Friday, March 30, 2007

Bands That Used to Not Suck

Recently (ok, 5 minutes ago) I had an idea for a post (ok, Dan had an idea for a post) regarding bands that used to not suck (as hard as they do now). In this discussion (see comments on previous excellent post) bands like U2 and Joy Division were mentioned, but my wheels are turning and I can already think of several additions. This doesn't necessarily have to be just bands but songwriters, musicians, music guys, and others related to the biz -- anyone who used to rock harder (or more skillfully) in a time gone by. This isn't a top 5, but rather an extensive and expansive list.

We'll call this the "They were cooler before..." list -- The ultimate indy kid list.

Smashing Pumpkins/Zwan/Billy Corgan

Please Add.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

It Really Was the Best of Those Years

R.E.M. were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on March 12 of this year. And as if to provide a resume to sway the HOF voters, R.E.M. released And I Feel Fine...The Best of the I.R.S. Years (1982-1987) September 12 of last year. What I discovered on And I Feel Fine is a very different R.E.M. then the one I knew growing up.

I remember watching that Saturday morning videos show on NBC (no, my family did not have cable or satellite, thus no MTV) and being shocked and attracted to the images and sounds of their video for "Losing My Religion" (even though I didn't understand what it was about at that age). The picture of R.E.M. I have (which is a pretty accurate picture, I think) is of a rock band that writes really catchy anthems that used vaguely alternative colorings in their pop songs (see: "Shiny Happy People", "Man on the Moon," "Everybody Hurts" and the already mentioned "Losing My Religion").

But the band I found on And I Feel Fine is quite different than that R.E.M. The band that you will find on And I Feel Fine is the band that inspired Jawbreaker to cover "Pretty Persuasion" and the band that inspired Pavement to cover "7 Chinese Bros." and the band that inspired countless collegiate recordphiles to start radio shows and start bands and start scenes! Is there a more exciting time in the American indie underground than the early 80s?

This is the sound of a time when only true outsiders listened to alternative music. This is the sound of a time when punks really were beat up in small, southern towns for the way they dresssed (so they had to create little safe havens like Athens, GA). Yes, R.E.M. has gone on to great fame with those anthemic radio-ready tunes (and you will find some of those songs on And I Feel Fine, too: "The End of the World..." and "The One I Love"), but And I Feel Fine is the story of the band before mainstream radio came sniffing for them.

The whole batch of 42 songs is great (yes, all 42), but if you are unsure about diving into the whole thing, some of the even brighter gems are "Radio Free Europe (Original Hib-Tone Single)", "Pretty Persuasion", "7 Chinese Bros." and "So. Central Train". My personal favorites include the lo-fi "Gardening at Night" (from the 2nd disc) and Michael Stipe's parable-like intro to the live "Life and How to Live It".

Michael Stipe recently said in Rolling Stone that R.E.M.'s goal is to write one of the best albums of all-time. I think that they can do it. They just need to sit down and listen to And I Feel Fine a few times before they head back into the studio.

And maybe invite Bill Berry back into the studio, too.

-Dan S.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Kings of Leon

just wanted everyone to know that, as of now--3.27.2007, 9:11pm EST--the new kings of leon album is available for a listen in its entirety on their myspace page. the album come out officially next tuesday. maybe nobody else cares. this guy does.


Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Arcade Fire's "Neon Bible"

While recording a live Arcade Fire show for NPR’s “All Songs Considered,” Bob Boilen remarks (paraphrased) that the members of Arcade Fire are not celebrities or rock stars, they are just incredible musicians. This statement is confirmed in Arcade Fire’s “Neon Bible.” The songs are dark and somewhat mysterious and seem to come from a nervous cavity inside of songwriter, Win Butler. Nervous of what? Well, from their first album, “Funeral,” it seemed to be of growing up, of losing one’s innocence and of being ignored until one is considered an adult. The honest portrayal of childhood and loss of innocence on “Funeral” seem to question the Western World’s idea of "maturity" and "the real world.” However, in “Neon Bible,” the fear has become more concentrated. The images of war, dishonest religion and escape seems to be much more concentrated on the America we live in today, the darker side of our America. Personally, I had some trouble, at first, with this. I had trouble with the lyrics, “I don’t wanna live in America no more,” especially since the band is from Canada. And my judgment was corrupted after listening to their live broadcast on NPR. Don’t misunderstand me, the music was phenomenal. And not in the cliché way that things are phenomenal; their live show was phenomenal in the way that it didn’t seem likely. It did not seem real, of this world. Listening to the beginning of the show, I was reminded of Jason Heron’s comment about going to a show and asking yourself, “Is this next moment going to be the best thing I’ve ever heard?” The Arcade Fire opened the show by walking off the stage and directly into the crowd of the small theater, and with only acoustic instruments—one drum, a tambourine, an accordion, an acoustic bass, an acoustic guitar (no amplification or microphones)—began playing “Wake Up,” from their first album. The voices of the entire crowd singing the Ahhs and Ohhs, and then Win Butler’s first lines: “Something filled up my heart with nothing. Someone told me not to cry,” like a giant choir was, yeah, phenomenal. Were I there, very possibly the best thing I’ve ever heard. And once the band got onstage they started shuffling through much of their new stuff, which, on a first listen, was very compelling. However, during a break, the thing I’ve always feared at any live show—especially the ones that I have such anticipation for—Win Butler had to go into politics. “Are you guys really gonna vote for Rudi Guiliani?” and blah, blah, blah. He returned to this issue a few times through the show. My heart was broken. Honestly, I was only kinda excited when I went to a Target store in Tucson, AZ last Tuesday and found the album on sale for 7 bucks. I bought it; that is what I went there for. But, like I mentioned earlier, was very biased at my first listen. Why are these guys using their platform to TALK about an American election that probably will not have major effects on Canada. At least, not any drastic effects that could be saved by electing Hillary Clinton or Barrack Obama. Why is he bring this up 2 years before the election? Will he be part of the same group that complains when the “my-opponent-sucks” campaigns start 8 months before the actual vote? [side question: is it alright to talk politics onstage? if not, are there exceptions? who would you rather listen to ramble about politics? eddie vedder? bono? willie nelson? bob dylan? win butler? –mind you, we’re discussing TALKING politics, not singing about them]

