Monday, December 26, 2011

Fugazi - 20,000 songs

I have decided to review all 830 or so shows in the Fugazi live series!

Actually, I won't be doing that. I changed my mind.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Top 30 Albums of 2011

Emmylou Harris - Hard Bargain30. Emmylou Harris - Hard Bargain

White Denim - D29. White Denim - D

Foo Fighters - Wasting Light28. Foo Fighters - Wasting Light

Burial - Street Halo EP27. Burial - Street Halo EP

Melodie Nelson - Meditations on the Sun26. Melodie Nelson - Meditations on the Sun

Dum Dum Girls - Only in Dreams25. Dum Dum Girls - Only in Dreams

24. Gorillaz - The Fall

Six Organs of Admittance - Asleep on the Floodplain23. Six Organs of Admittance - Asleep on the Floodplain

Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues22. Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues

Fucked Up - David Comes to Life21. Fucked Up - David Comes to Life
Deerhoof - Deerhoof vs Evil20. Deerhoof - Deerhoof vs Evil
50 Foot Wave - With Love from the Men's Room EP19. 50 Foot Wave - With Love from the Men's Room EP

Boris - Attention Please18. Boris - Attention Please
Zomby - Dedication17. Zomby - Dedication

The Pierces - You & I16. The Pierces - You & I
Leader Cheetah - Lotus Skies15. Leader Cheetah - Lotus Skies
Thurston Moore - Demolished Thoughts14. Thurston Moore - Demolished Thoughts

Gillian Welch - The Harrow and the Harvest13. Gillian Welch - The Harrow and the Harvest
Gotye - Making Mirrors12. Gotye - Making Mirrors

Wire - Red Barked Tree11. Wire - Red Barked Tree
Cut Copy - Zonoscope10. Cut Copy - Zonoscope
Radiohead - The King of Limbs9. Radiohead - The King of Limbs
Alela Diane - Alela Diane & Wild Divine8. Alela Diane - Alela Diane & Wild Divine
Battles - Gloss Drop7. Battles - Gloss Drop
Wild Flag - Wild Flag6. Wild Flag - Wild Flag

Tom Waits - Bad As Me5. Tom Waits - Bad As Me
St. Vincent - Strange Mercy4. St. Vincent - Strange Mercy
Bill Callahan - Apocalypse3. Bill Callahan - Apocalypse
Mogwai - Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will2. Mogwai - Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will
Boris - Heavy Rocks1. Boris - Heavy Rocks

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Bob Dylan - The Witmark Demos: 1962-1964

Bob Dylan - The Witmark Demos: 1962-1964

This entry in the Bootleg Series is number 9; I don't know why it took Columbia 19 years and that many volumes to release 47 tracks from Dylan's gestational period as an artist while they saw fit to release a rarities collection spanning 1998-2006 two years ago. Apparently only 15 of the 47 tracks haven't shown up in other versions either on official releases or earlier bootlegs, but as I haven't heard any of the other entries in the bootleg series (barring the relatively recent live albums), this isn't an issue for me.

It seems Dylan started churning out original material at a rapid rate following his covers heavy debut in early 1962; although some of the non-LP tracks borrow melodies from traditional sources, only "Baby Let Me Follow You Down" is a cover. Not only is more than half of 1963's The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan here in demo form, but also four from 1964's The Times They Are a-Changin' (including the title track) and even a piano version of "Mr. Tambourine Man", which eventually showed up on the acoustic half of 1965's Bringing It All Back Home. These demos are lyrically and compositionally identical to their well known counterparts; the main differences, besides fidelity, are in the nuances of Dylan's performances. Befitting a protest song, Dylan's staccato strumming on "Blowin' in the Wind" is more pronounced on the Freewheelin' version than the version presented here.

