Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Music We Play Today

We've taken a couple weeks off from the live-blogging of our musical choices, but Steve Pick, Jack Probst, and Jen Eide are all working today, and we're gonna do it again. Don't forget to come back throughout the day for updates. UPDATE: Hey, Darren Snow showed up this afternoon, and he's in here, too.

John Henry and the Engine, Under the Yellow Moon.

Steve: I'm opening the store today, got no help until noon, so you're gonna get nothing but my opinion for a little while. I discovered this St. Louis band on MySpace last week, and now we've got their debut CD right here in the store. It's a little confusing having two bands in town with such similar names - the other I'm thinking of is Jon Hardy and the Public - but deal with, St. Louis, because they're both good. These guys have a bit of a Springsteen feel, that solid bar band ethic of playing to make you feel good by the end of the night. Breathy vocals, strong tunes, powerful arrangements. They're having a CD release party Saturday night at Off Broadway. Why not check them out?

Van Morrison, Avalon Sunset.

Steve: Can't remember the last time I threw this album on. Despite the fact that it has one of his biggest, if not the biggest, hits of the last thirty years in "Have I Told You Lately," this is not quite a major release from Van the Man. It leans towards the mystical side, but without quite reaching the heights, or even the mid-points, of Astral Weeks. Part of the problem is the cold production values that sounded so clean and digital to the engineers back in 1989. I forget what acoustic guitar brand it is that creates that shimmering yet too bright sound, but it's all over this record. Still, Van was on a pretty solid streak at this time, and was two years away from making one of my all-time fave records, Hymns to the Silence (currently out of print, alas). Avalon Sunset has just been brought back in print, and I guess one of the clearest measures of its status in the Morrison catalog is that we record store workers never realized it was gone the past few years.

Jen: Really all you need is Astral Weeks, and maybe Tupelo Honey and Moondance.

Blind Boy Fuller, East Coast Piedmont Style.

Steve: Despite an interest going back twenty-five years, and a significant amount of time spent reading books and occasionally listening to records, I haven't really absorbed all the different styles and approaches of acoustic blues from the twenties and thirties. I'm reasonably comfortable with the Mississippi Delta stuff, but the Piedmont material hasn't gotten near the attention it deserves. This record is a joy, some truly energetic, rhythmically diverse and melodically rich music. Fuller was a heck of a good singer, too, as well as a guitar player of skill and imagination.

Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, Pershing.

Jen: Hmmm...I like their sound. They somehow remind me a bit of my favorite little known mid-90's Subpop band The Spinanes. They were an anomaly in that scene in that they were really poppy in contrast to all the grunge that was coming out of the label at that time. There's something about the rhythm guitarist and the female vocalist that's bringing them to mind. Ok, and the songwriting and the drumbeats as well...everything is comin' up Spinanes.

Jack: Mmm... fresh indie-pop goodness. I saw these guys open for Peter Bjorn and John at The Pageant last Summer. I remember digging them, but I only listened to the last album a few times and it didn't really stick. This one a bit more memorable. This record is nice, sweet, and short. Jen just asked me where they're from, and it turns out the original members met in high school in good ol' Springfield, MO. I had no idea.

Jen: Hey, they're playing the Bluebird on Monday, April 14th. Could be fun!

Bon Iver, For Emma, Forever Ago.

Jen: Well, I guess it's not fair to trot this album out again, but I just wanted the opportunity to gush about the absolute best show I've seen all year--and for those you who were there I'd love for you to leave your comments. There are very few shows that I attend where I feel personally transformed by the power of a musician's performance. But with the quality of the songs and the intensity of the performance I think that something broke inside of me during this show and for a fleeting half hour I began to feel human again for the first time in eight years. I talked Jack into coming along at the last minute and as we were walking out after the show he said "I am so glad you talked me into coming!"

Jack: She called me "Bubble" when convincing me to go. I can't say no to being called "Bubble". It was a lovely show. There was a few moments where the band brought a bigger sound than what's on the record. It was really beautiful. I'm proud to say I can sing as high pitched as he can.

