…brought to you by Concrete Blonde!
10. The Incredibles. Somehow I missed this in the theaters, which is my bad in a big way. What a fun flick! Elastigirl is teh hawt!
9. Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc. This wine just says “summer” to me, and is the perfect wine for the month of May. Even if you don’t know a Viognier from a Semillon, give this sucker a try.
8. “She’s A Girl And I’m A Man” I was cleaning out a closet and found my copy of Don’t Get Weird On Me Babe, Lloyd Cole’s wonderful 1991 solo disc. This song was about as close as Cole ever got to a US hit, and I think it a shame that it seems utterly forgotten now. The chorus is brilliant with the funny “She’s gotta be the stupidest girl I’ve ever seen” line. What’s even better than that is the way Cole pays off that debt in the bridge, with a brilliant climax: “She says ‘you’re not cool/You’re just like me/You’re a stupid man/Get over here/ Hold my stupid hand.’/She’s all right, yeah…” That’s just bloody brilliant.
7. The Outlaw Josey Wales. For some reason, I just got a hankering to watch a good western the other night, and this one might be one of the best ever. “Buzzards gotta eat, boy, same as the worms.”
6. The Decemberists, Picaresque.
5. Vanilla Coke.
4. Cribbage. One of the best things ever taught to me by my stepfather was this incredible card game. He always insisted it was the best two-player card game on the planet, and I think he’s right. It’s a very deep strategic game, and even works well for playing four-handed with partners. I’ve been whuppin’ ass consistently on Yahoo! games. This week Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo are unveiling incredible technological leaps in video games for the NextGen, and I’m addicted to an online card game with a pegboard.
3. Flaming Carrot Comics. Been re-reading a few back issues. If all comics were like this, the world would be such a better place! Ut!
2. The Family Dynamic Mix. I’m sure you all have this, but if not, grab it, huh? Nice work Rob Morton.
1. (Cop out and a tie) Gimme Fiction and Separation Sunday. See long-winded dribbly review elsewhere on this site!
As always, apologies to Greil Marcus!
So I’ve been working on two separate posts that get at some stuff that I want to put words to for how music can affect a pop geek’s life in certain formative stages.
Unfortunately, both posts read like unbelievable dribble right now, and clock in at an astonishing 1500 words per. Editing away, but that explains the lack of posts here over the weekend. For now, those two suckers are just going to sit there and wait for me to get back to them later when I’m feeling more concise.
Anyway, back to the nonsense.
71 hits and at least 60 downloads of Mr. Morton’s mix, “The Family Dynamic”.
Give me a week or two to let that bandwidth corridor cool off, and we’ll have another mix for you!
One thing I got goin’ for me (besides that whole Dalai Lama thing) is a group of friends who make awesome CD mixes.
One such friend is my New York buddy Rob Morton. Rob and his lovely wife Gwen just had their first child, the absolutely adorable Amelia. Perhaps inspired by his newfound pater familia, Rob has done a CD mix of family-related tunes. Having listened to it three times start-to-finish, it’s damn good stuff.
A few caveats:
-”family-related” means that family (good or bad) is the central theme of the songs on the mix. It is not however, recommended for family listening. Leave it to Mort to find some family songs with f-bombs!
-the mix is not a way for you, me, or anyone else to steal music. For that reason, we’ve deliberately made the whole thing one large .mp3 file (65 mb!). The songs are sequenced, mixed, and crossfaded by Rob himself for maximum enjoyment. If you’re looking for free songs, go download soulseek or something; it’ll be a helluva lot easier than trying to separate these songs from one another and editing out the crossfade stuff. This is Rob’s mix to share with friends, and most of you who know I have a blog fall into that category.
-Get ready for some surprises. Gotta love that Chinatown sample!
You can access the mix, “The Family Dynamic”, right here!
The last couple of weeks have been great weeks for new music. Last week, Brooklyn-via-Minneapolis transplants The Hold Steady released their sophomore long-player, Separation Sunday. Yesterday, Spoon put out their newest, Gimme Fiction.
Both discs are as essential as oxygen, frankly. I’m not sure how much I’ll be able to communicate with you if you haven’t listened to either at length.
First, let’s talk about The Hold Steady. First I’d heard of them was one frigidly cold winter day last January. I was working in Connecticut, but had arranged a 3-day weekend and went to New York where I happened to hook up with some dear friends in that city. One of the items on tap: seeing The Hold Steady at some small underground (literally, in a basement) club. I remember asking my friend Marc what they sounded like. His response?
“Mark E. Springsteen.”