The non-LP tracks find Dylan at various stages of his transition from folk juke box to protest singer with an original voice and showcase an array of influences, such as Mississippi John Hurt in the fingerpicking on "Seven Curses" and Big Bill Broonzy or any number of post Robert Johnson, pre T-Bone Walker delta blues artists on "Ballad for a Friend". "Talkin' Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues" and "Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues" are early versions of what would become "I Shall Be Free #10". "I Shall Be Free" (included here) is an early version of "Bob Dylan's Blues", which doesn't share I Shall Be Free #10/Bear Mountain/John Birch's chord progression, but features similar off-the-cuff lyrics. This explains the title and number of the Another Side track, and the #10 doesn't seem quite as hyperbolic anymore - perhaps Dylan really did write five other variations. "John Birch" is as good a satire as Dylan ever wrote. It sees him joining the then new John Birch society and conducting an increasingly narrowing search for communists within his own house.

The Whitmark Demos comes with a long booklet of photographs preceded by an essay, and if you're lucky, as I was, you'll also get a short live disc, which unfortunately contains nothing exclusive. Even without these bells and whistles, it's valuable both as a historical document and a listening experience.

Friday, November 11, 2011

100th post

I've traditionally posted youtube clips when I know this blog needs an update, but I can't think of one. So in honour of that, I'm celebrating my 100th post with 100 youtube clips!

1. Throwing Muses - Dizzy

2. The Sex Pistols - No Fun (Stooges cover, live at Winterland)

3. Robert Pollard - Window of My World (in-studio acoustic demo)

4. Laura Cantrell - Love Vigilantes (New Order cover, live)

5. Faith No More - Evidence (live on Hey Hey It's Saturday 1995)

6. Bad Brains - We Will Not (live)

7. Brak - Friendship is Like An Ointment

8. Dappled Cities - Answer is Zero (live)

9. Wilson Pickett - Mustang Sally (live)

10. Radiohead - How to Disappear Completely (live)

11. A Gun Called Tension - Gold Fronts

12. Etta James - I'd Rather Go Blind (live)

13. Eels - Novocaine for the Soul

14. Cat Stevens - Morning Has Broken (live)

15. Beck - Black Angel's Death Song (Velvet Underground cover for Record Club)

16. Michael Jackson - Beat It

18. Weird Al Yankovic - Eat It

19. Neko Case - People Got a Lotta Nerve

20. Duran Duran - A View to a Kill

21. Magic Dirt - Ice

22. Throwing Muses - Hook in Her Head (live)

23. Mansun - The Chad Who Loved Me (live)

24. Custard - (Feels Like) Ringo (live)

25. Fleetwood Mac - Go Your Own Way (live)

26. The Cranberries - Zombie

27. Devo - Freedom of Choice (live)

28. Boris - Missing Pieces (live)

29. Britney Spears - Toxic

30. Midnight Oil - Sometimes (live)

31. Fugazi - Margin Walker (live)

32. Iron and Wine - Sodom, South Georgia (live)

33. Soundgarden - Jesus Christ Pose (live)

34. Marvin Gaye - What's Going On/What's Happening Brother (live)

35. Warpaint - Undertow (live, acoustic)

36. Beck - Master Song (Leonard Cohen cover for Record Club)

37. Devo - Through Being Cool

38. The Clean - Tally Ho

39. Paula Abdul & MC Skat Cat - Opposites Attract

40. Boards of Canada - Dayvan Cowboy

41. Radiohead - Talk Show Host (live)

42. Sonic Youth - The Diamond Sea (live)

43. Gang of Four - What We All Want (live)

44. The Triffids - Wide Open Road

45. King Missle - Detachable Penis

46. Jeff Buckley - Eternal Life (live)

47. Gotye - Somebody That I Used to Know

48. Laura Veirs - Through December (live)

49. Boris - Korosu

50. Neko Case - I Wish I Was the Moon (live)

51. Owen Pallett - Fantasy (Mariah Carey cover)

52. Johnny Cash - Cocaine Blues (live)

53. Garbage - Vow

54. Aphex Twin - Windowlicker

55. Alice in Chains - Would? (live)

56. St. Vincent - Cruel

57. Mogwai - Travel is Dangerous (live)

58. Paul Simon - You Can Call Me Al

59. ...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead - Relative Ways (live)

