Wednesday, December 30, 2009

New Column: Fifty Second Week

And so we bring 2009 in for a landing with this odd annual tradition. I buy so much music during a given year that I just can't review it all over at, so every year I select 52 of the unreviewed records I've accumulated and burn through them in less than an hour. I give myself 50 seconds each to scribble down my thoughts, and the result is what I call Fifty Second Week. Hope you like it!

It's been a joy and a privilege to write this column for nine years. Thank you very much to all of you who have been reading, e-mailing and commenting on it in 2009. I'll be back January 11 with new stuff, and I'll hopefully find time to update this blog before then (and more frequently in 2010). But this will be my last missive of the year. Thanks again, and happy new year to you all.

Click on over to read Fifty Second Week, then come back here to comment.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

My 2009 Top 10 List

Drum roll please, Maestro...

This week at, I unveiled my 2009 top 10 list. It's a remarkably serious-minded list this year, and it contains three rock operas and a further two concept albums, which makes me giddy with hope for the future. Even in the middle of the download storm, great artists are still making great music, and they're making it in full-album form. My #1 choice for the year is an hour-long song that can't be excerpted. Take that, singles-driven market!

But more than that, these 10 albums moved me and made me fall in love with music again this year, and for that, I am grateful. I'm also grateful for the chance to share this music with all of you. Thank you so much for reading this silly column in 2009. That said, I'm sure many of you can tell me where I went wrong, and I'd love to see your lists for 2009. Click on over to read mine, then come back here to leave me yours.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

New Column: The Honor is All Theirs

Good morning once again, faithful readers. I'm in the middle of a crazy few weeks, trying to wrap everything up before my vacation. Lucky for you, though, that includes writing tm3am columns through the end of the year, including this week's look at the honorable mentions of 2009. The top 10 list is due next week, and purely by accident, it's a fairly dark collection of concept albums and confessionals. But the fun stuff ended up in the honorable mentions, so if you're looking for escapism, this is the list for you.

Also this week, I reviewed the Flaming Lips live, and the last new albums of 2009 - an EP from Animal Collective and a rap project from the Black Keys. Click on over to read it, then come back here and leave me a comment.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

New Column: Three Live Crews

Yes, it's a terrible title. I'm tired and sick, so sue me.

As the year winds down, and my workload increases, and the slow trickle of new music dries up, I'm finding less and less time for this blog. It's a wonder I got the column done this week, honestly - I finished writing it last night, at around 10:30. Whew!

Anyway, this week at I take a look at live albums from Paul McCartney (his historic Citi Field show from earlier this year), Tom Waits and Tom Petty. You'll probably be surprised at which one I like best. Also, a look ahead to January's new releases, and a bit on why I'm not going to do a Best of the Decade list. Probably.

So click on over to read it, then head back here to leave me a comment. Next week, I promise to come up with a better column title...

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

New Column: People I Know, 2009 Edition

I have had a hell of a week. I am just barely back on my feet today after spending yesterday in bed, and I have some major stories in the pipeline for the remaining three days. But just for you, gentle reader, I've managed yet again to squeak out another rambling music column over at

This week, I reviewed records by people I know, including the guys in Lost on Liftoff, one of Portland, Maine's best bands, and Andrea Dawn, who made a sweet album called First Try at Goodbye with Jeremy Junkin. I also reviewed the debut album by London duo The Yeah You's, which serves as 2009's long-awaited Britpop masterpiece. (A special thanks to Nick Martin for turning me on to them.)

So click on over to read all about it, and come back here to leave me a comment.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

New Column: 2009's Last Gasp

Well hello there. I had an amazingly busy and tempestuous week, and I'll be very glad for tomorrow's holiday. Once again, I found no time to blog, something I will certainly rectify in the future. But I did manage to squeeze out another column for your reading enjoyment.

We're now in the end-of-the-year doldrums, when nothing notable hits stores. I can count the new albums I'm buying between now and January on one hand. Good for the checkbook, bad for the column - last week was 2009's Last Gasp, the final big new release week of the year. But it was a pretty big one, and I've examined it, reviewing the debut of supergroup Them Crooked Vultures, and new ones from John Mayer and Switchfoot.

Click on over to read it, then head back here to leave me a comment. And happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

New Column: Wait, What?

This week at, it's another selection of albums so weird that, if I hadn't heard them myself, I'd probably doubt their existence.

First up is Tori Amos' Christmas album Midwinter Graces, and if you'd told me 15 years ago that Tori Amos would one day make a Walmart-safe Christmas album, I'd have probably said "ho, ho, ho." (I know, that was awful.) Second is Joy Electric's covers album, which includes analog synthesizer takes on songs by the Killers, Keane, Blink-182, Feist, Coldplay and others. That's one that shouldn't work at all, but does marvelously.

The column also includes my thoughts on last weekend's Doctor Who special, The Waters of Mars. Click on over to read it, then head on back here to leave a comment.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

First Listen: Bryan Scary and the Shredding Tears, Mad Valentines

A shout-out to Tony Shore right up front - without him, I might never have heard Bryan Scary. Tony convinced me to look beyond the strange band name and buy last year's Flight of the Knife album, one of the most insane pop records I've picked up in many a moon. It is also totally awesome.

Mad Valentines isn't exactly the follow-up, but it is an excellent six-song EP full of the same piano-driven prog-pop that Scary and his band do so well. In some ways, Mad Valentines is a single with five b-sides, and that single is leadoff track "Andromeda's Eyes." If you're into mighty musicianship that still retains its sense of tunefulness, you have to hear this. It's super-fast, explosive stuff, with a melody that just keeps coming at you, relentlessly.

Not to slight the other five, but the EP never gets that energetic again. It does, however, remain complex, sweet, poppy and all-around terrific. Closer "The Red Umbrella" is my other favorite, but it's all good. Imagine Supertramp on Jolt Cola, and you have the idea. Listen here. You won't be sorry.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

First Listen: Julian Casablancas, Phrazes for the Young

The Strokes are yet another band I don't understand. They are all right, for what they are - a mediocre guitar-rock band that momentarily captured the public's attention. The Strokes were at the forefront of the garage-rock revival of the early 'aughts, and their second and third albums failed to ignite the same spark. I'm not sure why people still look to them as an important band.

So here's Julian Casablancas, the Strokes' lead singer, stepping out on his own, and he's followed the cliche to the hilt. Phrazes for the Young goes all synthesizer on our asses, glamming up Casablancas' simple songs with keyboard lines and drum patterns. I wish this wasn't such a predictable move at this point, because I like synthesizers and drum machines, when used well. But it really comes down to the songs, in the end.

Some of these eight songs are okay - "Glass" is catchy, "11th Dimension" is pretty good. Some of them are terrible - "Ludlow St." made me want to tear my ears off, "4 Chords of the Apocalypse" sadly fails to live up to its title. None of them are memorable. Like the Strokes themselves, Phrazes for the Young will shortly fade from memory, leaving no trace. If you don't want to bother with it, I wouldn't blame you.

First Listen: Nirvana, Live at Reading

I'm not sure why I bought this. It is certainly exactly what I expected.

I have never been a member of the Cult of Cobain. I will grant him his place in history - Nirvana hit at exactly the right time, selling millions of copies of an album that was, at the time, too loud and angry for radio. Cobain, Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic basically forced the mainstream to accept what they did, and kicked open the door for dozens of others who did the same thing.

And Cobain's suicide cemented that place - had he remained alive, he would probably be Billy Corgan right now, watching relevance as it disappears in the distance. But we'll never know. Cobain's early death turned him into an icon, and his band into one of the most acclaimed ever.

But man, they weren't very good, and Live at Reading proves it. Nirvana played loud, sloppy Pixies-lite stuff, and on stage, they evidently didn't do it very well - they weren't tight-but-faking-loose, like the Pixies; they were really just amateur players. Live at Reading captures their set at the Reading Festival in August of 1992, just after Nevermind made them superstars, and they run through most of that album, much of superior debut Bleach, a couple from the gestating In Utero, and some covers.

And it all sounds like garage-band noise. The songs are okay, for what they are, but they don't belong anywhere near a "Best Songs Ever" list. And the performance is... well, there's an argument to be made that Cobain and company were ironically pretending to be this lackadaisical - see the missed notes on "Smells Like Teen Spirit," or the horribly-played "Star Spangled Banner" at concert's end.

Of course, the other argument is that they just kind of sucked. And I think Live at Reading, for all its sound and fury, makes that argument convincingly.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

New Column: I Am Musician, Hear Me Roar

It's all about breathtaking complexity this week at, as I take a listen to three albums that were made primarily to get approving nods from other musicians. Is there something for everyone to enjoy in these discs? Well, probably not, and that's the trouble.

Reviews include Slayer's crushing World Painted Blood, Transatlantic's mammoth The Whirlwind, and Between the Buried and Me's astonishing The Great Misdirect. Click on over to read it, then come on back here to comment.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

New Column: Uniform of Youth

Yes, it's true. I very much like Weezer's new album Raditude.

