Monday, March 31, 2008

'Oh, That's Not Obvious Enough, Rob. How About The Beatles?'

Growing up the world was always trying to tell me how perfect, how revolutionary, how god-like the band was. I couldn't escape the hype, as surely as I couldn't escape their forever-playing pop songs. Yeah, yeah, I thought. I know the Beatles.

Maybe that's why it's taken a good twenty-six years to listen to the band on my own terms.

Last night I was feeling giddy and hopeful after that oh-so-close KU victory over Davidson and decided to play some Revolver. Afterwards, I was still feeling giddy and a little ironic, so I put on Olivia Tremor Control's Dusk at Cubist Castle. My brother sat contemplating for a few solid moments and then said, "Is this still the Beatles?" This was a trick, of course. I wanted to see how effortlessly the two blended together. To see influence and homage at their most striking, side by side.

A few hours later, readying for bed, I saw Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr on Larry King Live. Putting aside all that recent Heather Mills nonsense (as McCartney defiantly did), this was the first interview I've seen where I was able to look past all of that extra "stuff" -- John Lennon's legend, the universally despised Yoko Ono, the washed-up Wings -- and focus on the music.

So, fine, world, get off my back. The Beatles. I get it now.

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Friday, March 28, 2008

Are Fans Entitled to an Encore?

By Nicole Pope

At the conclusion of Monday's Beach House show in Omaha, sultry songstress Victoria Legrand told the crowd, "This will be our last song." Yeah yeah, I thought, as I always do. You'll be back.

The band left the stage, and after some feeble clapping from the audience, the lights came on. I wasn't mad -- I mean, she did say it was their last song -- but I couldn't help feeling I might have heard a few more gorgeous gems if our crowd had somehow done something differently.

Such is the natural result of the encore setup. Let's consider what was intended to be the point of an encore. The band plays a riveting show. The crowd is into it. The band is into it. They end their set, go back stage, but then gosh darn it, they just aren't ready to pack up and leave. The crowd wants more, and perhaps more importantly, they want to play more (or at the very least show appreciation for an attentive and energetic crowd).

If you're like me and attend a lot of shows, you know that you can expect to see an encore at 95% of shows. So where does that leave the other five percent who, for whatever reason, decide to forego the farcical "I'm leaving the stage until next time, but not really"?

I admit, there are times I've left a show feeling short-changed. Usually it's because of what seems like a shorter-than-normal set (a feeling that's exacerbated if I've seen the band multiple times). Usually, though, I only feel truly disappointed when a band leaves the stage and the audience starts to clap, the lights stay dimmed, and we're just clapping and clapping for minutes until -- nothing. (An otherwise lovely Joanna Newsom show comes to mind.) Does a band have to play an encore? No. But should they play an encore if they've allowed the audience to partake and partake and partake in their side of the facade, until their palms are sore and their throats hoarse? Yes.

So there should be rules for encores, perhaps. Such as, if a band has no intention of playing an encore, the lights/house music should turn on immediately. (Though how do you account for a band wanting to play an encore, yet receiving little encouragement from a crowd and thus changing their mind -- I've been in those scenarios before, too.) Maybe more bands should only say "This is our last song" when they mean it -- though, again, wouldn't that be taking away the original point of an encore?

Should we just get away with encores all together, and thus all the lukewarm encore performances from bands who feel like they "have to play one"? How can we bring back the excitement of not knowing if you're going to get an encore and then getting one, without the backlash some bands receive from occasionally not playing one?

What do they do backstage for that minute while we stand out there desperately cheering, anyhow?

Interestingly, there is a web site called Second Encore that addresses many of the concerns I've discussed here. This is a site dedicated entirely to "saving the encore." Here is their mission:

"Second Encore is a campaign set-up by a group of friends that love live music and are no longer happy with the single obligatory encore most bands do. We are trying to gain support from like minded fans to show bands that we want more from an encore, not just the always predictable walk off walk back on 2 minutes later routine."

The site then goes on to list ways you can tell if an encore is "a pre-planned mediocre addition to the set," including, "When the band leave their best songs out of the main gig only to play the hits in the encore," or "When you get that feeling if you clap or not they are coming out anyway." Second Encore implores like-minded individuals to join their campaign by banding together and doing things like saving the majority of your applause for the end of the first encore, so that the band will absolutely have to return for another.

Wow. You tell 'em, guys. While I understand the frustration, I can't help but think, you guys are fans, right?

Aren't these feelings of entitlement the precise reason we're in this encore debacle in the first place?

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Album Review:
Plants and Animals - Parc Avenue

Plants and Animals - Parc Avenue

(Secret City Records; 2008)

Score: 86.4% [Gold Sounds]

(Also streaming "Faerie Dance" in our player)

Do you ever wonder what's in the drinking water up in Montreal? Lord knows I sure do, because here I am falling for yet another eclectic Indie-rock band from Montreal.

You probably wouldn't know just by looking at the cover, but Plants and Animals consists of only three people: Guitarist-vocalists Warren Spicer and Nic Basque, and drummer-vocalist Matthew Woodley. Yet listening to the album, and judging by the album's cover, you would be forgiven if you assumed this was yet another Canadian super-group, when a more accurate description might be an Elephant Six style collective of musicians. Many of the people hanging out on the album's cover are friends that helped in the making of the record. As a result, Parc Avenue is a warm, densely layered rcord, rich with vocal harmonies, dueling finger-picked guitars, gorgeous strings (with a little help from Arcade Fire/Belle Orchestre's Sarah Newfield), with a friendly, welcoming vibe. Listening to this album, I felt like I was a part of the group, not an outsider looking/listening in.

You would also be forgiven if you automatically assumed, based on their location, that Plants and Animals wrote the same style of epic, grandiose songs that we associate with other Montreal based bands like Arcade Fire, Wolf Parade, and Islands. Sure, Plants and Animals do sound like those bands on occasion, but they sound like a lot of bands (more on that in a minute), and when they do recall their Canadian peers its usually in short bursts, very rarely attempting anything bombastic (and sounding more like Annuals than Arcade Fire when they do). The album is a mostly laid back affair, perfect for warm evenings with a few friends, watching the sun set over the lawn, cans of beer in the cooler, beards itching, Frisbees flying, good times.

In fact, you would also be forgiven for attempting to pigeonhole Plants and Animals at all. The list of bands I recall when listening to Parc Avenue's 11 tracks reads like an Indie-rock All-Star game: Neil Young, Built to Spill, Arcade Fire, Wolf Parade, Annuals, Ryan Adams, Akron/Family, Angels of Light, Phish (or some equivalent jam band), Tom Petty, the Pink Floyd that made Atom Heart Mother, Grizzly Bear, Midlake, and then some, sometimes within one song. Its quite brilliant, really. They never quite rip off any particular artist completely or for very long, but every song is achingly familiar in the best possible way.

You might not be forgiven, however, if you let the little gem slip between the cracks. The year is short right now, but Parc Avenue is without question one of the best releases thus far.