Okay, that’s very, very funny if you’re a fan of The Fall. Seeing the band, they actually fill that bill. There’s a definite and undeniable Springsteen influence in their music (there’s even a “tramps like us” lyric drop on the new disc). But Hold Steady frontman Craig Finn definitely has that Mark E. Smith thing going too–onstage, he twitches, shouts off-mic at unseen demons, sneers, leers, and generally just works up about a gajillions of gallons of sweat up there in service to his songs. He’s a true original, and his poetic lyrics are as brilliant as anything you’ve heard since…I dunno, Born to Run?
Separation Sunday seems to be something of a concept album about a suburban schoolgirl named Holly (short for Halleluiah) who falls in with the wrong crowd, some of whom (like dealer/pimp/hustler Charlemagne) were introduced on the Hold Steady’s debut, Almost Killed Me. The whole thing goes on in alternating lucid and imagistic detail of the horrors of street life until the devastatingly brilliant closer, “How A Resurrection Really Feels.” You like lyrics, do you? Check this out, yo.
“her parents named her halleluiah,
the kids all called her holly.
if she scared you then she’s sorry.
she’s been stranded at these parties.
these parties they start lovely
but they get druggy
and they get ugly
and they get bloody.
the priest just kinda laughed.
the deacon caught a draft.
she crashed into the easter mass
with her hair done up in broken glass.
she was limping left on broken heels
when she said father can i tell yr congregation how a resurrection really feels?”
The addition of a full-time keyboardist Franz Nicolay allows the band to spread out and really rock on songs like “Cattle And The Creeping Things” and the incredible “Banging Camp”….and also allows the piano to come outta nowhere to steal the show on quite a few tracks.
One more thing: whenever folks talk about The Hold Steady, invariably the talk turns to Craig Finn. How can it not? A fascinating songwriter, and perhaps one of the best rock frontmen to come along in a decade, he’s bound to steal the show. That’s what makes the sprawling closer to Sunday such a triumph, because by the second half of the song, the band is rocking like crazy on one of the best album-closing tracks in a long, long time.
Hard to top…
….but then there’s Spoon. Probably a little better known than The Hold Steady, Spoon have ably transformed themselves from dull Paveboy-soundalikes into something bold and original in the last five years. Starting with the Graham Parker & the Rumour-sounding Girls Can Tell back in 2001, though, they started making some of the most brilliant, spare, minimalist pop-rock on the planet.
The Spoon modus is that “less is more”, almost to a fault. 2002′s brilliant-but-flawed Kill The Moonlight had songs that were made up entirely of a piano riff repeating over handclaps or a single snare, for instance. Spoon songwriter/frontman Britt Daniels manages to turn the brilliant trick of building up to points where a huge guitar riff sounds like it should go, or a brilliant, arena-rock chorus should come crashing in…and then pulls back, leaving only empty space and a tremendous amount of tension, just waiting to unleash it later.
Fiction opens with the killer “Beast & Dragon, Adored”. With a descending melody riff powered by piano and bass, it eerily echoes “Silence Kit”, the opener on Pavement’s Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain…but “Adored” is a totally different song by the first verse, and one that immediately won me over with the self-referential lyrics about the music in the chorus. They follow right on the heels of that brilliant opener with “Two Sides Of Monsieur Valentine” and the first single, “I Turn My Camera On”. The former song is as full-bodied a tune as Daniel & Co have tried in a while, with a full string section keeping this sordid little character sketch on the mark. The latter is simply brilliant summer dance pop, taking Hendrix’ “Purple Haze” intro riff and making it percussive, and then adding an “Emotional Rescue” -esque vocal to it, with Daniel not straining at all through the falsettos.
After that, “Delicate Place” seems to offer some acoustic retreat, but again builds to a full-bodied cathartic finish. If the rest of the disc seems to pale in comparison to the brilliant opening tracks, it’s only because there isn’t the immediacy of them in the final half of the album. The more I listen, though, the more I find myself adopting songs like “Was It You”, “I Summon You”, and “Merchants Of Soul” as being perhaps the deepest songs present on this wonderful disc.
Both records are absolutely brilliant, and are standouts in what is already feeling like a tremendous year for music thus far.
Obligatory free stuff, sanctioned by both bands and labels:
The brilliant “Your Little Hoodrat Friend” from The Hold Steady. (Full song)
The brilliant “The Swish” from last year’s Hold Steady disc, Almost Killed Me.
You can also check out the video to Swish and see the band in all their glory here.
And how about a full version of “I Turn My Camera On” from Spoon, too? Ok, thanks Matador!
If you dig music at all, you’re always getting into internet discussions that are way too loaded. “Who’s your favorite band?” “What are your top five favorite albums ever?” “What’s your favorite song ever?”
