Archive for June, 2008

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Threesome: alchemical transformations

June 30, 2008

Following up on our previous post, here are three heavy metal covers done right. Arab Strap (pictured above) do a version of “You Shook Me All Night Long” which should erase any memory of Celine Dion’s butchery. And as promised, here’s Emm Gryner’s quiet, piano-based version of Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train.”  Finally, the Dresden Dolls dusted off Black Sabbath’s 1970 anti-Vietnam-War anthem,  “War Pigs,” for their live shows:

Politicians hide themselves away
They only started the war
Why should they go out to fight?
They leave that role to the poor

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

MP3: Arab Strap – You Shook Me All Night Long (more Arab Strap)

MP3: Emm Gryner – Crazy Train (more Emm Gryner)

MP3: The Dresden Dolls – War Pigs (live) (more Dresden Dolls)

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Coverage: worst cover ever?

June 27, 2008

UK-based magazine Total Guitar recently published its lists of the 30 best and the 20 worst covers of all time. They chose Celine Dion’s version of AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long” in the latter category, which is definitely a worthy contender (that’s AC/DC, above). The BBC World News has a 36-second excerpt, and you can see how much of it you can take (I had heard enough at about the six-second mark).

As you might expect from a magazine called Total Guitar, their best cover ever was Jimi Hendrix’s version of “All Along the Watchtower.”

Stay tuned for a much better cover of “You Shook Me All Night Long.”

Agree or disagree with their choices? Feel free to nominate your own in the comments!

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Old school: Bauhaus

June 25, 2008

Depending on how you count, it’s been a generation, maybe two, since the rise of what we’d consider independent music. So there’s a lot of good stuff that you may not have heard if you are new to the scene, either by age or inclination. Following up on my posting of an early-80s punk classic, I think I’m going to interpret ‘old school’ like ‘driving school’ and provide the odd bit of education on the old, starting with Bauhaus.

Despite its deeply Modernist name, cult favourite Bauhaus is often considered to be the sire of all goth bands. Their first single, 1979’s “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” (if the name doesn’t ring a bell, click here) pretty much laid the groundwork for the genre – bleak, moody, and obsessed with vampires . Over the four or so years of their initial incarnation, they had several singles on the UK charts, including their brilliant cover of David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust.” As far as I know, however, Bauhaus was never more than a cult band in the US or Canada.

However, the members found more success in their post-breakup projects. Minus Peter Murphy, the remainder of the band went on to start Love and Rockets, which released a number of singles that received airplay in North America, including ‘Ball of Confusion,’ ‘No New Tale to Tell,’ and the surprise top-ten single ‘So Alive,’ which helped their 1989 self-titled album to go gold. For his part, Peter Murphy‘s solo career has also resulted in a number of hits, including 1989’s ‘Cuts You Up‘ (which topped the modern rock charts for 7 weeks), ‘The Sweetest Drop,’ and ‘Indigo Eyes.’ Murphy is still active and touring, and in fact will be bringing his lovely rich voice and amazingly high cheekbones to the Roxy in Boston on Saturday, June 28th.

MP3: Bauhaus – Bela Lugosi’s Dead

MP3: Love and Rockets – Ball of Confusion

MP3: Peter Murphy – The Sweetest Drop

More about: bauhaus love and rockets peter murphy

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Takedown notices and antibacterial soap

June 24, 2008

I mentioned that Under the Rotunda received a takedown notice, asking them to remove leaked MP3s from the new Hold Steady album, Stay Positive. It was polite, and civilised, and Keith complied.

But I can’t help but think that takedown notices for leaked MP3s are as effective as antibacterial soap. The labels on the bottles proudly proclaim, “Kills 99% of bacteria!” But with an average doubling time of about 20 minutes, that just means that all the germs will be back in about two hours. On top of that, you’ve just selected for all the bugs that can survive the soap.

Blogs like Under the Rotunda and z=z might comply with a takedown notice, but I bet that you could still find the MP3s online without too much difficulty. And it’s not necessarily going to be on sites by music fans that are engaged in conversations about the album.

While I’m happy to accede to requests to remove MP3s, I’m not sure how holding the songs back for an extra six weeks will really help the band. And as a fan, I kind of worry about enthusiastic enforcement, since it makes me think of the difference between studios hosting preview screenings of their movies (because they are confident of what they’re selling and want the positive word of mouth) versus making sure no one can see their dud until opening weekend.

I’m definitely still thinking about these issues. And heaven knows the music companies, even the independents, haven’t really figured out how to deal with the brave new world of negligible distribution costs. Although The Hold Steady are certainly going in the right direction on another front, by stressing the physicality of the CD itself – it’s a limited-edition digipak.

Got an opinion? Feel free to share it in the comments.

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Cassette From My Ex

June 21, 2008

Cassette

Cassette from My Ex is a lovely blog where posters, mostly writers, musicians and other creative types, share the stories behind mixtapes they’ve received, as well as streaming audio of the contents. My own love of mixtapes (more recently, of course, mix CDs) is well-documented, and I love this site. The first story I read was from Claudia Gonson, of the Magnetic Fields and more, and it’s an excellent place to start.