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Concert Announcement Time!

Score one for Lawrence, Kansas, about the only city that is still going toe to toe with Omaha these days. M.I.A. is coming to Liberty Hall! Talk about a surprise, I sorta figured that she was a little too big for Lawrence, but its not like Liberty Hall hasn't pulled in some incredibly big names before (Sigur Ros comes to mind). The show takes place May 14...wait, May 14...why does a that date sound familiar. Ah yes, its the same day as Radiohead in St. Louis. Well fuck, I guess I'll be missing out on this one. Someone tell me how it is.

Full tour itinerary after the jump.

4-11 Poughkeepsie, NY - Vassar College
4-12 Providence, RI - Brown University #
4-26 Indio, CA - Coachella
4-28 San Diego, CA - 4th and B *
5-01 Austin, TX - La Zona Rosa *
5-02 Dallas, TX - Palladium Ballroom *
5-05 Nashville, TN - City Hall *
5-06 Atlanta, GA - The Tabernacle *
5-08 Detroit, MI - Fillmore *
5-09 Chicago, IL - Aragon Ballroom *
5-12 Milwaukee, WI - Turner Hall Ballroom
5-13 Maplewood, MN - Myth
5-14 Lawrence, KS - Liberty Hall
5-17 Denver, CO - Fillmore Auditorium
5-18 Salt Lake City, UT - The Depot
5-23 Portland, OR - Roseland Theater
5-24-26 George, WA - The Gorge (Sasquatch!)
5-27 Edmonton, Alberta - Edmonton Event Centre
5-28 Calgary, Alberta - MacEwan Hall
5-30 Winnipeg, Manitoba - Burton Cummings Theatre
6-02 Toronto, Ontario - Sound Academy *
6-02 Montreal, Quebec - Metropolis *
6-06 Brooklyn, NY - McCarren Park Pool *
6-14 Manchester, TN - Bonnaroo

# with Girl Talk
* with Holy Fuck

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Monday, March 24, 2008

Album Review:
Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks - Real Emotional Trash

Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks - Real Emotional Trash

(Matador; 2008)

Score: 71.2%

[mp3]"Cold Son" (via Matador Records website)

I've been sitting here, writing, deleting, re-writing, editing, deleting, and writing again for what seems like days now. I have to come clean, I have absolutely nothing poignant to say about Stephen Malkmus' latest solo record (and second with the Jicks). One thing I can say with certainty, however, is that if Stephen Malkmus isn't already regarded as indie-rock's reigning guitar God, then he's sure giving Doug Marsch a run for his money.

Real Emotional Trash is in many ways a lot like the first record he made with the Jicks, but with even more guitar solos. This ought to have been good news for
fans of Pig Lib's foray into jam-band territory like myself, but unfortunately the addition of even more noodling guitar solos do not equate greatness. By the time you reach "Baltimore," an excellent track to be sure, you start to wonder if the jams are ever going to end. They do, eventually, on the album's final two tracks, but if you made it that far I assume you're a far more patient person than myself or sleeping with someone in the band.

That was harsh, so let me rephrase.

Real Emotional Trash is truly a musical beast, it pummels you with riffs and guitar solos right from the very beginning, and continues to do so through most of the album. Occasionally you get a little keyboard thrown in, which at times makes me think of the Jicks as indie rock's version of The Doors, but overall Trash is Malkmus' playground. And that's cool; Malkmus can certainly handle his own on the axe, and its not like the Jicks are not merely some crack band of studio musicians he just picked up on the side of the road in Oregon (remember, Janet Weiss is their drummer now).

The problem is in the album's variety, or should I say its lack thereof. As I alluded to above, Pig Lib had its share of guitar solos and jam-outs for sure, but it also had goofy songs about an "escort" from Queens that attracted the attention of former Senator Bob Packwood, a awkward love square (as opposed to a triangle) in which poor William wanted Leroy (but Leroy was straight), not to mention songs about Oysters, a rock 'n roll man from Netherlands who rocked a bit like a Zephyr (and a bit like the Jicks), and buried in the middle of it all is one of Malkmus' best songs, solo or otherwise, in "Animal Midnight," which, on the surface, sounds like a break-up song (and a damn good one at that). Lyrics aside, it also deftly switched from Wilco-esque studio masterpieces, sunburned 70's AM radio rock/pop, and, yes, lengthy jams that just begged to be heard while stoned. With less variety, Trash gets a little bogged down by its own indulgence, and ultimately suffers a little bit as a result. The album's still good, and just about any song will do in a pinch, but as a whole the album its not the potentially Best Album of 2008 like I had hoped when "Baltimore" first hit the net several months back.
No worries though, Malkmus has worse albums in his solo catalog (the debut album comes to mind) and he's bounced back before, so here's hoping he'll get the shredding out of his system in time for album number five.

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Omaha's Slowdown Gets Accolades /
All the Kickass Shows

Ever since Esquire named Slowdown the No. 1 club in the country a few weeks ago, it seems the swank venue has become somewhat of a powerhouse amongst Midwestern venues. As Slowdown notes on its blog, "Thanks to Esquire...even though we haven't been open for a year."

Just oogle these upcoming shows:

3/24 - Beach House/Papercuts
3/28 - Jens Lekman
4/10 - The Black Keys
4/19 - Man Man/Yeasayer

And so forth. Did I mention they also have Wii Bowling nights?

Slowdown can hold up to 500 drunken concert goers, and features a pretty kickass bar and overall design scheme. (Think the raw industrial look of a Chipotle restaurant dressed up for a night out. Ooooh, Chipotle.) The venue is also the new home of Saddle Creek records (named for the early SC band Slowdown Virginia).

So congrats, Slowdown, for making the Midwest that much cooler. Even if it is your fault I have to drive three hours to see Beach House tonight.

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Friday, March 21, 2008

First Listen Friday: M83, The Honeydrips

It's the last Friday of Spring Break. I'm at home. The NCAA tournament is in full swing. There's a case of Miller Lite in the fridge.

And I'm feeling a little dancey.

M83 - "Graveyard Girl" and Couleurs"

Anthony Gonzalez talks on his Myspace about wanting to record an album that reflected growing up in the 80s, hanging with friends, experimenting with drugs, and listening to Cocteau Twins.

"Graveyard Girl" is the first single from the 4/15 release Saturdays=Youth (Don't you just love that title?).

The lyrics speak of a young girl, you guessed it, roaming a cemetery at night and wanting to "be a part of it." The spoken word segment midway through the song sums up its themes: "I'm fifteen years old and I feel like it's too late to live. Don't you?" The transition leading into the eight-minute "Couleurs" is flawless. And while the latter track takes the album into much more ambient territory, it's a welcome change for this listener, whose favorite M83 album is still Dead Cities, Red Seas, & Lost Ghosts.

The Honeydrips - "Trying Something New" and "Fall From a Height"

I'd been hearing about The Honeydrips ever since their Jan. 10 release -- particularly on P4K, which gave Here Comes the Future a respectable 8.4. (I found the following comment in Marc Hogan's review somewhat of a challenge: "As with the Field Mice, the Honeydrips will be anathema to some, especially those who conflate bravery with balls, the avant-garde with equipment-measuring, or sex with conquest.")

