Saturday, February 26, 2005

The end of the world as we know it...or maybe just more of the same...

I found this article from the Guardian at the Burned by the Sun blog. Wow, that's some amzing technology, huh? But, just as in the rest of life, "amazing technology" doesn't always spell "progress" and "good."

The fundamental problem with Hit Song Science is that music isn't a science at all (or at least it shouldn't be). HSS accomplishes two things: First, at best it damages, and more likely it destroys, the creative process. So much of who an artist is comes from the process of finding his/her voice over time. The Beatles didn't just wake up one day and write great songs. They played together for years in crappy clubs in Liverpool and Hamburg and went through a period of becoming that lasted until they broke up in 1970. But with HSS, they would just feed "Love Me Do" into the computer and it would suggest of few minor changes to make it sound more like Pat Boone and then they could rehash it for 8 years. That leads to my second point which is simply that HSS only takes the past into account. Now, I'm the first one to say that knowing your roots is essential to making great music, but roots are to build upon, not to be regurgitated. HSS would purge minor innovations and shoot down entirely anything that really breaks the mold.

I don't know if HSS is going to really change the path of popular music or just hasten an already bad trend. In the 50-some years of rock n roll, business has slowly but steadily usurped the "three chords and the truth" that has always made rock touch our hearts and souls.

I mustasaida

A note for note rehashing of a song is pretty much never interesting (see Great White's version of "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You" from Unplugged). Of course, that doesn't mean that a cover where the artist makes the song his/her own is a wonderful thing either. Sometimes it is like when Jane's Addiction did "Sympathy" or when Voi Vod did "Astronomy Domine," but other times it's a disaster. In the late 60s, Elvis covered the Beatles' "Yesterday." Now, I didn't have high hopes for this one anyway, but I also didn't expect it to devolve into something so pathetic it was comical. About 1:20 into his version, where Paul McCartney sang, "I said, 'Something wrong?' Now I long for yesterday," Elvis puts his indelible stamp on it by singing, "I mustasaida..." I mustasaida?!?!? What is that? What was he thinking? Linda suggested it was the bacon fat or the painkillers. Probably. I didn't even keep listening. I just rewound back and listened to that couple of seconds over and over...and over. Laughed like there was no tomorrow. I made an MP3 of those few seconds over and over for several minutes. I use it to bug my wife. I laugh some more. At that point, "Yesterday" was undeniably Elvis', but that certainly wasn't a good thing.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Mars Volta

I think perhaps that Mars Volta is the new Pink Floyd. Not Wall-era Floyd or even Dark Side-era Floyd, but Meddle-era, Live at Pompeii-era Floyd. They're like Floyd when they were pushing the limits, not once they had perfected the craft (Dark Side) or fallen into decline (The Wall). The question then is this: Will the Mars Volta take the next step and release something that really approaches perfection like Dark Side did? If they don't, that's fine, because few bands reach the heights that they already have in just two albums, but they have already set the bar high. In the next few years, they could give us the next truly great album. Something that plays in the same league as Dark Side, Sgt Peppers and Nothing's Shocking. Time will tell...

No Idea Records

No Idea Records is the coolest label out there right now if you like vinyl. Their biggest thing is Hot Water Music, but they have a stable of interesting and innovative punk and indie bands that stand head and shoulders above the sad facsimile that so much of punk is today. As if the music isn't reason enought to love them, the records are beautiful. They're mostly colored vinyl and not just red or blue, but all kinds of crazy colors and some are multi-color. The LP covers have some of the best album art going too. And the website has information about all pressings and colors and then numbers made. It's an anal collector's dream come true. Still not convinced? Check this out: LPs are $6! (CDs are only $7 for those of you unfortunate enough to be stuck with that format). And they ship media (unless you wanna pay for priority) so shipping is cheap too. And they have a distro with prices that are often cheaper than the labels themselves. Oh yeah, and there's always some fun free stuff in the box!

Thursday, February 24, 2005

A sense of history...

I was watching the movie Ray with my wife the other night (by the way, Jamie Foxx is Ray Charles, it's amazing) and there's a scene where Ahmet Ertegun gives Ray Charles his song, "Mess Around." It's in G, he says and Ray starts to play in G. Ahmet says, "No. More Pete Johnson" and Ray starts playing boogie woogie in G instead and then the song just takes off. The cool thing was that Ray Charles knew enough about all the music around him to pull that off. Ray Charles was able to pull it off in many genres. He had a sense of history and a love of music, not just of one kind of music. The same thing is apparent in the ska-revival of the 90s. Most of those bands probably never even heard Desmond Dekker or Prince Buster. They heard the Specials perhaps or worse still maybe they just heard Rancid do ska. Anyway, they lack that appreciation for the history of the music. In a sense, they might as well just play note-for-note covers, because they just play and don't feel and love it. I see this across genres. Many bands play within the narrow confines of their genre, because they really don't know what's out there. They really don't know what came before. Seriously, you could be playing alt metal and a good grasp of Hank Williams or George Gershwin or John Coltrane can only help you. But sadly, most bands aren't like that.

