Tuesday, May 24, 2005

I’m in love with this week’s new releases! So much good stuff, I’d better not waste any more time. Let’s get into it:

Alkaline Trio’s new album “Crimson” is out this week and it sounds like they’ve moved another step forward from their punk-pop roots, courtesy of maturity, Jerry Finn’s production experience, and keyboards by Roger Manning of the legendary power pop band Jellyfish. Could be a corker. At the Drive-In has officially reached classic rock status, barely four years after their demise, as evidenced by the release of their “Anthology” complete with a bonus DVD of videos and live footage from this angular hardcore act. Meanwhile supergroup Audioslave, with Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell on vocals and members of Rage Against the Machine backing him up, are “Out of Exile” and from what I hear, this second album is better than their first. It’s supposed to have more of a unified feel to it, as though they’ve pulled together as a band instead of just being a Cornell side project with Rage riffs. Color me mildly interested.

For real rock majesty though, I suspect this week’s true winner may be Bruce Dickinson, vocalist for Iron Maiden. His latest solo offering, “Tyranny of Souls,” has his trademark “air-raid siren” singing style and promises to be bombastic and badass in the extreme.

Now hold on just a second, that ain’t all for rock this week. Blur vocalist Damon Albarn is back with the second album from his wonderfully silly side project Gorillaz. Their sophomore effort “Demon Days” offers up more funky beats, nonsensical lyrics, irresistible hooks, and superfun music videos and cartoons by artist Jamie Hewlett. Glaswegian septet Belle & Sebastian, meanwhile, have gathered together all of their various EP tracks from 1997 to 2001 in a cheaply-priced double disc package entitled “Push Barman To Open Old Wounds”. Seeing as some of their best material has been offered on these import singles, I’d say this is a pop fan’s dream.

Then there’s “You’re Speaking My Language” by Juliette & the Licks. Yes, it’s yet another vanity album by a Hollywood entity, in this case hack actress – “hacktress”? – Juliette Lewis. Color me totally uninterested. No offense if you love her work. I’m more a fan of weirdo indie rocker Stephen Malkmus, ex-frontman for the 1990s critical darlings Pavement. Malkmus’ new disc “Face the Truth” is one of his finest, packed with what AllMusic Guide calls “arrangements which are initially bewilderingly dense, but slowly unveil to revealing their intricacies so that on repeated plays it's easy to marvel at how the music crests and peaks.”

And speaking of cool 1990s rock acts, Screaming Trees were a fixture on college radio back in the day. They’ve got a new Best Of release this week which serves as an apt reminder of why the Pacific Northwest actually mattered musically in the nineties. Another group from that area, Sleater-Kinney, is still making great records. Their latest, “Woods,” is less political than the last one but damn, these ladies can rock.

Speaking of rock, what screams "party" like 65-year-old Chip Taylor & his lovely young fiddle-playing cohort Carrie Rodriguez? Erm, maybe not the best example of rocking. But still, these two have been making some wonderful country albums lately, and their new “Red Dog Tracks” is no exception. Also out this week for country is Shelby Lynne’s “Suit Yourself”. This Nashville maverick has been singing from her soul for over 15 years now and this may be her finest album to date. Respected and much-loved alt-country act Son Volt has a “Retrospective” this week, capturing the best of their music from 1995-2000, after they rose from the ashes of the famed group Uncle Tupelo. If you like alt-country/Americana at all, do yourself a favor and discover these guys.

Blues fans have a couple of high-profile releases this week. Robert Cray’s “Twenty” mines the same low-key blues groove he’s been working on expertly for decades, while James Blood Ulmer’s “Birthright” has more of his signature free-jazz-influenced blues guitar work.

