May 31, 2010
Live albums are often odd ducks. Even for bands who are known for being better in concert than in the studio, the magic doesn’t always translate. Now, this column is far from definitive, but here are a handful of live tracks worth hearing.
The Whites Stripes | “Jolene” from Under Great White Northern Lights
The new White Stripes tour documentary Under Great White Northern Lights is excellent and may stand up over the years as one of the all-time great rock movies. The accompanying soundtrack, compiled from different shows throughout the movie’s Canadian tour, is pretty good, though not as likely to be deemed a classic. The highpoint of the album, however, is the band’s utterly memorable cover of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” which has an intensity and a sense of over-the-top melodrama that’s mesmerizing. White’s voice quavers as he picks arpeggios, singing from the point-of-view of a wronged woman pleading with a temptress who is out to take her man. Inevitably, the emotional dam breaks, and White lets his guitar squall and squeal while he lets out a few pained howls of “Jolene!” It’s far more theatrical than the studio version, and it’s dynamite stuff. Stream it here.
Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers | “Mystic Eyes” from The Live Anthology
The four-disc (or five-disc or seven-disc, depending on how “deluxe” your edition is) box set of live tracks by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers that was released last year is not a for-completists-only collection. Anybody who likes their rock on the rootsy side will gobble up all the goodies that Petty has compiled from more than 25 years worth of shows. Also, each disc is so smoothly edited that it’s impossible to tell that almost none of the back-to-back tracks are from the same show – or even from the same decade. The whole collection has a smattering of cool covers, and the second disc is bookended by two of the best. It starts off with an awesome version of Bo Diddley’s ”Diddy Wah Diddy” and closes with a 9-minute version of “Mystic Eyes,” originally performed by Van Morrison’s ‘60s band Them. Though they’ve long had a rep as a tight and concise band, Petty’s Heartbreakers have gotten jammier as the years progress. This track is not at all indulgent though, as the band shifts flawlessly from simmer to boil and back again, without letting the tension subside. If you get bored or distracted at any point during this track, maybe you need to see a doctor about getting ADHD medication.
JezebelMusic.com @ The Studio at Webster Hall
May 20, 2010 | Atomic Tom, New Politics
You know those neighborhood bands that rehearse in garages and there’s always that one cool mom who doesn’t mind the noise and just wants them to play music whenever they want? And once in a while she pops her head in with lemonade and cookies and tries to sneak a listen but they aren’t really ready to be heard and they kind of just want to eat their cookies and have her go away until they’re ready to perform? And then suddenly they’ve gone and gotten signed to Universal Republic and have a single out on iTunes and are playing some of the most respected venues in New York City?
That’s the best way I know to describe my relationship with Atomic Tom.
I’ve been following this band for four years, partially because I liked their music when I first heard them, and very much because their bassist, Phil Galitzine, is one of my closest friends. Three years ago going to an Atomic Tom show meant going to support him, not necessarily going for “the show.” That’s all behind me now. For the past year, I’ve watched Atomic Tom transform from a group of guys who really liked playing rock shows to a band that knows how to play rock shows. So when I asked if I could write a review for last night’s headlining set on Webster Hall’s Studio, I didn’t do it for my friends. I did it to see a rock show.
Cut to the last Thursday.
May 23, 2010
In an age where fewer and fewer people are buying new music, it helps to have your record housed in a distinct package. Everyone can do jewel cases, and frankly, what’s the point of them? If you’re anything like me, you live in a small apartment in Brooklyn, and if you buy a new compact disc, you disassemble the jewel case and throw it out, first thing. The jewel case is passe, not to mention horrible for the environment.
