Saturday, March 31, 2007

RIB Notes: It's a Word Document

And now for a few musical tidbits as I wait for my hearing to return after last night's Long Winters show at Maxwell's - which was excellent, by the way, especially when lead singer John Roderick, suffering from a cold that forced him to miss soundcheck while asleep in his van, finally got his mic levels right. I'm still kicking myself for not bringing enough cash to afford one of those damn $3 Long Winters kazoos, having foolishly spent everything I had on beer. What was I thinking?

Not long after chronicling my run-ins with Yo La Tengo in Hoboken (see link at end of note), I found myself on the PATH train with Georgia Hubley. I was sitting in a mostly empty car when she walked in and sat next to me on the other side of the bench for the trip into Manhattan. She wore ratty old sneakers and carried a well-worn bag, looking more like a homeless lady than a rock star. She got off at 14th street (or was it 9th? I forget now). I don't think anyone else recognized her. [A Taste of Hoboken: Stalking Yo La Tengo]

Once again, The Innocence Mission has cancelled tour dates due to illness. I can't remember who it was that was sick the last time I had tickets, but now it's Karen with "bronchitis/laryngitis" and the World Cafe Live show in Philly and the Southpaw in Brooklyn shows are off - or more likely just postponed, we don't know yet. I have tickets to the latter, of course. [The Innocence Mission Official Web Site]

R.E.M. made a big hubbub on Thursday, sending out emails to fan club members (which I am no longer because I got lazy and never renewed several years ago) telling them a major announcement was coming yesterday afternoon. Speculation on ran rampant - including the usual Bill-Berry-is-coming-back chatter. As it turns out, the band simply announced a five-night stint at the Olympia Theatre in Dublin and a presale for fan clubbers.

No big deal, really, except for one heartening aspect of this: It's being called a "working rehearsal" for the new album. Very refreshing - a lot of fans, including myself, feel that the last couple albums could have been helped by fleshing them out live beforehand. [REMHQ]

Speaking of R.E.M., my all-time most hated R.E.M. lyric - "Leaving was never my proud" from Leaving New York - made a Spinner list of the 20 Worst Lyrics Ever, checking in at No. 15. They also (cleverly) revisit their assault on Stipe in their comments on entry No. 13 if you're interested. [Spinner's 20 Worst Lyrics Ever]

Pitchfork does an excellent roundup of all the little teaser videos and sound clips Bjork has been floating around the Interweb concerning her upcoming album Volta. [Bjork Trickling Out Volta Teasers]

I have been listening quite a bit to both the new Lilly Allen and the new Andrew Bird records. Eventually I will write more about each of them. For now, I will say that both are excellent and certainly worth checking out.

Merlin Mann, of MacBreak Weekly fame, started up his own new video podcast called The Merlin Show, which so far has featured interviews with John Vanderslice, Peter Hughes (of The Mountain Goats) and the aforementioned Roderick of The Long Winters. I haven't watched them yet, although I did see the first few minutes of the Vanderslice interview. I was digging it before my ADD kicked in. [The Merlin Show]

And finally, a video that reminded coworker Eric of my music snobbery:

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Long Winters: Live in Graz

The Long Winters are coming to Hoboken/NYC this weekend. (I'll be at the Maxwell's show on Friday night if you want to say hi.) So Moni would be remiss not to provide Records I Buy with another fine review, as all bands seem to head for the tri-state area after conquering Austria. Click the photo below for the Flickr set.

The Long Winters@Veilchen, Graz. March 3, 2007Band: The Long Winters
Date: 03/03/07
Venue: Veilchen, Graz, Austria
Rating: 4.5/5

I made the two-hour trip to see The Long Winters in Graz. The Veilchen is a cosy little venue (capacity maybe 200) in a huge park in the city. The show started late (maybe twenty minutes before midnight), and the place was almost packed with mostly not-too-drunk people. It always adds to the quality of a show when there is chemistry between the band and the audience, which was certainly the case that night.

