Archive | September, 2011

Day 204: James Brown – Live at the Apollo

20 Sep

I’ll Go Crazy

When I saw that my dad picked a live record for this week’s Dad-Rock Tuesday, I admit that I was a little skeptical.  In order to appreciate a live recording, one usually needs to be a fan of the band, as well as the material being played.  I know that the Hold Steady’s A Positive Rage would sound awful to an ear unfamiliar with Craig Finn’s “singing,” And I couldn’t possibly imagine listening to a live White Stripes record without knowing that Meg White is supposed to be bad at playing her instrument.

Then he told me that it’s just over half an hour in length, and I stopped worrying.  Brown’s Live at the Apollo is apparently an iconic and important record anyway.

Not that I’m basing this off of something factual or anything—this is Swole Ear after all— but this record may be considered “great” because Brown is showcased in his natural habitat—the stage.  Even though I haven’t heard a full studio album by the guy, I’m well aware of his legendary live performances.  This record almost places you in Harlem that night in 1962.  Brown is always improvising and interacting with the crowd, it’s easy to hear why his live shows are loved.

The key word there is “almost.”  Live at the Apollo has the same problem that pretty much every live record has: concert recordings cannot duplicate the concert experience.  What was it that James Brown did that led to the sudden collective scream of approval from the audience?  How great was the anticipation of the crowd, who possibly had been waiting weeks for the show?  Something is lost when a concert is only listened to after the fact.

Day 203: Interpol – Turn on the Bright Lights

19 Sep

Obstacle 1

Gaps. We’ve all got them.  Sometimes, it’s because we were out of the country for a few months.  Perhaps we were in a coma for a year or two.  Personally, my musical gap spans from the beginning of time to 2008, the year that I first really got into music.  That’s a big reason that I started this blog; I couldn’t hold a music-related conversation that went outside late 00’s buzz bands and The White Stripes. That’s a pretty big problem for someone who considers himself a fan of music.  The Swole has helped with the gap, but it’s also taught me that I’m fighting an unwinnable battle.  I can’t listen to it all, no matter how hard I try, and I’d say that I’ve been trying pretty hard.

There are some spots in my gap far more glaring than others, though.  For example, a beloved indie rock record from the early 21st Century gets a higher priority than all of the afro-dub-acid-house that I’ve missed out on.

So why it has taken more than 200 days to get around to Interpol’s Turn on the Bright Lights, I couldn’t tell you.  What I can tell you, however, is that this record is fairly overrated, and possibly seen through a glowing aura of nostalgia by its fans.

Bright Lights is never bad.  Its biggest issue is that it’s never good.  This may be partially due to the fact that I’m listening to it ten years later and completely out of context, but that can’t possibly explain all of the blasé.  The White Stripes and The Strokes, bands of the same era, still sound great today.  I have a nagging suspicion that Interpol’s generic indie rock has always been boring.

Day 202: Foster the People – Torches

18 Sep

Pumped Up Kicks

Live shows are extremely important for small bands.  If an up and coming group can’t hold its own live, then it won’t last another month.  Conversely, if a band with bad studio material puts on a fun show, they may be able to find some success (see Best Coast).  But once a band gets past a certain level of notoriety, all of that goes out the window.  Foster the People have gotten so big, so quickly, that the fairly boring concert that I saw them put on at Lollapalooza has done nothing to deter their rise to the indie top.

All I had heard of Foster the People before I saw them at Lolla was their massive single, Pumped Up Kicks.  I thought the song was good enough, but not nearly as innovative as everyone else seemed to think.  There’s no denying that it’s catchy, though, so I decided to give their live show a try.  What happened next is why, no matter how good an LP Torches may or may not be, I will never be a fan of Foster the People.

Their midday set on a side stage was one of the most lackluster performances I have ever seen.  The guys just seemed bored up there, and quite possibly extremely hung over.  Listening to Torches brought me straight back to that moment.  I just can’t find anything good about this generic indie pop, as all I can think about is that terribly unenthusiastic show, and how annoying it was to be sweating profusely and dying of dehydration, all to see a band that obviously didn’t care about me.

Foster the People don’t need to care about me anymore.  That show was absolutely packed.  They’ve established a fan base, and for the time being there will always be a million other people who want to see them play.  Good for them, I guess.

Day 201: First Aid Kit – The Big Black & The Blue

17 Sep

Heavy Storm

In a manner fitting for the day after 200, Jack White Week will go out with a whimper.  The big 201 sees us listening to First Aid Kit, a calm folky duo from Sweden.

But, Mr. Ear, what does this group have to do with Jack White?  This is White Week, after all.

Well, I’ll tell you.  According to my best friend the Internet, after a Nashville show last year, Jack approached the duo and asked them to record a couple of songs for his label’s single series. I really have run out of Jack White music to listen to.

