Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Wilderness - (k)no(w)here


Andrew at Skyscraper asked me to interview Wilderness for one of my first features there. I was pretty intent on not fucking it up, but wasn't really helped by the three pages of responses, all typed in lower case mind you, that I received back from singer James Johnson. The band is nothing if not enigmatic, playing together for half a decade before recording anything for release and spending equal time trying to foster an arts community in Charm City. Wading through the text, the Lungfish comparisons began to seem more and more appropriate. Wilderness is a band that sees things in a particularly skewed mindset. I managed to carve a pretty good piece of the whole thing, if I do say do myself. A couple of months later they were playing a rare live date in town, so I called in a marker at Jagjaguwar and was pretty excited to finally see them.

It took quite a bit of negotiation to get me into their show at Bowery, considerably more than I normally would have to go through for a band of their stature. They were opening for some band called Explosions In The Sky and it didn't really seem like such a big deal. I saw Wilderness play an amazing set, highlighted by James Johnson robot dancing through the duration. I was intrigued, as was the woman to my left who was two kinds of hot but sadly five times of crazy. There was a look in her eye I've rarely seen this side of my bedroom; a look that did not bode well for James having a quiet evening after the show. They were (and are) very P/i/L, most obviously in Johnson's vocals, but very much also in the the clean guitar and dubby bass. Wilderness do the quiet/loud thing as well as Codeine did in their prime. I left even more of a fan, three songs into the decidedly unexciting Explosions set. I later came to find out the level of adulation our friends from Texas evoke, but even armed with that knowledge and a cursory perusal of their back catalogue, I'm pretty underwhelmed by EITS. So sue me.

Navigating the Wilderness website is as daunting as trying to understand the song lyrics. Johnson has strong ties to the Baltimore arts scene, co-owning local Bonsai Artransport and showing at Maryland Art Place, among other spaces. He's also responsible for the bizarre art pastiche that is the Wilderness web pages and album art. I'm not in anyway shape or form able to describe it, hell-- I'm not even sure if I like it, but check it out here and get back to me. The band's most recent release is a collaboration with artist Charles Long that was actually performed as part of this year's Whitney Biennial. Initially conceived as a single piece, the composition has been subdivided into eight parts for easier consumption and entitled (k)no(w)here for it's release on Jagjaguwar.

Dropping the laser, it seems like nothing much has changed for the band sonically. There is an infectious swagger to the songs that keeps you hooked even when the vocals get grating. Johnson is a well-known dub and dancehall aficionado and that sensibility informs much of their music. It's relentlessly rhythmic and ever-morphing as it wends its way towards its end. There is some break from convention in that Johnson shares vocals with guitarist Colin McCann, himself a JagJaguwar artist with his THE LORD DOG BIRD project. It doesn't change things radically, but adds another interesting dimension to the bands ever-morphing sound. I'd pick it up if I were you. (k)no(w)here comes out November 4th, buy it here and thank me later.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Live: Off With Their Heads, For Science, Measure (SA), Virgins, Monikers @ Tommy's Tavern 9.28.8


It's always a pleasure to be so cynical, yet so optimistic. I looked at the flyer for this show, and figured: ok, 8pm doors on a Sunday, there's no possible way I could show up at ten and still see the first band, right? Well, I was correct, but I didn't really expect to see The Monikers on when I rolled into Tommy's Tavern. I did see them, and they were absolutely great. It didn't hurt that the lovely (and fabulous smelling, incidentally) Hallie Unlovable danced in front of me the whole set. It did, however, beg the question as to what the fucking order of the bands would be, as it sure didn't seem to be as advertised.

A quick check of the bike and a run-in with the awesome Sarah Evers later. I posted up to see who would be up next. As luck would have it, it was The Measure (SA), whose most recent release you may have read about recently. If it was ever in dispute that I am a lecherous old man, it was definitely asserted by the presence of Lauren Measure and that cut-off Radon t-shirt she insists on torturing me with. Blame Hallie for fanning the flames. Oh, and the music was good, too. The sound could have been better, and the second guitar player could spend less time jumping around like it was a Gorilla Biscuits show in '88 (don't get me started on the neck tattoos) but they put on a good show. It was kind of hard to hear what they actually played, but they were definitely fan favorites. I'd like to actually hear them next time.

The bill now seemed to be upended definitively, as For Science were up next. While they seem like decent people, and the presence of various Ergs, Steinways, Unlovables, etc. seemed to speak to them being well-liked, but I was just as underwhelmed with them the fourth time as I was the first. It may be the fact that they have a singer who just sings. There is no reason why that should occur in this century. I will give a pass to Pink Eyes from Fucked Up!, but unless you are David Lee Roth, learn an instrument. No reason why these guys should be playing right before the headliner, unless they booked the show. Even then, it's a hard sell. The boys just aren't all that exciting, especially at midnight on a Sunday. Jim Testa seemed to agree, as he made me envious by sleeping through their entire set. I only wish I had grabbed that chair first.

Finally, after clearing the entire backline and taking forever to set up, Off With Their Heads took the floor. Immediately, the room turned into a maelstrom of the unwashed. It's fun to watch, but somewhat less appealing from an olfactory point of view. I could also quibble about the twenty-five minute set, but there was very little in the way of banter, and we did get a pretty decent cross-section of songs. Zack Rivethead is on guitar for this tour. He certainly hasn't gotten any worse on the old Les Paul. If this show was any indication. I'm pretty excited to see the Dear Landlord/OWTH dates in November.

I'm exhausted, so no Silent Barn for me tonight, but I should be out for Monikers/Virgins/Get Bent show tomorrow. Click the appropriate links for more info.

See you at the rock show!

R

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Bridge And Tunnel - East/West


I love No Idea Records. They sign solid bands and seem to be straight up good people, plus The Fest is regularly becoming the Fall punk rock mixer for the in-crowd. I wish I was going this year. Speaking totally out of my ass, Bridge and Tunnel mark the first No Idea signing North of the Mason-Dixon line. They are from Long Island, co-ed, and feature an ex-Latterman dude, although it seems a pretty egaltarian franchise. Musically, there's a mid 90s Midwestern vibe, with clean guitars and slow builds to roaring crescendos. Think Crank-era Cursive (without the shouting), or maybe Vitreous Humor, with maybe some Braid for good measure. If you shy away from such things, be forewarned that there are some populist, or at least humanist, politics here. Whether it be the Fugazi meets The Alarm message of Wartime Souvenirs or the somewhat heavy-handed Down For My People Like Joe Carroll, Bridge And Tunnel seem to have their hearts and minds in the right place. Even if you eschew such overtly political fare, when Bridge And Tunnel get all off-time and do the dual vocal thing, you will throw all caution to the wind and be shouting along just like everyone else.

They also seem to have females (and perhaps males) in the band who are bike people. This makes it hard for a band not to be awesome, although I have seen it done. It would appear that Rachel is a wrench and Tia has her own messenger bag company called Vaya Bags. Check out the appropriate links for their side gigs and pick up a copy of East/West here. They are also on tour currently , so look out for them. They play a homecoming date November 8th at ABC. Go see them.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Measure (SA) - One Chapter In The Book: A Collection of Waits and Measurements


The Measure (SA) are a product of the fertile New Brunswick, NJ scene. Arable soil grows all kinds of things: the same scene that fostered Lifetime also begat the nightmarish (not a compliment, jerk-offs!) My Chemical Romance. The manure that MCR and the like have left behind has fertilized the soil for bands like The Measure (SA) to thrive. They are a co-ed band with guitarist Lauren edging out Mike and Fid for most time at the mike. The early stuff has kind of J Church vibe, with maybe a little This Is My Fist! in the slower parts. One Chapter is a collection of all of their singles they have released in their first two years as a band, and as such is an interesting document of the progression of a band. It's pretty damn good for the most part. There are some definite moments of pitchiness and the requisite auto-tune on some of the early stuff, but it's not unendearing. When they do fire on all cylinders a couple of tracks in, like on the Soltero cover or Hit The Ground Running, The Measure (SA) bring it on a level rivalling the dear departed Mercy Rule. I was really taken with how much Lauren sounds like MR singer Heidi Ore, especially on their more recent material. That bodes well for the future. As the band is from New Jersey, Mikey Erg is currently manning the drum stool. It makes them a tighter band, and keeps songs like Good Soup from being totally throwaways, at least for this asshole. As you can tell, I much prefer Lauren's voice to either of her male compatriots; it's fun to hear her voice getting stronger with every song on One Chapter. I can't wait to hear what Measure (SA) releases next.

