Wednesday, December 29, 2010

New Column: Fifty Second Week

It's my last column of the year. And in keeping with six years of tradition, I've done another Fifty Second Week. The idea is this: I have a lot of music left over at the end of each year, albums I've bought and listened to but never given a full review. Fifty Second Week is my way of rectifying that.

I pick 52 leftover albums, and give myself 50 seconds to review each one. Even if I'm in mid-sentence when that buzzer goes off, the review stands. It's a lot of fun to write, and a good way for me to cleanse the palette before the end of the year. So enjoy!

I'll be taking next week off, but I'll be back on Jan. 12 with the 11th year of Tuesday Morning 3 A.M. Thank you all for reading this year, and for the last 10. Click on over to read Fifty Second Week, and head back here to tell me what you think.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The 2010 Top 10 List

This year was an amazing one for new music. Can I get a witness? How about an amen?

This week at I unveiled my 2010 top 10 list. It contains a couple of genuine surprises, new records from old favorites, two astounding new discoveries, and a work of absolute genius at the top. I think it's a remarkably strong lineup. And no, it doesn't include Kanye West.

So head on over to the site to read the list, then come back here and tell me what's on yours. I'll include the lists I get in my first column of 2011.

Music, as the man said, is the best.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

New Column: One Year Ends, Another Begins

Keeping it short this week, since I'm running around like a crazy person trying to tie up all my loose ends before I leave the Beacon-News for good. This week's tm3am column dissects the posthumous Michael Jackson album, Michael, and takes a look at the first great album of 2011, Over the Rhine's The Long Surrender.

But the main event is my annual list of honorable mentions, albums that are worth hearing and worth buying, but for whatever reason, not quite good enough to make my top 10 list. That list is coming next week, and will signify the end of 2010, one of the best music years in recent memory.

But that's next week. For now, click on over to read this week's column, and then head back here to leave me a comment.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

New Column: You Must Be This Tall to Ride

Seems like the only time I post on this blog lately is when I've finished a new TM3AM column. I apologize - hopefully next year will be less hectic than this one. I kicked off this week's column by explaining what's been happening with me - in short, I quit my newspaper job, and I've joined up with, AOL's new online news venture.

So, big changes brewing for me in 2011. But we still have a few weeks of 2010 left, and this week I officially start my end-of-the-year cycle with a column about some great records that are ineligible for the top 10 list. One's a live album, one's an acoustic project of older songs, and one's an album recorded 20 years ago, that's just now seeing its official release.

I also talk briefly about a record that likely will be in the top 10 list, one I just heard for the first time. Intrigued? Click on over to read the column, then head back here to leave me a comment.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

New Column: Ring Ting Tingling

I have a complex relationship with Christmas music.

I know, that's weird. Here's what I mean. I love Christmas music. Love it. But I only want to hear it at Christmas time, which starts, for me, the day after Thanksgiving. Hearing "Deck the Halls" in mid-October sends me into a rage. I think Christmas music should be a rare treat, available for only 30 days a year, and then quietly tucked away, waiting for the season to come round again. It's more special that way, see?

It's finally the season, though, so this week's column is my annual look at holiday offerings from some great artists. On tap this year are the Indigo Girls, KT Tunstall and Quiet Company, and I also took a listen to a various artists compilation prepared for Black Vinyl Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.

As always, click on over to the main site to read the column, and then head back here to leave me a comment. Fa la la la la!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

New Column: Rapping Up the Year

Another week, another new tm3am column. It seems to be all I can do lately just to get this thing done and out every week. Whew.

This week I turned my attention to the end-of-year hip-hop releases. It seems like everyone on the Internet is drooling over Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and my take is a little more measured, but still positive. I also praised new ones from Kid Cudi and Cee Lo Green. We're now only a few weeks away from the end of the year, and Green's "Fuck You" remains the best pop single of 2010.

How's the album? Well, click on over to find out, and then come back here and leave me a comment. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

New Column: Metal, Mumble and Mae

I've barely had any time to breathe over the past few weeks. After winding down my election coverage, I'm now in the middle of tying up loose ends before the last weeks of the year, when I will be flying out to Massachusetts. So apologies for the sporadic posting here.

But I did get a tm3am column ready for this week. It's a random one, touching on Christian speed metal, local progressive pop, and the last hurrah of a great pop-punk band. You can read all about it here and then come on back to leave me a comment, if you wish.

And I will try to write more for this site in the near future. Life is exhausting sometimes. Thanks for your patience.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

New Column: God Only Knows What I'd Be Without You

I live for recommendations.

In my 10 years writing tm3am, I've built up a small army of people who send me music suggestions. It's often the only way I get to hear certain artists, particularly local and independent ones, and I'm always grateful. This week's column is a shout-out to some of those kind souls.

It's also a chance for me to review some records I've been living with for a while (and one I just discovered, thanks to a recommendation). This week's column includes reviews of Everything Everything's debut, Miles Nielsen's self-titled effort, Oceansize's fourth album, and Chicago folkie Andy B. White's solo bow.

As always, you can click on over to read all about it, and head back here to leave me a comment.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

New Column: First Listen to the Last Gasp

So I know we still have two months to go, but speaking as a music fan, 2010 is pretty much over for me.

This week at, I examined the final big music week of the year. I know, Kanye and Cee-Lo are coming, but they're isolated incidents. This week was significant: new albums from Elvis Costello, Weezer and Bleu made it into the column, and I also picked up the new Brian Eno and the reissue of Weezer's Pinkerton. Hopefully that'll be enough to sustain me through the long winter weeks ahead.

Luckily, I liked everything I heard. Costello is typically excellent, Weezer is silly and fun, and Bleu, well, he may have made the power-pop album of the year. You can read my initial reactions to these records by clicking here, then come back here to leave me a comment.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

New Column: Page One, BNL Zero

This week's column is all about solo projects.

You may remember a few months ago I trashed All in Good Time, the first Barenaked Ladies album since singer Steven Page's departure. It was gray and maudlin and obsessed with striking back at Page. Essentially, it just wasn't any fun. Well, Page has returned to show his old band how it's done. His solo record, Page One, is witty and sharp and a rollicking good time.

Page's album leads off an examination of recent solo debuts, including records from Fran Healy of Travis and Mark Chadwick of the Levellers. Some work better than others, of course. Click on over to read all about it, then head back here to leave me a comment.

Tuesdays with Kevin X

This week's Tuesday song from Kevin Trudo is a cover of the Foundations' 1968 classic "Build Me Up Buttercup." It'll make you smile. This is two weeks in a row Kevin's given us joyful and contented tunes. Makes me kind of suspicious. I think he's up to something.

For now, though, here's your grin of the week:

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

New Column: All We Are Saying...

I was six years old when John Lennon was killed. I have no memories of him whatsoever. My whole life, all I've had is the music. Now Yoko Ono and the Lennon estate have given me a perfect opportunity to revisit that music, by remastering and re-releasing nearly all of John's post-Beatles career.

I said "nearly all" because the Signature Box is frustratingly incomplete, and doesn't include a new (and revelatory) mix of Double Fantasy. But is it still worth owning? You bet. This week at I delve into Lennon's solo catalog, and talk about these newly remastered versions that have just hit stores. If you've never explored Lennon's work beyond "Give Peace a Chance," I'd highly recommend it.

As always, click on over to read the column, then head back here to leave me a comment.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

First Listen: Mt. Desolation

So two guys from a British piano-pop band decide to form a country side project. Sounds like it'd be awful, right? Well, the two guys are Tim Rice-Oxley and Jesse Quin from Keane, and it's actually not bad at all. Of course, it's not really country - you won't hear any authentic shit-kickers or tear-in-your-beer ballads here. But these are good songs - what else would you expect from Rice-Oxley? - and the music, though more mid-tempo pop than anything else, is very good. Rice-Oxley has a decent, if limited voice, as he showed on Keane's recent EP Night Train, and he'll never be mistaken for a country crooner. But that's the only weak link in a very nice collection of tunes. I'm particularly fond of "State of Our Affairs."

Tuesdays with Kevin IX

Kevin Trudo is tired, his voice is ragged, his fingers sore. But he's soul-deep happy, and you can tell on his weekly Tuesday song. This is the kind of thing that only happens when you've set yourself a deadline. As he says in his notes, Kevin only wrote this one this way because of his vocal problems, and the way it turned out is one of a kind. I think it's lovely. It's called "We Made It This Far," and you can hear it at

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

New Column: Simple Things

And speaking of Kevin Trudo, he's my literary device this week over at This week, I took a listen to a pair of albums that yearn for simplicity, something I ordinarily will dismiss after a casual hearing or two. But this time, thanks to discussions I've been having with Kevin about emotional directness in simple music, I spent a little more time with both, trying to hear what he will hear in them. Kevin's going to like both of these albums - Guster's Easy Wonderful and semi-supergroup Tired Pony's The Place We Ran From - a lot more than I do, and I wanted to see if I could understand why.

