Sunday, August 24, 2008

Theory: One Beat is the best Sleater-Kinney Album

Evidence in favor:
-Janet Weiss's always amazing drumming reaches epic heights of complexity and rock-itude.
-Corin Tucker's vocals find the balance between overwraught wailing and indie girl cuteness that had heretofore eluded her.
-Carrie Brownstein sings a lot more and is awesome and has a good blog on npr where she writes about music etc.
-It addresses 9/11 in a way that sounds real and does not feel dated even hearing it for the first time way later.
-The songs rock ferociously in a kind of punk way but are also complicated and interesting in their song structures. There are interesting instrumental fluorishes that never detract from the central power trio sound.
-Dig Me Out is great, and gives it a run for its money, but doesn't have the maturity or pop sophistication as this one. The Hot Rock and All Hands on the Bad One sound relatively aimless by comparison.

Weaknesses in my argument:
-I have never heard Call the Doctor or The Woods.

Once again, god bless Brooklyn stoop sales! I picked up this and The Hot Rock for (I think) two bucks each a couple weeks ago and I can't stop listening to it. I had never been that into S-K (despite Drischord's playing All Hands... (among others) on various road trips and whatnot), but this album just nails it. Corin Tucker's got an amazing voice but Dig Me Out always grated me just a little because her voice was so warbly. But it's more reined in (though not as much as on The Hot Rock) and the ineterplay with Carrie Brownstein's contrapuntal vocals is amazing. You can basically always win me over with contrapuntal vocals.

Also, seeing clips of them live on youtube makes me regret very much that I didn't take the opportunity to see them live when they still existed.

The Mixtape About Nothing

I've been really enjoying this free internet mixtape from DC rapper Wale, who first appeared on my radar earlier this year with his excellent guest spot on my favorite track from the Roots' Rising Down. His Mixtape About Nothing is a sort of concept album which uses samples from Seinfeld as the basis for a number of the songs...he's not rapping about Seinfeld, but he uses some of the themes from Seinfeld as a starting point and then lets his flow take him where it will. That may very well sound lame when you first hear about it, but in practice Wale puts together a thoroughly enjoyable, smart, funny and unpredictable mixtape that makes me very excited to hear a real album from him, whenever he can get one together.

I apologize for my continued inability to make divshare stream anything, but download this song if you want to hear a good example of what I'm talking about. And since it's a free internet release that doesn't have to worry about sampling issues, there's even a nice Stevie Wonder sample on the song:

The Grown Up

And if you liked it, the whole thing can be downloaded for free here.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


Last week's cover story for The Onion:

Obama's Hillbilly Half-Brother Threatening To Derail Campaign

Today's cover of the Sun Times:

Obama's half-brother to Vanity Fair: 'No one knows I exist'

Kittybrains Convention?

Neil Young with Wilco opening at Madison Square Garden, December 15. What do you say?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

"White" Music

Via Chicago just responded to the last post by declaring (on behalf of Tex Plush and himself) just how "white" Billy Joel's music is. Relative to the groups that get praised on here-- Andrew Bird (solo), Radiohead, New Pornographers, Bonnie "Prince" Billy-- that's just absolutely flat wrong.

Now look, I just finished my 2 and half year education at Berklee, and while I'm not dropping that as any sort of superiority thing, it was very illuminating because-- at least in ensembles-- I played predominantly black-written music there. And I many took classes that focused almost exclusively on the work of black people. And I learned how to write in a lot of "black" styles. I'm not claiming to know more about black music than any of you (certainly not more than Quinapalus), but I do know a heck of a lot more about it than I used to know.

And here's what I can tell you: Relative to most white musicians, Billy Joel ain't all that "white." Listen to Little Richard or Ray Charles play the piano. Now compare the piano styles of Billy Joel and, say, Stephen Drozd of Flaming Lips. Or Thom Yorke. Or Neil Young. Or the Sigur Ros guy. Or Panda Bear/Animal Collective. Or The National. Or Mikael Jorgenssen/Pat Sansone. So who sounds more like Ray Charles and Little Richard?

You can hear it in songs like Big Shot, Movin' Out, Scenes From An Italian Restaurant, Only The Good Die Young, etc. And then listen to "New York State of Mind," which is an homage to "Georgia On My Mind." Tell me how that song makes you feel white.

Look, I feel a little weird propping up Billy Joel, because I hardly listen to him anymore. But I do have those "Greatest Hits Vol. I & II" in my iTunes and I stand by the vast majority-- except for wussy stuff like "Just The Way You Are."

But using the "he's too white" argument against Billy Joel is just inaccurate. If anything, you could say too many of his best songs are simply derivative of black artists. (Musically at least. I'll concede that singing about Long Island all day is pretty white.) But the guy is simply too rhythmically attuned to get the "whitey" tag.


Every single song on Billy Joel's Greatest Hits Vol. I and II is amazing.

And I know every word and note even though I probably haven't listened to it more than a handful of times in the past fifteen or twenty years.

