Monthly Archives: February 2010

Video Clip of the Week: Liars “Scissors”

Here’s the latest Liars video for the song “Scissors” off their soon to be released album “Sisterworld”.  At first the video reminded me of “LOST”, but quickly it becomes more reminiscent of something you’d read in one of Stephen King’s short story collections.

Oh, and did I mention the song kicks ass?

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Magnetic Fields “Realism”

Magnetic Fields
“Realism”
[Nonesuch Records]

Rating: 5.5

Back in high school, one of the highlights of the year was the month of bowling in P.E. class. I’m not a bowling enthusiast, nor was I in high school, but I relished the chance to leave the confines of the school for an hour each day to throw a heavy ball down a slippery lane.  For some reason, the teachers also allowed us to play songs on the old dusty jukebox in the corner. The bowling alley hadn’t invested in a modern CD playing jukebox just yet, so the song list consisted of the classic two song per artists offering.

While most students would toss  quarters into the juke to hear the likes of Shania Twain and Guns N’ Roses, my friend Matt and I would arrive with pockets full of quarters to play a more obscure artist.  No, it wasn’t the juke’s new arrival, Soundgarden’s “Spoonman” and “Black Hole Sun”.  Our choice was Billy Rabbit.  Yes, Billy Rabbit.  Never heard of him? Well, based on an extensive Google search, no one else on Earth has either. Billy Rabbit was featured on the jukebox for one simple reason: he sang “Happy Birthday”, the perfect song choice for a bowling Birthday party. But we didn’t choose Billy Rabbit’s “big hit”.  Instead, we’d pick the second song offering, “Today is Such a Very Special Day”, a song we figured no other patron had ever played before.  In a move of what I would describe as either teenage angst or prepubescent dick-hood, we’d fill the machine with every quarter we had scrounged up and play “Today is Such a Very Special Day” over and over and over again.

For the next hour of bowling, the entire class would glare at Matt and I from the other lanes as the song played on repeat.  There would be a moment of quiet hope when the song came to a close, and then they would all exhale in disgust when the opening chords to “Today is Such a Very Special Day” returned.  I loved that month of bowling; my classmates, not so much.

I hadn’t thought of Billy Rabbit or his sophomore hit for years, but recently the memories of that sing-songy chorus came rushing back to me while listening to the song “We Are Having a Hootenanny” off of Magnetic Field’s latest album “Realism”. This is not a good thing.  While Stephin Merrit claims the new album was an aim toward a folk album, it resembles the type of musical fare you’d hear on Nick Jr.  With songs like “The Doll’s Tea Party” and “Everything is One Big Christmas Tree”, you can’t help but wonder what Merrit was aiming for here.  I can understand having fun with your music, but do you have to release it as the next Magnetic Field’s album?  Seriously.  He could have made it an endearing side project or made a special guest appearance on “Yo Gabba Gabba!”.  But why taint the Magnetic Fields name with your tinkering?

We’re talking about the same Magnetic Fields who released the critically acclaimed “69 Love Songs”, a three album opus comprised of, you guessed it,  69 love songs. This is the Magnetic Fields who created questionably the greatest road trip album ever in “The Charm of the Highway Strip”. This is the songwriter, Stephin Merritt, who has been followed for the past ten years by a camera crew for a soon to be released documentary on his music.

The trailer:

No, I’m not missing Merrit’s point on this album. Yes, his lyrics are smart, but not that smart. You can’t blame the guy for not wanting to write any more love songs, but why must he jump from love to tea parties?  I do find humor in a lot of his offerings here, but not in the usual high-brow Merrit fashion, rather a chuckle of “why the hell is Stephin Merrit singing about a hootenanny?”

Fortunately, he didn’t completely hold back his pop genius for the entirety of the album.  “I Don’t Know What To Say” could fit alongside Magnetic Field’s classics with the addition of that simple drum machine that has always been a vital part of the band’s sound.  In fact, there are only two songs that feature actual drums.  The opening song “You Must Be Out of Your Mind” is Merrit at his finest and is probably the best song I’ve heard so far this year.  But just as you are warmed up by Merrit’s voice, track two rolls in with a nasally female voice destroying any semblance of joy. Why the female singer Stephin?  People want to hear that baritone groan damn it!