It’s a banner week for soundtracks as well. “Cinderella Man” features score by Thomas Newman, while “Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants” is an album full of flatulent femme-pop for the lip-glass and pimples crowd. The soundtrack to the skateboarding picture “Lords of Dogtown” captures the 1970s flavor of its subject through the gnarly rock stylings of mainstays Nazareth, Foghat, Ted Nugent, Sweet, David Bowie, T.Rex, Black Sabbath, and more. “The Longest Yard” remake, meanwhile, is wall-to-wall mainstream rap, a force of nature which is currently dominating the Top 40 charts in America but just doesn’t do much for me. I tend more towards underground rap, as I’m sure I mentioned previously around here. I also dig a bit of the funk, so it’s nice to see electronic act Meat Beat Manifesto making a comeback at last. They’ve always had a funky vibe that permeated their squelchy breakbeats. Their new album “At the Center” appears to be a mixture of free-jazz experimentation layered with group founder Jack Dangers’ oddball production. More exciting to me yet is “Motown Remixed”, classic tunes from Motown Records by the Jackson 5, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, Temptations, etc., remixed by folks like Z-Trip, DJ Jazzy Jeff, Mocean Worker, DJ Spinna, King Britt, Green Lantern, etc. Here’s a good one, "Papa Was a Rolling Stone (DJ Jazzy Jeff Solefull remix)” by the Temptations. It is indeed a soulful mix, capturing the epic feel of the original while adding some very nice touches along the way.


Friday, May 20, 2005

A year or two ago we had a young man working here for a short time whom we shall refer to as D. Now, D. had certain issues. He had autistic qualities as well as other neurological impairments, and he required the aid of a helper who oversaw his work, helped him fill out paperwork and find his way around. We hired him as sort of a rehabilition project, I think. He was a good guy, and I'd like to dedicate this post to him.

Talking to D. was always an adventure. You never knew what kind of conversation you were going to have. Some days he would initiate things with a non sequitur, a question that would never have occurred to me to ask somebody. I get the feeling he fixated on a question and asked it all day, because his helper would often step in and say gently, "I think you've already bothered enough people with that one today, D." then D. would say "okay," and shuffle off to ask someone else the same thing. Here are a couple of examples I noted:

24 February 2004 – “Which do you like better, WWF or WCW? Why? What about ECW? How often do you order wrestling on pay-per-view?” *

22 January 2004 – “Do you enjoy having an empty stomach?”

11 January 2004 - “Do you enjoy staring at the sun?”

Other times D. would appear out of nowhere, say something inadvertently humorous, then vanish before you could react. The best example that comes to mind happened on October 8, 2003. I was unpacking some discs and happened to pick up the soundtrack to "The Nightmare Before Christmas". D. appeared next to me, pointed at the disc and proclaimed, "You have a silly CD! The Nightmare Before Christmas!"

Another day I recall fondly was October 7, 2003, when D. walked in for work wearing sunglasses, sporting an air of mystery and intrigue. He opened with the usual exchange of pleasantries, then asked me, "What did you do this last weekend?" I answered something about seeing a movie, then he replied, "I'm not going to tell you what I did last weekend," and disappeared as his helper and I shrugged. Hey, you gotta give a guy credit for being bluntly honest.

And blunt he was, as evidenced by the last scene in the Legend Of D. One of our workers, Jacque was leaving for California and saying her tearful goodbyes to all of us at the store. She had a bit of a reputation at work for being difficult at times, so needless to say, the following exchange was greatly appreciated by those of us who witnessed it. When she got to D. she said wistfully, "Goodbye D. We probably won't see each other again," to which he replied, "I don't think I will miss you."

Eventually D. was unable to continue working for us, for financial reasons on our part and a downward turn in his mental state. I've since seen him and his new helper around town and he seems to be doing well, which pleases me greatly. He brought something special to the job that nobody else ever has since. Vive le D.!

* note: This refers to different wrestling groups on TV. "WWF" is the World Wrestling Federation. "WCW" stands for World Championship Wrestling, and "ECW" is for Extreme Championship Wrestling.


Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Not the biggest week, but not bad by any means. First off there are several DVDs of note. The Flaming Lips have a documentary out entitled "Fearless Freaks" tracing their entire career through exclusive footage in the studio, at their homes, and more. Then there are the Austin City Limits live series of concerts, with discs featuring Lucinda Williams, Son Volt, and Richard Thompson.

Moving on to CDs, I feel remiss in not previously mentioning Aimee Mann's latest album, "Forgotten Arm." She's a terrific songwriter and this latest album is consistently winning, with plenty of hooks and a dark lyrical bent in keeping with the dramatic theme of the project.

Also out this week is the "Concord Picante 25th Anniversary" boxed set of latin jazz tunes. How can you go wrong with 4 CDs of hand-picked Concord Records tunes for $25? Answer: unless you hate latin jazz, you can't. Another notable release in the international music category is "Di Korpa Ku Alma" by Cape Verde singing sensation Lura. I haven't heard it yet but the reviews are quite positive. I'm also very interested to hear "Trojan Dub Massive" volumes 1 & 2, in which production wizard Bill Laswell remixes and re-imagines classic reggae tunes from the Trojan Records vaults. If it's anything like his previous dub work, expect the lowest bass you've ever heard and an echo so deep you could fall in and never return.

Toby Keith's latest album "Honkytonk University" is out now, as is a disc entitled "The Best of the Muppets," featuring six songs from the Muppets' Wizard of Oz soundtrack feat. Ashanti. I've not seen the TV special in question, but it feels a little odd to me that they've got a cover with Ashanti and the muppets dressed as Wizard of Oz characters, yet barely a third of the tunes are from that particular project.

Rhino Records upholds their reputation for great reissues with Gang of Four's classic 1979 album "Entertainment!", now remastered with the bonus "Yellow EP" and 4 unreleased demos and live tracks). It's one of those albums on the cusp of the 1980s that helped use punk and hardcore trappings to both interpret the then-current state of music, and to predict the future. Over time it's proven to be a very influential disc for a lot of bands, not the least of which is modern metal group System of a Down. Actually, calling them "metal" is almost doing them a disservice, as their particular style is as much about experimentation and hardcore than any heavy metal tradition. Their new album "Mezmerize" is another great, pulverizing slab of politically-charged music, and a logical successor to their previous work. Probably not recommended for those looking to use music as a form of relaxation.

We have at least two notable indie rap releases this week. First up is Chief Kamachi's "Black Candles," another disc I've only seen good reviews for but have yet to hear for myself, and the new disc by Definitive Jux recording artist C-Ray Walz. He's had quite a successful couple of years, with underground mix tape madness, well-regarded freestyle forays into NYC nightlife, and a mountain of good press. "Year of the Beast" features Walz's usual lyrical virtuosity and a slew of guest stars including indie luminaries Jean Grae, Vordul Mega, and the ever-prolific El-P.

My two personal picks this week are -- as usual -- in the more melodic vein of alternative pop/rock. First there's Paul Westerberg's "Besterberg," a "best of" overview of his 14-year solo career. I've loved his old 1980s band The Replacements for ages but I never really had the gumption to dig into his solo stuff, so this new disc is very much appreciated by yours truly. Then there's Mercury Rev's "The Secret Migration." They're American but have always found more fans in other countries, so this honey of an album came out in foreign markets months ago. By way of apology for that fact, the record label has tossed in a very nice bonus disc with 8 previously unreleased tunes including 3 live cuts. For your freebie this week, here's a good album cut entitled "In a Funny Way". See you soon!


Sunday, May 15, 2005

I've just created a l'il sister for the ol' Retail Blog. It's called "The Lefthand Window" and it's basically a photo companion for this blog, as well as a pointless, pretentious art project. Whee!


Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Hey hey, people! Tim here with the weekly roundup of notable music releases. Looks like a pretty good bounty with the possible exception of "Stand Up," the new Dave Matthews album. Er, but mom always said "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all," so let's just move on.

