Tuesday, August 25, 2009

86. “Our Anniversary” by Smog (2003)

I hope Bill Callahan wrote this one to mimic the sound of the summer, because it is eerie how the gentle, fluttering guitars make you feel like it is 8pm in July and the dusk is settling in and the fireflies are-a-hummin’ and all is right with the world. And if that’s not exactly what he meant, we still get the point. This is a happy song about an anniversary -- all should be right with the world. Nicely done, Senor Bill.

87. “You Said Something” by PJ Harvey (2000)

I will not pretend to be anything close to a PJ Harvey fanatic, but this one always pulls me in when I hear it. It’s simple and straightforward and a winner.

“On a rooftop in Brooklyn, one in the morning, watching the lights flash in Manhattan,
I see five bridges, the empire state building, and you said something that I've never forgotten.”

Recommended: Netherfriends

We don't do this enough. I think we resolved today that we'll do this more, just throwing up stuff we hear and like. This resolution will last all of five sweet minutes before we get insanely lazy again.

Here's the song that rules: Friends With Lofts.

When I hear stuff like this, I'm always a bit surprised because this is a bit of a first time outing by these guys (or so I was led to believe by Indiefeed), and it's really good. I always think about the first time I ever did anything, and it was always terrible, and it makes me really, really fucking annoyed that other people are so good at things.

Enjoy the song.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

88. “Come On Feel The Illinoise!” Part 1: The World First Columbian Exposition” by Sufjan Stevens (2005)

“Chicago, in fashion, the soft drinks, expansion
Oh Columbia!
From Paris, incentive, like Cream of Wheat invented,
The Ferris Wheel!”

You have love the bridge to the second movement of this song – the part where The Cure’s “Close To Me” is shamelessly aped and yet still sounds remarkably poingnant and beautiful. Actually, you have to love that there are multiple movements to this song at all.

There is something almost perfect about this song: the innocence of the peanuts riff, the kid crying himself to sleep, the fact that he’s urging you to “Come on Feel The Illinoise”, an amusing reminder that this song is part of a concept album about the state of Illinois and a larger reminder that he hopes to do 48 more of these albums (Michigan is already in the books). Most of all, it’s a fairly ambitious song (Surfjan gets a little proggy in here if you listen closely) that could fall on its face if it were not executed so perfectly. But it is.

Monday, August 17, 2009

89. 'Blacking Out The Friction', Death Cab for Cutie, 2001

“I think that it's brainless to assume that making changes to your window's view will give a new perspective.”

I don’t reckon that Death Cab is much of a singles band and it’s safe to say that the sum of their best albums is definitely better than the individual parts. Everyone’s got their opinion, but I think the boys peaked out with “Transatlanticism” and their major label debut “Plans”. (Last year’s “Narrow Stairs” was a drag, and makes me worry about where these guys are headed, even if it did have a few good songs).

“I don’t mind the weather. I’ve got scarves and hats and sweaters. I've got long johns and under slacks for blustery days.”

“Blacking Out The Friction” comes from “The Photo Album” (a pretty good name for a Death Cab album, as most of their songs seem to be little snapshot observations from Ben Gibbard’s bespectacled head), the album that got me into these guys in the first place. The best of Death Cab is on full display in this song: crunching and simultaneously chiming guitars mixed with a soft keyboard melody that seems to float through the song and drive it at the same time. There might be better or more relevant Death Cab songs than this one, but I always come back to this one and never get sick of it. Sometimes, the song that introduced you to a band, or the one that really drew you in as a big fan, is the one that is the most timeless to you. For example, everyone – fans and critics alike -- seems to think that “If You’re Feeling Sinister” is the best Belle and Sebastian album and I actually like it least of their first three albums. “The Boy With The Arab Strap” is one of my favorites for the simple reason that it was my introduction to them as a band. I never tire of that album. Ditto for “Blacking Out The Friction”.

