many photos and few scars. You can check out air guitarist C-Diddy here. Notice that he suddenly switches from a right-handed guitarist to a left-handed one? Ah well, I suppose you can get away with anything if Hello Kitty's on your side. More on this to come.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Indulgent journal entry on mod suits and criticism.

Part I.

I feel like a child writing this, but having grown up with parents whose record collections documented the earliest phases of punk – Dad being a fan of Patti Smith, the Velvet Underground and the Stooges, Mom owning records by Suicide, Black Flag, the Stranglers and the Sugarcubes – I'd never had a chance to hear the obvious classic stuff until I went and sought it out on my own during the start of college. Until I was 20, I'd never heard a full album by the Beatles or Bob Dylan. Didn't hear a Pink Floyd album until I was 21 (Mom's still disgusted that I bothered at all with those dinosaurs). My dad was a fan of the Beatles but never played me any of their records, and instead opted to test out more advanced stuff on me during childhood. I still remember being about seven years old and watching him put the Residents' “Duck Stab” on his turntable for me, and promptly asking him to shut it off because the combination of sound effects and cover art made me nervous. I also remember him playing Billie Holiday's “God Bless the Child,” and arguing with him that Lisa Simpson did a much better rendition on The Simpsons Sing the Blues. The early '90s weren't good years as far as my taste was concerned.

But back to those Beatles. The occasional taste of “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” or “Twist and Shout” has been essential to L.A.'s token oldies station for as long as I can remember, and not having grown up with a greater exposure to the band, I could never understand the period of Beatlemania I'd seen images of on TV, with teen girls screaming the names of each face that rested under a bowl cut and smiled a plastic grin. Such a thing seemed so square in contrast with boy bands like NKOTB or (my favorite) the glittery and badass Vanilla Ice of my day. Much in the way that '70s haircuts seemed repulsive to me before the Strokes appeared five years ago and made them sexy again, the British Invasion period seemed so foreign and unattractive in contrast with what was current. Four men in stiff suits singing G-rated lyrics about holding hands just didn't seem believable. During my teen years I stopped finding the group so old-fashioned and realized that they actually did have a few nice songs; namely, I fell in love with “Across the Universe” and learned to appreciate the psychedelic-sounding stuff, like “Strawberry Fields Forever.” But I still didn't spot any genius or understand the craze of years past, and I still wouldn't bother with buying a Beatles album.

Given this kind of history with the band, it was rather unexpected that I would be able to literally turn around overnight, at the late-bloomer's age of 20. I was living alone for the summer and wanted to watch a fluffy movie after a day of work, so I rented A Hard Day's Night at random because it seemed appropriate for my mental state. Everything was going as expected when, about ten or fifteen minutes in, I found myself developing a small crush on John Lennon – the mod suit, the devilish grin, cheeky (scripted) comments delivered by a Liverpudlian accent. It all sort of fit him nicely. And then it suddenly hit me: I got Beatlemania. Just as teen girls of the late '90s would develop crushes on JC Chasez or Justin Timberlake and get so attached that they'd convince themselves they actually liked 'NSYNC's music, later dismissing the band's catchy pop once they no longer found the teen idols attractive, the Beatles started as a band that girls would completely throw themselves into because the music naturally followed the boys leading it. Of course, the big difference here is that the Beatles had an organized songwriting method, actually crafted those songs well, and were smart enough to develop into a project of myriad phases of which there was something for everyone to appreciate. But as far as that whole screaming, crying, Paul is my future husband business goes, I finally got it. And all because John looked good in that damn suit.

Part II.

A year later I'm snatching up Beatles records left and right, playing catch-up and tracking progress in my mind from the earliest Beatle years to John Lennon's solo career. Because really, he was the one who piqued my interest in the first place. I'd bought Plastic Ono Band after Imagine, and after reading an interview in which Lennon griped that the former said all the same things Imagine said, only without all that sugar coating the public needed for convenience's sake. I scanned through the liner notes of one of his greatest hits albums and realized that my favorite songs from his solo career had been co-produced by Phil Spector. It's going around the internet this week that Pete Doherty and Carl Barat recorded a version of “A Day in the Life” for Radio 2 – there've been a few complaints because it's such an untouchable song, but after going through those Lennon liner notes, there's no doubt in my mind that the Libertine update would sound brilliant if Phil Spector produced it. Any chance of him escaping the courtroom and getting into the studio for a bit?

