Tuesday, April 26, 2005

I'm really pressed for time this week so forgive me if I forego the usual links. I guess you can pretty well look 'em up on Amazon yourself anyway, right? Heh heh!

We've got a lot of nifty-looking releases this time around. First there's Ben Folds' new piano rock album, "Songs For Silverman," in DualDisc format (a loathsome idea if ever there was one) or in the deluxe edition. Bruce Springsteen's new album is out today, and it too offers only a DualDisc presentation. This DualDisc thing is a single disc with a CD side and a DVD side. The problem is that you have to handle them with kid gloves or you end up with fingerprint-encrusted, scratched-to-hell-and-back compact discs. It's all well and good for the record industry to entice people not to download stuff by offering "value-enhanced" recordings. DualDisc, however, is not the right way to do it. Witness as proof the Donnas debacle. A few months back their new album hit stores offering traditional and DualDisc formats. Turned out there was a manufacturing error whereby the DVD side of the DualDisc screwed with the CD side, meaning you couldn't listen to the last song on the album. Brilliant!

But enough whingeing, let's move on. This week sees the new Benjamin Biolay disc, and what a talent this guy is! He not only has three or four stellar French-language discs of his own already, he's also lending his producing talents to other French artists like Keren Ann, with spectacular, imaginative results. I know I've pushed the new French pop vanguard on you before in these pages, so I'll let it rest by merely saying: check him out.

Tim Burgess, lead singer of the Charlatans (UK), has a solo album out this week and by all accounts it's a liberating, fresh breath of musical air for the gentleman. He apparently did the same as the Thrills and went to California for rest, relaxation, and inspiration. I hear this new album has different styles and a funky, laid-back atmosphere. I look forward to hearing it. The UK is also represented big-time by the new album from everyone's favorite art-pop-dance-band New Order. Erm, yeah...that description of their sound is uncannily crappy, but I hear the album is terrific. Supposedly a return to their sound of old, for those who didn't dig their sound on the last one.

One thing I did hear already is the Frank Sinatra disc from this week's "Live in Las Vegas" series of releases from the EMI vaults. They've got live Vegas offerings from Frank, Dean Martin, Louis Prima, Nancy Wilson, Bobby Darin, and more luminaries of the fabled Strip. The Sinatra disc is a 1980s recording, so Ol' Blue Eyes' voice is a bit past its prime, but he still swings with wild abandon, clearly pleased as punch to be on stage in front of the adoring crowd. The backup band is a bolt of lightning behind him, and the overall vibe is one of complete entertainment despite his minor vocal deficiencies. I especially loved the way Frank plays with the lyrics here and there, such as the song "Luck Be a Lady," in which he changes the lyric "A lady doesn’t wander all over the room/And blow on some other guy's dice" to "...spit on some other guy's dice." And he uses "Mack the Knife" as a rollicking chance to introduce some of the band members. Good fun.

Speaking of reissues from the vaults, let's not forget to mention this week's Rhino Records cornucopia. Elvis Costello's "King of America" gets the 2CD remastered treatment with copious bonus tracks, as do three early Cure albums, "Faith," "Pornography," and "Seventeen Seconds." The Cure discs in particular look amazing.

This week also sends us new albums by the talented bands Donna the Buffalo (a fun Americana band), the always interesting rock group Eels, electronic technician DJ Spooky, and indie hip hop acts Lyrics Born and Zion I. Check 'em out! Have a good week y'all.


Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Time for another musical retail roundup. This week there wasn't really a standout album that made me want to buy it straight away. There are, however, plenty of interesting discs that may be of interest to you and yours. Let's get into it.

First of all, in the indie hip-hop world there's "Fully Loaded With Static" by Da Beatminerz, with guests like KRS-One, J-Live, Charlie 2na, Wordsworth and more. I also liked the looks of Z-Trip's new album "Shifting Gears," which features guys like Murs and Lyrics Born. Lastly, I can't go any further without mentioning the genius that is Roots Manuva. His new one, "Awfully Deep," is another album laden with booming low-end, not to mention this UK rapper's usual gonzo lyrics and self-assured delivery. Hmm, maybe I will be picking up something this week after all.

On the pop/rock tip, there's Jon Spencer's new side project release, "Heavy Trash." Jon and his pal Matt Verta-Ray from Speedball Baby deliver a reverb-heavy garage rock opus complete with, in the words of one reviewer, "rockabilly, punk blues, murder ballads, and down and dirty swamp rock."

