Thursday, January 29, 2009

Barely Contained Pandemonium: Second Thoughts on The Dodos

After I got done watching the video of “Fools” by the Dodo’s a bazillion times like I was a teenager who just discovered MTV (or whatever the kids watch these days), I actually picked up Visiter and have been exploring it heavily for the last few weeks.

First off it is important to get into your mind that this is basically two guys, Meric Long and Logan Koeber, making a lot of sound that reminds me of XTC. Their tools include one acoustic guitar (although there is electric guitar, particularly feedback, scattered throughout the album) and drums—and I mean drums. There are no cymbals although there is the occasional tambourine or bell thrown in for jangle and a metal sound, but for the most part rims and sticks serve to create the counter-punch to the heavy deep tom-tom sound. Oh and their voices. But basically everything is percussive—even when they are in quiet mode, the drumming and banging is anticipated.

Parts of this disc are simply wonderful—if I compiled a best songs of 2008, “Fools” certainly would have been near the top the list. In fact, the opening four songs which are really just two short acoustic pieces (“Walking” and “Eyelids”) each which set up great drum-driven, fast strumming acoustic pieces (“Red and Purple” and “Fools”). And I think we know how important those opening tracks are to me.

Plenty of folks have made the comparison to Animal Collective. Yes, there is yelling and hooting—one might even suggest barking—and yes, there is plenty of primal drumming and repetitive beats, but the Dodos just aren’t that complicated in the end. Ultimately, they are two young dudes who have a bunch of talent and an interesting idea about song arrangement, but mainly they have tons of energy that they seem to be doing all they can to contain within the structure of these songs. So it doesn’t come as too much of a surprise that while the lyrics are fine for the most part, the middle of the album contains a couple really sophomoric songs, which, Crawdaddy precisely assesses as the valley of the album. Similarly, most of the songs have some great build and tension and resolution, but here and there the boys to go on as long as a Genesis keyboard solo. In short, they could have used one more good edit.

Still, this is a romp of an album and a really fresh sound. That said, I can’t help but feel that they are still working it out a bit and finding their stride—as if they are on the verge. We will see. I think they have the potential to put out a really amazing album if they can narrow in on the best parts of their music and lose just a tad of the silliness without losing their edge.

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Red and Purple

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Acid Tongue: Perhaps a Bit More Base?

As I continue to catch up on albums from 2008, I have been listening a lot lately to Jenny Lewis' second solo effort, Acid Tongue. Having enjoyed exploring some of the work of Rilo Kiley last year, I was hopeful about getting into Lewis' solo work. The album was getting a solid set of reviews and as the year was coming to a close, it was showing up on a lot of top "this and that" lists.

Now surely you are hearing the sound of the other shoe getting ready to drop. Only kind of. It isn't that I dislike this album or think it is undeserving of some of the praise it received, but rather that I found it inconsistent and my reaction therefore is a bit ambivalent (leaving me unable to weigh in on either side of the haiku debate over the album in Paste). Much of the debate about this album seems to be related to those who were positive about her first non-Rilo Kiley effort (they don't like this one as much) and those who didn't like the first effort (they loved this one).

The album opens with, in my opinion, what is one of the weakest tracks, "Black Sand," which is simply too sparse and repetitive for my taste. The second track is an improvement, but at this point of the disc my first impression was "really underwhelmed" (and that hasn't changed much after many, many listens). Albums with a track or two that don't measure up to the strongest parts of the album are neither uncommon nor unbearable, but when an album opens with one or two of those tracks, it is harder to get past.

The disc takes a decided turn at this point though, with the third track, "The Next Messiah," being the single that has garnered some of the most attention. It is an 8 minute-plus, three part bluesy-gospel-rock affair that starts with a Doors-like guitar riff (think "Love Me Two Times"), followed by a section that has a Talking Heads "Take Me to the River" feel, and then a section that has an INXS sound to me, with a final culmination of the song's theme to wrap it up. The song's story, involving a "troubled relationship" sets up the next song, "Bad Man's World," both thematically and musically.

At song five, the album finds its stride. As the UNCUT review puts it "from that point on, fortunately, there’s a perceptible sense of Lewis finding gear." The next three songs, which are those sampled below, are by far the best on the album and show Lewis' best songwriting ability. Honest and revealing, simple and straightforward but with an edge to the character sketches and stories, and beautiful. And the mix at this moment of the album is wonderful--with "See Fernando" perfectly framed by the revealing title cut and "Godspeed."