Those are impossible questions for anyone really absorbed by the subject to answer. Some days, some answers fit my mood, other days, others. Anyone with more than a few dozen CDs or records most likely feels the same way. Picking just a few over so many choices isn’t the kind of question that any of us give satisfactory answers to.
So imagine my chagrin; I think I might have one answer to one of those questions. Favorite song ever? Yeah, maybe I have one, after all.
I first became aware of Neil Young’s “Barstool Blues” thanks to Soul Asylum’s excellent cover of that song from the long-forgotten The Bridge tribute/covers album. Up until that point in my life, I’d never really given Neil a fair shake, but just on the heels of hearing those excellent songs, Ragged Glory came out, and I went into a lengthy period of Young discovery which hit my wallet pretty hard.
For me, at least right now, I’d say “Barstool Blues” is that elusive “favorite song”. While the title promises, I dunno, some sort of pedestrian bar-band workout, nothing could be further from the truth.
Opening with a killer 2-chord guitar riff, Young lays down a pretty solid, if unremarkable first verse over the churning, swirling rock din:
“If I could hold on, for just one thought
For long enough to know
Why my mind is movin’ so fast
And the conversation is slow.
Burn off all the fog and let the sun in to the snow.
Let me see your face again
Before I have to go.”
Ok, that’s a pretty good opening, but not the thing to which any music geek would too readily give their heart to. Still, here you’ve got the classic tale of a guy who’s obviously torn between being drunk (the first two lines) and nervous and shaky (the second two) and realizing that being in that state so much is probably not such a good thing. Hey, such sentiments basically gave birth to today’s alt-country movement, so if Neil wants to be joining a long, long line of antecedents dating to before Hank Williams, Leadbelly, and Robert Johnson, who are we to naysay it?
The second verse though (no choruses in “Blues”, oddly enough) is where things start to come unglued and Neil makes it clear that this is not the song that you think it is. This isn’t a barroom anthem for crappy Skynyrd cover bands. This is something more….meta…than any of that. This song is out there, and starting with the second verse, it wanders way off the reservation into new territory.
“I have seen you in the movies
And in those magazines at night.
I saw you on the barstool
When you held that glass so tight.
And I saw you in my nightmares
But I’ll see you in my dreams.
And I might live a thousand years
Before I know what that means.”
Can we get to one thing first? The couplet “And I saw you in my nightmares/But I’ll see you in my dreams” is the kind of thing that any great classic poet would be proud of. I think those two lines stand as one of the greatest–and one of the very few–examples of rock and roll lyrics as poetry. The problem with “rock lyrics as poetry” is that usually those lyrics end up looking pedestrian at best (or howlingly awful at worst) when denied their music accompaniment. That’s not the case with that couplet.
On this verse, we’re back to the person that the narrator was too drunk/nervous/strung out to talk to in the first. The first two lines here might be about a specific actress or model…but I think here Young is just doing the metaphor for a beautiful woman looking like a movie star or magazine model. The next two lines we realize that Young is a voyeur here, too messed up to talk to this woman, whom he clearly sees as out of his league…and whom he realizes is probably trouble with a capital T. And so we hit the third and final verse, and here’s where things get even more poetic, and then some.
“Once there was a friend of mine
Who died a thousand deaths
His life was filled with parasites
And countless idle threats.
He trusted in a woman
And on her he made his bets.
Once there was a friend of mine
Who died a thousand deaths.”
There it is, really. A great flourish of a finish to a brilliant song. I get the feeling that there is no “friend of mine”; the details of “parasites” and “idle threats” are far too intimate for a “friend” to know about. No, the “friend” is the narrative voice of the song, perhaps having separated himself so much from the naive true love believer who had his heart broken that this previous incarnation has become a separate person to him entirely. I can see that: every time I’ve had a long term relationship in which the “L-word” got tossed off, when that relationship comes apart, I look at the guy I was when the relationship was going on and wonder “who the hell was that gullible bastard?”
In any event, verse three ties it all together. The narrator seems to be coming to grips with the fact that if one’s life is filled with parasites and countless idle threats that seeking salvation in anything–especially looking for a woman to save you–is pretty much a good way to end up worse than you were before.
None of that would matter though, if the song didn’t just totally kick ass. As mentioned above, Soul Asylum covered it. So did the Feelies, and Yo La Tengo. Ex-Lone Justice singer Maria McKee has a new album with it, and the Washington Post recently had this to say about it in reviewing her new CD:
“A cover of Neil Young’s “Barstool Blues” is practically perfect, if only because the song was mostly perfect to begin with…”