There are tons of other Death Cab songs that could easily have been included on here. “Transatlatisicm” is a slow one that really stood out when I saw these guys at The Bowery Ballroom on this tour – it was basically made for a small club like that, with its building crescendos and crashing ending. “The Sound Of Settling” is a great burst of two-minute pop rock goodness. “Expo ‘86” and “Title and Registration” both never fail to remind me of the year they were released, a telltale sign that they got it right. “Marching Band of Manhattan” is a quintessential Death Cab “rock song”. And “Soul Meets Body” is where R.E.M should have gone in 1995 instead of the abomination that was “Monster”.

90. 'What More Can I Say' Danger Mouse (with The Beatles & Jay Z) 2004

"God forgive me for my brash delivery, but I remember vividly what these streets did to me."

Word has it that Danger Mouse was cleaning his apartment one day, while listening to The Beatles “White Album” in one room and Jay-Z’s “The Black Album” in the other. And that’s how this incredible mash-up of The Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and Jay-Z’s “What More Can I Say?” came into being.

This song did not have a formal commercial release, but it was circulated all over the place, at a time when Danger Mouse was still making a name for himself as a producer and DJ. “The Grey Album” has since catapulted Danger Mouse into the world of highly sought-after producers, and he went on to produce huge sellers (“Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley) and critically acclaimed records all over the place (“Attack and Release” by The Black Keys, “Demon Days” by Gorillaz).

I’ll admit to not following the drama of this mash-up too closely, but I seem to remember hearing rumors that it was done by Danger Mouse on his own, but effectively commissioned by Jay-Z himself, after he realized that it would be an effective grassroots marketing tool for his music. I choose to believe this since Jigga is not only the best MC of the decade, but also The Industry’s biggest force. The guy knows a hit when he hears it and he’s fine to sacrifice some street cred for some cash or vice versa. I’m not sure that anyone has walked that line so well, since…The Beatles.

Parts of “The Gray Album” don’t work that well as a mash-up, but “What More Can I Say?” is fantastic. If you think you need to check this out, you do.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Welcome to New Jersey, Bob Dylan!!!

No one gives a fuck, apparently!

What's not to love about this guy.

(Also, when I ask questions, I do not use question marks, which is undeniably cool.)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

91. 'Bad Cover Version', Pulp (2001)

(This is a great video, right there -- a faux Pulp tribute, with people dressed as celebrities, singing this song Band Aid style.)

“Sing your song about all the sad imitations that got it so wrong
It's like a later "Tom & Jerry" when the two of them could talk
Like the Stones since the Eighties, like the last days of Southfork.
Like ‘Planet of the Apes’ on TV, the second side of "’Til the Band Comes in’
Like an own-brand box of cornflakes: he's going to let you down, my friend.”

I reckon that Wikipedia’s interpretation of this verse is tremendous:

“The song details the protagonist's belief that his former partner's current relationship is inferior to what she had with him. The latter part of the song is a list of things the narrator likens said relationship to, including The Rolling Stones since the 1980s, the TV series of Planet of the Apes and the second side of 'Til The Band Comes In. The latter is a reference to an album by Scott Walker, who produced the song, which contains several cover versions on its second half. Lyricist Jarvis Cocker has stated that the song was written before he knew that the band would be working with Walker.”

Pulp seemed to have fallen off a little bit after the downer of “This Is Hardcore” in the late 90s. I loved that record, but the follow-up, 2001s “We Love Life” ended up being their swan song and it all made sense, despite it being a strong collection of tunes. In that way, “Bad Cover Version” is a perfect fit for this release and it brings in all of Pulp’s tremendous dramatic swells and Jarvis Cocker’s dry humor and makes a nice little pop song that Meatloaf and George Michael can dig on. (Make sure you watch that video).

Monday, August 10, 2009

92. 'Beachcombing', Mark Knopfler & Emmylou Harris 2006

And now for the adult contemporary portion of our broadcast, we present…Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris! Full disclosure: this song is likely the #1 hit for whatever that Hamptons radio station is -- the one that plays Matthew Sweet and Freedie Johnston over and over again, the one that plays “Beach Music” for 45 year old Hamptonites. Some might call it boring. Maybe so, but you can’t ignore the fact that Emmylou Harris can sing ANYTHING and make it sound nice and Mark Knopfler’s voice and guitar and unique and awesome things that always keep me interested. They made an album together and got some really nice results. “All The Roadrunning” could easily have been included here, but “Beachcombing” has aged very well and captures that 7pm summer feeling very well – the one where pale young men like myself show up at the beach with a sweatshirt, a cooler of beer and a million, “I love the beach!” exclamations.