When a friend of mine recently saw The Long Winters in Paris (opening for Keane), he said he it had seemed to him singer/songwriter/guitarist John Roderick was "under the influence". To which another friend said "Oh no, John's just naturally high." In Graz, at the last show of the band's Euro spring tour, John Roderick's natural highness peaked. The man’s got charisma he should sell in bottles and also delivers some great banter along with the music. And tonight John was in a particularly playful mood.

After opening with a semi-acoustic It’ll be a Breeze, the energy of the set rose and remained at peak level throughout — as opposed to their last show in Vienna in November, where for some reason things just didn’t quite take off. My personal favourite was Sky Is Open, a song they just added to their setlist on this tour. John introduced Honest, a song about falling in love with a rock singer, by stating that it was totally okay to be in love with him, but not “the Decemberists’ Colin Meloy. Or Robert Plant. Don’t do that.” I’ve seen Nora performed a few times, but this one crushed pretty much any other version I’ve heard so far, with John going nucking futs during his solo. Setlist staple Cinnamon got the whole crowd singing and dancing.

The Commander Thinks Aloud has gone from “we only play it when we feel like it” to a regular in their live repertoire, which is a very good thing. I just secretly wish they would leave the synth-bits off the live version. I once saw the song performed by Roderick, accompanied by the members of the fabulous Centro-Matic, who joined him on stage. If I would normally use grand words like “visceral” or “poignant”, that’s what I would say to describe this performance. The simple instrumentation carried the feeling of the song better than all the synth stuff. Generally one can say though that the band tries to recreate many of the arrangements, sounds and flibbity-jibbity from their albums, but thankfully without sounding too much like the recorded versions of the songs.

When John said, in reference to the Turkish-Austrian wars, that, "I like the Turks. They’re nice people. Unless of course they come slicing your head of. Well nobody likes that", a voice from the back of the room stated matter-of-factly, "I like it." A touch of Monty Python was in the air. Then John went on to introduce the band, claiming that global warming was all Eric Corson's (bass) fault (“You hippie!”), and partially Jonathan Rothman's (keys, guitars, kazoo). But certainly not Nabil Ayers' (drums, moustache).

Theoretically I could complain there were too few songs from the first record played — there were the lovely Scent of Lime and a sexy Carparts, but that song has never been the same since Sean Nelson left the band — but after all, I could have requested them. The Long Winters honor almost all requests, sometimes even those for a Van Halen cover (Hot for Teacher!), and they even might give you a vandalized version of Stairway to Heaven if you ask for it one too many times.

Monday, March 26, 2007

NPR's All Songs Considered - Spring Music Preview

If you don't already podcast NPR's All Songs Considered, you should start now. Their current episode, at least as this blog entry is being posted, is a spring music preview that includes clips from the new Wilco, Will Hermes' very glowing first impressions of the upcoming Bjork album (did you notice in my last post that the fire spells Volta?!), and a preview of the upcoming Tori Amos album, American Doll Posse. They mention the (surreal) photo above (click for the full-sized image) in the podcast, so I figured I'd track it down and post it here. Notice the blood dripping down her leg and the word Shame scrawled on her left palm.

I haven't cared about Tori Amos in a long time, but the clips they play of the new album actually have that old fire that Tori used to have before she went adult contemporary. Will she hold that fire through the whole album, and, if she does, will it just get annoying? Probably.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Bjork's Artwork for Volta

She has more awesomeness in her pinky toenail...

UPDATE: Actually, turns out THIS is the artwork.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

A Taste of Hoboken: Stalking Yo La Tengo

I guess every rock fan in Hoboken has some cute/obnoxious little run-in story about Yo La Tengo, our own local living and breathing rock Gods (and Goddess). My story has always been about taking the PATH train from Manhattan in the middle of the night with husband-and-wife band members Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley.

If I remember correctly, it was already quite a night for rock 'n roll, as I was on my way home from the Arcade Fire show in Central Park that featured a surprise appearance from Mr. David Bowie. Georgia and Ira were on the PATH with their bikes and I found myself standing right between them, arms distance away. Of course I never trust my instincts so for a second or two I wasn't entirely sure it was them, and neither, apparently, was some other guy on the train, leaning against the door with headphones on. I looked at him and our eyes met for an instant. "Yo La Tengo?" he mouthed to me. I smiled and nodded.