Lucinda Williams has a new double-live album out this week, "Live at the Fillmore." Recorded during a three-night stand in San Francisco, it documents her inimitable approach to live music and singing in general. The love, loneliness, and yearning are evident in every note she hits as the band traverses country-rock, blues, folk and back again. This marvelously produced album perfectly captures an artist at the height of both her career and her powers as a musician.

Weezer's "Make Believe," on the other hand, has me a little worried. I hear it rocks as hard as anything they've done, but "rocking" has never been my only concern when listening to a record. I'll just have to face the fact that they're never going to make another "Pinkerton" and accept the new stuff on its own terms. Hopefully this one will win me over on the first listen. And speaking of nerd-rock bands of the 1990s, the hipsters among you may recall the name of another, much less successful California pop band that mined a similar sound with more comedic results. The band was Nerf Herder, whose sci-fi tinged tunes and unselfconsciously goofy lyrics always brought a smile to my face. Now their leader Parry Gripp has put out a very unusual solo album entitled "For Those About To Shop, We Salute You." This thing is sort of his way of making fun of TV commercial jingles: 51 tracks of merchandising madness, including "This Is One Hell of a Truck," "You've Got To Have Faith (In Your Anti-Perspirant)," Drinkin' a Beer With My Lady," and "She Likes Yoo-Hoo (More Than She Likes Me-Hoo"). I can't wait to sink my musical teeth into that sandwich of rock.

But wait, there's more! If you call now we'll also tell you about the following new releases: indie band Spoon returns with their new platter, "Gimme Fiction." Ex-Led Zeppelin badass Robert Plant has a group called the Strange Sensation and this week sees the release of their latest, "The Mighty Rearranger." The vastly underrated UK indie band Tindersticks has a new greatest hits collection. Then there's "Team Sleep" (Chino Moreno from Deftones with artists like Mary Timony). I listened to a few clips and it sounded like introspective, slow-tempo alternative rock. How's that for a tepid description? Heh heh.

I've never gotten into Japanese noise-rock band The Boredoms as much as some of my peers, but it's good to see them still making music after all these years. Their new disc, "Seadrum/House of Sun" is broken up into two very long tracks, and the case itself is a gorgeous dark blue metal-flake jewel case with silver lettering. Take a peek next time you're in the local music shop. They don't have the weirdness market cornered, however. James Kochalka Superstar has his own thing going on as well. Vermont native Kochalka is an independent comics artist with a good cult following on the internet. He also makes music in his spare time, having released several out-of-print CDs over the course of a decade. "Our Most Beloved" collects the best of those releases and then some, throwing in a cute little bonus DVD of cartoon footage and other assorted Kochalka silliness.

Beloved west coast punk band X remains a force to be reckoned with, as proven by their new disc, "Live in Los Angeles". They've figured out that the best blurbs to have on your cover are those from other respected musicians so I'll just clam up and let those do the talking about this one: "X is the band that I always aspired to be as cool as, but never could." - Flea (of Red Hot Chili Peppers) "X is in the top five greatest live bands I have ever seen. I have seen a lot of bands play. A LOT." - Henry Rollins (of Black Flag and Rollins Band)

And lastly on the rockity roll tip, we have a new Van Zant album. Yes that's right, a new album from Donnie Van Zant of 38 Special and Johnny Van Zant of Lynyrd Skynyrd! Woo hoo, let's hear it for Dixie rock, baby. "Get Right With the Man" is equal parts country and rock, with the usual odes to the hardhat-wearin' workin' man and those beautiful southern belles that make life worth living for a heterosexual male. Or a lesbian. Oh for pete's sake, I've forgotten what I was talking about. Oh yeah: I was looking at the album cover and thinking...given that these fellas have been around playing in bands for over three decades and seen the roughest side of life on the road, shouldn't they look about four hundred by now? I'm talking Keith Richards kind of frightening, dig? But no, they actually look surprisingly young and healthy. It's either diet and exercise or the magic of Adobe Photoshop.