[via Neil Gaiman]

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Upcoming: The Hold Steady, Stay Positive

June 19, 2008

The Hold Steady - Stay Positive

The Hold Steady’s new album, Stay Positive, is set to hit the stores (that phrase is becoming increasingly metaphorical) on July 15th. I’ve heard a bunch of tracks from it – the album was leaked – and I have to say that it sounds more like critical darling Boys and Girls in America than my personal fave, Separation Sunday. I have a soft spot for the specificity of Craig Finn’s lyrics, telling the stories of particular characters, and both his music and the libretti seem to be moving from being narrowly- to broadly-focused, and -appealing.

In accordance with the highly civilized takedown notice that they’ve been sending out to blogs that post tracks from the leaked album (more on that to come), I’m going to post the approved link to the approved song on their approved server. Enjoy.

MP3: The Hold Steady – Sequestered in Memphis

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[via Keith at Under the Rotunda]

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Coverage: The Dresden Dolls, “Pretty in Pink”

June 17, 2008

Pretty in Pink poster

Guest blogger Scott says:

This comes from a CD of 80s movie theme covers by various artists. Some of the other tracks are nice, but this is the only one that I really feel sounds like the artist tried to make it their own. And I had seriously never listened to the words of the verses before this. The original emphasizes the chorus, and its association with the Molly Ringwald oeuvre caused me to assume that it was just a “Hey, look at that girl” standard. Amanda really makes the verses tell their somber story much more effectively.

MP3: The Dresden Dolls – Pretty in Pink [Psychedelic Furs cover]

More Dresden Dolls: website myspace amazon

Previously: Coverage: Emm Gryner, “For What Reason”; Coverage: Vampire Weekend, “Exit Music (for a Film)“; Coverage: I Hate Kate, “Major Tom”

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Concert notes: Billy Bragg

June 15, 2008

[embedded YouTube video; if you can't see it, click here]

[Park West, Chicago, IL; June 14, 2008]

The songwriter Darrell Brown wrote in the New York Times’ ‘Measure for Measure’ blog that every good song needs three things: honesty, humanity, and hooks.

An honest song will show innocence, vulnerability and strength all at the same time…Then, it has to be full of humanity, and by that I mean the physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual sides of humanity. The big themes — the brokenness and the triumph of it all….Then, finally — and this is extremely important to a song — it has to be filled with hooks, basically because I don’t want to bore people to death with all the honesty and humanity I am parading about.

By this measure (and, really, any other you care to name), Billy Bragg is a brilliant songwriter. I haven’t listened to much Billy Bragg recently, and I was struck by how much his songs have the power to move me emotionally. This was true of not only his older songs like “Sexuality,” but also songs from his new album, Mr. Love & Justice, including “I Keep Faith” and “Farm Boy,” both which I heard for the first time last night.

Bragg is also a remarkable performer – as he wryly put it last night, “You got to have a bit of showmanship – otherwise, it’s just folk music, innit?” This was my first Billy Bragg concert, and I hadn’t realized that his shows are about equally split between music and comic/political monologue (as the quote from his manager, near the start of the video above, suggests) – he makes Ted Leo seem taciturn. Occasionally, the humour and the music merged, such as when he played The Who’s “Pinball Wizard” in the style of Johnny Cash, or when he snuck the opening to the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” into the long guitar outro of “The Saturday Boy” – in deference to his older fans, whom he suspected might not get the joke, he followed it up with the famous riff from Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water.”

The only wrong note of the night was the venue, the Park West in Chicago. Think modernist dinner theatre – black and silver, all small tables and booths, with everyone was seated through the performance. The acoustics were terrific, but I’m not sure I need table service and I’m really not a fan of the insanely overpriced drinks ($9 for a tiny shot of Maker’s). What took it from oddly cushy to actually disturbing, however, was the superfluity of a bathroom attendant, an older black woman no less. It felt anachronistic – like I had time-traveled back to before the civil rights era. The cognitive dissonance of that, at the concert of a man who’s spent his life fighting against racism and sexism, left me reeling.

More Billy Bragg: website myspace emusic

Also check out his Wikipedia entry and his blog.

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Neophile: The Loyalty

June 13, 2008

[embedded YouTube video above; if you can't see it, click here]

With the arrival of warm, sunny days – finally! – I start thinking about songs I want to hear in my car, with my sunroof open and the windows down. Power-pop group The Loyalty, from upstate New York, have found themselves a spot in my personal early-summer rotation. This is largely on the strength of the track below, “On Top of the World,” with its infectious guitar riff, late-70s Journey-ish verse, and late-90s post-punk chorus and bridge. I’m also a fan of their song “Stella” and its video, above (I can only imagine it makes a lot of furries very happy).