And it’s not like one can’t afford to do better these days, either. When I released my first album, Metal and Wood, in 2003, one thousand compact discs, in shrink-wrapped jewel cases, cost around $1,200. In 2009, I released my fourth album, A Brighter Light, in shrink-wrapped, full color eco-wallets (they’re the cardboard ones, where the CD slips into it like a record, rather than sit on a plastic tray). Due to increased economic downturn and ever-waning public interest in CDs, this run of a thousand cost pretty much the same as my first album (basically half what they cost in 2003). Today, one can release a CD that sounds good, lasts a long time, and looks cool, for a fraction of what it used to cost.
Some examples, throughout the years:
1. Spiritualized-Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space (12×3″ CD “blister pack” edition)
Spritualized‘s 1997 crowning achievement, the spacey, drone-y Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space, sonically, earns its’ place among the canon of psychedelic music. The album was available on traditional compact disc and vinyl, but was also released in an ultra-limited form that included each of the album’s twelve songs on a 3″ CD. The mini-CDs were then packed into a “blister pack”-basically the cellophane and plastic contraption that Claritin comes in. Though I hadn’t heard the record when I saw it in January 1999-and I have only a passing familiarity with it today-that CD box was the ultimate drool-inducing fetish object for a guy like me. It sat on the shelf of Radio Kilroy-where I was employed and, because my boss thought I was stealing anyway, could easily have stolen it-until it went out of business a few months later. The blister pack edition of Ladies and Gentlemen was the coolest record by far in a store full of cool records-so modern and somehow so reminiscent of Huxley’s Brave New World. The boss wanted $180 for his copy at the time; today, the same album goes on eBay for eight times that.
2. The Velvet Underground-Peel Slowly and See (5 CD boxed-set)
The Velvets’ four, commercially stillborn but unprecedentedly influential albums were collected (and expanded with dubious bonus tracks) for the first time in 1995. Having all of their classics, many omissions that ranged in quality from essential to horrid, and a pre-Velvet Underground and Nico CD of Lou Reed, John Cale and Sterling Morrison rehearsing their earliest material was reason enough to shell out forty five bucks for the five CD package. That the package aped the cover of the group’s debut album-a banana with the words, “Peel Slowly and See” next to the stem-only with a Colorforms-style banana logo that actually peeled away, once again made the package an absolute necessity for nerds. Nevermind the fact that the CDs don’t begin and end one bit like their source material (and indeed the entire third album is presented in a weird alternate mix), the banana on the cover is cool as shit. I already had all the groups albums when my girlfriend’s roommate was hard up for cash and offered me the box for thirty bucks. Maybe not the coolest thirty bucks I ever spent, but certainly in the running.
May 19, 2010
I meet Avan Lava outside St. Cecilia’s Catholic School and Church in Williamsburg. Father Jim walks past and exchanges hellos with multi-instrumentalist Michael “Le Chev” Cheever and singer Tom Hennes as the two finish their cigarettes. Father Jim walks back up the stairs into the school and a few seconds later Cheever and Hennes lead me down to the Church’s basement, filled with rooms that Father Jim rents out to artists, dancers, and musicians. We walk through a maze of dust- and clutter-filled rooms until we reach the recording studio where I sit down and talk with the band.
Avan Lava’s music doesn’t necessarily sound like it was recorded in a church basement—it can certainly be haunting and ambient at times, but still the group switches easily between shoe-gazey, dream pop and bouncy, dance-ready neu-disco. Avan Lava have already released their first EP, Vapors, which you can get on iTunes or their website; but the two are still hard at work, spending hours upon hours in the basement of St. Cecilia’s figuring out and perfecting their constantly changing sound.
Jezebel Music: So how did you guys meet and decide to start working together?
Michael Cheever: We were working with a friend of mine, Ian, and all of us were writing this song together.
Tom Hennes: Yeah, and Ian had seen me sing in something random, and was just like “Hey come sing with me.” So I showed up at the studio and it was the four of us, and Mike and I kept having the same ideas. It was weird.
MC: Especially because we were working with like a 70s, glam rock melody. And everyone was kind of saying, “I dunno, I dunno,” and Tom and I were like, “Yeah, that’s it!”
