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What’s up with “balaclava” in rock music? April 29, 2007

Posted by Walt in codger-tation.
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I’m sure I had heard the word “balaclava” before, but I’m not sure I knew what it meant.

Then I heard it used in the Tokyo Police Club song “If It Works”, and I was motivated to look it up. OK to us Americans, it is a ski mask.

Now, in the new Arctic Monkeys release “Favourite Worst Nightmare” there is a song titled “Balaclava” (which happens to be the worst track on an otherwise brilliant album). What’s up with that?

Apparently, there was previously a Chumbawamba song named “Knit Your Own Balaclava”.

Maybe Tom Waits can write a “balaclava” song. never mind.


Nine Inch Nails – Year Zero April 22, 2007

Posted by Walt in mini-review.
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I have never purchased a NIN album before. Never saw much need to. I thought I’d be in for a whole lot of angry noise, and not much else. After listening to the Sound Opinions review of “Year Zero”, I thought I might as well give it a try. After all, that is what codgermusic is supposed to be about, right? Just because I am over 50 (and loving it), that doesn’t mean that I can’t listen to something I might not be comfortable with.

Well, “Year Zero” is a whole lot angry noise BUT with great beats and outstanding melodies.

“HYPERPOWER!”, the first track on “Year Zero”, clocks in at only 1:41, but wow! A simple drum beat is joined by a complementary electronic theme after 11 seconds. Every 22 seconds a new element is added ending in raucous noise and screams. Great.

Next is “The Beginning of the End”. Again, very intense sonically, but a great melody.

My favorite track is “Capital G”. Lyrically, it is a sledgehammer to the current state of the country. I don’t generally favor political tracts, but this one is so simple that it proves to be devestating. “I pushed the button and elected him to office and, he pushed the button and he dropped the bomb.”

Trent Reznor needs to make albums faster if this is an example of what happens when he picks up his pace. This is a desperately urgent noise that needs to be heard.

9 out of 10.

Lily Allen vs. Amy Winehouse – Sound Opinions vs. Musicheads April 15, 2007

Posted by Walt in codger-tation.
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It’s a battle of the Brit bad girls.

In this corner, with supporters Jim and Greg from Sound Opinions is Lily Allen, that sassy, crassy, firecracker from London.

In the other corner, backed by Bill, Tony and Danny from Musicheads is Amy Winehouse, the boozy, soul crooner from Enfield, Middlesex.

Jim and Greg reviewed both albums and gave Lily Allen a double “buy-it” and Amy Winehouse a double “trash-it”. Bill, Tony and Danny discussed the Amy Winehouse album recently and gushed over it. They also opined that she “blows Lily Allen out of the water”. On the other hand, Jim and Greg are “unimpressed by Winehouse’s pale imitation of artists like Donnie Hathaway and Nina Simone”.

I think we are headed for a critical beat down.

I agree with the Sound Opinions guys. I haven’t purchased the Amy Winehouse album, and I won’t. Her Shirley Bassey channeling act doesn’t appeal to me. While Lily Allen certainly has an element of the hard-drinking lifestyle, she is more about being a woman who won’t take any crap from any guy. She is a strong, young woman with a fun voice who is able to create and deliver terrific songs. Amy Winehouse apparently takes boozing and raises it to an art form. It makes it hard to listen to more. When your big song is about not going to rehab, I’m not going to go there.

The winner by a knockout is Lily Allen and Sound Opinions.

Neko Case – Live at First Avenue, Minneapolis April 10, 2007

Posted by Walt in mini-review.
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After an enjoyable opening set by guitarist Jon Rauhouse (obviously talented, but not much stage presence), fans at First Avenue were treated to a wonderful performance by Neko Case.

Neko performed virtually all of “Fox Confessor Brings the Flood” starting with “A Widow’s Toast” and a nice variety of older favorites. Outstanding!