I know I'm going to have to defend this one more than any other this year, but this album hits the spot for me. Weezer has always been best when they focus on silly yet satisfying pop, and on the dopey Raditude, they deliver in ways they haven't since the Green Album. It's an incredibly stupid album, written from the point of view of a 15-year-old who hangs out at malls and tries to impress girls. But it's an incredibly catchy one too.

I've put forth my best defense at this week. I also reviewed the AMAZING new live album from R.E.M., and the soundtrack to New Moon. It's all wrapped up in the theme of feeling younger while getting older.

Click on over to read it, then come back here and leave a comment. You know you're going to want to after this one.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

New Column: Strings Attached

The days just fly by lately... Another week, another column at This one includes a review of Paranormal Activity, a surprisingly effective low-budget horror flick in the vein of The Blair Witch Project. (Oh, you've heard of it?) It also takes aim at a pair of orchestral projects from Sufjan Stevens. Neither Run Rabbit Run nor The BQE works as the follow-up to Illinois we've all been waiting for, but they're both quite good.

Click on over to read all about it, then come back here and leave me a comment.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

New Column: Freaked Out and Small

Short and sweet: this week at I reviewed the sprawling, amorphous new sort-of-double album from the Flaming Lips, and found it difficult. I then reviewed the tiny, sparkling debut album from Harper Simon, and found it marvelous. I called the column "Freaked Out and Small" after a Presidents of the United States album title, but it's meant to be taken in two parts: the Lips are "freaked out," Simon is "small." I also shared a bit about another wedding and concert I went to, and my thoughts on the Where the Wild Things Are movie.

So click on over to read it, then come on back here to leave me a comment. Thanks, as always.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

First Listen: Om, God is Good

Om is one of my favorite rock and roll stories. They started as two-thirds of stoner rock band Sleep, who in 1998 made the ultimate stoner rock album, Dopesmoker. (It didn't see release in its intended form - a single astonishing 63-minute slow-burning song - until 2003.) After the trio broke up, bassist/singer Al Cisneros and drummer Chris Hakius reformed as Om, without guitarist Matt Pike. In fact, without a guitar player at all.

They still make stoner metal. It's still low and slow and full of drug imagery. Only now, they do it without guitars - just bass and drums. God is Good is the first Om album since Hakius was replaced by Emil Amos, yet despite 50 percent of their membership changing, the band sounds much the same.

This album has a few more bells and whistles, including some flute and some tamboura. But again it's long songs, monotone vocals, and slow, creeping grooves. And it's still unlike anything else out there. If you can take minimal instrumentation, minimal melody and minimal variation, then this will put you into the best kind of trance. It's mesmerizing.

First Listen: Jandek, What Was Out There Disappeared

What could get me to break my blog silence? How about the 61st album from Texas enigma Jandek?

Here's what's interesting. Jandek's music sounds like no other music on the planet, so you'd think it would be endlessly fascinating. In the '80s and '90s, there was a supple malleability to his improvised insanity. Would he have other musicians playing with him, or would he be alone, plucking that tuneless guitar like the world's most abandoned soul? Would he bang on a piano for 15 wordless minutes? Or would he release an hour-long a cappella record, with nothing but his poorly-recorded speaking voice? You never knew.

But while Jandek's live albums since 2004 have kept that sense of unpredictability, his studio albums have been surprisingly formulaic. What Was Out There Disappeared is yet another solo acoustic guitar and vocals album. Once again the guitar spits out an otherworldly, dissonant melange of notes. Once again Jandek moans atonally about how lonely and depressed he is. Occasionally there is harmonica. This is the only thing separating this album from the two before it.

Listening to this, I find myself wondering why he makes these studio documents. The live records burst with imagination, even if they too contain the teeth-grinding ugliness of just about all of Jandek's work. The studio albums are starting to sound rote, however. There's nothing on What Was Out There that Jandek didn't already do on 2002's I Threw You Away, 29 albums ago.

As always, Jandek is only recommended for the hardiest (or foolhardiest) listener. For more info, check out Seth Tisue's site.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

QuietCo in living color

Hopefully by now, you've heard me raving about Quiet Company, the Austin, Texas band that currently sits at number two on my 2009 top 10 list. Their album Everyone You Love Will Be Happy Soon is simply a masterpiece, and if you like the stuff I like, you need to hear it.

Quiet Company has just released a video for one of that album's more epic tracks, "On Modern Men." It's a good way to hear one of my favorite songs on the record, although I'll point out that its massive, cathartic buildup works even better near the tail end of Everyone You Love. Check it out. Then click through to the main site and buy the record. You will not be disappointed, I promise.

New Column: No Top 10 List for You

What a week it's been. My dad got married, my job was saved, and the Red Sox season sputtered to a close. I've been pretty busy - I also somehow fit in a two-day trip to Peoria to collect a whole bunch of Associated Press and Illinois Press Association awards for our news group. Yay! Still, very tired.

So once again, I've gone a week without any posts. This is becoming ridiculous, and I'm sorry. I did, however, write up another 2,700-word tm3am column, this one all about three superb albums that will be disqualified for my top 10 list. I have these rules, you see, and every year, some very worthy records are left out in the cold because of them, and every year, I reconsider whether the rules are worth it. This year, Marillion, Morphine and Neil Finn's new project will be outside of my top 10 list looking in. Is this fair? I'm not absolutely sure.

Click on over to read the column, then come back here and leave me a comment. Thanks!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

New Column: Ode to Joy

Hey all. It's been another busy, hectic, no-posts-between-columns week, and I don't see that letting up for most of October, unfortunately. But I will try! Anyway, this week at, I took a look at Phish's reunion album Joy, and found it to be the most fun, alive-sounding record they've made this decade.

But wait, there's more! I also lit into Mike Doughty's depressingly lame Sad Man Happy Man, and the Elms' further adventures in Americana, The Great American Midrange. And I explained why Imogen Heap's Ellipse is one of my favorite albums of the year. Now how much would you pay?

Click on over to read all about it, then come back here and leave me a comment.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

New Column: The Passion of David Bazan

This week at, I took a long look at David Bazan's new album Curse Your Branches. It is, essentially, Bazan's breakup album with God, after years as one of Christian music's most elegant and honest songwriters. He's still honest, and his writing is still elegant here, but the subject matter - the pain of losing something that once defined you - is tough and uncompromising. Couple that with Bazan's struggles with alcoholism, depicted in similarly forthright detail, and you have one of the most emotionally devastating records of the year.

It's hit me pretty hard, since I have gone through the same theological back-and-forth Bazan is wrestling with now. David Bazan has long been a songwriter worth noting, but this is the first time he's written something that has found me locked in my own head for hours, thinking about it. It's one of my favorite albums of the year.

Click on over to read the review, then come back here to leave me a comment. Thanks!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

New Column: Little, Big

This week at I looked at two bands that have taken exact opposite paths.

Pearl Jam started as one of the biggest bands in the world, and have since worked overtime to get smaller, a feat they appear to have finally achieved on Backspacer, their ninth album. Meanwhile, Muse started so small that they were insignificant, but they've expanded their sound and scope each time out, to the point where The Resistance, their fifth effort, may be 2009's most ambitious record. Both of these albums are very good, which proves it's about individual comfort levels - Eddie Vedder and company just aren't as cozy with the idea of being enormous as Matt Bellamy and his cohorts.

Anyway, click on over to read my reviews, as well as a small glimpse of what's been going on in my life lately, and then head back here to leave me a comment.

Monday, September 21, 2009

First Listen: Megadeth, Endgame

I will probably do a Dear Dave Mustaine letter on this album, but just in case I don't get to it, I wanted to go on record here: Endgame is great.

For the third time in a row, Dave Mustaine has put out his best record since Rust in Peace. I don't know where the 48-year-old Mustaine is finding this late-career energy, but he absolutely shreds on this album. This is raw, fast, powerful thrash metal, the kind I once thought we'd never hear from Megadeth again. Now it's becoming a regular thing.

Highlights? After the instrumental opening "Dialectic Chaos," the band just erupts into "This Day We Fight," an awesome old-school head-banger. There are two melodic singles, the sort-of-catchy "44 Minutes" and the half-acoustic, string-laden "The Hardest Part of Letting Go... Sealed With a Kiss." But the rest of this album is just metal, plain and simple. "Head Crusher" is fantastic, "Bodies" just rocks, and closer "The Right to Go Insane" is one of those mid-tempo melodic stompers Mustaine does so well. And the solos are blistering throughout. (And like on United Abominations, there are a lot of them.)

If you dug '80s Megadeth and haven't heard the last few albums, seriously, check this out. It's as good as you're hoping it is.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

New Column: You Say You Want a Revelation

Okay, kids, here's the big Beatles column. 4,991 words, all about the remastered editions of the Fab Four's 13 albums (and one singles compilation). I've been fully immersed in these discs for a week now, and they're masterpieces. I realized, looking back through my archive, that apart from a couple of references to Sgt. Pepper as the Best Album Ever, I hadn't gone on record with my thoughts about each Beatles record. So I've taken the time to correct that oversight this week, and tell you about the vast improvements in sound quality and detail in these new editions. Short version: it's so very worth your $200.