I wonder if the decline of vaudeville may have played into this cultural decline. Think about it, vaudevillians crossed all kinds of performance lines. They could act in anything, they could play anything. They had a broad knowledge of and love for performing. Today, metal bands are made up of metalheads and punk bands are made up of punks, etc and even though everyone has a few token artists that they like outside their "world," only the best have any passion for other stuff.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005


Maybe I spoke too's...gulp....growing on me...maybe I should turn it off...

Avoid "Give Your Body Up to the Music" on that Larry Levan CD unless you want to admit there is...uhhh...(whispering) good disco...

Disco sucks...or does it?

I was reading Chuck's blog (Would you like a policeman with your chalupa, sir?: to give the real disco another shot. The result is that I'm still just going to have to stick with knowing that this stuff is important and that it really moves some people. It still just doesn't move me. Maybe I came along too late and I'm just jaded. Some of it is good enough if I struggle to put it into context, but a lot of it still sounds like Saturday Night Fever and even the context of time can't completely overcome that for me.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Bright Eyes Part 2

Okay, I listened to Digital Ash in a Digital Urn. I was under the impression that this was Oberst's stab at electronica, but I was wrong. Yeah, there are a lot of electronic elements (drum machines, etc), but Digital Ash is closer to I'm Wide Awake or Lifted than it is to electronica. It lacks the subtle layering that makes good electronic music interesting. It also lacks the coldness of electronic music, or rather it has a very different kind of coldness. Electronica is the coldness of concrete and steel, of binary code and circuit boards. It's the coldness of reaching out and touching something cold and metal. It makes you foget that you're living and breathing and organic. Bright Eyes' coldness is more like the coldness of the homeless. It's the coldness that clings to you on a cold, damp morning. It's the coldness that we know only because we are alive. This album is more like an indie/folk/emo album with a drum machine. And it's not new ground for Oberst, he's done it before, but he does it very well. While I'm Wide got the great reviews, Digital Ash is a much more accessible album. Oberst actually sings alright at times on this one. He doesn't rely strictly on the whiney, broken voice that permeates I'm Wide Awake. Sometimes it almost has a pop feel, without abandoning its emotional depth. Digital Ash is a more consistent album and has a better chance of bringing Oberst's music to a broader audience.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

New Bright Eyes Album

There's a lot of hype surrounding the new dual-release from Bright Eyes and some of it is well-deserved. I bought both, but so far I've only listened to I'm Wide Awake It's Morning. If writing songs that are strong enough and emotional and poetic enough to get away with not being able to sing is the mark of the next Bob Dylan, then Oberst is it. This isn't quite side 2 of Lifted, but his strengths are all evident. But so are his weaknesses. He's a terrible singer and, while he pulls that off and makes it kinda charming on his own, it's a disaster when he sings with someone who can carry a tune. Instead of choosing Emmylou Harris who is a fine singer, perhaps Oberst should have asked Marianne Faithful, who has turned her own vocal shortcomings into her strength as a performer.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

The Beatles versus the Rolling Stones

Here's something I wrote for my wife when she was fighting off some idiotic Stones lovers at work a year or so ago. I said in my "Satisfaction" post that I'd address why I don't think the Stones are all that, so I thought rather than rewrite it, I'd just steal old material from myself.

Ask yourself this question: If either the Beatles or the Rolling Stones never existed, which would have the greatest impact on music? Had the Beatles not existed, the British Invasion would still have happened, but with one significant difference: Most bands would still primarily perform other people's songs. The Beatles earliest contribution is simply that they did what Buddy Holly died too early to do: They made the songwriter and performer one. The Stones would still be a cover band if the Beatles hadn't opened that door (although I'm not sure that would be such a bad thing). The Beatles more evident contribution came later as they turned rock n roll (a short and limited phase in music history) into ROCK. They expanded the boundaries with alternative instrumentation, creative production techniques, and a great variety of influences. Prior to Revolver, most rock n roll bands were simply playing a simple amalgamation of C&W and R&B that varied little from the records released in the mid 50s. The Stones never strayed far from this while the Beatles incorporated into this Indian, classical, cabaret, even ska at times. It elevated their music from the limited rock n roll that preceded them to a broad expansive art form. On the other hand, the Stones had only limited success when they got away from basic blues. While the Beatles took all these disparate influences and created cohesive albums, the Stones at best created cohesive songs (and not in a consistent manner). The only time the Stones could be relied on was when they stuck to the simple blues that they knew well.

To return to my initial question, the answer should be obvious. If there hadn't been a Beatles, Rock may not have even happened, because simple blues-based rock n roll would have died for it's inability to re-invent itself. If there had been no Rolling Stones, blues based rock would still exist, because the Yardbirds did it better and they gave us three of the real bastions of blues rock in Clapton, Beck and Page. Of course the Stones did set a standard for drugs and debauchery, but Led Zeppelin soon rewrote that standard without any influence from the Stones.

