Sunday, August 29, 2010

First Listen: The Hoosiers, The Illusion of Safety

Oy. What happened here?

The Hoosiers were one of my favorite new British bands. Two years ago they released The Trick to Life, an endlessly melodic tour-de-force that cribbed from the Turtles and ELO, but spun them into something fun and new. I loved big, bold singles "Worried About Ray" and "Goodbye Mr. A," but the heart of the record was in its more subtle pieces, like "Everything Goes Dark." And Irwin Sparkes has a really good voice.

So why now have the same three musicians turned out something so... lame? The Illusion of Safety finds the Hoosiers going synth-pop, but forgetting to write good songs. Or perhaps consciously writing bad ones, to play up the '80s angle. I don't know, but either way, tracks like "Bumpy Ride" and "Who Said Anything (About Falling in Love)" are awful.

I don't hate the synth-y direction. The first song (and first single), "Choices," is dynamite, and later tracks like "Made to Measure" work just fine. I also quite like "Devil's in the Detail," performed on what sounds like a prepared piano. But the preponderance of the record is uninspired and uninspiring, and the plastic tones that fill things out don't do these songs any favors. This is the most disappointing crash-and-burn I've heard in a while. The fact that it hasn't been released in the U.S. will make it that much easier to avoid, for which you should be grateful.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Three things I've learned about the new Weezer album

1. It contains songs co-written by Dan Wilson, Ryan Adams and Mac Davis (who wrote tunes for Elvis Presley, including "A Little Less Conversation" and "In the Ghetto").

2. One of the tracks is called "Where's My Sex?"

3. The deluxe edition includes a cover of "Viva la Vida."

One thing you have to say for Rivers Cuomo, he's endlessly surprising. The album's called Hurley, the cover's a close-up shot of Jorge Garcia's smiling face, and the whole shebang's on sale Sept. 14. I don't know whether to be excited or scared.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Is Cee-Lo Green's "Fuck You" the Best Single of 2010?

It may well be. Since hitting last week, this thing has been lighting up the Internet, and all the praise is well-deserved. Sure, there's the vulgar title, which I'm certain has drawn a lot of the initial interest. But "Fuck You," it turns out, is a perfectly-composed pop confection, summery and soulful and instantly relatable.

The song is simple and effective: boy meets girl, girl turns out to be a gold digger, boy loves her anyway, boy sees girl driving around with rich new boyfriend, boy shouts title phrase. But it's awesome, in a way that just can't be described. Cee-Lo's golden voice sells every second of this, and the production, resembling an old Motown single, is perfection.

My only gripe is this: why isn't this song for sale right now? Elektra Records plans to wait until October 4 to officially release it, and I don't know why. The demand is here now. I'd gladly pay for a clean copy of this thing, so I can play it in the car over and over again. It's already a hit, you don't need to wait for radio to promote it. Wise up, Elektra. Release "Fuck You" now!

If I haven't made myself clear yet, let me do it now: you have to hear this thing. Click here.

UPDATE: There it is! "Fuck You" is now available for download at Cee-Lo's site. And there's a t-shirt too!

New Column: A Very Good Week

These are the weeks you live for as a music fan.

This week's column is relentlessly positive, as I found great albums to feed virtually every side of my musical personality. New ones from Iron Maiden, Ray LaMontagne, the Eels and Brian Wilson simply rocked my world over the past few days, and I was all set to tell you about them and leave it at that.

And then Sufjan Stevens dropped an hour-long EP out of nowhere, releasing it online without warning Friday morning. And guess what? It's really good too. So this week I have five glowing recommendations for you, and no matter who you are, one of them will most likely do it for you.

As always, click on over to read the column, and then come on back here to leave a comment. Thanks!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Tuesdays with Kevin

My friend Kevin Trudo is a working musician. That means he's chucked the workaday world and is trying to make it as a performer and songwriter. It's a bold move, and one I wholeheartedly support.

I mentioned Kevin in last week's tm3am column. At the time, I didn't have any recordings of his to plug, but now Kevin's started an intriguing new venture called The Tuesday Project. Every Tuesday, he's going to post a new song, for free. (It's similar to Jonathan Coulton's Thing-a-Week, but you can expect fewer songs about monkeys and zombies, and more about creepy sex and beautifully flawed people.)

The first Tuesday Project song is a folksy, sly kiss-off called "Alright (A Love Song)," complete with vinyl-style hiss, pops and crackles all over it. It's swell, and you should download it. Go here:

And bookmark that so you can come back every week. I know the title of next week's song, but I've been sworn to secrecy. Come back in seven days to find out what it is.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

First Listen: "Richardson" Richardson, The Brown EP

This was meant to be part of the 500th column, since I know Tony Martin, but I couldn't make it fit. So here it is, for your enjoyment.

