Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Staff Chats It Up About Music

Hey, we haven't done one of these in a few weeks. It's a beautiful day outside, so we ought to all be in just the mood to tell you what we're playing in the store today, and to have some wacky fun.

Funkadelic, One Nation Under a Groove.

Steve: I remember back in 1976, I was working at the Arena as an usher, and I was told to report for some big concert. I had never heard of Parliament-Funkadelic, or Bootsy's Rubber Band, nor the other two artists whose names I've long since forgotten. Can you imagine how incredibly mind-blowing it would be to see the Mothership Connection tour when you have no idea what to expect from it? This album came out the next year, and it's probably still my favorite Funkadelic record, though several others can give it a good run for its money in my personal hall of fame. Eddie Hazel's fuzz-toned swirly guitar lines, Bernie Worrell's astounding keyboard lines, and the thousand and one vocal lines all blend together into intricate and intoxicating perfect songs. This is pretty much what it feels like to be stoned, and it's all good.

Various Artists, "Afro-Peruvian Classics: The Soul of Black Peru"

Steve: It's hard to believe that nearly 20 years ago, I was enough of an expert in international music to have been called into classrooms to speak on the subject a couple times. My chops are extremely rusty - I've only dabbled now and again in the last fifteen years - but even when I was eating this stuff up, I didn't know anything about Peruvian music outside of the Andean folk tunes most Americans only recognize when I say, you know, like Paul Simon's "El Condor Pasa." This Luaka Bop collection is recognizably from the same country as that - the lilting rhythms and trebly guitar-like instruments are prominent as ever - but there is also a distinctive African flavor mixed in. It's beautiful, and it's funky, and it's hypnotic.

R.E.M., Accelerate

Steve: Alright, everything I said a few weeks back was premature. This record is growing on me, with some fat Peter Buck riffs and zippy-zappy Mike Mills bass lines, not to mention a monster drummer whose name has been told to me at least a dozen times, yet I can't ever remember it. The album clocks in at only 30 minutes, and I'd still cut about twelve from it, but the good stuff is climb-on-a-chair-fist-in-the-air-scream-along-like-you-just-don't-care good.

Jack: I've liked this record from the get go. The last R.E.M. album was a big snooze, and that's a shame because even when they put out a so-so record I usually like at least one or two tracks. Short records are a good thing, and this one is really rockin'. I have loved this band for as long as I can remember. My uncle Wally was obsessed with them when I was growing up, and they will always mean a lot to me. I'll always buy their albums, even if they aren't that good. Luckily, this one is pretty awesome. The closing track, "I'm Gonna DJ", is my favorite. "Death is pretty final / I'm collecting vinyl / I'm gonna DJ at the end of the world." Ever since DJing for Record Store Day I finally caught the itch for wanting music on vinyl. (Honestly, I still don't think the quality is better than what's on a CD, considering that comes directly from the source and doesn't sound fuzzy, but they're great for DJing.) ANYWAY, this album has me excited about R.E.M. again. Hooray!

She & Him, Volume 1

Jen: Steve just went to lunch and Jack and I find ourselves standing around singing all the harmonies on this album like a bunch of total goofballs.

Jack: I can't help it. She sounds so sweet. She sounds like she needs me to snuggle her.

Jen: This is a great summertime album to drive around with...put the windows down, let the wind blow your hair around....

I know Zooey Deschanel has cited the Phil Spector girl group sound as a big influence on this album and the drum sound on "Sweet Darlin'" is so authentically recreated that--if I hadn't known otherwise--I might have thought it was sampled from the Crystals "Then He Kissed Me." I'm sure they had a production budget that most bands would die for.

While Deschanel has a unique and fully formed personality as a singer, I can't help but imagine some of these songs as performed by other vocalists. On "I Thought I Saw Your Face Today," the vocal delivery (and the keyboards...and the drums) remind me so much of Karen Carpenter that I felt compelled to check Wikipedia for Deschanel's birthdate to see if she might indeed be Carpenter's reincarnation. "Take It Back" and "Got Me" would be great material for k.d. lang except for the fact that Deschanel owns these two tunes--and where lang would turn these into way over the top torch songs, Deschanel gives it a lighter interpretation with a perfect country pop twang.