60. Cream - Sunshine of Your Love

61. Mercury Rev - Young Mans' Stride

62. Dean Stockwell - Alphabet Song Rap from Quantum Leap (soundtrack version) - audio only

63. Hunters & Collectors - Talking to a Stranger

65. Madonna - Into the Groove

66. Regurgitator - Miffy's Simplicity

67. Guided By Voices - My Kind of Soldier

68. The Roots - Here I Come (live)

69. Led Zeppelin - Kashmir (live)

70. The Magnetic Fields - I Don't Want to Get Over You (live)

71. Mission of Burma - That's When I Reach for My Revolver (live)

72. Belly - Super-connected

73. Depeche Mode - Everything Counts

74. Rebecca Black - Friday

75. Slint - Good Morning, Captain (live)

76. The Clean - Anything Could Happen

77. Mazzy Star - Fade Into You (live)

78. ESG - UFO (live)

79. OFF! - Jefferey Lee Pierce/I Don't Belong (live)

80. The Breeders - Cannonball

81. Tom Waits - The Piano Has Been Drinking (live)

82. Neneh Cherry - Buffalo Stance (Top of the Pops)

83. Wild Flag - Black Tiles (live)

84. Mercury Rev - Chasing a Bee

85. B.B. King - Why I Sing the Blues (live)

86. Gorillaz - Feel Good Inc. (live)

87. The Church - Reptile (live)

88. Funkadelic - Maggot Brain (live)

89. Not From There - Sich Offnen (live)

90. Sonic Youth - Kool Thing

91. Echo & The Bunnymen - The Killing Moon

92. Brak - The Metalhead Song

93. The Happy Mondays - Kinky Afro

94. Deerhunter - Nothing Ever Happened (live)

95. Iron & Wine - Naked As We Came (live)

96. Nirvana - Radio Friendly Unit Shifter (live)

97. The Clash - Charlie Don't Surf (live)

98. R.E.M. - West of the Fields (live)

99. Gillian Welch - Revelator (live)

100. Super Furry Animals - Sex, War and Robots (Wauvenfold mix)

Extempore #10: Got 99 posts

But a bitch ain't one.

Albert King - Born Under a Bad Sign (live in Sweden)

Extempore #9: Believe Me

I came to warn you.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Tom Waits - Bad As Me

Tom Waits - Bad As Me
When you're as bad as Tom Waits, you don't need to release an album every two years; the fans will wait. But how do you keep doing it when you're up to album number 17?

The answer, according to his wife, is don't fuck around. Get in the studio, record your songs and fuck off. 2004's Real Gone, Waits' last album of all new material, didn't exactly suffer from a paucity of ideas, but a glance at the album's running time of 72 minutes confirmed that not all of those ideas were any good. Not only were there too many songs, but the songs themselves were too long, something the skip button can't help with.

Bad As Me neither totally falls back on the tried and true nor labouriously tries to re-invent the sound Waits has been known for since his Island days, but rather varies the approach in subtle yet rewarding ways, particularly in its use of the studio as an instrument. Some past collaborators also liven things up with their welcome return; Les Claypool makes a few guest appearances, as do Marc Ribot and Keith Richards (sometimes on the same track!). Waits' son Casey also appears as part of his fathers percussive onslaught, and Flea makes his debut appearance for Waits.

To say that most artists' 17th albums don't sound as fresh as Bad As Me, or as brutal as it occasionally does ("Hell Broke Luce" - holy shit) is an understatement. Most artists' 4th albums can't manage that. Not only that, but it repositions Waits above almost any other musician out there, suggests that Waits hasn't finished dropping albums that will be part of any era's essential listening and reminds us that his fanbase is bigger than ever. It doesn't matter how long it is until his next album; they'll wait.

Tom Waits 40th Anniversary
The Cookie Monster Has Been Drinking: Brilliant Tom Waits/Cookie Monster Mashup
Tom Waits Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Monday, October 17, 2011

Nirvana - Nevermind (20th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition)

Nirvana - Nevermind (20th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition)
There is nothing I can say that so many others haven't thought before, so I won't bother discussing Nevermind as an album. If you've found your way here then you know how to find many contemporary and retrospective reviews, and besides, there's enough content here as it is.