Click on over to read this monstrosity, then come on back here to leave me a comment.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

First Listen: Jandek, Portland Thursday

Do you believe this guy's up to 60 albums?

Jandek, as I've mentioned before, is a Texas musician who has been self-releasing his work since 1978. His stuff is not for everyone. It's atonal and depressing and completely improvised, and on first blush, it sounds appallingly amateur. But the guy knows what he's doing. I think, to him, music just sounds like this.

Album 60 is another live effort. Once a noted recluse, Jandek's been performing around the world since 2004, usually with local musicians, and ordinarily with a minimum of rehearsal time. This show was recorded in 2006 in Portland, Oregon, and features Sam Coomes on bass, Emil Amos on drums, and on one song, Liz Harris and Jessica Dennison on backing vocals. It runs nearly two hours, and if you think you can't take two hours of Jandek, you're probably right.

But I quite like this one. I originally described it as the Cure forgetting how to play their instruments, but that's not exactly right. The music is dark and spooky, made ever more so by Jandek's deep, reverbed guitar tone. Coomes and Amos lay down some interesting grooves, on top of which Jandek then slashes erratically, but in this context, it really works. These songs are long and sinister - the first disc is four tracks, and it runs 54 minutes. And on "Whose Mister is This," Harris and Dennison add a whole other layer of eerie.

Jandek's live albums always find him in new and interesting settings, and this one delivers. I certainly couldn't make a steady diet of this, but compared to some of the Rep from Corwood's other works, this one's riveting.

First Listen: Third Eye Blind, Ursa Major

Apparently there's a lot of buzz about this record. I'm not sure why. Third Eye Blind tapped into a very specific moment in the early '90s, when they scored their biggest hits, but since then, they've been plying the same trade, and Ursa Major, their much-vaunted comeback album, makes no strides in any other direction.

Basically, what you have here is a set of semi-tuneless pop-rockers stuffed with things that could be hooks, if they were more interesting. Some of it, like the swirling "Bonfire," stands out above the rest, but most is just the same three or four chords we've heard again and again, propping up "shocking" lyrics that have no real impact. It is exactly what I feared it would be - godawful boring.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

First Listen: Collective Soul

This is Collective Soul's second self-titled album. Fans are referring to it as Rabbit, because the front cover is adorned with a picture of a white chocolate rabbit. Why a white chocolate rabbit? I have no idea.

Here's what I do know: I keep getting suckered into buying Collective Soul albums. I was all done with Blender in 2000, the one that featured Elton John as a guest star. If there's anything that says "we're corporate rock," it's an appearance by Elton John. But then they surprised me with the glam-rock Youth in 2004, and the subsequent acoustic EP From the Ground Up. I thought I was out, they pulled me back in.

But other than band loyalty, there's no reason to buy Rabbit. This is middle-of-the-road Collective Soul, full of mediocre hooks and faceless, mechanical playing. Things get slightly more interesting in the second half, and closing ballad "Hymn for My Father" is nice, but this record is almost entirely forgettable. So forget it.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

I Do Believe in Beatles

So I took the plunge. I am now the proud owner of the entire Beatles catalog, remastered in stereo.

I haven't had nearly enough time to properly assess this thing, but I can tell you, the packaging is glorious. The outer box is understated and sturdy, with a magnet clasp, and the individual sleeves for each album are exactly right. The liner notes are informative without being sycophantic, and the discs themselves are designed like the vinyl records - Parlophone up through Sgt. Pepper, Apple Corps after that. They even get Magical Mystery Tour right: the version that eventually became canon is the U.S. release, so this reissue gets a Capitol Records design.

I've heard very little of it so far. I did listen to most of Abbey Road, and the sound quality is amazing. Details pop out now, and I heard things, even in minor songs like "Octopus' Garden," that I'd never heard before. The big improvement is in Paul McCartney's bass, which can now be enjoyed without straining your ears, and in Ringo Starr's drums, which are clean and separated.

I did, however, play some of Please Please Me, and it has convinced me to buy the mono box, when I have another $200 lying around. The stereo master of this album (and presumably the first four albums) was an afterthought - the mono mix was "the mix," and the stereo version simply put the instruments in one channel and the vocals in the other and called it good. The remastering team did not create new stereo masters for these albums, although George Martin did for Help! and Rubber Soul back in the '80s, thankfully. The not-quite-stereo mix of Please is somewhat disheartening, especially when the mono tracks ("Love Me Do" and "P.S. I Love You," which were never mixed in stereo) come in. They are bright and brilliant, exactly the way I want this album to sound.

But despite that, I am very happy so far with the box set. I spent $200 on music I already own, and yes, I understand how crazy that must seem to some people, but thus far, it was absolutely worth it. The best catalog in popular music now sounds renewed, rejuvenated, and ready to be discovered by generations yet to come. That's pretty awesome, if you think about it.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

New Column: Back in Black

Another week has passed me by. My insane schedule should be clearing up soon. But of course, I said that last week, and look what happened.

Regardless, I did find time to write another (brief) column at, this one all about double albums and the Black Crowes. I have long maintained that the Crowes are the best rock 'n' roll band in the world, and they've done nothing to dissuade me this time. Their new record Before the Frost... Until the Freeze is a 20-song collection of new stuff recorded live, and it positively crackles with energy. While I like the first disc better than the second, the way they've chosen to release this thing leads to all kinds of philosophical discussions on double albums and why they still excite me.

Click on over to read it, then come back here and leave me a comment.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

New Column: Nothing In Common

I can't believe it's been another week already. I have four or five First Listen posts ready to go, but just haven't found the time to scribble them down. I need to make a better effort here.

Anyway, I am keeping up with my regular gig at This week's missive contains my thoughts on three very diverse albums: Owl City's one-man electronic poptopia Ocean Eyes, Mew's towering weird-prog excursion No More Stories Are Told Today I'm Sorry They Washed Away No More Stories The World is Grey I'm Sorry They Washed Away, and David Mead's wonderful acoustic love letter Almost and Always. These three have absolutely nothing in common (hence the column title), except for the fact that I really like them all.

Click on over to read, then come back here to post comments.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

New Column: Three to Get Ready

I've been neglecting this blog again, and I'm sorry. It's been a busy time. But rejoice, because I did have enough time to write a new column for, in which I take a swing at three new records. We've got Brendan Benson's new pop platter My Old, Familiar Friend, we have Patrick Wolf's completely nuts The Bachelor, and we have one of the most affecting albums I've heard this year, Hospice, by the Antlers. Click on over to read it, then head back here to leave me a comment. Thanks!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

New Column: Armistice Day

I have been dreading and anticipating the new Mutemath album more than any other record this year. It's finally here, after a three-year wait. It's called Armistice, and by all accounts, its creation was a troubled one. And of course, it's the follow-up to one of my favorite albums of the past 10 years, so it has a lot to live up to.

Does it? Well, not quite, but it doesn't exactly disappoint either. Check out my first-impression review of Armistice at, then come back here and leave me a comment.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

I Can't Believe I Like the New Weezer Song

I've been pretty hard on Rivers Cuomo since his band returned from exile almost 10 years ago, but he's deserved it. Every record since the Green Album has been progressively worse. I don't honestly expect that string will be broken on October 27, when Weezer's seventh album is released. Especially since it's called Raditude. Really.

But damn, I like the single. The lyrics are stupid teen-pop ("I took you to Best Buy, you took me home to meet your mom and dad") and the chorus actually contains the words "I swear it's true, without you my heart is blue." But it's catchy and fun and it makes me want to sing along, as opposed to other recent Weezer singles ("Beverly Hills," "Pork and Beans") that have made me want to stab myself in the face.

It's honest-to-God called "(If You're Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To," and you can hear it here.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

First Listen: Yim Yames, Tribute To

Yim Yames is, obviously, the flimsy pseudonym of Jim James, leader of My Morning Jacket. In 2001, not long after George Harrison died, James sequestered himself in a studio and laid down these six songs. They're all Harrison numbers, two from the Beatles and the other four from Harrison's magnum opus, All Things Must Pass. Now, finally, they're out and available. And they're astonishingly beautiful.

James is obviously entranced with these songs, but more than that, he's dealing with his grief through them. His high, aching voice works wonders with "Long, Long, Long," and James actually makes "Love You To" sparkling and pretty. But it's the final two tracks, "The Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let It Roll)" and "All Things Must Pass," that truly shine. These are great, great songs - Harrison was in many ways the equal of his more celebrated fellow Beatles Lennon and McCartney - performed with love and a crushing sense of loss. Tribute To is just perfect.

First Listen: Oneida, Rated O

You know how I love expansive statements. Not only is Rated O the second part in a planned trilogy of albums from this Brooklyn noise-rock outfit, it's a triple album in its own right. Now, granted, it's spread across three discs, but it's not even two hours long. Still, this is an enormous undertaking, and an incredibly strange and entrancing one.

The three discs each emphasize a different side of this band's personality, making Rated O their most complete work. Disc one is noisy dance-rock instrumentals, heavy on the repetition and abrasiveness. Disc two is more rock-oriented, with lyrics and vocals buried beneath waves of sound. This is the most live-sounding of the lot, its three-minute foot-stompers coming the closest to traditional pop.