Measure (SA) are playing tomorrow at Tommy's Tavern in Greenpoint on a stellar bill with For Science, Monikers and Off With Their Heads. It should be a blast. If you don't make it out, buy One Chapter In The Book: A Collection Of Waits and Measurements from the good folk of Kiss of Death here.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Live: Aldenbarton @ Cake Shop 9.25.8




Aldenbarton are rapidly becoming my favorite local band. It's hard(er) to cry such statements from the mountaintop objectively when the band's members are your friends, but they have been kind enough not to suck, which makes repeated viewings/hearings that much more tolerable. Aldenbarton didn't suck originally, but they are really hitting their stride when it comes to live shows.

I prefer my rock in the three-piece format most of the time. It keeps things cogent, everybody has something to do, and there's that more money at the end of the night. Idle hands only breed key-tars or, even worse, the singer who just sings. No one needs that in 2008. Aldenbarton are a three-piece piano-driven franchise, with a lock-tight rhythm section and harmonies to die for. Not Beach Boys four-hundred-part harmonies or Garageband 'Choir In A Box' processing, just one guy who can handle a melody and second who knows how to match an appropriate harmony. You would think that more bands would figure out how to pull that off properly.

Aldenbarton has it's roots in the indie-pop combo Princeton Reverbs Colonial. Andrew St. Aubin sang for both bands while drummer Jim Wood kept time. While PRC was more grounded in the Elephant Six/Guided By Voices end of things, Aldenbarton takes those blueprints and blazes more of a classic songwriting path. Their debut release Exodus Of The Eldest is due to be released digitally and terrestrially in the coming weeks, an eventuality that may lead to some sleepless nights for a lot of other bands in NYC. The record positions St. Aubin with the best of the Athens and Pacific Northwest indie-poppers, with angelic harmonies from bassist Paul Bates that are the frosting on the beater.

It's great recorded, but Aldenbarton do bring it live. It's a tad less lush, but when the adrenaline kicks in and the crowd is cheering, the band is at the top of their game. St. Aubin and Wood are as powerful a combination vocally as Bates and Wood are a rhythm section. Cake Shop is far from my favorite room in the city, but I sure do end up spending a lot of time there. Kudos to Aldenbarton for making it worth the trip time and time again.

Keep an eye on JS-NYC for video of the show soon and check out the Aldenbarton web and social networking interfaces for more info on the release of Exodus Of The Eldest .

xo

R

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Live: The Unlovables @ Public Assembly 9.24.8



I'm not sure how I first heard of The Unlovables. It could have been the Ergs connection, as Mikey (of course) plays for The Unlovables, or maybe Dave Bierling. Either way, I got their records and enjoyed them a bunch. Of course, my falling for them coincided with Halley's joining the cast of Fuerzabruta and the band going up on blocks for a bit but I was able to catch them with The Copyrights towards the beginning of the summer at Cake Shop. If you are unaware, The Unlovables ply their trade in the Ramones-y punk rock that we've come to expect from Gotham Punk bands. The female vocals are a nice change of pace and Halley being a bit easy on the eyes does little to take away from the band's appeal.

This was the first show for The Unlovables in a bit, but you wouldn't have known it. They only played maybe 35 minutes, but they certainly made the most of it. It was a pretty good cross-section of songs from their two records: Let's Not Fight, If You Were Here and Dance Party For Two all made appearances, as did many of the usual punk rock scene suspects. Save for a broken string towards the end of the set, the set came off pretty seamlessly. That Fuerzabruta must be quite a workout, as Halllie is fucking ripped. There are veins in her arms like a weightlifter, although a particularly attractive weightlifter, truth be told. The bill also featured Lost Locker Combo and The Kung Fu Monkeys, who evidently were coming off a three-year hiatus. I'm sorry I missed them. Hopefully this is the first of many free shows at Public Assembly. It's nice the see the old Galapagos space having rock again and you can't beat the commute. This is the first of a bunch of good punk shows coming up soon, with The Monikers, Off With Their Heads, and Dead Mechanical all coming through in the next week or so. Check out the links for more info. See you in the pit!

R

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

some Crazy Train perhaps?


I!

I!

I!...








have a review of the new Don Chambers record called Zebulon
freshly published at The Tripwire. Check it out here.
Thanks to Derek Evers.

Lewis Black - Anticipation



I like Lewis Black. Before The Daily Show turned into The McNeil Lehrer Report, I used to tune in pretty regularly especially to see him. Incidentally, whatever happened to Dave Attell's recurring Ugly American character?. The return of that bit might almost sway me back, that or Jon Stewart's imminent move to the late night tv. Black's been releasing records and doing stand-up for much longer than he's been successful, but luckily his thinking man's Kinison personae has caught on in recent years. He certainly deserves it, and I can certainly relate to his raging incredulity. Anticipation won't win him any more new fans, but it damn sure isn't going to lose him any either. Trust me: If you like Lew, you'll like this. However, it's important to point out that it won't make you even close to being as politically astute as your pretentious knee-jerk ass thinks you are. Have a nice day and buy Anticipation here

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Rhino Replacements Reissues - Installment #4: Don't Tell A Soul



Apologies for the delay in getting this posted. It's always feast or famine with the rock in this burgh and we've been on quite the upswing of late. This week looks to be continuing the trend, with the Aldenbarton show at Cake Shop and the return of The Unlovables, but in the meantime it's time to lend some closure to the Mats saga and the Rhino reissue of All Shook Down.

I bought this on cassette from the record co-op at SUNY the day it came out and pretty much hated it. Time has revealed that this was supposed to be Paul's solo record, but the label forced it's release as a Mats record. Nice move, assholes. Things were far from rosy in The Replacements camp at this point; in fact, the band performs as a unit on but one track on the entire record. It sounds like it. All Shook Down is a Westerberg solo record in everything but name. It's not without it's glimmers of greatness: the duet with Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde is still pretty aces, as is Bent Out Of Shape, but most of the rest of the record is softer, melancholic fare. Sadly Beautiful is among Westerberg's best songs and has gotten even better with time, but at the time I can recall being less that thrilled about the whole proposition. The promotional Don't Buy Or Sell, It's Crap EP had some decent cast-off rave-ups as well as the only recorded Mats tune with Tommy on lead. That song was Satellite, and showed the promise that came to fruition with amazing lost classic that was the first Bash and Pop record.

Chris Mars left the band after the record was recorded, appearing in the video for When It Began (ironically enough) but bailing in short order to release two solo records and start a prosperous art career that has more than eclipsed his Mats tenure. The recently departed Steve Foley stepped into the breach for six or so months but the stench of death was beginning to seep into the air around Minneapolis' finest. The usual binge drinking and coke snorting had escalated to a more than toxic degree, as anyone who saw the last legs of the Tom Petty tour can attest. I saw them at The Palace in Albany and it was actually a pretty great set, with Paul in good spirits (no doubt, due in part to those sweet, sweet SUNY student activity dollars) and even taking time to slow dance with a young lady in the orchestra pit during Nightclub Jitters. He was less than friendly after the show, signing my ticket simply 'Paul' with his coat over his head, but it was a fine Mats memory to go out on. I saw footage of the Orange County Speedway show on YouTube recently and it was pretty heartbreaking. Luckily, I finally found their infamous SNL performance with Bob for the first time afterward and was able to cleanse my palate but those were obviously dark days for The Replacements.

