Thinking about covers
Earlier this week, You Ain't No Picasso posted a whole mix of indie rockers covering mainstream hits. I've got a fun one to add from Teenage Fanclub:Like A Virgin (mp3) - Teenage FanclubAlso from the band, a beautiful cover of one of the Velvet Underground's best songs (though it may be a little too faithful to the original to be great):Who Loves The Sun (mp3) - Teenage FanclubWhen I consider my all-time favorite covers, one stands out above the rest. Partly because the original and cover come from two of my favorite albums (yeah, technically Complete Discography's a collection of EPs and singles), but also because they illustrate the ideal relationship between coverer and coveree.12XU (mp3) - Wire12XU (mp3) - Minor ThreatIf it works, a cover while paying homage should recontextualize the song and illuminate overlooked qualities of the original. Minor Threat took something that was already loud, fast and angry and made it louder, faster, angrier--impossibly so. As well as tightening the screws and upping the velocity (from an already zippy 1:55 to 1:03 minutes), it benefits from Ian MacKaye's inimitable sarcastic shout and barked orders to "flex your head." Then there's that little cough (!) in the middle that reminds you these dead serious straight edge boys are human. What's lost? The original is all about tension and suspense (no one does ominous better than Wire), briefly relieved by short bursts of spleen. Despite its speed, there's a weird kind of patience to those bass and drum passages that Minor Threat doesn't even pretend to adopt. The Minor Threat version is all release, all urgency, all diatribe. I think I prefer the original by a slim margin, but damn, if the cover, with its intense sense of self-righteousness, isn't great. If you don't own copies of Pink Flag and Complete Discography, buy them. Like right now. 12XU has been covered several times, including by Naked Raygun and Dag Nasty, the D.C. hardcore outfit led by one-time Minor Threat bassist Brian Baker. Since it's already been pushed to the limits of fast, I'd love to see a really slowww version.12XU (mp3) - Dag Nasty
More Swedish love
Since I'm already on the subject of intriguing new bands from Sweden (see yesterday's post), now's as good a time as any to mention The Lovekevins. I first heard the instantly addictive Blame The English a few months ago, but only just realized this week that this Malmo-based duo's Web site has two other mp3s available for your listening pleasure. The Lovekevins have completed one EP--which is available in Europe, but doesn't appear to have U.S. distribution--and are currently working on a full-length album.If you love Belle and Sebastian, you'll probably like this. Not a big fan of B&S (can't say I am)? You'll like it anyway. These songs are expertly written and lovingly arranged--you can't ask for more than that.Blame The English (mp3) - The LovekevinsStop Being Perfect (mp3) - The LovekevinsHappy Happy (mp3) - The LovekevinsFrom Blame the English If after hearing The Mainliners and Lovekevins you're craving more Swedish music, check out Swedesplease--a blog devoted to that country's current indie rock renaissance.Finally, a couple news items of interest:Downloading Myths Challenged (BBC). "People who illegally share music files online are also big spenders on legal music downloads, research suggests." Surprise, surprise.Spotlight Unnerves Montreal (AP). "In many cities, this would qualify as a see-and-be-seen crowd. But in Montreal, it's the status quo. This is one cosmopolitan city where celebrity and pretense don't exist--just a strong community of musicians and artists dedicated to their craft."
Main line from Sweden
. . . Five young men with a small town depression and a common obsession to conquer the world with their full out blistering rock 'n' roll music. Together they decided to spawn the beast to the modern man mostly known as THE MAINLINERS.
Like compatriots The Hives and The International Noise Conspiracy, Sweden's The Mainliners are--rather unironically it seems--attempting to breathe new life into the near-corpse known as garage rock. Their bluesy, rough and tumble approach and occasionally melodramatic arrangements (check the vocals and organ in Dead Man's Hall) reveal influences from The Animals and Zombies to The Stooges and MC5. Works for me. The band's got a rep as a raucous live act, and though it looks like they've completed their short U.S. tour, those of you on the other side of the big pond might want to watch for local dates in the coming year.