But it's disc three I like best. This is the soundscape disc, and the band uses these extended running times to explore hypnotic drone-jams. The closing "Folk Wisdom" stretches to 20 minutes, and is my favorite thing here. This is a difficult listen, for the most part, but by the time "Folk Wisdom" rolls around, you'll be used to Oneida's singular musical world, and ready to just get lost in it.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

New Column: My Lollapalooza Diary

So I went to Lollapalooza last weekend, in Grant Park here in Chicago. And while I was there, I kept a diary on this blog.

I've expanded and cleaned up that diary for this week's tm3am column, and although regular readers of this blog will be familiar with most of the material, there's a bunch of new observations there as well. Think of this as the finished album, after three pre-release EPs. (Or, you know, think of this as a cheap way of getting out of writing a new column for this week. Whatever works.)

So click on over to read it, and then come on back here and leave me a comment.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Lollapalooza Day Three

Day Three was just plain weird.

First of all, while there were a lot of people at Lollapalooza on Saturday, there were just too damn many people there on Sunday. Perhaps that's my impression, colored by exhaustion, but I felt suffocated all day. I remember arriving at noon, and looking through the gate at the earliest show of the day, and seeing hundreds upon hundreds of people already there.

Today also vaulted past 100 degrees, which didn't help. I spent something like $15 on water, in one day, and I brought in a one-liter bottle to boot. I used super-SPF sunscreen, and the back of my neck is still sunburned. The performers were commenting on the heat all day as well. I could try to tell you how hot it was, but I don't think I'd be able to adequately convey it. It was bloody hot.

Despite all that, the day started out rather well. Ra Ra Riot kicked things off with a driving set of indie pop fueled by violin and cello. I like their sound so much, I just wish they would write some compelling songs to go with it. But live, it worked just fine. Plus, on the way over to that show, I caught a few songs from Los Angeles band Carney, and they were swell - fine, fun pop. I'll be buying their album.

Bat for Lashes was magnificent. Part Siouxie, part Bjork, all Kate Bush, Natasha Khan danced through a set full of magical songs. She played piano and autoharp, and was backed by a three-piece band that brought the songs on Two Suns, her extraordinary new album, to life. She closed with "Daniel," and I've heard six versions of this song now, none of them the same. Great, great show.

I was going to avoid the Airborne Toxic Event, so unimpressed was I with the songs I've heard. I'm so glad I showed up for their set, though, because they rocked. They closed with a 10-minute version of "Innocence" that was simply superb. Like Bruce Springsteen, TATE plays simple, inspiring rock music that works much better on the stage. Still, I'll probably be buying this album now too.

All was well. And then, during Vampire Weekend's set, I had a panic attack.

I was looking forward to this band's show all (ahem) weekend. Their self-titled debut was one of my favorite records of last year, and their unique blend of Afro-pop and college rock works on many levels. Unfortunately, one of those levels is "drunken party music." My friends wanted to be closer to the action, and despite my hatred of crowds, I went along. Before I knew it, we were enclosed, and couldn't leave if we wanted to.

And then a group of drunken college kids pushed their way through to stand in front of us, and as the band launched into "A-Punk," they began shoving each other into the people around them. Including us. That, coupled with the heat and the crowd, proved too much, and I fled, taking refuge near the exit while my heart raced and I hyperventilated. It was not my finest moment.

Still, I enjoyed Vampire Weekend. They played a bunch of new songs, and while they sound superficially similar to the old stuff, I could tell they're stretching out, becoming more ambitious. I did listen to the last half of their set from the steps by the exit, my head in my hands, though, so you may not want to listen to me.

I recovered in time for the three sets at the end of the night, on the north stage.

I don't like Lou Reed. I can't believe it took sitting through half his ass-aching set Sunday night to remember that, but it's true. I know why the man's a legend, and I understand his importance, but he's an awful musician, and just a complete douchebag. He started his set 20 minutes late, but played a whole hour anyway, which would have been forgivable if he'd been playing songs, but his band spent most of their last 20 minutes spewing forth squalling feedback over a keyboard loop.

Meanwhile, Band of Horses stood by the side of the stage, waiting for Reed to finish torturing our ears. The crowd grew restless, and started chanting rude things at Reed, but he pressed on. So Band of Horses started 20 minutes late as well. I quite enjoyed their set, though, especially the grand "No One's Gonna Love You," an ethereally beautiful piece. Hearing it live was wonderful.

Then something strange happened. Band of Horses, quite rightly, decided to play their entire set as well, planning to conclude 20 minutes late. Unfortunately, noise ordinances keep Lollapalooza from continuing past 10 p.m. So the reunited Jane's Addiction decided to take the headlining stage on time, launching into "Up the Beach"... while Band of Horses continued to play on the stage directly facing them.

That's right, for 20 minutes, we got two bands playing at full volume atop one another, like two stereos blaring simultaneously. It was, to say the least, odd. Most people were just bewildered, but neither band backed down, so all we could do was wait for Band of Horses to finish their set. Now, here's the thing with me and Jane's Addiction - I've been waiting to see them live for 20 years. It's been 18 since all four original members shared the stage. I've been breathlessly awaiting this show for months.

And the first few songs were just ruined.

Now, my very favorite Jane's song is the mammoth "Three Days." I knew I'd have to leave early to catch my train, but I've been saying to myself, "As long as I see 'Three Days' live, I'll be okay." Well, they launched into it as their third song, while Band of Horses was still playing. And I shook my head in dismay.

But "Three Days" is 10 minutes long, and it simply outlasted its competition. I got to hear all the good parts, and then another hour of Jane's besides, including my other favorite, "Then She Did." Jane's was extraordinary, playing like they hadn't been away for even a day. It was a terrific capper.

Yes, I did have to leave early, during "Summertime Rolls." But I didn't care that much. I saw some fantastic music throughout my three-day adventure, and while I'm not sure I would do it again - I really am getting too old for this shit - it was a fine, fun time.

Quote of the day:

Band of Horses singer Ben Bridwell, upon taking the stage after waiting through Lou Reed's epic overrun: "So, what have you guys been up to?"

I will probably cannibalize a bunch of this for tm3am this week, so apologies in advance. Thanks very much to everyone who hung out with me this weekend. It was a blast.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Lollapalooza, Day Two

In the immortal words of Danny Glover, I am getting too old for this shit.

Today, Day Two, was hot. Very, very, unbelievably hot. That alone would have made for a long slog of an afternoon, but it was also crowded. I am sure you have some idea in your mind what I mean when I say the word "crowded." Take that, whatever it is, and multiply by 10. There were a few terrifying moments today when I could not move in any direction. I was suffocated by people.

Also, today was the day I truly discovered that my schedule is impossible. I was hoping to walk back and forth, from one end of Grant Park to the other, a couple of times. But each attempt at that today took about half an hour, just moving with the slow tide of people. In the end, I chucked the schedule and only caught a few shows. But they were (mostly) superb.

I started the day with Thenewno2, the electro-rock outfit fronted by George Harrison's son, Dhani. They played two long, droning electronic tunes, and then the sequencing computer broke. This was the best possible thing that could have happened. The keyboardist donned a guitar, and the band rocked for the rest of their set. And I mean rocked.

Then, on the advice of Tony Martin, I saw the Constantines, and they were excellent. Sludgy post-punk with some complex instrumental passages, and enough energy to get me pumped for the rest of the day. They were probably my favorite show, until the headliner. I also saw Los Campesinos (and I felt bad, because they knocked themselves out for me, and I stood there bored), Arctic Monkeys and Robert Earl Keen, perhaps the biggest surprise of the day. Keen's Texas country-folk was just the tonic I needed.

I skipped TV on the Radio to get to the south side for Animal Collective. I wish I hadn't. Animal Collective was bad. I'm not sure why I even thought that show would be good. I love the new album, Merriweather Post Pavilion, but have hated everything else the band has done. This was an hour of drum loops and formless noise, with moaning on top of it. Waste of time.

For me, the biggest dilemma of the day was the headliner. Did I want to see the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, or Tool? They could not be more different, and yet, they each feed a unique part of my musical personality. In the end, I picked Tool, for a number of reasons. First, I was already on the south end of the park, and didn't want to make that walk again. Second, the Yeahs were the replacement band for the Beastie Boys, and are, I suspect, not quite ready for the big stage. (Post-show reports bore that out.)

But most importantly, I fucking love Tool. And they did not disappoint. They were amazing. Tool uses the classic minimalist lineup (guitar, bass, drums, vocals), but they compose these astonishing mini-symphonies, full of shifting time signatures and difficult, yet pummeling, instrumental work. I don't know how they keep them all straight live, but they did, and they were astoundingly good. They closed with "Vicarious," from the latest album, 10,000 Days, and the energy of that performance kept me wired on the long walk back to my hotel.