You can read how I did over at, then head back here to leave me a comment.

Tuesdays with Kevin VII

I'm not at all sure what to say about this week's Kevin Trudo song. It's best if you just hear it for yourself. I know he was up against a deadline, working on the next part of his multi-song suite, and as with anything that puts some pressure on you, this sent him in some fascinating directions. It's a techno-style rant against beat poets and art that means nothing (I think), and it's cleverly titled "I Got Nothin." I quite like it, partially because new directions excite me, but mainly because it's just pretty cool. Check it out.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The plan is...

All right, folks, here's what I've decided for my next Twitter live reviews.

On Friday, Oct. 8 at 8 p.m., I will take my first spin through Sufjan Stevens' new album The Age of Adz, and review it live on Twitter. You can listen to the album on NPR's site for free if you want to follow along, but it won't be in stores until Oct. 12. I simply won't be able to wait to listen to this one, and I really want to live-review it.

But! On Wednesday, Oct. 13 at 8 p.m., I will do a second live review, this one of Belle and Sebastian Write About Love. That's available in stores and online a day before, on Oct. 12, so anyone who wants to spin it with me as I review it will be able to. I'll be holding off listening to this one until the live review starts, which will be tough, but will be worth it if more of you guys can join in.

Both events can be found on my Twitter page.

What is a live review? It's me posting my immediate impressions of an album as I hear it for the first time. It's sort of a live performance, in that I'm reacting and typing and responding to other tweets and trying to form critical opinions on the fly. It's fun for me, and I've been trying to come up with ways to make it more fun for you. This is what I've landed on for now. If it works, great. If not, please tell me why.


Friday, Oct. 8, 8 p.m. Live review of Sufjan Stevens' The Age of Adz.

Wednesday, Oct. 13, 8 p.m. Live review of Belle and Sebastian Write About Love.

On my Twitter page.

See you then!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Live Twitter reviews: Your thoughts, please

OK everyone, I'm soliciting opinions again. On Oct. 8, one week from today, I should get my hands on two CDs I am greatly anticipating: Sufjan Stevens' The Age of Adz, and Belle and Sebastian Write About Love. I would like to do live first-listen Twitter reviews of one or both.

There are a few ways I can do this. I can review one or both of them on Friday night, which seems to be a night few people can join in. I can review one on Friday, and one another night. Or, I can try to hold off listening to both until another night, one that's better for more people to participate. Also, if I wait until the CDs are available in stores, you all can listen along with me, if you want.

So what do you think? Which albums on which nights work best for you? Thanks much for any direction you can give here. I love doing these live reviews, but I'd like doing them more with more of you on board.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Free Choir song

As you may have seen by now, the Choir's marvelous album Burning Like the Midnight Sun currently stands at number three on my top 10 list. I think it's pretty great, but if you'd like to hear for yourself, the band is offering the first song on the album, "Midnight Sun," for free at their website. I'm not sure how long this offer will last, so check it out. And if you like it, buy the record. You won't be disappointed.

New Column: Stop, Collaborate and Listen

Ice is back with a brand new invention... No, false alarm, he isn't. But this week at, I discuss three collaborations, so it seemed like a fun title for the column.

I call them ampersand projects, because they bring together artists that normally wouldn't share a byline. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't, but the three in question this week are all varying shades of successful. On tap: Ben Folds & Nick Hornby, who wrote music and words, respectively, on Lonely Avenue; John Legend & the Roots, who slammed through a set of old soul covers on Wake Up; and Jenny & Johnny, who are Lewis and Rice, respectively, and who clearly had a blast making their album I'm Having Fun Now.

All that, plus the Third Quarter Report. As always, click on over to read the column, and head back here to leave a comment.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

First Listen: Tired Pony, The Place We Ran From

Tired Pony is a supergroup. There's no getting around it, no matter how subtle or supple the music on this disc is. The band includes Gary Lightbody, guiding light of Snow Patrol; Peter Buck, guitarist for R.E.M.; Richard Colburn, drummer for Belle and Sebastian; and indie-pop stalwarts Scott McCaughey, Jacknife Lee and Iain Archer. They even enlisted M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel, also known as She and Him, to provide guitar and vocals. No fighting it. This is a supergroup.

But the album. The Place We Ran From, is anything but a bloated supergroup project. It's a medium-length album of medium-paced tunes with wonderful lyrics, and it's clear from the first listen that Lightbody is the dominant musical force here. The songs are very simple, set to repetitive guitar strums, and the whole thing plays like a quieter Snow Patrol effort. But you can hear the contributions of Lightbody's bandmates loud and clear here too, particularly Buck, whose guitar accents are unmistakable.

I like this album about as much as I like the average Snow Patrol record. It's nothing special, and the songs don't stick with me - they all kind of blend together into a quarter-note-strummed dirge - but while it's playing, I enjoy it. The final track, "Pieces," is my favorite, at least partially for its noisy, ambient ending, and "Dead American Writers" has a terrific guitar part. But on the whole, Tired Pony didn't set my world on fire. It's almost an anti-supergroup record, so unassuming that it fades into nothing while you're listening to it.

First Listen: Brandon Flowers, Flamingo

Four albums in, I still don't know quite what I think about the Killers. Sometimes they grab me ("Spaceman" is their best song, I think), but sometimes their Springsteen-esque faux-grandeur makes me twitch. So I was interested to see which way frontman Flowers would go on his solo debut.

He went for the Springsteen. Flamingo is a decent-enough collection of "street-level" anthems and hard-luck stories, set to sweeping, simple, major-chord music. Flowers' voice handles this material very well, and a couple of these songs rise above the simplistic din, but for the most part, I don't see how this is any different from a modern Bon Jovi album. More synths and fewer guitar heroics, but really, that's the only difference. Flamingo will probably do well, but there's little here that holds my interest beyond one listen.

First Listen: Bad Religion, The Dissent of Man

At this point, more than 30 years into their career, it's pretty safe to say that Bad Religion will never change. Their one foray into diversity, 1983's Into the Unknown, was quickly followed by a retrenching EP called Back to the Known. Even when founding member Brett Gurewitz left for a few years in the mid-'90s, the essential sound wasn't altered - they still wrote powerhouse pop-punk tunes with simple chords, memorable hooks and ooh-aah harmonies. Every album contains a dozen or more of these songs, and they all kind of sound the same. They're the AC/DC of punk rock bands.

That said, there's no particular reason you should own The Dissent of Man, the band's 15th full-length, unless you really love this sound. I do. Bad Religion has always pushed my buttons, and this album's 15 songs do exactly the same things that this band has always done. Yes, I'd like to hear them branch out a little more. No, I don't consider them anywhere near the upper echelon of bands (or even punk bands) out there right now. But I like them, and if they never flip their own script again, I'll keep buying these same-sounding records as long as they keep putting them out.

Tuesdays with Kevin VI

It's Tuesday, which means it's Kevin Trudo time. This week, Aurora's favorite son kicked off what will eventually be a massive multi-song suite, which may or may not come out in sequence on successive Tuesdays. The first tune, which is in every sense a prelude, is fittingly titled "Part 1." As a standalone piece, I'm not sure what I think of it, but as the first act of a longer work, it's interesting. Check it out here.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Trying something new

So here's the deal. On Friday, I will be getting Ben Folds' new album, Lonely Avenue. (That's the one with novelist Nick Hornby on lyrics.) As part of my ongoing attempt to expand my media empire, I'll be taking to Twitter at 7 p.m. that night, and posting my immediate first impressions as the album plays.

I did this once before, with Weezer's new album, and it was fun for me. I'm not sure how much fun it'll be for anyone else, but I'd like to find out. If you want to join in the conversation, head over to on Friday night, and let me know if this is cool or idiotic.

To recap: First thoughts on Ben Folds' new album as I hear it for the first time. At my Twitter page, on Friday the 24th at 7 p.m. Comments are always welcome. And thanks!

New Column: Life is Full of Surprises

I like to be surprised.

I know many people who prefer the familiar, who like falling backwards into the comfortable and well-known. Nothing wrong with that, but it just doesn't do it for me. I need music to drop the floor out from under me, to keep my head spinning. This week at, I celebrate that feeling with three new releases.

The one that will probably bring in the most confused letters is Linkin Park's A Thousand Suns, which I can't stop listening to. I also reviewed Serj Tankian's impressive new solo album, and the Vaselines' first record in 20 years. It's been a fun week.