In poking around, I have found that the youth of today finds All Shook Down to be the best Replacements record in their canon. This is truly a sign that the youth of today are lost, a misconception as mightily off-base as the equally absurd notions that Dear You is the best Jawbreaker record (!!!!!) and that Conor Oberst is anything but a whiny ponce. ASD has some decent moments, especially as compared to the cut-out bin perennial that is Westerberg's 13 Songs, but to me All Shook Down is sort of the sonic equivalent of the Bud Dwyer footage, especially with the haunting piano snippet of Paul singing 'Send In The Mats' that closes the reissue. Mr. Jesperson, that just wasn't fair.

R.I.P America's Finest Rock Band ever.

You can buy the reissue of All Shook Down from Rhino here.

Monday, September 22, 2008

sharing the blog love through a little opera...


Me, me, me, me....

Some blog love from the mighty Banner Pilot
on their MySpace page. Go here and see if it
reads better on their page.

R

Live: Bobby Bare Jr. @ Mercury Lounge 9.22.8



I've said it before and will say it again: Bobby Bare Jr. is most important artist of our generation. No one straddles genres like he does, nor is there anyone who has a broader sense of songwriting. When you come from his genetic roots, grow up living in between the Cash and Tillis families and have Mike Grimes (of Nashville's Grimey's Record Store) as an ex-band slash roommate, you're going to have a much deeper well to draw on than the average performer.

This show was with The Broken West, who play the type of tuneful pop-rock that LA bands like Gingersol and I See Hawks In LA seem to make popular and are evidently on Merge. I prefer the power-poppy end of their material over the fairly generic Americana stuff, but they seem to be a decent, albeit average band. They evidently share the same booking agent and all parties involved were purported to be stewing it up at said agent's wedding for most of the weekend. It lent a very 'Sunday Night' vibe to the proceedings which was just as well for this old asshole, especially as I was straight off the bus from Maryland. The Broken West wrapped up on time and Bobby was on stage in short order. Evidently his drummer plays with And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead and was tied up at ATP, so Bobby called an audible and decided to play acoustic with a little help from uber-sideman Chris Masterson. Masterson is from Houston, but has lived in Brooklyn in recent years. He is, in the parlance of the field, a motherfucker, playing lap steel, acoustic and beautiful Gretsch White Falcon as well as singing his ass off for the duration.

We've come to expect that from Bobby. No matter who he has backing him, they are absolutely terrifying players. Not that he needs the crutch. Over the course of his last four or five records, the quality of the songs have gone through the roof. His records have been on Bloodshot in recent years, the most recent being the Longest Meow. Bare is a man for whom music is music. If you're looking for a guy who will play a Smiths cover as readily he would a Hank Snow cover (or on this night a bitchin' cover of Bob Seger's Night Moves) this could be your type of renaissance man.

The set was pretty fast and loose, with Bobby taking requests for most of the set. As great as Bare is, much credit is due to Masterson, who fielded every song as if he had been playing it for years. I was bummed that we were going to miss the full Young Criminals Starvation League treatment, but Bare would do well to record one of the duo shows for a DVD. He is as engaging a banterer as he is a singer, and the chemistry between him and Masterson is a special thing that is a joy to behold. I assume there is a new record coming down the pike soon, as he played at least one new song, but look out for upcoming dates/info here and buy his Bloodshot back catalog here. You won't regret it.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Live: Hold Steady with The Pretenders @ Sonar, Baltimore 9.19.08




On the heels of the two-pronged rock assault I had undertaken the night before, I was looking forward to a nice tight Hold Steady opening slot and a quiet evening with the sister and brother-in-law. A couple hours before I headed out of town, I learned that the order had been switched and The Pretenders were now going before out heroes The Hold Steady. There are worse eventualities, plus I had a couple days to recover, so soon after touching down in Baltimore, barside we reported.

Sonar isn't so bad of a space, kind of reminiscent of the old Tramps without the ill-placed poles. It was packed cheek to jowl with Baltimore's largest and they were drinking. It was decidedly older crowd, by and large, but I myopically atrributed it to The Hold Steady and their devoted professional audience. I've never met more drunken corporate lawyers at rock shows than at Hold Steady shows. We missed the All MIght Senators, the long-standing Baltimore Fishbone-y funk rockers who are a mainstay of Baltimore opening slots and posted up to see The Pretenders. Chrissie has a new band behind her with Jim Keltner on drums. They rock pretty hard and Ms. Hynde is one sexy fifty-something. I guess it may be on account of the new band, but there were only five songs that I really recognized. I'm not terribly familiar with late-period Pretenders, but I gather that most of the set was from their new Break Up The Concrete record. It sounded like decent enough rock music and the new handsome guitar guy has got chops, but I was there for the hits as much as anyone else was. We got Brass In The Pocket and Back In The Chain Gang as well as a romp through Kid on the encore, but I would have liked to have heard a little bit more of the hits. Chrissie is not known for giving too much of a shit about what other people think about her music and the fact that they are on an indie pretty much asserts the fact that our Ms. Hynde will not be losing any sleep over this asshole's opinion.

We were taking bets on how much of the crowd would be bailing after The Pretenders set. I was figuring maybe 25/30%, but didn't much care. One more beer and it was time to stake out some real estate. After the previous night's acoustical nightmare, I was hoping that we'd be back to full speed and the gents did not disappoint. The set featured most of Stay Positive but one of the great things about The Hold Steady is the fact that they have b-sides that are just as decent as their a-sides and the have no problems with playing them. Cheyenne Sunrise from the new record was the b-side du jour, as has been the norm of late. Judging by the response, Vagrant is going to ship a lot more of the limited digi-pak version. Nothing gold can stay, and so a drunken stage invasion from a Fell's Point Irregular derailed things a bit toward the end of the set, getting our boy Dusty roughed up a bit in the doing. While that was placted, I turned around and was shocked to find that a solid 80% of the crowd had left. Granted, it was after 1am, but I would have thought we would have more die-hards. Oh, well. It was still a great show and Dusty (HS super-roadie) was of the opinion that it was one of the best HS shows ever. Either way, it bodes well for the co-headlining tour with the Drive By Truckers next month. My head hurts already.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Live 9.18.8 part two: Opeth at Nokia Theater



So when last we checked in, I was rushing up from the Hold Steady taping on Chambers St up to Nokia to meet up with Paul and the SLers as well as my boy Mario at Nokia. For those of you that keep track of things, ten minutes on the Surly and I was locking the ride up out front. Now I like metal, always have, but the cookie monster vocal end of things and the nine hour song have lost some of their luster in my old age but when Mario and Paul get on your ass to see the metal, you toe the line, shut up and show up.

While I don't get above 23rd Street much, I like the Nokia Theater a lot. The staff are great, things run on time, plus they are Union and you have to be done by 11:30pm. That's what I call old guy friendly. I came in on the second song to a haze of weed smoke and a fucking rabid crowd eating up every damn note. While I was waiting for the text to hook up with the crew, I took stock of some of my favorite phenomenae at metal shows.

1. Metal Chicks
Not my favorite demographic (any more at least) but still spectacular. This crowd was a little bit more Dream Theater (forum topic: gayest prog metal name ever?) than the Maiden shows of my youth, but I was pleased that the hot metal ladies still favor the ripped fishnets, and not just on their legs. I wouldn't want to bring them home to Mama, but was that really my intention?

2. Fat Dudes
How is that metal attracts the fattest fans ever? I'm sure our hip-hop friends probably hold their own in that regard, but I believe that we may have eugenics to blame for that. That said, how do these behemoths make it out to the shows? Mental note: Doritos crumbs still show up on black t-shirts.

3. Kids who went with their parents
Back in the day, I was one of those kids, although I rarely brought friends (as I had few). This night, there were two or three packs of them, all trying to stay as far as possible from the permissive parent that brought them. One was in full metal regalia, including makeup. His Dad I believe actually was wearing half-glasses. Ah, memories!