From the debut album Bring on The Sweetlife:
Bring On The Sweetlife (mp3) - The Mainliners
Dead Man's Hall (mp3) - The Mainliners
Queen Sativa (mp3) - The Mainliners
Boom Boom (mp3) - The Animals
Die, All Right! (mp3) - The Hives
Back up and running
MASSIVE COMPUTER WOES. Last night I had to perform a system recovery (fortunately the "standard" form, not the full, bloody hard drive wipeout--which means my iTunes files are still intact). As far as I can tell, my computer was hijacked by spyware scumbags, but things seem to be on the mend now, fingers crossed. So while I reload software and get things back to the way I like em, here's a mix of songs that usually bring a smile to my face. Hope they'll do the same for you.
Things Are What You Make Of Them (mp3) - Bishop Allen
Beneath The Climb (mp3) - Olivia Tremor Control
Good Vibrations (mp3) - The Beach Boys
Forget About Him I'm Mint (mp3) - McLusky Graceland (mp3) - The New Pornographers
Deceptacon (mp3) - Le Tigre
Oh, and this adorable video:
Say Something New - The Concretes
Windows Media: High Low
Real Audio: High Low
Charm School - Bishop Allen
Singles and Beyond - Olivia Tremor Control
The Greatest Hits, Vol. 1 - The Beach Boys The Difference Between Me & You Is That I'm Not On Fire - McLusky (best album title ever?)
Matador At Fifteen - Various (New Pornographers track)
Le Tigre - Le Tigre
Free rides on Sunday
Just a quick one to introduce you to a stunning little alt-country tune that just begs for a long, hot Sunday afternoon in which to enjoy it. Michigan's Flashpapr has seen its lineup shuffle over the years, but currently features musicians from Saturday Looks Good To Me, Ida and His Name is Alive. I love the way Free Rides On The Bus, with its good-natured guitar strum, sympathetic violins and scratchy, winsome vocals, so vividly evokes a lumbering bus on a dusty country road .Free Rides On The Bus (mp3) - FlashpaprAlso from Flashpapr:Leave The Place (mp3) - FlashpaprSkipped (mp3) - FlashpaperYou can buy the band's self-titled album at Insound.
Style is its own reward
Every revolution is a pointless give and takeIts style is its own rewardAny contradiction is a hint of honestyWe're young and sorta free and kinda sleazy-Dragdown Memory, SentridohWarning: Authentic lo-fi recordings ahead. Those allergic to tape hiss should return another day.
After slipping below the radar for several years (unless you count that appearance in Laurel Canyon), Lou Barlow has come back in a big way in 2005. Not only does he have a well-received new solo record, but he's called détente with mortal enemy J. Mascis and has hit the road for a Dino Jr cash-out tour. I guess this means we can expect new Sebadoh and Folk Implosion albums any day now.
If you've arrived late to the wonderful world of Lou, you may have missed what made his reputation as king of lo-fi in the early 90s: rough, sometimes extremely rough 4-track home recordings of song fragments, sound collages and the occasional pop gem released under the Sentridoh moniker. Like that other relentless tune machine, Robert Pollard, Barlow peels off pop hooks while eating his Cheerios and cutting his toenails. And in the 80s and 90s at least, he didn’t bother about song construction, much less about production values. Unlike British Invasion maven Pollard, however, Barlow's musical touchstones lie in the 70s--among both punks and prog proponents. And as the progenitor of today's so-called emo artists, his lyrics were always about his own miserable, passive-aggressive little self. Some of Barlow's better bedroom musings later became proper Sebaboh songs. Most stayed where they belong--on these hit n' miss scrap collections. There's some great stuff here, but I bet it'll most appeal to Barlow diehards.