Here’s “You Must Be Out of Your Mind”:

The last Magnetic Field’s album, “Distortion”,  found the band’s music venturing into the world of garbled fuzz, making me wonder if Merrit is just bored with his synthesizer.  Maybe he’s going through the same type of musical soul-searching that Neil Young underwent in the 80s when he started experimenting with rockabilly and the vocodor.

I also wonder about good old Billy Rabbit.  I wonder where he is now. I wonder why he doesn’t exist according to I-Tunes and the internet. And I wonder if maybe there was a Merrit-like genius inside of good ol’ Mr. Rabbit that never got the chance to shine.  Or maybe that jukebox was a magical machine a la Zoltar in “Big”, and Billy Rabbit never existed at all.

"Today is such a very special day..."

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Owen Pallett “Heartland”

Owen Pallett
“Heartland”
[Domino Records]

Rating: 9

I still remember when I saw Owen Pallett’s music project Final Fantasy for the first time,  probably because it was one of those moments that changed the way I looked at my own songwriting.  Back in 2004, the show’s bill said Final Fantasy would be opening for Arcade Fire (who were at that time on the verge of taking the world by storm). I expected a band named Final Fantasy to be some artsy Japanese outfit  a la The Boredoms, so you can imagine my surprise when a waft of a Canadian walked out onto the stage with only a violin in hand.  He began playing away on his instrument and right before my eyes his singular violin soon grew into an orchestra.  I would, of course, quickly figure out that he was using a loop pedal to create his enchanting melodies. From that moment on, my own song writing would take on a much more organic approach.

A clip of Owen conjuring up another magic spell:

Arcade Fire went on to put on possibly the best show I’ve ever witnessed, but I still had the little fiddler and his layered music in my head. On the way out of Emo’s I bought his lone CD “Has a Good Home”. I would go on to fall in love with his quirky collection of songs (in a recent interview with TinyMixTapes.com Owen crushed my adoration of “Good Home” saying, “I recorded that album because I was set to go on tour with Arcade Fire but didn’t have anything to sell”).

Over the next few years he made guest appearances on what would go on to be the ultimate indie rock resume (Arcade Fire, Beirut, Jim Guthrie, Patrick Wolf). Eventually he released “He Poos Clouds”, a strange collection of songs about the eight schools of magic in “Dungeons and Dragons”.  On his sophomore effort he seemed to be moving away from his loop pedal gimmick, but overall, the songs lacked the melodies of his first thrown together, paper mache of an album (sorry, still bitter on that one).

This year he brings us “Heartland”, a much more mature collection of songs, completely devoid of both dragons and dungeons (he even went so far as to drop the Final Fantasy moniker due to legal fears with the album being his first released in Japan). “Heartland” is a gargantuan effort, an album produced on such a grand scale that I can’t imagine how Domino Records could fund such a monumental display.

Every song is oozing with a sweeping string section, a verbose collection of horns blasting out triumph and turmoil in the same breath, and the concerto percussion group rattling away with thundering snare rolls that blend naturally with the drum machine hidden behind the timpani drum. There is no question that this isn’t the orchestra I saw Owen create via loop pedal, nor are the oboes and bassoons members of Beirut lending a hand.  The once unassuming one man band has created a monster that D&D fans could only imagine.

Songs like “E is for Estranged” and “Flare Gun” are the type of orchestral fare you might hear in a Meryl Streep film, while offerings like “Red Sun #5″ and “The Great Elsewhere” show Pallett meshing the prim with the in-proper as synths and pulsating rhythms bleed into the strings, a symbolic sound that fits with the storyline of the album (more on that later…).  It feels as if the future is looming in the shadows, waiting to pounce upon the chaste and steal away its innocence.

This isn’t an album thrown together for a reunion tour with the Arcade Fire.  This is Owen Pallett stepping up and making his name known.  I hate to make this comparison to my own fault, but there are times where this album is reminiscent of Sufjan Steven’s “Come on Feel the Illinoise”. Not because I’m a Sufjan fan boy, and not because the existence of a clarinet or flute automatically reminds me of Sufjan, but because Owen has created a masterpiece that is so ambitious, so visionary that you can’t help but give it your full attention, much like “Illinoise”.

