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No Doctor
Published on November 16, 2011 by Sara Foss

I just went to the Virgin Islands, where reggae and calypso seem to dominate the local airwaves. However, I just learned of the existence of a Seattle punk band called the Virgin Islands, whose scathing song "No Doctor" was NPR's song of the day. An attack on the U.S. health care system, the song features lyrics such as "Don't call a doctor, don't call an ambulance."

Here's the video on YouTube:


Does The Beach Boys' "Smile" Live Up To Its Reputation?
Published on November 13, 2011 by guest author: Tony Are

At this point it's hard to figure out what to say next about The Beach Boy's Smile album. Part of the problem is that everyone thought there was nothing left to say about it at least twice previously. The first time was when the album didn't come out in 1967 and they released Smiley Smile instead. Everyone knew (or thought they knew) that Smile as originally conceived would have been better, but hey — that's not the album that came out. That happens.

We knew at the time the original concept of Smile was some kind of rock “symphony” or at least a suite, combining shimmering pop numbers — “Good Vibrations," “Vegetables," “Wonderful” — with “long form” poetic meditations on the meaning of America and life in general, like “Heroes and Villains.” All to be woven together in a seamless celebration with fanciful arrangements and instrumentation, including a “new” type of pop music construction based on small interpenetrating musical “modules.” But when the album was half-way done, or all-the-way-done, or only a little bit done (depending on which story you heard or believed), Brian Wilson, driven to madness by experimentation with drugs and his own inner demons and resistance from the rest of the band to his new direction, destroyed the tapes. The band released Smiley Smile, with edited versions of some of the songs, and that was that. Those were the sixties, crazy things like that happened all the time.

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No More CDs
Published on November 10, 2011 by Sara Foss

I'm not an early adopter of new technologies, and I tend to hang on to obsolete technologies for as long as possible.

When I visited my friend Susanna in the British Virgin Islands, she expressed some amazement that I still buy CDs - something she hasn't done in about ten years, preferring to download music and store it on her computer or iPod. "I just like CDs," I said, and she shook her head, baffled by my recalcitrance.

After I returned home, Susanna emailed me this article suggesting that the CD will be dead within 14 months. Could this be true? I have no idea. But I'm kind of worried. As I said, I like CDs. It might be irrational, but I don't care. 


Whatever Happened to the Transylvania Twist?
Published on October 31, 2011 by guest author: Eric J. Perkins

Every year, I put together a Halloween mix for myself (and whoever else is willing to listen to it). Some songs have become standard for me, like Cat Power's "Werewolf." I'm also not above going for the obvious, like "The Monster Mash." The kids and I have been dancing to that one a lot lately. One year I came up with a list of songs only about ghosts. This year, I'm going for one representative song for each of your basic Halloweeny creatures or features, with some fudging here and there. These also all happen to legitimately good (or at least fun) songs:

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When Bands Fall Off Cliffs
Published on October 30, 2011 by Sara Foss

In an interesting piece, the Guardian takes a look at bands that were once hugely popular, but then fell off a cliff. The piece opens by discussing the Kaiser Chiefs, a band I was never really into, but was still surprised to learn has released three albums since their successful debut, which spawned the hit "I Predict A Riot." The local alternative rock station still plays this song, but I've never heard a single track off the band's two follow-ups. 

In fact, the article names a number of bands and artists that were a constant presence on local radio, but have never matched that early success again. Such as: Duffy and MGMT.

Just today, I listened to the 1993 Belly album "Star," which I absolutely loved. But I remember being extremely disappointed in the follow-up, "King," and eventually selling it. In other words, bands have been falling off cliffs for a long time.


Sean Rowe and Marketa Irglova
Published on October 26, 2011 by Sara Foss

I'm a fan of Troy folk singer Sean Rowe, whose album "Magic" was re-released on major label Anti- earlier this year.

Sean is currently touring Europe with Marketa Irglova, a Czech singer-songwriter best known for her starring role in the movie "Once" and her work with the folk-rock band Swell Season.

Here's a link to a video of Marketa and Sean performing a new song called "Old Shoes" in Paris.


Robyn Does Coldplay
Published on October 25, 2011 by Sara Foss

Yesterday I wrote some scathing remarks about Coldplay, a band I really do not like.

I especially do not like Coldplay's new single, "Every Teardrop is a Waterfall."

But I love this cover of it by Swedish singer Robyn.


Hating Coldplay
Published on October 24, 2011 by Sara Foss

I've been hating Coldplay lately. It's too bad, they seem like the nicest guys. But I really can't stand their music. My friend Beka says it's like listening to margarine, and I think she's right. Unfortunately, there's a new Coldplay album, and the band's relentlessly boring and overwrought music is getting constant airplay. Which suggests that Coldplay is almost universally loved, but that simply isn't the case.