From there, I hang in on the strength of these central songs. The next tune "Carpetbagger" is a great rollicking tune that I was all into until who should appear? Elvis Costello of course, who appears to be making a new career out of guest appearances. Now, as I have said before, I love Elvis, but this obsession of apparently everyone to have him on their album is getting a bit obnoxious--it even made me laugh when I read Pitchfork's assessment:

The first minute or so of the shit-kicking "Carpetbaggers" is pretty thrilling, too, at least until Elvis Costello shows up to wheeze all over everything.
That said, the last three tracks are interesting and round out the album quite nicely. In addition the live-in-studio recording gives the album a nice intimacy and energy. Definitely going to go back and pick up the first Lewis solo effort and will follow her in the future as well. If you haven't, you might want to pick up this album too.

Acid Tongue
See Fernando

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


I have noticed a number of folks posting about not posting a lot lately—guess that includes me. Here are my excuses.

  • First off, this past weekend involved the metropolitan area in which we live being overrun with people wanting to get to a certain event, which while it did not consume a lot of our time, was a very welcome distraction—particularly seeing more people gathered on the National Mall than the number of people out there who still approve of the last eight years!
  • Then of course there was The Next Big Project which is really what is taking up my time and will continue to for the foreseeable future, although hopefully not forever.
  • That project meant that the TV got moved down into the basement (aka, the Last Big Project) whch meant that after eight years of nothing but network and public television, we bit the bullet and had FIOS TV installed resulting in much slouching on a couch surfing hundreds of stations and staying up way too late watching culturally important cult films.
  • This was only exacerbated by the NetFlix queue being backlogged and our guilty consciences that if we are paying for these, we better watch them—not that we don’t enjoy the movies and it was especially fun to finally see the Wilco documentary I Am Trying to Break Your Heart at long last (during which I kept thinking they should have just cast Jack Black as Jay Bennett to fully convey the “he is the high-maintenance, pain in the ass, whiny, uptight guy who was ruining the band” message).

And, of course, there is the blogging about not blogging about music which takes time away from, well, blogging about music.

Friday, January 16, 2009

More Cathedrals, Fewer Cowboys: Second Thoughts on Joan Osborne

Ever since I suggested that I wouldn’t be able to keep myself from purchasing the latest Joan Osborne album I have been swamped with emails from anxious readers wondering whether or not I did, what I thought, etc. I have been meaning to write about it since I did, of course, get it (the next day) and listened to it considerably. The fact that I generally thought it a pretty mediocre album has probably been why I have put it off. I guess I can’t love everything—although I try.

Here is the deal with Little Wild One. I bought it because the single I heard had all this wonderful New York imagery overlaid on a hymn-like-tune and I could just imagine an album of such landscapes generally in that style—with appropriate variation. And, in fact there are other songs that are in that vein and are equally as good. Unfortunately they are interwoven in with just as many songs that are okay, but nothing special with the occasional song that makes me reach immediately for the skip button. For instance, I wasn’t really ready for the western motif to be dropped on me in the middle of the album with Joan singing yippee-aye-eh, yippee-aye-oh (about her long lost cowboy lover). Ack.

No, the album I was hoping for would have sounded like the three songs I am going to share (including “Cathedrals” which I shared before)—although this should be considered the highlights rather than a sample in my mind. They all have a New York theme/setting and they all have gospel and blues running through them that really let Osborne show off that great alto voice.

And lastly, in the category of "my obsession with song order," I really love how the disc-replay-rollover (technical term) gives you “Hallelujah In The City” (the first song on the disc and a fine opener) after you have just heard “Bury Me Down On The Battery” as the last song on the disc—in fact, let me give you the songs in that order. And, of course, you don’t have to take my word for it, you could buy the album.

Bury Me Down On The Battery
Hallelujah In The City

Thursday, January 15, 2009

"R" is for Raconteurs

The Raconteurs 2008 release Consolers of the Lonley:
  • rocks hard on the the majority of the album including the rouncus opening two tracks;
  • reflects (at times) the move from the Motor City to The South;
  • has rippin' guitars and Jack White vocals that often sound like rippin' guitars;
  • recounts (of course);
  • rated a consistent 80/100 over at the Big Board (with some hard and low outliers that dragged their rating down a bit);
  • resembles a Who-angst-driven-teenage-rock-opera at moments;
  • rollicks;
  • rages about middle-aged boredom with work (although this might be over-reading);
  • relies heavily on the blues;
  • rebels (also, of course);
  • is accurately reviewed by Rolling Stone when they note: "Overall, Consolers feels less like a project and more like a jam session. But it's fun to watch White make things up as he goes along"; and,
  • presents a real challenge in terms of which songs to share.
Here R three that hopefully reflect the overall rockin affair. Bottom line is that you must be ready for some heavy blues rock, with some wonderful accousitic intervals and even an ocassional bit of horn playing.