I cannot even describe for you how tired I am right now. Tomorrow is another long one - I am hoping to make Ra Ra Riot's show at 12:30 p.m., but will probably start with the incredible Bat for Lashes at 1:30 p.m. And then it's straight on until Jane's Addiction closes the show at 8:30 p.m. I don't know if I will do Lollapalooza again - it's too hot, too crowded, and too much work. But I'm very glad I've done it this year.

Quotes of the day:

Dhani Harrison: "Have a fantastic "Muertepaloola," and watch out for the furry death, innit?"

Maynard James Keenan: "Thank you for your time and your patience, your enthusiasm and your nudity."

Next update tomorrow!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Lollapalooza, Day One

Day One was cold, wet, rainy and miserable. It was also fantastic.

I spent Day One with my friends Jeni and Tony, and we stuck to my previously posted schedule, pretty much. My first observation about Lollapalooza? There are a lot of people there. I mean, a lot. The three of us got separated in the rush of the crowd more than once, and by the end of the day, I gave up fighting to get nearer to the stage.

Here's another one: there just isn't enough time to see every band I want to see. My Friday schedule was packed solid, no breaks, from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. The thing is, I had to leave some concerts early to get to the next show on my list, or risk being stuck at the back of the crowd. While I didn't skip anybody (except Andrew Bird), I did miss the last 15 minutes or so of nearly every set I attended.

I also bought a hat, to keep the raindrops off my glasses. I was soaked through by 2:30, and shivering the rest of the day. But after a while, I didn't even notice.

My favorite show of the day came from the Decemberists, who pulled off a complete reading of my favorite album of 2009 so far, The Hazards of Love. It's essentially an hour-long song, and they played it as such, with all segues intact. The most surreal moment came when the entire crowd, thousands of people, sang along to "The Rake's Song," a tune about a guy who kills off his children one by one. As the guy next to me said, "It's the darkest song I've ever heard, but I'll dance to it."

My second favorite show, oddly enough, was Depeche Mode. They headlined over on the south end (which is, like, 380 miles from the north end), and I was very surprised at how much I enjoyed them. "I Feel You" was just awesome, and "Enjoy the Silence" was magnificent. I'm still stunned at how damn good they were.

Others worth noting: Fleet Foxes were excellent, of course. They come off as a ramshackle bunch of laid-back hippies just goofing around, but when they launch into those spectral harmonies, it's just magical. Of course, I left early to get a spot for the Decemberists show, and missed my favorite Fleet Foxes song, "Mykonos." Typical.

Ben Folds put on the worst show I've ever seen from him, focusing on lame-ass material from Way to Normal, his one bad album. He did give us a swell rendition of "Army," though, so that's okay. And the Gaslight Anthem played for 50 minutes, which was about 20 minutes too long for me. I like their Springsteen-meets-Bad Religion sound, but their new album is about 30 minutes long, and that's just right, as it turns out.

I am sore and tired, but energized for tomorrow. I have to re-think my schedule, though, now that I know how long it takes to get from one end of the park to the other. That's an incredibly long walk!

Quote of the day, said as Of Montreal played one chord over and over again for six minutes to end their set:

Me: How long are they going to do this?

Tony: Until the check clears.

Tune in tomorrow for Day Two!

My Lollapalooza Schedule

Hey all. In about an hour, I'm headed out to Grant Park for my first Lollapalooza. Expect updates this weekend, and a full column about it next week. Here's what I'm hoping to see:

2 p.m. Gaslight Anthem
3 p.m. Bon Iver
4 p.m. Ben Folds
5 p.m. Fleet Foxes
6 p.m. The Decemberists
7 p.m. Andrew Bird
8 p.m. Depeche Mode

12 p.m. Thenewno2 or The Low Anthem
3:30 p.m. Gomez
4:30 p.m. Arctic Monkeys
5:30 p.m. Glasvegas
6:30 p.m. TV on the Radio
7:30 p.m. Animal Collective
8:30 p.m. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs

12:30 p.m. Ra Ra Riot
1:30 p.m. Bat for Lashes
2:30 p.m. The Airborne Toxic Event
4:30 p.m. Vampire Weekend
6:30 p.m. Lou Reed
7:30 p.m. Band of Horses
8:30 p.m. Jane's Addiction

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

New Column: Martin, Squared

How many bands can one man juggle?

That's the question on tap this week at The spotlight this time is on Jason Martin, who has long been one of my favorite songwriters. He's unjustly obscure, but it's not for lack of trying: Martin's in four bands right now, including his main gig Starflyer 59, his keep-it-in-the-family projects Bon Voyage and The Brothers Martin, and his new (and awesome) '80s trash-rock band, Neon Horse. I review new things from Starflyer and Neon Horse, and talk about the different sides to Martin's artistic personality.

Of course, as soon as I finished and posted it, I thought of several more artists juggling three bands or more. Terry Taylor, for example, who is in Daniel Amos, the Swirling Eddies, and the Lost Dogs, and maintains a solo career as well. And there's Spencer Krug, possibly the busiest man in indie rock - he's in Wolf Parade, Swan Lake and Sunset Rubdown, and plays with a bunch of other acts as well. Any more I missed?

Click on over to read the column, then come back here and leave me a comment.

Monday, August 3, 2009

First Listen: Bleu, A Watched Pot

Oh, what a disappointment.

Bleu is William James McAuley, a Boston-area songwriter. He's made two previous Bleu albums, full of quirky pop and cheeky lyrics, and both were a joy. He's also the man behind L.E.O., the greatest Jeff Lynne tribute ever. Four years ago, he made this third album, A Watched Pot. His label, Aware/Columbia, rejected it, and he's been fighting for years to get it back and release it somewhere else.

Listening to it, I'm not sure why. If you bought A Watched Pot expecting fun pop music (and the cheesy-cool cover art certainly leads you in that direction), you're going to be let down. Nearly every song is an overproduced, radio-ready ballad, with strings surging and heartstrings tugging. It's painful to hear Bleu reduce himself to songs like "Save Me" and "Boy Meets Girl." He's better than this.

There are a couple of songs I like. The soulful "I Won't Fuck You Over This Time" has the best lyrics on the record, the sweet "When the Lights Go Out" has the best melody, and the soaring "Go" is the finest of the Big Ballads. (This song appeared on Hanson's latest album, The Walk, and was co-written by Zac Hanson.) But overall, A Watched Pot is depressingly middle-of-the-road, and considering Bleu's undeniable talent, that's a sad, sad thing.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

First Listen: Owl City, Ocean Eyes

I first heard Owl City courtesy of Dr. Tony Shore. He played "Hot Air Balloon" on his ObviousPopcast a few weeks ago, and I hadn't heard anything so delightfully silly in some time. I then fell in love with the first single from Ocean Eyes, called "Fireflies." I was sure I would love this album.

But the actual experience of hearing 12 very similar-sounding Owl City songs back to back is somewhat wearying. Owl City is Adam Young, and his style is a kind of dancehall Death Cab - earnest alt-pop played on glimmering synthesizers. If Ronnie Martin (of Joy Electric) had a voice like Ben Gibbard's and a predilection for bad puns, he might sound like this.

But Ronnie Martin can write captivating melodies, something that eludes Adam Young here more often than not. The songs are all very basic, and I probably wouldn't like them very much if they were performed on guitar. The shimmery keyboards make this stand out, and I love them, particularly on more serious ones like "Fireflies" and "Meteor Shower." Young does slip into disco mode a bit too often for me, using that same orchestra-hit sound too many times, but the production on this album is top notch. It's the sameness of the songs that gets old.

As a side note, these lyrics are head-shakingly silly, which wouldn't be a problem if they weren't all delivered with aching emotion. The first line is "Take a long look at your textbook, 'cause I'm history," and it goes from there. "Dental Care" is actually about dental care, pivoting on the line "I've been to the dentist a thousand times, so I know the drill." Really. It's like Young heard "Vega-Tables" and took it as a challenge.

But when I'm not analyzing it, and I'm listening to one song at a time, I like Owl City quite a bit. The pure joy of this music makes me love life. Sometimes, that's all I need. Hear "Fireflies" here. If you like that, and can stand 11 more songs exactly like it, you'll dig this.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

First Listen: Our Lady Peace, Burn Burn

I've kept track of Canada's Our Lady Peace since my college days, and I'm not sure why. I like them almost entirely for Raine Maida's voice - on earlier albums, like Clumsy and Happiness... Is Not a Fish That You Can Catch, Maida would swoop and snarl all over his band's somewhat typical modern rock songs, elevating them. I love "One Man Army" largely for the vocal melody in the chorus, especially the high falsetto sections.

But over time, Our Lady Peace has mellowed into a much more average band, and Burn Burn is depressingly mediocre. These are radio hits polished up and dressed for success. Opener "All You Did Was Save My Life" is one of the safest songs OLP has ever released, and it sets the tone. Only "Monkey Brains" breaks out, with its Iron Maiden rhythm (really!) and acoustic interlude. The rest of this album is as blah as anything Matchbox 20 has done. Considering how much I still like this band's first few records, that's a shame.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Bryan Scary's Crazy-Good New Song

It's called "Andromeda's Eyes," it is faster than hell, super-complex, and yet classically melodic and memorable. It's the first track on a new EP that, for some reason, we have to wait until October to hear. Bryan Scary and the Shredding Tears made an amazing album last year called Flight of the Knife, and this sounds like that on gallons of caffeine. It is awesome.

