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2nd albums – What do they teach us? March 18, 2007

Posted by Walt in codger-tation.
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There are a number of bands which have recently released or will soon release highly anticipated 2nd albums. Included in this group are “Clap Your Hands Say Yeah”, “Arcade Fire”, “Arctic Monkeys”, “Art Brut” and “Gnarls Barkley”.

What does a second album say about a band? Nirvana’s 2nd album was “Nevermind” (1991), which included “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, “Come As you Are”, “Lithium”. Of course, since Kurt Cobain died 3 years after the release of “Nevermind”, it doesn’t tell us much about what a 2nd album portends for a band’s future. But it was pretty brilliant, eh?

R.E.M.’s 2nd album was “Reckoning”, which I don’t think I have ever heard. It contains “7 Chinese Brothers”, “So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry)”, “Pretty Persuasion” and “(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville”. Allmusic.com gives “Reckoning” 5 out of 5 stars, but does anybody listen to it anymore? Does it even hint at a band that will be able to record “Automatic for the People” in 8 years?

What is typical, though? It is certainly true (or should be) that bands that make horrible 2nd albums should fade rapidly into obscurity. But can a 2nd album be used to predict how good a good band will be?

Tokyo Police Club – Smith (EP) March 15, 2007

Posted by Walt in mini-review.
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Tokyo Police Club has just released Smith, a 3-song, 8-minute EP.

“Box” takes 22 seconds of “ba-ba-ba” to get started, but then steps up with an excellent hook-filled, high-energy song with their seeming trademark overlapping vocals. Nice keyboard work, too.

“Cut Cut Paste”  lasts not quite 2 minutes. Rapid-fire drumming sets the mood. Shouted background vocals. Distortion. Not bad. Not great.

 “A Lesson in Crime” starts with a lovely piano intro on an apparently crappy instrument that sounds like it has done long, hard service in a church basement. The song is very quirky down to the throat clearing done about a minute in. I like it. It’s nice to see a departure from their normal style.

“Smith” sounds like it was recorded one afternoon when the band had nothing else to do. But I like the rawness paired with the tight playing. I like Dave Monks voice. I like the whole feel. I’m really loooking forward to a full-length album.

7 out of 10

Why Music Matters – part 4 March 13, 2007

Posted by Walt in essay.
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For me the excitement of music is putting on an album by someone I have never heard of or a new album by an artist that I love. I’ll start at track 1 and spend 40-50 minutes just absorbing. The results can be exhilarating or disappointing, but the process itself is the best part. Can disappointment be exciting? I’d have to say “Yes”. There is nothing in world quite like those first moments of discovery.

Right now, I am particularly looking forward to “Icky Thump”, the album due from the White Stripes this summer. The genius of Jack White is that he simply has the ability to thrill when you listen to a White Stripes album for the first time. You can only hear it once for the first time. That is the ultimate beauty of music.

When their 2005 album “Get Behind Me Satan” starts with “Blue Orchid” and Meg White’s thumping drums and Jack’s thrashing guitar, you know you are off to a great start. Then marimbas, for goodness sake, starting off “The Nurse”. How could you expect that? Then in the rest of the album you have mandolin bluegrass (“Little Ghost”), piano-infused driving rock (“The Denial Twist”), classic blues (“Instinct Blues”) and an ode to Rita Hayworth (“Take, Take, Take”). When the album finally ends with “I’m Lonely (But I Ain’t That Lonely Yet)”, a country piano melody with lyrics that dishes out the disses, your breath has better be taken away or I’ll be checking for your pulse.

When I heard Tokyo Police Club for the first time, I thought that here is a young band who I could be listening to for years. Someone at my day job mentioned Amel Larrieux to me today. Never heard of her. But the samples I heard intrigued me. R&B is not my usual favorite genre, but I’ll try anything.

Deerhoof, Snowden, Love of Diagrams, Calla, The Guillemots, The Earlies, Cold War Kids. I love this stuff, even when I don’t.

Neko Case March 10, 2007

Posted by Walt in other stuff.
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Neko Case will be in town in about a month and I have my ticket.

I picked “Fox Confessor Brings the Flood” as the top album of 2006, and in preparation for the concert I have been listening to it again over the last few days. I was right.

Every song on the album is stellar. Her voice is magnificent.

Do your self a favor. Buy her albums. Go see her shows. While your at it, get The New Pornographers albums too (she’s part of that group too, in case you were not aware). She is a musical treasure.

I don’t get: Joanna Newsom March 8, 2007

Posted by Walt in don't get it.
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Ok, so on Metacritic, Joanna Newsom’s 2006 sophomore CD “Ys” (pronounced “ees”) got an 87. It was the 8th highest reviewed CD of the year. allmusic.com called it “…epic, restless, and demanding, made up of five dazzling, shape-shifting songs…”

I call it a 5-song, 55-minute snooze-fest. At least, Rolling Stone agreed with me calling it “hard to stomach”.

What am I missing? Her voice is annoyingly chirpy. The songs range in length from 7 to 17 minutes and all sound pretty much the same to me.

