Tuesday, February 27, 2007

RIB Notes: The Joy - and Pain - of the Vocoder

Between the countless hours sacrificed at the altar of the Wii, or Netflix, or Jen, or podcasts, etc., there's been no blogging here in nearly two weeks. So all the little news items we email to ourselves during the day with the intention of blogging them at night have piled up, plus a rant or two we're now long past being bothered to write. So here's a quick roundup of some of it, which we'll dub the inaugural "RIB Notes":

Iron & Wine. New album "Shepherd's Dog" due this fall. "Our Endless Numbered Days" is burning a hole in our iPod. If AACs could warp from overuse, its days would indeed be numbered. We crack ourselves up. [Pitchfork]

We accidentally discovered that freakin' Hanson still exists. Their new album "The Walk" is out May 22. [Hanson.net]

Surprise! All of Nickelback's songs sound alike. [The Web Shite]

The Innocence Mission is playing Southpaw in Brooklyn. We'll never forget the poor suckers outside Fez with handwritten signs begging for tickets. They might have a small fan base, but IM hardly ever tours. And their definition of a tour? One date in NYC and a show in Philly. Get 'em while they're hot. [Ticket Web]

Still reading Jimmy McDonough's biography of Neil Young, called "Shakey". "Trans", Neil's much-loathed 1982 vocoder album that we had to fly to London to purchase and love pretty much unconditionally, despite its obvious faults, was recorded during the 18 months Neil couldn't leave the house while working on some outrageous physical therapy routine with his young spastically Cerebral Palsied, paraplegic son Ben and had none of his soul left for his music. We like the beats, we like the vocoder, we like the obvious Kraftwerk influence (slash ripoff). But the one element that made it so great has always seemed elusive. Until we read this quote from Neil Young, said on French TV in 1982, and we realized that element was sadness:

I think human emotion - and selling a sad personal story...it's valid, but it's been done so much...who cares? It's like Perry Como...it's like Frank Sinatra, it's way back there now. Now people are living on digital time, they need to hear something perfect all the time or they don't feel reassured everything's okay. Like when you get in an elevator and go up and down and all the numbers go by, everyone knows where they're going...And the drumbeats today, the computerized drumbeats? Everyone is right on the money. Everybody feels good. It's reassuring. I like that.

Electronic music is a lot like folk music to me...it's a new kind of rock and roll - it's so synthetic and antifeeling that it has a lot of feeling...

Like a person who can't cry. You know that they're crying inside and you look at them, and they have a stone face, they're looking at you, they would never cry. You feel more emotion from that person than you do from the person who is talking all the time.

So I think that this new music is emotional - it's very emotional - because it's so cold...I have my synthesizers and my computers and I'm not lonely.
Great book, great quote. Wonder if a teenaged Thom Yorke was watching. [Shakey on Amazon]

Oh, the new Innocence Mission CD came in the mail this week from Badman (they're shipping the vinyl next month). It won't be officially out for a couple weeks. It's very nice, very late-period IM, heavily Karen Peris and so light it sounds like it's about to float away. A good album, but a tad boring. Why can't my favorite bands replace their departed drummers? [We Walked in Song]

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Best. Bikini. Ever.

That's Marisa Miller wearing the iPod, by the way. You're gonna want to click for a larger view.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Album Watch: Six Upcoming Releases RIB Is Most Looking Forward To

So there's a ton of new stuff coming down the pipeline that we here at RIB are excited about, and we're hearing more and more every day about each. Off the top of our heads, here's the six we're most anticipating, in order of release date:

1. Arcade Fire - Neon Bible

We've said plenty about this one already. Geoff G. seems happy. Matthew hasn't heard it and still plans to be disappointed. RELEASE DATE: March 6

2. The Innocence Mission - We Walked in Song

From clips we've heard, this promises to be another precious, ephemeral and way-too-short record from Lancaster's finest. Every one of their albums is like a letter from a friend - let's hope there's a tour to go with this one. RELEASE DATE: March 13

The Innocence Mission - Happy Birthday [mp3]

3. Andrew Bird - Armchair Apocrypha

His last one got us plenty innarested. ("Get out your measuring cups/And we'll play a new game/Come to the front of the class/And we'll measure your brain/We'll give you a complex/And we'll give it a name".) This could make us full-fledged fanatics. RELEASE DATE: March 20

Andrew Bird - Heretics [mp3]

4. Feist - The Reminder

We haven't listened to Let It Die in some time, but that record was good enough to warrant picking this one up, too. Now At Last is a great hidden-final-track-on-a-mix song. And we've been using a Feist postcard as a bookmark for months. RELEASE DATE: April 24

5. Bjork - Totempole (rumored title) Volta

Few artists have made a better record this decade than Vespertine. Jen hates her, but she'll probably be hearing a lot of this one. Antony (of Antony and the Johnsons) sings on two tracks. Don't know anything else about this one, though we're betting she'll have another irresistible gimmick that will make us fall in love with her all over again. RELEASE DATE: On or around May 8