But back to John. Late last year I managed to find a copy of the Rolling Stone issue, the one from January 22, 1981, when Rolling Stone cost just $1.50 and wasn't yet glossy, with Yoko and a nude John on the cover, its content entirely dedicated to mourning and celebrating John Lennon after his death. There was one great quote from John that I spotted in an interview that had been done approximately ten years prior to this issue and re-printed within it. John had called Plastic Ono Band “the best thing I've ever done,” noting that he enjoyed his honest solo work more than the third-person stories he'd told with the Beatles: “Now I write all about me and that's why I like it. It's me! And nobody else.” He also called himself a genius, but I prefer comedy with my narcissism.

There was also a recurring theme in this Rolling Stone issue. Of all the interviews, celebrity memorializing, reader letters and historical tidbits included, a big issue that frequently popped up was that the press was guilty of misunderstanding and misinterpreting John Lennon's music and purpose. One thing I've always struggled with in terms of music journalism's purpose is whether it's preferable to simply inform and let the reader seek out what sounds most interesting, or to allow a bit of snarkiness if it's total critical honesty and a good snicker from the reader you're seeking. Or, a more likely happy medium, to only write about and promote what you enjoy so that only positive words are spoken and music journalism takes part in what appears a sort of renaissance. I still haven't decided the ideal. But while re-reading the John Lennon tribute, I seemed to get a few answers, first in a reader's letter to Rolling Stone, again in a reflective article by Dave Marsh.

That reader, one Kevin Samson, offered criticism of criticism, referring to a negative review of Double Fantasy he'd read: “It seems that in our attempt to be new and artistic, abrasive and trendy, indignant and political, we've lost touch with something much more important: the human (and artistic) right to be honest and loving.” This actually reminded me a bit of an essay in Ian Svenonius' The Psychic Soviet, in which Svenonius complained that music critics had opted out of intellectual discussion of music, instead becoming a collective imitation of Lester Bangs and taking the gonzo route. Even intellectual discussion of music is separate from simply letting it be what it is and allowing the artist to have his time as a creator of whatever he wants to create, but the idea is the same and certainly applies to today's internet critics, that we all want to get that snicker out of the reader, often at the expense of the artist and the time he's dedicated to his craft.

There was an expansion on this debate in Dave Marsh's “Ghoulish Beatlemania,” an article placed later in this Rolling Stone issue. Marsh discussed his previously written “An Open Letter to John Lennon,” in which he'd asked John to come out of retirement and give the public some answers (I've yet to find this article, sadly). He wrote about how John had bitterly responded to his article by answering that “I don't fucking owe anybody anything. I've done my part. It's everybody else's turn now.” Marsh's counter-response, several years later, wasn't in fact a counter-response but a matured man's method of surrendering: “I felt pretty small. Like most rock fans, I took it for granted that John Lennon existed to pump out entertainment, inspirational insight. It never occurred to me, until then, that my attitude reduced someone I thought I loved and admired to the status of a vending machine.”

Wow. That's painful to read, isn't it? The toughest aspect of processing these two viewpoints is that both are understandable, not just if you've been a critic, but if you've simply been a music fan at any point. And it's an argument I still find myself grappling with; should the artist have freedom to create whatever he likes without the risk of some stranger verbally trampling all over his work? Or does the critic have just as much freedom to spout off an opinion because, face it, the art is for the public to digest now that it's out in the open? And is the music fan entitled to demand from the artist because the artist has now put himself out there, opening himself up for expectations to be met, or does the artist have a right to stop whenever the creativity's been spent? There are some awful questions to ponder about art that still haven't been answered, because frankly, everyone belongs to one side or the other and wants to believe that their viewpoints are the ones reeking of validity. In John Lennon's case, where he's griping that the public should take over where he left off, I think he probably meant this more in terms of the pro-peace movement, that he'd done the encouraging and was waiting for all those fans to put words into actions and demonstrate that they believed the meaning behind the songs. But his complaint can certainly be applied to the messy relationship between musician and music critic, and Marsh's response is without a doubt relevant to now.