My other Yo La Tengo sighting was on a certain street in Hoboken, in front of a particular apartment building that will go unnamed. Again it was Ira and Georgia. They were sitting on the front steps. For a while, every time I passed this building I kept an eye out for them, assuming this was where they lived. Eventually, I moved to a new place and stopped passing the building on my way to work. And I basically forgot all about it.

Until last week.

Jen and I were out with a real estate agent looking at apartments (we were thinking about buying, but I think we've abandoned that for now) and, sure enough, she takes us to the Yo La Tengo building. Was Georgia coming out of the elevator? Was Ira in his bathrobe grabbing a copy of the Hoboken Reporter? Were we being shown THEIR apartment? No, none of that. But because I'm a freak, I just had to know if this was really their building. So when our real estate lady was busy talking to Jen and my parents, who were down for the occasion, I snuck into the little corner where the mailboxes are. Sure enough, there was a list of tenants' names on the wall.

One of them was "Kaplun".

With a "u".

With that, my little spying adventure ended, and I rejoined the group down the hall. The apartment was nice enough, but not exactly what we were looking for. So I'll probably never know if the tenant really is some schlub named "Kaplun" or if it's a spelling error. Oh well. Rock on.

Vinyl Bonus Track of the Week: Shooting Star (sketch) - The Innocence Mission

My vinyl copy of We Walked in Song arrived this week, with the far superior paper-cutouts artwork. (And since I use the vinyl art in iTunes, the CD artwork basically no longer exists in my world.)

I have a nice little collection of IM vinyl - including my Holy Grail, the ultra-rare Tending the Rose Garden EP - and this one I would have bought regardless of the fact that it contains a bonus track, Shooting Star (sketch). Shooting Star is the perfect little gem of a bonus track. Short, sweet, just what you want in a song that you and five other people will ever hear. (Sort of like We Walked in Song, the album.)

The lyrics, about the frequent IM theme of watching a loved one go away, contain the chorus, "Wherever you go, it's too far/You're a shooting star".

Now all I have to do is find a way to get it on my iPod.

(By the way, according to the packaging, the vinyl was pressed in the Czech Republic. I wonder where exactly. Hmmm.)

Friday, March 16, 2007

Bill Berry was a Workin' Man

Bill Berry rejoined R.E.M. briefly for Monday's Rock 'N Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, which I missed because I don't have cable and my Internet was out. %$%&^#^&&)^%$%!

Oh, well, it's only the Hall of Fame anyway. Still, if you want to hear Berry playing with the boys again, he does so on their latest track, a cover of John Lennon's "#9 Dream" that I really want to love but actually doesn't do too much for me.

Judge for yourself.

At least it's for a good cause.

#9 Dream - R.E.M. [iTunes]

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Decemberists: Live in Vienna

With Colin Meloy @ Co. coming to Jersey City's Landmark Loew's Theatre next week, it seemed a fine time to introduce fellow Decemberists fan and RIB's brand new foreign correspondent (no kidding), the delightful and talented Moni. Moni was born and raised in Salzburg, Austria, but spends a lot of time in the U.S. stalking Ken Stringfellow and The Long Winters. She also attended Bowling Green and got a master's in music history. She now lives in Vienna, working as a secretary for the orchestra of the Vienna State Opera. She caught The Decemberists last month and filed this review - plus Flickr photos (just click the image below) - for your reading pleasure.

The Decemberists@Flex, Feb. 19, 2007Band: The Decemberists
Date: 02/19/07
Venue: Flex, Vienna, Austria.
Rating: 5/5

The Flex in Vienna, a popular DJ club, is a completely impractical place for a live show. It's basically a long, dark tube, so be prepared to bring your binoculars when the concert—like this one—is sold out and you walk in relatively late. Luckily, I snuck in at just the right time to claim a spot in the second row.

I don't really want to lose too many words on the support act, Lavender Diamond. Suffice to say their music is actually pretty good, but the front lady has an insufferable hippie-thing going on. When the keyboard player cut his finger, she introduced every song by calling "more blood!" Oh how we laughed.