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

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tuesdays with Kevin V

It's Tuesday, so it must be Kevin Trudo time. This week's freebie is a new song called "Mathematics." It's dark - very, very dark - but there's something magical about it, something I can't quite put my finger on. See if you can - you can download the song right here:

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

New Column: Business as Usual

It's back to the ol' grind this week at, with reviews of three new records. The rundown:

Weezer's Hurley is a rawer and more emotional album than Raditude, with a guest list that will make your jaw drop. Interpol's self-titled album is a slow and boring collection that hearkens back to their debut, which I think is their worst. And Robert Plant has once again surrounded himself with collaborators that treat his voice as the historical treasure it is - Band of Joy was produced by Nashville legend Buddy Miller, and contains covers of some very interesting songs.

Also, I lay out some quick thoughts on Sufjan Stevens' new tracks. It's all new music all the time this week, so click on over to read the column, then head back here to leave me a comment.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Reclusive Texas enigma... dot com?

It kind of feels like the end of an era. I know I wasn't around or aware for most of Jandek's mammoth run as the most reclusive musician on the planet - I only started collecting and listening to his stuff after he stepped out on stage for the first time in 2004. I wasn't there for the 40-some albums he released over the 26 years before that, during which time he never played live, gave only one interview, and only advertised in one tiny magazine. How anyone heard of Jandek before the Internet is beyond me.

Since 2004, he's become a lot more outgoing, playing numerous shows each year with a wide variety of sidemen. He still sounds like he never quite learned how to play any of the instruments he tackles, and his music is still wildly improvisational, but the variety of the live shows has been remarkable. Jandek has almost become a social creature.

And now the capper: he has what appears to be an official website: It's very Jandekian, just a list of his albums, prices, and a mailing address. No links to anything, no way to buy online. The site does seem to announce a new album, Toronto Sunday, which I'm about to order, though. And if that's its purpose, to get news of new releases out there from an official source, then that's excellent.

But it's weird to think of Jandek updating a website. Before you know it, he'll have an email address, and I'll be able to stop sending him letters each time I want one of his records. In a lot of ways, that will be a shame. There's still something old-fashioned and mysterious about the way he does things, and I appreciate that. I hope it never gets to the point where I buy Jandek albums with PayPal. That would be too weird.

Tuesdays with Kevin IV

Kevin Trudo's Tuesday song this week is an old one. It's an ironically warm number called "Cold," on which he does his best Glen Phillips impression. You can check it out here.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

A change of seasons?

So it seems Mike Portnoy has left Dream Theater. For anyone who's followed this band for the last 20 years or so, this seems incomprehensible. It's like Dave Mustaine deciding to leave Megadeth, and the other guys continuing on without him. No offense to John Petrucci or the other members of the band, but Mike Portnoy is Dream Theater.

I'll be real interested to see how this band works without him. I'll also be stunned if they find a drummer one-third as good as he is. I hope this is like the Blaze Bayley era of Iron Maiden - it happens, it sucks, but it leads to a triumphant reunion, and everyone ends up happy. Portnoy's the soul and vision of that band, and for me, without him, it just isn't Dream Theater. So we'll see...

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

New Column: We Must Go On Now

I decided to do something a little bit different this week at, something that will probably get my indie hipster card taken away. This week's missive is all about Mr. Mister.

Yes, the '80s pop band. Yes, the people behind "Kyrie" and "Broken Wings." For reasons I explain in the column, they're important to me, and thanks to Facebook friend Brian Smith, I was able to hear their unreleased fourth album. And it's good stuff. (I also reviewed singer Richard Page's new solo album Peculiar Life, which isn't as good.)

If you're here for the latest and greatest in cutting-edge musical entertainment, I'm afraid you're going to have to come back next week. This week, I'm 13 years old again, and if you let me, I'll tell you all about it. Click on over to read the column, then head back here to leave me a comment.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Tuesdays with Kevin III

Kevin Trudo is back with his third Tuesday Project song, and this one is my favorite so far. It's just Kevin and his guitar, unadorned, but the song... man, the song's a real beauty. It's called "Gemini." I don't even want to waste your time with more of my words. Go and listen.

Monday, September 6, 2010

First Listen: Philip Selway, Familial

Now this is a surprise. Phil Selway is the drummer for Radiohead, when Thom Yorke isn't moaning over computer beats. I was stunned to hear his contributions to Neil Finn's Seven Worlds Collide project last year - folksy, melodic songs, with no sense of importance or irony about them. I was intrigued.

So here's Familial, Selway's full-length debut, and it's practically a Nick Drake record. Hushed, acoustic, fragile, pretty, sometimes nearly inaudible. Selway has a lightweight, even voice that works reasonably well for this material, and he co-wrote these 10 songs with Glenn Kotche and Pat Sansone (both of Wilco) and Lisa Germano, among others.

For starters, there are more genuine songs with actual melodies on here than on anything Radiohead has done since 1997. But that's an easy shot. Familial is a sweet little record on its own, even without Selway's pedigree - although without that, it probably wouldn't have been released - and deserves a listen free of prejudice. What you'll find is something small and endearing, and after a few spins, the likes of "A Simple Life" and "Don't Look Down" will haunt you. I hope Selway does more of these. Familial is a cool oasis in a vast rock wasteland.

First Listen: Jenny and Johnny, I'm Having Fun Now

Jenny is Jenny Lewis, of Rilo Kiley. Johnny is Jonathan Rice, her singer-songwriter boyfriend. I'm Having Fun Now is their first collaborative project, and as you might expect, it's adorable.

The whole record is made up of fizzy, breezy rock songs, played with verve and simplicity. Listen closer, of course, and you'll get lines like "I don't believe in sucking your way to the top, fingers crossed you're flipping me off." But on first blush, this record is cute and fun.

Sadly, it's just not much more than that. On her two solo records, Lewis has shown a depth and a sense of history that her time with Rilo Kiley barely hinted at. This is much more simple, full of reverbed guitars and catchy choruses that will leave your head as quickly as they entered it. If you're in the mood for a quick and dirty 35-minute good time, this record's for you. If you want something more substantial, look elsewhere.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Tuesdays with Kevin II

I know I'm a day late here, but Kevin Trudo's second Tuesday Project song is up now and available at This one's called "Accidentally Remembering an Ex-Girlfriend (While Watching Porn)." I'm gonna give you a minute to deal with that title.

Good? OK. It's much more of a production than last week's ditty, and in fact sounds to me like Shellac playing a jazz number. The lyric is just... wow. Definitely check it out. You can't beat the price, either - completely free.

New Column: The Curious Case of Cee-Lo Green

For the past 10 days or so, I've had a song stuck in my head.

The song's called "Fuck You," by Cee-Lo Green, the former Goodie Mob member who is best known as the singing half of Gnarls Barkley. I seriously consider this tune the greatest single of the year. It's also the first truly viral phenomenon the music world has seen in some time. With no marketing push from the label, the song has taken off - millions of people have listened to it on YouTube, passing it from one friend to another, and its wild word-of-mouth success seems to have caught even its author by surprise.

Not only is "Fuck You" a gleefully vulgar pure pop wonder of the highest order, it's also an interesting case study as we enter this new digital market. In this week's column, I take a look at that phenomenon, and discuss how that first week of release might have lost Cee-Lo more than a million bucks.

I also reviewed the debut album from Mumford and Sons, and waxed eloquent on some upcoming releases I'm excited about. As you'd expect from a column largely about a song called "Fuck You," this one's got some salty language. Just FYI. As always, click on over to read it, and come on back here to leave me a comment.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

First Listen: The Hoosiers, The Illusion of Safety

Oy. What happened here?

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

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

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

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Three things I've learned about the new Weezer album

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Column: A Very Good Week

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Tuesdays with Kevin

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

First Listen: "Richardson" Richardson, The Brown EP

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

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

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

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

New Column: In My Life

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 16, 2010

First Listen: Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

New Column: Deconstructing Indie

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

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

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

New Column: Arcade Fire For the Win

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

New Column: Hey Ladies!

This week's column is all about women.

I haven't done any kind of accurate count, but I'm betting female artists only make up about 20 percent of my music collection. I don't think that's bias on my part. I honestly think women aren't allowed into the game as often as men are. The Internet has done wonders to fix that problem, but not enough. I say we need more women making smart, passionate music.

As proof, I took a look at four albums from female artists. Two of them are from multi-platinum superstars (Sarah McLachlan, Sheryl Crow), and those aren't particularly good. But I found much to like in Liz Phair's surprising (and surprisingly derided) Funstyle, and proclaimed Janelle Monae's The ArchAndroid one of the year's best. In the end, it's like anything else: you have to go digging for the good stuff.

As always, click on over to read the column, and head back here to leave me a comment.