Old Enough
Hold Up
Carolina Drama

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Three to Consider: Video Edition

I am swimming in tunes but am too lazy today to try to write about any of them right now. So why not distract myself with three albums from last year that I have a suspicious feeling will be winding their way to the Room. And let me give them to you in video version which (unusually for me) makes them all the more interesting given the energy all three bands exude.

First up is The Dodo's with "Fools" from their new album Visiter.

Next is Elbow with "Grounds for Divorce" from Seldom Seen Kid but you have to go over to the Tubes proper to see this one which will give you the advantage of checking out others as well. And last, via Song, By Toad is Meursault with "Pissing on Bonfires" from Pissing on Bonfires/Kissing with Tongues.

Monday, January 12, 2009

She & Him: Sweet and Sticky

For a brief moment, I thought I'd try to catch up on albums I missed in 2008. Then I ran into Music Blog Zeitgeist (warning: you'll never return) and realized the folly of my endeavor. Still, I shall persist.

First up is She & Him: Volume One which I had read about in bits and pieces about through the second half of last year, but it just wasn’t jumping up in the Room queue. However, it started showing up in all kinds of year end lists including ended up at the top of the heap for Paste and so in the last round of consumption, Zooey Deschanel and Matt Ward ended up in the players (focus on the “s”—it is important).

Why the hesitancy in the first place? Well, there is that whole thing that most artists that I tend to like, don’t come fresh off of a Jim Carrey film (not that I am judging Jim Carrey). Okay, that isn’t totally fair—Deschanel has made a lot of other films and has been singing in them and in other venues/arrangements for longer than one might think. And M. Ward has his own rising career that is worth noting as well. And yet, it seemed so awfully poppy sounding, but off I went.

My first reaction was to wonder what all the glowing reviews were about. It was cute and fun--a throwback novelty. It gave me the feeling that I could throw this in the player with some other hip lounge tunes and have friends over for a retro-1960s party with Pink Ladies and Grasshoppers. It probably didn’t help that I was driving home on a drizzling, cold Saturday evening in downtown Washington, D.C. with all the lights glimmering off the wet pavement and cars as I watched couples wrapped in long coats and scarves scamper from taxis into restaurants and bars like something out of a Rat Pack movie. But then I am home and She & Him are on while we are making dinner and later it is on the stereo, and back in the car the next day, and why can’t I stop listening to this album?

Well, I am not sure, but I couldn’t can’t. The songs are nothing sophisticated, although the more I listen the more I appreciate the arrangements which have some really nice subtle touches--a little piano fill here, subtle strings there, nice synchopation over there, etc. Deschanel doesn’t have what you would describe as amazing range, but somehow the sincerity of her singing overcomes the sweetness of the songs. There is a mix of standard love songs, lazy country-swing tunes and upbeat pop tunes with girl-group harmonies and, of course, a certain indie feel. Rolling Stone is right that the original stuff (all the songs but two are composed by Zooey) is better than the covers, but ultimately the whole thing holds together in one tasty melodic treat.

Still not sure it would make my top ten list (if I had one), but I do think I get what others saw in this album, or perhaps it got me. Here are three to take you back to your AM radio listening days.

Buy Album

This Is Not a Test
Take It Back
I Was Made for You

Friday, January 9, 2009

Rambling Boy Rambles

Let’s start with this. I love Charlie Haden. First off he has a discography that is simply amazing both in terms of its breadth and in terms of the number of different musicians and bands with whom he has collaborated. Now if you are not a jazz fan (primarily) you may not know Charlie Haden—although his collaborations with Pat Metheny has brought him more mainstream attention I suspect. But you don’t have to be a jazz fan to like this album. In fact, I suspect some Charlie Haden jazz fans won’t totally dig this album.

See Charlie Haden started out as a member of his family’s country and bluegrass band singing on radio shows in the 1940s and 50s (beginning when he was two years old) and this album is his return to that genre. This time, however, it is with his own children and family (and the help of an impressive line-up of friends).

Now these me and “all-my-famous-friends” discs can often be less than notable and rarely hold together as albums, but in this case it does. The songs and the music are well arranged both musically and sequentially (with exceptions noted below). The stars fit into the overall theme rather than standing out like odd additions or a random collection of famous folks. For example, I love Elvis Costello, but lately it seems he has been showing up everywhere in not so subtle ways; but here he blends in just fine—as does Bruce Hornsby, Vince Gill, Rosanne Cash, Ricky Skaggs and even Jack Black.

Yes, that Jack Black. See he is married to one of the Haden triplets who are central to the album as this is, after all, a family affair. And let’s talk about the family. First off, the pieces where the triplets—Petra, Tanya and Rachel—are singing together or in duets are wonderful and run throughout the album. Josh, the son, also has a great solo piece on the album. But ultimately, I have to say the weak pieces are the solo efforts by the daughters—and as the album is very long (18 songs) it could benefit from some editing.