Steve: Hey, Bubble, can I have $50? Thanks.

Jen: Well, no. But I do have an extra bag of ramen noodles that I could share.

You know, the other remarkable thing about Bon Iver--aside from the music--is that this is one of the few times that you might consider taking the buzz you're hearing into consideration. Justin Vernon did a 500 copy home pressing of For Emma, Forever Ago garnered an amazing amount of attention at the CMJ showcase, parlayed that into a deal with Jagjaguar, and proceded to blow everyone's minds at last month's SXSW. This is an album that I fully expect to be listening to five, ten, fifteen years from now. And I can't really say that's happened for me since The Replacements Pleased to Meet Me, Elliott Smith's Either/Or, Sleater-Kinney's Dig Me Out, or Spoon's Kill The Moonlight.

Jim Lauderdale and the Dream Players, Honey Songs.

Steve: Jim Lauderdale is a pain in the ass to us music writers. The guy has made something like a dozen records over the last twenty years or so, five in the last three years alone, and they're so damn consistently fine that you can't come up with anything to say about them. Oh, sure, one or two might have strictly acoustic instrumentation, and this one finds him accompanied by the likes of James Burton on guitar, Ron Tutt on drums, and Glenn D. Hardin on piano. But, Lauderdale's songs don't ever change - he just comes up with unforgettable hooks in classic country music styles again and again. I did notice while happily driving around with this CD in my car recently that it's hard to pay attention to his lyrics - either he spits them out so fast you can't keep up, or your mind is still dwelling on that brilliant chorus. But, if that's a complaint, I'll complain about some pretty useful talents.

Jen: Very catchy...I'm harmonizing along, though I'm sure my co-workers wish I would shut up.

Steve: Heck no, I only wish Jack would join in on the high parts.

Jen: Well, that first song was fun, but now they've lapsed into slow, bad relationship songs, which are fun when there's a larger than life country superstar's personality behind it. But here it just feels agonizing.

Steve and Jen: Totally irrelevant to the music, but let's send out a happy birthday to Patricia Arquette, who turns 40 today.

Jen: You look fabulous, sweetie!

Love your show!

Head of Femur, Great Plains.

Steve: I used to hate the band Great Plains in the 80s, though I have long since befriended their talented keyboardist and all-around groovy dude, Mark Wyatt. And, they did create one bona fide classic, "Letter to a Fanzine," with its unforgettable musical question, "Why do punk rock guys go out with new wave girls?" That has nothing to do with this record, but that's all I've got in my head right now.

Jack: Head of Femur are from Chicago. I believe Darren once said they were the only band he's ever wanted to punch. They're probably one of my top 20 bands of all time. I love their records. This new one is delivering more of the same sound I love, even though I think they dropped a few members since the last record. I like how they structure their albums by splicing in kind of poppy, quick paced tracks, along with more epic narrative tracks (like "Covered Wagons"). "Jetway Junior" is catchy and "Climbing Up Fire Escapes" is unforgettable.

Darren: They were the *first* band I wanted to punch. A complete list is available; send a self-addressed stamped envelope to AREN'T YOU CUTE! STEP A LITTLE CLOSER, P.O. Box 1212, St. Louis MO 63108.

Steve: It's a damn good time to be a cello player, or any other string player, if you like indie rock. Seems like trumpets are fading (though not completely), while strings are omnipresent.

Jen: Worst.

Anatomical reference.


Nice anatomical drawing, however.

The Breeders, Mountain Battles.

Steve: Hey, who threw me inside an aquarium before putting this record on? And how come I'm not even wet? And why aren't there any melodies in these songs? And what happened to the cymbals on the drummer's kit? And just exactly what is the deal with these Deals, foisting off utter drek like this as a major release after six years of nothing?