Well, dear reader, do you equate bravery with balls? Do you?

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Album Review:
Destroyer - Trouble in Dreams

Destroyer - Trouble in Dreams

(Merge, 2008)


"Shooting Rockets" [mp3]

Listening to the latest from Destroyer (aka Dan Bejar), I've come to confirm and/or realize a few things about the man.

1. He is a lyrical madman genius.

2. He just might be the lifeblood of the New Pornographers.

3. The man's a risk taker, and yet, amazingly consistent.

In fact, though Trouble in Dreams may not stake out new territory after 2006's phenomenal Destroyer's Rubies, I cannot fault the man for what is essentially a good follow-up. This may sound like an insult, but TID is also my latest contender for 2008's "Best Track from a Mediocre Album" contest.

Let's take a look at the album's arc. TID opens with the day-dreamy "Blue Flower/Blue Flame." Longtime Destroyer fans will note how decidedly pleasant this song and its successors can be on the ears. The most rabid fans may even use the term boring. I'd land somewhere in between the two: certainly "Blue Flame" is positively slayed by Rubies' dynamic nine-minute opener, though I would not call these opening tracks bad. "Foam Hands," the album's first single, is perhaps the strongest example of a track straddling this divide. Once more, we have a song that is gorgeously crafted, melodic, and disappointingly predictable.

The two-track centerpiece that follows should silence -- or at least distract -- the album's biggest critics. "My Favorite Year" reads like a postcard to a former self, a diary entry in one's own unrecognizable handwriting. There's the little freak-out in the middle of the song, punctuated by my favorite line (come on, chicks are suckers for hearing their names in songs):

"Nicole - she, blasted on ecstasy / in some East Pendar hovel circa 1993. / It was a good year, it was a very good year. / And now it's gone, / they're saying the whole point of everything's the 'moving on.' / Well, I can't help but feel somewhat opposed to this."

Beautiful. The follow-up, "Shooting Rockets," is a re-envisioned version of the Swan Lake track (the band of which Bejar comprises 1/3). This version's much cleaner both vocally and musically, as well as a full minute longer, leaving the track with a renewed sense of drama. Lest I forget the lovely line, "A chorus is a thing that bears repeating."

The remainder of the album treads back into the pleasant tenor of its first half, with far spottier results. "Introducing Angels" is one of the weakest Destroyer songs I've heard. "Plaza Trinidad" is a dizzying trifle, though it's nice to see Bejar regain some spark at this point in the album. Thankfully TID rebounds with its closer, "Libby's First Sunrise." While also falling into the hazy/listless category, its swirling guitars reminiscent of "My Favorite Year" do much to leave the listener recalling the album's strengths.

Interestingly, I imagine TID will be a big hit amongst those who've had an interest in Bejar's music but may have seen him as too quirky, too spastic, too much. Here's hoping he doesn't forget about the rest of us.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Random Thoughts from a Drunken Built to Spill Fan on St. Patrick's Day

Dammit, tickets are $20. The door guy says this is their third or fourth song. But I could also see it being their first, knowing BTS songs. Maybe this guy is an idiot.

[Pays $20.]

Shit, there are a lot of people here. I can't see anything. I am going to try to weasel my way up the side. Wait, I don't know this song. This is a good time to attend to matters.

[Runs to bathroom. Thinks about peeing during that '03 East Troy show, while Thom Yorke croons, "Rain down, come on rain down, on me" in the background. Thinks, this is why you don't drink before shows.]

[Tries to weasel way up front.]

Dammit, these people aren't letting me weasel. I can't see. Maybe these tech guys will let me sit on these giant speaker-type things? [Has husband lift her up.] Wow, this view is awesome. No one has said anything yet. Play it cool.

Yay, "Liar" is one of my favorites off You in Reverse.

I hope their new album is better.

I don't know this song. Doug says it's a cover. It rocks.

I don't know this song.

Shit, I'm never going to remember this setlist.

[Asks tech guy if it's OK I'm sitting up here. He says yes.]

Good, since I've already been sitting up here for twenty minutes already. If I take a few pictures, will that be taking it too far?

[Takes a few pictures.]

Dammit, these pictures suck.

Dammit, they're playing "Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss." Which means we won't hear "The Weather."

I think the tech guy is getting in trouble for letting me sit up here.

[Offers apologetic smile. Climbs down.]

Man, I hope when I am a middle-aged bald person I will be this cool.

"Carry the Zero." Never a disappointment.

Doug is a god.

They are saying "Thank you, Kansas City," which means the show is fake-over already. Why haven't they played anything from Perfect from Now On? Dammit, they probably opened with it. "Randy Described Eternity... I Could Harm a Fly... Kicked It In the Sun..." Dammit dammit dammit, Nicole.

Yay, they didn't make me clap too long!

Yay, they are playing "Velvet Waltz." That's the one that says, "left it in the sun," not to be confused with "Kicked it in the Sun." They're screwing with us drunks and our ability to remember setlists.

Wow, they are dragging this one out. The old people are leaving. They can't handle twenty-minute renditions of kick-ass songs. They need to get home to their wives and nursery-rhyme-ready kids and the cold side of the bed.

I'm going to steal their spot.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Tokyo Police Club Cancelled

Tomorrow night's Tokyo Police Club show in Lawrence has been canceled because of a death in the family. Those in desperate need of some rockin' can still catch Black Mountain tomorrow at the Record Bar in Kansas City. Tokyo Police Club will return to the Midwest on May 23 when they hit Omaha, NE. In related news, the concert calendar has been updated once again. It ain't pretty, but its there.

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Top Five Tuesday: Epic Songs

When Built to Spill closed last night's KC show with a 20ish-minute rendition of "Velvet Waltz," I started thinking about epic songs. While usually I wouldn't consider this one an epic (as kickass as it is), there's another BTS number that sneaks onto the list.

So what did I use as my criteria? I can't say exactly. Just that the songs were expansive, musically/lyrically significant, or seemed somehow, you know, vital.

I couldn't cut it down to just five, so forgive me for what is essentially a Top Eight List.

Drumroll please...

5. The Flaming Lips - "A Machine in India" (10:24)
Only Wayne can get away with heralding "all the bleedin' vaginas." Somewhere around that seven-minute mark the song builds toward its climax and I start feeling myself disintegrate. Let me just say, anyone who thinks Zaireeka deserves a 0.0 rating should give this song a good long listen and rethink the matter. If that doesn't work, take some drugs.

Sigur Rós - "Viõrar Vel Til Loftárasa" (10:18)
I remember when I first heard about this band, everyone was in a tizzy over "Olsen Olsen." Don't get me wrong; that song is great (even if it does conjur images of those little Full House brats). " Viõrar" was the first Sigur Rós song that seduced me. It's easy to see why. Take the build-up in those opening minutes. Jonsi's vocals don't appear until the 4:51 mark, allowing the listener to become fully enveloped in the melody before -- wham! -- those crystalline pipes take hold. Yes, it's that good. And that dizzying crescendo at the end of the track... talk about ending a song.