So I heard from Mario first, and as luck would have it, it was a two drummer hang, as Vagina Panther drummer Trent was out as well. This is often a good time. As I was trying to fnd them, I encountered a yet unexperienced phenomenon: The Chewbacca Brothers. Who are the brothers you ask? Merely two gents that I didn't have the nerve to turn around and actually look at who were peppering the songs with their own wookie vocals, even if the Opeth song at the time didn't feature them. Even better, no one in the crowd seemed to care. Such a tolerant lot. I really need to take in more metal.

So I met Mario and Trent and caught up. Before we get into the delights therein, some background is in order regarding our Swedish friends. Opeth play the melodic Swedish death metal, which means we get death grunts as well as real singing, some chug, but a lot more shred. To give you a sense of the adulation these kids get, Opeth played with the silly chops-meisters Dream Theater on a recent NYC show and there were near-riots when someone forgot to ride the fader up during sing Mikael Akerfeldt guest spot. I probably wouldn't have rioted, but after this show, I can see why they would.

Opeth don't make it to this side of the pond that often. They first got together in '89, but didn't actually release a record until '95. The band moved away from their death metal roots with their first record, Orchid, recorded with the mighty Dan Swano. They incorporated many elements heretofor unknown in the genre, like acoustic guitars and vocals that were actually sung, rather than death grunted. It got Opeth a lot of notice, even if label ridiculousness delayed the record's release and kept it confined to Europe. Eventually, the band signed to Century Media, and gained more and more notoriety, both for chart placement in the EU and US as well as for their defying convention at every turn, releasing acoustic and electric records simulataneously and playing hundreds of shows yearly, even in heretofor untapped markets like the Middle East. Recent years have found them signing to Roadrunner and touring on the Dave Mustaine curated Gigantour. 2008 found them releasing Watershed to large acclaim and the hugely successful tour you're reading about at present.

Opeth are a hell of a band. In recent years, ex-Arch Enemy fretmelter Frederik Akesson has stepped into the fold. The man is no joke. There are many Paul Reed Smith's being wielded by the franchise. Unlike their Swedish compatriot Yngwie Malmsteen, the stage is pretty spartan, although the shred purveyed is no less formidable. I can't say I'm all that familiar with their catalog, but every song was as impressive as it was rabidly received. As much as Mario and I enjoyed it, I have to say that we probably didn't enjoy is as much as the interpretive dancers to our right that we got to enjoy for the duration of the show. Man, do I hope that the photos/video that Mario shot comes out, as there were some pretty classic moves being displayed by the trio of shut-ins to our left. They were the frosting on the beater for the evening, tied only with the bit of Whitesnake that Akerfelt played to commemorate their adulation from UK's Classic Rock magazine, where they appear to competing with Coverdale, The Black Crowes and other for Best Album awards in 2008. Judging by this show, it looks like Sweden may be bringing home the gold this year.

Thanks to Paul and Mario for harassing me into going and the good folk of Opeth for rocking my ass in a proper fashion. Buy Opeth's most recent record Watershed here and praise the metal gods for providing quality shred in 2008.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Live: Hold Steady @ Artist's Den Live 9.18.8

















It's always the way. Nothing goes on and then everything jumps off on the same night. Internet scuttlebutt brought to light that the mighty Hold Steady were doing some taping for The Artist's Den. It was sponsored by Grey Goose, theoretically free, and would probably feature a gang of the Unified Scene kids. This I would call a good time. Of course, it was on the same night as a work function and the Opeth show at Nokia. We'll get to that. So, as regards the Hold Steady I never heard back from the Artist's Den, prompting a spate of Internet and message board grovelling. I managed to get the address for the taping and figured I'd just bum rush the proverbial show and bamboozle them with name-drops of magazine and industry connects. As five o'clock rolled around, I recieved a mysterious e-mail instructing me to report to a location near to the venue where emissaries of our heroes would get me/us in.

Shockingly enough, that didn't happen. I arrived to a ridiculous line and a bunch of embarassed US kids who had passed on the info, yet still had guest list. The enigmatic John Cake had scored a plus one from someone on line and was kind enough to pass on his sign. Someone must have been looking out for me, as I managed to hook up with some guest list via my new friend Shawn and get inside in short order. Maybe I've not mentioned that the venue was an old bank across from City Hall? While it looked beautful, it was hardly an acoustical dream. Add slippery floors and all you can drink vodka and you've got an accident waiting for happen. For better or worse, a bizarre funnelling incident was instrumental in my never wanting to drink vodka unless the woman is exceedingly hot. While there were options in that regard, I decided that discretion might be the better part of valor this time around. Said hello to the US kids and at nine sharp the boys sallied forth and set to rocking.

I'm no front of house guy, and the Hold Steady have some of the best guys around backing them up, but rock music is not optmized for high-ceilinged old banks comprised entirely of marble. There was more bounce to the ounce in that room than a Zapp and Roger show, and the sound more than suffered for it. A decent set, but with jack-ass crowd-riders and camera booms flying overhead, plus the odd unplugged microphone, the show wasn't one of their best. Better than most bands, but not the best Hold Steady show. I bailed at the last songs to go see Opeth at Nokia. Look out for the commemoration of that awesomeness coming up soon.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Rhino Replacements Reissues - Installment #3: Don't Tell A Soul

So, when we last left off in the world of the JS-NYC/Mats axis, we had just had our asses rocked by the release of Pleased To Meet Me and the loss of Bob Stinson. With all due respect to Slim, a lotta bit of The Replacements died right then and there.

The first sign of a new Mats record was the video for I'll Be You. It seemed to feature the same drunken self-sabotage that you would expect from the gents, with way too much eye makeup and some random instrument swapping. The record was started in Woodstock and pretty much scrapped for being too loud and/or rocking. Not a good sign for America's Finest Rock Band. Sessions resumed soon after in L.A. with Matt Wallace.

That may mark the second bad choice the gents made during the recording. Don't Tell A Soul was a little bright and sparkly for my tastes and inexplicably left off recordings with Tom Waits that were highlights of the posthumous Nothing For All comp. I remember getting a copy at the mall and being pretty bummed, but not so much that I didn't sign on for two exceedingly lackluster shows in Albany (with Dirty Face) and Kingston (with Joe and the Hot Dogs and, I believe, Fire Drill). The Kingston show was notable for the band both taking ten to fifteen minutes between songs and spending that time drunkenly howling the name of the bar across the street. Not good times, although it did/does prove good fodder for the games of "I saw the Mats and they were so fucked up" that were to pop up in vans and backstages after their demise.

Little did I know that I would be begging for a Don't Tell A Soul b-side after the next record came out. Another Agatha Christie moment was looming ominously in our future, as was another step towards the band's demise.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Live: This Will Destroy You with Lymbyc System @ Knit 9.17.8

So I had to work and missed going out to see this show at Union Pool on Monday night. In retrospect, really no great loss. I already had a ticket for the show at the Knit and I'm trying to get there as much as possible before it moves out to fucking Brooklyn like everything else in this town.

So that I might be as cranky as possible, the good folk of the Knit were nice enough to change the order around and make TWDY the headliner, so my arrival turned into a drive-by and prompted a spate of texts and calls to inform the troops, most of whom showed right as I left. At least they have their youth, I guess.

I arrived at the Knitting Factory multiplex and headed to the Tap Room to catch the end of Lymbyc System's set. They represent for the two-piece band end of things (bad idea) and evidently the Lollipop Guild as well. The boys are short and the sitting doesn't help when it comes to visual excitement. Vertical challenges aside, the music's good: the drummer can drum, keyboard leads not too irritating, pleasant absence of drama school reject on 'vocalizations' as per the norm on the Eastern Seaboard. All in all, a good time, plus Heath likes them, so they are probably better than the two decent songs I saw.