I apologize that this is starting to read like an essay out of my college course on aesthetics. If anything, the only real decision I've been able to firmly make – after a late jump on a British teen craze, falling in love with John-as-character and reading fanmail – is that John looked handsome in a mod suit. But I'd be curious to know what anyone else thinks of the artist versus critic debate/relationship, or, if nothing else, whether Phil Spector could have saved that dreadful Green Day cover of “Working Class Hero.” The latter is a joke, sort of.

The Beatles - I'll Follow the Sun
John Lennon - Love

Monday, June 18, 2007

A week of shows in Los Angeles, hey!

I've definitely got a love-hate relationship with Los Angeles, city of traffic, pollution and entertainment, but the one thing I can't deny is that there is an abundance of crap to do. And yes, I'm psyched that there's at least one good concert occurring nearly every night here. So, as a change of pace for the few who may actually reside here, some words on the upcoming week in live performances.

Thurs., June 21 – Tortoise/Georgia Anne Muldrow/Dudley Perkins @ El Rey

If you missed out on all seven of Peanut Butter Wolf's DJ spots last week, the next possible Stones Throw fix comes in the forms of Dudley Perkins and Georgia Anne Muldrow, the label's classy R&B/hip-hop fusers who had fantastic albums out last year and are now opening for Tortoise. Coincidentally, several members of Tortoise have just released an album on Stones Throw as percussion group Bumps, so this show will technically be an overwhelming Stones Throw bonanza! Worthwhile for all three acts, as well.
Edit: Dudley and Georgia have apparently canceled five dates. Phooey.

Fri., June 22 – Boyz II Men @ House of Blues Anaheim...or Sadist V (& more!) @ Mr. T's Bowl
Indeed, Boyz II Men had a new album this year, although now averaging an age of 34-35 years each, they've become a “man band” of sorts. Also, it appears bass singer Michael McCary left to tend to his scoliosis and become an actor, so although you'll be serenaded on the whole, you can't expect any of the remaining members to sit you down for a conversation and address you as “Baby...” If Boyz II Men in trio form is simply not good enough or authentically 1991, there's gonna be a fabulously sloppy $5 garage rock fest at Mr. T's Bowl on the same night.

Sat., June 23 – Kids in the Fuckin' Hall! @ Ralph Freud Playhouse (UCLA)
No, not a concert. Better than a concert! Once upon a time, Kids in the Hall was a sketch comedy show comprised of five ambiguously gay Canadians who far out-funnied the cast of Saturday Night Live. Prior to then, they were a live act. But this is the era of Generation Z (or Generation Terror, or whatever), and until this weekend, the brilliant comedians appeared doomed to live on only through DVD boxed sets or movies like Blast from the Past. If willing to spend $50 per ticket, you just might be able to witness a live version of the Chicken Lady, or (if luck is really on your side), sing along with Bruce McCullough to “These Are the Daves I Know.”

Sun. June 24 – Nomo @ Spaceland...or Black Milk @ Temple Bar
Nomo kicks a lot of ass as a funky/jazzy Afrobeat big band that's (interestingly enough) headed up by multi-instrumentalist and Saturday Looks Good to Me member Elliot Bergman. They're much like Antibalas, a group of Americans fascinated by West African percussion, funk and brass, and likewise pull it off quite well. Unlike Antibalas, though, Nomo can turn words like “la” and “hey” into an entire chorus. The Spaceland stage is rather tiny when you're a group of nearly ten musicians, so it'll be a ball to see how well they fill a room whilst literally filling the stage. As an alternate option, Black Milk's doing a $10 show at Santa Monica's Temple Bar – I don't know much about hip-hop these days but I hear the kids like 'im.

Mon., June 25 – The Dead Science/Implied Violence/Holy Curtain @ The Smell
The Dead Science is a talented, young and elegant band based in Seattle that thrives on not fitting into a proper category. Vocalist Sam Mickens is known for crooning in a falsetto highly influenced by Prince and Michael Jackson, he being a major fan of both; the trio, comprised of guitarist, drummer, and stand-up bassist, have backgrounds in jazz and avant-garde pop that really add a lot of excitement and class to their brand of rock, which is simultaneously gentle and violent, moody but soothing. Drummer Nick Tamburro – the newest member of the group, having only joined in the last two years or so – is a kick to watch on stage, as he appears to have much more of a solid rock background than the other two members and gives a sense of masculinity to the band, countering the dark sweetness that otherwise surrounds the band's music. I've seen them about six times and no two shows have been alike, but regardless of whether a set's filled with dreamy ballads or focused rock, they always sound spot on.

