Archive | December, 2011

Day 296: Digitalism – I Love You, Dude

21 Dec

Blitz

If you are reading this blog and you are under the age of 25 (believe it or not, there are a few of you in that demographic out there), you will love this record.  Old people, you’ve already flamed this type of music to hell and back, so feel free to return to your oatmeal, while I write about the crap that the kids listen to these days.  Look! I think I see some hooligans on your lawn who you should probably go yell at.

Let’s face it, deep, deep down, we all kind of like dubstep.  And I don’t mean good dubstep, I mean brostep—the stuff with YouTube comments that go to disgusting lengths just to describe how “filthy” the music is.  Many of us realize how awful that stuff is—it’s completely devoid of any soul, creativity and ingenuity—and we choose to ignore it, or rage against it.  But, we’ve got to turn to something to help slake that inner desire for insane amounts of bass, catchiness, and “epicness.”  What do we do?  We put on some European house music!

See, for some reason, this stuff is accepted as real music in our snobby little community.  Sure, it’s got more substance than the latest UKFDubstep remix, but let’s be honest with ourselves, not that much more.  It’s got dat bass, though.  So go ahead and listen to this crap—I know that I will—just take yourself off of your high horse.  You’re not that much better than the average Natty-toting, weed-smoking bro king.

Who cares, though?  By god, is this stuff hard to turn off.  And as long as this isn’t all that you listen to, as long as you’ve got music in your library with some meaning, Digitalism is fine in moderation.  Just remember one thing when you’re listening to it: you are not better than anyone else.

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Day 295: Elton John – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

20 Dec

Bennie and the Jets

Thank god that the double album is pretty much extinct. While I am still not sure exactly where these things fall on the Swole Spectrum (technically, I should probably split ‘em up over two days), I rarely ever listen to them.  I don’t voluntarily pick that much old music—I usually leave the history lessons on here to my father.  And he only gets one pick a week, and he’s been pretty good with avoiding double albums.

Nobody’s perfect, though.

This Dad Rock Tuesday, I’ve been listening to Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road for what feels like forever.  Yeah, it’s only an hour and sixteen minutes, but it feels like it’s been an eternity.

That’s not to say that this (double) album isn’t good—there are plenty of tracks on here that I love, and a few that I already know—but really, who needs seventeen Elton John songs in a row?  I don’t care if the dude’s been knighted, every artist starts to get boring after that long.

It is kind of hard for me to hate on this record, though. I’ve been listening to songs like “Benny and the Jets” and “Saturday Night’s All Right For Fighting” since preschool, literally.  These songs harken back to car rides with the Elton John version of  The Lion King soundtrack playing.  Nostalgia blindness, perhaps, but whatcha gonna do?

So yeah, I am pretty bored, but I figure that I owe it to the man.  Plus, it’s not like I have homework to do or anything.

Day 294: The Rural Alberta Advantage – Departing

19 Dec

Stamp

Man, I love these guys.   I was just thinking about how good Hometowns is today, when my mom gave me this record as a Hanukkah present.  No, Hanukkah doesn’t start until tomorrow, but I am never one to turn down a gift, so I hope y’all are okay with me putting aside the suggestions for a day because I really wanted to listen to this record.  And if you’re not okay with that, let’s just say that I won’t lose too much sleep over it tonight.

This time around, I wasted no time when getting into RAA’s sound.  When I listened to Hometowns back in April, I was a little apprehensive about frontman Nils Edenloff’s vocals.  They’re weird as hell, but somehow awesome.  I don’t know how I didn’t make the comparison to Jeff Mangum eight months ago, but that doesn’t even matter because I’m making it now.  I’ll even go as far as to say that there are a few tracks on here that sound a tad like Neutral Milk Hotel.  Granted, these songs are the slower RAA tracks, and would still be a little upbeat for NMH, but the similarity is there nonetheless.

There’s also much to be said in favor of a relatively short record, too.  I love it when a band can do what they need to do in a timely manner, especially with my whole “listening to an album every day” thing.  The RAA get in, get the job done, and leave you satisfied and smiling in just 32.8 minutes, according to the bottom of my iTunes window.  Mad props for that.

Day 293: The Giving Tree Band – The Joke, The Threat, & The Obvious

18 Dec

Eventually

When a recommendation for a group that goes by the name of “The Giving Tree Band” showed up in my inbox, I’ll admit that I cringed a little bit. Naming your band “The Giving Tree” would be one thing, but that “Band” tacked on at the end exudes a little more cheesiness and self-awareness than can possibly be healthy. The record titles didn’t help either, as I decided to go with The Joke, The Threat, & The Obvious purely because it was the most recently released.