From Winning Losers (recommended):
Stronger (mp3) - Sentridoh
Dragdown Memory (mp3) - Sentridoh
From The Original Losing Losers (not particularly recommended--these are the best of the bunch):
Freed Pig (mp3) - Sentridoh
Beyond The Barbwire (mp3) - Sentridoh
Winslow (mp3) – Sentridoh
Unfortunately, I can't post anything from Lou Barlow and Friends: Another Collection of Home Recordings, because I only have it on vinyl and haven't yet mastered the technology to create the digital files. But one on these days . . . For more uncollected Sentridoh work, visit Barlow’s Web site. And for one of the more entertaining interviews with the guy, see this from NME. I love a man who loves his cats.Speaking of sensitive guitar boys from Massachusetts, PopMatters has a glowing review of the debut album from Luke Temple. If you like singer-songwriter stuff, this is definitely worth checking out. To All My Good Friends, Goodbye (mp3) - Luke TempleSomeone, Somewhere (mp3) - Luke Temple
Paste that sticks
I don't normally pick up Paste magazine. But I was in Borders this past Saturday buying the obligatory Harry Potter and needed to purchase at least $4 more of goods to exhaust a gift card I'd been carrying around. I figured if nothing else, the free CD might expose me to a few artists I wouldn't otherwise hear. And it did. Left entirely to my own devices, I might just dig my own little power pop hole and permanently crawl in. But most of the stuff that grabbed me from this collection was anything but pop. I'd heard of him, but nothing quite prepared me for the sound of Matisyahu, an Hasidic hip-hop/reggae performer. Yes, you read right. Matisyahu Miller and his band already have a devoted following in New York and few other spots and are probably soon to conquer the rest of the world touring with Trey Anastasio. The bio on Matisyahu's site is pretty interesting.
Heights (mp3) - MatisyahuThe Last Town Chorus, a subtle, folky Americana oufit reminds me a bit of the Cowboy Junkies. Consisting of lap steel player/singer Megan Hickey and Nat Guy on vibrato guitar, they've opened for Hem and The Jayhawks. For list maniacs: Hickey drew up one of her favorite albums for Dusted. (No real shockers.)Change Your Mind (mp3) - The Last Town ChorusBonus of some unexpected covers: Do You Really Want To Hurt Me (mp3) - The Last Town Chorus Modern Love (mp3) - The Last Town Chorus Talk about blue-eyed soul; yep, Kyle Riabko's a white boy, and only 17 at that. I find his Web site mildly irritating. He's being packaged for sure, but that doesn't have to matter if the music's good. What Did I Get Myself Into (mp3) - Kyle Riabko
Inara George is the progeny of Little Feat guitarist/singer Lowell George (who died when she was only five) and the product of a bohemian Topanga Canyon childhood. Thankfully, this isn't hippie music--more along the lines of urban coffeehouse girl-with-a-guitar stuff. But, you know, without being annoying. Merch alert: George's site sells pretty, floaty scarfs for a very affordable $12!
Genius (mp3) - Inara George
Matisyahu, Live at Stubb's
The Last Town Chorus, The Last Town Chorus
Kyle Riabko, Before I Speak
Inara George, All Rise
No Hits 7.18.05
Dear Mr. Bush, There Are Over 100 Words For Shit And Only 1 For Music. Fuck You, Out Hud (mp3) - Out Hud
I wish I could provide a full report on Intonation this past weekend, but I only survived a little over three hours before succumbing to the heat. Yesterday was the hottest day in Chicago this year--97 degrees--and the sun was relentless. Not long after arriving, my friends and I took refuge under some trees closer to the perimeter of Union Park where the sound wasn't stellar, but we were less likely to collapse from heatstroke. Let the kids jockey for position in front on the stage, I say.
Of the four bands I saw--Out Hud, The Hold Steady, Andrew Bird and Deerhoof--one really impressed. Although I only caught the tail end of their set, I saw enough of Out Hud to be surprised and excited by their crazy energy. I hadn’t previously heard it in their studio recordings, so I came home, listened again and turned the sound way up. Now I get it. Certainly as good as other New York dance punk acts LCD Soundsystem, Rapture and !!!. (Out Hud shares several members with the last of these.)
Dear Mr. Bush comes from the band’s latest, Let Us Never Speak Of It Again, on Chicago’s Kranky label. I believe--but I could be wrong--that this is what Out Hud closed their set with yesterday. I won’t even attempt to comment on the title. Except for the last 30 seconds of the 11 1/2 minute track, it’s an instrumental.
More Out Hud from their first album, Street Dad:
Hair Dude, You’re Stepping On My Mystique (mp3) - Out Hud
I'm sorry I couldn't last until The Wrens and Les Savy Fav went on. I've seen The Wrens before in a club and they were awesome. So I'd be interested to hear how they held up in a 13-acre oven . . . I mean, park.On a completely unrelated note, the music of The Smiths has been turned into a West End musical (New York Times registration required to read). Somehow this makes perfect sense.