Tues., June 26 – Trainwreck Riders/Black Diamond Heavies @ Spaceland
I've really grown to love Trainwreck Riders; Americana's been a pretty big deal for a while now, but the great thing about this band is that while everyone else is trying to bare their old souls to the indie audience, Trainwreck Riders blend traditional country-folk with a no-bullshit punk vibe. They're from San Francisco – how convincingly old-timey can they possibly be? I find them to be quite similar to Roy or an American update on the Pogues, great, unpretentious country-rock and a blast of a live show with plenty of polka-style bass lines.
Edit: Trainwreck Riders have had to cancel their tour due to a recent car accident.

Wed., June 27 – Mandy Moore @ Roxy...or Evidence (Dilated Peoples)/Oh No with Roc-C @ Knitting Factory
Anyone hear Mandy Moore's covers album? If you went shopping at any high-end gadget stores sometime in the last few years, you might have heard her flashy covers of “Senses Working Overtime” or “One Way or Another” merrily bursting from the speakers of said store's ceiling. Anyway, she's had a busy life, being a Neutrogena spokeswoman, acting as terminally ill lover of Shane West, trading Wilmer Valderrama for Zach Braff, and verbally abusing Macaulay Culkin. But she's ultimately a musician, and after struggling to shed that blonde pop princess image, is now writing her own songs and being passed off as...a folkie? If you're as skeptical as I am, Oh No and Roc-C have an opening slot at the Knitting Factory on the same night.

Friday, June 15, 2007

A little slow, but it's the thought that counts.

I don't bother with album leaks or keeping up on news as it happens, because I feel guilty and am lazy, respectively. But! If you haven't heard, both the White Stripes and Spoon albums are now up for stream. Behold!

White Stripes - Icky Thump stream
Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga stream

And yes, both are worth buying once they're out.

Buy Icky Thump.
Buy Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Sophomore album #2.

Pissed Jeans - Hope for Men - Sub Pop

Musical phases are fascinating to me, and of all the trends to take place in the last decade, one of the most bizarre has been the shift between masculine and feminine – I imagine a great deal of this has to do with our political climate, and an abundance of liberal hearts protesting against the conservative administration in America, which eventually made way for conservative tendencies to comprise the new counter culture. Vice magazine is the prime example of this, though it's not clear how long the phase will last. Likewise, the ubiquitous presence of emo dandies has probably given eyeliner an appalling name and made testosterone desirable once more (say what you will, Pete Wentz, Brendon Urie and Gerard Way). So, it's not surprising that this Pissed Jeans record is likely one of many returns to early-Sub Pop-era grunge that we'll be seeing in the next year or two. More hilarious than how I view this record's place in the gender shift is what's printed on Sub Pop's promo copy of the CD, a reference to the record's title, of which Sub Pop writes: “we like to think of [Hope for Men] in the 'mankind' sense.” Oh Sub Pop, ever the mid-'90s female college student. (Surely I jest.)

About Pissed Jeans, though. There's definitely a tone of '90s grunge, here, and in the purest sense, metal being the primary core of influences, though as Pitchfork actually called it pretty spot on, a Flipper-style hardcore mood is certainly not absent. Perhaps the lack of a female presence helps, but unlike X27, there sounds to be no effort at performing with a look – in other words, they're not putting on their sexy faces when they sing – but like X27, they've got exactly what their band needs, no more and no less. And as can be expected, their sound is much bigger than their skinny frames.

Purchase Hope for Men here.

He's got big balls...and she's got big balls! (Two sophomore albums, brought to you by the month of June)

X27 - Antilove - Narnack Records

Antilove's the sophomore album from X27, a rock trio whose energy depends on whether its rough vocals are carried by female bassist Carmen X or male guitarist Rikkeh Suhtn. Admittedly, Carmen's forced rock yelps get to sound a bit overly affected, and she hasn't built up enough of a reputation to get away with singing like a Karen O/Kim Gordon hybrid as of yet, but she fares decently when exercising restriction, as is the case with the majority of songs here. Vocals aside, the album's generally saved by its bare-bones, classic late '80s/early '90s-style garage grunge setup. Slinky opener “Da-na-do” sets an easy tone for the record, and on its own has a sort of inverted formula, turning the repetitive “da-na-do” chant into a verse while the rare set of lyrical lines is placed where a chorus would be. On the whole, Antilove is an experiment in post-punk beats (“Come On Down”), Melvins-style aggression (“Luna”), and Shellac-meets-Nirvana grunge (“Red is Green”); it also sounds to be one giant nod to Steve Albini, who produced the record in Chicago and has quite the knack for leaving each instrument sufficient room to breathe. Not one of the most original records to come out in a while, but one of 2007's more exciting rock records thus far.