To those of you who would argue that the Stones are better simply because they've continued on 30 some years past the Beatles, I would reply simply that quantity is no substitute for quality. The Rolling Stones did put out a decent amount of good (not great) material in the 60s and most of that can be heard on the Hot Rocks best-of album. In the last 30 years though, the Stones have released very little that is better than bar-band quality music and even bar-bands can get a decent song or two out over time (see J Geils or 38 Special or Ratt or any other of a huge number of one- and two-hit wonders). This is exemplified in what are three of the best anthology records ever: the Beatles 1962-66, 1967-70 and the Rolling Stones Hot Rocks. While Hot Rocks will give you just about every important Stones song on two records, the four albums of 1962-66 and 1967-70 don't even scratch the surface of the Beatles. You can get pretty much all the Stones you need on a single two-album set and there are NO must-buy regular-release Stones albums. However, the Beatles best-ofs are only a starting point. Their list of must-owns includes: Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt Pepper, White Album, Abbey Road. These are absolute musts. They are earth-shaking albums that have few if any rivals anywhere. Beyond these, there are still plenty of Beatles albums that should be owned ahead of any Stones albums.
Just remember, without the Beatles, there would still have been a Rolling Stones, but they would have been long forgotten. Many of the Beatles contributions would likely not have come from any other source. Any of the Stones contributions (few as they are) can be reasonably attributed to other bands in their absence. You can like listening to the Stones more than Beatles. As misguided as I think that is, it is your opinion. However, the question of who is really the better band goes well beyond unsubstantiated opinion. The Beatles ARE better than the Rolling Stones. It's not an opinion, it's a fact. It's not the result of a public opinion poll, but the result of history.

Missed Hits 2004

Each year (this year and last year anyway), I make a comp CD of the best stuff I heard that year that most people probably didn't. I pass it around to a few friends and that sort of thing. Anyway, here's the 2004 list. Maybe I'll post the 2003 list another time. By the way, this is stuff I heard for the first time in 2004, not stuff that came out in 2004. Some of it's a good bit older.

  • Ted Leo/Pharmacists "Under the Hedge" from Tyranny of Distance (2001)

  • Mike Doughty "Cash Cow" from Skittish/Rockity Roll (2004)

  • Desert City Soundtrack "Shoulder" from DCS/Rum Diary Split 7" (2004)

  • Kimya Dawson "Heroes 2004" unreleased (2004)

  • Roy "Has Darrell Worley Forgotten?" from Big City Sin, Small Town Redemption (2004)

  • Alias "Pill Hiding" from Anticon Sampler 1999-2004 (2004)

  • The Bomboras "War of the Satellites" from Head Shrinkin' Fun (1998)

  • Death Cab for Cutie "We Looked Like Giants" from Transatlanticism (2004)

  • Fela Kuti "Let's Start" from Fela Ransome-Kuti and Africa 70 with Ginger Baker Live (1971)

  • J Church "Austin's Shitty Limits" from Society is a Carnivorous Flower (2004)

  • Elliott Smith "A Fond Farewell" from From a Basement on a Hill (2004)

  • The Decemberists "July, July" from Castaways and Cutouts (2002)

  • Against Me "Cavalier Eternal" from Against Me as the Eternal Cowboy (2004)

  • Rust Belt Music "This is a Colma Train" from Builder 4.0 (2004)

  • Postal Service "Sleeping In" from Give Up (2003)

  • Loretta Lynn and Jack White "Portland, Oregon" from Van Lear Rose (2004)

  • Common Rider "Longshot" from This is Unity Music (2003)

  • Velvet Teen "Chimera Obscurant" from Elysium (2004)

  • The Birmingham Sunlights "Jacob's Ladder" from In the Garden (2004)


I suppose it's odd that my first post should be about a song that I've put significant effort into slamming over the years, but it's what's on my mind now, so it's what I'm gonna write about. I've never bought into the idea of the Stones' "Satisfaction" being a really great song (much like I don't buy into the Stones being a really great band, but that's another topic for another post perhaps), because it's just simply not. It's a riff, not a song. Kinda like a predecessor to the Human League's "Don't You Want Me" (that should really irritate some Stones fans). With either song, if you take that hooky little repetitive riff away, there's just not much left. So, for years I've been blathering on about this to anyone who'll listen (listeners are few and far between which maybe should tell me something), but just the other day, I realized something else about "Satisfaction" that makes me think I may have been a bit too hard on it.

Now, maybe I'm wrong about this, but it seems to me that "Satisfaction" is one of the first rock n roll songs to have the melody in the guitar part instead of the vocals. The hook is clearly the guitar riff and Mick's vocals are really the songs rhythm (think about it for a second). Thinking about rock n roll before "Satisfaction," be it the Beatles or the Beach Boys or Motown or even Chuck Berry, the melody was the vocal and the guitar was largely a rhythm instrument. So "Satisfaction" might have changed rock songwriting. Now don't get me wrong, I still think "Satisfaction" sucks as a song on its own, but perhaps in the context of history, it really does have a place. Or maybe this is just a weak moment of kindness and all it really did was make it acceptable to write a riff and call it a song. Even if it is historically important though, I still can't get no satisfaction from it.