For those with more refined tastes, I direct your upper crust attention to the new CD by opera star Renee Fleming, "Haunted Heart." I'm actually unsure if it qualifies as opera, since Fred Hersch is on piano, Bill Frisell is on guitar, and all of the song titles are in English. Bluegrass banjo queen Alison Brown has a nice new one this week called "Stolen Moments," and our old country-folk pal Robert Earl Keen is back on deck with his latest, "What I Really Mean."

Moving on to the hip hop realm, DJ Premier's new double-disc offering "Kings of Hip Hop" looks interesting. The first half is all classic soul/r&b tunes while the second half is chock full of classic rap tunes. Nice to see Big Daddy Kane still getting his props, that cat could really sling a rhyme. Prince Paul has a rarities collection out called "Itstrumental," and according to the overly excited sticker on the front: "From '88 to now, Prince Paul brings together an unheard collection of beats, skits, and tracks sure to cure all the doldrums of our Rap Industry!"

Also this week is one from a UK act called Goldie Lookin Chain. The title is "Straight Outta Newport" and I actually read somewhere that they're "The Darkness of hiphop," which I assume means they're taking the piss out of rap the way The Darkness took the piss with rock. Notable song titles: "Your Mother's Got a Penis" and "You Knows I Loves You." Aww, they're getting all romantical! Lastly we have the fairly cool-looking DVD "Basement TV," with clips of indie hip hop luminaries like J-Live, El-P, Aesop Rock, Mr. Lif, Sage Francis, Aceyalone, and many more. From the back of the case: "There are no interviews on this DVD. No skits, no footage of your favorite artists checking their mail. This is all walk and no talk! This all meat & potatoes. F*ck the vegetables!"

This week's freebies come from the new Sloan CD, "A Sides Win." It's a good overview of their career singles thus far, over a decade of excellent Canadian power pop, available as a single disc or with a bonus DVD of videos and interviews. First up we have the easygoing hit The Other Man to ease you into their sound with some vocal harmonies. Then there's the rock power of If It Feels Good Do It, one of my personal favorite Sloan tracks. Hope ya like 'em.



Thursday, May 05, 2005

The Gypsy Cometh

Sometime in the middle of the afternoon, I was hanging out in the CD room, minding my own business. Suddenly a woman came barreling through into the bookshop, arguing with herself at full volume. I got a chilling feeling that this was a nut, and a glimpse of the hideous tie-dyed hankerchief on her head confirmed this hunch. She looked like some kind of wannabe Gypsy, but this particular city breeds all manner of throwback hippies and assorted peacenik-stoner retirees. As the sound of her lunacy died away, I breathed a sigh of relief and went back to straightening the shelves. At least the book workers would be the poor suckers who had to deal with this particular eccentric.

Ten minutes later the intercom beeped and my coworker said, "Tim..."

I got a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. Somehow I knew this was going to be about Her. The coworker told me someone was coming back looking for a particular opera CD and I rushed to find it. If it really was her, at least I could have it waiting so she'd buy it and leave. As the sound of the Arguing Gypsy grew louder once more, I started to sweat under the flourescent lights. It was her! With mere moments to act, I panicked and forgot the alphabet, momentarily slowing my search. Then she entered the room and things got weird.

She started singing at the top of her lungs in a high-pitched assault on good taste.
A mountain of necklaces, chains, crystals, yin-yang symbols and dreamcatchers clinked together around her neck in a broken symphony of confused ideologies. She kept a firm grip on a giant can of some "energy drink," one of those new fad beverages full of things like ginseng and eucalyptus honey. She hit a note so indescribably awful that time itself stopped. "My voice is shot," she muttered to no one in particular. It was the first time I ever had to restrain myself from agreeing with a customer.

At long last I located the album she wanted (filed in the wrong section, of course) and made it through the checkout process without incident. She started serenading the store again, causing my eyes to cross of their own accord. She came back a few more times in rapid succession, as each time she crossed the threshhold of the store, she seemed to recall some other title she wanted. "Do you have Roses?" she asked. "No ma'am," I replied, "I'm not even sure that's a real band."