This Will Destroy You hit the stage pretty quickly, and hit most of the audience loading in. I personally was hit with every piece of the drum kit as it made it's way to the stage. Not to brag, or anything. After way too long of a soundcheck, the boys set to deafening the room. I enjoy a lot of the post-rock that kids like Explosions In The Sky purvey, but it's hardly the most fun in the world to watch. The quiet/loud with a six minute build-up can be spectacular if you're making the monster with two backs or cycling, but when it happens over and over, the redundencies do become that more obvious. I assume they will be moving to bigger rooms with more visual elements soon, but it was a little lacking on a Tap Room level.

This Will Destroy You and Lymbyc System are on tour for another week or so, then TWDY jump across the pond to party in Europe for most of October. Check out the dates and buy some stuff here.

R

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Rhino Replacements Reissues - Installment #2: Pleased To Meet Me

Pleased To Meet Me is the record that had me falling head over heels in love with the boys from Minneapolis. Ryan Shadrin lent me a copy of the record in high school and from the buzz-saw guitar riff that opens I.O.U. , I was a believer. It's not the two records that preceded it, but Pleased To Meet Me is packed to the gills with great tracks: Valentine, Nightclub Jitters, Skyway, Can't Hardly Wait; I can almost guarantee that your favorite record does not have songs as good.

The big conundrum for me was Alex Chilton. While the Mats' song is a classic, Chilton and the rest of Big Star were way off my radar as a high schooler. This was also pre-Internet, so it's not like I could dash off to the computer and rapidly acquire some of the emporer's finest new clothes. I'm not sure when, although it was well past Pleased To Meet Me's release date, but I do remember hearing Big Star for the first time and being pretty confused that it wasn't Mats-approved rock. I figured Alex would be more of a Johnny Thunders character. While I didn't meet him until much later, it was hard to reconcile the bands adulation at that point, but I did surely want to be one of the millions who waited for Alex Chilton when he came round.

I saw The Mats twice on that tour. Once they were absolutely transcendent, the second time they couldn't have been shittier, musically or alcoholically. By that point, I'd read the Musician article that proclaimed them America's Finest Rock Band and had been filled-in about how the aforementioned 'ashtray floors, dirty clothes and filthy jokes' were much more of a lifestyle thing than rock and roll self-aggrandization. The fact that they were raging coke/speed addicts was still a mystery to me, but the picture of what it meant to be in a touring rock band was getting sharper and I was pretty sure I wanted a piece.

Pleased To Meet Me was recorded in Memphis, home of the aforementioned A. Chilton, with legendary producer Jim Dickinson. The sessions marked the formal departure (or booting, really) of Bob Stinson as well as Guru/Band Dad/Manager Peter Jesperson. Dad Dickinson had lobbied to get him in the sessions, as he had dealt with the likes of Chilton and Panther Burns previously, but sadly, it was a no-go. Allegedly, one Mat still managed to vomit on the ceiling at Ardent, but shenanigans were kept at bay for the most part. Paul handled the guitar parts admirably (see The Ledge, yowza!), save for the guitar solo he passed off to Dickinson's son Luther on Shooting Dirty Pool. Luther was but fifteen at that point, and a big Steve Vai fan, so don't tune in if you're looking for 'Clapton in the Roosters' type of guitar hero-ism, but it sure is pretty irritating that even Luther's quasi-embarassing early recordings ended up on a Replacements record. I hope he's thanked his Dad daily since for the opportunity.

For me, Pleased To Meet Me marked the beginning of the end. Soon Mars was booted from the band and, though we didn't know at the time, it moved closer and closer to solo record time for Paul and Tommy. Never underestimate the ability of label to totally negate any success a band has managed to build prior to signing.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Rhino Replacements Reissues - Installment #1: Tim

If you've been keeping up with my ramblings, you know that Rhino is reissuing the four Replacements records from their Sire years. And there was much rejoicing. I had feared that it would be most of the stuff from the Nothing For All record tagged on to the end of pertinent releases. There is some rehashing, but also some bona fide vault stuff that even the most seasoned Net trawler would be interested in. Trust me, you want it.

The first of the re-issues, chronologically, is Tim. It's the last record with Bob and was produced by Tommy Ramone nee Erdelyi. The reissue fans the flames of the question that has haunted me for nigh on twenty years: Is Tim my favorite Replacements record or is it Let It Be? The two records, along with Pleased To Meet Me comprise the legendary holy trinity of Mats-dom. No band could remain unsigned after releasing a record as amazing as Let It Be. The boys did try admirably, of course, but even one of their drunkest CBs shows ever couldn't put Seymour Stein off the scent. Tim was released on Sire in October 1985 and the rest is history.

The first time I saw The Replacements was at the Chance in Poughkeepsie, NY. The Chance was the only oasis of smaller rock nearby, a bottle's throw from the Mid-Hudson Civic Center where I saw my first metal shows. I was too young to get into the Chance, which prompted me to fall back on the customary eventuality that occurred until my mid-thirties: Go with my Dad. My Dad is a great man and has great taste in music. As I recall, it didn't even take too much harassment to get him to agree. Either way, we turned up early and saw Agit-pop open (poorly). Little did I know how significant the band would prove fifteen or so years down the line, but that's a story for another day.

Agitpop wrapped up and roadies began to set up and line check the Mats gear. The lights dimmed and a roadie came out and placed three cases of Heineken in front of the drum riser. The band shuffled down the stairs from the dressing room looking a bit worse for wear. Tommy's green Rickenbacker was covered with Mr. Yuk anti-poison stickers while Paul sported his customary sunburst Jr. He shuffled up to the mike and said," Well, I guess we'll just play some" and kicked into Bastards Of Young. It was the first time I ever heard the song and honestly one of the most significant experiences in my life.

When I bought the record, I, of course started with Side Two, as Bastards Of Young led the flip-side off. When I finally bought Tim on cd, it always fucked with me, as I could never see why the band would open the record with Hold My Life, when side two was so obviously superior. Of course, flipping the order has the record closing with Swingin Party rather than Here Comes A Regular, a shuffling of cosmic proportions for many a Mats fan. I feel more than justified in my reshuffling.

Tim is truly a classic record, one unparalleled by any band since. The closing trio of Left Of The Dial, Little Mascara and Here Comes A Regular deals a death blow instantly to any potential rival. The reissue adds six bonus tracks: alternate versions of Waitress In The Sky and Regular, a demo of Kiss Me On The Bus and Can't Hardly Wait, plus Nowhere Is My Home, whose signature riff launched the mighty Superchunk. I couldn't be more grateful. Twenty-three years on, it's still wonderful to hear in my house. Now, if only it had Answering Machine on it.

Buy the reissue of Tim here. You need it. They are doing vinyl, too, dork.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Some Things Bitchin', Soon To Come

It's going to be an interesting week, kids. I can almost guarantee that both of my readers will be pretty close to entertained. As the feast/famine pendulum swings towards the positive as it regards live rocking, there happens to be a lot of good live stuff to be had this week: two nights of This Will Destroy You; Opeth and High On Fire; Hold Steady and Pretenders. Seeing so much always looks good on paper, but any time you can get four Mats records with bonus tracks in your grubby little paws for the down time, you should revel in such delights.

Look forward to:

1. A four part review retrospective of the the new Rhino reissues of The Replacements' Sire catalog. That's Tim, Pleased To Meet Me, Don't Tell A Soul and All Shook Down, for the uninitiated. New art (boo!), liner notes from Jesperson and the like (yeah!), along with some pertinent bonus tracks comprised of alternate takes, remixes, studio fuck-ups and the like. 