Let’s just say, I’m glad when I misjudge stuff.  Don’t let the awful name fool you, The Giving Tree Band (lord, does that hurt to type out), puts together some pretty solid music.  If you don’t like bluegrass, stay away, because that is exactly what you’ll be getting out of these guys.  With some good ol’ fiddles, banjos, and general redneckery, you’d never guess that TGTB is from a town about an hour away from Chicago.  Let’s be honest, though, anything about 50+ miles south of the Windy City might as well be deep in Dixieland.

I think I’m coming off as a little mean, and as just a bit of a hater with this post—that is not at all my intention. This band isn’t making it easy on me.  That name is so bad.  But I’m a big boy (so they tell me), and I’m going to move past it.  The truth is that I loved pretty much every bit of this record.  It’s far enough outside of what I usually listen to to intrigue me, but still close enough in proximity to Wilco to keep me happy.  So if you’re looking for some solid, local folk, check out (ugh) The Giving Tree Band.

Day 292: Parenthetical Girls – Entanglements

17 Dec

Unmentionables

Historically, Los Campesinos! have pulled some good openers for their tours.  From Johnny Forenigner to Titus Andronicus, at some point, LC! often show their love of fine music through their selection of supporting acts—even the one proper show of theirs that I’ve been to featured the eternally awesome Cymbals Eat Guitars.

It’s been announced that the upcoming Los Campesinos! U.S. tour will feature support from Portland-based Parenthetical Girls, one of those bands that the group always tweets at, but that I’ve never gotten around to listening to.  Considering LC!’s track record with openers, I had some very high expectations.

Now, after listening to Parenthetical’s Entanglements one and a half times, I don’t know exactly what to think.  Well, I kind of know what to think; I know that I definitely like them less than pretty much every opener that LC! has had before.

Once again, we have a band that I should like, and I definitely would like, if it weren’t for some obnoxious vocals.  Zac Pennington cannot sing.  His whiney and wavery voice is hard on my ears.  I will admit, though, three quarters of the way through this second listen, the obnoxiousness is beginning to grow on me.

Instrumentaly, this band is definitely sound.  With plenty of violins, cellos, and other wooden things that I have absolutely no hope of ever learning, they create a cool sound that goes well with the dark and dreary piano that frequents this album.  The occasional horn or two adds another layer of sophistication, as you definitely feel classy while listening to these guys.

So, you’ve just seen me completely change my mind about a record mid-post.  Don’t think of it as laziness on my part, think of it as an insight into the workings of the brain.  This is science, people. Now, where’s my grant money?

Day 291: Curtis Mayfield – Curtis

16 Dec

Move On Up

The very first thing that I noticed about Curtis Mayfield’s debut album, the actual first thing, is that some of the songs sound like they could easily be the source material in a few good Justice tracks.  It’s weird how this stuff loops around—Cu was recommended to me because I was listening to too many Justice rip offs, and this music sounds like Justice itself could have ripped it off.  You start to notice things after getting home from a Wilco concert at 1 in the morning.

While I typically think of disco music when discussing Justice samples, this is most definitely a soul album.  I know this because I can listen to it while maintaining a straight face and not feeling like a terrible, disco-listening human being.  Epic, fast-paced horns abound, over the typical soul thing that goes wah-wah-wah-wah really quickly.  I have no idea what instrument that is, but you know what I’m talking about. What I’m saying is that it’s all catchy, but it’s also got substance.

When I say it’s all catchy, I don’t mean that the whole record is catchy.  The catchy songs are really catchy.  You know what I’m saying.   Pretty much every track has some social commentary, and some songs revolve solely around Mayfield’s politics.  Those ones are considerably less catchy.  They’re still cool, though, because they give all kinds of insight into racial disparities and whatnot.  It’s late, though, and I really want to go to bed, so I’m not going to delve too far into those tonight.

Day 290: Zola Jesus – The Spoils

15 Dec

Clay Bodies

Sometimes, a record just makes you say “ew.”  It’s time for some brutal honesty: there is absolutely nothing appealing about Zola Jesus’ The Spoils.

I understand why people like it, though.  When you separate all of the different elements of this Frankenstein of a record, there are good qualities.  On paper, this record should work.  It has distorted, unconventional vocals, a fuzzy buzzy vibe, and a whole ton of reverb.  However, when everything comes together, the result is something that actually made me throw my headphones off in frustration.  And as much as I like unusual singers, I think it’s Zola Jesus’ voice that did it.

The vocals are kind of hard to describe.  They’re hidden behind tons of layers of echo and distortion, but they’re still what this album is centered around.  I think the main problem is that they sound really whiney.  I also don’t think that Zola Jesus is the world’s best singer. This wouldn’t even be a problem if she didn’t think she was a good singer—she tries to hit all these pitches that she just can’t reach, and holds eardrum-rupturing notes for way too long.