*Also, any band that thanks Langhorne Slim and pink bunnies in its liner notes receives a thumbs-up in my book.

Purchase the Antilove re-release here.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

What fuckin' time is it??


Before I convince anyone new that I am, in fact, an asshole, I wanted to briefly mention that today sees the release of ex-X-er John Doe's new album, A Year in the Wilderness. Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach is one of several guests, though he only plays guitar (on "There's a Hole" and "Lean Out Yr Window"), so you'll find none of his lovely growl on the record, unfortunately. But his guitar's nice and rough, and John Doe's not bad at the whole Americana schtick.
And a thought on another of today's releases...

Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign to Save Darfur is a double-disc set loaded with modern updates on John Lennon tracks, raising money to promote the awareness of genocide in Darfur. Being that the point of the album is to raise money for people other than the artists, it was smart to get the most marketable and not necessarily best artists recorded for the sake of selling power. I was actually really curious as to what other people thought about this one, since it's a somewhat delicate issue to choose between complaining over crap artists or offering nothing but praise so that the thing sells. I had a glance at reviews and found this comment, which basically summed up the dilemma: “I'm giving it 5 stars for the sheer fact that this is a great way to bring focus to a tragedy that has no end in sight yet. However, that doesn't mean that I like this and will be listening to this for the next few weeks or so.”

Personally, I've always had this tiny fantasy that Tom Waits would one day do a gritty version of “Gimme Some Truth,” and since no one else has had the same vision, apparently, this set finds Jakob Dylan and Dhani Harrison doing a version that leaves me wanting. Also, after listening to Avril Lavigne's cover of “Imagine,” in which she sounds quite like a flat-voiced choirboy, I think it would be really great if Fiona Apple gave it a try at some point. Aside from these meh moments, as well as "Instant Karma," on which U2 completely eliminates the punch of the song that's always made me want to start fights, there are actually some versions of Lennon that aren't bad.

Jack Johnson's version of “Imagine,” using guitar instead of piano, sounds far more genuine than Avril's. Maybe it's that she once got drunk and wrote "Girlfriend" that makes me unconvinced of her sincerity, and yes, I'm a bit weirded out that despite all the John Lennon songs out there, some artists wound up doing repeats. Christina Aguilera's got a surprisingly loyal version of “Mother” that sounds great and not overdone, and covers of “Oh, My Love” (by Jackson Browne) and “Jealous Guy” (by Youssou N'Dour, who dumps all that English language nonsense out the window) are pretty worthwhile. On the whole, though, much as I hope the album sells, it does nothing but further prove that our generation's not going to provide too many inspiring artists for musicians in future decades. Buy the record anyway.

30-second clips:

Thursday, June 7, 2007

...and on an up note.

Well, now that I've gone and pissed off my third musician in three years and mentioned untimely death (no relation between the two), it's about time to pick up the mood and discuss the wonder that is Los Angeles. Because it is an amazing place, even if we are about to see another drought. Today's LA Weekly was chock full of interesting music news - here are some highlights to note:

Bad News First: House of Records in Santa Monica and Sea Level Records in Echo Park are both closing down soon. Unless Amoeba manages to hang on to its spot (which it very well may), L.A. may have zero record stores left in the next five years, as they all seem to be disappearing one by one. Many hopes that Freakbeat and CD Trader get to stay put for a while.

*Hugh Cornwell is going to be at the Roxy on July 9. He's got quite the seductive voice.

*Enrique Iglesias will be at the Virgin store at Hollywood and Highland on June 12. Some say that he, too, has a seductive voice.

*The LA Pride Festival, taking place at the West Hollywood Park (647 N. San Vicente) this weekend, will feature musical appearances from Joan Jett, Josie Cotton (!), Berlin, Tiffany (!!), and Martha Wash (!!!). Also, there will be mummification, S&M displays, and karaoke.

