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.