It's really strange to listen to it actually, because it seeped very deep into my consciousness at a time when I didn't really think about music in a self-conscious way. I just loved the Storm Front album with We Didn't Start the Fire and my friend Ben made me a tape copy of his earlier greatest hits. When I just listened to it now (on a random nostalgia kick after hearing a couple of the songs in a cab the other night), I couldn't help but hear everything in context-- how he moved from Prog Epics (Captain Jack), to New Wave Mimicry (Still Rock and Roll to Me) to shameless nostalgia (Uptown Girl), all while indulging in sensitively wussy singer-songwriter balladry (Just the Way You Are, Always a Woman). But back when I first got into it was just about the myuuusic, man-- I liked the way he spoke-sang "Biiiig shooot, deeeedja" and the awesome synth hook in Pressure and the "BrenderandEddie" section of Scenes from an Italian Restaurant.

To return to my theory: Seriously, every single song is great!

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Zumpano for a Buck

Like Eric, I've been enjoying the general devaluation of the compact disc in the mp3 age. This past week, for instance, I was able to purchase Zumpano: "Look What The Rookie Did" for one measly dollar. Now admittedly, this may have owed more to the fact that the store didn't know what they had on their hands rather than worldwide downturn in CD value.

This leads me to mention that Zumpano, if you didn't already know this, was Carl Newman's band before New Pornographers. I'm pretty sure that the CD/Game Exchange up the street from my old high school in DC did not know this. They're much more of a hip hop store anyway, which leads to frequent mis-assessments of used rock stuff that comes their way.

Anyway, check out Zumpano. They lack the undeniable choruses of New Pornographers, but they've still got that classic Carl Newman craftsmanship and overall quality. I think they also had a looser vibe-- fewer fans to please-- which makes them pretty fun. Worth far more than a dollar.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Extra Golden

Here is an afrobeat update for those of you following that train with me:
I am REALLY into this band Extra Golden. They are a collaboration btw African and American musicians and they have basically created the cock rock of Fela-style afrobeat groovalicious guitar-heavy music. They are great. I saw them today at the prospect park African guitar festival, though I have been into their albums for a month or so.

Ok-Oyot System
To my inexperienced ears, the first record, OK-Oyot System, sounds more traditional. You can definitely hear African pop sounds - the kind that Paul Simon lovingly ripped off, and you can hear straight-up Fela worship too. You also hear a blend of American soul singing and traditional African singing in the space of the same number. It's refreshing and familiar at the same time. It'll make your hips move.

Night Runners
The second album has some different musicians on it due to the untimely death of a major force from the first record. Hera Ma Nono has more of a funk and soul edge to it. The drums are bigger and there are more guitars. Drischord, who was visiting me from out of town recently, thought it sounded like Phish. He was hilariously off the mark, but I must admit there is a slight resemblance there, at least in the sense that this is joyous, rocking and unsubtle. But unlike Phish, Extra Golden does not need to fake the funk.

New Wilco

So some good comes out of Lollapalooza - behold the glory of a new Wilco track.

Wilco - One Wing

For my money, this is pretty great. The final freak-out at the end is awesome and makes me want a new live album with the Nels version of Wilco so bad.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Christmas On Mars Trailer

It is impossible to tell from this trailer whether this will be brilliant or a disaster.


So, forgive me, but I am driven to rant a little bit here about our friendly Chicago music-fest. Not Pitchfork, but the big one. Lollapalooza. I can't go this year due to a wedding, and that's OK. There are a lot of bands I want to see (Radiohead, NIN, Rage, Malkmus, Wilco all top the list), but I am old now, and the entire Lollapalooza experience is kind of daunting. It was a lot to deal with when I went in 95 and it was one day, I was 17, and we were out in the country. Between the heat, the sea of people, and the cost of everything it's a lot more to deal with now. Still, I've not been in any way against the festival.

Until now.

Today I ventured over to pitchfork and there is a little blurb saying Malkmus is going out on tour. Good deal I say, I haven't seen him since a Pavement show in 99. I click, and the Chicago date is his Lollapalooza appearance. Same thing for Radiohead's tour. And Wilco. And Nine Inch Nails. All bands I want to see, all bands that are touring, all bands that won't play here as part of their tour outside of the festival. This is, to a large part, Lolla's fault, as they require bands to sign a contract stating they will not play in the greater Chicagoland area for 60 days prior and 30 days after Lolla. The end result is that instead of helping the summer music scene here, Lolla is screwing it.

Now, my frustration stems not just from the fact that I can't go, but also from the fact that for the vast majority of these bands, their Lolla experience is a poor substitute for an actual show. We've all been to festivals, and we know that bands tend to play shorter sets, have less of a show, and in general seem to put on more subdued shows. Do I want to see Malkmus play for 45 minutes in the middle of the day in the heat in a ginat field or do I want to see him play for 2 hours at the Riviera? To me, the choice is easy. Of course there's nothing to be done about this except be mad. And mad I am.

So there you have it. One cranky Chicagoan's view of Lollapalooza. Check back next week for a slightly less cranky rant about why I'm bored with 3 minute pop songs.