Thursday, August 31, 2006


Review: "Awesome! I F___'in Shot That!"

The Beastie Boys release a new concert DVD that involves the much so that the "3 MCs" actually have their audience shoot the DVD.

The premise is that 50 Hi8 camcorders were given to 50 audience members spread throughout Madison Square Garden, and the recruited camera men and women were instructed not to turn the cameras off. The idea is brilliant -- not only because the viewer is bombarded by a fresh take on the show every few seconds, but also because of the "uncut" rawness of the footage (one scene takes us on an extended tour of the MSG restroom facilities).

Some reviewers have criticized the camerawork an
d editing of the film, calling it too choppy, even disorienting. This is an apt criticism (APT!), but this viewer felt it made the DVD more immersive. This "home movie-esque" technique allows the DVD viewer to feel almost
voyeuristic in watching someone else watch the show.

In the opening scene, the director titles the DVD while addressing the cameramen, "This is going to be great -- in 20 years you will watch the DVD and say, 'Awesome. I fuckin' shot that.'"

Regarding the performance, the Beastie Boys are still at the top of their game, getting better with middle age. The transitions are smooth, the banter is fun, and the teamwork is flawless. For everyone that hasn't seen the Beastie Boys live, this will serve as the appetizer --enticing the viewer to track them down. Mix Master Mike provides the Boys standard tracks with more than a little flair, making the old seem new and f

Watch for a certain fellow New-Yorker former Rabbi, male-model, and dodgeball loser rapping along to "3 MC's and one DJ."

Special Feature Report: "A Day in the Life of Nathaniel Hornblower" showcases David Cross as the liederhosen-wearing Nathaniel Hornblower, director of the DVD and most of the Beastie's videos. Cross' career has had some moments of brilliant comedic timing, impeccable writing, and mind-blowing awkwardness, and this video short is spot-on the latter.

Even if you have no interest in the Beastie Boys as artists, rappers,New York City icons, trendsetters, contagiously fun individuals, or musicians (they play several of their tracks as a live band, such as "Gratitude" from "Check Your Head"), this DVD is still worth a Netflix simply for its innovative appearance.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Track Review: "When You Were Young" by The Killers

The Killers were everybody's favorite retro-rock band of 2004. Their debut album, Hot Fuss, was adored by both the corporate music world (the radio played them, Rolling Stone and Spin sung their praise, and U2 took them on tour) and the indie music world (their obvious Smiths influence as well as their exuberant anthem "Glamorous Indie Rock & Roll" won them some credibility). Band leader Brandon Flowers has even become something of a heart-throb.

Hot Fuss was a near perfect debut; every song sounded like a single. The first song we probably all heard was "Somebody Told Me." A very fun tune, but I worried that they were just a New Order novelty band. And then the heart-on-his-sleeves lyrics of "Mr. Brightside" hit the airwaves and every emo kid and TRL viewer fell in love. But it really wasn't until "All These Things That I've Done" that I realized that this band has some real soul.

So how should an alternative rock band like the Killers follow up a top-selling, perfect debut like Hot Fuss? Should they go back to the basement like Nirvana did with In Utero? Or should they create a commerically-disastrous cult classic like Weezer did with Pinkerton? Or perhaps they should just cave in to the pressure and realize that you can only save rock and roll once, like the Strokes did with Room on Fire?

Or maybe the Killers should just try to take over the world. That's what "When You Were Young" sounds like. First off, it's better than anything on Hot Fuss. The guitars soar higher than "Beautiful Day." Yes, this is a guitar band just as much as it is a keyboard band. Now, the vocal melody might throw you a bit. The Boss? Yep, the Boss. Reportedly, American rock, like Springsteen and Tom Petty, is a great influence on the new album. This doesn't mean we won't hear that British influence anymore. It just means that the Killers might be the biggest band in America in 2007. How great would it be to have an American band (they hail from Las Vegas) be the biggest band in America again? Aw, shucks! I'm getting all patriotic!

Flag-waving aside, what is truly impressive about "When You Were Young" is the lyrical content. Hot Fuss had some fun and sometimes clever lyrics. But this single is definitely a step up. Brandon Flowers must have become a student of Bono's school of songwriting: the best songs are the songs about the search for God. "When You Were Young" is about a not-so-young woman who is waiting for "some beautiful boy" to come along and save her from "her old ways." (Regret seems to be a recurring theme in Flowers writing already.) Flowers writes that this beautiful boy "doesn't look a thing like Jesus, but he talks like a gentlemen, just like you imagined when you were young."

Youth lost? Love lost? Salvation found? "When You Were Young" is available for download on Itunes now (or you can stream it for free on the Killer's official site, you tightwad!) Watch for the Killer's new album, Sam's Town, on October 3rd.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006


Much of the roots rock revolution of the past five years has made way for the re-emergence of a power trio with sounds unheard for a generation enhanced by indie developement that pre-empt the usual pretentious pitfalls of such bands. If this sounds unbelievable, then make your way to

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

From the Vault: 40th Anniversary of The Beatles' Revolver

Forty years ago this past weekend The Beatles' released their transition studio album Revolver. The Beatles recorded this album in early 1966 during their last stint of touring. Within a month of its late summer release, The Beatles quit touring and became a exclusively studio band. Revolver is their first of many song books to never be performed live by the band. And although this served to weaken the authenticity of some of their later material, at this point the integrity of The Beatles as a band remained in tack.

