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!