2. Reviews of tomorrow night and Tuesday's This Will Destroy You/Lymbyc System shows.

3. Review of the Opeth/High On Fire show on Thursday.

4. Review of the Pretenders/Hold Steady show at Sonar in Baltimore.

R.I.P. David Foster Wallace 1962-2008


Am I really going to try and write something that will even come close to commemorating the life and work of David Foster Wallace? I think not. Personally, I'm not in a place where I have the time or patience for long format stuff. Infinite Jest's million pages were not going be done justice by this dumb guy, and as a result I was much more a fan of his essays. They were much more easily consumed and made me feel comparatively less stupid, plus I'm a sucker for an annotation. I do, however, look forward to the days when I might be able to understand his fiction. Kath sent me a message last night and figured I'd hear from Christian and Caroline soon enough. Indeed, I did. Yahoo! says that he hung himself. I never heard anything about DFW being especially tormented, but I guess I'd hardly be the first to know.  What's done is done, but read the books below and remember a great man.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Live: Steve Shiffman and the Land Of No @ Cake Shop 9.12.8

My friend Pete plays in America's Finest Rock Band, The Figgs. For a while now he's been playing with one Mr. Steve Shiffman, a transplanted Canadian whom I'm kind of disappointed has ties to the nightmare that is Sidewalk and it's Anti-Folk scene that is attached like mold to it's back room. By and large, it's a great venue if you want to see fourteen 'friends bands' and or a rogues gallery of people far too untalented to actually garner people to play 'with'. I'll give minor props to Beck and Paleface, but whatever smoldering ember of relevancy that movement has fostered has long gone out.

So Pete's been playing with Steve for a while now. Originally they were a two-piece comprised of guitar and drums. You may remember I hate the deconstructionist rock band, but sometime over the last couple years, the duo has morphed into a three-headed guitar monster with a real rhythm section. They were far from bad before, but now that Steve and The Land Of No are a five-piece, a lot of bands should be watching their ass. It doesn't hurt that the three newer guys are Dave Hollinghurst of the late Chapel Hill powerhouse Small and Alec Ferrell and Kent Heine of The Holy Ghost, two of the better bands of the last ten years. Hollinghurst was the ringer for me, as I loved Small a ton, but as a five-some Shiffman and company are pretty damn fearsome.

It showed at Cake Shop. It's far from my favorite room in town, and the relative timing of the shows can be more a than a bit tiresome but it was a crappy night and they rock, so off I went. I've enjoyed them before, but it had been a while since I'd seen them. If anything, they've gotten tighter in the last couple months. The three guitars option can be an ill-advised one, but they have it down pretty well. Two solidbodies, one hollowbody, Dave playing a lot of slide, it all makes for a pretty noise. Add Shiffman's hooky songs and you've got one hell of a good time. Shiffman has a solo EP Tamborino out and it appears that there is a full-length looming ominously in our future. I, for one, can't wait.  Check out the SS & LON webpage here and check out some great MP3s at their MySpace here.

R

Friday, September 12, 2008

Faraquet review up at The Tripwire


Hey Boys and Girls:

My review of the new Faraquet anthology on Dischord went up at The Tripwire today.
Thanks to Derek Evers over there for the hook-up.

Check it the review here and/or buy it here.

Norm MacDonald

Hey Kids:

Taking a day off from the music. Look for a gang of music stuff soon, but why not cleanse the palate with a little humor in the interim.

There are two pillars of below-the-radar comedy in my book. One is the great Super Dave Osborne. Jimmy Kimmel has been smart enough to have him on with some regularity when he's not doing Curb Your Enthusiasm, but our Norm has been off the grid for the most part since releasing the brilliant Dirty Work. There was the Ridiculous cd (left) that came out a couple years ago, but that was a bit of a misstep in my mind. Why Norm would release a Bob Newhart-ian record in this millenium is a chin-scratcher, but then again Norm isn't a guy who is about doing what the average comedian does.

Case in point would be the Comedy Central Roast of Bob Saget. Saget has been riding a wave of ironic hipness in recent years via many re-runs of Full House and America's Funniest Home Videos as well as the funny-the-first-time Rolling With Saget video that Jamie Kennedy threw together. He's made forays back into comedy recently and I can honestly say that they are some of the worst things I've ever been subjected to, but when you've got tens of millions in the bank, I guess it's a lot easy to be cavalier about such things. Why he would get this much shine on Comedy Central is beyond me, but I guess he is like shooting funny fish in a comedic barrel.

The Roast was decent enough, but Norm straight up killed it with a set of warmed-up Friar's Club material delivered as deadpan as he could. The aired stuff was good, but some unaired footage has popped up on the Internets and it's pretty stellar. Check it out:


here
and
here

Norm's at Caroline's for a couple shows from 9/25 to 9/27. You can get tickets here.
I would welcome guest list privileges from any industry professionals that might provide.

R


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Portastatic - some small history

So maybe you've heard that Mac's got a new Portastatic odds and sods comp called Some Small History out at the Merge. A beautifully packaged double disc set, in fact, and one limited to a mere 3000 copies. It'll be a cold day in hell before I speak ill of a Mac McCaughan or Superchunk release, but lucky for me (us) the quality control standards are so good as it concerns our Mac that I don't seem that blindly partisan. 

My unabashed fandom aside, it's hard to argue against the fact that Mac is an indie rock renaissance man on par with Steve Albini or Corey Rusk. Merge, the label he founded with Superchunk bassist Laura Ballance in 1989, has been a success virtually since it's inception, but recently the Merge A&R ears have been mining pure gold, releasing the Arcade Fire, Spoon, Bob Pollard and even the new Conor Oberst record. The last Arcade Fire record went in the charts at#2, no small feat for an indie label, especially one in 2008. While I'm sure champagne was uncorked when the listings got sent to Durham, it's never been just about sales for the Triangle label. Mac and Laura are undoubtedly keeping an eye on the bottom line, but Merge was formed to release Superchunk material as well as records from their friends and it remains that way to this day. Personally I would break a Spoon record and jam it in my ear rather than listen to it, an Arcade Fire, or a Conor Oberst Happy Fucking Funtime Family record but I can and will give all the props to Mac and Laura for having great taste in music in general and for looking out for their friends whenever they can. They, like so many others, seem to have prospered without having the full approval of JS-NYC enterprises. 

Owning your label makes it a lot easier to release your own material. Mac has released 27 projects under his Portastatic nom du rock to date, in various formats and genres. I won't say that all of them are totally great, but I can say that even the worst overly keyboarded demos are light years better than the aural diarrhea that Ryan Adams releases via his seemingly infinite slew of cast-off material. Most importantly, Mac realized some songs just weren't good enough. That happens sometimes, Ryan. Accept it and get a producer already.

But I digress. Some Small History has a gang of comp and split tracks, along with demos dating back to '92 and a gang of covers from Dylan, Galaxie 500, Magnetic Fields and others. Fear not. collector nerds, there's your fair share of unreleased stuff, too, including a pre-Portastatic recording featuring one Mr. Jim Wilbur. You get 44 tracks over two discs and some pretty bitchin' gatefold digipak action for your consumer dollar. The price? $13.99 US greenback dollars. You really can't argue with that. In fact, you should really just buy it HERE. If for some stupid reason you only want MP3s of the tracks, Merge Digital will hook you up for a mere $9.49 here. Remember that the next time you pony up a kidney for that shitty Radiohead limited eco-release made from Thom Yorke's digital composting. Some Small History is moving quick, so act fast and keep the lights on over at Merge. Maybe then we can get a new Chunk record Mac? Or at least a demo of Learn To Surf? Please!

Portastatic is in town soon. Stay tuned.

R

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

for your consideration...Batillus MP3



Greetings JS-NYC readers (and I do mean both of you). As I threatened, I bring you both MP3 goodness and Batillus news for your pleasure.

The first of what I hope to be many MP3s on JS-NYC is from the outer borough purveyors of doom called Batillus. You might remember them from a previous posting.

Batillus recorded last month at Black Box in Hanson, MA and walked away with five songs put to tape. Total time? 58 minutes. Yeah, you did the math right. Even if you don't like the doomier end of things, you sure do get some bang (or boom, really) for your buck. It's not long for the sake of wasting tape either. Trust me, you'll be wanting more. Check out the MP3 of Gravel Chime below. A second track is at the Myspace. Go There.

Might I suggest lowering your speaker volume in the workplace....

Batillus - Gravel Chime

Batillus are playing at Fontana's on September 19 with Unearthly Trance, Aun and Subarachnoid Space. Check the appropriate links as you see fit and keep an eye on their Myspace for updates as to who might be releasing the rest of the recordings.