(Strange you tube clip, I know. The song is there though, so enjoy it.)

93. 'Breaking The Ice', Mojave 3 2006

“I know you wanna get away,
I know nothing ever stays the same
Jenny, I've been thinking things over
You said, “thinking never got you far.”
The bottle gets you further
So come stand a little closer now”

A week or two after one of our good friends died, we went to see Mojave 3 thinking it’d be good to get out and feel normal again. This was not really the best idea. Mojave 3 is not really the band you see to make you feel good about yourself, though it did yield the awesome “this sounds like Roger Waters!” quote from our friend as Neil Halstead and co launched into one of the quietest songs of the evening. At this same show I found myself next to Halstead in the bathroom and inexplicably asked him what his favorite Nick Drake album was. Nice. (It was “Bryter Layter”).

Breaking The Ice” follows the Mojave 3 template to a tee, except that it brings a little more rocking into their world, which is much appreciated. I really like all of Mojave 3’s albums and I think they have a bunch of songs that could have been included in this list, but this album was probably the most surprising and refreshing of everything they did, as they broke the mold a little bit, while still maintaining their signature sound. Mojave 3 is not full of frills, they don’t reinvent music in any way, but if you like Halstead’s voice, his songs are all winners.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Newport Folk Festival, 8/2/09, Newport, Rhode Island

Newport’s big draw for me is the venue – a state park with an old fort overlooking the harbor with water and bridges and boats everywhere you look. It has a very laid back boat-and-beach-chair scene, but not much of a drinking scene, due to park restrictions.

The lineup at many festivals always makes you think that you are going to see ten incredible sets over a full day, but it never really works out that way. Bands are always overlapping with set times, playing opposite each other on different stages, and it gets to be a lot to run around trying to catch everything. It’s best to just pick a few must-see performances and then leave it at that. For me, those were Elvis Perkins, Neko Case and Deer Tick and Del McCourey, in that order. The old timer’s sets that basically closed the last 3-4 hours of the day on the main stage were cool to catch here and there, but none, other than Pete Seeger’s, were ones that I really needed to see.

I took the ferry from downtown Newport to the park, and it docked 20 feet from Joe Pug, who was in the middle of a sound check on the Waterside Stage. I was looking for the ticket office and in my short search to find it, ran into a radio station guy that had an extra ticket that he handed me for free. Nice. It was as if someone had handed me $75, so I walked past Joe Pug and, unintentionally Guy Clark on the Harbor Stage -- the only set I missed all day that I truly wanted to see -- and headed out in search of brew. The bar is out on a pier (heretofore referred to as the beer pier), so any brews needed to be had on the pier, which had great views of the main stage and the harbor, but kept you far away from the other stages where some of my aforementioned favorite acts were playing.

That said, the pier itself was pretty nice place to spend some time and eat a giant stuffed clam (aka “stuffie”) and while we were getting situated, we grabbed a table out there and watched The Campbell Brothers play a pretty rocking set of blues based guitar rock. They kinda sounded like The North Mississippi All Stars (without the ragged charisma) and it was a pretty decent set to watch as we sat on the pier with Narragansett Lager tall boys.

I was really looking forward to the Neko Case set that followed The Campbell Brothers on that same main stage and while her voice sounded fantastic from the beer pier in the harbor with thousands of people seated on the huge lawn in front of her, there was nothing especially dynamic about her set. Her voice is a force unto itself and that did not disappoint and the set list was quite good, as she touched on many of her best songs, but the actual performance did not inspire much beyond your standard lawn-lounging head bobbing. This is not really a knock, and the set was far from disappointing, as lawn-lounging head-bobbing is pretty damn fun in a setting as beautiful as Newport, but I have always marveled at how perfectly Neko’s band and backing singers compliment her songs and voice and while they did that nicely on Sunday, the performance did not really transcended beyond that. That said, it was great to finally see her live and definitely enjoyable, considering the setting.