Built to Spill - "Broken Chairs" (8:40)
Oh, how long I waited to hear this song live. Though I didn't hear the song last night, BTS closed both its 2007 Lawrence shows with this song. And what a closer it is. For one, there's something so deliciously dark about it. Also, it kicks ass. In some ways "Broken Chairs" could be considered an anomaly in the band's catalog, but in the very best way possible.

4. Grandaddy - "He's Simple. He's Dumb. He's the Pilot." (8:53)
Lately I've been rambling about how some albums seem better than the band. In this case, this song just might be better than the band. The Sophtware Slump is a fine album, to be sure, it's just this song seems to tower over its fellow tracks. And putting it as the first song on the album? Ballsy.

3. Joanna Newsom - "Emily" (12:09)
You had to know something from Ys would make it on here. The entire album reeks of "epic" (epic-ness?). Pair gorgeous instrumentation with some of the most mind-blowing lyrics you'll ever hear, and you've got a masterpiece on your hands. Another ballsy opening track, and my favorite on an altogether ballsy album.

2. Modest Mouse - "The Stars are Projectors" (8:47)
Talk about your anomaly in a band's catalog. Where in the F did this song come from? I'm convinced that it's doing about 3/4 the work of making this one of the best Modest Mouse albums. Somewhere around that six-minute mark the flurry of strings begins. They don't stop until the song explodes, like a star going nova.

And the number one epic song is....

Wilco - "Kid Smoke"

Just kidding!

1. Pink Floyd - "Echoes" (23:27)
Now, I'm no Floyd maniac or anything, but there's no denying the absolute awesomeness of this track. The circularity of the melody/vocals, the stellar guitar solos, those creepy birds toward the end... This song is about as epic as you can get, clocking in at over twenty minutes. And what a phenomenal twenty minutes those are. You'll feel as if you've floated into another universe, until that melody returns, pulling you back down to Earth.

"Shine On You Crazy Diamond" deserves a nod as well, but she's no match for "Echoes."

Keep Reading...

Monday, March 17, 2008

Featured Concert:
Built to Spill

It may be Monday, but it's St. Patty's Day, so let that weekend bender endure! If you need another excuse to play chicken with alcoholism, seasoned rockers Built to Spill are coming to KC's Madrid Theatre tonight. Everyone, let's get built to spill some green beer on ourselves.

On a side note, perhaps we shouldn't get TOO crazy. Remember what happened the last time BTS played the Madrid in '06? Doug personally kicked out a drunken buffoon for, you know, being a drunken buffoon. Here's hoping the band won't mind a little rowdier crowd tonight -- and maybe we can expect a rowdy set to go along with it.

If you ain't into the guitar god thang, you can also check out the legendary Slits at Lawrence's Replay Lounge, or Man Man at the Jackpot (or even better, Islands/Man Man tomorrow night in Columbia).

Keep Reading...

Friday, March 14, 2008

Pondering the Album

By Nicole Pope

Each week I ask myself several music-related questions. Some become seeds for a column; others hibernate until my next round table discussion with fellow music nerds. Lately I've been pondering THE ALBUM. Rather than choose just one, I thought I'd bring you a medley of musings.

Yes, I just said medley of musings.

Why don't fans identify themselves with ALBUMS rather than BANDS?

This one's been bugging me for a while. You see, I have very few favorite bands. As in, there aren't many bands I would feel comfortable identifying myself with. Prime examples: Wilco. Interpol. I adore Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and Turn on the Bright Lights, but not so much the later schlep. So will you ever hear me say Wilco or Interpol are my favorite bands? Hell, no. But Yankee and TOTBL are two of my favorite albums. Therein lies the rub.

Is it just that bands are more convenient touchstones? Like, "I dig The Arcade Fire." Or, "I heart The Shins." When what you really mean is, "I love the shit out of Oh, Inverted World. And Funeral is just tops"?

A related question: Do latter, lesser albums devalue their excellent predecessors?

Does Yankee Hotel Foxtrot lose its importance because it may be a fluke? As a fan it's hard for me to listen to an album like this without feeling bittersweet. Certainly I still appreciate the album, but I can't help thinking it's been prostituted by several subsequent albums rehashing the same sound, themes, etc.

Take The Flaming Lips' "My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion," from their most recent album At War with the Mystics.

"They tell us "Autumn's a comin' and soon everything around us will die... They only see the obvious. They see the sun go down, but they don't see it rise."
Hello! Does anyone else see the obvious ripification of "Do You Realize?"? Yeah, yeah, the sun isn't really setting. It's just an illusion caused by the world spinning round... People don't really die... I got it, guys. While I hate "My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion" for being so unoriginal, I also feel like it somehow lessens the impact of the original song.

Is it just that an artist has said what they wanted to say, and now they're just splashing around in the puddles?

Or is the exact opposite of my initial point true: that because a band never achieves that same level, it makes the album that much more significant?

And some age-old questions: Will THE ALBUM format die as bands begin focusing on songs rather than cohesive albums?
Will the album ever be an exclusively online creation? Will record labels die in the wake?

Before Hail to the Thief was released in '03, I read a Filter interview with Thom Yorke about his desire to abandon the album format in favor of EPs. As Radiohead is known for its concept albums (Kid A being perhaps the most impressive), this news saddened me considerably. Thankfully, the band has put out not only one but two more albums since this declaration. Still, the unconventional In Rainbows release has me considering this question once more. Could bands do away with record labels all together, and release all of their material online? And if this happens, will they begin peddling their music to ITunes and its focus on the single download -- which might lead artists to focus on individual songs rather than entire albums?

Once more I think of someone I know who downloaded "My Body is a Cage," his only exposure to Neon Bible. Or "Suffer for Fashion," his only track from Hissing Fauna. Ironically, he now goes around calling himself an Of Montreal or Arcade Fire fan, which circles back to my earlier question in an intriguing way. Could music fans start identifying themselves not with albums, but with individual songs?

What ripples will this have in the music industry? Will there come a day when we lose the concept album, or will the bands' love of music and creativity halt this process?

Keep Reading...

Scores & Highlights:
January 2008

Welcome to our first installment of Scores & Highlights. The title is pretty self-explanatory; each month or so we'll hand out grades and, in some cases, mp3's of albums we never got around to reviewing. For this segment, we're going to focus on albums released in January, and hopefully have a February post coming soon.

Black Mountain - In the Future
(Jagjaguwar; 2008)
Grade: 81.0%
Sounds like: A wonderful hybrid of Sabbath and Neil Young. Should have been recommended back in January.

Blood on the Wall - Liferz
(Social Registry; 2008)
Grade: 75.0%
Sounds like: Every great alternative/grunge band from the late 80's/early 90's rolled into one.