R

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Psyched To Die - a clarification


So I just heard from Jay Insult and it turns out he is not the Jay in P.T.D. He is, however, a wealth of information about the P.T.D franchise. I'm sure you (both) re-read all my posts, including the comments, but in the event you missed it, here's the skinny:

Just for clarification's sake, I'm Jay Insult, but I'm not in Hunchback or Psyched To Die. I'm the Ergs' roadie (and have offered my services to PTD as well). The Jay in Hunchback and PTD is Jay Nixon AKA J Hunchback.

And Frump, who had nothing to do with NJ pop punk band Felix Frump, is Chris Frump, a veteran of the NJHC scene and ex-member of Fast Times, as well as one of the NJ punk scene's most prominent photographers.

My bad! Now that that's cleared up, go and buy the Psyched To Die demo and a t-shirt here

The Game - L.A.X. deluxe edition

The digital age has been a doubled-edged sword for the rap world. CDs are cheap and easy to generate and they are easily hustle-able from tables, trunks and websites, but the same advantages allow file-sharers to give anyone with a decent internet connection the ability to get an artist's entire catalog for free. Trust me, I do it almost daily. 

With today's hip-hop, I use the same consumer ethic I do with my indie and punk music: If I can buy it from the artist or a reputable distro where I know the artist or label is being paid, I'm there with bells on but you can kiss my ass before I'm going to pay $21.98 at fucking Best Buy. There's a lot of chatter about CDs not selling as much as they used to. The internet is somewhat to blame, but it's also shitty product. How many intros, outros and/or skits do we really need on a record? Combine that with the obligatory shout-out track and you're lucky to get seven songs, most of which are probably pretty crap. The only artist that's dropped this year this side of Kanye or Nas that is selling seven digit numbers is L'il Wayne but I can realistically see The Game breaking platinum with L.A.X. While I find his predilection for tattooing his face a little unsettling, he has undeniable mic skills. With G-Unit and 50 finally falling off, hopefully for good, The Game seems poised to take advantage of all the notoriety and cross-over to settle in for the long haul.

The Game is a total beast on the mic, but he's called in some markers with big guns to help him out on L.A.X.  Wayne, Raekwon and Luda make appearances, but the more notable cameos come from Travis Barker and Keyshia Cole. Those are the cameos that will sell records to the ladies and white kids in suburbia. The Game is no fool. If he learned anything from 50, it's that he's got to ride a trend or two to stay in the public eye, which probably accounts for the disappointing presence of Ne-Yo on two tracks, one if you buy the 'normal' retail version. Who would of thought it would be to your advantage to only buy a single disc? I certainly would, or at least save my .99 for something else on I-tunes, but then again I am from the hard streets of Newburgh (Maple Drive, represent!), so maybe it's the hard rock in me that rankles at such clubby fare. I can small consolation in the fact that L.A.X doesn't have vocoder or DJ Khaled shouting all over the damn track.

Maybe it's because I don't hear too much of the indie stuff from the West Coast, but the commercial stuff from the West always seems to be much better. Could also be that I wish   Jay-Z would just retire already, too. I think the newest Roots record is pretty untouchable when it comes to record of the year, with the new KRS-One coming a close second, but the Game is definitely a strong contender. I'm not sure whether boring backpacker drivel like Lupe Fiasco and Kanye are in this year's Grammy pool, but I can definitely see The Game taking the title. I can already hear both of my readers shouting out the Wayne and David Banner releases, but unless DB makes a big Michael Moore turn (which given his recent movie success, may very well happen) and Wayne gets some Lasik on all those crazy facial tattoos and stops being a poster boy for cough syrup, it looks like The Game will step into the Nas slot as the enlightened street thug the record industry gets behind.

L.A.X. is a great record for a mainstream hip-hop release. I wasn't nearly as excited for this record as I am for the new Clipse or even the Lord Finesse vault series, but as far as songs that I'm going to have to see on every video show and countdown for the next couple months, these are pretty decent. There's a lot of cross-over crap that I could do without, but I think I feel the same way about L.A in general.  This could be a big year for The Game, this record stands to sell well and there are rumors about him replacing Wack, I mean Mack 10 in Westside Connection after M10's falling out with Ice Cube. I'll keep you posted. In the meantime, buy L.A.X. HERE if you are so inclined, and/or check out the links below.

R
the eighteenth letter



Monday, September 8, 2008

lambchop - OH (ohio)

I feel old even contemplating it, but if you believe the Wiki hype, Lambchop are celebrating their 22nd year as a band. They came on my radar ten or twelve years ago through No Depression and a crazy Greek lady I was obsessed with. The idea of a country-soul orchestra was intriguing and while I liked What Another Man Spills and early Lambchop fare, it got swept up in the drama of an unhealthy attraction and obsessive haircutting. I remember seeing Mac play with them at a Merge showcase and not being especially impressed.

When Clark leant me the Superchunk records that got me through the aftermath of my personal foray into Greek tragedy, Lambchop came part and parcel. Soon after, Steven introduced me to Alex at Brownies, when he was playing in Jack Logan's band and I realized that Mark Evers was Mac's roommate at NYU, accounting for the heavy Merge interest. I started combing the used bins and working my angles to try and fill out the gaps in the collection.

Lambchop ushered in the idea of a big band in the indie world long before silly bands like Bang Camaro and Polyphonic Spree became the soundtrack to my nightmares. With all respect to Brian Teasley, the idea of a Jesus Christ Superstar-themed band filled with a bunch of people reliving the glories of their high school choir days gives me douche chills at 200 paces. While that ridiculousness can stop immediately, when Lambchop leader Kurt Wagner coalesced the band's sound into something he called 'soultry', it really clicked for me. Melding Owen Bradley country strings to Penn/Oldham soul got them a fair amount of attention in the States but the UK and German kids really flipped for Team Mutton. This accounts for there being more shows with the big band overseas and the preponderance of Wagner solo shows in recent years. 

Lambchop is an ever-changing collective. Despite being the linchpin of the Lambchop outfit, Wagner has always shied away from the limelight, despite writing the lion's share of the material and lyrics. In recent years the band has coalesced around a core of seven players that includes Wagner and MacManus as well as erstwhile member/producer Mark Evers. Evers broke from Lambchop tradition, sharing recording duties on OH (ohio) with Roger Moutenot. Moutenot wanted to capture a live feel, which seems like more than a foregone conclusion for the Lambchop franchise, but either way OH (ohio) is a beautifully warm-sounding record that more than capture their 'soultry' aesthetic.  My personal favorite is National Talk Like A Pirate Day, but each of the eleven songs are pretty spectacular in their own charmingly understated way. I'm not terribly surprised, in fact most of my questions about OH (ohio) revolve around why there would be a painting of Wayne Coyne getting his freak on for the cover. Maybe some clerical issues that changed the title from OK (oklahoma)? Or perhaps an homage to City Slang releasing In a Priest Drawn Ambulance? All conjecture aside, it's unclear to me what the meaning of the title is, but it's a great record whatever you call it. It's due to drop on 10/7 through Merge, with vinyl on City Slang. You can preorder from Merge here.  No info on the City Slang vinyl yet, but check the links below.

R

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Dizzee Rascal - Maths and English

When I first started hearing about the Grime scene jumping off in England, I was pretty intrigued. I was just a little too late for the Grandmaster Flash O.G. era of hip-hop and the prospect of getting in on the ground floor of a movement that took the blueprints of hip-hop but spun it with an electro-dancehall edge was pretty appealing, if only to be able to understand the lyrics, but when I checked out So Solid Crew and the other big names in the scene, it was a different story. I enjoyed the idea of the mash-ups and cockney-flavored rhyming, but the reality didn't gel for me at all. I eagerly dove back into my Slick Rick and Derek B records and never looked back. Soon afterward The Streets and Vice Records came on the scene and it was Goodnight Irene for this asshole. The Streets was/is definitely talented, but I'd rather sit in on a Matt and Kim demo session than suffer through his Vice-fostered nightmare crowd for longer than ten minutes. 