"Richardson" Richardson is definitely a band that respects your busy schedule. Their debut release, The Brown EP, is eight songs in five minutes. That's right, five minutes. These songs have titles like "Bitch Sunglasses" and "Fuck Mountain," and they're all hyperactive thrashy nuggets, played on two bass guitars and a drum machine. (At least, according to their amazing press release.)

It'd be easy to dismiss this as a novelty, but bassist Tony Martin insists that there's more going on here. "Richardson" is a commentary on the hardcore scene, and careful listening will reveal some intricate structures behind these quick-hit explosions. More than once while listening to this, I felt like the songs ended before they got going - "Bitch Sunglasses" has an appealing descending riff, but the band repeats the chorus ("Bitch sunglasses, can't see your face") a couple of times, then stops dead. "Gummy Bears" is a virtual epic at 1:01, and behind the atonal screaming, there's an interesting riff. But it's over before you know it.

Some may find that a good thing. "Richardson" Richardson is nothing if not abrasive, and five minutes may be all you can stand. But I can think of less enjoyable ways to spend that time. This is pretty fun stuff. Listen here.

New Column: In My Life

Today I posted my 500th Tuesday Morning 3 A.M. column.

It's taken me some time to come to terms with it. I've been doing this thing for nearly 10 years now (it'll be 10 years in November), and I've had such an amazing time putting it together week in and week out. I could have just continued with business as usual this week, reviewing a few of the terrific new albums that have come out recently, and I almost did that.

But I realized what I really wanted to talk about is the people that music has brought into my life. I've had the chance to meet and get to know some truly incredible people, many of whom are musicians, many of whom are (like me) fans and appreciators. I've singled a few out this time - mainly the ones who have new albums that I could review this week - but I wanted to use this space to let you all know how much I treasure your presence in my life. Whether you make music I admire, or you admire music along with me, thank you. This column, and music in general, has given me so much, but most important is the people I may not have met and connected with otherwise.

So that's what it's all about this week. As always, click on over to read it, and head back here to leave a comment. And again, thank you. All of you.

Monday, August 16, 2010

First Listen: Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin

There isn't a musician on this earth who makes me feel like a giddy kid the way Brian Wilson does. Somehow his music just goes right to the pleasure center of my brain. It's something about his glorious, candy-coated arrangements - they are lush and ear-popping, as if Wilson hears so much beauty in the world, and tries to cram as much of it into each song as he can.

Still, I was hesitant to buy Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin, the former Beach Boy's stab at the catalog of another American icon. Sure, it's Brian Wilson, but it's not new Brian Wilson songs. How good could it be?

Forgive the pun, but: 'S Wonderful. This is a lovely collection of joyous songs, rendered in Wilson's typical (yet never tiring) colors. The southern California take on "They Can't Take That Away From Me?" The lovely harpsichord-and-strings reading of "Someone to Watch Over Me"? A medley that includes a harmonicas-and-violins-and-muted-trumpet instrumental run through "I Got Plenty O' Nuttin'"? Yes, please. It's all gorgeous.

The real finds here are two new Gershwin/Wilson collaborations - Brian was given the go-ahead to finish a couple of uncompleted Gershwin songs, and they're here in all their glory. "Nothing But Love" is pure Wilson, but "The Like in I Love You" sounds to me what a true collaboration between these songwriters might have resembled. It's a charming what-if, and a sweet and delightful little song.

Yeah, this is sentimental and stylized, and some may consider it elevator music. But I love it to pieces. You can't beat a Brian Wilson arrangement, and here we get 14 of them, complimenting some of the most revered songs ever written. In retrospect, it's a wonder I thought I wouldn't like this.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

New Column: Deconstructing Indie

I've noticed I use the word "indie" a lot, and I realized a couple of weeks ago that I don't really know what it means. So this week at, I tried to take that word apart, and find out why I like it and why I don't. Along the way, I reviewed new albums from Wavves, Best Coast and Starflyer 59.

I closed things out with a quick look at the music slated for release over the next couple of months. As always, click on over to read the column, then head back here to leave me a comment.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

New Column: Arcade Fire For the Win

See what I did there? Puns aside, this week at I talk about bands that strive for greatness. There aren't many of them around these days, but Arcade Fire is definitely one of them, as their 16-song cycle The Suburbs capably proves. This is a record that aims for the rafters, that spares nothing in trying to be The Best Album Ever Made. I miss that kind of ambition.

Also this week, I take a listen to Jimmy Gnecco's first solo album, The Heart. Side note: my original title for this week's missive, before I came up with the semi-witty pun up there, was The Drama Club. Both Arcade Fire and Gnecco (who essentially is the band Ours) make music with a dramatic sweep and a full investment of emotion. These are qualities I admire, as you'll read this week.

As always, click on over to read all about it, then head back here to leave a comment.