Monthly Archives: April 2010

Titus Andronicus “The Monitor”


Titus Andronicus
“The Monitor”
[XL]

Rating: 8.5

One of the only New Jersey bands that truly fits the Bruce Springsteen mold is Titus Andronicus. About a month ago, some old high school friends were in town, so I treated them to a drunken night in Austin. The next day, hung over and tired, we stumbled into Waterloo Records where I picked up Titus Andronicus’s latest album “The Monitor”. On the drive home, I put the disc in and told my friends it was “a punk Springsteen”. But after a few songs, one of them commented, “I don’t hear the Springsteen thing.” I decided it was time to lay down some music education; Android-style.

Not only are their songs every-man anthems, but their constant references to the Garden State are pure Bruce. They play a wide range of styles, yet define them within their own rustic parameters, another Bruce trait. And although it’s no Clarence, Titus even throw in some saxophone for good measure. Chirst, on the opening track, singer Ian Graetzer makes an allusion to the Springsteen classic “Born to Run” when he screams “Tramps like us, baby we were born to DIE!” No, Bruce’s chants are a bit more positive than Titus’s fist pumping choruses like “You will always be a loser!” and “The enemy is everywhere!”, but the energy is the same. He even admits near the end of the album, “I’ve destroyed everything that wouldn’t make me more like Bruce Springsteen.”

Listen to “No Future Part III: Escape From No Future” and try not to scream along to the chorus that kicks in at the 3:30 mark:

The allusions don’t stop there. In fact, the entire album is set within the motif of the Civil War. Every few songs a guest speaker will pop-in, spouting famous quotes from the era such as Abraham Lincoln’s “I am now the most miserable man living.” But don’t be fooled by the Civil War pomp and circumstance. The band uses this theme simply as a vehicle for conveying the turmoil singer Graetzer recently went through due to a break-up with his long-time girlfriend. He spent the next few months wallowing on the couch in depression watching the Ken Burn’s documentary “The Civil War”. I’m guessing he found a shared solace in Abe’s “misery” and inspiration grew from there.

Actually, the references to “Four score” and “the Battle Cry of Freedom” are used sparingly amidst the more contemporary mentions of “it sounded like a pretty good 7-inch” and “my days peddling hate out the back of a Chevy Express”. This is not a concept album, rather a concoction composed of pop-culture and history, resulting in a multi-layered, dizzying narrative. This album is like T.S. Elliot’s “Wasteland” if he had written the entire poem on bar napkins while a drunken local played “Nebraska” on the jukebox. The entire concept is a bit weird and pretentiously over-reaching, yet it all melds together magically, creating a world where “our forefathers” and “a keggar on a Friday night” can live side by side. This strange menagerie is best illustrated in the liner notes where Abe Lincoln’s quote, “If I ever get a chance to hit that thing, I’ll hit it hard” is placed directly above the Butthole Surfer’s lyrics, “Then there was the ever-present football player rapist.”

“Theme From Cheers” is probably the ultimate drinking song with shout-outs to “Guiness” , “Car Bombs”, and the college favorite “Keystone Light”:

The album does have its flaws, but the band somehow makes them work in their favor.  Graetzer’s whiney, Conor Oberst inspired vocals can wear thin at times, yet no better voice fits the dire spirit of the music. The album also runs a bit long, yet you can’t hold back a muse that was definitely born to run.

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Ted Leo and the Pharmacists “The Brutalist Bricks”

Between the airing of the bronzed-skinned, STD love fest “Jersey Shore” and the New Jersey Net’s horrific 12-70 record, it’s been a rough year for the Garden State. Even Jersey’s film-making son, Kevin Smith, had his strange run-in with airport security over his weight. There’s no denying – times have been tough on Jersey folk. Fortunately, a couple Jersey bands have picked up this wretched state, creating a few great albums in 2010 that can help the natives forget about their latest run of bad luck (or bad spray-on tans). Welcome, to Jersey Core.