TH: It’s funny because we were the two people whose input wasn’t really wanted, because we were kind of invited into this project.
MC: I actually don’t think it was fitting the track very well, but it was exciting for us.
May 18, 2010
2010 | Mom + Pop/N.E.E.T. Recordings
The internet hype-cycle can be a fickle thing. Either you live up to the acclaim like The Strokes did back in 2001, or you don’t and get completely screwed over like the Black Kids a few years ago, or you just find yourself perpetually trapped in the blogosphere like, well, most bands. It’s been less than a year since Brooklyn duo Sleigh Bells found themselves in this world after playing a handful of breakout shows at last year’s CMJ and releasing a five-song demo that seemed to make its way to every corner of the internet. Throw in two national tours opening for Major Lazer and then Yeasayer, and signing to M.I.A.’s N.E.E.T. Recordings, and the buzz surrounding the group’s debut, Treats, grew to a fever pitch—not to mention the fact that before it’s online release on May 11, the album had miraculously not even leaked.
Treats is loud and relentless—thirty-two minutes of non-stop, in-your-face, cranked-to-11, ear-drum-shattering noise pop. Derek Miller’s guitar screams wildly over hammering 808 beats and claps, creating a hurricane of sound that provides the perfect foil for Alexis Krauss’ blissed-out voice that’s still got just the right amount of bite. And while much of the charm on Sleigh Bells’ demo was the bedroom-production values, getting into a studio has been far from detrimental. As producer, Miller has given the re-recordings of demo songs new life: “Kids” (formerly “Beach Girls”) is tighter and more powerful, its once drawn-out synths now staccato punches; and “Infinity Guitars” retains its Spartan, lo-fi glory until the last forty-seconds when the volume gets kicked up a few notches more, ending in a pounding whirlwind of noise and distortion.
May 14, 2010
Three cheers for Kleenex Girl Wonder, one of my all time favorite bands. Singer and writer Graham Smith has a deep, primordial grasp of the whole fuzz folk lo-fi thing that seems to constantly elude the other guys and lead them astray. With eleven full-length albums under his belt and an arsenal of untold melodies he probably just keeps to himself, Graham embodies what musicians can usually only achieve during some hideous, drug-addled tornado between the piano and a straitjacket. Except for Mr. Smith, the approach is obvious and logical; music is less an anecdote to everyday life, but integrated and related to what’s happening, a mid-afternoon snack. I suppose it’s easy to be prolific if you don’t take it all so seriously. And he’s a really nice guy. Come to the Jezebel Music Feature Show June 3rd at Cameo Gallery. Epic!
JM.com: Having booked you for the Feature Show, it’s been interesting to see that pretty much one in five people I talk to about you are super stoked.
Graham Smith: That’s a lot. It’s probably one in five hundred, maybe. But the people who like it like it a lot, that’s the trick. The people who like it aren’t just like “oh yeah, I’ll throw it on”… either you dig it or you don’t. That could explain it also, because the people who are into it are passionate about it for the most part.
JM.com: That’s true, there is an aura about your music, where the fandom can reach a very intense level.
GS: And I have no idea why that is, honestly. I don’t know if that’s about the content, or because I used to try to cultivate a persona like that. Not that I tried to cultivate something that people would dislike, but I think I tried to cultivate something that would be remarkable. I don’t think I really do that as much any more. I think i try to do some online brand management type things, but I’m not saying insulting things anymore, or not showing up to gigs, or being irresponsible. Whatever I used to do. I just thought it was funny, I mean, I still do think it’s funny; I just don’t think it would be as funny to do it now. Because it’s more appealing to be earnest I guess. If there’s a fair amount of depth – depth in the lyrics – people tend to get more attached to it. I think that most people who like my stuff don’t think of it as deeply personal necessarily. It’s personally affecting to the listener, but it’s not necessarily that it’s my personal reflection on my feelings, it’s more observational. It’s still the same sort of thing that people would have for, say Dashboard Confessional, it’s the same basic thing. You have a different reaction to music like that than you do to, say, The Hives… these are all very old references.
