Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Eels - Wonderful, Glorious (2013)

After the rapid fire release of three studio albums in 2009 and 2010, which tested my loyalty as an Eels fan, I was a little slow-footed about listening to this album. In recent interviews, Mark Oliver Everett (aka: E) had talked about having absolutely no songs written and no plan whatsoever when he entered the studio to record Wonderful, Glorious. After one listen to the first single "Peach Blossom", I was prepared for the worst. But to my surprise, Wonderful, Glorious is everything the title suggests, and without question - the strongest Eels album since 2005's Blinking Lights and Other Revelations.

Now approaching 50 years of age, E has had a long history of constantly changing up his sound. In concert, he tends to alter studio versions of songs making them unrecognizable to the original. While in the studio he changes out band members regularly from album to album. This time around for the recording sessions, he decided to keep his all-star lineup from the last two tours in tact. Recorded at Everett's new studio in Los Feliz, CA, the songs on Wonderful, Glorious were written with the band. Most came out of jamming and experimenting in the studio; with E sifting through old notebooks to write the lyrics.

“Almost always when I make an album, I do go into it with this concept in mind about what I want the whole album to be about and what I want it to sound like musically in some way,” he said. “The difference in this new album is it’s the first time I think I didn’t have that in mind. I had no plans at all, and that was the plan—to have no plan. And it was a good lesson for me to see that you could do that and come out with something cohesive that did end up having a theme to it. It worked out very organically in the studio as we were doing it. None of it was arranged.” - E (from article by Brad Nelson/Black Book Mag)

With the last few Eels records being said to represent desire, heartbreak, and renewal; Wonderful, Glorious paints a different more optimistic picture. Here, the common theme seems to be standing tall and being joyful in a world full of chaos. And he does it brilliatly from start to finish. On the catchy rocker and second single - "New Alphabet" he sings: "When the world stops making sense/I make a new alphabet". While on the slow and steady favorite "On the Ropes" - "I've got enough left inside this tired heart /to win this world and walk on my feet/no defeat"

It's amazing how well structured these songs are, yet they still have a wild intensity and messy racket about them. Full of life, and filled with infectious grooves; these songs are destined to sound absolutely nuts in concert. Wonderful, Glorious gets even better on repeated listens. "I Am Building a Shrine" is a tribute to love, full of beautiful soundscapes which still have me scratching my head as to how they did that? Other highlights that instantly stuck out to me were Christmas anthem - "Open My Presents", classic - "True Original", and the bouncy - "You're My Friend". But the biggest standout of all is the closing title track which ends the album on a glorious high note. E shouts out to the heavens - "My love is beautiful and here for the taking/It's strong and pure and utterly earth shaking/My love has brought me here to show you it's true/A wretch like me can make it through."

E and his revolving band have always been best when turning tragedy into art. This time, with a new approach, Eels have surprised me yet again. After 20+ years, Everett seems to have finally come to grips with the tragedies in his life, and created a record that is truly inspiring. Wonderful, Glorious has turned me back and made me a fan for life.

 out of 5

Friday, February 22, 2013

Parquet Courts - Light Up Gold (2012)

This is the album I've been waiting for since Surfer Blood released their debut album - Astro Coast in 2010. Light Up Gold is an enormous breath of fresh air in today's music landscape and an early contender for my favorite musical discovery of the year. I admit I'm a little late hearing about these guys and sadly missed their recent show in Chicago, but after hearing this album for the 20th time I can say I'm a fan for life. The buzz behind Parquet Courts has been well deserved and is spreading rapidly with recent reviews in both Rolling Stone and Spin magazine.

To give you some background on these wide-eyed, late-twenty something guys; they started out of the Denton, TX punk scene. While there, vocalist and guitarist Andrew Savage played in the somewhat well known indie groups - Fergus and Geronimo, and Teenage Cool Kids. Eventually they migrated to New York City, where they currently go to school, and work normal jobs. Andrew Savage formed the band with his brother Max Savage on drums, Sean Yeaton on bass, and Austin Brown on guitar and vocals. Shortly after forming in 2011, they recorded and released their debut album - American Specialties on cassette. In August of last year Light Up Gold was released as a limited edition vinyl pressing of 500 copies. The album was then re-released in January on the What's Your Rupture label.