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists
“The Brutalist Bricks”
Matador Records

Rating: 7

For some reason, being from Jersey automatically corners an artist into comparisons with Bruce Springsteen. For one, I don’t get why Bon Jovi gets left out of the equation, but often this comparison is made simply to lazy journalism (using the word “comparison” twice in one paragraph is also “lazy”, but I’m too tired to grab the Thesaurus, so deal with it!). Ted Leo gets mis-represented all too often by the Bruce label, a connection that I still fail to see. Yes, he occasionally sings about the working man (although he never mentions Joanie once) and more often he delves into politics, but the correlation ends there.  Ted Leo’s sound is completely different: while Bruce opts for jangly guitar anthems, Ted tears away with angular riffs and poppy nuggets.

On “The Brutalist Bricks”, Ted Leo continues to push his political agenda with songs like “Mourning in America” and “The Stick”, but the album as a whole seems to lack the fire of the past. In the midst of the contentious 2004 election, Leo’s “Shake the Sheets” was filled with an authentic fervor against Dubya, combining his sweet melodies with vicious anti-Bush rhetoric. I saw Ted Leo live in Austin the night before the election (it was actually Halloween, and the band came out dressed as AC/DC).  Between each song, Leo would take time to put on his best Nostradamus impression, predicting the downfall of the Bush regime.  Of course, this visionary dream turned to a nightmare quicker than Tobey McGuire turned emo in “Spiderman 3” (speaking of nightmares…).

Leo’s follow-up album “Living with the Living” still contained some solid songs, but they took on a darker, more depressing tone. “Bomb. Repeat. Bomb.”, the best song on the album, sounds nothing like anything Leo had done prior. Forced to wallow four more years in the Bush debacle, Leo had turned emo himself, focusing on the negatives of the world in his own unique way.

But now, with a liberal in office, Leo’s anti-conservative rants don’t seem quite so pertinent. In search of a target, he aims his anger at big business and even right-wing religious nuts, yet it doesn’t have the same fist pump appeal.  Screaming about bombs is one thing, but “Woke Up Near Chelsea’s” anthem of “We’ve all got a job to do, and we all hate God” seems a bit much.

Ted Leo attacks pretty much everything including religion on “Woke Up Near Chelsea”:

Really though, I can’t dog a Ted Leo album.  He doesn’t make bad albums; it’s a fact. Maybe this dog doesn’t have as much bite, but he sticks to his formula and continues creating infectious harmonies (yes, it may seem like I’m getting lazy again using the word “dog” twice in the same paragraph BUT one is a verb and the other is a noun: suck on that Trebek!).

At his best though, Leo is pushing the boundaries of his sound. While “Bomb.Repeat.Bomb” showed Ted going hardcore, “One Polaroid A Day” presents Leo as a Barry White clone. On first listen its strange to hear the Jersey boy ditching his signature tenor voice for a soulful approach, but after further listen you’ll begin to realize it’s the best song on the album. Regardless, Leo is at his finest when he’s challenging others; even if that means challenging his own sound.

The soulful Ted Leo- Enjoy! (“One Polaroid a Day”):

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Top 100 Albums of 2000 (40-31)

40.  Sigur Ros – Agaetis Byrjun

When this came out, people hyped like they were the first band to make their music even more pretentious by making up and singing in their own fake language.  Well, they are not (but I guess I could use a history lesson on a few subjects as well).  Listening to Agaetis Byrjun makes me feel like this (basically a grown up, creepier version of their album cover):

– Kid Kilowatt

39.  Ghostface Killah – Supreme Clientele*

The hungriest and most consistent rapper of the last 15 years.  An amazing lyricist.  21 tracks, so expect some filler and some cartoon skits.  Well worth it.  My second favorite Ghostdeini joint.  – Dr. Anonymous

38.  Faraquet – The View From This Tower *

Faraquet is the culmination of two decades of Dischord records.  They are conceptual like Fugazi, melodious and raw like Jawbox, dramatic like Shudder to Think, and as earnest as anything Minor Threat ever did.  On The View From This Tower the band masterfully takes all that is Dischord and blends it together into something that can only be defined as Faraquet.  – Android50

37.  Ulan Bator – Ego: Echo

Ego: Echo’s producer said this about recording the album: “Adrenaline, stress, heat chaos, and panic, combined with the language barrier (they’re French, the engineer was Italian), forced us into places we never expected to end up in, which to me, was incredibly elating.”  I quote this because it helps one to understand the music.  Ego: Echo’s procucer was Michael Gira and it came out on Young God Records.  I mention this because it reminds me of the Swans at times and because almost everything on Young God or involving Gira is pretty great.  Andy Kellman from All Music Guide compared them to ‘80s era Sonic Youth.  I allude to his assertion because it has some truth to it.  Mark E. Smith said, “Repetition, Repetition Repetition,” when referencing his music ( I think he said that).  I point this out cos this album reminds me of it.  — Pthestudp