M. Ward provides a feisty guitar solo on "Why Do You Let Me Stay Here." My only complaint about this album is that, while I am a fan of M. Ward, I wish he had stayed a bit more in the background as a musician and singer because Deschanel is really the star here. Mostly he stays out of her way. Kudos to him for the gorgeous and dissonant string arrangement on the closing track "Sweet Darlin'"--it provides a perfect contrast for all this sticky sweet pop music.

We actually had a lot to say about the She & Him album in a previous post as well.

Portishead, Third

Jack: I'm not too familiar with their back catalog, but I'm enjoying the creepiness of this record. The strange percussion and electronic things are pulling me in. This record makes you want to sit around in the dark with it blasting from your stereo. "Machine Gun" stands out the most with electronic beats firing off like bullets into the night air.

Steve: I was never a big fan of the old Portishead sound, though it was a pleasant sensation now and again, especially in the background somewhere. And, I doubt I'll be playing this one on my own, but there are some really cool sections on this record, some shredding sounds over interesting chords, and some tricky rhythmic ideas. I don't hear a single memorable melody out of the vocals, but as long as the rest of the record is holding my attention, that's not the worst thing in the world.

Jen: I'm not sure if it was ever Beth Gibbons' intention to create memorable melodies, though. I always thought that she was far more interested in creating languid, moody atmosphere and soundscapes. Portishead has always delivered on that front. What makes this a remarkable album is that they've creatively updated their sound while retaining what is essential. Comeback of the year!

Matthew Sweet, Sunshine Lies.

Jen: !s-d-r-a-w-k-c-a-B Oh, listen to the first track and you'll know what I'm talkin' about. It's a studio trick, folks!

Steve: I listened to it, but I still had to ask her, because I'm not all that bright. It's backwards spelled backwards.

By the way, still one of the best things about working at a record store is getting excited about new music before it gets released, and this is my favorite solo Matthew Sweet record since Girlfriend. After his teamwork with Susannah Hoffs last year on an album of classic cover material, Sweet sounds invigorated (and chock full of ideas for harmonies). I'm not sure who is playing lead guitar, but whoever it is sounds like he's memorized every lick played by the Beatles, the Byrds, and some other 60s icons who aren't popping into my head, and then figured out how to manipulate them into something fresh.

Jack: Aw, Matthew Sweet always makes me think of sunshine and summer. It's been a while since he's put out a record that isn't full of throw away tracks. I think that covers record might have refreshed his sound.

Jen: This is one of those perfect pop records. I approve.

John Hiatt, Same Old Man

Jen: Hmm...I am a fan, but I only hear a few songs here that I like. A very heavy Bob Dylan influence permeates this material but I'd rather be listening to, well, John Hiatt singing. Two songs sounds perfect for contemporary country radio and I wonder if he'd been shopping the demoes around Nashville before he recorded them for this album. We're listening to an advance copy of Same Old Man which comes out May 27, but I think he'll never top Bring The Family.

Steve: I'm probably even a bigger fan than Jen, as I own fifteen of Hiatt's previous eighteen albums, but I'm just as disappointed with this one. Oh, Hiatt is never less than listenable, but he sounds on auto-pilot a lot of the time here, and the open arrangements without much discernible lead guitar excitement don't do him any favors. There are far worse records in this world, but with all the good new releases coming out in the next few weeks, I fear this one will fall by the wayside.

Elbow, The Seldom Seen Kid.

Steve: I've been listening to these guys for a few years now, an unavoidable fact of life being married to my Elbow-loving wife. That's fine by me, as I would never have fallen in love with this band myself if she hadn't kept on playing them whenever I would be most vulnerable. This new record is chock full of reasons to love them - complex compositions with indelible hooks, majestic synthesizer chords, richly melodic vocals, and intricate rhythm changes. I don't want to make them sound all prog-rock, because at the same time, they've got a heart-on-your-sleeve emotional power that can't be denied.