Hear it here.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

New Column: Struggling With Simplicity

Hey all. It's been a while, and I'm sorry. Vacation was wonderful, but I'm back now, nose to the grindstone, and trying to find time to listen to all the music I've bought recently. I hope to have a few more updates in the coming days, and be back in the swing of things by the weekend.

First up, a new column at I've never had an easy time with simplicity in music, but I'm coming around, thanks in part to new albums from old friends. Jack White's new band The Dead Weather is a swampy, bluesy pile of awesome, and the Fiery Furnaces have finally returned to writing straightforward, live-sounding pop songs. Click on over to read my thoughts on both, then come back here and leave me a comment. Thanks!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

New Column: Roe vs. Pritzl

I am, right now, on my first mid-year vacation since 2007. And so far, it's been great. I've relaxed, I've eaten great food (blackened salmon is wonderful), I've seen old friends. Mike Ferrier and I watched all of The Trial of a Time Lord yesterday, an endurance test I'm not sure I'd recommend to any but the most devoted Doctor Who fan, like us. I've never found the time to see the whole six-hour epic in a row, but now I have. Vacations rock.

You might think I've neglected my column the way I've neglected my blog this week. You're in for a surprise, then, as the new column is up now at It examines new albums from Michael Roe and the Violet Burning, and looks ahead to new releases through September. I very much liked the Roe, a collection of old gospel songs performed with remarkable faithfulness.

I will be back to a normal posting schedule next week - expect this blog to be much more active than it's been. Thanks for your patience. Click on over to read the new column, then come back here to comment.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

New Column: Wilco Will Love You, Baby

This week at tm3am, I dive back through my relationship with Wilco. It's been a complicated one - I named their 2002 album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot the best of that year, and I still consider their 2004 follow-up A Ghost is Born to be practically unlistenable. Few bands have taken me through such extremes, but now, Wilco appears to be settling into a comfortable groove. I check out their seventh album, wittily named Wilco (The Album), which leads off with the awesome "Wilco (The Song)."

Click on over to to read all about it, then come back here and leave me a comment.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

First Listen: Jandek, Helsinki Saturday and Not Hunting for Meaning

I am still no closer to writing that massive tm3am column on Texas mystery man Jandek, so I guess I'll have to content myself with blogging about the new stuff here as it comes out. A quick summary, though: Jandek is a musician unlike any other. He plays a dark brand of improvised sort-of-blues that, on first listen, can sound random and off-putting. He's also amazingly prolific - as of these two, he's made 59 albums, all self-released on Corwood Industries.

He still does no interviews, has no website, and does no promotion for his work whatsoever. In 2004, 26 years after he started making albums, he played live for the first time, and now he does 10 or so scattered concerts a year, all over the globe. The live shows are always new material, always with a completely different crop of backing musicians, and always word-of-mouth affairs that draw small crowds.

I might be making Jandek sound too appealing - his material is usually coarse, difficult and depressing, especially lately. His lyrics are suicidally dark, and delivered in an atonal bellow that rarely fits smoothly with the music. But I bristle at the notion that Jandek can't play. You don't play guitar for 30 years without picking up a few things, and while the early albums were markedly clumsy, later ones have found Jandek perfecting his idiosyncratic art.

Helsinki Saturday is his 11th live album, and it contains only one track: the 63:32 "Sleeping in the Dawn." It's an instrumental piece, Jandek on piano accompanied by harpist Iro Haarla. It rambles, but it sets an effective mood - some of it sounds like a kid's first fumblings on the piano, making noise at the high and low ends, but some is strikingly pretty. It ebbs and flows as it goes along, but it's never less than engaging.

The quality is crisp, but there is persistent background noise - apparently, the Avanto Festival crowd talked all the way through this performance. But since this music has a haunting, faraway quality to it anyway, the ghostly voices at its edges only add to the ambiance, I think. This is, instantly, one of my favorite Jandek albums, and as a side note, "Sleeping in the Dawn" is now the longest single song I own: it beats Sleep's "Dopesmoker" by one second.

Album 59, Not Hunting for Meaning, is more like what you'd expect from latter-period Jandek. It is acoustic guitar and vocals, and it sounds like the guitar is in something close to standard tuning. The first two songs are short (4:10 and 4:55), and the most aggressive, howling, crazy-ass blues the Representative from Corwood has given us in a long time. "Front Porch Shimmy" in particular is a shouted angst-fest, and "Stay Me Here" finds Jandek reaching for that madman's falsetto on almost every line.

The third and final song, "Silent Wander," is longer (29:23), slower, and more typical. It's dissonant and depressing stuff, of course, but it's no different from what the Rep has delivered on more than a dozen occasions in the recent past. The playing is nervous and kinetic throughout - the easiest thing for a novice player to do is find two chords and strum them, but Jandek's playing is all over the place, constantly moving. This is why I say the man can play, and this is just how he wants his music to sound.

For more on Jandek, check out Seth Tisue's site. I would never recommend Jandek's stuff for casual listening, but once you're sucked into his world, it all makes a strange sort of sense.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

New Column: Mellow is the New Prog

I've been lax in posting here lately, and I just barely got the main column done this week - it's been a busy one. But it's finished and ready for its close-up, over at

This week, I looked at a recent trend among prog-metal bands. New albums from Dream Theater, the Mars Volta and Devin Townsend (of Strapping Young Lad) show a softer side, reining in the usual instrumental overload of this genre. I'm finding the newfound subtlety suits them all, especially Townsend. Click on over to read all about it, then feel free to come back here and comment below.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

First Listen: Coldplay, Left Right Left Right Left

It's taken me a while, but I've finally gotten around to downloading and listening to Coldplay's new live album. It's available for free at, so you really can't go wrong. Does a free album need a review? Perhaps not, but indulge me.

If you want a good indicator of just how far Coldplay has come in the past few years, listen to Live 2003 and then this. It's clearly the same band, but the material on Left Right Left Right Left is light years beyond. Coldplay has grown tighter, more sure of themselves, and even catalog material like "Clocks" and "Fix You" sound re-energized.

It's the new stuff that shines here, though. The record opens with Viva La Vida b-side "Glass of Water," a terrific song only held back by its lyrics, then slides into the multi-part "42," given a fine workout here. But it's songs like the Talking Heads-esque "Strawberry Swing" and the epic "Death and All His Friends" that burn brightest, Chris Martin and company stepping outside their comfort zone, yet sounding perfectly comfortable. The album holds together as a single piece as well, with interludes like "Postcards From Far Away" and "Death Will Never Conquer" used well.

Left Right Left Right Left is a sweet victory lap for a band that has successfully pushed itself to evolve, and a nice gift to fans. You can't beat the low, low price of free, so what are you waiting for?

First Listen: Cheap Trick, The Latest

I am of two minds about this album. I will take the negative path first.

I did not receive Dr. Tony Shore's warning in time, and I ordered The Latest from I did not read the fine print (included not in the album description, but in an editorial review), and was surprised to hear that what I was about to receive, for $13, was a CD-R. It's true - Amazon is selling their own version of The Latest through their on-demand service, burning CD-Rs to order, and slapping a poorly-printed booklet on ridiculously cheap paper in for good measure. The packaging is a travesty.

I wouldn't be this upset if Amazon had made it perfectly clear what I was getting into. But they didn't. You have to hunt for that information on the product page. Regardless, I'm most upset about something no one seems to be talking about - the album sounds like crap, because it's compressed MP3s burned onto a consumer-grade CD-R. It sounds just good enough that I can tell how terrific it should sound, and that's a shame.

Of course, I also wouldn't be this upset if The Latest were not the best Cheap Trick album in a couple of decades. But it is. The record is relatively short, at 41 minutes, but it never flags - it contains some of their best and most aggressive material in years. "Sick Man of Europe" is power pop the way it should sound, "Miracle" is a glorious Lennon-esque piano ballad, "Everybody Knows" has an amazing melody, and "Alive"... well, it's been ages since they've sounded this, um, alive. Even the clutch of slow songs at the end is excellent. The Latest never wears out its welcome - it's a return to form for one of America's best pop acts.

So definitely buy The Latest. But don't buy it from Amazon. Try instead.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

New Column: Hypecasting (2009 Edition)

I don't mean to be contrary. Honestly, I don't. But in this week's column at tm3am, my target is critical acclaim - specifically, the acclaim lavished on two new records. They are Bitte Orca, by the Dirty Projectors, and Veckatimest, by Grizzly Bear.

If you're like most people, you're probably wondering just who these bands are. But if you're in the indie-rock hypecasting circles, you know these two albums have all but been anointed the best of 2009. The idea of taking them together came from Derek Wright, who examined both in his new Liner Notes Magazine podcast. He's absolutely right - the indie press is knocking themselves out to praise these two albums. I started hearing best-of-the-year buzz on Veckatimest in November, for cripe's sake.