Chris Walla - Field Manual
(Barsuk; 2008)
Grade: 52.6%
Stream various tracks at MySpace
Sounds like: Gee, I dunno, Death Cab for Cutie.

Drive-By Truckers - Brighter Than Creation's Dark
(New West; 2008)
Grade: 68.0%
Stream various tracks at MySpace
Sounds like: Ambitious Southern Rock Opera; or, what I imagine Kevin Drew has in mind every time he writes a song with a little twang.

The Helio Sequence - Keep Your Eyes Ahead
(Sub Pop; 2008)
Grade: 60.3%
[mp3]"Keep Your Eyes Ahead"
Sounds like: A band equally obsessed with Modest Mouse and 80's pop. Still, it could be worse.

Hello Blue Roses - The Portrait is Finished & I Have Failed to Capture Your Beauty
(Locust; 2008)
Grade: 30.0%
[mp3]"Shadow Falls"
Sounds like: The portrait wasn't the only thing that failed to capture any beauty, though its a nice reminder as to how good Destroyer albums are.

Human Bell - Human Bell
(Thrill Jockey; 2008)
Grade: 58.4%
Stream various tracks at MySpace
Sounds like: Instrumental post-rock influenced by folk and blues. Depending on your perspective, its either as good or as boring as it sounds. I'm going with the latter.

Jeffrey Lewis - 12 Crass Songs
(Rough Trade; 2007/8)
Grade: 50.0%
Stream various tracks at MySpace
Sounds like: Folkie/troubadour musician covering punk rock. Not bad, but wears thin after a while. 6 Crass Songs might have been a better route.

The Mars Volta - Bedlam in Goliath
(Universal; 2008)
Grade: 62.1%
Stream various tracks at MySpace
Sounds like: Their most accessible album since their first, but still a little too over-the-top at times. The best songs re-affirm why you should never count them out.

Radar Bros. - Auditorium
(Merge; 2008)
Grade: 60.3%
Stream the first four tracks at Radar Bros. website
Sounds like: Grandaddy never broke up, they just ditched the electronics and made a vaguely alt/country-ish record.

Sons & Daughters - This Gift
(Domino; 2008)
Grade: 42.2%
Stream various tracks at MySpace
Sounds like: An inconsistent and overproduced mess. Some songs remind me of X, so I guess it can't be all bad.

Thao - We Brave Bee Stings and All
(Kill Rock Stars; 2008)
Grade: 77.7%
[mp3]"Bag of Hammers"
Sounds like: Exuberant pop/rock songstress that's just one commercial away from being 2008's big thing.

Xiu Xiu - Women as Lovers
(Kill Rock Stars; 2008)
Grade: 67.3%
Sounds like: Xiu Xiu with a full band. Like other Xiu Xiu albums, there are standout tracks, but it's mostly obnoxious. Stay especially far away from their cover of "Under Pressure"

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

What's With... All These Actresses Making Albums?

First Natalie Portman made that mixtape. Then Scarlett Johansson lent her smoky vocals to that Tom Waits cover album, due out May 20 (featuring David Fucking Bowie!). Now, just this week, Zooey Deschanel has released an album as half of She & Him, the "Him" being indie folkster M. Ward.

Unless you're a somewhat avid film fan, you might not be familiar with Zooey. She's starred as the older sister in Almost Famous, a young woman discovering her sexuality in All the Real Girls (a remarkable film), and the love interest in, sigh, Elf. (The latter showcases her singing talent in a duet with Will Farrell.) Interestingly, Zooey wants to maintain the relative anonymity she has within Hollywood. The She & Him Myspace has this to offer in the way of a biography:

"California based Deschanel spent much of her early life singing in choirs, which is probably why she likes harmonies so much. She also enjoys reading, dancing and playing the piano. She & Him have performed together on occasion over the last year and enjoyed it very much."

So while I want to scoff at yet another actress-turned singer (f-ing J. Lo), I have to admire Zooey's humility. And, as it turns out, I'm digging the song "Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?". Pitchfork, which gave the album a 7.4, says the tracks have an a.m. radio quality. I concur. It's like listening to the oldies, but you know, being hip.

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This article on a band or other musical ensemble is a stub.

Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip is a new London group with their first album coming out this May. They've apparently created something of a stir with our foreign fellows. There's no singing, so those uninterested in the spoken word style need venture no further.

I've mentioned before that I am a lyric addict, and these guys... are funny, not to mention occasionally brilliant. I can live with them calling Radiohead "just a band," since they've gone ahead and stolen... err, I mean sampled, Planet Telex. They're obvious fans, and that sooths the discomfort I might have felt.

Great beard!

And the Planet Telex Rip-Off (tm)

And miscellaneous live stuff, should you desire it.

I look forward to checking out the album when it lea... err, releases.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Pitchfork Fest Tics Go On Sale;
I'm Waitin' for a Superman

Yes, tickets went on sale today for the 2008 Pitchfork Music Festival July 18-20. I'm nonplussed. Not so much because ticket prices have risen $15 -- this was to be expected, and honestly I hope it means that city block they call concert grounds will be less, for lack of a better term, infested. At this point the initial line-up is a bit of a snooze.

Sure, you've got Animal Collective, Atlas Sound, !!!, M. Ward, Spiritualized, Vampire Weekend, Fleet Foxes, Boris, and a handful of others. Not too shabby, I admit, and I have faith the Sat. and Sun. lineups will fatten up for the harvest.

I'm most worried about Friday's Don't Look Back performances. How can P4K top Sonic Youth performing Daydream Nation?

Don't let my title fool you; I'm not expecting to see The Flaming Lips perform The Soft Bulletin or anything (but dear GOD I'd believe in you again if they did). Right now Public Enemy is scheduled to perform It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (BAH), which means we can expect two more acts Friday night if the festival follows last year's blueprint.

So, who will it be? This will likely determine whether this music fan makes the summer trip to Chicago, after all. Recently Ryan did a post about who he'd ideally pick for a Don't Look Back performance. But who's most likely to have the honors?

The top contenders would be artists already performing Don't Look Back shows. This includes, yes, Public Enemy (Flavor Flav!), Raekwon/Ghostface Killah, and Mudhoney (though I only see them as playing one show back in Sept.)

So, without a superman waiting in the wings here, who will ATP/P4k pull out of their bag of tricks?

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Top Five Tuesday:
Rating: WTF???

Pitchfork Media is a great resource for album reviews. Usually. Granted, not everyone is going to agree with every review they publish, good and bad, but there are some albums more than others that have struck a negative chord with a seemingly large populous of Pitchfork readers for (or the more vocal ones at the very least), many of which I happen to agree with. For this Top 5, here are the most WTF? inducing low scores. Perhaps I'll save the most WTF inducing high scores for a later date.