One interesting side note: there's a bit in there where I list off some of my favorite female songwriters. I picked three off the top of my head, and I didn't realize until later that Tori Amos isn't one of them. There was a time, not so long ago, when I wouldn't have believed she'd ever slip from my list of favorites. Ah well.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

New Column: Bow Ties Are Cool

Bit of a potpourri this week at The bulk of the column is dedicated to my postgame thoughts on Doctor Who's 31st season, and how brilliant Matt Smith is in the title role. But don't despair, music fans. I also reviewed Marc Cohn's new covers album Listening Booth: 1970 and wrote a quick reaction to Iron Maiden's show in Chicago on Sunday, which I attended. (My ears have finally stopped ringing.) I also eulogized Harvey Pekar, the irascible creator of American Splendor, who died last week.

So yeah, bit of everything. Hope you enjoy it. Click on over to read it, then head back here to leave a comment.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

New Column: Nothing's As Good As It Used to Be

If last week's column was about a long-running band surpassing my expectations, this week's is about two of them falling short. I wanted to love both the new Crowded House, Intriguer, and the self-titled debut EP from Trent Reznor's new project, How to Destroy Angels. But I didn't, and in this week's column, I explain why.

But don't despair, music fans. I also praised Sia's new one, We Are Born, for being a well-crafted, frothy dance platter extraordinaire. You can read all three reviews at right now, and then come on back here when you're done to leave me a comment.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

New Column: Preaching 'Bout the Choir

I've been a Choir fan for 20 years. I've stuck with this extraordinary Tennessee band through ups and downs, amazing albums and less-than-amazing albums. I think they may be my favorite band on the planet. And even I am surprised at how good their new one, Burning Like the Midnight Sun, is.

Over at this week, I wax ecstatic about Midnight Sun for something like 2200 words. If you want the short version, here it is: Midnight Sun finds the Choir returning to their late-'80s, early-'90s sound, spinning reverbed guitar masterpieces and sounding more comfortable and assured than they have in 20 years. It's their best album since 1990, and you should buy it here.

For the long version, click on over to read my column, and come back here to leave me a comment. I also compiled and edited my blog posts on Cornerstone into another column here, if you're interested in reading them in another format.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

First Listen: Dignan, Cheaters and Thieves

Usually, consistency of tone is a problem for me. I like my albums to mix it up, to vary the sound. But Texas quintet Dignan does its one thing so well over the course of debut full-length Cheaters and Thieves that I find myself getting lost in it.

Dignan plays slow, atmospheric rock that rises and falls like waves, and the album is 30 minutes of crawling and chiming guitars, percussion and vocal harmonies. The songs are more concerned with atmosphere than melody, but the whole thing plays like a single track, one that ebbs and flows masterfully. Harpist Timbre Cierpke, who has her own tonally consistent band, lends beauty to two tracks, including the slowly-awakening opener "A Fool." I saw Dignan perform most of these songs at Cornerstone this year, and the album does a remarkable job of capturing their live sound.

Next time, I hope the band shakes things up a little more, but Cheaters and Thieves is a good record, and a fine introduction to this band. Check them out here.

Is there such a thing as intentional irrelevance?

So Prince has declared that "the Internet is over," and is throwing his lot in with newspapers. That's really something. Will next album be called Get Off My Lawn?


Saturday, July 3, 2010

Cornerstone Festival Day Three

So I've been reading this book by Daniel J. Levitin called The World in Six Songs. In it, Levitin posits that music is an evolutionary necessity, an absolutely vital part of our human existence. We create music because we have to, because our brains are wired to express and receive information and emotions through song. Music is, Levitin says, a biological imperative. We sing because we are, and we are, in large part, because we sing.

I see that everywhere I look at Cornerstone. Every few feet, someone is making music, and I don't just mean the bands on the myriad of stages. Small groups harmonize in the middle of the walking path. A kid with a guitar spins stories while his friend keeps time on a plastic bucket. One of the coolest things I saw all week was a collective of acoustic players gathered inside an unused silo on the farm grounds, singing and taking in the ambiance.

Music is part of our hardware, and music festivals like Cornerstone are places we can connect on that deep, spiritual level. For me personally, I haven't gone a day without listening to music since... well, I can't even tell you. And when I meet someone, most often the first thing I want to know about them is what kind of music they like. I'm always on the lookout for new musical experiences, new connections.

Friday was new discovery day at Cornerstone. I knew going in this would be the day with the fewest expectations. None of my well-aligned stars found their way into Friday's lineup - the headliner at the gallery stage was Over the Rhine, a band I love dearly, but one I've seen more than half a dozen times. OtR played twice, once acoustically and once with their full electric sound. They debuted some new songs from the upcoming album The Long Surrender. Their sets were terrific, as always, and I can't think of a better way to bid the 2010 Cornerstone experience goodbye than listening to Karin Bergquist sing.

But before today, I'd never heard of most of the bands I took in. And now I have some new favorites (and a bunch of new CDs I haven't heard yet). I started the day by breaking my moratorium on the main stage - I saw Photoside Cafe, after hearing nothing but good things about them for two days. They were terrific. People told me they resemble the Dave Matthews Band, but they don't. They sound almost exactly like the Levellers - loud, aggressive folk-rock, with a violin at the center.

Dramatic rockers Dignan knocked me out with their rising-falling-rising-again guitar landscapes. Their album is called Cheaters and Thieves, and if it's half as good as their set today, I'll be happy. Paper Route was less impressive, although the crowd was into it. To me, it seemed like they stole Mutemath's schtick: the drummer is energetic and entertaining in exactly the same ways Darren King is, everyone in the band played percussion at certain points, the show was highly choreographed. The difference is, Paper Route's songs aren't as strong. But they have potential.

But the find of the festival, for me, was Timbre. Yes, her name is Timbre. She plays a harp and sings, and her band is extraordinarily diverse, playing toy pianos, oboes, accordions and dozens of other instruments. One song featured a section in what I counted as 21/8, a bizarre time signature, and at another point, everyone in the band crowded around Timbre, playing parts on her harp - it sounded like a web of plucked strings. Her new album, Little Flowers, includes a cover of Radiohead's "Like Spinning Plates." I can't wait to hear this.

And then there was Eisley, a band I've always enjoyed. This sister act has completed its third album, evidently, but it's lost in record label hell, and may never come out. Which is a shame, because the new song they played tonight ("Sad") is excellent. Eisley is an energetic and melodic pop band with chops and harmonies and everything going for them. I hope they sort out their label situation soon, because they're too good to languish for long.

And that's it, the sum total of my Cornerstone ride this year. I heard from a lot of people how bad attendance was this year, and how depressing the festival was, but I didn't feel much of that. There was enough extraordinary music to keep me going, even on virtually no sleep. Aside from that unfortunate Choir show, everything went better than I expected.

I would give you more musings on faith and art and my own reactions to both here, but I am about to pass out. I plan to rework and repost much of these blog entries as my tm3am column on Wednesday, so look for more detailed analysis then. As for now, I'm off to dreamland, my third Cornerstone behind me. Special thanks to Jeff Elbel for putting me up for the week, and to everyone I met and talked with. You all helped make a special experience even more so.

Good night, good night.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Two More Things...

I'm up and about now on Day Three of my Cornerstone 2010 experience, and all set to head out the door. But there are two things I need to do first, sort of as an addendum to last night's posting.

The first is to talk a little bit more about that fantastic new Choir album, to balance off my post about their show last night. Burning Like the Midnight Sun is the Choir at the peak of their powers. Sonically, it hearkens back to their 1980s style, with lots of Chase the Kangaroo touches. It's definitely their best-sounding record in 20 years. The songs are all very good, with some of them making the leap to amazing.

At 50 minutes, it's their longest since 1995's Speckled Bird, and yet there isn't a song I would remove. It's fun - there are two songs named after band members - but serious-minded when it has to be. "The Word Inside the Word" and "Should Have Been Obvious" are a one-two punch of spiritual and political insight, and closing song "Say Goodbye to Neverland" may be my favorite melancholy Choir song ever - it's all piano, Derri Daugherty's wonderful vocals, and Marc Byrd's ethereal guitar paintings.

For all that, though, the opening salvo just can't be beat. "Midnight Sun" and the awesome "That Melancholy Ghost" combine to create the best starting-gun sprint since "Someone to Hold Onto" and "To Cover You." (For longtime fans, that's really something.) I'll have more on this on Wednesday, but I've heard this record twice now, and I love it to pieces.

The second thing I need to do is talk about Jeff Elbel. I completely forgot the most fun moment of my Cornerstone Thursday, which was Ping's set on one of the smaller side stages. Seven musicians crammed onto a tiny stage, playing a ragged set full of splendid covers, from "The Whole of the Moon" to "The Book of Love" to Chagall Guevara's massive "Violent Blue." It was an absolute blast, and the 40 or so people privileged enough to see it all had a great time. Plus, Jeff gave away a plaster cast of his teeth to one lucky audience member. You can't top that.