Despite the overpowering orchestral approach, Owen didn’t ignore the melodies, bringing back that school boy voice and his matter of fact demeanor to the jarring imagery of his lyrics.  Despite all the growth that Owen has gone through musically, within his lyrics you see that the nerdy sci-fi fan still lives on.  According to Pallett, “Heartland” is about Lewis, a demented farmer who realizes that the songwriter Owen Pallett is his creator .  This realization drives him to dementia.  Upon hearing this plot-line, I realized once again my own songwriting had followed the path of Pallett. After hearing Pallett in 2004, I went on to record my own album using only a guitar, banjo, and a loop pedal.  On that album, I wrote a song entitled “Into the Field” about a troubled farmer who goes on to kill his wife and kids because the field told him to do it.  I know it’s a stretch trying to connect my songwriting hobby with Owen Pallett’s genius, but I guess it’s comforting to know I’m not the only weirdo out there writing songs about psychotic farmers.

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Video Clip of the Week: Proof that ANYONE can be a pop-star with auto-tune

The Opie and Anthony radio show recorded the singing of Big A, a semi-retarded taxi driver with a severe speech impediment.  They then put the audio through auto-tuner and edited it. The result is proof that talent isn’t necessary to become a pop-star.

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Super Bowl Halftime Shows.

Back in the 60s, The Who gained notoriety and fame for their bratty, rebellious song “My Generation”, a tune best known for Roger Daltrey’s howling voice singing, “I hope I die before I get old.” Well, other than Keith Moon, none of the fellas got their wish, a fact that was evident on Sunday as the senior citizens rocked their way through a medley of classic hits.  Despite being old fogies, I thought the elderly gents put on a decent show. With the over-the-top luminescent set attempting to upstage them (pun intended), Daltrey still shimmied his way around the stage on hobbled knees, and Pete Townshend pulled off his signature guitar moves like he did back in the days before the pedo charges (I was disappointed that he didn’t smash his guitar into the halogen stage).

A picture of Pete when the feds were knocking at his door.

Despite putting on what I would deem the best Super Bowl halftime performance since 2002 when U2 brought their spectacular live show to the grid-iron, many bloggers have been panning the NFL’s halftime choice, most of them questioning why they’d choose such an old band.  The day after the performance, those ass clowns at DrudgeReport posted a picture of the band with the  simple caption, “Who?” Unfortunately this lack of knowledge of The Who went beyond conservative douche bags.  My roommate returned from a Super Bowl party that night saying that the women at his shin-dig didn’t recognize any of the songs, except “Won’t Be Fooled Again”, or as they probably titled it “the theme song from CSI”.   They didn’t recognize “Baba O’Riley”? “Pinball Wizard”?  Aren’t these classic rock radio staples?  As far as I’m concerned, anyone who doesn’t have “Who’s Next” on their i-Pod should be burnt at the stake.

"This isn't a question...of who dun it? Rather.. did The Who... do it?"

Yes, obviously The Who are old, and yes, they have been on their farewell tour for about 20 years now, but the fact that bloggers are questioning this choice is straight-up foolish. Ever since Janet Jackson’s saggy tit fell out five years ago we’ve been presented with a parade of wrinkled rockers who are way beyond their days of causing controversy (the past five years line-up: Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, Prince, Tom Petty, and of course, The Who).  It’s all a reaction to MTV’s halftime productions that tried pushing the envelope.  And even now, when they are attempting to avoid a national debate, the dummies failed to give The Who a background check to find out that Pete Townshend is a naughty, naughty boy.

Rumor has it, they are going to continue the pedo theme next year with a performance by Gary Glitter.