Jack: I agree with Steve on this record. I've been a fan since I saw them open for Pete Yorn back when I was in high school. Lead vocalist Guy Garvey delivers his beautiful lyrics with the sweet tones of his voice. In fact, I think there's a dark sweetness to all of their albums. I love how this record sounds on the stereo here at Euclid, but they are so many layers to each of their tracks that I always hear more with headphones on. Suggested tracks: "The Bones of You", "Grounds for Divorce", "The Fix". Here's the only song we can think of that they've covered: "Independent Women" by Destiny's Child... as performed by cats...

The Roots, Rising Down.

Steve: I'm definitely liking this. Monstrous grooves courtesy of the tightest live rhythm section working these days - did you see these guys bash out Stephen Colbert's theme song on The Colbert Report a couple weeks back? The weakest link on Roots records in the past has been the rapping, but there seems to be an old school-styled renaissance here, as the rhythms look to the future. Lots of guest stars, including Talib Kweli and Common, as well.

Jack: Don't forget Mos Def! He makes an appearance! When I hear hip hop records for first time I concentrate more on the beats. This album has some amazing percussion.

The Clash, Combat Rock

Jen: I'll probably always pull out my copy of London Calling first, but Combat Rock is an old favorite--and while these were certainly not the first songs that I heard by the Clash, it was the first Clash album that I ever bought. While the references to the Guardian Angels and the film Taxi Driver really date "Red Angel Dragnet" it rocks as hard as anything else on this album. I always loved the more subdued songs (for the Clash, at least) like "Straight To Hell" and "Sean Flynn" too. It's amusing to me now that on the danceable tracks like "Overpowered By Funk" I can hear that this is a band that is experiencing a musical split--one that is soon to spawn Big Audio Dynamite.

Jack: I told Jen I'm glad she put this on because I've never heard the whole record. I'm also glad to hear it because now I know that M.I.A. sampled "Straight to Hell" for her song "Paper Planes" on her most recent album Kala. It's definitely my favorite song on that record, so it's nice to hear exactly where it came from. She just uses a small instrumental section of it looped for her track. It's interesting to hear past the point of that sample. I think maybe I'll appreciate it even more now.

Jen: He's also glad that I put this on because I toyed with the idea of playing Supertramp's Greatest Hits!

Neva Dinova, You May Already Be Dreaming

Jack: This lovely band just released a new record on Saddle Creek a few weeks ago, and you can go see them tonight at The Bluebird when they open for Ladyhawk. Doors at 8, show starts at 9. It's all ages and it's only $10 bucks! Jen and I will be there. Will you?

This record is sweetly mellow, and rather acoustic, though they turn up the guitars around the middle of it. You May Already Be Dreaming is a very beautiful, but sad record. There's a lot pertaining to death in the lyrics. "Squirrels" is the first track that caught my ear because when singing about being underwater, the song suddenly gets filtered to sound as if the band has just been submerged in a pool. These lyrics after they resurface are perfect: "I called you up late at night / I just can't speak when I'm high / I must have been lonely and looking for a friend / I had a great idea but I couldn't find a pen." The rest of the record sunk in after a few listens, and I can't get enough.

Jen: Standout track: "What You Want."

ABBA, Gold

Jen: This selection wasn't my idea. However, I am totally delighted. Actually, the thought occurred to me earlier in the day, but I got distracted by something or other. Jack just mentioned that ABBA is Stephin Merritt's favorite band so we're in good company.

Jack: This was totally my suggestion after Jen joked about putting on Aerosmith. ABBA is a better band that starts with an 'A' than Aerosmith is, even if it was a joke. My mother & her sisters revisited their love of ABBA when I was in middle school, so I've heard these songs a million times and I still love them. Seriously. I think it's good stuff. As far as greatest hits collections go, this is still one of the best. I refuse to go see the musical "Mama Mia". That's just plain wrong.

Jen: I suppose Madonna is in the back of my mind this week since she just released a new album. Otherwise, I don't think I would have noticed how much her early songs rip off ABBA--check out the part in "S.O.S." right before it kicks into the chorus and you'll hear exactly what I'm talking about.

See ya next time folks. We're heading out to the Neva Dinova / Ladyhawk show.

1 comment:

fak3r said...

Awesome post guys, please, more like this! It's talking with you guys in the store that helps me discover the good stuff; having this extra insight is a bonus. Keep on keeping on guys!