Click on over to to see what I thought of them. You'll also find a defense of Michael Jackson's place in pop culture, and the Second Quarter Report - basically, what my 2009 top 10 list would look like if I were forced to finalize it now. Come on back here and leave me some comments when you're finished. Thanks!

Monday, June 29, 2009

First Listen: Shawn Colvin, Live

I really like Shawn Colvin. Sometimes, though, I need to be reminded that I really like Shawn Colvin.

This solo acoustic live album fits the bill well. In fact, there's more of what I like about Colvin on this album than I found on her last two studio releases, which were staid and over-produced affairs. The focus here is on her voice and her nuanced songwriting, where it should be, and what emerges is a set of clear-eyed and memorable tunes.

Highlights include the mesmerizing "Shotgun Down the Avalanche" and the great "Sunny Came Home." In fact, "Sunny" provides one of my favorite moments, as some segments of the audience recognize it from its opening chords, and some only catch on with the first verse. But the thing that makes Live a must-hear is the respectful and soulful cover of Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy," which she released as a single two years ago. She performs it like an old standard, and it slides into the set list nicely.

Colvin doesn't make records very often, and Live might seem like a slight release, especially since it comes three years after her last album. But it's a delight from start to finish, a gentle reminder of Colvin's oft-forgotten talent.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

RIP Michael Jackson

So I was in Hix Brothers music store in Aurora today, interviewing some teenage guitar prodigies for a story, when I heard the news. The guy behind the counter started yelling it out, and then running to tell everyone in the store one at a time.

"Michael Jackson died. I'm serious. Michael Jackson is dead."

The moment was decidedly surreal for me, and I'm still not sure how to process the information. I honestly haven't thought about Jackson as a musician in more than 10 years, and I'm sure I'm not alone. His personal troubles dominated the news, and talks of a comeback album were routinely laughed at. There wasn't a redeeming moment on 2001's Invincible, his final album. (Maybe "Whatever Happens." But nothing else.)

But let me say this right now for the record: Michael Jackson was one of the best and most important pop musicians ever.

His old Motown singles are stunning pieces of music. His work with the Jackson 5 is legendary. But for me, he never got better than the music he made at the height of his popularity. 1982's Thriller and 1987's Bad are unimpeachable pop albums. Seriously, go back and listen to them again. The closest either one comes to a bad track is "The Girl Is Mine," and that one has Paul McCartney on it. When these records are on, they are amazing.

"Wanna Be Startin' Something." "Billie Jean." "Beat It." "Human Nature." "The Way You Make Me Feel." "Another Part of Me." "Bad." "Smooth Criminal." "Dirty Diana." "Man in the Mirror." There is no bad here. These are all terrific songs.

I'm still taken aback by the news of Jackson's death. He was such a constant in the pop cultural universe that it seems strange to me to read his obituaries. The first piece of music my parents ever bought me was Thriller, on cassette. (I had to share it with my sister, but she soon lost interest.) It's just weird to think about. But I'll tell you this: I'm not going to need this blog post to remember where I was when I heard about it.

Rest in peace, Michael.

Less Than Meets the Eye

If you have not seen Roger Ebert's takedown of the new Transformers movie, well, it is a must-read. Just the first paragraph, to whet your appetite:

"Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" is a horrible experience of unbearable length, briefly punctuated by three or four amusing moments. One of these involves a dog-like robot humping the leg of the heroine. Such are the meager joys. If you want to save yourself the ticket price, go into the kitchen, cue up a male choir singing the music of hell, and get a kid to start banging pots and pans together. Then close your eyes and use your imagination.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

New Column: Giving In to Gimmicky Goodness

Do you respond well to gimmicks? I can tell you, as a writer, I love them - they give me an easy hook, a way in. But as a music fan, I usually couldn't care less. Unless the music is there, the substance, a gimmick is just an empty sales tactic. Ideally, I'm looking for both - a good record with a good concept, or story behind it.

I've got two of those this week. Ben Folds enlisted college vocal groups for his not-quite-a-best-of University A Cappella, and British Sea Power took on the task of re-scoring a silent movie from 1934 called Man of Aran. I enjoyed them both. Click on over to find out how much, then come back here to discuss this week's missive. Thanks!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

First Listen: Rob Dickinson, Live and Alone

Catherine Wheel was one of those bands that should have been huge. Frontman Rob Dickinson has a fantastic voice, and one of the best falsettos in rock, and he writes swirling, melodic pop songs with bite. I like all six of their records, but I have a special fondness for Chrome and Adam and Eve.

The Wheel broke up about a decade ago, but Dickinson is still making swell music - his solo album Fresh Wine for the Horses is poppier, but still a delight. I got the chance to see Rob play a solo set at Schuba's in Chicago on Sunday, and he was terrific. Live, he plays an acoustic through a distortion pedal, so the sound is huge and intimate at once. He played loads of old Catherine Wheel songs, including rarities like "Mouthful of Air," and he included lovely versions of Peter Gabriel's "Mercy Street" and the Smiths' "Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want." Great show, and I got to meet Rob afterward, which was a treat.

And while I was there, I picked up this little live document, from 2006. The track order is similar to the show I saw, minus the covers, and the quality is pretty good. This kind of one-man reinvention is where Rob Dickinson really shines - the versions of "Oceans" and "The Storm" knock over those on Fresh Wine, and his stripped-down "Ma Solituda" is wonderful. "Black Metallic" (the first CW song I heard) goes on for a blistering six minutes or so, all screaming distortion, and encore "Future Boy" is a nice comedown.

You can only get Live and Alone at shows or on Rob's MySpace page. While you're there, listen to a few tracks. You won't be disappointed.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Go See Now: Away We Go

Been away from my blogging duties for a while, but I wanted to mention that I saw Away We Go, the new Sam Mendes movie with John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph. Honestly, if this isn't my favorite film of 2009, then we're in for the best year ever.

Away We Go is the story of Burt and Verona, a young couple about to have their first child. They are islands of sanity in a sea of madness, and as they travel around the country, searching for the best place to raise their daughter, they encounter that sea head-on. Away We Go is about what it takes to raise a child in this world, and about how difficult it is to keep love strong. It's also the funniest and best-written movie of the year so far, with a central performance by Rudolph that will erase all images of her from Saturday Night Live.

The ending of this movie is sweet and sad and exactly right, and I left the theater with a wide smile. For some reason, even though it stars two well-known television personalities and was directed by a guy who's won an Oscar, this movie is only playing in select theaters right now. I had to drive 20 miles to see it, but believe me, it was worth it.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Another Mutemath note

As some of you are no doubt aware, Mutemath originally released their self-titled debut album independently. This version of the album is pretty much perfect, as far as I'm concerned, but when it came time to re-release it on Warner Bros., they messed with it. They truncated some of the longer songs (most notably "You Are Mine," which went from seven minutes to four), added a few inferior tracks from the Reset EP, and removed one song altogether.

It's still a great record, but not as good as the original version. The thing that bugged me the most is the song they removed - "Without It" is just tremendous, and belonged on the record. I wondered aloud at the time whether it would find a home on Mutemath's second album.

Well, the tracklist for Armistice, Mutemath's sophomore effort, was released last week, and "Without It" isn't there. On the one hand, I'm glad. This means the band has grown beyond its old sound, beyond recycling old songs. But on the other hand, this means those who missed the independent release of Mutemath will be, well, without it.

Just to let you know what you're missing, here's a Youtube audio-only clip of "Without It." Such a good song. I hope they give it a wide release someday.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

New Column: Brought to You by the Letter E

This week, I took a look at three albums linked by the letter E. The Eels are back after a five-year break with Hombre Lobo, Elvis Costello hired a bluegrass band and T-Bone Burnett for Secret, Profane and Sugarcane, and Ace Enders, formerly of the Early November, released his solo debut, When I Hit the Ground. I liked all three, more or less. Click on over to read all about it.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

First Listen: Sonic Youth, The Eternal

The older the guys in Sonic Youth get, the funnier their band name becomes - leaders Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon are now 50 and 56, respectively. But you'd be hard-pressed to find any sign of middle-age slowdown on The Eternal, SY's 16th album. Their first for Matador after nearly 20 years on Geffen, this album finds the band energized, refreshed, and kicking ass.

The basic sonic template has never changed: driving rhythms, dissonant guitar explorations, a few hooks sprinkled about, mostly monotone vocals, and a sense of telepathic interplay. But this album not only contains some of the band's loudest material in some time ("What We Know," "No Way"), but also some of its prettiest. "Antenna" is slow and layered, guitars stacked one atop the other, while "Malibu Gas Station" starts with some gorgeous clean guitar, then grows menacing, Gordon's sinister vocals atop a slowly building fury. Nine-minute closer "Massage the History" is just lovely, acoustic guitars underpinning electric soundscapes and Gordon's semi-drugged line readings.

Overall, this is another Sonic Youth album, but it's a very good one. Despite a nearly 30-year history, the band sounds like they're just discovering one another again - they're awake and alive here. The Eternal is a good name for a record that proves there is a lot of life left in this sound.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Two Black Crowes albums this year!