We also have a new live release by Mexican rockers Café Tacuba this week. It's a sprawling 2-disc affair with a bonus DVD to boot. If you aren't familiar with their sound, it can be difficult to describe. It's a fun mash of rock, ska, dance beats, and more. Check them out sometime! On an entirely different note, there's also a new disc by Judy Collins. I read recently that she's not crazy about being called a 1960s folk legend, but come on! It's pretty tough to think of anyone else save Dylan who typifies the Greenwich Village scene of the 60s any better. Grab this new one if you like your folk soft, high-pitched, and soaked in piano. I hear her voice in concerts is pretty ragged these days but the new album actually sounds pretty good. Amazing what you can do in a professional studio with some larynx massage and chamomile tea with honey.

And while we're discussing soft folkies and pop rock wimpiness, let's not forget to mention Sony's new wunderkind, 20-year-old Anna Nalick. Anna appears to have a good head on her shoulders in more ways than one. Not only is it an exceedingly pretty head -- a requisite in these days of necessary beauty and major labels trembling in the face of a marketing challenge -- but it's a smart head too. According to AllMusic Guide, she had been recording demos on a cheap cassette recorder when one of her tapes ended up in the hands of two former Blind Melon members, who re-recorded her home demos in a professional studio. Two weeks later, Columbia Records contacted Nalick with an offer and soon college was put on hold. Ah, so that's how it works. Silly me, I did college first and then tried to find a good job. No wonder I'm having so much trouble.

Electronic music fans have cause to rejoice this week as well, with the release of Autechre's new album "Untilted." It's another in a long line of challenging albums from this UK duo, which is to say their brand of frenetic beats and uneasy melodies won't appeal to most. Call it IDM ("intelligent dance music") if you must, but they seem to be moving away from even that moniker into completely uncharted territory all their own. Meanwhile, I'm trying desperately to get my hands on the new Luke Vibert. I love his funky approach to electronic music, but so far I can't find much info on this release. Perhaps there's a delay in shipping or something.

Lastly, I just wanted to throw out the name Matisyahu for y'all. Dig it: this is Hasidic Jewish reggae. Yes indeed, no joke, this guy is completely serious about his music, his religion, and his impressive facial hair. You heard it here first.


Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Not a huge week for new releases by any means. I found a few nuggets, however. First there's the Dirty Dozen Brass Band Collection, which is a good-looking collection of the funkiest, tightest N'awlins jazz band around. There's a reason they've been around thirty years, people!

Then there's Hold Me To This, the second volume of Christopher O'Riley's piano recordings of Radiohead songs. It's more than just a tribute project, as once again O'Riley proves himself capable of reinterpreting songs entirely, bringing out fresh aspects of the melodies and uncovering new facets of their songwriting. His website has some great unreleased versions of popular tunes with his unique interpretive flair.

Meanwhile, Amy Ray has her latest solo offering, Prom. This is an interesting look at growing up gay in rural America, with all its good and bad points, as well as the growing pains of anyone going through puberty. It's got some rough edges here and there, almost veering into punk(!) at times, and that's pretty refreshing coming from an Indigo Girl.

Lastly, there's a lovely pair of indie-pop albums this week: Architecture In Helsinki's "Fingers Crossed" is an adventurous, sunny album recorded in their native Australia at the charmingly named Super Melody World Studio. Female vocal harmonies, horn solos of every size and shape, whip-crack time style changes within a single song? Check, check, and check. Not to be outdone, one of the unsung heroes of the new pop revolution is back with a new masterpiece: let's hear it for Of Montreal and their wonderful disc called The Sunlandic Twins! Their albums hit you right off the bat with the colorful artwork of David Barnes, brother of the Of Montreal frontman, Kevin. Once you pop the disc into the player, it's all honey, baby. There are certainly portions of the album that harken back to their older, more psychedelic recordings, but where those albums tended to be frustratingly incomprehensible and densely packed with ideas, the band lets much of the new album breathe a bit. Indeed, the first half of the album is chock full of psych-pop gems, hopping from chord to chord on a poetic, half-understood lyric. Drum loops are present to sweeten the pot here and there, and the overall vibe is that of a more mature Kevin Barnes (who, let's face it, IS the whole band here, more or less). He seems comfortable working his own lysergic magic within a "normal" rock'n'roll framework, despite the fact that you'll never mistake his left-field vocals for anyone else's. This is my favorite Of Montreal record to date.



Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Quite a week for independent hip hop heads. There's Orishas' new disc "El Kilo," Vast Aire: The Best Damn Rap Show, Tonedeff: Archetype, Project Blowed: 10th Year Anniversary, and of course the return of the gangsta classic, Master P: MP Da Last Don. Hurray!

On the rockity roll tip, we have some hits and some misses. First of all, there's British Sea Power: Open Season. More sweeping Britrock there, I'm assuming. Last one was mighty fine and I assume this one is too.

Then there's Fantomas: Suspended Animation. Coming from the fevered imagination of Mike Patton, you know you're in for something altogether different than the average four-person band delivers. According to the reviews, "Suspended Animation is epic to the max.... A destructive wrecking ball of mammoth proportions, hell bent on the process of kicking ass. Its a wonderful piece of mood music, unrelenting, unforgiving....I love it." and "This will not calm you to sleep...this is not punk, this is not metal, this is not alternative, this is not any style that you have ever heard. this is FANTOMAS... after you are done listening, you will feel like you were just beat up in a day care..." so there you go.

Hot Hot Heat: Elevator appears to be another slab of funkdified, angular pop, and they seem none the worse for their move to a major label. I can't lie and say I know all their work, but I always enjoy it when I hear something by them. Lump it under the garage rock banner I suppose, but it's definitely an "up" record. My toe is tapping just thinking about it.

And finally there's Everything Comes and Goes: a Tribute to Black Sabbath. It looked great on paper...spaced-out indie & electro bands interpret tunes by Ozzy-era Sabbath. A no-brainer for tribute of the year, but somewhere along the way they fell off the edge. When the tracks go for experimentalism they overdo it, when they go for twee, they fail in a different, equally spectacular way. With people like Matmos and Four Tet involved, I just expected more. The shiny font on the cover art is gorgeous though, I gotta give them that.

So what am I getting this week? An excellent question I shall be happy to answer. First there's the reissued, remastered Dickies: Killer Klowns From Outer Space EP. Five stirling tunes of mid-80s bubblegum punk, and the title tune is the theme song to one of my favorite horror comedies of all-time. Plus they cover "Eep Opp Ork (Uh, Uh)" from the Jetsons. Mint! My second purchase of the week is Movements: 14 Deep Funk Pearls. Forget the unfortunate, fecal-sounding title of this disc. It's another fine collection of rare grooves on 45 from the late 1960s/early 1970s. I love that kind of stuff, I've got dozens of funky collections like this one. I also have my eye on the smooth, swinging sounds of Rare Grooves Brazil #1, but I need to hear it first. Not all bossa is created equal, as anyone with an ear can tell you.

Thanks for reading, and as always, if a stranger pulls up and offers you a job working behind a cash register...say no, go, and tell. This public service announcement brought to you by the Slavewages Commission and your local SPCA. Later!


Friday, April 01, 2005

Hey, I hope everyone's doing well out there in blogland. April's here so I thought I'd check in and let you all know that I am very much alive, no thanks to retail. I don't have a great deal to report. The customers have been manageable and not too many crazies to write about, so here's a couple of this week's notable musical releases:

Beck: Guero [cd]
Not hard to understand that pick, plenty of folks have been looking forward to a new Beck disc. What's left to say about this prolific, talented cat? He meshes genres like nobody else in mainstream music, he knows his way around a hook, and I dig his lyrics.

Morrissey: Live At Earl's Court [cd]
This album took about four songs to grow on me. At first I wasn't sure about his phrasing and intonation, as my brain was firmly fixed upon the original album versions. What can I say? My live Morrissey experience is in its infant stages. But Moz eventually settles into his groove and seems to loosen up after a handful of numbers, and you can close your eyes and imagine him sweeping his arm across the stage expansively as he croons a fine selection of cuts from his solo work and Smiths catalog alike. Halfway through the superlative set, he starts really rolling his Rs and I break into an uncontrollable grin. When he gets to "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out" and sings, If a double decker bus cr-r-r-r-r-r-r-rashes into us, I start giggling like a dainty schoolgirl on a uniformed picnic. The pleasure, the privilege is mine indeed.

Other than that, I was mostly excited about reissue stuff this week. I picked up the Best of The Roosters (a wonderful early 80s garage band from Japan) and Bubble Pop, a collection of "20 UK Pop Oddities". Fun!


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