My favorite moment was the end of the 1st encore where she performed “John Saw That Number”. I love that song. The lyrics include:

God told the angel “Go see about John!”
So he flew from the pit with the moon ’round his waist
Gathered wind in his fists, and the stars ’round his wrists

“Gathered wind in his fists” is so evocative, but where does it come from? “John Saw That Number” is the one song on the album that is not entirely original. Allmusic.com credits it as “Case, Traditional”. A web page with lyrics for spirituals lists one as:

Ole John de Baptist, ole John Divine
Frogs an’ de snakes gonna eat ole John so bad
God tole de angel: “Go down see ’bout John”
Angel flew frum de bottom uv de pit
Gathered de wind all in his fist
Gathered de stars all ’bout his wrist
Gathered de moon all ’round his waist
Cryin’ “Holy,” cryin’ “Holy,” cryin’ “Holy, my Lord,” cryin’ “Holy”

But further, that specific line comes from the Bible’s Proverbs 30:4 which in part reads, “Who has gathered the wind in His fists?” What terrific sources for a song, and the song did its sources proud. The concert audience responded enthusiastically.

My least favorite moment was listening to the woman in the audience who annoyingly shouted her request for “Mood to Burn Bridges” at every opportunity.

My only quibble with the concert itself is that I wish that some of the songs were given more of a fresh twist for the live show, but that is minor when the performances were so great.

8 out of 10

Lyrics as poetry: Fox Confessor… April 5, 2007

Posted by Walt in codger-tation.
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Here is an example of the poetic character of pop lyrics. Neko Case’s song “Fox Confessor Brings the Flood” from the album of the same name is a lyric poem in 2 minutes and 42 seconds. The lyrics are (from songmeanings.net):

Fox Confessor Brings the Flood

Driving home I see those flooded fields
How can people not know what beauty this is?
I’ve taken it for granted my whole life
Since the day I was born

Clouds hang on these curves like me
And I kneel to the wheel of the fox confessor
On splendid heels
and he shames me from my seat
and on my guilty feet, I follow him in retreat

What purpose in these deeds
Oh fox confessor, please
Who married me to these orphaned blues
“It’s not for you to know, but for you to weep and wonder
when the death of your civilization precedes you,”

Will I ever see you again?
Will there be no one above me to put my faith in?
I flooded my sleeves as I drove home again…

Since I am not personally well-versed in explaining poetry, here is an article from cokemachineglow.com, which in part describes the context of the song as follows:

“Fox Confessor’s title is taken from Ukrainian mythology … the fox, thirsting for the wolf’s need for absolution, cons its way into assuming the role of the trusted confessor, then promptly uses that relationship to abandon/seduce/kill/eat/generally f*** over its unsuspecting prey.

“Fox Confessor’s title track … locks horns with that mythology. Here, she (the fictional ‘she,’ not Neko) drives by ‘beautiful’ flooded fields in the first verse and floods her own sleeves (finally realizing she has nothing to ‘hold [her] faith in,’ she breaks down) in the last. Both scenes bookend a confrontation with the fox confessor, who she follows, guilt-ridden, in ‘retreat.’ ” [Read the rest of the article for more.]

Now this might all be a load of dingo’s kidneys, but isn’t that always the way it goes with the analysis of poetry? You can never exactly be sure what the reality is, since you are not the author. But it rings pretty true… and it’s a terrific song.

At any rate, I think it supports the thesis that poetry published as such is being supplanted by pop music lyrics.

Pop music killed poetry (or saved it) April 3, 2007

Posted by Walt in codger-tation.
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How much has poetry suffered in the late 20th and early 21st Centuries? An essay by Bruce Price that I have just read makes the point beautifully.

It starts by asking the reader to do the following exercise: “Quick, name a famous living poet.” No. I couldn’t.

In looking for poets who today write with with vigor and emotion, Mr. Price answers, “Our songwriters may be the exemplars. One of the pleasures of being in a Karaoke bar is to really study the lyrics on the screens, study them as if they are great poetry. Some are. You just know, if they published a book of Recent Poetry That Actually Made Somebody’s Heart Beat Faster, most of it would be by the Beatles and 50 other rock and rollers, Tin Pan Alley wordsmiths, blues and country singers, rappers, and other outcasts.”

