Wednesday, March 31, 2010

New Column: Trying to Turn the Page

I am a Barenaked Ladies fan. That's probably never going to change, although the band has done everything it can to shake me. Their latest move was splitting with singer/songwriter Steven Page (which I understand was a mutual, acrimonious parting), and soldiering on with just the four remaining members.

This week at, I take a spin through All in Good Time, the Ladies' first Page-less album. It's probably not a spoiler to say I didn't like it a whole lot. But it's not all gloom this week - the column also features a letter from John Oates to Darryl Hall, my #9 album of the 2000s, and my First Quarter Report, which is basically what my 2010 top 10 list looks like right now.

So click on over to read all about it, then head back here, if you feel so inclined, to leave me a comment.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

New Column: What Do You Want to Do With Your Life?

Don't worry, this week's column isn't all about soul searching. The title's merely a reference to Twisted Sister's "I Wanna Rock" video - this week's missive is about Real Rock, and how it gets the blood pumping, and how visceral energy sometimes makes up for a lack of musical skill. (But only sometimes.) It contains reviews of the new White Stripes live album, and the new rollicking rock opera by Titus Andronicus.

Also, I reveal my #10 album of the 2000s. All this can be yours by just clicking on over. Come back here when you're done to leave a comment.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

RIP Alex Chilton

It's a sad day for power pop fans. Alex Chilton, mastermind of legendary bands the Box Tops and Big Star, died tonight of a heart attack at age 59. Big Star was a band whose influence far outstripped its fame. Ask any guitar-pop musician from the last 20 years for a list of influences, and Chilton will be there. The three classic Big Star albums (#1 Record, Radio City and Third/Sister Lovers) belong in any pop music fan's collection. I love them all.

Rest in peace, Alex.

Read more here.

New Column: Last Prayer for a Man in Black

How does one say goodbye to Johnny Cash?

The Man in Black bowed out in 2003, but this month, we got his final album, American VI: Ain't No Grave. It's a devastating, hopeful, crushing listen, and I love every note. You can read my review, and my attempt at saying farewell to a music legend, this week at

I also burn through quick reviews of albums by Broken Bells, Gorillaz and Peter Mulvey, with special emphasis on that last one - it's the best Mulvey album in many years. Plus, I reveal my #11 album of the 2000s. It's a lot of words, as usual, but I hope nestled in there are a few nuggets of enjoyment. Or something.

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

Saturday, March 13, 2010

First Listen: The Rocket Summer, Of Men and Angels

Bryce Avary seems like a nice guy. He's driven, he's earnest, and he seems to mean every word he passionately sings on every album by his one-man band, the Rocket Summer. Avary writes, produces and plays every note on Of Men and Angels, his fourth full-length, and that's impressive in and of itself.

I just wish it wasn't all so "inspiring." I'm happy enough to give Avary credit for his determination and skill, but these songs are all the same. There's 15 of them on this album, and every one is an anthem of positivity overcoming pain. It's stuffed full of cliches, and its one mood gets wearying after a while. This is the kind of album with straight-ahead song titles like "You Gotta Believe," "Pull Myself Together," "I Want Something to Live For" and (God help me) "I Need a Break...But I'd Rather Have a Breakthrough."

Avary earns my respect for doing things his way, and making the Rocket Summer a purely personal expression. I just wish I liked it more.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

New Column: Pretty Persuasions

It's all pretty all the time this week at First, I take a listen to Peter Gabriel's fantastic new covers album Scratch My Back, on which he covers Bon Iver, Arcade Fire, Radiohead, Elbow and others, with an orchestra. Sounds like it should be a disaster, but it's marvelous.

Also this week, new albums from Midlake and Shearwater, and my #12 album of the 2000s. It's all waiting for you at Head back here when you're done to leave me a comment.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Reasons to Be Cheerful 007

Picture Window. That is, evidently, the name of the new Ben Folds album, set for release later this year. After the dismal Way to Normal, which has steadfastly refused to grow on me after nearly two years, why am I excited about a new Ben Folds record?

A couple of reasons. For one, this album is a collaboration with author Nick Hornby, who wrote all the lyrics. Much as I was turned off by the simplistic music of Normal, it was the thrown-together-in-an-afternoon quality of the lyrics that killed that record stone dead for me, so Folds working with a lyricist makes me happy. And not just any lyricist, but one of rare wit and intelligence - Hornby's books are hilarious and moving things, and his screenplay for An Education showed a sense of nuance and humanity even without the smirking. Hornby's awesome, and this collaboration should be wonderful.

And then there's the tracklist, confirmed by Folds a couple of weeks ago. Sure, there are songs with titles like "Levi Johnston's Blues," but some of them, like "Practical Amanda," sound like classic Folds. Best of all, it looks like Hornby has been missing the same things I have in Folds' recent work: the storytelling, and the characters. Six of the 11 songs feature names in the titles. It's like Rockin' the Suburbs all over again.

So yeah, I'm ready for a good Ben Folds record again, and I think this might be it. We'll see. There's no release date for Picture Window yet, but whenever it rears its head, I'll be waiting.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The new Aqualung single makes me dance

Matt Hales gets all goofy on us. His new album Magnetic North is due April 20. I've marked my calendar.

Reasons to Be Cheerful 006

OK Go's amazing new video for "This Too Shall Pass." Let me just say two things: Rube Goldberg, and done in one take. Wow.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

New Column: How Long is Too Long?

This week over at I take a look at triple albums. I don't own many of them - I think the count's up to five now. But I'm always interested in ambitious projects, and a triple album is certainly shooting for the stars.

First up is Joanna Newsom's Have One on Me, the two-hour follow-up to Ys, which I consider the best album of 2006. Then we dive into Leyland Kirby's Sadly, the Future is No Longer What it Was, a four-hour ambient excursion that will rewrite your headspace. All this, plus I reveal my choice for the 13th best album of the 2000s.

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