Light Up Gold is more of a full band effort than American Specialties. And even though the album was recorded in their New York City practice space in a quick 3 days and 30 hours, it sounds anything but lo-fi. Musically their sound is familiar but you can never quite put your finger on who their main influences are. Scrounging through my music collection; I noticed some similarities with late 70's early 80's post-punk bands like The Fall, The Modern Lovers, The Talking Heads, and Wire. But they're not close enough to any of these bands to be considered a copycat act. Part of what makes these tunes so addictive is they never hang around in one place too long. Most of the tracks stay under 2 minutes and when they do go longer (as in the 5 minute "Stoned and Starving"), the songs jam along like a rickety old roller coaster ride in a cloud of pot smoke.

On the surface the lyrics sound tossed off and goofy (in a good way). But when you dig deeper, these guys can really write some excellent lyrics full of humor and traces of classic beat poetry. On one of the many highlights - "Stoned and Starving", he sings "I was debating Swedish Fish/Roasted Peanuts or licorice/I was so stoned and starving". Even more impressive might be the delivery of the songs. There's a confident swagger in the singing of both Andrew Savage and Austin Brown. They know just how to say things at the exact moment to get your attention and pull you into a song. On the killer opening track - "Master of My Craft", the song is sung from the perspective of a know-it-all big shot talking to someone below him. He pulls out the refrain of "A Moment of Your Time?/Forget About It", pronouncing "Fuh-get-about it" in a thick Brooklyn accent. It's too great not to love! Even the name - Parquet Courts shits coolness (Immediately giving me flashbacks of Larry Bird, The Celtics, and The Boston Garden).

Light Up Gold is an album for the ages that I will pass down to my children, and my children will pass down to their children and so on. I could spend a couple more paragraphs talking about other highlights but it's better if you listen for yourself. (see link at the bottom). The band is already performing songs for a follow-up album which is planned for release on the What's Your Rupture label. They'll likely be touring a lot this year, so make sure to catch their live show when they come to your town!

out of 5

Bandcamp link

Monday, February 18, 2013

8 Classic/Memorable/Epic "Last" Shows in Rock History

The other night I was watching the LCD Soundsystem concert film - Shut Up and Play the Hits which chronicles the band's final show on April 2nd, 2011. The concert footage blew me away mostly because of James Murphy's voice which sounded even more impressive live than on the albums. Also the crowd was so excited and the energy was so hypnotic, I had to get up and jump around my living room. Lastly comedian/beat boxer/soul singer Reggie Watts and indie gods - The Arcade Fire also made an appearance. I really wish I could have been there!

Anyway it got me thinking about all of the great "final" farewell shows in rock history and thought it might be a cool idea to revisit some of them. Some of these concerts have been released as award winning live albums and concert films, others are available on bootleg recordings, and still others we only know about from those lucky enough to attend. Also you might have noticed the apostrophes around the words - "last" and "final". Because as we all know, bands don't stay broken up for long. Most of these artists have reformed in one way or another, sometimes with new members (Smashing Pumpkins) or reunited "classic" lineups (Guided By Voices).

Also, I know I'm probably missing a ton of important shows, but let me know what else should be on this list

(in no particular order)

The Band - The Winterland Ballroom, San Francisco, CA - 11/25/76 
Released as a live album and a Martin Scorsese directed film titled The Last Waltz, this remains one of the greatest rock n' roll films of all time. The five hour concert was loaded with guest appearances by old touring mates - Bob Dylan and Ronnie Hawkins, as well as Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton, Neil Diamond, and many more. Over the years, the band would continue to occasionally record and play shows with altered lineups, but nothing ever came close to matching this incredible gig.

The Smashing Pumpkins - The Metro, Chicago, IL - 10/20/00
In May of 2000, Billy Corgan made a surprise announcement on the radio that the band was breaking up. Corgan eventually reformed Smashing Pumpkins with a different lineup but never again with guitarist - James Iha. This 38 song, four and a half hour long set took place at the same club where the band got their start, and featured guest appearances by Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick, The Frogs, and Corgan's father. Although never officially released in any format, there is a rumor that it will come out as part of the reissue of Machina in 2013. Below is a link to an audience recording of the performance:

Morphine - Nel Nome de Rock Festival, Palestrina, Italy - 7/3/99
There has and will never be a band that sounds quite like Morphine. This Boston experimental jazz rock/alternative group was fronted by ace singer and bassist Mark Sandman. Prior to this concert, the band had released four critically acclaimed albums and were well loved on college radio stations across the US. Sadly on July 3rd, 1999, Sandman collapsed on stage and was soon pronounced dead due to a heart attack. The band disbanded afterwards, but the remaining members continue to play in various other projects.