36.  Dirty 3 – Whatever You Love, You Are

With the use of only drums, a guitar and a violin, this trio created something more beautiful than any other band with an army of instruments in 2000.   This album is just devastating, something you’ll want to listen to over and over again.  Probably their best album, in a long line of excellent ones.  – Suzy Creamcheese

35.  Elf Power – The Winter is Coming

The most underrated of the Elephant 6 groups (Neutral Milk Hotel, Of Montreal, Olivia Tremor Control, Apples in Stereo).  Their 3 album run ending with The Winter is Coming is one of the best of the 90-00s.  Psychedelic, dark lo-fi pop and fuzzy sunny melodies at their best.  You know how albums carry memories along with them?  Well, after having my driver’s license suspended for a year, I listened to this on the way home with my brand new license burning a hole in my pocket.  Fitting.  – Pthestudp

34.   Les Savy Fav – Rome (Written Upside Down) EP*

This 18 minute EP chronicles the band’s transformation from humans to machines.  Tim Harrington sings, “I hope Adams are enough, cos Eve sure ain’t coming.”  It seems Eve couldn’t hand the new machine army and their hyper angular shards disguised as guitar riffs they brought with them to the party.  Fuck her, she can have her fig leaves and fruit from the forbidden tree.  I’ll take Rome.  – Ho Chi Unser Jr.

33.  Trans Am – The Red Line

I like to sometimes explain what an album sounds like by comparing it to other, similar sounding bands.  Something like this: “track 12 of Trans Am’s The Red Line, “I’m Coming Down” sounds like Brian Eno fronting Spacemen 3.”  Now that really describes that song perfectly.  But the problem is, on The Red Line, Trans Am took all their influences and went so far out with them, that they ended up sounding like no one else but Trans Am.  Sure, one can hear all sorts of Krautrock, some Suicide, New Order, ambience, vocoders and classic rock, but I cannot figure out the recipe for how it all goes together so well, because this shouldn’t work at all (especially 73 minutes of it).  – Willie Rambo Strider

32. Clientele – Suburban Light

It’s weird how things come full circle.  I remember listening to this album after losing my dog, a rottweiler named Max, to a dude who liked to drive down our dirt road too fast.  And now, 7 or 8 years later, I listen to this as I think about how much shit I am in after losing an old ladies’ dog while house sitting for her, due to it being able to run much faster than me.  At first the album kinda runs together (it is a compilation of the band’s early singles and scattered recordings), cos every song sounds the same.  But the more you listen, the more every song becomes distinctive and takes you down a different lane (albeit it’s autumn and every lane is tree lined).  But that’s me; see where it takes you.  – Pthestudp

31. A Silver Mt. Zion – He Has Left Us Alone but Shafts of Light Sometimes Grace the Corners of Our Rooms

Remember Y2K?  I sure as fuck do.  I had a high school teacher obsessed with it.  I don’t know where he heard about it, but he told us well ahead of time that shit was going to hit the fan.  I hadn’t been so excited for anything that I could remember.  I couldn’t wait to see what would happen and was ready to start my career as a revolutionary early (I’ve always been obsessed with Che and Fidel).  My excitement boiled over in all types of forms, imagining how I would survive (easy, I lived on a farm), practicing my marksmanship, and writing all my assigned papers on something to do with it.  But mostly just being really fucken stoked about it, I didn’t know what all was going to go down (although I had a healthy imagination and the media fueling some big ideas), but it was going to be better than that Sublime (April 29th, 1992) song and maybe even better than the Revolution of 1776.  I woke up that morning and probably had the most disappointing day of my life.  Not one damn thing happened.  At least I have this, the soundtrack to what Y2K would have been, had it not been some scaremongering media sham (swine flu anyone?).  Features guitarist Efrim Menuck, bassist Thierry Amar, and violinist Sophie Trudeau of Godspeed You Black Emperor. — Songssuck