*He finally did it - Conor Oberst is now officially a serious musician, and has secured a spot for Bright Eyes at the Hollywood Bowl alongside the LA Philharmonic on September 29. If you can only attend one Hollywood Bowl show this year, though, my vote goes to Rufus Wainwright singing the songs of Judy Garland, for which he'll hopefully have stuffed in a few drinks for authenticity's sake.

*Finally, while Maystache is no longer for the next eleven months, there appeared two summer concert ads - one for Silverchair, the other for Incubus - in which both bands were completely moustachioed.

Monday, June 4, 2007

This is incredibly sad, not only on a pure, human level, but in how it might affect future plans. Hopefully this'll be the last story of its kind for quite a while.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Illinois - The El Rey - Los Angeles - 5.31.07

Admittedly, I tend to get a bit wishy-washy when it comes to music and frequently find that I'm a convert – whether for the positive or negative – after seeing an artist live, despite any prior opinions of the artist's recordings. I've gotten completely sucked into performances by bands whose albums I felt bland; I've fallen in love with front men in mere instants; I've turned my back on an artist I liked after seeing his live show and getting annoyed by his stage presence. In short, there's a gamut of mindset changes to run, and I've been running it for a while. In the case of Illinois, I'd called their most recent effort “vanilla,” and after last Thursday's performance at the El Rey, nearly felt a slight tinge of regret.

Illinois were sandwiched between Blitzen Trapper and the Hold Steady on a sold-out evening, and though I've still not quite grown attached to the recorded pop songs that comprise their EP, their range of personality was, unexpectedly, what made them such a solid live act. It's really fascinating to examine a band in a live setting to pick up on individual personality traits and pinpoint who has what role; Illinois, for one, most notably features a handsome drummer who does not in fact make embarrassing facial expressions, a guitarist whose mouth gapes open while his eyes are closed and head far away, and a vocalist who does triple duty on guitar, banjo and keyboard whilst telling loopy anecdotes and leading cheers. The group offered so many interesting moments separate from the music itself, which, as it turned out, was actually quite decent and full live.

On stage, front man Chris Archibald was a ball of energy hiding in the body of a traditional all-American boy, and used a good portion of his efforts on hyping up headliner the Hold Steady. He spastically waved his arms about and shouted “Are you excited for the Hold Steady?” in a way that should have been followed by a hearty “wheeee!” Several songs later he forced himself to sit still and led our crowd through several rounds of “hip hip hooray,” three times for the Hold Steady, who were watching from a window above the stage, once for genitalia, and once for Archibald's genitalia, which found Archibald rather pleased. He made a casual dedication to an ex-girlfriend, at which point he claimed “she was a Christian” and “I'm kind of one,” a momentary pause separating the two statements. We laughed, but we'd also cheered for his genitalia.

A case of Budweiser sat next to drummer John-Paul Kuyper, who steadily rode the tom and bass drums in his modest-looking kit, while the eastern portion of the stage remained quiet save for the bass and third guitar that got played there. But perhaps the strangest and most noteworthy aspect of the night* should be credited to guitarist Andrew Lee, who, after an entire set of remaining in an invisible box and avoiding eye contact with any person or object, suddenly woke up and literally started pleading with the audience to collectively raise arms and clap along with the final song. His eyes were desperate and wide, his cries actually appeared to contain the word “please,” and at song's end he stood at the very edge of the stage with his guitar to offer a single, compensating moment of connection with the crowd. An unconventional ending to an unconventional set by a band that doesn't taste much like vanilla after all.

...and this is what a member of Blitzen Trapper looks like whilst eating a microphone.

*There were a couple of other incidents, aside from this and the cheers for genitalia. The first was a fight that almost broke out between two guys and a few kids behind them who'd apparently been dropping things on their heads and refused to step outside. The girl with the latter crowd looked scared. The second incident was a conversation between a guy and girl behind me.
From the guy's mouth:
“I've never had a nectarine! I imagine they're good – you know, NECTAR...”
“Most people don't like milk chocolate but I could eat milk chocolate all day.”
“I like the taste of pears but not the texture. Same thing with strawberries, I don't like the seeds.”
I don't know why the conversation about food was entertaining.

Friday, June 1, 2007