Although the album is great, it often confuses non-fans of the Beatles why this album so often tops list of best all-time albums. Why not Sgt. Pepper, Abbey Road, or even Rubber Soul? What makes Revolver stand out?

In congruence with a prevalent Alien Corpse theme, the prominence and permanence of Revolver is that, at least on this album, all the instrumentation, experimentation, studio-trickery and stylization seemlessly serve the songs themselves. There are a number of Beatles' albums that contain greater songs, and a number of albums where the experimentation is even more groundbreaking and creative. But Revolver more than any other combines songwriting with musical progressivism. The result is that Revolver is not only interesting, but also enjoyable to listen to.

It is this combination of experimentation and good-old-fashioned songwriting that leads to Revolver being the most diverse Beatles' album. Many of their albums suffer from conceptual fancies or idiomatic narrowness that limit genuine musical diversity. Because Revolver is about songs, each song is molded organically into a style most fitting for the song. So Revolver contains everything from rock classics employing some the Beatles' best guitar work in both playing and sound ("Taxman," "She Said, She Said," "And Your Bird Can Sing," "Doctor Robert") to beautiful ballads using strings, harmonies, baroque arrangment, and even horns ("Eleanor Rigby," "Here, There and Everywhere," "For No One"). Both ends of the spectrum are held together by strong songwriting and musical arrangment that perfectly fits the songs as they were meant to be expressed. Even John Lennon's psycholedic exploits ("I'm Only Sleeping" and "Tomorrow Never Knows") have aged well because the songs are so memorable in-and-of-themselves. And Paul McCartney's goofy pop songs ("Good Day Sunshine," "Got to Get You into My Life"
"Yellow Submarine") are still inherently enjoyable and surprisingly not distracting despite being nestled between progressive rock pieces.

The point is that all this diversity results in a cohesive album because the Beatles' songwriting is in the foreground. Bottom line: don't buy Revolver because it is influential (which it is), significant (which it is) or interesting (which it is). Buy Revolver because there you will find songs and music in perfect harmony.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

RIP - Pedro the Lion

David Bazan officially laid to rest the Pedro the Lion name in January, but the spirit lives on with his newly released (June 13th) solo EP, titled, "Fewer Moving Parts."

The record doesn't break any new ground for those die-hard fans of Bazan's work with PTL and Headphones. But the listener gets the sense that Bazan feels a great deal of freedom in being out from under the Pedro the Lion moniker.

A recent article in Sojourners online magazine (thanks Erik Fisher) describes a Bazan who has grown into his faith and seems to understand/accept his role, though he still "bristles when others...casually place the Christian label on him." This is not a new statement, but the explanation is new to me --

“People who use it to describe me are generally using it to be reductive of what I do or to imply that it’s invalid simply because [of my faith], and that makes me pretty angry.”

The EP is 5 tracks recorded twice -- once acoustic and once fully instrumented. This sounds uninteresting, but it works often like listening to Iron & Wine's cover of The Postal Service's "Such Great Heights" (my favorite cover ever - new list idea); only Bazan is covering himself. The recording of "How I Remember" in the fully instrumented version is frustrating to me, because the vocals are too much in the background - almost sounding muted...

Jade Tree is set to release a full-length solo Bazan record in 2007.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Favorite Songwriters

This week I've been thinking a great deal about songwriting and the skill that is necessary in this process. There are two types of songwriters in my mind -- those that use powerful imagery in lyrics to get their point/story across, and those that ilicit the same response with music.

Many times the best songwriters are strong on one skill only, mixing subpar or not that exciting music with punchy lyrics (or vice versa). Though certainly we have seen the rare songwriter who consistently blows our mind with both lyrics and music.

The quickest way to identify into which camp a songwriter falls is to mentally scan the artists catalogue and identify whether you are remembering words/stories or guitar riffs/chord progressions.

It's interesting to think whether this is the songwriter's ability or the listeners paradigm...When I listen to music I more often than not hear lyrics, and only when a song is GREAT musically I take notice. This is definitely because I couldn't identify chord progressions or discuss music theory much beyond Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge (and couldn't describe that at gunpoint either).

What do you hear? List your 5 favorite songwriters and why. Here are mine.
1. Blake Schwarzenbach - Jawbreaker/Jets to Brazil -- My first taste of indie music was the lyric "I'm just a question knowing my answer, hope I'm wrong" Smart, punchy lyrics with tons of double entendre.

2. David Bazan - Pedro the Lion/Headphones/Solo -- If the first time you listened to the "Whole EP" alone didn't come close to crying you are heartless. Genuine storyteller. Also, wins award for "most likely to send letter bomb" with this pic.

3. Jack White - The White Stripes/The Raconteurs -- One of the only songwriters who makes me hear music first.

4. Gord Downie - The Tragically Hip -- More of a poet than a songwriter and the imagery he uses makes me wish I could write like that.

5. Pending further development -- Regina Spektor and Sufjan Stevens. Both have a keen understanding of music and lyrics that make me feel stupid, but write songs that have heart so I feel better after.