Okay, Cornerstone Day Three is coming up. Jonathan Jones, Eisley, Dignan, and two shows by Over the Rhine. Plus, hopefully, a few surprises. Who needs sleep?

Cornerstone Festival, Day Two

Tired doesn't even cut it today.

I woke up at about 8:30 a.m., because that's just what I do - I haven't slept past 8:30 in ages. I couldn't get back to slumberland, so today I did 12 hours of music on four hours of sleep. You'll forgive me if I keep this brief, although I don't really think I will.

I'm going to say this as plainly as I can: the reason I got out of bed this morning at all was the Choir. I've been a fan for 20 years, and I've seen them play four times now. The last time was in 2005, which, sadly enough, was the last time they reconvened on stage. So after a half-decade of no Choir shows, I was pretty stoked for tonight's late-night performance.

I've been upfront about my absence of faith, but here's one thing I will say: every time I get to see the Choir play, I thank God I'm alive. For one thing, it's such a rare occurrence, and for another, every show may well be the last. And for a third, the Choir spins such a magical atmosphere each time out, it's like living through a particularly vivid dream. I remember my first Choir concert, in 2001, after 11 years of listening to their records over and over again. I could scarcely believe it was happening - here were these people I'd only seen in photographs, playing this music I love intensely right in front of me. Magic.

If I ever needed confirmation that my heroes are human, tonight provided it. I don't want to say this, but tonight was a bad Choir show. The band clearly hadn't practiced much, and there were wrong notes galore, shifting tempos, forgotten lyrics, and a couple of spectacular flameouts. They tried to get through three new songs (from their wonderful new album Burning Like the Midnight Sun), and watched helplessly as they fell apart. The set was heavy on their twin high water marks Chase the Kangaroo and Circle Slide, and featured songs this band has been playing for 20 years. And yet, in Derri Daugherty's own words, it was rough.

Despite all that, I still enjoyed myself. Watching these guys play is always fun, and these songs are so permanently etched into my soul that even a bad performance couldn't spoil them. I feel lucky to have seen this show, and lucky to be a fan of this band. And the hundreds who gathered to watch the Choir's return to the gallery stage all seemed to feel the same way. This is our band, and if they have an off night, we'll help them through it. We love them. Tonight of all nights, we love them.

And every time I get to hear them play that bit in the middle of "Circle Slide," when they all just start making as much pretty noise as they can for as long as they can, my heart sings. "Circle Slide" was magnificent tonight. It's the kind of song that lifts you up and twirls you around, higher and higher. I wish the entire show had been as good, but hey, I got to see the Choir play one more time. I'm very lucky.

Also, I can console myself by listening to Burning Like the Midnight Sun over and over again. I'll have a more detailed review in this week's tm3am column, but I'll just say this: for the second time in a row, they've made their best album since Circle Slide.

I expected the rest of my day would be long and boring while I waited for the Choir to play. But I took in some superb performances today, and discovered some new favorites. Today's gallery stage lineup was assembled by John Thompson of the Wayside, formerly of Aurora, Illinois and now of Nashville. Thompson brought several of his fellow Nashville songwriters up north with him, and they were all quite good.

There was songwriter Kate York, whose clear voice and lovely tunes were captivating even with no accompaniment. "It Rains Here Too" may be the prettiest sad song I've heard in years. Brooke Wagonner played a set of Regina Spektor-ish piano pop, quirky and dramatic. And the Farewell Drifters showed off their chops - they're a bluegrass band (two guitars, stand-up bass, mandolin and fiddle) that plays well-written pop songs with great harmonies. Well worth checking out.

The Wayside closed out the New Nashville portion of the program, playing a selection from their new one, Spiritual Songs. Very nice stuff, traditional and church-y, but well-arranged. I must confess, though, I ducked out for a bit before the Wayside took the stage, to go see metal maniacs Sacred Warrior. I used to listen to them back in my teenage metalhead days, and their brand of Queensryche-esque rock still made me smile.

So even though the Choir show wasn't all it could have been, today's lineup was a good one. Tomorrow I get to close this whole thing out with Over the Rhine, and I can't think of anything better. Wait, no, I can - sleeping for six or seven hours straight. I think I'll try that. Check back here to see if I was successful.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Cornerstone Festival, Day One

Gentle readers, I am bone tired.

I decided last year that I am just too old for all-day music festivals. This is a hard pill to swallow, but Lollapalooza really did me in last summer. Cornerstone, the annual Jesus People USA party in Bushnell, IL (roughly three hours from my house), is smaller and easier, but 13 hours of sun and music still took its toll on me today. Don't get old. It's depressing.

So if I'd already decided I was too ancient and decrepit for this sort of thing, why am I at Cornerstone this year? Well, that's where the corollaries to the "too old" rule come into play. If enough stars align, enough top-of-the-heap acts turn up on the roster, I'll be in. I'm too much of an obsessive fan to do anything else. Lollapalooza and Pitchfork seemed like total wastes of time this year, but Cornerstone... well, three big stars aligned, plus my friend Jeff Elbel agreed to split the cost of a hotel room, so here I am.

It's been five years since I ventured out to Cornerstone Farm, a giant field in the middle of nowhere. In 2005, my response was mixed - I loved the music, but railed against the odd and all-pervasive commercialism, the Jesus-peddling I saw everywhere. I'm not sure if the fest has changed, or if I've mellowed out, but what struck me this time is just how cool Cornerstone is. It's a non-stop hippie party, the kind of festival at which people leave their bags on their seats to mark them, unafraid that anything will be stolen. There's a bike park, there's a grocery store, there are campers and tents and RVs everywhere, and the overall vibe is just fun.

When I was a kid in Massachusetts, discovering all this cool music that no one I knew had ever heard of (The Choir, Daniel Amos, the Prayer Chain, etc.), I thought of Cornerstone as this magical faraway land I would likely never get to visit. I still think it's kind of magical, even though I live here now, and this is my third time. The feeling is just different. Attendance is down this year, the merch tents are dark and dispiriting places, and some people I talked to are certain that Cornerstone is petering out. But still, everyone's just happy to be there, and to hear music they can't hear anywhere else.

As much as I try to say that I'm just in it for the music, I know it's not true. I listen to this stuff, and I come to this festival, to confront my own faith, or lack thereof, and to see the world through the prism of these fascinating artists, if only for a little while. I'm not interested in simple declarations of faith - I could go to the main stage for that, if I wanted to, but I don't. TobyMac makes me want to run away screaming. But I'm also not interested in avoiding the topic, either. As a man with a very abstract spiritualism (and virtually no religious tendencies), I want faith presented to me in new ways, ones that will make me think about it and consider my own beliefs.

While watching the Glenn Kaiser Band play the Gallery Stage today, I thought about this little corner of the music world, and how it's perceived. Glenn Kaiser is easily one of the best blues guitarists in Chicago, if not the country. Why don't you know who he is? Well, Glenn preaches. A lot. His set is about 50% killer blues riffing, and 50% talking - this time, he spoke about how Christians should get out of their churches and help their neighbors, a topic well worth visiting, in my view.

If Glenn stopped his preaching and just played, he wouldn't be true to himself. But because he's true to himself, no one knows how good he is. It's very strange to me. Admittedly, Glenn Kaiser can be a lot to take in all at once, but if there's any act on the festival bill that should be too Jesus-y for me, it's him. And I loved listening to his set this afternoon. His perspective is not my perspective, but I enjoy hearing it, and imagining the world through his eyes.

But let's talk about those aligning stars, before I collapse from exhaustion. I said three of them lined up for me (and I think three is the minimum it would take to get me to this fest), and two of them played today. The first is, of course, the Lost Dogs, that spiritual pop supergroup of Mike Roe, Terry Taylor, Derri Daugherty and Steve Hindalong, four guys I've been listening to since I was 16 years old.

The Dogs actually played throughout the day, in various combinations. Roe started things off with an acoustic set full of the old gospel and blues songs he's been fascinated by recently. I've said it before, but give me Mike Roe and an acoustic guitar, and I'll be happy for hours. Taylor then took to the stage for a trio set (with Roe on bass and Hindalong on drums) that flipped through some of his more obscure back pages. (He actually played "I Had a Bad Experience With the CIA and Now I'm Gonna Show You My Feminine Side." I would have been happy if he'd merely said the title from the Cornerstone stage.)

Roe and Daugherty then did a set of covers and oldies, which was nice. Daugherty, who sings with the Choir, has a high and clear voice, while Roe's is more typical bluesman, more rough than smooth. Together they sounded elegant. The highlight, for me, was "Dunce Cap," my favorite Lost Dogs song, and one I'd never heard live.