Absolutely right! Most poem published as such are awful. Pop song lyrics are the finest examples of poetry available today. The mere fact that the lyrics are intended to be set to music means that there is a effort to write with some rhythm. Rhyme, which at some point became the manifestation of what was considered trite, can now be used creatively in lyrics.

Next time, I’ll provide an example of a song which exemplifies poetry in rhythmic motion.

I don’t get: Tom Waits April 1, 2007

Posted by Walt in don't get it.
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On Metacritic, Tom Waits “Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards” was the 2nd highest rated release of 2006. Huh?

I first heard a song by Tom Waits about 30 years. I think it was from “Nighthawks at the Diner”. I didn’t find it earth shattering then, and I have changed my mind since. If I wanted to hear someone sing like he was gargling gravel, I would listen to Tuvan throat singing.


Field Music – Tones Of Town March 26, 2007

Posted by Walt in mini-review.
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Let me admit that I haven’t heard Field Music’s first album. Maybe, that is why listening to “Tones Of Town” leaves me scratching my head. It has a rating of 80 on metacritic.com, which is quite good. Why am I not so unimpressed?

Field Music is a trio from Sunderland, England consisting of brothers David and Peter Brewis, and Andrew Moore. Together they craft simple, engaging pop songs that are pleasant, if not earth shattering.

“Sit Tight” and “A House is Not a Home” sound like Supertramp tunes. Catchy, but ??? “Sit Tight” ends in a beat-box mess.

I like the rhythms in “Kingston”. Almost like a Broadway show tune, which I mean in a good way.

“Working to Work” is hard to get out of your head. A Steely Dan influence seems evident.

This is an interesting album for me. It’s a case where the total seems to be less than the sum of its parts. A lot of 80’s references don’t necessarily work for me, though I like a lot of the referenced artists. It’s hard for me to see how anyone can get very passionate about Field Music, though I can see how a lot of people would like them.

6 out of 10

Sound Opinions – podcast March 25, 2007

Posted by Walt in Favorites.
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The best of all music podcasts is Sound Opinions. In recent weeks, hosts Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot reviewed new albums by The Arcade Fire, The Shins, Modest Mouse, LCD Soundsystem and Iggy Pop and the Stooges.

This past weekend in their South by Southwest wrap-up, Jim and Greg introduced us to Besnard Lakes, Bone-Box, Black Moth Super Rainbow, 120 Days, The Whigs, The Comas and The Pipettes, along with a couple of nasty bands. They also did an outstanding job of providing comments on the pros and cons of SXSW.

They have also had some great in-studio guests, including recently Lily Allen (love her attitude), Lupe Fiasco and Robin Hitchcock & Peter Buck (of REM fame).

The occasional “rock doctors” segment is also great. A caller with a music malady will tell the good doctors what feels good and what ails them. Typically, the caller is not in touch with much new music. Drs. Jim and Greg provide some prescriptions for listening and check back after a week to see if the patients has gotten better. It’s great fun.

I love being able to get in touch with new bands and favorite artists in a weekly, 1-hour dose. Listen weekly. That’s my prescription.

Twee March 20, 2007

Posted by Walt in codger-tation.
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I found an online source that defines “twee” as “affectedly or excessively dainty, delicate, cute or quaint”. In case you codgers haven’t heard it used, it is frequently employed by pop music critics to describe what I would call “precious”.

I previously mentioned how I don’t get Joanna Newsom. She is most definitely twee. The group Belle and Sebastian is twee.

A codger point-of-reference: an artist’s degree of Twee-ness (dT, when expressed in an equation) is directly proportional to the amount that they sound like Donovan. Remember “Sunshine Superman” and “Mellow Yellow”? That man was the grandmaster of twee.