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Video Clip of the Week: Robot Brewery Tour

What happens when Will Oldham of Bonnie “Prince” Billy joins forces with Sam Calgione of Dogfish Head Brewing?  See for yourself…(Sam is the robot):

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Boat “Setting the Paces”

Boat
“Setting the Paces”
[Magic Marker]

Rating: 8

“Best of Lists” and award shows are invariably flawed. If we had a time machine, we’d undoubtedly go back to 1994 and take the “Best Film” Oscar away from “Forrest Gump” and give it to the more deserving “Shawshank Redemption” (or “Pulp Fiction” for that matter).  If given the choice of watching one of these three movies tonight, I can guarantee that “Forrest Gump” wouldn’t be your first choice. But it is what it is. At the time, the world was caught up in”Forrest Gump” frenzy.  We couldn’t have foreseen the staying power of “Shawshank”.

Another example of mis-guided awards occurred in 2006, when Dirk Nowitski won the NBA’s MVP award for leading his team to a 67-15 record.  Mere weeks later, I’m sure those who voted for him begged to have a chance to change their vote due to Dirk’s epic collapse in the playoffs, losing in the first round to the eighth seed Warriors.  Unfortunately, we can’t revise history. What happened, happened.

This is MVP material?

Which leads me to the quandary I’m currently in. Since beginning to write a yearly “Best Albums” list, I’ve found myself becoming more and more obsessed with hearing everything there is to hear in a given year in order to ensure that I’m fully educated before making my choices (it’s the equivalent of actually doing research on a Senate bill before making a judgment…looking at you Tea-Baggers).  Unfortunately, I think that I once again missed the boat (pun intended).  Over the past few months I’ve heard more and more great albums from last year that I didn’t know of back in 2009 (Charlotte Gainsbourg, Mincemeat vs. Tenspeed, The Amazing, etc, etc, etc).

But the best album I’ve discovered in post-2009 has to be Boat’s “Setting the Paces”.  I first heard it while perusing some reviews online, and I instantly fell for its collage of stoner-pop songs, all soaked with wit and bubbling with joy.  Soon after I purchased the album, I consistently found myself going back to it, again and again.  I haven’t had puppy love for an album like this since high school when I’d play Weezer’s “Blue Album” ad nauseum until the tape finally broke.  In my old age, I’ll usually listen to an album once, and then give it time to ferment before revisiting it. With “Setting the Paces”, I just couldn’t find the power to release it from my CD player. Songs like “100 Calorie Man” and “Prince of Tacoma” are just too damn funny and fetching to set aside for a rainy day.

I sing “Prince of Tacoma” around my apartment almost daily at this point, annoying my roommate to no end:

I now find myself questioning whether I should have placed “Setting the Paces” on my “Top 20 Albums of 2009” list. In the year of unemployment and financial instability, Boat’s every-man lyrics of “I’ll go to Citi-Bank to take out a loan”, “We can’t even pay the rent”, and “practice your math so you can pay your bills” seem more appropriate for 2009 than anything that Animal Collective released. Then again, “Setting the Paces” isn’t the work of art that most of my top album choices are.  It’s simply a collection of great songs, which isn’t a bad thing.

Maybe it isn’t a best album contender, but surely the song “Lately (I’ve Been On My Back)” is a “Top Songs” choice. In fact, the song’s jittery guitar riff,  cheery hand claps, and David Crane’s  retro-90s-Stephen Malkmus imitation make it an easy top 5 choice on my list. The dry-humor alone will have you coming back for more. On the surface, lyrics about “nachos” and “Alaska” seem silly, yet you can’t deny the smile crawling across your face.

Enjoy:

Even the album art begs to be considered for my top album covers list, but I digress. In the end, I can’t change a list from the past. Do I dare be the George Lucas of music critics, constantly going back and re-tweaking an old creation? Or do I accept my list as what it is: my opinion at that moment in time and the albums/songs that will always be associated with the highs and lows of that year. I’ll side with the latter.

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Video Clip of the Week: Liars Performing at SXSW 2010

Here’s a video clip I filmed of the Liars performing at SXSW during the Insound day show. “No Barrier Fun” is the perfect haunting melody to listen to on this beautiful National Record Store Day. Now go to your local record store and buy the “Sisterworld”!

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