Anyways, all this to say, eventually, the album had the power to transcend my bias. The songs, they have this power to them that I’m going to try to write about. First off, their sound is uniquely theirs. A long time ago, Bono was asked how U2 achieved such a unique sound, and his response was that when they began playing, none of them knew how to play their instruments. Thus, it would follow that what came out was something nobody has heard before. The Arcade Fire has achieved this moreso with “Neon Bible” than with “Funeral,” though not because they don’t know how to play their instruments. The songs move forward like city transport, waiting for nobody, constant, taking you where you expect them to, but in a good way, like for the same reason that you got on the bus in the first place. At times, the lyrics become vague and dreamlike, but are redeemed in such songs as “Keep the Car Running,” and the eerie closer, “My Body is a Cage.” The organ in “Intervention,” is haunting and appropriate. And one of my favorites, "Ocean of Noise," is driven darkly with the sounds of thunder, a poppy bass lick and the low bass clef notes of the piano. The cure-esque sound of "(antichrist television blues)" lends soulful, honest words to the fear that this album is so concentrated around: the fear of living in a country in war, the post-9/11 America, the feeling that the "new" thing we crave, will never come, and the desire to escape.

"Neon Fire" is a great second album, but may be an album that is heavily listened to at first, and then becomes a situational album. The dark, quivering tones of the album may become a bit too much when you're trying to eat dinner or clean the bathroom. However, if it is dark, and you, too, are feeling dark and overwhelmed and scared, this album is right at home in the speakers of your vehicle, like friends over the phone, coffee, or good tobacco. It is music that will accompany you when you, too, do not want to be alone.


Monday, March 12, 2007

a new list

ready for a new list? well i hope so cause i got 2 t-w-o of them. consider the first as the cd you bought at your favorite indie store, and the 2nd as the bumper sticker of some local heavy metal band that the clerk gave you for making the purchase (he's probably in the band...wink). what i really want to know is, if you wrote five songs, which five would they be? i've been thinking a lot about this lately as i'm coming into some new music. the criteria is almost without limits. the main stipulation is money can not be a factor (dont base your songs on the amount of money you'd make, obviously). for example, my list can not be "right now" by van halen, "paradise city" by guns'n'roses, "i would do anything for love (but i won't do that)" by meatloaf, etc... because 1) i dont own a black leather jacket, and 2) i'd be lying.
so, here is my five songs that i wish i would've written:
1. "desolation row," bob dylan
2. "16, maybe less," calexico and iron and wine
3. "staralfur," sigur ros
4. "red hill mining town," U2
5. "california waiting," kings of leon

2nd list: Top 5 things you do while listening to music
guidelines: the idea of this is to explain what you're doing/where you are when you are really, really listening to music. As in, the listening is what you are there for, the 5 things in the list are the non-distracting things you do--and where you do them--that allow you to really listen. hopefully my list will make this clearer:

1. wait till stacey goes to bed, lie on my office floor with my head underneath my desk, with headphones, and listen--for a new album
2. play Internet backgammon, chew tobacco, music through speakers, loud--for a familiar album that's been calling me from the album rack
3. drive in my ford ranger through dark, Marquette roads--for an album to unwind with (usually the kings of leon "aha shake heartbreak")
4. walk through the woods in presque isle park with headphones--an album that reminds me of home
5. vacuuming locker rooms at work--i save all my NPR "All Songs Considered" for this

honorary 6th (since NPR is talking and music clips): nobody home, in my office, sitting in my old, brown leather chair, all lights out, beer in my hand, eyes closed, music loud enough to drown out complaining apartment tenants--any bob dylan or tom waits.

-jason shrontz