After “Train to Kansas City” ended Neko’s set, we left the confines of the beer pier for a few Del McCourey songs, which made me wish we’d seen more. They rocked the whole bluegrass style, full suits and all and it really impressed. They were the only act of the day that was truly acoustic in that there were had no pickups on their instruments – just three standard microphones that they played into, old time style. They were all huddled around the middle of the stage together, looking all dapper and timeless and when one of them played a solo, he stepped up to the mic for maximum volume. They sounded excellent and the crowd loved it made them come out for more.

As we wandered around after that, we got to see a decent amount of Arlo Guthrie, whose storyteller schtick is the thing Newport Folk Festivalites seem to love, but did not do a whole bunch for me.

From there, we saw local favorites, Deer Tick on the small Waterside Stage, which, being right next to the ferry dock, made for some awesome dock rocking, nice breeze and all. These guys were very good, with some sick lead guitar licks and they seemed to be boosted by a large local crowd. It was especially nice that they made everyone get up out of their folding chairs and the sing-a-long to “Ashamed” get the whole crowd going. They also closed with “La Bamba”, which they said was, “the best folk song [they had] ever heard”.

I felt like I got my fill of Joan Baez on the ferry ride over to the festival, as the Captain was blaring one of her records the entire ride. It was a strange flashback to my childhood, when I used to wake up at 7am to my mom blaring the her records throughout my house, her beautiful voice turning shrill after five songs in a row, like she’s testing your nerves. Either way, she looks damn good for her age and her voice still sounds great and on the way back to the beer pier after Deer Tick, I got to hear “The Scarlett Tide” and Steve Earle’s “Christmastime in Washington”, which were both fantastic.

After that, we went to the Harbor Stage, where Elvis Perkins put on the best set of the day, one that seemed to be made for an American folk festival in 2009. His band jumped from drum kit to standing bass drum to trombone to trumpet to stand up bass, all while Perkins himself delivered great song after great song, building up steam to the best block of songs of the day: “Shampoo” --> “Old Ship of Zion” (with Tim Ericksen and a huge choir) --> “While You Were Sleeping” into the closer, “Doomsday”, which, unfortunately, I had to run out on. Perkins is a pretty captivating performer and his songs, which can be heavy at times, still managed to move and pull people in. Most impressively, he commanded the scene, keeping everyone engaged and rocking. You didn’t want to leave, didn’t want to check out any other set and you didn’t want the thing to end. When I think back on this festival next year, I will likely remember this set most vividly, the one that was the most fun and the most emblematic of the whole day to me. Well, that, and the Narragansett tall boys.

I ran out on Elvis and jumped on the ferry right before the Pete Seeger set, so I missed the sing-a-longs and such, but as we exited out, I was able to crack a Heineken on the boat and hear the ska sound of Elvis Perkins’ “Doomsday” horns. A few minutes later, as Elvis’ set was ending to a rousing standing ovation, I was still sipping my mini keg can, watching the fog settle in over Newport Town, and talking to my fellow ferry-boaters about the awesomeness of Ben Kweller, Elvis Perkins and Gillian Welch and how we all are so much happier to be on a boat in Newport than in Liberty State Park, seven beer limit exceeded, watching Coldplay.

You can download and listen to all of the sets by checking out the index here.

You can listen to Elvis Perkins’ full set here.

You can listen to Neko Case’s full set here.

You can listen to Deer Tick’s full set here.

Neko Case Set List:

Things That Scare Me


People Gotta Lotta Nerve


I’m An Animal

Teenage Feeling

Hold On, Hold On

Middle Cyclone


The Tigers Have Spoken

Wish I Was The Moon

Polar Needles

Red Tide

Don’t Forget Me

This Tornado Loves You


Train From Kansas City

Elvis Perkins Set List:

Sweet Roseanne

I Hear Your Voice In Dresden

Chains, Chains, Chains


Hour’s Last Stand

Weeping Mary

I’ll be Arriving

Stop, Drop, Rock n Roll

Gypsy Davy

Stay, Zombie, Stay

Four Strong Winds


Old Ship Of Zion (with Tim Ericksen)

While You Were Sleeping