In the New Yorker, Sasha Frere-Jones explains why he doesn't like Coldplay.

Here's an excerpt:

"The tunes are there, usually three to an album, but that is something you could say of even their weakest contemporaries, like Maroon 5. What puts them up into some higher level of accessibility must be an averaging of Martin’s guarantee to never shock or offend anyone—which parents value—and the toy soldier brand of pageantry and celebration that underpins so many songs. Coldplay keep throwing massive parades for themselves, without explanation or merit. Some folks just love confetti."

Click here to read the whole thing.



The Complete Works Of ...
Published on October 24, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I discuss how owning every CD recorded by a band or musician gets tougher as you age.

Here's an excerpt:

"There was a time in my life when, if I really loved a band, I wanted to own all their albums.

And for a while I was successful.

I owned every Violent Femmes album, every Mighty Mighty Bosstones album, every Indigo Girls album. But at some point it became harder and harder to be a musical completist. My tastes changed, and I no longer felt the need to run out to the store and buy the new Pearl Jam or Smashing Pumpkins album.

Other artists I like just as much as ever, but began to question how many of their albums I really needed to own. For instance, I own seven Beck albums. And I like them perfectly fine. But when you come right down to it, I don’t consider Beck one of my top 10 favorite musicians, and seven CDs is a lot of music to own by a guy you feel pretty good about, but have never fully loved. 'No more Beck,' I told myself, already worried about the day, 20 years in the future, when I look at my CD rack and realize I own 27 Beck albums for no apparent reason. I feel the same way about Spoon and Nine Inch Nails. I love these bands. But do I need all their albums?

There are a few bands that have inspired me to collect their entire discography. Most of these bands were fairly short-lived, such as Nirvana and Morphine. Nirvana recorded three studio albums and released a terrific compilation album and an excellent live recording before Kurt Cobain committed suicide, while the jazz-rock band Morphine released just five studio albums before lead singer Mark Sandman died of a heart attack. I also own every Replacements album, because they are my favorite band, although I keep meaning to upgrade their early album 'Stink' from tape to CD. And every Afghan Whigs album. All of these bands left me wanting more, which might be why I love them so much."

Click here to read the whole thing.


My Niece Was Right About Tyler the Creator
Published on October 24, 2011 by guest author: Tony Are
When MTV's Video Music Awards were broadcast back on August 28, they were mainly only background for me. It's been quite some time since any of the nominees or performers were anyone I was really passionate about, and I'm not really the biggest fan of award shows—especially this one, which has in recent years played out more like a reality-TV program based around an awards show. But my niece was posting about it on Facebook from her Blackberry as it was happening, and I ended up posting back (such is the state of communication between relatives in this modern world). This past week I've been thinking about our conversation, and I have to admit she was right about Tyler the Creator. But that meant that now I had to go back and think about how music means what it means.

I had been following Tyler's Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All crew for a while—I downloaded all the original free ”tapes”—and I won't (and you shouldn't) underestimate how powerful the music was. There's an aspect (which was sort of where I was coming from) of similarity between the upheaval this bunch of nihilistic skater kids caused in the overblown, overstuffed world of rap music and the upheaval that the first punks in 1976 and '77 caused in the overblown, overstuffed world of rock music at that time. I would still recommend checking it out if you haven't—for instance, “Earl” by Odd Future crew member Earl Sweatshirt (whose underage career and mysterious disappearance was explored in a New Yorker piece by Kalefa Sanneh). Propelled by Tyler's understated backing tracks of looped drums and occasional synthesizers that are closer to the aural wash of “Industrial” metal than to most hip hop, Earl slings miraculous rhymes that slither and pounce, like mad beat poetry: “Yo Im a hot and bothered astronaut crashing while / jacking off to buffering vids of Asher Roth eating applesauce / Sent to earth to poke Catholics in the ass with saws / and knock blunt ashes into their caskets and laugh it off...”

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New Tom Waits
Published on October 17, 2011 by Sara Foss

The new Tom Waits album "Bad As Me" comes out Oct. 25. Here's the title track.

 


Not the Strokes
Published on October 13, 2011 by Sara Foss

Every once in a while a writer makes a declaration so absurd that I simply cannot process it. Such was the case earlier this week, when Slate's Taylor Clark proposed that The Strokes "Is This It" is the best album of the past decade. "No, it's not," I thought when I saw the headline. Right off the top of my head, I felt like I could name at least a half dozen better albums, including:

"White Blood Cells" and "Elephant" by the White Stripes

"Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" by Wilco

"Boys and Girls in America" by The Hold Steady

"Good News for People Who Love Bad news" by Modest Mouse

"In Rainbows" by Radiohead 

"Return to Cookie Mountain" by TV on the Radio

"American Idiot" by Green Day

"Kill the Moonlight" by Spoon

And so on. I'm sure other people have their own preferences. Those happen to be mine. My point is, anybody who cares about music could engage in this exercise, because there are plenty of albums that are better than "Is This It." That said, I loved "Is This It" when it came out. My friend Taylor burned it for me, and I listened to it constantly. At the time, it felt like a breath of fresh air - a blast of swaggering, youthful New York City garage rock. When the Strokes came to Birmingham, I immediately purchased tickets to see them. And they were great. But I haven't really liked any of the Strokes subsequent work, and I don't find myself returning to "Is This It" very often.