That's right, two! Dos! Deux! You buy one on CD, and you get a download code for the other, which is pretty cool, although I would prefer CDs for both. The albums were reportedly recorded live in front of a small studio audience. 20 songs total, 19 originals and a cover. They're out September 1.

More info here. I've said this before and I'll say it again, the Black Crowes are the best rock 'n' roll band in the world.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

First Listen: Mae, (m)orning

I almost missed this entirely. Mae is a three-cuts-above modern rock outfit - they made two very good albums for Tooth and Nail, and one superb one for Capitol. Now they've struck out on their own, releasing this, the first of a series of three EPs, on their own label. (The EPs will be called (m)orning, (a)fternoon, and (e)vening. M.A.E. Get it?)

Mae has always been good, but this EP is excellent. The eight-minute "The Fisherman Song" shows the musical growth, leaping from section to section with aplomb. Ditto the seven-minute "The House that Fire Built," a huge-hook pop song with a multi-layered midsection. The rest of the tunes are classic Mae pop numbers, chock full of delirious melodies and produced beautifully. The whole thing is held together by three instrumentals, including the complex, orchestrated "Two Birds."

This whole thing is terrific, but it gets better. All the proceeds from this EP have gone to charity - in this case, Habitat for Humanity. The (m)orning songs (premiered one month at a time online, for a buck each, then sold together in this package) paid for a home for a Virginia family who couldn't afford one. Future song proceeds will go towards an organization that matches donors with schools that need funding. They've raised more than $44,000 so far. This is just cool.

So it's great music, for great causes. There is no bad here. The website is Check it out.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

New Mutemath: "The Nerve"

If you know me at all, you know one of my most anticipated albums this year is the sophomore effort from New Orleans quartet Mutemath. Their self-titled debut was virtually perfect, and they've taken ages crafting the follow-up, but it will be out on August 18.

The album is called Armistice. The single is "The Nerve." Hear it here.

On first listen, it has a truckload of energy, but no melody, and some ill-advised lyrics. I'm sort of let down, but I didn't like "Typical," the first single from the self-titled, all that much the first time either. I note that with "Spotlight" (from the Twilight soundtrack) making the cut, Armistice now sports two high-energy, heavy-rhythm, melody-deficient tunes. Hope it's not a trend...

New Column: Hail to the GrooGrux King

This week, I took a look at Dave Matthews Band's new one, Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King, an album made in the wake of saxophonist LeRoi Moore's accidental death last year. To me, it's not tragedy that defines you, it's your reaction to tragedy, which makes Big Whiskey the most important album Matthews and company have ever made.

How is it? Click on over to find out.

First Listen: Radiohead, In Rainbows Disc 2

I wasn't rich enough to order the super-deluxe version of In Rainbows back in 2007. That boxed set came with a second disc of songs from the same sessions, and I had resigned myself to waiting for the inevitable rarities compilation to hear them. But lo and behold, Radiohead has opened up a digital store, and made the eight-song bonus disc available for the princely sum of six British pounds.

It's very much worth it. As you might expect, the second disc continues the organic growth of In Rainbows - it's a little moodier and more repetitive, but these are good songs, if not quite as good as the ones that made the record. Yes, there are two useless instrumental interludes, but the six proper pieces are all varying shades of excellent. The slower ones work best, especially "Go Slowly" and gentle closer "4 Minute Warning," while "Down is the New Up" could have slotted onto the main album without any trouble.

Bonus points for the Doctor Who reference in the first line of "Up on the Ladder": "I'm stuck in the Tardis, trapped in hyperspace..." Overall, I'm pleased with this, and I hope the complete In Rainbows experience bodes well for the future of this brilliant band.

Favorite song on first listen: "Down is the New Up."

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Friends of Mine

If you're looking for more stuff to listen to, check out a pair of podcasts from my friends Derek Wright and Tony Shore.

Derek's Liner Notes Magazine is posted twice a month. It's a critical look at six albums each time out, and Derek is an insightful and engaging host. Check that out at

Tony's Obvious PopCast is more of a celebration, the good Dr. Shore playing a bunch of songs he loves. It's less frequent than Liner Notes, but Tony's always introducing me to things I've never heard. Check that one out at

First Listen: White Rabbits, It's Frightening

It's tempting to call these guys Spoon Jr., since they have a similar to-the-point, piano-pounding sound. Since Spoon's Britt Daniel produced this, the band's second record, it's even more difficult to avoid the comparison. But White Rabbits have a few things up their sleeves as well, including a knack for atmosphere and some very pretty melodies in the album's second half.

But to be honest, it took me four tries to get past the first track. "Percussion Gun" is just so awesome, taking the template Radiohead laid with "15 Step" and exploding it. The song is driven by a barrage of drums, a clean guitar line and Steve Patterson's escalating, reaching voice. It's pretty terrific, and leaves the rest of this decent little record in the dust. The rest is good, especially "Right Where They Left" and "Company I Keep." Worth picking up, certainly.

Favorite song on first listen: "Percussion Gun."

Monday, June 8, 2009

RIP Jeff Hanson

Just heard the news that Jeff Hanson died. He made three decent albums on Kill Rock Stars, which no one really heard, but I liked. His voice was the main attraction - high, swooping, almost ethereal, like Elliott Smith at 78 RPM. Very strange at first, but very effective. Hanson died after an accident at his home in St. Paul. He was only 31.

More here.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

First Listen: Chickenfoot

So my birthday was Friday. I turned 35. Today I trundled down to Best Buy and bought my first CD as a 35-year-old. (Why Best Buy? Because they'd finagled another of their bloody exclusive release deals.) While paying for it, I chuckled at the irony: this album was made by people I liked when I was 16.

Yes, it's Chickenfoot, the "supergroup" made up of Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony of Van Halen, Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Joe Satriani, of 500 instrumental guitar-shredder albums. (Satch is a bit more famous these days for suing Coldplay than for anything he does on the six-string, sadly.) This sounds exactly like you'd expect, given the participants: it's mid-tempo, mostly bluesy rock, with a lot of flailing solos. The songs have titles like "Oh Yeah," "Sexy Little Thing" and "My Kinda Girl." It is exactly what you think it is.

It's not monumentally bad, but it is kind of typical, and gets fairly boring by the end. The songs are all too long, because Satriani has to solo (and solo, and solo, and solo...), but if you like sleazy, blues-based rock, this will give you what you're looking for.

Favorite song on first listen: "Avenida Revolution."

First Listen: Phoenix, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

So I first encountered the dazzling leadoff track "Lisztomania" by watching this mashup, and that may have colored my opinion. I love this video, and the song goes with it so well. Happily, even divorced from a bunch of giddy images from my childhood, "Lisztomania" holds up. And the rest of Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix is pretty awesome as well.

My favorite is "1901," but this entire album is just swell dance-rock, with a gentle edge. The surprise is "Love Like a Sunrise," with its five-minute instrumental "Part I" and its one-minute lullaby "Part II," but that's the only thing here that won't make you want to get up and dance. I'd never heard of Phoenix before this, but this record's a lot of fun - lightweight, but satisfying. It probably won't edge Tinted Windows for my "Most Fun of 2009" award, but I like it a lot.

Favorite song on first listen: "1901."

First Listen: Eels, Hombre Lobo

The new Eels album is... well, it's the new Eels album. I find it difficult to explain why I like Mark Oliver Everett and his work. The songs are simple, the lyrics are pedestrian. (Seriously, check this out, from "All the Beautiful Things": "Birds come down from skies so blue, see all the beautiful things you do, why can't I just get with you." That's for real.) Everett's voice is ragged and raw, and has no range.

But I love the Eels. Love them. Don't know why. This one rocks a little more than I expected, especially "Tremendous Dynamite" and "Fresh Blood," but the backbone is still simple, sweet pop songs. They breeze by, they sound delightful while they're playing, they don't stand up to scrutiny, but I don't care. E's beard is ridiculous, but the album is standard Eels.

Favorite song on first listen: "The Look You Give That Guy."

It's better than fun, it's blog!

Hello, everyone. Welcome to the tm3am blog. Thanks for stopping by.

I'm Andre Salles, and I've been doing Tuesday Morning 3 A.M. online at since 2000. It's a weekly chronicle of my obsessive music habit, and it usually concentrates on one or two albums a week, exploring them in detail. It's a lot of fun for me, which is why I do it for free - I buy a ridiculous amount of music each year, and I'd probably be writing about it anyway, so tm3am has given me a good outlet.

But I'm finding more and more that there's just too much music out there, and I can't get to it all. That's where this blog will come in. I plan to use it as a first stop, a listening post, if you will. I'm going to be posting my first thoughts on CDs here, as I listen to them. Some of those CDs will eventually make it to the column proper, but most probably won't.

And unlike the column, which I intended to be just my voice, I'm hoping the blog will spark some conversations. I've met some very smart and opinionated people through my years doing tm3am, and I hope they join me here in some dialogue about the thing we all love, music.

Again, thanks for coming by. I kicked off the column with this quote, and it seems fitting to kick off the blog the same way:

"Music is the Best." - Frank Zappa.