Archive for September, 2007

Halloween comes early

September 13th, 2007 4 comments

I have prepared a mix CD-R for a brandnew blog I’m helping with, on the theme of Halloween (I made a cover, too, to show how “creative” I am). So, get in early for the celebration of the feast day of All Saints, with all the pumpkins and trick-and-treating, even in parts of the world where there is no tradition of such things.

1. Eels – Marie Floating Over The Backyard (2005)
2. Clem Snide – Evil vs Good (2001)
3. Jim Stafford – Swamp Witch (1973)
4. Stan Ridgway – Camouflage (1986)
5. The Go! Team – Phantom Broadcast (2005)
6. The Rolling Stones – Sympathy For The Devil (1968)
7. Procol Harum – A Salty Dog (1969)
8. Johnny Cash – Hung My Head (2002)
9. Nick Cave & Kylie Minogue – Where The Wild Roses Grow (1997)
10. Sufjan Stevens – John Wayne Gacy, Jr. (2005)
11. Mazzy Star – Taste Of Blood (1990)
12. Imogen Heap – Getting Scared (1998)
13. The Cure – Close To Me (acoustic) (2001)
14. Springbok Nude Girls – Baby Murdered Me (1997)
15. Foo Fighters – Hell (2005)
16. Marilyn Manson – If I Was Your Vampire (2007)
17. Sparklehorse – Ghosts In The Sky (2006)
18. Medeski, Martin & Wood – End Of The World Party (2004)

Download here

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Show some love for Jens Lekman

September 10th, 2007 6 comments

When I found out a couple of months ago that Jens Lekman was going to release a new album, the butterflies in my stomach were tripping like hippies on an amphetamine-aided acid trip. I was turned on to Lekman’s music in 2005 by his utterly glorious Oh Jens, You’re So Silent, a compilation of EP tracks (our man has issued copious numbers of EPs). I still prefer it over his fine full debut, When I Said I Wanted To Be Your Dog (2004).

And so I approached Night Falls Over Kortedala with much indulgent good will. I was delighted when Jens started off in vintage Scott Walker-mode (for all his vocal limitations, Jens is Scott’s natural indie heir) on “I Remember Every Single Kiss”. I tapped my toes, aggressively out of rhythm for all the excitement, when “Sipping On The Sweet Nectar” revealed itself as a Philly Soul groove incorporating strings that belong to the theme of a “70s TV cop show. I loved “The Opposite Of Hallelujah”, which I had heard before, for maintaining the happy “70s sound of soul”s heyday. I delighted in the very Lekmanian line “The ocean made me feel stupid”.

And then things started to drift. Oooh, he’s doing a western theme now (“Into Eternity”). Oooh, he’s sampling Curtis Mayfield (on “A Postcard To Nina“). Oooh, Smiths guitars (“Your Arms Around Me”) and Morrissey going into falsetto vocals (“Shirin”). Oooh, children’s TV theme intro (“It Was A Strange Time In My Life”; actually, I’ve read Jens samples a recording of his childhood self)… Moments that grabbed my attention only momentarily (I lie, I love “A Postcard To Nina”), rather than being sucked in by the whole. Not until the album’s penultimate and most interesting track, “Kanske Ar Jag Kar I Dig” (sung in English, it means “Maybe I’m In Love With You”) was my interest completely roused “” just in time for “Friday Night At The Drive-In Bingo”, which borrows from Pat Boone’s “Speedy Gonzales”. It may well be the only Lekman song to which I have taken an instant dislike.

Night Falls Over Kortedala is not at all a poor album, even by Jens Lekman’s high standards. My ambivalence is the product of lofty expectations based on the works of genius represented on the previous two albums, which were less sample-frenzied than the new set. Indeed, the novelty of spotting the sample or borrowed riff wears off fairly soon. One feels that with Kortedala, Lekman overplayed his hand a little in an ambitious attempt to live up to his reputation as a latter-day Jonathan Richman. And, like Richman, Jens at times forgets to keep it simple.

But Lekman at his not-very-best is still better than many, or most, artists at their peak. It is an album worth listening to, if alone for the excellent and typically idiosyncratic lyrics. But it has nothing of the astonishing quality of songs like “Maple Leaves, “The Cold Swedish Winter“, the mesmerisingly pretty “Rocky Dennis’ Farewell Song“, the unbelievable “A Sweet Summers’ Night On Hammer Hill” (with the demented bom-de-bom-de-bom-de-bom-de-boms), “A Man Walks Into A Bar” (what a fantastic lyrical set-up), or the absolutely intoxicating brilliance of “Your Are The Light” (those lyrics and tune! Download it now!). And check out the Motownesque EP-only track, “I Don’t Know If She’s Worth 900 Kr“, one of Lekman’s finest works. Where on the older songs the quirk was a hugely appealing characteristic, on Kortedala it feels a little self-conscious. Or perhaps I am failing to spot a work of genius. I will keep listening to Night Falls Over Kortedala to find out.