5). Wilco - A Ghost is Born (6.6)
Definitely not the masterpiece that was Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, I'll be the first to admit or agree to this point, but is it really that much worse than Summerteeth, which the 'Fork scored a 9.4? In my personal opinion, the answer is a resounding no. I know there are plenty of you that will disagree with me, Pitchfork obviously has, but those of you that do are probably fans of the more alt/countryish tracks, the ones that I find to beless-than-stellar and stick out like a sore thumbs amongst the gorgeous, lush pop/rock gems. That, or you've forgiven Tweedy & co. for knowing that you got a fair exchange of said gorgeous, lush pop/rock gems. I would definitely consider myself among the latter, in fact. It's also the same excuse I use for A Ghost is Born, as I've forgiven them for the tippy-toe movements into generic AOR because there's a fair amount of excellent gorgeous, lush pop/rock gems on this album too. I guess what I'm trying to say is either both albums are really, really good, or neither of them are.

4). Belle & Sebastian - The Boy With the Arab Strap (0.8)
It must be a disappointing follow-up thing. As with Wilco's Ghost, Arab Strap is not in the same league as it's predecessor, but seriously, this album deserved at least a one! Jason Josephes opened his brief "review" by stating, "Mediocrity is not a punishable crime, but if it was, Belle & Sebastian would be enjoying their last meal right about now." As if scoring Arab Strap this low wasn't puzzling enough, their next album, Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant - an album even Belle & Sebastian fans have trouble defending - received a 6.7.

3). Beck - Sea Change (6.9)
This one isn't as surprising as some others I've come across, the album received its share of mixed reviews following its release, mostly because reviewers were split as to whether or not they felt Beck's singing voice could carry an entire album, a fair criticism considering most Beck fans were unaccustomed to it. I think the most WTF inducing factor is that it made the year-end list despite its low score. I can't think of another album that scored below a 7 to make a Pitchfork best-of list, can you? Anyway, its also WTF inducing because I happen to love the shit out of this record, but that could just be me.

2). Beach Boys - Pet Sounds [Remastered] (7.5)
While most bands would probably be satisfied with a 7.5 rating, the Beach Boys aren't most bands. This is fucking Pet Sounds we're talking about, and you would have thought that Pitchfork head-honcho Ryan Schreiber would know better. Now, granted, personal taste is personal taste, and I commend him for sticking to his guns and being honest about the fact that he isn't fanatical over it, but to write that, "If this were not the Beach Boys, but some indie pop outfit on Parasol Records, it might make a few critics' Top 10 lists, if it didn't just vanish into obscurity," is just absurd. Ryan obviously wasn't taking into account the fact that Pet Sounds probably influenced every artist on Parasol Records, not to mention three plus decades worth (at the time of his review) of other pop bands. Thankfully, someone else at Pitchfork, Dominque Leone to be exact, gave the album (the 40th anniversary edition, to be exact) a higher score and a much better review in 2006.

1). The Flaming Lips - Zaireeka (0.0)
Oh great, here's Jason Josephes being a douchebag once again. Zaireeka got the infamous double goose-egg score because he didn't have enough CD players to play the album properly, and instead of getting together with friends or Ryan Schreiber for a Zaireeka listening party (like your esteemed Range Life staff does on at least a quarterly, I'm totally serious), he tried listening to each disc singularly. No shit it didn't sound great, Jason. Geez man, that's like saying the Soft Bulletin sounded a bit off because you left a speaker unplugged.

Got any favorite WTF inducing reviews, Pitchfork or otherwise? We'd love to hear about them.

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Monday, March 10, 2008

Mixtape Monday:
Songs Marching Two by Two

I spend a lot of time thinking about the meaning behind song titles. Sometimes they don't seem to mean anything, or at least not anything I can discern. Of course, other times a song title can cue us into the song's major topic, or if we're lucky, themes. Knowing this, I thought it would be interesting to look at songs that have the same titles. Would their content or themes coincide? I found some surprising results. Even more surprising: out of all these songs, there's not a stinker among the bunch.

Hell, I thought about putting "Rain King" by Sonic Youth and Counting Crows on here, or "Creep" by Radiohead and Stone Temple Pilots and TLC, but that would just be cruel.

So here are songs marching two by two... toward greatness.

“All I Need”
Air – Moon Safari (1998)
Radiohead – In Rainbows (2007)

I love this pairing, both musically and thematically. What do they need, after all? Thom says he’s “a moth who just wants to share your light.” Meanwhile, Air’s guest singer Beth Hirsch says all she needs is “to get behind the sun and cast my weight.”


Galaxie 500 – On Fire (1989)
Built to Spill – Ancient Melodies of the Future (2001)

BTS' Doug Martsch sings, “This strange plan is random at best.” By the end of the song he admits, “It’s strange but not all that strange.” In an alternative universe more than a decade ago Galaxie 500’s Dean Wareham wails, “Why’s everybody actin’ funny? Why’s everybody look so strange?” What’s a fellow to do? He stood in line, and ate his Twinkie.

“She’s the One”
Caribou – Andorra (2007)
The Beta Band – The Three E.P.s (1997)

I like this pairing quite a bit. The Caribou track is one of my favorites off this album. As for The Beta Band, The Three E.P.s is every bit as good as John Cusack would have you believe.

“Paper Tiger”

Spoon – Kill the Moonlight (2002)
Beck – Sea Change (2002)

2002 was a fantastic year for music, and for tracks named “Paper Tiger.” For anyone who doesn’t know, a paper tiger is “a person, group, nation, or thing that has the appearance of strength or power but is actually weak or ineffectual.” Thankfully neither of these songs are weak or ineffectual. The Beck song in particular has always blown me away.

Cyann & Ben – Sweet Beliefs (2006)
Doves – The Last Broadcast (2002)

This is perhaps the most homogenous pairing here, and so far, the most rockin’. We’ve got your shoegazers right here, folks.

The Rapture – Echoes (2003)
Talking Heads – Fear of Music (1979)

These two songs couldn’t be more different. But for some reason, I rather like them together. The Rapture tells us, “If you focus very hard, the train will come for you at last,” while a countdown leads us to seven, God’s “number.” But maybe we shouldn’t worry about getting to heaven at all, David Byrne suggests. He puts it best when he says, “Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens.”

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The Weekend in Music: Lost in Translation, Galaxie 500, Portishead

I haven't done one of these posts in a while. As much as I love doing them, they remind me of this awful morning show on MSNBC called "Morning Joe" where all of the anchors come out at the end and discuss what they learned that day. On that note...

Lost in Translation Soundtrack
Regardless of your feelings for this film, one cannot deny the strength of its soundtrack. If I'm ever in Japan, I hope my escapades are set to My Bloody Valentine's "Sometimes" (This ranks as one of my favorite movie music moments, a Top Five I will get around to doing someday.) If you've seen the film you probably also know it closes with Jesus and Mary Chain's "Just Like Honey" (damn you, TBS, for cutting it off so you could play your stupid promos). What I didn't realize was that Air makes its second appearance on a Sofia Coppolla soundtrack here, after their phenomenal work on The Virgin Suicides. Even more interestingly, Kevin Shields of MBV fame lends not only what is arguably his best song, but four other tracks written for the film. Unfortunately, Peaches' "Fuck the Pain Away" was unduly excluded from the official soundtrack.