The Sex Pistols - Winterland Ballroom, San Francisco, CA - 1/14/78
"Ever get the feeling you've been cheated? Good Night." These were the famous last words spoken by lead singer Johnny Rotten before slamming his mic to the ground and walking offstage at The Winterland Ballroom. Suffering from the flu, and tired of his manager, bandmates, and in the direction they were heading, the group disbanded. Rotten would go on to form the experimental band - Public Image Ltd.. Later in 2006, the band reunited for shows. The entire show was filmed and can be seen below:

The Replacements - Grant Park, Chicago, IL - 7/4/91
From what I've read, the band had no plans to break up until they walked onstage, in front of one of the largest audiences of their career. By 1991, half of the members from the original lineup were no longer in the band. This performance started strong, but as with many Replacements shows, things quickly got sloppy towards the end. Westerberg began hinting that this would be their last gig. During the last few numbers, each member of the band started handing their instruments over to their road crew to play. The show was broadcast on WXRT radio and has been widely bootlegged with the title It Ain't Over Til the Fat Roadie Plays. Listen to it below:

The Beatles - Candlestick Park, San Francisco, CA - 8/29/66
Tired of not being able to hear themselves play over the wail of screaming fans, the Beatles decided not to tour anymore after this show. The eleven song set was short and sweet. John Lennon was the main catalyst for the decision, which led to much more time to experiment in the studio and record classics like Revolver, Sgt Pepper, and Abbey Road. Hear the show below:

Guided By Voices - The Metro, Chicago 12/31/04 
The "final" show from these prolific indie rock titans featured a 63 song set, an audience and band that had been obliterated from drinking tons of beer, and guest appearances from just about everyone who had ever played in the band. The band reformed in 2010, and released 3 new albums in 2012 alone. This complete concert was released on a DVD called The Electrifying Conclusion.

David Bowie - Hammersmith Odeon, London, UK - 7/3/73 
After touring for over a year behind Ziggy Stardust and Alladin Sane, David Bowie announced it would be his last show ever in London. Highly theatrical, mind bending, and very ahead of its' time, the performance was filmed and released as the concert film - Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Despite his announcement, Bowie would be back the following year with a very different, and equally stunning live show on the Diamond Dogs tour.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Veronica Falls - Waiting for Something to Happen (2013)

After putting out one of my favorite albums in 2011, the UK noise-pop foursome - Veronica Falls have followed it up fairly quickly with the release of Waiting for Something to Happen, their second studio album. With influences ranging from The Velvet Underground to The Pastels and The Vaselines, their debut was full of lovely four part harmonies led by guitarist - Roxanne Clifford, reverb drenched chugging rhythms, and creepy songs about stalkers, departed lovers, and suicide. The album struck an interesting balance of impending doom with catchy hooks and striking vocals.

Waiting for Something to Happen features some of what I loved about the first album, but overall is not quite as strong. Working with Rory Attwell (who also produced some of the band's early demos), the new album was recorded live in the studio in between tours last summer. Many of the songs were partly written beforehand and finished during the sessions; unlike the songs on their debut which had been played live for over a year and completely finished before entering the studio.

On the second album, their playing has definitely improved but overall the songs are not as immediate. Still, the lead-off single - "My Heart Beats" is the best song they've recorded yet! Opening with some ear splitting feedback on guitar from James Hoare, the tune shows the band branching out into shoegaze and neo-psychedlia. The title track is also wonderful and goes into borderline jangle pop territory. Unfortunately for every song that seems to go towards a new bold direction, there are one or two that drag it backwards. "Falling Out" and "So Tired" sound as though they're simply going through the motions and re-writing old songs with new lyrics. 