Jens Lekman – A Postcard For Nina.mp3 (from Night Falls Over Kortedala, 2007)
Jens Lekman – Kanske Ar Jag Kar I Dig.mp3 (from Night Falls Over Kortedala, 2007)
Jens Lekman – A Sweet Summer’s Night On Hammer Hill.mp3 (from Oh, You’re So Silent Jens, 2005)
Jens Lekman – Rocky Dennis’ Farewell Song.mp3 (from Oh, You’re So Silent Jens, 2005)
Jens Lekman – A Man Walks Into A Bar.mp3 (from Oh, You’re So Silent Jens, 2005)

Jens Lekman – You Are The Light.mp3 (from When I Said I Wanted To Be Your Dog, 2004)
Jens Lekman – The Cold Swedish Winter.mp3 (from When I Said I Wanted To Be Your Dog, 2004)
Jens Lekman – I Don’t Know If She’s Worth 900 Kr.mp3 (from You Deserve Better Than A Bum Like Me EP, 2005)

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Show some love for Rilo Kiley

September 5th, 2007 4 comments

In an interview with Incendiary magazine in 2006, Rilo Kiley’s frontwoman Jenny Lewis spoke about “selling out”:

I try not to covet the music that I love, I”ve done that in the past, where something becomes popular and then suddenly I don”t want to go to the shows anymore. I think selling out is a lewd point when the music stays the same. So if the music is pure, then why not offer it out to the people and give them something better than, you know, Fall Out Boy or other crap that”s on the radio.”

Rilo Kiley’s new album, Under The Blacklight, puts Jenny’s answer to the test. Having moved to a big label, the new CD is unabashedly poppy and commercial. I love Rilo Kiley, I thought the previous album, More Adventurous, was a work of beauty. And now there was this ’80s referencing Jenny-as-Debby-Harry gig, one on which only two tracks sound like traditional Rilo Kiley. In my review of the album, I asked: “Can there be an accommodation with old and new fans? Will the old fanbase buy into the new sound ? Will Under The Blacklight accomplish the mainstream breakthrough it so evidently aspires to? And will the old fans still be there if it doesn’t?”

The trick is to divorce Blacklight from its predecessors, which I tried to do, with incomplete success, in the review. If this album had been released by an unknown act, the blogosphere would be hyping it as “the next big thing”, because this is a superior pop album. So we must lay to rest the indie-folkies of the first three albums, and live with happy memories. Oh, and happy these memories will be. The delicious country-folk of “More Adventurous”, the dripping-with-sex confusion of “Portions For Foxes” (‘…and then talking leads to touching, and touching leads to sex, and then there is no mystery left’. And that command: “Come here!” Hell, what an incredible song), the Patsy Cline homage of “I Never”, the folkish sing-along of “With Arms Outstretched”, the acerbic sassiness of “It’s A Hit”, the Bright Eyes-influence (or influencing) of “Plane Crash In C”, the heartbreaking “Does He Love You?”, the Celtic hues of “Rest Of My Life”…

Will my love for these be diminished by a turn in the group’s musical direction, when the product of that change is great on its own merits? Should an artist be a hostage to our expectations? As I write, I’m dancing along to the catchy-ass chorus of “Breakin’ Up”. And when “Dreamworld” (described somewhere else as “the best song Fleetwood Man never did”) comes on, I’ll groove along to that as well. I am falling in love with Under The Blacklight, too.

Rilo Kiley – Breakin’ Up.mp3 (from Under The Blacklight, 2007)
Rilo Kiley – Dreamworld.mp3 (from Under The Blacklight, 2007)
Rilo Kiley – More Adventurous.mp3 (from More Adventurous, 2004)
Rilo Kiley – Portions For Foxes.mp3 (from More Adventurous, 2004)
Rilo Kiley – It’s A Hit.mp3 (from More Adventurous, 2004)
Rilo Kiley – With Arms Outstretched.mp3 (from The Execution of All Things, 2002)
Rilo Kiley – Rest Of My Life.mp3 (from Take-Offs And Landings, 2001)
Rilo Kiley – Plane Crash In C.mp3 (from Take-Offs And Landings, 2001)

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Pissing off the Taste Police with Billy Joel