Other writers have picked Clark's argument apartment. For instance, Matthew Yglesias is correct to point out that Clark's statement that The Strokes cleared "the way for other garage-influenced bands like the White Stripes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs" is ridiculous, since Yeah Yeah Yeahs released their debut EP before The Strokes' released "Is This It." Spencer Ackerman has more here.



Grouplove and the Importance of Context
Published on October 12, 2011 by guest author: Eric J. Perkins
In my first post on this blog, I gave my first impressions of a few new albums and mentioned that it is very rare for me to fall in love with an album after a single listen. And it is rare, but then it happened again shortly after that post went up. The album is Never Trust A Happy Song by Grouplove. 

Grouplove? Sounds like a bunch of hippies. Maybe they are a bunch of hippies. I don’t care. I just know that they sound like they’re having a lot of fun playing music together, and it’s an infectious sort of fun that has me playing this album at the expense of pretty much of a lot of other new music. Yes, there are handclaps and harmonizing, but there’s also some outright wailing on guitars. I don’t exactly know how to classify it. “Tongue Tied”, the track that first caught my attention when I heard it on NPR’s “All Songs Considered” (a great place to discover new music, btw), is one of those songs so catchy that you’re singing along before you’ve even finished hearing the song for first time.

But the album opener, “Itchin’ on a Photograph” is just as good. And really, I’m not hearing any duds or filler here.

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Reconsidering Pentangle
Published on October 10, 2011 by guest author: Tony Are

The death last week of Bert Jansch (although overshadowed for most people by the death, and ascension to heaven on a chariot drawn by angels, of Steve Jobs), was a pretty sad moment for me. A pretty much forgotten musician (especially in the U.S) who played in a pretty much forgotten band that was part of a pretty much forgotten dead end in British rock in the late '60s. But what a delicate and beautiful dead end it was.

It's important to note first of all how terrific Jansch was. All the obits pointed out his influence on people like Jimmy Page, Nick Drake, and Paul Simon, and Neil Young said that Jansch was “equal to Hendrix.” You don't have to take my word for it, you can look him up on YouTube.

Unlike Hendrix, Jansch was a master of the acoustic guitar, playing in an all-acoustic band, and that was partly what made Pentangle stand out from louder and heavier “British Folk Rock” contemporaries like Fairport Convention and Led Zeppelin (yes, Led Zep was part of this movement as well, and no, that doesn't make it any less of a dead end). And it is also part of what makes them pretty much just a footnote today.

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TV on the Radio, Live
Published on October 10, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about TV on the Radio's concert at Skidmore College, which I attended on Friday night.

Here's an excerpt:

"I really like TV on the Radio, which is why I went to see them Friday night at Skidmore. I own two of their albums, and I’ll likely pick up their latest, “Nine Types of Light.” But until I saw them live, I’d never really thought of myself as a huge fan of the band. I think I must be, though. I know most of their songs, and would definitely pay to see them again.

I wouldn’t say I like TV on the Radio as much as my top five or 10 favorite bands, but they’ve definitely crept into the top 20. When you get older, falling in love with a band gets harder, so this is a bit of an achievement. Most of the bands I really love I fell in love with in high school or college. Of course, TV on the Radio played in a college gymnasium, for a mostly college-aged crowd, and so maybe that made it easier to put myself back in a college mind-set, where music is a vehicle for transcendence, going to a show is one of the most exciting things you can do and your favorite bands feel more like trusted friends than rock stars.

We arrived for the TV on the Radio concert promptly at 8, which is when the doors opened, and ended up sitting in the bleachers for over an hour, waiting for the opener to take the stage. Since most of the concerts I attend these days start at a reasonable hour, with a minimum of waiting, this brought back memories. Going to see music in college involved a lot of waiting; the worst offender was Radiohead, when I caught them at a club in Cleveland shortly after the band’s sophomore album, “The Bends,” came out. “What kind of perfectionist band is this?” my friend Dave grumbled, as we waited endlessly for Thom Yorke and company to take the stage. So when TV on the Radio finally came out, I felt like I’d been waiting for them for hours. (In fairness, the opening act, a Canadian new wave band called Austra, was really pretty good.)"

In short, TV on the Radio is a really good band, and you should go see them if you get the chance.

Also, the song below, titled "Dancing Choose," sounded awesome live.


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