So no, there is no insane distorted guitar or screechy falsetto on this record.  In fact, Jack had absolutely nothing to do with this piece, but I’ve got to listen to something.

And here’s what it boils down to: this music is not for me.  Yes, there were a couple of tracks that had me nodding my head and twisting my metaphorical ankle-length skirt with the beat, but for most of this record, I was closer to nodding off than anything.

I don’t blame the music.  I understand why some could call this beautiful.    This is just a case of personal preference, and I prefer stuff that’s a little heavier.  If I’m going to listen to folk music, I still need it to be suffixed with “punk.”  But, by all means, if you consider yourself a fan of the genre, then this is a record for you.  Even I could get behind the delicate harmonies in Ghost Town and Heavy Storm.

Day 200: Dolly Parton – Jolene

16 Sep


Anyone familiar with Jack White knows that Jolene is an obvious choice for both White Week and Swole Ear’s 200th album.  A staple of The White Stripe’s live performances, Jack’s rendition of the heartbreaking title track is one of the greatest live performances in history.  White’s version is so good, in fact, that I always find the Parton version a bit disappointing.  Its tempo is too fast, and Dolly just doesn’t put as much into it as Jack.

The rest of this record follows suit.  I just can’t get into Jolene as a whole.  Yes, part of that is due to my dislike of the vast majority of cliché country music, but there’s something else going on here.

After listening to the album, I find myself tempted to give Dolly Parton the same advice that I gave to Bethany Cosetino of Best Coast.  Don’t let dudes control your life!  From the title track, where she begs a prettier woman to stay away from her man, to Highlight of My Life, which is about exactly what you’re thinking, nearly every song is about Parton’s doomed relationships, heartache, and even more obnoxiously, the stories where love actually works out in the end.

However, I must say that for a cliché country record, the instrumentation is about as good as you can get.  There’s plenty of good ol’ twangy guitar, both acoustic and steel. That stuff is irresistible regardless of your musical preferences.

Unfortunately, there just isn’t enough redeeming about the record for me to give it another listen.  The fact that I Will Always Love You is on it certainly doesn’t help its cause.  I’m glad that I gave it a listen, though—this is an important piece of Jack White-lore.

Day 199: The Go – Whatcha Doin’

15 Sep

Suzy Don’t Leave

I did it!  I successfully tracked down some Jack White guitar work that I haven’t heard before!  White Week will not be a (total) loss after all!

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any good Jack White music that I haven’t previously listened to, but beggars can’t be choosers.

Before The White Stripes (right before—this record came out in 1999, the same year as TWS’ debut) Jack White was the lead guitarist in a band called The Go.  As far as I can tell, this is the only record of theirs that he played on—he must have said to himself “I am capable of so much more than this.  I’ll prove it by starting a two-person band.  Where my wife, who has never so much as looked at a hi-hat before, will play the drums.”  And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how America’s greatest duo came to be.  Maybe.

Anyway, the one redeeming thing about this mostly-lame knockoff ’60s rock is—you guessed it—White’s work on the guitar.  This man can shred.  But for some reason, in a move as obnoxious as the group’s name, they decided to rarely let Jack go crazy.

The Go’s music almost sounds like a prelude to The Raconteurs, a later band of Jack’s.  Both are much more classic-rock-minded than TWS, and I even hear a little Brendan Benson in the lead singer.  Fortunately, The Raconteurs utilize Jack’s abilities, and as a result, haven’t faded into greater obscurity.  Yes, I know that those guys came around well after Jack White achieved stardom, but I’m trying to make a point here.

Day 198: Karen Elson – The Ghost Who Walks

14 Sep

Cruel Summer

With Day 200 getting uncomfortably close, White Week will keep on truckin’.  Today, I gave the Jack White drummed, produced, and released The Ghost Who Walks a listen.  Sure, the album technically belongs to his now ex-wife, but there’s a ton of Jack all over it.

Karen Elson tried to escape the shadow cast by her former husband on this record, she really did—I give her props for that.  Unfortunately for Ms. Elson, when it comes to music, Jack White’s shadow is ever-expanding in every direction.  When he’s going to drum on, produce, and above all, be married to the actual artist on a record, it’s impossible to look at it as just another TMR release.

I’ve got to admit, though, this is a pretty cool album.  When singing, Elson loses her British accent completely, which leaves her sounding almost like a country singer.  They took advantage of that, as fiddles and country guitar can be heard all over this record.  It’s not country to the point of Loretta Lynn’s also Jack-produced Van Lear Rose, but it gets close.  Cruel Summer, for example, would only be out of place on country radio because country radio is absolutely terrible.

This record proves that Karen Elson’s got talent.  She can write decent lyrics, and I think it’s her on guitar as well for the most part.  Now that she’s divorced, I’d love to see her put out an album that’s not on Jack White’s label.  I doubt that she’d be able to completely escape skepticism caused by that marriage, but it’d help her image just a bit if White’s good-but-unnecessary drum fills weren’t happening every other second.