The Dogs then played a full-on rock and roll set at 10 p.m., and man, it was great. Their new album, Old Angel, is an absolute masterpiece, and it seems to have revitalized these aging troubadours. Every second of their set rippled with energy. Hindalong remains the most entertaining drummer on the planet to watch - his facial expressions are priceless - and the rapport between the four of them is at an all-time high.

The second of my stars tonight was Iona, a five-piece from the U.K. I've been listening to Iona for almost 20 years now, and I've never seen them live before. It was amazing. I don't know how to describe Iona. They're like Celtic folk prog rock, like Rush jamming with Enya, and it sounds horrible, but it works brilliantly. 15-minute songs based on Celtic prayers with unison bagpipe and electric guitar solos, all capped off with the lovely voice of Joanne Hogg. They were great.

And you want to know why I consider Cornerstone magical? Try this. At 1:30 in the morning, Iona closed out their main set with a piece called "Castlerigg," kind of an Irish jig on Jolt Cola. Even after 12 solid hours of music, everyone in the place - hundreds of people - got up and started dancing. It was pure joy in motion, and an awesome thing to be a part of.

Some stray observations and notes:

My roommate Jeff Elbel played another strong set of tunes with his ever-expansive band Ping - nine musicians this time. Several new songs, all of them good. Jeff also manages the gallery stage, where all the acts I saw today played, and he gets precious little thanks or sleep for the privilege. He's much more tired than I am right now, and I'm pretty much wiped out.

The discovery of the festival so far is Shel, a band I was ready to laugh off. Four teenage sisters (drums, piano, mandolin and violin) backed up by their father on guitar. Sounds awful, right? But they were awesome. They played complex folk-rock, harmonized beautifully (especially on the more bizarre numbers), and capped it off with a cover of Led Zeppelin's "The Battle of Evermore." I was impressed.

The cafe near the Gallery Stage has a lemonade-and-iced-tea blend drink for sale. It's called a Robert Palmer. That's right, Robert Palmer, not Arnold. So I asked the kid behind the counter why, and he grinned and replied, "Because it's simply irresistible."

Okay, to sleep with me. Tomorrow is the third of my three stars, the Choir, perhaps my favorite band on earth. More musings on faith and art to follow. Check back here early Friday morning for the next installment.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Off to Cornerstone

I'm headed to Bushnell right now for three days of music from some of my favorite (relatively) unknown artists. Wifi-willing, I'll be posting updates to this blog about my trip. Watch this space!

New Column: Spiritual Machines

So I'm off to the Cornerstone Festival this morning, for three days of dust and music. But I did manage to post a new column at today for your reading pleasure. This one's all about artists who use electronic instruments to enhance organic emotions. Boy, that sounds like a riveting topic all written out like that, doesn't it?

Well, hopefully I made it interesting for you. First up is Eminem, who has gone from one of the most important artists of the late '90s-early 2000s to a shrill self-parody with nothing to say in recent years. His new one, Recovery, seeks to make things right. Also on the docket are Kele Okereke (of Bloc Party) and the Chemical Brothers, another group in need of a reinvention.

In addition to those three reviews, I unveil my 2010 halftime report, giving you the lowdown on my top 10 list as it stands right now. As always, click on over to read the column, then come back here to leave me a comment. And now, Bushnell or bust!

Monday, June 28, 2010

First Listen: Sia, We Are Born

You probably know Australian singer Sia Furler best for "Breathe Me," the stunning number that closed the final episode of Six Feet Under. She's done that epic ballad thing more than once since, which is why her fourth album, We Are Born, is such a surprise. Sia lets her hair down here, and gives us a non-stop party record of wonderful little songs.

Honestly, there's just no letup here - this is one terrific upbeat jam after another. "Clap Your Hands" should be a hit, as should "You've Changed." The melody is "Never Gonna Leave Me" is fantastic, and even changes of pace, like "Be Good to Me" and "I'm in Here," fit in nicely and don't bring down the energy. As if to drive home her primary influence here, Sia covers Madonna's "Oh Father," but drives the tempo up. Throughout, Sia's soulful voice is in top form. This is a smart record that knows how to have fun, a danceable dynamo with a brain and an unerring tunefulness. Lady Gaga should take notes.

First Listen: The Roots, How I Got Over

The Roots have been doing what they do for more than 20 years. They're one of the few true hip-hop bands in the world - they use real instruments to back up their rhymes, and the musicians in the band are extraordinary. The public is finally catching on, thanks to their nightly stint on Jimmy Fallon's show, and How I Got Over, the first Roots album since they accepted that post, should be the album that introduces them to the big time. But if ?uestlove and his crew are feeling the pressure, you can't tell on this wonderful little disc.

How I Got Over is a concept album about overcoming, and its very format tells the story. The album's first half is slow and spectral. The first sounds you hear come from a choir of voices, delivered by the three female members of Dirty Projectors, and the beats from there crawl along, quietly mulling over Black Thought's lyrics. But when you get to the awesome title track, things explode, and they don't come back down. How I Got Over ends in joy and triumph.

Along the way, the Roots collaborate with some fascinating guests. John Legend does his soulful thing on "The Fire," the Monsters of Folk (Conor Oberst, M. Ward, Jim James and Mike Mogis) contribute their song "Dear God" for a remake, and the band samples Joanna Newsom for "Right On." How I Got Over, at a trim 42:25, easily establishes the Roots as one of the finest and most creative hip-hop acts on the planet. This one's well worth your money, folks.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

First Listen: Steve Mason, Boys Outside

My introduction to The Beta Band came from John Cusack. You remember that moment in High Fidelity when Cusack’s character, a record store owner, proclaims that he will “now sell three copies of The Three EPs by the Beta Band,” and then proceeds to play this gorgeous, atmospheric music? Turns out that was the superb “Dry the Rain,” and I loved it and had to buy it.

I admit I haven’t kept as close track of the Beta Band, or founding member Steve Mason’s other projects, as I should have. If you’re in the same boat, now’s a good time to pay attention again, because Mason’s first solo album, Boys Outside, is finally available in the U.S. (more than a month after its U.K. release). The album sports the same folksy electronica Mason crafted with the Beta Band, but this time it sounds more intimate, more personal.

Boys Outside has an appealing home studio feel to it, with acoustic guitars and electric pianos sitting atop trippy programmed beats. Mason has an everyman voice, but he can make it sound spectral and haunting. “The Letter” has a sweeping menace to it, and single “All Come Down” will stick with you. My favorite, though, is “Lost and Found.” Its simple melody and piano figure work well with its Enigma-style beat, and its nearly six-minute running time gives it the space to stretch out.

Mason has created a shorter, more subtle album here, but it’s no less a treat. Try it here and buy it here.

New Column: Devolution Working Man Blues

This week at, I took an in-depth look at the new Devo album, Something for Everybody. If you take a gander down this blog, you'll see my first-listen review of this album, and my opinion hasn't changed. It's been 20 years since we last heard from Devo, but this record makes the decades melt away. It's awesome.

I also took more critical listens to new albums from the Gaslight Anthem and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. As always, click on over to read the column, and come back here to leave a comment.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

New Column, New Look

Good day, sunshine. I'm back from vacation and ready to roll.

If you haven't headed over to in a while, check it out. For the first time in nearly 10 years, the design has been completely revamped, courtesy of my genius friend Mike Ferrier. I'm happy with it - it looks like the old one, but doesn't use frames, and it has a bunch of new features while still being comfortably old-school enough for me. I hope you like it.

As for the actual column this week, it's a passionate defense of one of my favorite records of 2010 so far, Hanson's Shout It Out. Yes, that Hanson. I can hear you singing the chorus of "MMMBop." Stop that. The Hanson brothers have grown into splendid musicians, and this record is well-crafted, fun, classic pop music.

I also take aim at new ones from Rooney and Teenage Fanclub. As always, click on over to read the column, and head back here to leave me a comment. It's good to be back!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

First Listen: Devo, Something for Everybody

This is likely going to get a longer and more detailed review in tm3am, but since that might be a while, I wanted to weigh in now. And here's what I have to say: holy crap. I love this.

It's been 20 years since the last Devo album, and 30 years since "Whip It" hit the charts, making Mark Mothersbaugh and his merry band household names. '80s audiences didn't get the satire then, and it will be interesting to see if modern listeners pick up on it. Something for Everybody is a dark, angry album, but it's also relentlessly danceable and fun. "What We Do" in particular is perhaps the grooviest indictment of modern society I've heard in years. The whole 38 minutes zips by in a flash, and it takes a few listens to really hear how layered and well-made this album is.