A couple months ago I happened to see the video for Where's Da G's? on Video Music Box. Inexplicably, it paired Dizzee Rascal with Port Arthur, TX O.G.s UGK. It took me three or more times of peripheral exposure before I listened to it without muting, but I've been on a Bun B kick as of late and I love how U.G.K lambastes all the fake crack-dealer rappers out in the South, so I ended up saving the video on DVR and watching it bunch while I tried to scam a copy of the record.  Around that time, the video for Pussyole (Old School) started get played a lot on the public-access hip-hop shows. The song had some serious Bomb Squad chaos going on, pairing 808 drums with the same sample from Think that drove Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock's It Takes Two to make a track that is a fucking banger regardless of it's country of origin.

Maths and English came into my hands soon after that. Evidently Maths refers to the technical aspects of making a record, while English is his homage to lyric writing and MCing. While I'm sure Mr. Rascal is not crawling with A-Level accreditations, he gets high marks on both parts here. As luck would have it, I ended up the UK import version on XL. It's been licensed by Def Jux for the States, but the US release does not feature the aforementioned Pussyole (Old School), no doubt due to sample clearance issues state-side. It does, however, feature two new songs and an El-P remix of Where's Da G's. If you're intrigued, buy the official release here. If you get a promo, safe money is on it having an Def Jux audio watermark that pops up every ten or fifteen seconds and makes it totally unlistenable. And El-P thinks it's just his bad attitude that sours his relations with the critics. I believe you can get Pussyole on UK I-tunes anyway. It's probably the best amalgamation of US and UK hip-hop thus far. I'm kind of hit or miss when it comes to Def Jux releases, but I'd prefer to see them fostering Maths and English to the masses over Matador or Vice.

Def Jux is really expanding Dizzee's profile in the States. If his US management has any sense, they will get Dizzee on some mixtapes and radio shows and get him out there to the hip-hop tastemakers. He can rhyme and has a unique voice. It was interesting to hear him paired with UGK; his voice fits exactly in the range between Bun's baritone and Pimp C's tenor. It is just nasal and Island enough to be intriguing while maintaining an US flow. American concessions aside, his UK roots are well-represented beat-wise and with the high-profile guest shots from Alex Turner from the Arctic Monkeys and ska-jocker Lily Allen. Maths and English only came out in the States in April, but has been out for about a year overseas, peaking at number 7 on the UK charts. Hopefully Dizzee Rascal gets a foothold state-side and we hear more of him on this side of the Pond. While we're waiting for the test scores, check the links below.



Saturday, September 6, 2008

Psyched To Die demo | R.I.P: The Ergs!


Brian posted on PopPunkBored that there was yet another Mikey Erg affiliated project afoot, this one called Psyched To Die. The band is sort of a Monsters Of NJ Pop-Punk franchise, with Jay Insult from Hunchback and Brian from For Science rounding out the recording line-up here. The P.T.D. Myspace notates the enigmatic (Felix?) Frump in the line-up on second guitar, as well. There are four songs on the demo. It's available on cd-r and and cassette for all you old schoolers and finds Jay and Mike splitting vocal duties, sometimes even in the same song. It's raw, but well-recorded (at Asbury Lanes, oddly enough). While they are a new band, P.T.D. have old school tendencies deeper than their name (a Deep Wound homage). They come off a little Flag-gy, with shouted vocals and pounding drums that will no doubt have the kids circle pitting all around New Jersey. With recent changes in The Ergs! world, I wonder if this may become a full-time proposition.

As I was accessing the Interwebs to get my journalistic ducks in a row about P.T.D., I came upon the first of many postings regarding The Ergs! formally announcing their break-up. There had been rumblings for a while, all of which were quickly dispelled, so I figured that given the huge amount of shows they had been playing it was all internet shit-talking. Evidently this is not so. It appears that Jeff is leaving the band. Check out the link HERE to get the word straight from the horse's mouth. They are still playing a bunch of shows before their demise, including the Dillinger Four record release party in Brooklyn on 10/14, before wrapping things up in the middle of November in their home state of New Jersey.  It appears there will be a final 7" release, as well. In the interim, get the DirtNap comp of odds and sods called Hindsight Is 20/20. It's allegedly to be released on Dirtnap, but I can't find any notice on their site. I'll keep you posted. 

R

Friday, September 5, 2008

Chris Knight - Heart Of Stone

For the uninitiated, I have an awesome sister. The awesomeness is a general component of her bearing, but every once in a while, it really flares up. Let's backtrack a bit. There aren't a lot of people that recommend music to me, mostly because I get a ton of it sent my way but also due in large part to my inability to rein in my sneering contempt for stuff I don't like. It's a gift. I don't normally subject my sister to it, but what I'm trying to get to is that ten years ago my sister told me to check out Chris Knight and I was shocked that I hadn't heard of him. Granted, he only had his self-titled debut in the racks, but he was a obviously a strong, strong songwriter with a staggeringly good debut record. 

House And 90 Acres was the single from his eponymous debut that got Knight the most attention. It didn't hurt that one of the first places he played it live was at Farm Aid. His record's Mellencamp-ian populist politics resonated with the thousands of attendees and Knight was off to the races. He's sold a respectable amount, but has been much more successful with the songs that have been covered (more often than not inferiorly) by a gang of mainstream country artists ranging from Randy Travis to Montgomery Gentry. While it's sometimes shocking how poorly done some of those covers are, it must undoubtedly be what Steve Earle would call 'a financial pleasure' for the man, if nothing else.

I found the next three or four Chris Knight records to be kind of hit or miss. One day I heard Louie playing what I was pretty sure was a new Knight song at Academy. He was quick to say how great it was and even took it off the house system to sell to me the advance. That's a good man, there. It's nice to know that every once in while, being a record store hanger-on has it's privileges. That record ended up being Enough Rope and it was real good. As luck would have it, Knight was in town a week just or so later at Mercury. It's a slippery slope for Knight up North, so a lot of times it just him and another guitar. That was the case this evening and the ease with which the duo slayed the room asserted one thing absolutely: Knight's mainstream fans are a rabid lot. It's appropriate, as most of them are dyed-in-the-wool, straight up woodchucks. 

Knight's average NYC crowd is terrifying in a lot of ways. Don't get me wrong, my background is far from royalty and I have all the respect in the world for hillbillies and their redneck ilk. Say what you want, I wouldn't want to live that life, but at least they are real. I would willingly take a crowd of them over four or five of the haircuts that Drew and I saw at Guitar Center yesterday. That qualified, Knight's most fervent fans appear to have arrived by freight-car straight from Appalachia. Most of them are female and they will shout and caterwaul like strays in heat from the moment he takes the stage, thankfully clamming-up instantaneously the minute he steps to the mike. His is a classic country voice with a Kentucky edge that deserves every bit of the adulation it receives. 

Heart Of Stone is the most fully realized Chris Knight record yet, with the best mix of hooks and populist sentiment he's ever put together. Starting with a couple of solid midtempo tracks, it picks up a solid head of steam with the title track and Almost There. Maria and Miles To Memphis up the ante even more and by the time you reach the closing Go On Home, there's no chance you won't immediately hit play again. Knight is a little bit left of center of mainstream country music, but he is country the same way Steve Earle and Gary Allan are, and that's not a bad place to be. You have a dedicated fanbase, you don't have to play real shitty places and everybody wants to cover your songs. Doesn't sound like a bad deal for a guy with ten or twelve charted covers who still lives on his family's ancestral Kentucky land. 

Knight will be up this way in November. He vowed to bring a full band this time, but I'm pretty sure that gas prices will make it a solo show. For a lot of performers, that might be an iffy proposition, but you have nothing to worry about with this Kentucky boy. You've got some time before he's in town, so while you're waiting, buy Heart Of Stone here and check out the links below for gang of other audio-visual delights.

R