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MP3: The Loyalty – On Top of the World

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Old school: Suicidal Tendencies

June 11, 2008

Suicidal Tendencies

I went to see Air Conditioning Iron Man yesterday (which is definitely a movie calculated to appeal to my geeky comic-book-fan heart, especially the post-credits teaser). But what made me absolutely convulse in my seat was hearing Suicidal Tendencies’ “Institutionalized” over the scene of Tony Stark working in his garage. Suicidal Tendencies were distinguished from their hardcore peers by Mike Muir’s satirical and heartbreaking lyrics, and this song (from their self-titled debut album) was one of the first punk songs to receive significant airplay on MTV. It remains a punk classic.

MP3: Suicidal Tendencies – Institutionalized

More Suicidal Tendecies: website myspace emusic

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Great bands with multiple lead singers

June 9, 2008

Mission of Burma

Speaking of Sloan, they made The Onion AV Club‘s recent list of ‘bands with more than one prominent lead singer,’ which also includes z=z favourites Mission of Burma (pictured above) and The New Pornographers. I’m not sure that I totally buy the pop-psych explanation of Sloan’s lack of success in the US, though:

It’s possible that perpetually underappreciated (in the States, anyway) Canadian power-pop band Sloan is too democratic. Fans tend to gravitate to bands where the members have clearly defined roles and responsibilities. In Sloan, everybody sings, writes, and trades off instruments. This means there’s no leader or star in Sloan, though a surplus of wonderful songs and killer harmonies would make up for that in a just world.

It’s especially hard to be swayed by that argument when the company they’re keeping includes, well, The Beatles (and the Beach Boys, and Fleetwood Mac, and the Clash, and Pink Floyd). You know, ‘perpetually underappreciated’ bands like that.

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Upcoming: Sloan, Parallel Play

June 7, 2008

Sloan - Parallel Play

Sloan’s new album, Parallel Play, drops next Tuesday, June 10th. They are supporting it with a short tour and will be hitting Cambridge, MA on June 18th (yes, I will be there), returning to TT the Bear’s. I saw them the last time they were there – as well as being enormously fun live, they had the best response to Cambridge’s rather draconian curfew that I’ve ever encountered. They announced that they wouldn’t bother with a (manufactured) encore. Instead, they played until the stroke of 1am. Chris Murphy was fronting the band for the last song, and when they finished, he just set aside his guitar, sat down on the edge of the stage, and began to chat with the fans.

MP3: Sloan – I’m Not a Kid Anymore

website myspace emusic amazon

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Coverage: Sarah Harmer and the Weakerthans, “Islands in the Stream”

June 5, 2008

Islands in the Stream cover art

Sarah Harmer and the Weakerthans do the Bee Gees by way of Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers. What’s not to like?

MP3: Sarah Harmer and the Weakerthans – Islands in the Stream

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Video: All India Radio, “Persist”

June 3, 2008

[embedded YouTube video; if you can't see it, click here]

In the new video for the All India Radio song, “Persist”, Australian animator Lucy Dyson hauntingly tells the story of Topsy the Elephant, who was electrocuted by Thomas Edison on January 5, 1903. The death of Topsy, together with the deaths of a number of other animals and the invention of the electric chair, was part of Edison’s propaganda campaign to discredit AC current by convincing the public that it was dangerous. Edison had developed a DC-based system to generate, transmit and use electricity. However, his former employee Nikola Tesla, backed by Westinghouse, went on to design an AC system that had significant technical advantages over DC (for example, AC can be transmitted for long distances with little power loss, while DC can be only transmitted a mile or so). The resulting competition between the two systems (known as the War of Currents) turned pretty nasty – not only was money at stake, but apparently it was also driven by a personal animosity between the two men. Edison filmed the death of Topsy (“Electrocuting an Elephant“) and circulated it widely. Despite Edison’s efforts, the advantages of AC won out and it was widely adopted, and that’s why those of us in the northeast US get power from Niagara Falls and why we’ve learned to be careful with hairdryers around bathtubs. Topsy’s fate seems to be in the zeitgeist; Brooklyn-based artist (and friend of z=z) Paul Davies created a piece on the elephant’s sad end as well.

More All India Radio: website myspace

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Threesome: hits and misses

June 2, 2008

female iconAs the requisite counterpart to the previous Threesome, here are three songs whose titles feature a female honorific. Not to get too gender-stereotyped, but they contrast sharply with the angular, aggressive songs in the male version. And oddly enough, they are all from sophomore albums. Up first, the Dresden Dolls’ “Mrs. O”, from their album, Yes, Virginia. Next, “Miss Teen Wordpower” from The New Pornographers’ Electric Version. Finally, “Miss Idaho” by Ox (from American Lo Fi, on Toronto’s awesome indie label, weewerk) is a beautiful country-ish song about leaving the city behind.

MP3: The Dresden Dolls – Mrs. O (more Dresden Dolls)

MP3: The New Pornographers – Miss Teen Wordpower (more New Pornographers)

MP3: Ox – Miss Idaho (more Ox)

Previously: Threesome: mister mister

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