Eventually, they will run out of old white dudes for their halftime spectacle and be forced to look elsewhere for talent.  Is there a modern artist that could pull it off?  Nickelback would make 90% of the country throw-up all their hot wings and baby franks while Lady Gaga would probably have fighter jets pouring pig’s blood over the audience.  If you put Faith Hill up there you’d have 50% of the country turning away due to their standards, and a Beyonce performance would result in a Tea Party revolt (they don’t seem to care much for black people).  I would suggest a The Flaming Lips for a halftime show due to their insane live performances, but if people don’t know “Behind Blue Eyes” how the hell can I expect them to know “She Don’t Use Jelly”?

As far as I’m concerned, they are in a lose/lose situation. Our country no longer has a collective love of one artist or band. I doubt we will ever see a band like The Beatles or an artist like Elvis ever again; there are just so many more options out there for us.  As much as I hate to say it, they should probably drop the whole music act angle all together.  Give us a show! Put Cirque De Solei out there or The Blue Man Group.  Let us see the type of extravaganza shown at the Beijing Olympics a few years ago.  Not even “The Puppy Bowl” could compete with that.

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Eels “End Times”

Eels
“End Times”
(Vagrant Records)

Rating: 5.5

I couldn’t watch the Super Bowl tonight. I’d occasionally flip it on to check the score, but I couldn’t keep my attention focused on it for longer than five minutes. Being a life-long Viking fan, I couldn’t bring myself to sitting and watching the Saints win a game they didn’t even deserve to be in (Vikings had double the yards, and don’t tell me there wasn’t VooDoo at play in that game with six fumbles, two interceptions, and possibly the worst overtime officiating in NFL history).  After the devastating loss in the 1999 NFC Championship, I never thought I’d be so let down again by a Viking’s loss, but the late game meltdown knocked the optimism out of me once again, witnessing deja vu as another chance to get to the super bowl slipped away.

This is a beer label my friend and fellow Viking fan Justin LeSieur recently made in honor of the late game mismanagement of that tard Brad Childress.

In the same way, I never thought I’d see the Eel’s Mark Oliver Everett (best known as simply “E”) so depressed again, not after his 1998 album dedicated to the grieving process, “Electro-Shock Blues”.  His newest album “End Times” deals with the same feelings of desperation, this time focusing on his recent break-up with his girlfriend.  Unfortunately, this album fails in comparison to “Electro-Shock” for several reasons.  For one, the music seems bland, lacking the playfulness of E’s work from the late 90s.

Much of the album focuses around E and his acoustic guitar, strumming away, which is fine and dandy, but over the years I’ve come to expect the unexpected from E.  Most of the tunes stumble along in milk toast fashion. Yes, a break-up can deflate you, but does it have to deflate your creativity as well?  On “Electro-shock Blues”, E approached the concept of death in a way no one had done before.  He gave a creepy life to songs about cancer, hospital food, and funerals. You could still sense his misery within the upbeat tempos, making the lyrics even more jarring.

Even the lyrics on “End Times” lack the usual genius of E.  The majority of the songs are straight-forward and literal, containing little of the jarring imagery of his past work. It almost seems like he’s reading them straight out of his diary. There isn’t much that is going to catch you off guard; it’s just a sad album, nothing less, nothing more.

Only on a few songs are glimpses of E still present, including “I Need a Mother”. In the song, E dissects a one-sided relationship where he says, “I’ve been your daddy for too long. I need a little mothering once in a while.”  It plays as a modern version of Neil Young’s “A Man Needs a Maid”, discussing the simple fact that a man needs a woman who takes care of him “just once in a while”.  The song has a borderline Oedipus complex, yet it presents a view on relationships rarely touched upon.

“I Need a Mother” is followed by “Little Bird”, a total contradiction to the song prior (remember when the Eel’s songs about birds were happy?).  He jumps from “I need a lover, not someone like you” to “God damn, I miss that girl”.  While it’s okay to have songs that don’t follow an overall theme, it kind of lessens the value of the break-up concept album.  “Electro-Shock Blues” had a definite storyline, leading you from “my life is piss and shit” to E’s discovery that life goes on.  That moment of realization never comes on “End Times”; it’s doom and gloom through and through.