Colin Meloy, looking like your favourite English teacher, came onstage for a short solo rendition of Ultravox's "Vienna", before finally opening the set with "The Crane Wife 3". The band is tight at all times, Colin's voice is spot-on.

I have seen the Decemberists only once so far, at the Bumbershoot Festival in Seattle in 2003. Above all, I remember Colin rolling on the floor during the outro of "I Was Meant For the Stage". The biggest question on my mind going into to The Flex was how would they bring their elaborate musical arrangements to the stage. They are not going to bring a French horn ensemble, right? Well they did not, and they didn't need to. A battery of string instruments, a xylophone and a hurdy-gurdy were sufficient to never make you feel that there is something missing from the music. It's all there, just more lively, and more intense.

The heart- and gut-wrenching "The Island" probably left me with the biggest impression. After a very quiet rendition of "The Shankill Butchers", the hit-single double "O Valencia" and "16 Military Wives" gives way to a neat little moshpit in the back of the room.

Lavender Diamond are allowed back on stage for the last song before the encore, "Sons and Daughters". Colin conducts the audience through the la-de-daah-chorus of "16 Military Wives", sends his drummer and his bassist crowdsurfing and goes for a guitar-solo duel with Chris Funk (it's a tie!) during a neverending version of "Chimbley Sweep". And he's having fun, just like the audience and the rest of the band.

Records I Buy: Blind Items You Can Trust

This past week we learned that RIB's first (and still only) blind item, from back in December, was spot-on accurate.

In other words, the not-so-well-disguised "three-legged rock band" - namely R.E.M. - has indeed brought in a new producer for their upcoming album. He's called Jacknife Lee and he'll oversee the recording scheduled to begin soon. If you've never heard of him, he was responsible for U2's actually-not-so-bad "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" and albums from Bloc Party and Snow Patrol. I am not sure whether to be encouraged by this news, but it's good to see Pat McCarthy finally get shelved. Hopefully this will help re-energize the band.

Ultimately, though, it's the quality of the work, and not the producer, that matters most.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Wherein I pass judgement on Jeff Tweedy after 7:45 of material

The proprietor of this publishing venture has crowned me "expert in all things Wilco." This, of course, is true. The thing I'm not an expert on is any other musical artist, genre or period. So, I can only compare Wilco to itself -- or, more precisely, Jeff to Jeff.

(Or, if I stretch, Jeff to Geoff.)

Luckily, there's new grist for my one talent: two tracks from Wilco's upcoming (and highly anticipated) Sky Blue Sky were leaked last week. I grabbed them and took a listen.

Here's the thing: these two tracks sound like nothing else Jeff has done (save for maybe some of those psuedo-unreleased Yankee Hotel tracks like "Magazine called Sunset" or that one about Dylan growin' a lotta facial hair.) They're simple, jammy and not nearly as gravely as Jeff usually is. Both are similar enough that it sounds like the album as a whole is going to have a new sound -- smoother and less prone to discordant rock out sections that marked the last two records. "You Are My Face" features a rock-out guitar solo in the middle, of course. (We're not reinventing the wheel totally: it's still Wilco). But the grit of angst seems to be fading. Maybe Jeff's methadone hits and t-shirt millions are finally kicking in -- he's crafting a summer album and not an autumn record.

Here's my assessment: No one is gonna be embarrassed by this one -- neither the fans, nor Jeff.

But, then again, what fun is Wilco if you don't listen to the album for the first time and think, "What the hell is this shite!?!"...But then slowly grow to think, "Only Jeff can turn modern times into music." We'll have to see with Sky Blue Sky, because you can only have the second reaction if you've been through the first.

(Dead Idolator link.)

RIB Notes: Yet Another Shakey Update

Random notes that I read about either on Stereogum, Idolator, other music blogs or, as usual, in Jimmy McDonough's Neil Young bio, Shakey.