First of all, the original album remastered. Ha. If you're wondering what a remaster of an album from 1991 can improve on from the original, the answer is usually "not much". The remastered Nevermind, as is typically the case these days, is a victim of brickwall mastering. Geffen ignored the opportunity to buck the trend and lead by example. For an example of tasteful, principled remasters, look at the recent round of Pink Floyd reissues. Worse still, they decided to go with the original cover art instead of retaking the iconic shot with a 20 year-old Spencer Elden. That's really the biggest missed opportunity here, and one the record company should be ashamed over. Actually, you can sort of see that here (safe for work): (sorry for the "bare" url; I had trouble with the hyperlink for some reason). The remastered CD is padded with some previously available b-sides and some live tracks that are duplicates of those available on the Super Deluxe edition, but not the Deluxe.

The second disc consists of The Smart Studio Sessions, The Boombox Rehearsals and BBC Sessions. It's pretty much all academia except for the band's rare cover of The Velvet Underground's "Here She Comes Now" (if you don't already own With the Lights Out) and a decent version of "Sappy" that's a big different from the one you're used to, which you'll only otherwise find on bootlegs.

Disc 3 brings us to the material exclusive to the Super Deluxe edition with the Devonshire Mixes - the mixes Butch Vig made before the album was handed to Andy Wallace. The difference between some songs and their better known counterparts are negligible while others have various trade-offs, but the most noticeable advantage across the board is the more organic drum sound (Vig, as you're probably aware, is a drummer himself).

The Super Deluxe edition comes with a DVD of Nirvana's famous concert at the Paramount on October 13, 1991; if you're inclined to just listen to the audio, that's what Disc 4 is for. As it comes only two years after Live at Reading, probably my favourite live album ever, I can't help but note that it's not a patch on that one. That said, it's still a hell of a concert, and having been performed just over a month after Nevermind came out, probably made lifelong fans of many of its attendees.

Nirvana - In Utero (20th Anniversary Edition)
Nirvana - Icon

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Thoughts on stuff ('n junk)

Kristin Hersh, who has been blogging longer and better than me, wrote a piece a few years ago called Thoughts on Sustainability. It is in part an introduction to her Cash Music enterprise which allows listeners to purchase music via her various projects' websites (and obtain some for free) with no label involvement.

The essay briefly touches on the survival of of the blandest phenomenon in present day music. It got me thinking that poor quality music gets a break because art is supposedly subjective and therefore exempt from having to meet any sort of standard before being made available for purchase. A dishwasher that doesn't wash your dishes would be pulled off the market; an album that doesn't entertain is permissible. There should, of course, be standards. Metallica fans tried to return their Death Magnetic CDs because the brickwall mastering the band approved introduced distortion that was not present in the master recording. I applaud them for taking a stand against a practice that should be unacceptable. A company that intentionally builds an undisclosed flaw into a toaster and doesn't factor it into the price would be prosecuted. Vinyl is less affected by modern mastering trends, but is overpriced and has its own limitations.

The quality of the music itself has no bearing on price either, despite the fact that it is not entirely subjective. You might prefer Wesley Willis to The Beatles and The Shaggs to Pink Floyd (or claim you do), and that's all well and good, but to say that they are better is not. But I'm not talking about music recorded cheaply by people of questionable musical talent. I'm talking about music recorded expensively by people of questionable musical talent. Music that goes through a homogenisation process at every stage of its development with the end goal of creating a product to be consumed by millions should not cost the same as music created with the end goal of creating a lasting work of art. Check used CD shops - while they stil exist - for a more meritocratic pricing hierarchy. There you'll find Hanson's Christmas album for as reasonable a price as can be. Fast food is cheaper than restaurant quality food, and with good reason. Both music and food produced by giant corporations by definition has to be stripped of any unique flavour in order to be palatable to a huge market. We all feel like a hamburger every now and then, just as we all sometimes feel like a song we can nod our head to in the car and then forget about; we just shouldn't have to pay as much as we're being made to.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Wild Flag - Wild Flag

Wild Flag is being touted as a supergroup, which it technically is, but it's also technically just what you get if Sleater-Kinney hired a keyboardist and replaced Corin Tucker with Mary Timony. Whenever any of those people release something it reminds me of my late uncle, who was a Sleater-Kinney fan in Australia from about as far back as you can get. He would have loved this shit. They'd have you believe it's also what you get if you cross a hamburger with a hotdog. Yummy.