Songs to start the weekend
While pretending to work this afternoon I tripped over a cool new wave-inspired band from SoCal. What else is new, you might ask. (Cynical, cynical you.) Foreign Born--they’re not, as far as I can tell--haunt the dark, moody end of the neo-new wave spectrum. The same place the Psychedelic Furs, Echo and The Bunnymen and oh, probably The Cure, originally made habitable. You know, lots of droning synths and mopey vocals. In case it's not clear, I think this is fucking excellent, especially The Entryway. If you like, the band is offering its first EP on StarTime Records (home of The Futureheads and French Kicks--just so you don’t doubt its pedigree).
The Entryway (mp3) – Foreign Born
We Had Pleasure (mp3) – Foreign Born
So Sonic Youth is re-releasing 1990’s Goo, remastered, remixed, with bonus tracks. This may be one of the few news items about the band that’ll ever pique my interest. See, I’m sorta a half-hearted Sonic Youth fan. I find the early noisy, no wave stuff nearly unlistenable—not because I don’t appreciate noise, but because I have a problem with boring and self-indulgent. Then there's Daydream Nation, an almost perfect album, followed by Goo, which marked Sonic Youth’s first real foray into radio-friendly pop songs (If I remember correctly, Dirty Boots and Kool Thing actually saw commercial radio/MTV play.) I may just have to buy this damn thing in September. For some tracks from the original, visit Kofi’s Hat. (Lots of other good stuff there as well!)
I haven’t quite made up my mind about Engineers. I love the spacey, panoramic, trance-like beauty of the single Come In Out Of The Rain, but the rest of the self-titled album is failing to grab me for more than a few seconds at a time. I think drugs might help. Not that I’d ever advocate anything illegal, mind.
Come In Out Of The Rain (mp3) – Engineers Home (mp3) - Engineers
Something for that aching tooth
Yesterday my dentist informed me that I have four cavities. Groan. Of course, it's entirely my fault for avoiding the place for three+ years. But because I'm all about turning frowns upside down, I'll take this opportunity to share The Dentists.
These days, you're most likely to come across their name on an influence list of some jangly garage band. (For example, I bet this week's No Hits band Telepathic Butterflies, not to mention the entire Rainbow Quartz roster, loves em.) Anchored by singer/guitarist Mick Murphy and guitarist Bob Collins, the four-piece band originated in rural Kent in England in1983. Over the course of 12 years they released a number of LPs and EPs, receiving scant commercial success for their efforts. I've seen them described as one of the earliest Britpop bands, which seems to be stretching it considering The Dentists were winding down just as their more explicitly anglocentric brethren were warming up. And there's very little forward-looking about The Dentists. Most of their songs could pass as a cut from a lost Merseybeat compilation. In keeping with their chosen genre, the lyrics are whimsical and sung with well-executed harmonies and lots of sincere la la las. This seeming lack of ambition suits the band just fine because what they do they do very well. In the vast pool of 60s pop imitators, The Dentists swim laps around most everyone else. In fact, I'd say their only real competitors from this era are The Las. While Lee Mavers and the boys were perhaps a tad edgier lyrically, the sound's very similar.Strawberries Are Growing In My Garden is one of the prettiest pop songs you’ll ever hear. Sweet and softly swirling with just a little crunch for character.
Strawberries Are Growing In My Garden – The Dentists I Had An Excellent Dream – The Dentists I Can See Your House From Up Here – The Dentists
All from Dressed, a 22-track collection of early singles and EPs which you should be able to find used.
Literary rock critics
I'm totally on board with this from TMFTML. I've got the perfect McSweeney's example, too. Let me count the ways I hate P. Lisa R.H. Mayor (gotta be a jokey pseudonym) and her indolent essay on The Beta Band's Inner Meet Me. Full disclosure: Inner Meet Me is one of my favorite songs. So, childish and solipsistic as I admittedly am, I take this piece as nothing less than a personal assault. I'll grant that the Betas are extremely difficult to describe, but Jesus, Nutella?Team Shake member Jon once asked me how many times music had saved my life. The answer: a number of times, actually. Note I said saved, not just changed. So unless these literary wankers can answer similarly, I'd like to request that they kindly shut up and crawl back to the Iowa Writers' Workshop.
Inner Meet Me (mp3) - The Beta BandMore retrospective Beta Band in a couple weeks.