The Devo boys hired a focus group to choose the 12 songs for this album, then ignored their advice to include the final two songs. I agree with the band - they're the best ones, especially the slow-burn epic "No Place Like Home." If you think Devo is all funny hats and novelty songs, you owe it to yourself to hear Something for Everybody. It's a comeback album, but it feels like they've never been away.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

First Listen: Kip Winger, Ghosts, Suite No. 1

I had no idea what to expect from this. Kip Winger is not the first rock musician to try his hand at an orchestral suite, but he's one of the most surprising. You'll remember Kip from his days fronting the band that shares his last name, writhing around in leather pants to hits like "Seventeen" and "Easy Come Easy Go." Winger's solo material has been much more interesting and complex, particularly his latest, From the Moon to the Sun. He gave us a preview of Ghosts on that record, arranged for string quartet, harp and piano, but it's little preparation for the full thing.

Suite No. 1 is only 20 minutes long, but it's fantastic. There are passages here that take my breath away. This is a fully composed instrumental piece, fit for a film score, and there's no hint here of Winger's pop-metal past. It is his bid for respectability, and to my mind, he's achieved it. My favorite section is the third and last, "Adagio." As it builds up over seven minutes, the melodies just get lovelier, and by the end, my heart has swelled.

I'm not sure whether Winger's fans will follow him down this particular rabbit hole, but if you like gorgeous orchestral music, I'd recommend hearing this. It's wonderful stuff. Go here.

First Listen: Jandek, Canticle of Castaway

Here's album number 64 from the mysterious Texas recluse, although that description gets more and more inaccurate with each concert he plays. It's no secret that I like the live albums more than the studio ones recently, and the reason is simple. Live, the Representative from Corwood is forced to coexist with other musicians, making his dissonant, anti-rhythmic style fit with the often more straightforward leanings of his bandmates.

In the studio, he's free to do what he wants, and lately, that means he's free to meander on one instrument by himself, with little change in pace or tone. That's Canticle of Castaway in a nutshell - three long songs, totaling 53 minutes, just the man and his acoustic guitar. All three are languid, slow affairs (at least in comparison to songs like "Stay Me Here" on prior albums), and the whole thing is oddly hypnotic.

Of course, it's all teeth-grindingly dissonant, too, but after a while in Jandek's world, you get used to that. I don't dislike Canticle, I just feel like I've heard it before. The Rep has been endlessly inventive on stage, giving us suites for piano and synthesizer, explosive electric workouts and pummeling drones of noise. I'd just like to see some of that invention follow him back into the studio.

As usual, for more on Jandek, check out Seth Tisue's site at

First Listen: Stone Temple Pilots

Yes, folks, '90s nostalgia is in full swing. But as someone who always found the Stone Temple boys underrated, I can't call this particular reunion unwelcome. STP started off as grunge-apers, California's answer to the Seattle craze. But they quickly revealed themselves as '70s-inspired pop-rockers, and it's that style that comes to the fore on their sixth album.

Of course, like all Stone Temple Pilots albums, the best I can say about this one is that it isn't bad. Riff-rockers like "Between the Lines" (about time someone used that title as a drug reference) and "Take a Load Off" are fun while they're playing, and completely unmemorable once they stop. The band is tight, the DeLeo brothers have written another set of winning pop songs, and Scott Weiland doesn't embarrass himself. But the result is another pretty good record, with little remarkable about it. STP is basically back to doing what they do, and if you liked them before, you'll like this just fine.

First Listen: Janelle Monae, The Archandroid

This record is awesome. Full stop.

Okay, I'll elaborate. Imagine if Prince and Erykah Badu had a kid, and that kid really liked Blade Runner. Monae has been gifted with the voice of an angel and the mind of a sci-fi geek. Her whole recorded output so far (this album and a preceding EP) has been geared toward telling the story of 57821, an android who falls in love, and falls afoul of a futuristic, totalitarian government. The Archandroid is suites two and three (the EP was suite one) of a planned four.

Sounds heady, right? Well, forget it. This record is a boatload of fun. It's beat-crazy, soulful, prodigiously melodic, insanely well-arranged, funky and danceable. This is pop music of the highest order, with no boundaries - can you imagine another record with Big Boi and Of Montreal on the guest list? I can't. The Archandroid is the kind of thing that exposes just how shallow and talentless 99 percent of modern soul-pop is. This record is the real deal.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

New Column: All Alone

I am currently on vacation, resting in the sweet East Coast sunlight. I know, you're envious, but don't worry, I wrote you a little something so you won't miss me too much. This week's column is about solo performances, just one man and an instrument. Those men are Steve Hogarth and Michael Roe, and their instruments are piano and guitar, respectively. And both of these records will rip your heart out.

Also, I bring my top 20 of the 2000s list in for a landing, and (behind a spoiler link) share a 3,000-word essay on the final episodes of Lost. Hope you enjoy it. As always, click on over to read the column, then head back here to leave me a comment.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

New Column: By Popular Demand

Really pressed for time this week, so I'll just say that I've been asked for my opinion on the three albums I reviewed at this week about a dozen times each. I took a look at (well, a listen to, really) Brothers by the Black Keys, Infinite Arms by Band of Horses, and This is Happening by LCD Soundsystem, and liked them all, to varying degrees.

I've also given you a list of honorable mentions in the penultimate installment of my top 20 of the 2000s, and some very brief thoughts on the finale of Lost. I'm working up a longer essay on that, but as I said up top, I'm really pressed for time. Apologies.

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

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Burning Like the Midnight Sun

That's the name of the Choir's new album, out June 29. For more info as it appears, check here. I'm pretty excited - what I've heard sounds like Chase the Kangaroo-era material, and you can't go wrong with that.

New Column: Happiness is the Road

I've been a Lost Dogs fan for a long, long time. There's a real sense of history to what they do now, and like any lengthy catalog, that history can seem like a wall. I feel like I may have focused on it a bit much in earlier reviews of Lost Dogs albums, and made people feel that if they hadn't been along for the 30-plus-year ride with Terry Taylor, Mike Roe and Derri Daugherty, they wouldn't get it. And that might have kept a few people away.

I want you all to hear Old Angel, the latest Lost Dogs album, so for the most part, I kept that history out of this week's review. Suffice it to say that the Dogs, now a foursome with drummer Steve Hindalong, took to the famous Route 66 in 2008, searching for God and America. And they wrote a bunch of songs, the best they've written in a long time. That's Old Angel, and I love it to bits.

I also love the new Hammock and Mark Eitzel albums, and don't like the new National so much. All those reviews, plus my #2 album of the 2000s, are in this week's column. Come on back here to leave me a comment when you're done.

If you want more info on the Lost Dogs and their respective members, go here, and here, and here, and also here.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

New Column: Just Give Me 30 Minutes

I know, I know. It's been another week without a word from me. I'm trying to keep my head above water at work while listening to as much new music as I can. I didn't get to the blog this week, but I did write another long (too long?) column with first impressions of new CDs.

This week, I checked out Keane's new EP Night Train, Richard Julian's sixth album Girls Need Attention, and the Dead Weather's sophomore effort Sea of Cowards. What do all of these have in common? Besides being varying shades of very good, they're all about half an hour long. Short records often annoy me, but in all three cases here, 30 minutes is just about right.

I also unveiled my choice for the third-best album of the 2000s. As usual, click on over to read the column, and head back here to leave a comment.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

New Column: Music! Impress me!

Since I started this blog, I've been trying to save the considered reviews for the regular column and use this space for my quick first impressions. But this month, there's so much new music coming that I don't know how I'm going to keep my head above water. Hence, this week's column kicks off what I expect will be a series of first-blush takes on new albums.

This week I've reviewed new ones from the Hold Steady, the New Pornographers, Nada Surf and the Flaming Lips. Just to give you some idea of how much water I'm treading right now, I did a quick take on Justin Currie's album yesterday, and I still have new ones from Richard Julian, Minus the Bear, Deftones, Tonic, Roky Erickson with Okkervil River, and the Apples in Stereo to get through, before next week. I'm trying, I'm trying.

This week's column also includes my choice for the fourth-best album of the last decade. As always, click on over to read it, then head back here to leave a comment.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

First Listen: Justin Currie, The Great War

Justin Currie's old band, Del Amitri, once named an album Twisted. But for my money, his music didn't get truly twisted until he went solo.

Fans of Del Amitri know Currie's way with a melody, but it wasn't until What is Love For, his incredibly depressing solo debut, that the man's true talent for deliciously dark lyrics came out. I've rarely heard anything as bleak as the last few tracks on that album, on which Currie showed an equal penchant for hating himself ("Still in Love") and everything else ("No, Surrender").

The Great War isn't quite on the same level, musically or lyrically, but it's still a tough, black-hearted affair masquerading as a light pop album. The melodies are slight, but the words cut deep - Currie finds new ways to lash out on "As Long as You Don't Come Back" and "Anywhere I'm Away From You," a tendency which reaches its apex on the rumbling "Everyone I Love." But he saves his sharpest barbs, as on "Ready to Be," for himself.