That sense of "impending doom" on their debut is partly gone here. The mood is slightly more upbeat, even happy at times, which I have no problem with. However the doom and gloom lyrics have now been replaced with safer more "normal" topics such as breaking up is bad, falling in love sucks, and growing up is hard. Still Veronica Falls haven't abandoned the sound that made them tick. There's plenty of tasty harmonies (such as the excellent 2nd single - "Teenage") and the Lou Reed/Sterling Morrison guitar chug is still very much alive on "Broken Toy". Other notable highlights are the Halloween-meets-Pixies - "Shooting Star" and epic closer - "Last Conversation". This seems to be a bit of a transitional album, not as great as the first, but with some new elements and stronger more diverse arrangements at times.

 out of 5

Monday, February 11, 2013

Vic Chesnutt - "Like a Monkey in a Zoo " (Daniel Johnston cover)

This has to be one of my all time favorite songs ever written. Before moving from Boston to Austin, in 2007; one of my neighbors hooked me up with a ton of great music from various Austin musicians to listen to. He was originally from Texas and had worked as DJ in Austin. Among the treasures were classics by Willie Nelson, lesser known bands like The Orange Mothers, and Pong, alternative heroes - The Butthole Surfers, songwriter's songwriters like Butch Hancock, and The Flatlanders and an awesome compilation of Daniel Johnston covers called Discovered Uncovered. Half of the album features lo-fi originals by Johnston, mostly recorded simply with voice and guitar/piano. While the second half features the same songs re-recorded by big names like Beck, Bright Eyes, and TV on the Radio. One of the re-recordings was done by Vic Chesnutt.

The original version of the song was written and recorded by Daniel Johnston in the early 80's on his album - Songs of Pain. Johnston wrote it as an upbeat, bouncy, happy hand clapping piano ditty. The original is also really good but Vic Chesnutt brings it closer to home. Slower, sadder, and with some intricate guitar work between a nylon stringed guitar and an electric guitar; this is the definitive version in my opinion. A paraplegic for most of his life, Vic Chesnutt sings with a tear in his voice, heartbreaking, beautiful, and sometimes bawl-worthy. Sadly the world lost Vic in 2009.

Im chained to the wall/I'm nothing at all/And Im staring at the sunset/Thinking of better things to do/like a monkey in a zoo..........

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Christopher Owens - Lysandre (2013)

Girls has easily been one of my favorite bands of the last ten years. Like most fans, I was definitely bummed to hear about the break-up, but was interested to see what Christopher Owens could do on his own. Having written most of the band's songs (including albums worth of unreleased material), you could say I had high hopes for his solo debut - Lysandre.

This 30 minute thematic album chronicles his first tour with his old band, and subsequent love affair with a Frenchwoman for whom the record is named after. Most of the songs on Lysandre were written in a single day and the album has a pleasant 70's Easy Listening/Singer-Songwriter vibe (think Cat Stevens). The album also showcases some of Owens' best fingerpicking, but towards the end, the "cuteness" of the songs is overbearing and dare I say - painful as a tickle fight in hell. 

This would have been an ok EP. A few of the songs aren't that bad, and it starts out rather promising. The first three songs ("Lysandre's Theme", "Here We Go", "New York City") do a good job of opening the album. "Lysandre's Theme" is a short melodic motif that pops it's head up in every other song (and Yes it gets old), but it's a nice intro. There are some nice touches of harmonica, and flute over Owens' gentle finger picking and soft vocals on "Here We Go". And inn the faster-paced tune - "New York City" Owens sings about "Texas cops and cooking drugs" over a blasting-jazzy-down on the corner saxophone solos.

But from track 4 onward, it goes downhill quick, starting with the totally generic - "A Broken Heart"; a boring ska instrumental ("Riviera Rock"); and the title track which includes the line - "kissin' and a huggin' is the air that I breathe". The last few numbers (notably the ramblin' folky tune "Part of Me") pick things up a bit, but by then, it's too late. 

Owens claims he already has plans for his 2nd solo album, which he wants to take in a "crazy" new direction. But judging from his first effort, it's hard to picture how nutty his music can possibly get without his old band. Then again, perhaps he's pulling a joke on us. By releasing a sub-par debut record, he has set himself up for success to avoid the dreaded second album slump, following it up with a mind-blowing classic.

 out of 5 

Monday, February 4, 2013

Japancakes - Loveless

With Kevin Shield's recent mention of a new My Bloody Valentine album on the way, I thought it would be appropriate to post something related. I was turned on to this group last year by a very helpful employee at Waterloo Records in Austin, TX. Japancakes are a 6 piece spacey post-rock/indie band from Athens, GA who released an excellent cover album of MBV's classic Loveless album in 2007. The album has been covered by quite a few artists over the year, but this is without a doubt my favorite. It's also a nice, more chilled out alternative version to the original for times when I want to hear Loveless but when it's just too damn ear deafening to play in the early morning. Enjoy