No Hits 7.11.05
Bonhomie (mp3) - The Telepathic Butterflies
The Cutting Elm (mp3) - The Telepathic Butterflies
Arguably, even the most inept band can write a catchy-as-hell pop song once in its career. Listen to enough Beatles, Beach Boys, Kinks, Creation, what have you, and you can probably fake a good chorus, if not snag a nice verse and bridge. (Hey, Oasis had a good run of it.) It's repeating the feat and making it consistently convincing that's tricky. But Montreal's Telepathic Butterflies seem to be doing just that.
I don't think this music will set the world on fire. But what I've heard of the band impresses me mightily. These guys have obviously pulled allnighters cramming their rock history, particularly the British Invasion and psychedelia chapters. Yet they're not musty archivists. They make something fresh with their punchy power chords, snappy percussion and energetic raveup choruses. Though the lyrics can err on the side of misty nostalgia, there's nothing twee here; this stuff really rocks. I couldn’t choose between the two tracks from the band’s latest album offered on the Rainbow Quartz site. They’re both songs of the week.
So whoever’s taking tally—yet another good band from Canada. Speaking of which, brilliant, deceased Montreal act The Unicorns is resurrected, sort of, as Islands. Fingertips offers a taste. The track didn’t immediately grab me, but then, I’m a simple pop girl. That blog's also got something from Get Him Eat Him. If lead guy Matt LeMay’s name sounds familiar, it’s probably because you read too much Pitchfork. All I can say is it seems risky to both shovel for The Fork and front a band. Glass houses and all that.
More Telepathic Butterflies from Introducing The Telepathic Butterflies:
Mr. Laughabee's Circus (mp3) Sunshine Radio (mp3) Yearbook (mp3)
If you get the Independent Film Channel, you should probably know that it's IFC's "Punk Month." Sound like another opportunity to run and rerun cable staple Sid and Nancy? Pretty much. But I did catch something worthwhile last night, Don Lett's 2005 documentary Punk: Attitude. The film features some impressive interviews with David Johansen, Chryssie Hynde, Tommy Ramone, Jello Biafra, John Cale, Pete Shelley, Siouxie Sioux, Legs McNeil, Mick Jones, Poly Styrene and Glen Branca, along with the usual suspects like Jim Jarmusch and Thurston Moore. (Does Moore staff a dial-a-punk-pundit service or something?) This isn't exactly the definitive punk documentary everyone's been waiting for. For starters, the subject's way too big to compress into a 90-minute format. And the first half--which concentrates on punk predecessors like VU and the MC5 and the New York proto-punk scene--works a lot better than the doc's post-Pistols wrapup. The film rather briefly skims hardcore, ignores everything else that happened in the 80s and jumps directly to Nirvana. Weird. Especially if, like me, you don't believe Nirvana is all that "punk" in the first place and think the really interesting thing about punk is its aftermath. Oh well. The film's worth catching for the interviews and live footage of acts like the New York Dolls, Richard Hell and The Clash. Then there's Henry Rollins. However you might feel about this manic menace, you have to give him credit for some of the best lines:On East Coast vs. West Coast attitude: Fuck you means fuck you, not hey, let's have lunch next week.On hardcore:As American as fake wars, apple pie and baseball.Punk: Attitude is scheduled to show several more times this month. So check your local listings and all that.
I'm sad as hell about the events in London earlier today (and think I speak for the rest of the team at SYF as well). I've lived in London, not too far from Russell Square, in fact. And given the right opportunity would live there again. That these fanatics could seek to crush the spirit of such an amazing, vibrant city is both infuriating and incomprehensible. Does music help when you're grieving? It's always a lift when you're a little blue, but truly demoralized . . . I don't know. Here's trying.
Teardrop (mp3) - Massive Attack England Made Me (mp3) - Black Box Recorder (Jo, if you're reading, thanks for this track.)Best wishes to everyone in Britain tonight and in the difficult days to come.
Sharp or dull
Pop acts, it seems, are steering back to the more is more model. Take The Sharp Things. Like their Chicago-based orchestral pop counterparts, Head of Femur or Australia's Architecture in Helsinki, the band boasts something like 78 members. Oh, all right, more like 10 or 13, depending on the day. But still.Anchored by a loungy piano and no stranger to the sounds of Burt Bacharach, Elton John or, at a stretch, Elvis Costello, the New York group also offers horns a plenty and a full-bodied strings section. Obviously, The Sharp Things venerate the 70s—not the cool, punk 70s whose legacy everyone and their cat is laying claim to these days. More like the 70s of disco and mustard yellow leisure suits, roller rinks and Afternoon Delight. Add a generous dollop of musical theater and a pinch of funk, and you start getting at the band's vibe.