The sound of Wild Flag is predictably that of Mary Timony's circuitous yet disciplined guitar passages grafted onto Sleater-Kinney's bombast, but it's predictable in a "why didn't they think of that ages ago?" kind of way. Minus keyboardist Rebecca Cole, these people have been playing together in various combinations for nearly two decades, and it shows. Timony is the kind of guitarist who can carry an album by herself - see her last two solo albums for proof - but thanks to Carrie Brownstein, she doesn't have to. The two of them have each other's backs all the way through and explore many tangents that would have been impossible on their own.

I admit to a certain amount of bias, but I've gotta say Timony is the MVP here. In addition to her exquisite guitar playing, she's technically a better vocalist than Brownstein, who has less range and sometimes adopts an almost cockney affectation, though to be fair, Brownstein's clipped delivery suits the faster paced songs which Timony may have stumbled over. But really everyone is on point here; Cole's keyboards expand the melodic possibilities while drummer Janet Weiss is in great form...but when is she ever not?

Wild Flag packs a lot of detail into 39 minutes, but is short on genuine proggy epics. "Glass Tambourine" more than satisfies in that regard, but "Racehorse" really overstays its welcome. I wish they'd scrapped that one, added another minute to "Glass Tambourine" and thrown in another short song. So while nothing here is as ambitious as The Magic City, the second and last album from Timony's massively underrated 90s band Helium, a lot of it is almost as catchy. That's more than any of us deserve.

Wild Flag - Romance video

Monday, September 5, 2011

15 Great Albums That Are Shorter Than The King of Limbs

The King of Limbs may be Radiohead's most divisive album since Kid A or perhaps ever. One of the criticisms leveled at it by its detractors (and some of its supporters) is its moderate length. It is Radiohead's shortest album (37:24) and contains 8 tracks, which is at least two fewer than any of their other albums. Fuck that. It may be short, but it has girth. The best music is all about economy, not excess. Some of the albums listed below are short because the songs make their point and then fuck off. Others have a modest number of fairly long songs. Some hark back to the days when you didn't have 80 minutes to play with, while others were recorded by bands that are smart enough to know that just because you can make an album that long doesn't mean you should. They're all shorter than The King of Limbs, and most of them are better.

The Beatles - Revolver (1966)

The Beatles - Revolver (1966) - 14 tracks, 35:01

Can - Soundtracks (1970)

Can - Soundtracks (1970) - 7 tracks, 35:09

Marvin Gaye - What's Going On? (1971)

Marvin Gaye - What's Going On? (1971) - 9 tracks, 35:38

Nick Drake - Pink Moon (1972)

Nick Drake - Pink Moon (1972) - 11 tracks, 28:22

The Clash - The Clash (1977)

The Clash - The Clash (1977) - 14 tracks, 35:18

Wire - Pink Flag (1977)

Wire - Pink Flag (1977) - 21 tracks, 35:37

Robert Cray - Who's Been Talkin' (1978)

Robert Cray - Who's Been Talkin' (1978) - 10 tracks, 35:39

Devo - Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo (1978)

Devo - Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo (1978) - 11 tracks, 34:24

Midnight Oil - Head Injuries (1979)

Midnight Oil - Head Injuries (1979) - 9 tracks, 34:04

The Cure - Faith (1981)

The Cure - Faith (1981) - 8 tracks, 36:54

Pixies - Surfer Rosa (1988)
Pixies - Surfer Rosa (1988) - 13 tracks, 32:50

The Breeders - Pod (1990)

The Breeders - Pod (1990) - 12 tracks, 30:35

Weezer - Pinkerton (1996)

Weezer - Pinkerton (1996) - 10 tracks, 34:36

Neko Case - Blacklisted (2002)

Neko Case - Blacklisted (2002) - 13 tracks, 37:18

Spoon - Kill the Moonlight (2002)

Spoon - Kill the Moonlight (2002) - 12 tracks, 34:50

Sex, War & Robots