"How about Cheesefist? Or Madame LaCherie's Cavalcade of Inner Peace?"

After a couple minutes of this, satisfied that I wouldn't be able to locate any of the imaginary bands she had in mind, she soared out for the last time in a flurry of self accusations. "How dare you?" she cried at herself. "Me? How dare you??" She looked aghast. "I?? I?? What have I done?" "Oh, don't play coy with me..."

Ah, but it's good to have some characters around again, after these last few boring months of normal people. Viva la Gypsy!


Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Let's see, what kind of interesting new albums do we have this week? First of all there's a new Ryan Adams disc. I'm not the biggest fan in the world, but the reviews are pretty favorable on this outing. They say he's dropped a bit of his self-importance and returned to the americana sounds of his days with Whiskeytown. If so that's cool, though I'm not pleased about him breaking up an 80-minute set into two CDs.

Also this week, perfectionist recluse Trent Reznor emerges from his New Orleans cocoon after six years with an impressive new Nine Inch Nails album that should please both fans of his older, beat-driven work and his more recent forays into detailed, layered production. Reznor has successfully battled many of his personal demons and, on the eve of his fortieth birthday, his new work harkens back to the Pretty Hate Machine era of accessible industrial pop and reveals a more mature lyricist and a more confident arranger.

There's a new Raveonettes album for the garagerock fans, as well as yet another greatest hits collection from They Might Be Giants. Two new Broadway adaptation soundtracks of interest are hitting stores: Little Women and Monty Python's Spamalot. And speaking of soundtracks, Star Wars fans will want to grab the Episode III: Revenge of the Sith album.

Those of you who like Soul Coughing -- one of my favorite bands of the 1990s -- will be pleased to hear that frontman Mike Doughty has a new solo disc out today. This time he's working with a backing band again, but here we see him stretching out a bit with the sound, adding more guitars and writing more personal lyrics. Looks pretty good to me.

I'm also happy about the existence of a new Quasimoto disc, the side project of hip hop production wiz Madlib. This guy's all over the map...you never know if he'll be mixing, MCing, or something else entirely. Sometimes he even leaves the rap genre behind entirely, such as on the brilliantly mixed reggae collection, Blunted In the Bomb Shelter. Sounds like this Quasimoto album has him rocking the mic with his unique flair for characters. According to AllMusic Guide, " these 26 tracks actually conceal close to 50 individual skits, grooves, sci-fi dialogue, educational records, and pot fantasies -- but Madlib has formed a tighter frame around his productions than ever before. The sound, what's recognizable of it, expands on Madlib's base of soul and jazz-funk, adding snatches of '80s urban and '70s smooth soul, the perfect bed for these tales. For the most part, Quas doesn't allow himself any nostalgia, but when he does, it becomes almost a little poignant, as on "Rappcats, Pt. 3" (where he shouts out to all his favorite old-school rappers) or the point on "Bartender Say" when the wisdom yields this little nugget: 'What's the prettiest thing you ever seen?/ The sun pushing down, making things grow/The silence in the dawn when a car goes past.'"

Lastly, I'm really excited about the new album, "Oceans Apart," from the Go-Betweens. This Australian pop-rock group has been around almost 25 years at this point and they're still writing brilliant songs! In case you're unfamiliar with them, I again call on the AllMusic Guide to enlighten thee: "The Go-Betweens were perhaps the quintessential cult band of the '80s: they came from an exotic locale (Brisbane, Australia), moved to a major recording center (in their case, London) in a sustained bid to make a career out of music, released album after album of music seemingly tailor-made for the radio in spite of their having little use for contemporary Top 40 musical/lyrical formulas and earned considerable critical praise and a small but fervent international fan base." Here's an excellent cut from the new album entitled, "This Night's For You".


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