Archive for September, 2006

30
Sep
06

Another One Man Jam Perfecting Pop Music

Actually, that title’s statement could be entirely false since I have yet to hear a lick beyond this potential classic I stumbled upon while digging around my old desktop last week. The song  is , “Striptease” by the Canadian singer/songwriter Hawksley Workman. (Hawksley Workman) Maybe he’s a perfectionist, or just has a desire to show how truly musically inclined he is, because like Prince and Mahaffey, (Matt Mahaffey) Hawksley plays all the instruments himself and handles vocal duties as well. At least that is what I quickly gathered. Regardless of how little I may know of this man and his possible masterpieces, I do know this, the song below is a great glam meets crunchy guitar pop gem with truly simple, yet sincere lyrics.

It’s never very hard stayin’ true
When i’m stayin’ true to you
And your kisses are all i think about
The proof is in your moves and your grooves
And the little things you do
And the silly things you laugh about

Striptease-Hawksley Workman

28
Sep
06

Interior Demonstration

the-features.jpgmatt-pelham.jpgrollum-haas.jpgcover_features_contrast.jpg

Back in the fall of 2001, I decided to hit Nashville to see Self, the aforementioned band Joe mentioned a few days ago that ties the three of us together.  They were performing at 328 Performance Hall (the venue has since closed) as part of the New Music Conference.  Self shared a bill made up of acts from the old Spongebath Records label (with the exception of Detachment Kit).  One of those bands – a gritty, tight, four-piece outfit from Sparta, Tennessee called The Features blew my mind and quickly turned into the highlight of the trip.  I attended the show practically knowing nothing about the band.  I departed a fan for life.

Their songs are blended with swirling guitars and mesmerizing keys while minced with a cadence of shotgun-triggered percussion.  On plastic, the band is quick and consistent.  On stage, they’re a unit possessed, determined to play every chord like it’s their last.

Earlier in the month, The Features self-released an EP entitled Contrast in hopes of generating label interest.  The theme of the five-song set surrounds a conflict with their previous label, Universal Records, which occurred just after the first of the year.  The band was met with an indirect ultimatum: either they had to agree to record a cover version of “All You Need Is Love” by the Beatles or face being dropped from the label before releasing another album.  The song was intended to be used in a credit card commercial, and subsequently released as the first single on the new album. 

Never one to give in to outside pressures, The Features decided to walk, and in doing so sacrificed their own future while leaving a potentially lucrative offer on the table.  The situation is best described in “Guillotine” when Pelham sings:

“Now they take you by the arm / And out the door you learn / As they’re driving you away, you hear ‘off with his head’ / Soon you’re surrounded / ‘cuz everybody knows / There’ll be no admission, ahh, to see your show”

The Features :: Guillotine

I’m quite fond of songs about wilted relationships, so I couldn’t resist posting this one about a guy attempting to make himself a new heart after having it broken, only to discover it just doesn’t keep the same beat as it once did.

The Features :: Wooden Heart

If you like these songs, please support the band and purchase the album here.

28
Sep
06

Inside me I’m a drowning fool

NL

Being a fan of smaller, independently run bands has always had its benefits, like witnessing them in an intimate venue, always playing their heart out for you, and just a plain love of making music, among other reasons, of course. Unfortunately though, a lot of these bands eventually break down and call it quits, but luckily more often than not, a surviving member or two usually pair back up together to form another group with new members, at times, even a supergroup. (Wired All Wrong) In this case, there was National Skyline, who had members of well-respected Champaign, IL bands, such as Castor and Hum. (Hum) Castor had at the time an emo feel to them, and Hum had that spacey meets dreamy rock feel with just enough guitar feedback to satisfy one’s shoegaze fetish. Hum had at times a very radio friendly sound that did garner them some much due praise in the mid to late 90’s, but regardless of either band’s success, neither made it out of the 90’s.

Take 1 part bass from Hum (Dimpsey) and then add the singer/guitarist from Castor (Garber, who later helped to shape Year of the Rabbit) to form National Skyline. Being at times a minimalistic, atmospheric sounding band that twists knobs to produce electronic effects most likely made it rather difficult to fit into any one specific marketable genre, and most likely wasn’t too radio friendly either in early 2000 and 2001, but luckily, for us, they did produce three albums, with one being more of an EP. You’ll quickly realize Thom Y. wasn’t the only one perfecting this sound back in ’00.

R.I.Y.L-Radiohead (Kid A era), The Notwist, ON (Ken Andrews)

National Skyline-Morse Code

National Skyline-Metropolis

Purchase an album here.