It’s a shame, because with different vocals, this is something that I could really get behind.  In fact, I kind of already have.  I couldn’t help but think of EMA’s Past Life Martyred Saints when listening to The Spoils, and the records do have their similarities.  Both are dark, distorted, electronic projects led by women with mysterious and personal lyrics.  However, Erika Anderson of EMA doesn’t really sing.  Instead, she just kind of talks at you, and it works really well.

Day 289: Iggy Pop – Lust for Life

14 Dec

Some Weird Sin

Wait, what?  I’m confused.  I’m still not entirely sure of what I just listened to.  This is a record by Iggy Pop, the guy from The Stooges.  That’s the band that I listened to way back in June, that one that I absolutely couldn’t stand.  If I remember correctly, which I by no means guarantee, Fun House is a fairly average and boring straight-up punk rock record.  I didn’t take very kindly to it, and approached this Iggy Pop solo effort with caution.  The recommendation was even suffixed with “nothing like The Stooges,” but I was still fairly apprehensive.  I really shouldn’t have been.

Lust for Life really is nothing like Fun House.  While Iggy Pop’s love for punk music is still evident, it’s not nearly the dominating force that it is on The Stooges’ work to which I’ve been exposed.  In fact, Iggy plays around with a whole bunch of genres throughout the album—at one point, I’m pretty sure he even kind of gives soul a try.

Often, records that bounce all over the place musically just don’t work—It can be hard for bands and artists to really dive in and get deep into their own style if they keep jumping around from sound to sound.  However, with Lust for Life, Iggy proves that the good record with inconsistent and differing sounds is not completely impossible to pull off.  I just have one thing to point out: whether it’s Iggy Pop or Jack White, songs about sixteen-year-old girls are creepy.

Day 288: James Taylor – Sweet Baby James

13 Dec

Fire and Rain

In a week filled with much Wilco, I understand why I’ve been assigned a James Taylor record for Dad Rock Tuesday (Wednesday).  Also, I should apologize for the delay in getting this post up.  Sometimes life hits you hard, colleges slap you in the face, and all you want to do is mope around (and go to a Wilco concert) for a few hours.  I’m done moping, though, partially due to that Wilco show.  The setlist may help you understand why.

Anyway, I was in the process of comparing some Wilco stuff to this James Taylor record.  Lets continue in that direction.

Over Wilco’s seventeen years in existence, they’ve gone through quite a few different sounds.  From pure alt-country to straight indie rock, and now even featuring a little artsy-fartsy avant garde-y goofiness, a whole slew of bands can be compared to those guys in different eras.  However, it is my belief that every DRT pick has a reason behind it, so perhaps with a little bias on my part, I hear straight-up early WIlco out of James Taylor.  Which means that it’s quite possible that Wilco is emulating James Taylor in their music.

However, there’s no doubt that this is a country record.  I mean, the dude covers “Oh Susannah,” and it’s really freaking good. Steel guitars and depressing lyrics abound, as this is the type of album that makes me like country music.  If only the stuff on the radio sounded like this. And didn’t bring up Jesus in every other line.

Day 287: Nick Lowe – Jesus of Cool

12 Dec

Little Hitler

Any Chicagoan who is into good music has been looking forward to this week for a long time.  Tonight marks the first of Wilco’s series of five hometown shows at increasingly smaller venues, and it’s going to be a blast.  I’ll be at three of them, including tonight’s at Chicago’s Civic Opera House.  Yeah, it’s gonna be sweet.  It doesn’t even matter that the fam and I will be up in the nosebleeds (effing Ticketmaster), because the other two shows are GA.

I’m going to try to stop writing about Wilco now, though.  Nick Lowe—he’s the opener tonight—has some pretty good music himself.  I decided to go with his first album (1978’s Jesus of Cool) partially because of that really arrogant title, and also because the track list includes a song called “Little Hitler.”  Hey, that’s more than I usually base my decisions on.

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting a half-hour commentary on corporate music from this record.  We all know Nick Lowe as the guy who plays “Cruel to be Kind,” so I was definitely prepared for some more catchy tracks in that same poppy style.  This is cool too, though. “Music for Money,” the albums opener, should be pretty self-explanatory. “Shake and Pop” is an extremely catchy pop song complaining about extremely catchy pop songs, and “I Love My Label” may be a sarcastic track, I couldn’t really tell.

Anyway, in summation, HOLY CRAP, I’M SEEING WILCO TONIGHT. AND TOMORROW.  AND THEN AGAIN ON FRIDAY.