As I sit here typing, I can see the Saints celebrating out of the corner of my eye, a sight that makes the Taco Bell in my gut do flips.  With a six month wait until the next Viking’s season (possibly Favre-less), I could look at it from an “End Times” stand point and remain bitter about the way a once magical season ended. Instead, I’m going to take the “Electro-Shock Blues” approach and have hope for the future. As “P.S. You Rock My World” says so brilliantly, “maybe it’s time to live.”

If you are not familiar with this song, check it out below (probably one of my top 20 all-time favorite songs). To this day, it still gives me goosebumps:

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Sunny Day Real Estate “Diary”

Sunny Day Real Estate
“Diary”
[Subpop]

Rating: 9.5

“Music is the soundtrack to our lives.” This quote is attributed to Dick Clark, but I guarantee some writer is still receiving residuals for selling its rights to him. Of course, there is some truth to the little saying.  Certain songs bring back memories, whether it be that summer you were forced to listen to Barenaked Ladies “One Week” endlessly at work (you poor sap) or the Homecoming dance where you danced with your crush to Tim McGraw’s “Don’t Take the Girl” (worst song ever, right?).  But never before have I had an album bring back emotions like Sunny Day Real Estate’s “Diary” recently did for me.  I’m not talking emotions that are associated with a sad memory – simply emotions.  Let me explain…

I first heard Sunny Day Real Estate’s “Diary” back in 1994, when i was an insecure 15 year old kid.  My brother, who ignited my love of indie music long ago, brought home a copy of “Diary”.  Often I discover new CDs in Nick’s room, which I’d listen to while playing “Madden 95″ on the Sega Genesis (I discovered some of my favorite bands of all time during those Madden Marathons including Dinosaur Jr, Fugazi, and The Afghan Whigs).  Of course, “Diary” ended up being one of those discoveries, a CD I soon played so much that it eventually earned battle scars in the form of scratches and fingerprints.

I would go on to buy every CD that Sunny Day Real Estate released or were remotely associated with including their side project The Fire Theft and Jeremy Enigk’s solo albums (I originally discovered Foo Fighters first album before the Mento’s craze, not due to Dave Grohl, but the involvement of Nate Mendel and William Goldsmith). But I never bought “Diary”, for reasons I can’t explain. I’m guessing I figured I could just listen to my brother’s copy, but even when he moved out, I never made the move to buy the actual CD that helped me through my high school years.

Yes, that CD helped me, in a strange way I suppose.  As a teen, and even into my early 20s, I was a pretty morose mother fucker.  I lacked confidence, and often connected to music that matched that helpless mood (let’s just say Nine Inch Nail’s “Fragile” was on an endless loop during the fall of 1999).  In high school, the music that toked my insecurities was Sunny Day Real Estate’s “Diary”.  The music seemed so purely plagued, within the raw guitar licks, the earnest lyrics, and of course Enigk’s piercing vocal assault.  I sat in the dark listening to “Diary” on many occasions; yes folks, I was emo before emo was cool. Even though the music helped build upon my sadness, in a way it helped me face my anxieties.

For Christmas this year, my brother Nick bought me the re-mastered version of “Diary”, which is really a gem when you add in the huge book of background information on the creation of the album, not to mention how much clearer the music sounds. Driving back to Texas after my two weeks in blizzard country, I put “Diary” in and was instantly sent into depression.  I had no reason to be sad. I’d just been with my family, an act that always rejuvenated me.  Yet, Jeremy Enigk was back to his old tricks, stirring up the bits of adolescent sediment that still lingered inside of me.  It was probably the first time I had listened to the album in ten years, and as a result, all those emotions of that lonely kid came rushing back. All in all, life had been good to me as of late, but the power of the music wouldn’t let me get off that easy.

In some strange way, I enjoyed that sinking feeling in my gut.  Why would I enjoy such a masochistic act? I’m not quite sure. Maybe it was a purging of built up frustrations, or maybe it was just nice to revisit the feelings I struggled with as a teen.  Whatever the case, this album plays as a reminder of where I’ve been.  If you’ve never experienced “Diary”, don’t be frightened. Whether you are an emotional mess like I once was, or a stone-cold automaton, you’ll find pleasure in this band’s early offering.  Sunny Day Real Estate went on to release some great albums, but none of them ever compared to “Diary”.

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