Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Nu-Soft Rock

Looking for something easy to listen to on your way to work, something that won't insult your intelligence or threaten your musical integrity? Check out the Silent League, a celestial-sounding pop band founded by Justin Russo, formerly a member of Mercury Rev, whose MySpace page proudly proclaims, "Soft rock is not a guilty pleasure."
Incorporating influences from artists as disparate as Bowie and Bread, (not to mention amazing Richard Carpenter-like horn arrangements) Silent League's album, Of Stars and Other Somebodies, (available here) will make you forget, at least for a moment, the rush hour traffic, the crowded subways and the horribly petty humiliations of your pathetic existence.
The Silent League - Out of Reach
Silent League will be at Mercury Lounge in Manhattan on September 28, and at Luna Lounge in Brooklyn on September 29. Another great nu-soft band, Maps, is also on both bills.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Two New Discoveries

Besides the Okkervil River album, there are two other artists I have discovered recently that I've been enjoying a lot.
One is a guy I discovered on Pitchfork, named Christian Kiefer, who lives in Northern California and is a fiction writer as well as a musician and songwriter.
Kiefer has put out several albums that are stylistically all over the map, from avant-noise to blues to folk. His new album, Dogs and Donkeys, (available here) is what I would have called alt-country ten years ago. (It actually reminds me of one of my favorite albums of all time, Son Volt's Trace.)
The album features guest appearances by Nels Cline (currently in Wilco), the legendary Garth Hudson and Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker from Low.
Here is the first track on the album:
Christian Kiefer - Pretty White Clouds

The other artist I'm really enjoying right now is a DJ from Oakland, CA, called the Sorcerer. (Real name, Daniel Judd.) He has a new album out called White Magic, on Tirk Records, available here.
It's a lovely
West Coast example of neo-disco, one of my favorite genres at the moment. (See my post on Sally Shapiro a few months ago.)
The Sorcerer - Hawaiian Island
There is also a great Prins Thomas remix of "Surfing at Midnight," from the same album, floating around the blogosphere.

Okkervil River - The Stage Names

Okkervil River, from Austin, Texas, and led by singer/writer Will Sheff, just released their fifth album, The Stage Names, and it may be the best album I've heard all year. The album careens between genuinely driving rock and roll songs and indie ballads that border on prettiness. The lyrics are as dense and full of puns and tricks as early Elvis Costello. (Case in point: The song "Plus One," with lyrics like, "No one wants to hear about your 97th tear," and, "You would probably die before you shot up nine miles high..." You get the point.)
The music is complex and layered without ever sounding processed or artificial. The playing is self-assured and the arrangements are consistently surprising.
The album has totally passed the listen-all-the-way-to-work-without-switching-to-shuffle test. Here is the opening track from the album, kindly provided by Jagjaguwar.
Okkervil River - Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe

Find out more about Okkervil River here.
Order The Stage Names from Emusic.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Best Velvet Underground Cover EVER!

Detroit, featuring vocalist Mitch Ryder, released their self-titled debut album on Paramount Records in 1972. Besides Ryder, the star of the album was guitarist Steve Hunter, who had played on a couple of Alice Cooper records and would go on to ((fleeting) fame as one of the guitarists who, along with Dick Wagner, gave Lou Reed's Berlin and the live Rock & Roll Animal their signature sounds. (Many people believe Rock & Roll Animal is the best live rock album of all time. I wouldn't go that far but, having attended the concert at which it was recorded, I will say it kicked ass.)
At the time of Detroit's release, the Velvet Underground's impact on rock music was still pretty much under the radar. David Bowie was performing live versions of "White Light White Heat" and "I'm Waiting for the Man" and Mott the Hoople covered "Sweet Jane," on the Bowie-produced All the Young Dudes, but at that point there was very little mainstream acknowledgement of their influence. (Of course, that would change drastically over the next couple of years as punk took hold and the cliche that the Velvets never sold a lot of records but everyone who bought one started a band came true.)
Listening to Detroit's version of "Rock and Roll" it's as if Grand Funk or Foghat or Dust had decided that this was their chance to define rock music circa 1972. It's a big hunk of Michigan metal that perfectly captures everything that was great- and execrable - about mainstream, pre-punk blues-based hard rock.
Detroit - Rock 'n' Roll

Monday, August 13, 2007

Harry Potter and the Smiths

My friend David Lee told me that he had spent the weekend reading the latest (and final) Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, while listening to the Smiths. And even though there are (obviously) no overt references to the Smiths in any of the Harry Potter novels, it makes a lot of sense to me that you could make a connection between the two. After all, even though the Potter novels are fantasy, they are as steeped in English-ness as Twinings Breakfast Tea, fitting very comfortably in the literary genre of the English schoolboy novel. And is there any band in the last 25 years who has so clearly been "English" as the Smiths?
Also, at least according to what I know about author JK Rowling (which is not that much, I admit) she is the right age, with the right kind of sensitive/rebellious college student mentality, to have listened to a lot of Smiths music in the '80's. And while there are no explicit Smith references in the novels, they are infused with the sense of romantic tragedy and outrage that defines the Smiths.
The Smiths - The Boy With the Thorn in His Side
The Smiths - There Is a Light That Never Goes Out

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Lee Hazlewood

Lee Hazelwood, who had been battling renal cancer for some time, passed away last Saturday, at the age of 78 . I posted a piece about him last January, and I am reposting it below, along with an mp3 of the song, "Summer Wine."

In today's (January 28) New York Times Arts and Leisure section, there is an interesting and entertaining interview with Lee Hazlewood, the songwriter and performer best known for writing many of Nancy Sinatra's hits, including "These Boots Are Made For Walking," "Some Velvet Morning" and "Summer Wine." Hazlewood, who recently released a new album called Cake or Death, has incurable renal cancer.
Hazlewood has been a hero of mine since I was a kid, because "Summer Wine" was the first song I had ever heard where the references to sex were so blatant and explicit that even I recognized them for what they were: blatant and explicit references to sex. (Lee: "She saw my silver spurs and said let's pass the time/And I will give to you some summer wine." Nancy: "Take off your silver spurs and help me pass the time/And I will give to you more summer wine.")
In the early 90's, young musicians began to realize that Hazlewood was more than just a kitschy artifact of the pop '60's. (He had been recording and releasing idiosyncratic albums in his adopted homeland, Sweden, throughout the last three decades, but very little of that material got heard in America.) Steve Shelley of Sonic Youth got a record company to release several of his albums in America. A bunch of artists recorded Hazlewood's songs on a tribute album called Total Lee!
Hazlewood's songs have held up incredibly well, because, even though the songs were supreme examples of '60's pop, there was always something weirdly off-the-wall going on. Like Scott Walker, Lee Hazlewood is now generally recognized as an overlooked artist who was way ahead of his time. It is unfortunate that it is only now, as he wrestles with cancer, that he is getting the kind of recognition he deserves.

Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood - Summer Wine