Sorry. Don’t get it. 

Arcade Fire – Neon Bible March 6, 2007

Posted by Walt in mini-review.
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Montreal-based Arcade Fire is the music world’s anti-Polyphonic Spree. It’s not a happy-happy world for Win Butler and his bandmates (however many there are today). The septet’s 2nd album which arrived today is the follow-up to the much-beloved “Funeral” from 2004.

I love the ambition of this album. I don’t think these folks would ever just phone it in. Does it always work? No, not quite. Is it thrilling when it does? Yes.

As it turns out, I particularly like the even numbered tracks. #2 – “Keep the Car Running” starts with strings and a great beat, almost a swing dance sound. #4 – “Intervention”: I’ll bet you’ve never before heard a pipe organ and glockenspiel on a rock track. Now you have. And of course lyrics like “Working for the church while your family dies”. Great track. #6 – “Ocean of Noise”, #8 – “(Antichrist Television Blues)” is apparently about father of Jessica and Ashlee Simpson, #10 – “No Cars Go” is a cover of an Arcade Fire song from their 2003 EP.

I’m not as fond of “Neon Bible” and the first half of “Black Wave / Black Vibrations”. I’m not too fond of Regine Chassagne’s voice as a lead.

Even when a song is not entirely satisfying, the band is. They are taking chances. I just hope they take more, and don’t take another 3 years to record another album. 

9 out of 10

Explosions in the Sky – All Of A Sudden I Miss Everyone March 1, 2007

Posted by Walt in mini-review.
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OK, how about a 43-minute, 6-song instrumental album, where the songs have names like “The Birth And Death Of The Day” and “Catastrophe And The Cure”?

Is it just me or do song names like that on instrumental tracks seem pretentious? I would be just as happy if the songs were named “A”, “B”, “C”,…

The good news is that the album is very strong. The first track opens with distorted guitars that reminded me of Yes for some reason. Soon the song resolves into a more straight-forward melody, with a nice little reverb and a very insistent drum backing.

The whole album works together like a classical suite.

7 out of 10

Instrumental Rock – Does it work? February 28, 2007

Posted by Walt in other stuff.
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Recently, I downloaded albums from eMusic by Mogwai (“Happy Songs for Happy People”) and Explosions in the Sky (“All Of A Sudden I Miss Everyone”). I saw that they were rated highly (85 and 78 respectively on Metacritic.com.), so I thought I’d give them a try. I hadn’t realized that they were instrumental.

I’m not sure if I even like the concept. The lyrics of rock songs are such an important element, that I am not sure if they are dispensable.

I am going to listen to the Explosions in the Sky album a few more times and write a mini-review to see if I can answer the question of whether a rock instrumental album makes sense. Hmmm……

Anticipated upcoming releases February 25, 2007

Posted by Walt in other stuff.
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Dates from Metacritic.com :

Arcade Fire – “Neon Bible” (March 6): Their CD “Funeral” was something very different than anything I had heard before. Will the follow-up take their sound even further? NPR has an Arcade Fire concert recorded live in New York on February 17, 2007.

Love of Diagrams – “Mosaic” (April 10): The 4-song Love of Diagrams EP shows great promise. The upcoming full-length CD is intriguing for how the promise might be fulfilled.

Arctic Monkeys – “Favourite Worst Nightmare” (April 24): I LOVED their first album “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not”. Can they do it again?

Other that are due in 2007: The New Pornographers, Art Brut, Hot Hot Heat, British Sea Power and Gnarls Barkley. 

Why Music Matters – part 3 February 20, 2007

Posted by Walt in essay.
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After seeing the White Stripes live, I needed more new music. So, I added several new albums to my iPod: The Killers, Franz Ferdinand, All-American Rejects, Outkast, Loretta Lynn’s “Van Lear Rose” (produced by Jack White), Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Shins, Death Cab For Cutie, The Strokes…

In April, 2006 I took my daughter to another concert: the opening set by The Cribs followed by Franz Ferdinand and Death Cab For Cutie. Fantastic show! Alex Kapranos and the other Franzers were fabulous. They performed with great energy, particularly 40’, Darts of Pleasure and Do You Want To. The show stopping number came from Death Cab, when Ben Gibbard performed I Will Follow You Into The Dark a cappella.

After attending the Death Cab / Franz show and listening to a bunch of new music, I also realized that there were some artists that were loved by the critics, but didn’t do much for me. For example, the #1 and #2 albums on Metacritic for 2005 were Illinoise by Sufjan Stevens and Z by My Morning Jacket. I thought both were OK, but I don’t go back and listen to them a lot. (My most listened to CD from 2005 is Twin Cinema by The New Pornographers.) I don’t get Bright Eyes / Conor Oberst. I don’t get Tom Waits. I’ve never gotten Bruce Springsteen and his Pete Seeger album just doesn’t do it for me.

What I love about this is that music is fun again! There is a lot of good music out there for every taste. And I want mine!

coming in part 4: What’s next.