Wilco's album cover for Sky Blue Sky, due May 15, which I really dig, looks like this:

I still have not listened to a single one of the leaked tracks, and I do not plan on listening until the day the album comes out and I own it. I am hoping Geoff G. will lend his expertise on all things Wilco to RIB in the coming days. So far I've read: it has too many guitar solos, it's too 70's pop-sounding, it's freakin' awesome, it's fuckin' awful, it's quiet, it's loud, it's better than A Ghost is Born, and it's worse than A Ghost is Born.

Figurines' album cover for Skeleton, a record that finished 9th on RIB's Top 10 Albums of 2006, looks like this:

The band's new video, for Back in the Day, offers its own take on the album cover, and ends by showing you how the funky five-eyed character might have ended up in his final, immortalized pose. Another excellent track from an album that not enough people own:

Apparently, when I was a kid and my world hadn't yet begun revolving around MTV, Neil Young released a video that was a real slap-in-the-face to corporate rock. The 1988 clip, for "This Note's For You", pokes fun at product placement and pop stars like Michael Jackson and ends with Neil holding a soda can with the words "SPONSORED BY NOBODY" affixed to it. MTV wouldn't play it at first but eventually caved when it became clear they were making fools of themselves by refusing to play a video whose point about the network's own greed hit a bit too close to home. Later, MTV would give it their Video of the Year award:

And, finally, Joanna Newsom is releasing a new EP on April 24, much to my delight and the chagrin of every single other person I know. In case you're wondering, I haven't seen the album cover yet, but every track starts with the letter C - the new one, "Colleen", plus new versions of "Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie" and "Cosmia" - and it's called "Joanna Newsom and the Ys Street Band". Gotta love it. (Okay, I realize you probably don't.)

RIB Review: The Innocence Mission - We Walked In Song

Where, where the hell is Bill?
- Camper Van Beethoven

The above could be the theme song for disgruntled R.E.M. fans like myself who have been mostly disappointed with the band's output since the departure of drummer Bill Berry (with the exception of 1998's Up, which I adore). The Innocence Mission, too, lost their drummer, Steve Brown, in 1999, and, like R.E.M., haven't replaced him. Brown left the band to pursue a career as a chef, opening Lily's On Main in Ephrata, Pa. and another in nearby Lancaster, IM's home base. I had lunch one day at the Ephrata restaurant - a classy joint with an ambiance reminiscent of Charles Rennie Mackintosh - and the food was excellent. I didn't work up the courage to ask if Steve was in the kitchen at the time.

But IM's drummer-free work has actually been quite good. For example, their last album, Befriended, was too short and too sparse at times, but it's a no-doubt-about-it treasure (NPR even named it Album of the Year).

And so is We Walked in Song - way too short, so light it could float away, and just so damn lovable you want to sleep with it under your pillow. All it really lacks is the punch, the drive, the backbone, that only drums can provide. Don Peris hits the skins a bit on We Walked in Song, but his playing is rudementary at best and sounds distant, like it's coming out of a different speaker. The songs are at worst very, very good, and mostly great - if this doesn't end up high on my Top 10 list for 2007 then it will have been a transcendently fabulous year for music - but they're never driven home the way they were on IM's masterpiece, 1995's Glow. Which makes We Walked in Song more like an album of lullabies (which wouldn't be a first for them).

A few days ago on this blog, I called We Walked in Song "a tad boring". I like the album more today than I did when I wrote that, but I can't completely back down from it. As a small indie folk outfit from Amish country who puts family ahead of touring and whom you'd never expect (or really want) to experiment, picking up their latest work isn't supposed to shock or shift paradigms or break new ground sonically. And basic themes will be repeated from album to album. But I do miss the beat, I do miss quiet songs that explode or rocking songs that take it to the next level.

Don't get me wrong: IM is my favorite band, and this album is another classic that I'll be listening to until I keel over (if you've never heard of this band before, stop reading this blog and start buying everything they've ever recorded). But while We Walked in Song fits comfortably into IM's near-sacred body of work, I am left wondering, as another year goes by, even though I know the answer, where, where the hell is Steve? Released: It'll be in stores on Tuesday. BLESSED.