May 13, 2010
At Echo Lake
2010 | Woodsist
It’s been a little over a year since Woods released their last album, 2009’s well-received Songs of Shame, a record of lo-fi folk that garnered the group some pretty significant attention and made them standouts among the rest of the fuzz-heavy Woodsist family (e.g. Wavves, Vivian Girls, et al.). Still, Woods has wasted no time following up Songs of Shame. Their fifth record, At Echo Lake, bears many similarities to the group’s previous releases (not that that’s necessarily a bad thing), but also finds them toying with their rustic-Brooklyn sound.
“Blood Dries Darker” kicks off the record with a sunny guitar lick and a distant tom-and-snare beat that’s right out of 1960’s San Francisco, before floating into an acoustic melody that would make Crosby, Stills, & Nash jealous. “Suffering Season,” one of the record’s highlights, sways effortlessly and cheerily, balancing James Earl’s fuzzed-out vocals and an overdriven electric guitar with steady acoustic strumming and crisp background chimes. “Who knows what tomorrow might bring?” Earl sings, his Neil Young-like falsetto still strong under the heavy bedroom production.
It’s songs like these that show Woods undoubtedly growing as musicians and songwriters. The melodies on At Echo Lake are infectious and never hard to distinguish amidst the wide range of instruments and noises that fade in and out of every song throughout the album. “Time Fading Lines” is, for the most part, hauntingly clean and open, but sporadically the song swells with clatter —“As the hours let go / Time fading lines creep into control” sings Earl, his voice stoic, as the drums grow and a wail of feedback crawls out of nowhere.
May 10, 2010
Now, I come to the end of my 4-part series on comedy albums you need to know. I started off with stone cold classics from the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. Then I continued to mine material from the same era by black comedians and by funny old white guys. For this last installment, I’m entirely skipping the ’80s and ’90s (nothing really funny happened then anyway) and bringing you four albums from this past, hilarious decade. Enjoy.
Maria Bamford always seemed like one of the weaker links in the Comedians of Comedy group (at the risk of angering comedy nerds, I would suggest Brian Posehn is the weakest). Maybe it’s because she’s a woman. (Probably.) When I found a used copy of this CD/DVD combo in Other Music for $2.99, I wasn’t expecting much. Damn, was I surprised. I immediately went and got all of Maria Bamford’s albums. Comedy comes from pain, and it’s obvious that Maria Bamford has led a painful life. She experiences not only standard-issue insecurity, but she has the kind of compulsions and crippling depression people go to doctors for. Her comedy relies on her playing different characters from her life, mimicking voices in a way that at first might seem too broad or gimmicky (that was my initial read). It turns out that Bamford’s voices may be big, but they’re not generic stereotypes; she makes very specific characterizations that bring a depth to her stories and make them resonate. This is even more pronounced in the webisodes of “The Maria Bamford Show” on DVD, where Bamford acts out scenes, playing all the characters (apart from her dog, Blossom).
When it comes down to it, Mike Birbiglia isn’t a groundbreaking comic. He’s pretty much your garden-variety observational comic, who leans more toward politeness than raunchiness (although he’ll stick a punchline in now and again that is less than family-friendly). In fact, the whole concept of this album is that he is doing bits he originally wrote for his blog. Birbiglia, however, is solid. He consistently churns out relatable and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny bits, as long as he stays away from his guitar. (The Achilles’ Heel of his albums are his “funny songs,” which are best skipped.) The topics range from Catholic school to George W. Bush to parents accidentally getting a porn computer virus. See? Nothing you haven’t been exposed to before. But Birbiglia’s average-joe persona makes it all pretty palatable and downright enjoyable.