On a side note, I'd like to say that while I have seen LIT twice before, this was my first viewing that really left an impression. And I only saw the final half! And with commercial interruptions! I even started to tear up at the end when Bill Murray whispers those unintelligible last words. Could it be that the film has finally hit a chord with me? Or is it just that I was so overcome by something of this caliber being shown on national television? You be the judge.

Galaxie 500
If you've spent time around me recently, you know I'm absolutely foaming at the mouth over this band -- and in particular its 1989 album On Fire. The band's final album This Is Our Music (1990) is accomplished in its own right, with far more polished production that nevertheless maintains the band's charm. And after just one listen to Today, the band's debut, I'm elated. How incredible is it to discover a band you love that's been there all along, just waiting for you to find them?

If anyone is interested, I came across this column about a month ago. After reading I immediately had to get this album. It's remarkable when someone's passion intoxicates you.

If you'd like to hear a taste of the Galaxie 500 experience, I'm posting one of their songs on my mixtape later this afternoon. Stay tuned.

Portishead's Third
After all that whining I finally got my grubby hands on Portishead's return to the music world. After two cursory listens, I have to say this wasn't what I expected. While ITunes categorizes the album as "Trip-Hop," it's decidedly not. Sure, you'll hear your effects here and there, but this a (relatively) stripped down Portishead with a far more organic rock sound. (Are those real drums?)

I'm not blown away at this point, though there's a lot to take in here (and a lot of expectations to answer to). I will say the second track "Hunter" is incredible. And that guitar in "We Carry On" pretty much kicks ass.

Then you have odd-men-out like "Deep Water" and WTF-inducing "Machine Gun" that complicate matters.

I'm going to need more time to simmer with this one.

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Friday, March 7, 2008

What Does Your ITunes Play Count Say About You As a Person?

By Nicole Pope

Ordinarily in this column I try to answer a big question I've pondered recently. Today I awoke to yet another suffocating blanket of snow. Just like that, my energy was zapped.

So I decided to do something fun like checking my ITunes Play Count (You know, sorting your music using the "Play Count" tab - after "Rating" - or simply viewing your "Top 25 Most Played" playlist.) Incidentally, ITunes collects this data in order to make Smart Playlists. If any of you have ever tried allowing ITunes to make, say, a party playlist for you, you know it's not the smartest AI around. Something cool and party-friendly will come on, like "The W.A.N.D.," and then ITunes will blow it by playing "Tears Are In Your Eyes" (sorry, YLT).

Lately I've thought it might be funny to write one of those lame quizzes and ask, "What Sub-Genre of Indie Rock Are You?" I thought I knew what my answer would be, until I started reading way too much into my play counts.

Do you ever wonder how other people truly see you? Well, check your ITunes play count and you might catch a glimpse of the undeniable truth of your soul. It's like ITunes is whispering in that trademark Nico hush, "I'll be your mirror." (A song that currently has a Play Count of 13.) And I was just trying to write a mindless column today.

Well, Yeah, You Got Me.
My No. 6 most listened to song is The National's "Green Gloves" (36 listens), while "Guest Room" is gaining at No. 14 (33 listens).

Panda Bear's "Take Pills" comes in at No. 11 (34 listens). (WTF? This isn't even close to my favorite on the album???)

Deerhunter's "Cryptograms" takes the No. 20 spot (31 listens), with "Hazel St." closing in at No. 26 (29 listens).

And despite having only been in my possession for two months, pretty much all of Beach House's Devotion, as expected, is moving toward a top spot with the majority of its tracks at 22 listens, and "You Came to Me" with 27.

Other top contenders: Iron & Wine's "Evening on the Ground" (31), Feist's "The Water" (31), The Field's "A Paw In My Face" (29), Of Montreal's "Gronlandic Edit" (28), Badly Drawn Boy's "Everybody Stalking" (28), Yo La Tengo's "Flying Lessons (Hot Chicken #1)" (28).

Really? Are You Making This Up?
Here's where the mirror comes in, and I was quite surprised by what I saw.

Overwhelmingly, my No. 1 song was "The Well and the Lighthouse" by The Arcade Fire (40 listens). This means that either my husband or I secretly love Neon Bible more than we've let on. Or that "The Well and the Lighthouse" is a fucking great song. Which it is.

Interestingly, Hot Chip's The Warning made two appearances in my Top Ten, including "Just Like We (Breakdown)" at No. 4 (37) and "Look After Me" at No. 7 (36). This isn't too much of a shocker because, while certainly not one of the best albums ever, The Warning suits so many moods. (Just look at the range represented by those two tracks.)

The biggest surprise for me was seeing songs from Blonde Redhead's 23 at the top of the list. "Publisher" nabbed the No. 2 spot with 38 listens (I'm looking at you, Backdrifter), while "Spring and By Summer Fall" came in at No. 8 with 35 (that one's my doing.)

Mitigating factors: I've had ITunes for about a year and a half, which might account for the prevalence of some of the albums coming out around that time (23 and Neon Bible). These figures don't account for what I listen to in my car, which is a considerable amount of the time I spend listening to music. It also doesn't account for whole albums, only songs, which I assume would give an entirely different result altogether.

So what did all of this tell me? Well, I was surprised to see that I'm not as much of a sad-bastard music lover as I thought. It also shows me that some of the albums/bands I've been criticizing lately have at one time been a predominant presence in my music collection. Because of this it also shows the fleeting nature of taste and, really, obsession.

So everyone, when you get a chance, take a peek at your ITunes Play Count. You might be surprised by what you see.

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Thursday, March 6, 2008

My Waxing Philosophical, Your Waning Interest

I’m going to jump through some existential hoops here. Feel free to join me in my mental masturbation. I want to talk about the difference between fact and opinion in reference to music. Nicole has touched on this in her always-wonderful series, “The Unappreciated Scholar,” particularly in the January 11th edition. She’s addressed some ideas of value and belief that I think about more often than any normal person probably should.

First, let’s establish what an opinion is not. A scientific theory is a type of belief with universally useful and predictive applications. The theory of gravity is a belief that is equally useful for any person to hold. It makes predictions about how objects in the material world will act. Apples fall, moons orbit, and I break my ass on the pavement after ice storms.

A scientific theory is reached through the scientific method. A hypothesis is proposed, experiments are devised, and results are collected as evidence for or against the hypothesis. Other scientists in other labs perform similar experiments, and once sufficient evidence mounts, the hypothesis graduates to a theory. This theory represents a modicum of how things probably are.

We can only use past evidence to project a probability of future states. There’s always the possibility that gravity will suddenly stop working normally tomorrow, and we’ll all be hurled into space. Scientists fuck up, just like the rest of us, but with enough collaboration (and competition), mistakes will hopefully be caught. So far, the scientific method has worked out pretty well for us.