The Sharp Things have actually been around in one incarnation or another for 10 years and recently released their second album, Foxes and Hounds on Bar/None. I can't decide if I kinda love this or kinda loathe it. The Suicide Bombers (mp3) – The Sharp Things Homeless (mp3) – The Sharp Things
No Hits 7.4.05
This Land Is Your Land (mp3) - Woody Guthrie This Land Is Your Land was written by folk singer and social activist Woody Guthrie as a counterpoint to Irving Berlin's popular but bombastic God Bless America. He purportedly composed the song while hitchhiking to New York during the cold winter of 1940, though it wasn't actually recorded until 1944. While the lyrics, which celebrate the natural beauty of America and decry the poverty of many of its citizens, are Guthrie’s alone, he didn't actually compose the music. The tune was taken from the Carter Family's When The World’s On Fire—a common enough practice among folk musicians (for all we know, the Carter Family lifted it from an earlier English ballad).
This might not have become an issue if it hadn’t been for last year's brouhaha over JibJab’s Web-circulated parody featuring John Kerry and Geoge W. Bush. The Richmond Organization, which owns copyrights to Guthrie's music, threatened suit. Alas, it had little to stand on. Not only did Guthrie not write the music, but the group had allowed the copyright of This Land to lapse in 1973. Ironically, Guthrie's original appropriation of the tune was done at least partly in the spirit of parody of Berlin's patriotic hymn. What's more, the musician was well known for disregarding his own intellectual property rights--freely sharing songs and lyrics with other performers. The dispute was wisely settled out of court. Fun irony: George H.W. Bush used This Land during his presidential campaigns, not perhaps skilled in the sort of simple textual analysis that would reveal a quasi-socialist tract.
This song comes from the Smithsonian Folkways American Roots Collection, a nice compilation of original recordings of classic American folk, blues, bluegrass and jazz pieces. If you have even a passing interest in this kind of music, I highly recommended it. Also from the collection:
The Coo-Coo Bird (mp3) - Doc Watson and Clarence Ashley
Six for the road
To all you crazy kids hitting the highways this holiday weekend, I salute you. Better you than me! On this Independence Day weekend and in the wake of yesterday's Supreme Court bombshell, I can't help but think we’re in for a season of discord that'll be even more divisive than the last election. So enjoy the long weekend and relative peace while you can.
Roadrunner (mp3) – Modern Lovers
What can I say about this casual masterpiece of punk-geekdom that hasn’t already been said. Turn it up and sing along. You know the words.
Car Radio (mp3) – Spoon
This is the song that reminds me Spoon's from Texas, not some city up North. A perfect minute and a half of raucous convertible + asphalt fun.
Highway 80 (mp3) – Railroad Jerk
I’m not sure what happened to this former Matador band, but in their day they released some good stuff. A little punk, a little blues, a little rockabilly and a lot of tongue in cheek.
Back of A Car (mp3) – Big Star
The band was all but ignored in their own time, receiving minimal radio play. But today Big Star sounds like the soundtrack of the 70s and a sweet, yearning, lost America.
Convenient Parking (mp3) – Modest Mouse
I’m not a huge Modest Mouse fan, but I love this tune. It’s all in the groovy bass and bendy guitar riffs and Issac Brock yelling Con-ve-nient-a-a-a-a Park-ing is way back, way back!
Car (mp3) – Built To SpillThe title that’s always absurdly missing from those mainstream best song lists. A thing of American beauty, Car should be our national anthem and Doug Martsch our Poet Laureate. For my money, there’s no more moving line in rock history than I want to see movies of my dreams. But then the whole song is a literary gold mine. I prefer this full band live version, though the There’s Nothing Wrong With Love track, with its haunting cello, is lovely in its own way.Buy:Modern Lovers - Modern LoversA Series of Sneaks - SpoonBang The Drum - Railroad Jerk#1 Record/Radio City - Big StarLonesome Crowded West - Modest MouseLive - Built To Spill