Jen: Well, to be fair, Steve's never really liked the Breeders, or the Pixies for that matter. But as much as I like most of these songs I have to agree that the production is awful. I kept hoping that if I turned the volume up it would sound better, but to no avail. Even though it was recorded analog it sounds like they ran it through a computer and stripped all the variation in frequencies out. Which is a shame because Kim Deal has such an interesting voice. But here it just sounds...flat.

Darren: First time I listened to this, I didn't hear anything I thought I needed to hear again. Second time I heard it (without recognizing it when it was put on), I thought it was something I'd heard dozens of times before: the first couple of tracks have that instant-familiarity quality. Still, the songs seem sketchy and unfinished to me. I know that's the Pod style, but I find myself wanting to hear these songs fleshed out to Last Splash proportions. I realize this is the record most of their fans wanted them to make; I can take it or leave it. Incidentally, the Kim Deal piece in the latest Spin is pretty charming. Sobering up and getting some Pixies closure have done her a world of good.

Jen: Actually, it may be worth the trek over to the east side to catch the Breeders at Pop's on May 10 if only to hear what these songs could have sounded like with a decent mix. On the whole, Mountain Battles is not a bad record. If they'd left five songs off of this it would have made a helluva EP. The songs I love remind me of Pod...except the recording sounds like shit.

Love, Forever Changes.

Jen: Ouch! And ick. I thought that this was the Moody Blues when it went on the sound system. Irredeemable. I'm thrilled to be taking my lunch break soon.

Steve: Irredeemable! Damn! Next thing Jen will tell me she hates Bob Dylan! Or Richard Thompson! (Oh, wait, she does. One can never fathom people with good taste and inexplicable blind spots, can one?)

Me, I think this is one of the greatest rock albums in history, not that I'm the only one. I don't always subscribe to Standard Rock Critic Orthodoxy 101, but this is one I have to agree with. And, all those strings and horn players who have been appearing on indie rock records these last couple years have to bow down to Arthur Lee and company for setting the template which current auteurs have been following.

This, by the way, is the 315th reissue of this classic (give or take 305). It sounds absolutely stunning, like the band is hanging right here in the store with us. There's a second disc of an alternate mix, not to mention some outtakes and obscurities, and maybe I'll check that out in a day or two. For now, I'm basking in the glory of the original sounding better than ever.

Jen: My other major blind spot would be the Velvet Underground...just to lose any indie cred I might have had. What can I say, Dylan irritates me, though I love his vocal influence on many, many other artists. If I could wipe out 75% of his career I would. I wouldn't say I hate Richard Thompson--he just bores me to tears--although, I love his cover of Britney Spears' "Ooops, I Did It Again." The song is totally stripped of it's Lolita vibe and has enough old man creepiness to redefine the song in the most ironic of ways. Plus, it has a great Scottish folk guitar breakdown in the middle.

Steve: Hah! The joke's on Jen. She spent so much time writing about hating Bob Dylan and Richard Thompson that she had to hear all of the Love album.

Jack: Aw, Jen... I love you, bubble. I don't care for Dylan, The Rolling Stones, The Velvet Underground (except for "After Hours". That's kind of a sweet song), as well as many other "legendary" bands. I'm sick of Richard Thompson, but I will admit I became fond of a song on the last album, but I can't remember the name of it. I like the Love record, though. Mostly just "Alone Again Or", which I discovered in a Wes Anderson film.

Darren: There's nothing quite like Forever Changes. It's hippy-dippy, it's mildly exotic, it's strangely genteel. It's a 1936 New Yorker article about Mexico read aloud as "found poetry" on open-mic night by a guy in a fringed jacket and granny glasses.

Panther, 14 kt. God

Jack: I took a suggestion from our Sony/BMG rep's page and looked up Panther. The opening track gets me excited about it the rest of the record. Musically, I think they sound a bit like Pinback, but on speed. Lots of fast layered guitar bits. Then you hit a track like "Glamorous War", which is full-on droning with an organ, plus a nice violin bit towards the end. The singer isn't anything too special, though it works for what they're doing. "Take Yr Crane" has them rocking a cello. Nice.