6. Wilco - Sky Blue Sky

Their last two albums (at least) were classic, so we're expecting a lot from Jeff Tweedy & (ever-changing) Co. We're not completists though, so these songs will all be new to us when we hear them. Which means we won't bitch and moan about how the songs are better live or as demos - although we won't make any promises where Geoff G. is concerned. RELEASE DATE: May 15

Others of varying interest: Son Volt - The Search (March 6); Guns N' Roses - Chinese Democracy (March 6); Bright Eyes - Cassadaga (April 10); Nine Inch Nails - Year Zero (April 17); A Tribute To Joni Mitchell - featuring Sufjan Stevens and Bjork (April 24); Joanna Newsom - Joanna Newsom and the Ys Street Band (April 24); Iron & Wine - Shepherd's Dog (coming in the fall), and some TBDs (at least according to Metacritic) from Architecture in Helsinki, Beastie Boys, The Cure, PJ Harvey, The Postal Service, Okkervil River, Radiohead and Gillian Welch - especially TPS and Gillian. And we're hoping R.E.M. stops fiddling away their career and releases a raw rock record within a week of entering the studio.

What are we forgetting? We'll keep adding to this list as we think of/hear of them.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Neil Young - Citizen Kane Junior Blues

Best. Live. Recording. Ever.

I first heard this solo acoustic set on a well-worn cassette tape playing on a boom box in the basement of a Dartmouth college frat house, wrapped in my sleeping bag in the dark. I borrowed it from Razzamatazz and never saw him again to return it. But I played it near to death in the wilderness, and huddled in my tent. Ambulance Blues, Pardon My Heart, Greensleeves, Helpless, On The Beach...if I could travel back in time and see one show, this might be it. (Challengers: Bob Dylan playing the Gaslight or some other Greenwich Village joint at the very beginning; The Beatles at The Cavern Club; Townes Van Zandt at The Old Quarter - although I'd bring a battery-powered fan or an ice pack; R.E.M., or should I say, Twisted Kites, at the Athens church long since torn down).

I had a lot of trouble finding this on CD, or in digital form. The blog I linked to in the first sentence has it. Helped complete my collection, which was missing half of certain tracks for some reason. It just doesn't get any better.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

No Cars Go (2003) - Arcade Fire VS. No Cars Go (2007) - Arcade Fire

Francophone rockstars The Arcade Fire have somehow allowed their sophomore effort to escape into the wild from the fortress of obtuse marketing. Even though Neon Bible isn't supposed to hit the streets until March 6, I got the goods (with mp3 metadata in shambles, natch) from here.

Is it a letdown? Of course it is. Neon Bible has to stand next the Arcade Fire's previous work. Their first LP, Funeral, is one of those all-time-great records that I will continue to listen to until I'm grizzled and incontinent. And their earlier EP, Arcade Fire, is so full of the promise and audacity that later bloomed in Funeral.

A full review of Neon Bible is for another day (NB -- I like it). Today, I'm laser focusing on two versions of one song.

"No Cars Go" first appears as a raucous, horn-filled anthem/lullaby on the Arcade Fire EP. It's the barn-burner on a little disc full of barn-burning tracks any other band would be happy to have as their signature rocker. It's got features up the wazoo: the lyrics are a little opaque, there's a dude shouting like he's shepherding folks off the Titanic, nearly every line is punctuated with the whole band yelling "Hey!" and the snare line is unstoppable. Yet, it's a very relaxing song to listen to -- Win and Regine's voice are strangely soothing. They gently lead you off to sleep into a mechanical dreamland. It's a great song, unlike any other.

It now reappears in 2007, with rounded edges and clearer vocals on Neon Bible. To my untrained ears, it sounds like the horns have been mixed down and new string orchestrations added. And my white boy sense of rhythm detects that it's faster -- but I can't really tell. Win and Regine have certainly become even more confident vocalists and belt it out. The whole thing is smooth. Smooth. The voices and instruments in the climatic end are harmonized perfectly to one note. And it works -- it's a thrilling track to listen to.

But I can no longer call it a mod-rock lullabye, which was what I loved about NCG '03. It's become a little too bombastic for that moniker. The simple sweetness is gone. The '07 version brings the rock and I'm missing the roll.

That being said, NGC '07 sounds like the rest of the album. "No Cars Go" Classic wouldn't be a good fit for Neon Bible. And maybe NCG '07 is the level of production Arcade Fire always wanted for the song, but couldn't afford when they were bumming around Montreal watching their families die.

I've been playing both versions back to back while writing this, and I have to say, I'm glad there's both in this world. They each have their unique charms. There ought to be a "No Cars Go" for all occasions.

No Cars Go (live) - YouTube