Friday, November 27, 2009

Brunettes, Blondes and Redheads

There’s a new generation of “hair bands” that I really like, but they’re not the kind your aunt rocked out to in the late 80’s. These come in a variety of colors for your listening pleasure:

The Brunettes, consisting Heather Mansfield and Jonathan Bree from New Zealand, play a lovely low-key but full-sounding and intelligent indie pop. Think Belle & Sebastian but fewer literary references, and slightly less twee (not that there’s anything wrong with twee, if done right). At times, they have a real Imperial Teen vibe, which is great.

Their latest album, 2007’s Structure And Cosmetics, has all kinds of orchestral accents: trumpet, melodica, etc, including my favorite non-standard-rock instrument, the mellotron. It all slipped by my ears the first time, but on second listen with lyric sheet in hand, I caught on to quite a bit of cleverness in the music and wordplay. Looking forward to their new album, Paper Dolls, due out February 2nd of next year.

In the meantime, check out the cute video they’ve released ahead of it:



~~~

Sheffield, England’s Long Blondes played a more aggressive indie pop/rock, somewhat in the style of Elastica but to my ears less derivative and just as much fun. There's a catchiness akin to Tragic Kingdom era No Doubt but with an English flair. Their 2007 album, Someone To Drive You Home was pure pop brilliance. They had a bit of a sophomore slump in 2008 with Couples, where they went for emotional and musical “growth” but just ended up sounding tired. The Long Blondes announced they were disbanding after guitarist Dorian Cox suffered a stroke, but hopefully they will stage a comeback at some point, or at least we'll hear more from Kate Jackson (the singer, not the Angel), who has a great voice for this kind of music.



~~~

Then there's Blonde Redhead, who's most recent album, 2007's 23 is pure captivating shoegaze with real power and mystery to it. Great for late night driving. This is the closest thing to Lush I've heard in a long time. Especially notable is Simone Pace's percussion on "Dr. Strangeluv." Listen for the cowbell starting at 1:38. Pure magic!

Here's a video from the album's title track. Crank it up and be carried away. Looking forward to hearing what they do next.



~~~

The Brunettes’ MySpace page
Long Blondes website
Blonde Redhead website

By the way, speaking of brunette singers, has anybody seen Justine Frischmann lately? Apparently she’s moved from the UK after her split with Blur’s Damon Albarn and is living in the Bay Area now.

Friday, November 20, 2009

How do I love thee, Super Furry Animals?

Let me count the ways:

1. They're Welsh!


2. Stylistic variation between songs! Examples:




3. Artistic growth over many albums!
allmusic overview

4. Obscure origins!
Early years as Welsh-only band

5. Side projects!
The Peth (Myspace), featuring SFA's drummer, Dafydd Ieuan.
Neon Neon (Myspace), featuring SFA singer Gruff Rhys.
Acid Casuals (website), featuring SFA keyboardist Cian Ciaran.

6. Furry costumes!


7. Intriguing singer with lots of personality and smooth voice!
Gruff Rhys singing “Turning Tide”

8. Cool album art!


8. Silliness!


9. Non-English-language double albums!
Mwng review

10. Most importantly, great tunes!
"International Language of Screaming"
"Sidewalk Serfer Girl"

~~~

Some more samples of their work:







Just grand. Keep it up, boys! You add joy to my life.

p.s. Oh, did I mention lots of cool videos?

SFA homepage

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Uber Cover

Some covers transcend their source material overwhelmingly.

Here's the (admittedly catchy) "My Girl (Gone Gone Gone)" by Vancouver, Canada's Chilliwack:



And then there's the sublime reinterpretation by the little-known Recess Monkeys, which captures nuances untapped previously:



The performance speaks for itself...

p.s. For info on Chilliwack, including a listen to their recent "Patent On The Wind" go to Bill Henderson's website.

(For info on the SCTV gang, you're on your own.)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Ono, it's Yoko! Again!

I've always had a strained relationship with Yoko Ono's music. Always strikes me as grating, often weird just for the sake of being weird, and her voice isn't exactly mellifluous. If she weren't ever related to John Lennon, I probably wouldn't have checked out her music beyond a song or two, and certainly not followed her career for 40 years and counting. In all this time, she's only recorded a few tracks that I find accessible enough to listen to more than once.

But now there's an exception: The first track off of her new album, Between My Head And The Sky, is called "Waiting for the D Train" and it rocks (and swings). That bass is kickin!

Waiting for the D Train, Amazon MP3

The past is forgiven, Yoko! Your crazy ululating vocals are perfect for this track, and Sean Lennon jamming on the guitar just makes it all the better. Makes me happy to see them carrying on in such an unruly way. (At 76 years old, how many other women are doing crazy sh*t like this?) Give her credit!

Yoko on Jimmy Fallon Show

As for the rest of the album, I can't say it's a "keeper" but it is certainly consistent within her sonic universe. Some songs are simple and poetic, like "Feel The Sand" and "Healing," where she urges "Let's put all the sad songs together and change the negative energy, to create a beautiful future." Hippy sentiments, yes, but regardless of your feelings about Ms. Ono, you could say a lot worse things in a song.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Camel and some Wolfmen

I'm a bit of a student of the cover song. I've collected about 40 CDs' worth of covers I "just have to have for that perfect moment" (which may be in 5-10 years). What makes a cover version so compelling I must add it to my library? Some possibilities:

1. It reinvents the original in a new and interesting way. Good examples are Devo's rendition of the Rolling Stones "I Can't Get No (Satisfaction)" or Nouvelle Vague's peppy version of the Violent Femmes "Blister In The Sun."