The Innocence Mission's MySpace page (with streaming audio)

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Arcade Fire - Neon Bible (First Impressions)

As the last few minutes of Tuesday tick away, I (or is it we? ... still haven't worked out RIB's pronouns yet) would be remiss if I didn't write a little something about Arcade Fire's Neon Bible, which was released today. I braved the bitter cold to pick it up from Tunes on my way home from work and sat down after dinner with it, listening once straight through as Jen curled up on the recliner next to me. I have now only heard the album once, so I am indeed a purist when I say these are my first impressions...

There will be all sorts of takes on Arcade Fire's sophomore album, but I think plenty of Neon Bible reviewers will fall into one of two extremist groups: The over-hypers and the inevitable backlashers. The over-hypers will say it's even better than Funeral!, while the inevitable backlashers will say one or more of the following: Funeral was a fluke, Arcade Fire is overrated, Funeral wasn't really that good, Neon Bible is a pale imitation, etc. The backlash is going to come as it always does, and it will fill those who never liked Arcade Fire - or those who did but hate that everyone else does now, too - with devilish glee.

Cleverly, I am skirting those and other categories myself by posting first impressions and not a full-on review. Still, as a relatively early adopter of Arcade Fire, I could easily fall into the backlasher group - if it wasn't for the fact that 1) I am thrilled that people have discovered and embraced this band and 2) If people do or do not embrace them, it doesn't affect what actually matters, which is the music. I think Arcade Fire makes important music, which should be heard and enjoyed, and I think Neon Bible is an important album.

Time will tell. As Funeral was introspective, about death and, even more importantly, about growing up, Neon Bible is worldly, about fear and about war and about America and of course about religion. It is, in my opinion, the first post-9/11 album to really capture the post-9/11 mood. Listening to it, I couldn't help but think of Radiohead's OK Computer, which seemed to reflect the spirit of the late-90's middle class teenager, moving through life on a conveyor belt, or R.E.M.'s Automatic for the People full of quiet rebellion, and, like Funeral, loss and new-found maturity.

I realize that's pretty lofty company, which is why I hate writing about an album so soon after first hearing it. I will be spinning Neon Bible quite a bit over the next few days, and months, so I'll leave my comments at that and let my thoughts and opinions develop as I go along. But I will state what is by now obvious: After one listen, I am very pleased. It's dark and rich and the lyrics are, with exceptions, brilliant. I agree with Geoff that Neon Bible's version of No Cars Go - my favorite Arcade Fire song - is at least up there with the EP version. If I had to level a criticism, it would be that Regine doesn't step up to the mic enough, but that's far from a dealbreaker. Released: Today. WORTHY.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Wonderin' - Neil Young and The Shocking Pinks

As I progress through Jimmy McDonough's "Shakey", I learn more and more about Neil (Son of God) Young's 1980s, fuck-you-Geffen period, and I'm absolutely loving it.

Young released an album in 1983 called "Everybody's Rockin'" with a band he dubbed The Shocking Pinks, dedicated to 50s rockabilly and featuring the immortal track "Kinda Fonda Wanda". A horrid album that was cited, along with Trans, as being "not commercial" and "musically uncharacteristic" of his previous work in David Geffen's famed November '83 lawsuit (which R.E.M. later cited as a reason they didn't sign with Geffen when they left IRS).

But McDonough points to "Wonderin'" (especially the video) as the lone highlight. The video, which has a very scruffy looking Neil out of sync with the background, was directed by Tim Pope, an Englishman from the punk scene who had hardly ever heard of Neil before.

Not owning the album, and having never seen the video, I checked it out on YouTube. It's classic. I even used my iTunes gift card to download the song. Long live Shakey.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Thursday, March 01, 2007

They Might Be Ring Tones

Actually, no doubt about it, they are. (Well, Wired is calling them snack tones, but whatever.)

We've had Call Connected Thru the NSA as our ring tone for months now, ever since we isolated it from a They Might Be Giants podcast, along with such instant classics as Miniature Sidewalk Whirlwind and I'm Your Boyfriend Now. Obviously, we highly recommend it.

They Might Be Giants - Call Connected Thru the NSA [mp3]