26
Sep
06

The Pop in Self

The Anglophile in me has been running rampant.  I already have to write alongside the more eclectic tastes of Dave and Jason, who can break it down on the dance floor, China Room-style, as easily as they can hit Lollapalooza and drop science about the historicity of indie-rock in the new millennium.  So, I’m feeling I need to expand a little here, and move beyond my obvious devotion to The Jam, for which my musical compass will forever revolve around.  They are the gold standard, a group with more incredible songs than I can keep track of even though their recording days have long since passed, and the one group I wish I had been able to see in their heyday.  As much as I respect, admire, and love the Clash (and Mick Jones’s later work with all derivations of Big Audio Dynamite), I love the Jam that much more.  So much so, that with very few exceptions (Amsterdam, The Clash, Chisel), most of my music is not at all similar sounding, because The Jam capture all of my other interests and make it something all their own, with the obvious exception of alt.country (not much Brit.alt.country).

Toward the end of Jason’s last year in college (my 3rd year), I rather innocently handed him a CD by Self.  Based on Self’s progression from guitar-pop to doing-Beck-before-Beck, I thought Jason would dig.  Self is how Jason first met Dave, so this little site should really be named “Better than Aliens.”  I never knew how important my CD handover would be.  In terms of our musical interests, it was revolutionary.  Soon enough, I would be listening to Pearl Jam’s “Off He Goes” repeatedly for weeks, and Jason would become indie Chicago guru, catching secret shows of The Smoking Popes and my constant source for the inevitability of asking, “Who is ___________, how about ____________?”.

So, what now to recommend.  The whole point of this post, is that despite my relatively narrow musical stylings (after all, music is insanely diverse), my interests are deceptively diverse—as long as it has some some pop craftsmanship.  Britpop, Jangle Pop, Paisley Underground, Indie-pop, punk, power pop, mod, Celtic, alt.country, reggae, Outkast, college rock—you get the point.  I’m an addict for hooks.  When I first met Matt Mahaffey, Self himself, I asked him if he had ever listened to the work of Scott Miller (check link for mind-boggling Top 20 for each year between 1965-99), lead singer of Game Theory (1980s) and The Loud Family (1990s-2000s).  He humored me and acted like he was all about Scott Miller.  Maybe he was, maybe he was being nice.  Still, I saw the work of Mahaffey as quite similar to Miller, who despite his formidable base of pop, likes to extend his work into the slightly experimental, especially in his mid-period Loud Family work.  More Big Star though than Beatles, Miller’s music is decidedly American, as one of the most significant artists of the Paisley Underground scene of the early 1980s—the Northern California ying to the Southeast yang of jangle-pop.

I’m clueless how to capture a 20+ recording career with a single song, so I’m posting two.  One Game Theory era, one from his still current Loud Family era.  The most unique aspect of Miller, other than his voice, which he loves to criticize and call a “miserable whine,” are the unique song structures.  Something is always off, it’s pop with a stop-and-start, off-kilter, uneasy, yet always remarkable underlying pop savvyness.  Miller is also an intellect, whose lyrics straddle a fine line of high-minded obscurity and observational musings of the depth buried in the everyday.

Enjoy…..

Game Theory: “Crash into June”

The Loud Family: “Spot the Setup”

Future musings: Band of Horses (Fox Theatre, Boulder), Johan, Alejandro Escovedo, The Decemberists, Sloan @ Pop Montreal, Robyn Hitchcock, The Chills, The Jam (duh), and Amsterdam revisited.

As Jason wrote in his comment, I present Scott Miller (Empty Bottle, Chicago, Jason: “He’s a mad scientist.”  Here he’s pictured with producer Mitch Easter and Shelley LaFreniere in 1985.

1 - Scott, Mitch Easter and Shelley LaFreniere in Mitch's Drive-In Studio, Winston-Salem, NC, recording BSC during Real Nighttime tour, 1985

25
Sep
06

And hurry up with my waffle…

Chip and Stoney, Rum and Coke, Derric (Fatlip) Stewart and Spike Jonze, these are just some examples of unstoppable combinations, and of course, there are pairs that exist in the music world as well that cannot even begin to be stepped to. Take most likely the most timeless and successful independent label of probably all time, Motown Records, and then take the DJ who can turn a few Iron Maiden jams into danceable numbers to even hip hop kids, who is none other than DJ Z-Trip (Z’s site) to form probably one of my favorite “mixes” of the past few years. Everyone is familiar with the likes of ‘My Girl’ from The Temptations or Marvin’s ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’, but when pieced together with such other timeless pop gems like ‘Ball of Confusion’, Starr’s ‘War’, and even a great harmony from the boyz who came outta Philly, this blend of classic artists begins to take a whole new shape all of its own. This track is something that sounds just as fresh as those original songs did when they spawned out of Hitsville, USA over 40 years ago. Bounce that!