There are a number of aspects of human existence that simply are not commented on by the scientific process. Most systems of morality arise from nonscientific assumptions. (“Unscientific” has taken on a bad connotation lately, so I’ll continue to use “nonscientific”.) That’s a topic for another discussion, though. Let’s get to music.

Art exists in a realm of thought entirely different from Science, though the two do like to flirt. You can do experiments to test the acoustic/musical properties of songs. You will collect data, but you won’t know anything more about how that music will make you (or anyone else) feel. There are trends of relationship, to be sure, but musical taste is unaccountable to musical theory.

Exactly repeating an experiment results in more evidence. Exactly repeating a work of art results only in a copy. The belief that gravity will work tomorrow is fundamentally different from the belief that Radiohead is the greatest band of all time. Why do some opinions feel like undeniable truth? Is there any harm in feeling that way?

Nonscientific belief can be used as a personal tool. A belief that leads to no negative consequences of action or behavior and which is not opposed by material evidence is a personal matter. If that belief yields positive actions or behaviors, it can be logically argued that the belief should be maintained, regardless of its lack of scientific grounding.

If you accept the above as true, then the only real gauge for the personal value of an opinion is its effect on the person with the opinion. Furthermore, that valuation is only true for the opinion holder. This may seem like a long way to go to point out the obvious… our opinions aren’t facts, and we form them as we like. Maybe it is, but I think doing the exercise makes it clearer that both fact and opinion are infinitely if not universally valuable.

Possessing a belief in gravity says very little about a person. It greatly affects behavior, but it does so in a nearly identical way for each person. You try to avoid falling or causing things to fall… usually. Possessing a belief in Radiohead’s superiority says a great deal more about a person, because it’s not a materially required belief. Not everyone holds it, and those that do are affected by it differently.

Opinions are valuable, but how can you tell if a cherished belief is personally helpful or harmful? The answer is simple, but the implementation is not. Observe yourself. People have a notoriously large blind spot when it comes to objective introspection. We’re all spectacularly good at self-deception and cognitive dissonance.

Does hating 311 make me treat a 311 fan poorly, even when there’s no other reason to do so? (It does.) Does that amount to musical bigotry? (I don’t know… I really hate 311.) What benefits does cultivating this hatred of 311 bestow on me? It keeps me from listening to their music, but that could be handled by a simple dislike rather than active spite. How do I weed out this unnecessary vitriol?

One good way to get perspective on our opinions is to keep a regular diary (or blog). In fact, keeping a daily diary of events, dreams, thoughts, and feelings is generally recommended for everyone. You can then go back and read previous entries looking for patterns of behavior or thought that you’d like to cultivate or weed out. I wish I could say I did it, but I’m too lazy to keep that daily habit going. Maybe you have more perseverance!

I didn’t mean for this to turn into a treatise for the virtues of the blogosphere (Gah, I hate that word), but I suppose it’s as good a conclusion to reach as any. If you followed me this far without dozing off, you deserve a better reward than that. Maybe John Popper’s realization of the great farce? I like it, but that's just my opinion.

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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Wayback Whensday:
The Velvet Underground - Live

The first time I heard The Velvet Underground I thought they sounded so cliché. At the time I didn't understand that they weren't the ripoff artists, but rather the countless bands that followed hoping to capture their distinctive sound.

Lately I've been on an old music kick, so forgive me. Here are some of my favorite songs from The Velvet Underground and Nico, performed live.

The video of "Venus in Furs" is only 1:17, but is still pretty damned cool.

Why doesn't anything today feel this important?


"Femme Fatale"

"Venus in Furs"

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Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Top Five Tuesday:
Where Do We Go From Here?

Lately I've been rambling about the legions of album releases due in the coming months. I've heard a few tracks that scare me. Thankfully there have also been many that have piqued my curiosity.

I thought I'd compile some artists with upcoming 2008 releases that, for one reason or another, I'm regarding with special interest. A few of these bands have nowhere to go but up. Others...worry me a bit.

5. Wolf Parade – Ah, Wolf Parade. Recently I was listening to KEXP’s Cheryl Waters, a DJ with impeccable taste, and she mentioned that Wolf Parade was one of her favorite artists of all time. Really? How can you know that after just one album? Certainly Spencer Krug is a talented musician, spearheading WP and Sunset Rubdown as well as working on projects with Swan Lakes, Frog Eyes, and so on.

Still, the band that snagged a coveted 9.0 Pitchfork rating now faces the dreaded second album, a daunting obstacle for any band -- even more so with a band looking to match the success of their debut. (Clap Your Hands, anyone?) Will WP continue down a similar path? Or perhaps take a cue from Sunset Rubdown and focus on slower tracks like "Modern World"? Will they rock? Overproduce the shit out of it? Here’s hoping it’s not the latter.

4. Deerhunter – The machine Bradford Cox is scheduled to release another album this fall – Microcastle – due out on Halloween, according to Exclaim. This is one of the few on the list that I am confident will be good, I take it back incredible, though I’m most curious about how the album will sound.

In that interview with Exclaim, Bradford said the following:

“I don’t really like using effects that much. I like them only because sometimes you need them to get a certain desired feeling or sound, but I don’t like for a song to depend on a metal box working and having fresh batteries in it. I guess I just get tired of depending on technology. The root of the song should be there already and I think you should be able to play these songs whether you have these things or not."
So does that mean the band is moving more toward territory staked by the Fluorescent Grey EP? I’m getting tingly all over thinking about it. And Let the Blind Lead… hasn’t even been out for a month.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am officially in love with Bradford Cox.

3. Built to Spill – With a band as consistent as BTS, it’s unfortunate that their 2006 reunion album You in Reverse failed to recapture the band’s brilliance. On their upcoming album, this listener would love to see them combine the less polished approach to YIR with the more complex melodies demonstrated on Perfect from Now On.

If nothing else, YIR showed the band isn't unafraid of trying new things, and that is why I’m confident the band will return with a triumphant follow-up album.

2. of Montreal – Early 2007 saw the release of the phenomenal Hissing Fauna, and with it, a new of Montreal was born. K Barnes and company simultaneously released their most depressing, most melodic, and most danceable work to date. So now that you’ve purged your soul of all that, what’s next?

I'm intrigued not only by what Skeletal Lamping has in store for us, but also by its relatively quick release. Might it be the Amnesiac to Hissing Fauna's Kid A?

1. Portishead – Seriously, this album is due out in April and aside from the cover art I don’t know a damned thing about it. Does anyone?

It’s been eleven years since the release of the self-titled Portishead album (ten since Roseland NYC Live), and all we’ve heard since is Beth Gibbons' side project with Rustin' Man (yawn) and a few under-nourished instrumental tracks on the band’s Myspace. I’m not sure what to expect here. And to be honest, I'm a little afraid.

If the album artwork is any indication, are we to gather that Portishead's Third will sound exactly like the band's two previous efforts? Perhaps the more important question is, will that be enough?

Other artists to watch in 2008: Junior Boys, Menomena, My Morning Jacket, and apparently, Gang of Four.

Also, when is that freakin' MBV album I've heard so much about coming out?

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