September 2nd, 2007 10 comments

Billy Joel is the big kahuna in the Pissing off the Taste Police stakes. I”ve copped hideous abuse for confessing my love for some of the music of Billy Joel, without embarrassment (because apologising for enjoying certain music is for losers). Oh, I can see why people might hate Billy Joel”s music, or even the man. “River Of Dreams” and “We Didn”t Start The Fire” are appalling and should never be heard again. When I say I like Billy Joel, I”m talking about his golden years, stretching from Turnstiles (1976) to Songs In The Attic (1981), with the patchy Piano Man (1973) and 1982’s The Nylon Curtain (and perhaps some of An Innocent Man from 1983) bookending that phase (and ignoring 1974’s Streetlife Serenade, except for its fine title track). And even then, there are some tracks that leave our man open to abuse: the overplayed “Just The Way You Are”, for example, or almost all of 1980″s rubbish Glass Houses. And yet, there is so much that Joel”s haters tend to overlook, even those who might grudgingly allow that “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant” is not a bad song.

Billy Joel ““ She”s Always A Woman.mp3
On Side 2 of The Stranger, the tender melody belies the bitter hurt this manipulative, indecisive bitch has caused poor, needy Billy. “And she”ll promise you more than the Garden of Eden, and then she carelessly cuts you and laughs while you”re bleeding. But she”ll bring out the best and the worst you can be. Blame it all on yourself, “˜cause she”s always a woman to me”. This is a love song with a sharp edge, quite unlike the cheesily romantic sentiments of karaoke favourite “Just The Way You Are”.

Billy Joel ““ Summer, Highland Falls.mp3
Easily Billy Joel”s finest three minutes. From the lovely piano intro and the powerful yet subtle drumming to the poetically resigned lyrics that hint at bipolarism (“it”s either sadness or euphoria”), this deceptively simple song has a depth that is often overlooked. Listen to it closely, this is the best thing Billy Joel has ever done. This is the live version from the magnificent Songs In The Attic album; a set of lesser-known Joel songs re-recorded live because our man wasn’t happy with the original productions. The original appears on Turnstiles.

Billy Joel ““ New York State Of Mind.mp3
From Turnstiles, this is Billy Joel”s stab at creating an American standard. And he succeeds admirably. Had it be written by Hoagy Carmichael, it would rightly be placed alongside the great American standards. The fact that it has not attained such a reputation can be attributed to the low level of critical esteem Billy Joel enjoys. But what a mighty song it is, complemented by a restrained arrangement and a terrific vocal performance. I like to hear this song being performed Tom Waits, slowed down a bit with a lounge arrangement. That would be stupendous.

Billy Joel ““ Captain Jack.mp3
The original on Piano Man was musically quite unremarkable. Given the big rock treatment on Songs In The Attic, this is a powerful song. Another track about alienation, this one about “you”, a bored waster from a wealthy family looking forward to a fix of heroin, to emotionally wrecked to give much of a fuck about the death of his father. As Joel addresses “you”, we get to know the character, and fully agree with Joel”s vicious delivery and wish drummer Liberty DeVitto”s brutality would be directed not at the inanimate drumkit, but at “you”. Sample lyric: “And if you can’t understand why your world is so dead, why you’ve got to keep in style and feed your head; well you’re 21 and still your mother makes your bed. And that’s too long” (and at this point DeVitto goes really medieval on the drumkits’ ass). How sweet that in 1980 concert crowds would still cheer for the use of the word “masturbate”.

Billy Joel – Rosalinda’s Eyes.mp3
Forget the Latin stereotypes of the lyrics, and listen to the melody, held together by the jazzy, rhythmic acoustic guitar. The flute interlude is quite enchanting. And hear the line “Oh Havana, I”ve been searching for you everywhere”: Billy Joel knew how to phrase a line. From 52nd Street, this song apparently references his mother, Rosalind, through the eyes of his father (or something).

Billy Joel ““ Allentown.mp3
Billy Joel getting as close to fellow New Jersey preacher Bruce Springsteen as he ever did, if not musically then lyrically. “Allentown”is a scathing lament about the disillusionment of the American Dream in the industrial age, the broken promises to Everyman: “Well we’re waiting here in Allentown, for the Pennsylvania we never found, for the promises our teachers gave, if we worked hard, if we behaved. So the graduations hang on the wall, but they never really helped us at all”¦” The lyrics are as incisive as Joel ever got, and the melody is a pretty good, too. Imagine “Allentown” slowed down and played acoustically, it could be a Woody Guthrie song. The rest of The Nylon Curtain (1982) was rather a hit-and-miss affair.

Thanks to Anonymous’ comment, I’ve become aware of the connection between the family of Billy Joel and that of retail giants Neckermann, whose grandfather basically stole the business from Joel’s grandfather. Story here.

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