Wednesday, January 27, 2010

New Column: ...But the Moment Has Been Prepared For

Yes, that's a Tom Baker reference up there, and yes, that means this week I turned out another Doctor Who review. But don't worry, music fans, I also reviewed the new Eels album, End Times, and revealed my #18 album of the 2000s. Plus, as a bonus, I scribbled down my thoughts on the recent Late Night Wars, and on Conan O'Brien's last Tonight Show. (The theme is endings, if you couldn't tell.) All this can be yours with just one click over to Head back here to leave me a comment.

Since we last spoke, I've been working like a crazy person. We had a double-fatality plane crash here over the weekend, and some pre-election shenanigans between Republicans running for Congress. So I've been busy, but I sincerely hope to get to a whole bunch of first-listen reviews in the next seven days. Watch this space.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

First Listen: Freedy Johnston, Rain on the City

It's been eight years since Freedy Johnston released an album of original songs. (His covers album, My Favorite Waste of Time, came out in 2008.) You may expect that the resulting record would give you some hint of where all that time went.

But Rain on the City is just a standard Johnston record - light, breezy, modest, simple and heartwarming. Some songs are acoustic, some electric. Some are twangy, some more straightforward rock. All have elegantly-written lyrics about love and life. None of them are particularly memorable.

I have no idea what took Freedy so long to make this album, but it sounds like it could have come out six weeks after his last one. I like Freedy, and this record is just fine - harmless, but fine. But nothing here is as good as "Bad Reputation," from all those years ago, and nothing here should make you want to rush out and buy this.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

New Column: The 'I Pan Contra' Affair

Okay, the title's a stretch, but I knew when I thought of it I'd have to use it.

Yes, this week over at I panned Contra, the widely acclaimed second album from Vampire Weekend. I've been looking forward to hearing this thing for months now, hoping VW would build on the extraordinary sound of their debut. Sadly, the bizarre left turns the band decided to take have largely left me cold, even after a dozen or so listens. I like about half of this record, and none of it as much as I liked Vampire Weekend.

But all is not hopeless bleak despair! I also reviewed OK Go's surprisingly awesome third album Of the Blue Colour of the Sky, and revealed my choice for the 19th best album of the 2000s. Click on over to read all about it, then come back here to leave me a comment. Thanks!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

RIP Kate McGarrigle

Condolences to Rufus and Martha Wainwright on the loss of their mother, who succumbed to cancer today at the age of 63. McGarrigle had a long and terrific folk career, performing with her sister Anna throughout the '60s and '70s, and in recent years joining Rufus and Martha on stage (including a concert six weeks ago in London that raised $55,000 for sarcoma research).

More info here.

Friday, January 15, 2010

First Listen: Jandek, Camber Sands Sunday

Before leaving 2009 behind, the Texas troubadour known as Jandek dropped his sixth album of the year. The score is two studio records and four live documents, for those keeping track at home, and with this release, Jandek has made 62 albums. Sixty. Two.

It's no secret I've been enjoying the live albums more than the studio ones lately. On the road, Jandek is endlessly inventive, fitting his random-sounding dissonance into a surprisingly wide variety of contexts, whereas in the studio, he just seems to strum aimlessly on an acoustic guitar and moan. The studio records have their charms, but I'd like to hear the Rep from Corwood shake things up a little more.

On stage, though, he always delivers. Camber Sands Sunday even has me feeling a little nostalgic - it's the last recorded document of his original trio, with bassist Richard Youngs and drummer Alex Nielson. They've made five live albums together now, and each one sounds different from the last. Camber, recorded in May of 2006, is their loudest and most abrasive, and is most reminiscent of Glasgow Friday. (The Jandek Trio played together one more time, four days later, but I understand that show wasn't recorded.)