DJ Z-Trip-Motown Breakdown Part 1

And if you have part 2, please get at me.

24
Sep
06

For the record, it’s Amsterdam

After a quite enjoyable evening dining with a few good friends here in Boulder, I told Colin (yes, famous for Big Ink Colin) that I would e-mail him a song by my “current favorite [active] band.”  I quickly realized though that the purpose of this blog is to extend that web of personal sharing of which everybody who knows me quickly comes to know.  Dave made an earlier remark last week about there not being a need to make note of favorite bands, styles, and other issues of taste because it all would slowly reveal itself with time.  While I certainly agree, and my musical interests go well beyond my “current favorite [active] band,” I still feel there’s a need to make a special mention of Amsterdam.

So, Amsterdam. 

 The Journey

Amsterdam is currently shopping for a new (and better) label and haven’t released their official debut CD, The Journey, outside of the UK, so maybe I will be part of something larger in time.  They are the first band that inspired me to travel 5000 miles for a concert.  That says something (maybe more about me though).  Their music is decidedly not indie in that Shins vis-à-vis Pavement-eque way, and they also don’t fit the Britpop moniker, despite having been conceived in Liverpool.  They are a though, a significant artist IMO.

So, now is when I tell you why I like Amsterdam and why you might.  Of course, that’s impossible, but I’ll say the following.  Amsterdam is inspired by The Jam, The Clash, Bruce Springsteen, and a time in which more than merely the famous could be political in their music without making it the main issue.  So, Amsterdam is not political in the way, say, The Levellers are political.  That’s not the goal, but it comes across in the music.  I’m about to make a completely sweeping generalization, but here goes.  While I love indie music, how often does indie music stand for something even indirectly?  The Decemberists and a few others spring to mind, but more often than not, it’s simply not the case.  However, back in the 80s (another sweeper here), the “indie”/college bands of the day were addressing political issues under the guise of catchy pop (see R.E.M, “Cuyahoga,” etc.) 

I have a lot of work to do, so I’m going to have to cut my discussion short.  I will post an Amsterdam b-side, that I trust the people will enjoy.  Also, directly below, I’m linking to the band’s accoustic performance of “Joe’s Kiss” (written for fallen hero Joe Strummer) on BBC2.  It’s one of the band’s finest hours, despite it being more relaxed than the band’s electric set.

Here’s the b-side “You Can’t Trust the People.” 

While I’m a huge fan of democracy (even have some t-shirts), this song perfectly captures the essence of Paul Weller in The Jam’s classic “Going Underground,” when he laments: “And the public gets what the public wants/But I want nothing this society’s got/I’m going underground, (going underground).”  Talk about a lyrical masterpiece.  Of course though, the public doesn’t always get what the public wants, since “You choose your leaders and place your trust/As their lies wash you down and their promises rust,” but that’s for another day.

Gosh, this YouTube linking is so great I’m finally posting below a video I shot of “Joe’s Kiss” being performed at an Amsterdam warm-up gig the night before the big stage at Matthew Street in Liverpool.  It was held at the Olde Red Lion in Little Sutton, Ellesmere Port.  I promise, no more in this posting!

23
Sep
06

I wanna, li-li-li-lick you…

So bad that it’s good? Perhaps.

Luda

If Chris ‘Luda’ Bridges is talented enough to cross over into other art mediums such as movies, then obviously Travis Morrison can cover a song not necessarily in his usual genre, right? The people either fortunately or maybe unfortunately enough to have heard this cover obviously didn’t think so. I mean, the bible (Pitchfork’s thoughts) wanted to take back everything they ever mentioned about Morrison’s former band, The Dismemberment Plan, who years ago sat on the highest of pedestals as a very forward thinking indie rock group. Everything that people hated though, I began to truly love and appreciate, especially the “broken toy guitar”, or as some people dubbed it, the rubber band. Travis’ vocal delivery though is really, what caught my attention from the beginning. His cadence is actually faster than Luda in the original, which brings almost a new direction to the track; but in the end, that’s why covers exist. To be more true to the original, Morrison should have thrown in a backing female vocalist, like maybe Sue Cie. (Sexy)

Travis Morrison-What’s Your Fantasy

And if you’re searching for more mediocre rap songs covered by guitars, then here you go…that three exclamation band also did a great cover of Nate Dogg’s ‘Get Up’. In true dance fashion, they extended it to close to 10 minutes. Recommended.

!!!-Get Up




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