2. It offers a sonic upgrade on the original. Def Leppard did an admirable job of this with the T. Rex classic "20th Century Boy" recently.

3. It reveals emotional depths of a song, possibly untapped before. Like what Grant-Lee Phillips did with the Psychedelic Furs "Love My Way."

Today's happy find touches on all three, to some degree. Here's the original weirdly humurous and somewhat mystical Brian Eno song from his 1974 album Here Come The Warm Jets (with amusing camel photo to ponder while you listen to the lyrics).


And here's the propulsively played cover by UK's The Wolfmen (featuring two members of the late 70's Siouxsie & The Banshees[!]) from 2008:



The latter one certainly doesn't replace the original. Eno was (and is) brilliant and this song is clear evidence of that. But the cover, as I recently came across it in Little Steven's "Coolest Songs In The World" series (at Vol. 8 and counting)brought it back into my awareness. And for that, I'm grateful.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

"There's no such name as Brahbrah"

What's the name of that band?




It's right there in mind, but I can't quite grasp it...





Oh yes, Flight Of The Conchords! Those cheeky New Zealanders have released a CD of songs from Season Two of their HBO series. In case you're not familiar with these humorous Kiwis, here's a sample:



So how do the new songs compare with the breakthrough collection from Season One released in 2008? Not bad at all. There aren't any bust-a-gut genius tracks like "Business Time" or "Robot" or a brilliant spoof/tribute like "Bowie" (on YouTube) but Jermaine and Bret have come up with a consistent set of tracks that put a smile on my face from the first track "Hurt Feelings" (exposing rappers' sensitive side) through to the finale "Angels," complete with heavenly choir. A highlight for me is "Petrov, Yelyena and Me" which sounds like Ween doing a cabaret sendup. I give them a lot of credit for coming up with such a variety of material in one year while producting a TV show and recording the songs. If this is a "sophomore slump," it's only in comparison to the heights achieve on their first season/album.

If you're a fan of the show, you've probably already heard the songs in truncated form anyway. The CD just lets you hear them in full, in the car or on your iPod while walking, without the distraction of the episode plot. Good to have them around.

I hope they do another season, but I've read that they found the whole experience of filming a TV show quite exhausting, and I predict this will be it...for the show, not for the Conchords themselves. I have a feeling they will go on longer than that other famous pop/folk duo, Simon & Garfunkel, that they so skillfully impersonate in Episode 7.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Do you prefer your Beatles in stereo or mono?

Or either or neither? That's fine too.

With the 2009 (at last!) remastered reissues of the entire Beatles catalog, I'm dutifully listening to each and every one, including the mono versions. I'm not going about it in an organized or sequential way, but instead listening as they arrive: by mail from Amazon, in person from Starbucks or the local library, or from my friend Nick (thanks Nick!), so I'm not doing that "evaluate the artists' growth from hopped-up Hamburg-happenin' urchins to world weary studio warriors who had to 'let it be' an eventful seven years later" thing. Not today, anyway. I'm just going to talk briefly about the issue of mono vs. stereo, their first album Please Please Me in particular.

As the reissue liner notes point out, mono was the preferred format in the early to mid 60's, and stereo records were released only in small numbers for hi-fi listeners. They recorded the whole album in one day (!) to only two tracks, so when creating the stereo mix, all the voices went on the right side and all the instruments went on the left. Listening to this "fake stereo" mix now, I notice quite a bit of bleed-through of each to the other side. If it weren't for that, it would sound really weird. I mean, how does a band of four guys singing and playing guitars simultaneously somehow put their voices on one side of you and their instruments on the other? Not physically possible.

So the official release, and reissue, of this album really should be the mono version, where you hear all the instruments and voices in one big mash on all sides of your ears, which is what you would've heard if you'd seen them from the back of Liverpool's Cavern Club in 1962 anyway. (Or more likely, out of one little speaker in your car.) But the mono version is only available with the box set (all you need is cash...it's pricey), and that's a shame, because most people will only hear this "stereo" version.

Someday, I hope a studio wizard isolates each voice and instrument and creates a truer stereo mix, putting John, Paul, George and Ringo in different places in your headphones, so you can close your eyes and imagine them playing here, there, but not everywhere.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Devo's "Are We Not Men?" Again!

"Deluxe"
"Remastered"

Hey, okay, so major labels are desperately repackaging old stuff to sell as new, because, frankly, aside from Taylor Swift, Clay Aiken, etc. they ain't got much good stuff left to peddle. All the good bands are either releasing on smaller indie labels that give them more creative control, or starting their own labels and just doing it themselves. See Morton Valence, for example: homepage

So, when I see the words "Deluxe" and "Remastered" mentioned in a major label release, I'm a little suspicious. But, er, I have a weakness: "Bonus tracks!" Warner Bros. reissued Devo's classic 1978 major-label debut today, and they included not just a couple of B-sides, or demo tracks (which I usually only want to hear once anyway), but in this case, an entire concert of the whole album performed live in 2009 in London. Since I couldn't be there for that special event, this is the next best thing. My order is placed; thanks Warner Bros. for once in a great while offering good value for the money! (Only $9.99!)
Amazon - Devo: Are We Not Men? Deluxe Remastered Version



Oh, and in case you're wondering why I'm so excited about "that weird band who had one hit in the 80's," this excerpt from an Amazon reviewer Jason Gilmour sums it up well:

"DEVO created a kind of glorious primitive futurism that is complex while being darkly funny. 'Are We Not Men' is a blistering manifesto."