Day 197: ZZ Top – Degüello

13 Sep

I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide

“Given that Jack featured a custom white Billy Gibbons/Bo Diddley signature Gretsch Jupiter Thunderbird guitar in the Another Way to Die video, I will assign you an album by Billy Gibbons’ band, ZZ Top.  I hope you enjoy Deguello.”

Seriously, dad?  That’s the best you can do?  I know you said you were going to have to play six degrees of Jack White when deciding on this week’s record for Dad-Rock Tuesday, but this seems like a pretty big stretch.

You’re the boss, though.  So today, for Day 3 of White Week, I’ll be listening to a record by ZZ Top.  Yeah, those guys with the 5-foot beards who have been around longer than Dinosaurs.

I was guaranteed to like this record from the start because I’m a huge sucker for blues-rock in any form.  Seriously, I like all of it.  My problem is that I can’t tell the good stuff from the bad stuff.  If there’s some intriguing distorted guitars and typical bluesy lyrics, chances are that I’ll be hooked.  There’s a reason I’m a huge fan of Jack White.

Regardless, I’m pretty sure that Degüello is a solid record.  As goofy as ZZ Top may seem externally, I’ve always found that I enjoy their music.  It’s as standard as blues-rock gets, but that’s right down my alley.  With lyrics about hookups and breakups, guns and cars, this is about as much as one can ask for out of an album like this.  I just wish that I understood the artwork.  I think the music factory had an Iron Maiden overstock or something.

Day 196: The Von Bondies – Lack of Communication

12 Sep

Nite Train

Jack White Week rolls on, and we will be examining The Von Bondies’ Lack of Communication today.  As far as I can tell, White didn’t actually play on this record, but I don’t have many other options—I really have listened to almost everything that he has played on.  Plus, with Jack on production, this record sounds pretty close to a lost work by The White Stripes.

As any good fan knows, Jack White has a lot of history with The Von Bondies, specifically with front man Jason Stollsteimer.  While the exact story isn’t crystal clear, here’s what I’ve pieced together.  Both rock bands in Detroit that formed within a couple of years of each other, The White Stripes and The Von Bondies were bound to cross paths a few times.  The White Stripes got a little bigger a little faster, but the groups became friendly.  The Bondies opened a few shows for The Stripes, and Jack even produced some of their music.  Then, at a release party in 2003, Jack and Jason got in a little fight.  Things got messy, Jason pressed charges, and Mr. White had to attend a series of anger management classes.  It’s safe to assume that the guys aren’t friends any longer.

The Jack White-produced Lack of Communication shows us what could have been.  It actually sounds a lot like an early White Stripes record, almost like a hybrid of their self-titled debut and De StijlLack of Communication is gritty, mysterious, but somehow maintains a great deal of catchiness.  I could have sworn that Jack was providing vocals after first listening to a few tracks, but it’s not him.  Without him on production, though, who knows what this would have ended up sounding like.

Perhaps this is just a fan lamenting the loss of his once-favorite band.  While this record may sound like The White Stripes, it’s not.  The drumming is too…rhythmic, and there’s a bass player. While this is okay as a substitute, nothing replaces the real thing.  I’m going to listen to White Blood Cells now.

Day 195: Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi – Rome

11 Sep

Two Against One

As Day 200 draws closer and closer, I’ve decided to declare the next seven days White Week!  But don’t go running for your hooded robes and wooden crosses, you racist. This week belongs to Jack White, the insanely talented former guitarist of The White Stripes, I hope the former drummer of mediocre The Dead Weather, and quite possibly the current guitarist of The Raconteurs.  Jack White has been a prominent name in the music industry for over a decade now.  The only problem is that as a fairly obsessive fan of his, I’ve heard nearly everything that he’s ever released.  This week will feature the few recordings (albums only, of course) that I have yet to hear by him, as well as some LPs that he has produced.  I’ve informed my father of the theme for this week, and as a Jack White fan himself, I’m sure he’ll have an idea for Dad-Rock Tuesday.

For an album “starring” Jack White, there sure isn’t all that much Jack White in Rome.  That’s all good in my book, though.  This record’s strange concept and surprising listenability make up for the lack of Jack.

Rome is a soundtrack to a nonexistent movie. It pays homage to spaghetti westerns of the ’60s, and heavily features chanting by the reunited The Good, the Bad and the Ugly choir.  Without lyrics for most of its 35 minutes, Rome really does sounds like it should accompany a film.  It creates a serene and eerie atmosphere, which is only exacerbated when Jack White and Norah Jones make their limited appearances.

While this definitely isn’t how I envisioned opening up White Week, I still thoroughly enjoyed this album.  Rome sounds nothing like Jack White’s trademarked brand of gritty garage-blues-rock, but I’ll admit, it’s a really cool idea that is executed well.  It would have been nice to hear Jack on guitar at some point in the record, though.