The best thing here is the eight-minute "The Fight to Be Human," dark and hopeless even by Currie standards. Here, take a gander: "I used to believe in the goodness of man, but not anymore since I became one of them, I hoodwinked my woman and bought her a ring, like the fight to be human, it don't mean anything..." The repetitve music builds and builds, Currie digging in deeper and deeper as it goes.

If you're not paying attention to it, though, The Great War might even strike you as happy and bright. Pairing such jaunty music with lyrics this despairing may seem to some like a cruel joke. To me, it makes this an essential listen.

How to Destroy Angels

Trent Reznor's first music since ending Nine Inch Nails. It's much prettier, but still spooky stuff. Check it out at Pitchfork's site here.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

New Column: Coming Attractions

I have a calendar on my desk that I use for new releases. Whenever I hear of a new album I'm going to want to buy, I write it down in the appropriate space on the calendar. For the next two months of Tuesdays, that calendar is full to bursting. I have no space to write anymore. To mix metaphors, it's a little like standing on the shore and waiting for the tidal wave you can see in the distance.

I also had a hell of a week, so I decided to take a little break at this week, and give you a glimpse of what's coming up. There's a lot - just next week, I'm picking up 10 or so discs. Now all I have to do is find the time to listen to them all...

I also revealed my choice for the #5 album of the 2000s. As usual, click on over to read it, and come back here to leave me a comment.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

First Listen: Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, I Learned the Hard Way

Big thanks to Jeff Elbel for turning me on to the Dap-Kings. These guys play old-time soul music so accurately, their albums could have come right from the 1960s. Top that off with the sweet and sultry voice of Sharon Jones, and you have a recipe for awesome.

I Learned the Hard Way is just another great Dap-Kings album. Thick horn sections, sugary strings, vintage-sounding production (particularly on the drums), melodies to die for. These 12 songs could all be covers of standards - I wouldn't be surprised to hear "The Game Gets Old" slotted into any oldies station on the planet. But they're new compositions, crafted with the greatest of respect to their influences. At times, this album's a little slower than previous Dap-Kings efforts, but that just lets Jones show off her pipes a little more, and that can never be a bad thing. And even when she's not on board, like on instrumental track "The Reason," the Dap-Kings play with remarkable soul.

In short, this album is a loving recreation of a sound long gone, played by masters of the form. Listen here. Then buy. This is wonderful stuff.

First Listen: Gogol Bordello, Trans-Continental Hustle

I am late to the Gogol Bordello party, but I think I'm going to stay. Gogol Bordello is a multicultural band led by a mustachioed Ukrainian madman named Eugene Hutz. Trans-Continental Hustle is their fifth album, but their first for American Records, and it was produced by Rick Rubin.

Granted, Rubin's what got me in the door, but the music is what sold me. Gogol Bordello plays a highly energetic mix of dozens of different things, from acoustic punk to polka to klezmer to Brazilian carnival music. Hutz sings over it all with his heavily-accented bellow, while the band shouts along in support. It's all punk, but it's played with accordions and violins and timbales. It's pretty awesome.

Music like this makes me realize how limited my scope is. Gogol Bordello draws on so many traditions I'm unfamiliar with, so I have no historical perspective on what they do. I just know I like it. Word is that this album is more reserved than their previous four, and since this one's kind of insane in places, I can't wait to hear the older stuff now. If you want a snapshot of what one-world music might sound like, here it is.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

New Column: 88 Keys and the Truth

I love the piano. I've been playing the instrument myself since I was about six, which may have something to do with it, but I'm instantly attracted to piano-based music. Can't help it. From Ben Folds to Tori Amos to Bruce Hornsby to the two artists I reviewed this week at, I'm always looking for new artists with a flair for the ebonies and ivories.

This week, I took a listen to the new Aqualung, entitled Magnetic North, and the striking new Rufus Wainwright, called All Days are Nights: Songs for Lulu. They're as different as they could be - Aqualung's is a cozy pop album, perfect for warm summer nights, while Wainwright's is the most intimate, nakedly emotional album he's ever made, parts of it in memory of his mother, Kate McGarrigle. But both are excellent, in their own ways, and both are based around the piano.

Also this week, my thoughts on Record Store Day 2010, a quick eulogy for Peter Steele of Type O Negative, and my #6 album of the 2000s. As usual, click on over to read the column, then head back here to comment.

Friday, April 16, 2010

First Listen: Jandek, Bristol Wednesday

For a couple of years now, I've made it a habit of annoying the fine folks at my local record store with each new Jandek release. I'll bring it in, and somehow convince the staff to give it a spin in the store, customers be damned.

When Bristol Wednesday hit, I followed tradition, intriguing young Kevin enough to get him to play it. And when the 24-minute first track, "Only Twenty-Two," started up with a shudder and roar, Kevin listened for a bit, then dismissed it, saying, "Same old Jandek."

I found that very interesting. Putting aside the fact that there is no one else on earth playing music like this, I suppose I've been listening to Jandek long enough that the slight variations between albums sound like massive tonal shifts to me. I definitely prefer the live albums to the studio ones - his solo acoustic guitar stuff is in a rut, I think - but Bristol Wednesday, to me, is a very different kettle of fish.

This two-disc album documents a show at Cube Cinema in Bristol in May 2006. The Representative from Corwood plays electric guitar, and he's joined by second guitarist Mick Flower and drummer Chris Corsano. The songs are all very long - the shortest is 9:05 - and the whole thing runs two and a half hours. But it's in these extended grooves that Jandek's evolution can be heard, I think.

True, his playing still sounds dissonant and random, but I think he's learning to listen to his collaborators, and create beautiful noise in tandem. The sound of the first disc is massive and chaotic, Jandek moaning over the din, but after a while, the three players really find a groove. The 19-minute "More Than I Was" really shows this, I think.

The second disc (set two) finds Flower switching to a shahi baaja, a form of Indian zither. It makes a high-pitched, ambient sound, and the tone of the show shifts accordingly - disc two is slower and moodier, if no less random. Finale "The Lesson" is kind of pretty, in fact. Far from being the same old same old, I think this record shows Jandek growing as a live performer, learning how to interact with other musicians without compromising the ugly beauty he creates.

As usual, Jandek music is not for everyone. But once again, he's released an album unlike any other I own. One day this story will end, and although I was skeptical of the man's musical motives at first, now I think the world will definitely have lost something unique. Learn more at Seth Tisue's Jandek site.

First Listen: Marillion, Tumbling Down the Years and Size Matters

Marillion is one of my favorite bands, and I buy everything they release. That means my collection contains dozens of versions of the same songs, in different contexts. For some reason, I never get sick of hearing these tunes, which is good, because the band keeps finding new ways to present them to me.

The latest two live albums document the Saturday and Sunday shows from last year's Marillion convention in Holland. Tumbling Down the Years finds the band arranging their material from most recent to least, one song representing each year. They start with 2009's "This Train is My Life," and end with 1981's "Garden Party," although they do skip a few years in the '80s.

Naturally, for me, this means the album gets less interesting as it goes along. Marillion's on an incredible hot streak right now, with Marbles and Happiness is the Road, and they've come a long way from their neo-prog early days. I like the old stuff, but listening to Tumbling is like hearing evolution in reverse.

For the Size Matters show, Marillion played 10 of their longest tracks back to back. The shortest is nine minutes, the longest 17, and the whole thing runs just over two hours. And it's marvelous. These are not easy songs to play, particularly numbers like "Interior Lulu" and "This Strange Engine," and listening to them tough their way through them is kind of inspiring. Plus, they play "Ocean Cloud," which may be my favorite Marillion song.

Both of these records are worth picking up, for fans and non-fans alike. There's also a DVD box set of the convention, called Out of Season, that will be available soon. Check them out at

First Listen: MGMT, Congratulations

There's an easy way to tell whether you're going to like the new MGMT album. If you bought the last one, Oracular Spectacular, for the singles ("Kids," "Electric Feel," "Time to Pretend"), and you thought the rest of the record was strange and off-putting, stay away.

Congratulations is being billed as a sharp left turn, but that isn't true. The band has just deliberately emphasized the odder, less immediate elements of what they do. The result is more Embryonic Flaming Lips than Yoshimi Flaming Lips, but the same touchstones remain. That said, you won't soon find yourself humming any of these songs, and the band has amped up the prog-rock, particularly on the four-songs-smashed-together epic "Siberian Breaks."

Still, it all flows nicely, and the funny little nod to Brian Eno helps to break things up. Instrumental "Lady Dada's Nightmare" is pretty wonderful, too, and the closing title track is probably the most melodic, ending things on a warmer note. Congratulations is a weird record, no doubt, but it sounds like one that will unfold over time. And it's good enough that I'll give it that time.