Steve: I remember the 80s. Man, after Talking Heads did Remain in Light, and then King Crimson came along, and of course the Police, everybody was talking out their ass about polyrhythms and funk and experimenting with structure. And some of it was even pretty good. I remember seeing bands at Billie Goat Hill like the Yard-Apes, Be-Vision, and others forgotten to the mists of time (or the Jet Lag archives that one day I'll get around to revisiting). Anyway, these guys don't have the songcraft that made the better bands of that time, nor do they have any sense of production values, but they do have some pretty cool pseudo-funk rhythms and oddball time changes.

Darren: If I recall the '90s correctly, the Samples sorta answered the question: "What if the Police were a jam band?" Well, Panther seems to be answering the question "What if the Samples were an indie-rock band?" This is not an indictment, merely an observation. I'm just trying to put a sound-picture in y'all's heads. Or maybe try this: If you replaced these dudes' weed with coke, they could be !!!

Jesus, I sound high. I have never hated the name !!! as much as I do right now. Love the band, though. The band called !!!. God. Never mind.

Sonny Rollins, Volume Two.

Steve: It's so cool to hear Art Blakey play behind Monk and Rollins on "Misterioso." It's like fire trying to float on water. One of the iconic album covers in all of jazz, yet I'm not overly familiar with this record. Sometimes Monk plays piano, sometimes it's Horace Silver. J.J. Johnson chimes in on trombone sometimes, and Paul Chambers plays bass. Rollins has made more exhilarating records, but this is a solid, all-star session, one of the only ones he did for Blue Note.

The Old Haunts, Poisonous Times.

Jen: I had never heard The Old Haunts before when I went to see them play at The Way Out Club last year. I guess the real draw for me was that ex-Bikini Kill drummer Tobi Vail was in the band. She did not disappoint--she placed a cinder block in her bass drum as an anchor and still kicked the kit halfway across the room. "Volitile," the first track on this album is probably the best, or maybe just the one I've heard the most, but it has a great part with a wordless vocal that I like to whine along with.

Jack: Gosh, Jen, you are being a blog hog! Just teasing... I don't have too much to say other than I am extremely bored. It sure would be nice to have a rush of customers right now. As far as The Old Haunts go, I'd say I dig it. His voice sounds a little bit like Jack White when he gets all screechy and whiny, except this guy doesn't annoy me at all.

Dark Meat, Universal Indian.

Jack: Can't go wrong with a band that has a song called "Well Fuck You Then." Speaking of that, I found a CD wrapper in the racks. Obviously someone ripped us off. It happened to have the barcode on it, so I looked it up to see that they swiped a live Phish CD. Don't those damn pseudo-hippie frat boys have enough money to buy their dumb Phish CDs? Well, fuck you then.

Jen: comes the review....

Darren: Mudhoney, dressed as pirates, get a Salvation Army band really pissed off, and together they go on a rampage of rock 'n' roll destruction!

The Teenagers, Reality Check.

Jack: Okay, I swear in the next two days that I have off that I will finish my review for The Teenagers record. It's my favorite record to play in the store after about 6 p.m. and the review is half done on my home computer. Look for it soon. This is making the last hour here go by so much faster. I've been drooling over the Lollapalooza lineup all week and I was crossing my fingers for them to play there. There's still time for them to sign on! Hot Chip would be nice, too!

Jen: Great album to drive to with the windows rolled down! Time to close up shop...see you next time!


Bry said...

Hey, Euclid! Love the group blog--thanks to Steve for mentioning it so we could likewise mention it in the April St. Louis Magazine. Otherwise, apropos of nothing, I wish it was payday, but I'll settle for Friday.


Patrick A said...

Jack and Jen don't know much do they? Bashing Dylan, Velvet Underground, the Stones, and the brilliant Richard Thompson. What music do they like, huh? Bullshit probably. If they like anything influenced by the five I mentioned before, they're even bigger idiots. Get some taste.

jackieboy said...

come say that to my face instead of hiding behind the internet.