I initially said this record sounds like a garbage truck running over a hundred squirrels, and I stand by that. While Youngs and Nielson lay down an absolutely bone-rattling rhythm section on opener "Pragmatic," the Rep himself plays squealing high notes on electric guitar. This cacophony goes on for much of the song's 11 minutes. While some of the record slows down after that, the basic aggressive sound remains - this is an ugly album, but a deliberately ugly one, and it fits Jandek's typically depressing lyrics. The word "punishing" doesn't seem to do it justice.

As with most things Jandek, I wouldn't recommend this for any but the most hardy of listeners. It's said that even Jandek's most ardent fans can't listen to two of his albums back to back. I'm not sure what it says about me, then, that I've come to enjoy the live albums immensely - not necessarily as music, but as experiences. Jandek remains the weirdest musician I've ever come across, and even 62 albums in, he keeps on surprising me. For more info, log onto Seth Tisue's site.

First Listen: Vampire Weekend, Contra

Okay, so this thing is going to get a full review on next week, but... what a strange record.

Vampire Weekend, one of the best new bands in ages, has followed up a winning, stunning debut album with a set of songs that dives even further into idiosyncrasy. They do deliver some of the African punk-pop they made their name on, but not as often as fans might like. Instead, there's lots of blipping synthesizer, one song with a mariachi horn section, one song that samples M.I.A., and several that seem to hang together by the barest of threads.

Does it all work? I'm not sure yet. I'm still processing. My first listen(s) were not absolutely favorable. More next Wednesday, after I've mulled it over some more. But full credit to the band for not delivering a carbon copy of their first album, for stepping out on a limb - no matter how shaky that limb might be.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

New Column: Ten Years! Ten... YEARS!

Today at, I kick off my 10th year as an Internet columnist. I can scarcely believe it myself, but here we are. Year Ten.

This week, I took a look back at the last 10 years, and then a look forward at the next few months of new releases. (Hint: they're going to be awesome.) And then I launch into my latest long-term project, my Top 20 of the Decade list. I've decided to parcel it out one album at a time for the next 20 weeks, just to keep you all guessing. (And to let me wax lyrical on each of them without feeling the time crunch.)

The whole story is now up at Read it there, comment here. Year Ten! Boo-yah!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

First Listen: Kanye West, VH1 Storytellers

By accident of the calendar, Kanye West's live record is the first album I've bought in 2010. I suppose it could have been worse.

This CD and DVD jointly document West's appearance on Storytellers in early 2009, shortly after the release of his fourth album, 808s and Heartbreak. The focus is squarely on that record, so there's much more auto-tuned singing than rapping. He seems to have a good band with him, although none of them are credited in the liner notes. Musically, it's nice stuff, despite West's rough live singing - auto-tune can only do so much.

But this is Storytellers, and so we also get a fair amount of West's musings on his own life and fame. And my god, he's an ass. It takes a very particular kind of self-delusion to allow this to be released publicly. His speeches teeter between the obvious and the self-aggrandizing - he talks about the time he realized that homosexuality isn't contagious, for instance, and at one point he actually says his greatest pain in life is not being able to watch himself perform. "I welcome you to experience a pleasure I will never have," he tells his audience. Really.

West's Storytellers appearance is concrete proof that he's more of a studio artist than a live one. He should stick to what he does best, and that does not include public speaking. Musically, this is fine, but not a patch on any of West's studio albums. But whenever he opens his mouth, it just gets weighted down.

2010: The Year We Make Contact

Hello again, everyone. I am back from my extended vacation, and ready to start a new year. And one of my resolutions is to make much more use of this blog. I initially started this site to help me manage the endless flow of new music - I would reserve the more considered reviews for the regular column, and compose quick-hit first-listen reactions for this blog.

It hasn't quite worked that way, not for a while. But I still think the idea is solid, and I've resolved to make more time for it in 2010. I'm still expecting to buy as much music this year as I did in 2009, and I hope to get to more of it, using this blog as a more frequent outlet. Stick around for the next 12 months and let me know how I did.

In the meantime, happy new year. Thanks for clicking, thanks for reading. Recommendations are welcome, donations are accepted. Hope you enjoy TM3AM in 2010.