Now, who am I to say that Charlie Haden, who has played with Ornette Coleman, Keith Jarrett, Kenny Barron, Pat Metheny, Ricki Lee Jones and on and on, doesn’t have the right to let his daughters (who have their own musical credentials) sing solos? “No one” is the answer. And actually, I am getting attached to the whole disc as it is as a family effort (with great musicians supporting them), but my first reaction was to edit this down by three or four tunes.

Ultimately this is a fun album from a great artist and his family and it is worth more than a listen.
Here is a sample of the trio (a song my wife seems to take great pleasure in), a guest, the son, the son-in-law and Haden himself.

Single Girl, Married Girl
20/20 Vision
Old Joe Clark
Oh Shenendoah

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Second Thoughts: Shorter Cory Chisel

I already indicated that I am intrigued by Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons (enough to include them in the year-end wrap up), but the reality is that we will have to wait and see as there is just not that much to know yet. We have the EP which, by definition, is short. We have reviews, which due to the limited amount of music out there, are short. And we have video, which there is quite a bit of, but which just about covers all the music out there, which is, well short.

I have listened to the EP a lot over the last few weeks and I really like the sound and particularly Chisel's vocals. The songs are solid as is the music. It is honest, but not all that sophisticated which is fine for openers, but we will have to see how it comes out in an album or two. I am hoping we get to see this group grow and produce music that will stick, but that is yet to be seen. Until then, here is one more tune from the EP for your consideration.

Lovers and Friends

Monday, January 5, 2009

New Year's Blog Resolution

So starting this blog last year was both fun and educational. I learned a lot from other music bloggers and have tried to steal employ their best ideas.  In particular, I have been trying to do what needs to be done to promote music and artists.  To that end, I am now going to implement a policy that many others have which is to unlink the mp3 files after a certain amount of time.  Many take files down after a week or two, but I am resolving to do this in a somewhat different manner.  Once a post gets bumped off the front page, the mp3 will go away as well (if the post has one).  All of which is to say that if you want to check out a tune, you need to do it during its brief stay on the home page.

And now back to cleaning up all the old posts with files still embedded in them!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

RIP: Freddie Hubbard

I was so entrenched in my family vacation visit, that I missed the passing of one of the greatest jazz trumpeters from the Blue Note era: Freddie Hubbard. He, of course, came up with all those great players in the late 1950s and early '60s. He had an absolutely wonderful ability to mix bop and smooth playing to create a beautiful lyrical sound that will carry on forever.

Here are a couple tunes that I love--one from his famous Ready for Freddie album and another from one of my favorite Herbie Hancock albums that Freddie played on, Takin' Off.

Crisis (from Ready for Freddie)
Watermelon Man (from Takin' Off)

And of course there is the Art Blakey connection as there is with so many of the greats. Here is a take on "Moanin'" from a Jazz Messenger classic with a young Freddie rippin the lead solo.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Vienna Treats for the New Year

I continue to debate the question as to whether this blog should focus exclusively on one genre of music (what I listen to most often) or strive to be more eclectic (everything I listen to or read/hear about). Who is the audience he wonders? But while I ponder that I sit hear in a German household on New Year's Day night which means one thing: football! Just kidding. It means the traditional New Year's Day Concert from Vienna.

For those who are unfamiliar with this event, it is performed by the Vienna Philharmonic and is one of the most popular concerts of the year which includes silly visual imagery and dancing (horses and people--don't ask) supposed to reflect the music which is predominantly upbeat with lots of the Strauss family and a few other Austrians. I love the music and would prefer just watching the orchestra, but who am I to mess with tradition?!

Seems like a nice moment to share a disc from this past Fall that I never got around to writing about. My Heart Alone features Angelika Kirchschlager and Simon Keenlyside singing selections from various operetta from Strauss (Johann II) and his buds around the continent.

Now I know virtually nothing about operetta and I really don't have a clue about how to start writing about this disc. It came to me by way of Gramophone which gave it a high recommendation and was included in the Editor's Picks for September 2008. This is not to say it is widely acclaimed--some went at it with a snideness I believe is reserved for reviewers of classical music.

All I know is I enjoy the performances (particularly Kirchschlager's) and the music. It is amazing how effortless the singing is (to me) and the general "waltziness" of it all is an interesting twist on opera (again, to me). One last bonus--the liner notes to the disc are a great introduction to the music and the genre so it is a nice place to start.

Enough. I will not try to say more than I know. Here are three tracks--one duet and one aria by each--for you to judge. Evening attire and champagne is required before listening.

Weißt du es noch (from The Gypsy Princess)
Es lebt eine Vilja (from The Merry Widow)
Du sollst der Kaiser meiner Seele sein (from The Favourite) Buy Album