Archive for December, 2008


Cruisin’ with the Mountain Goats

December 31, 2008

Norwegian Jewel

Go on a cruise with the Mountain Goats, the Weakerthans, Sloan, and many more. The Barenaked Ladies have organized a six-day trip, Ships & Dip V, on the Norwegian Jewel [pictured], with you and whole slew of artists. It’s the first week of February, starting from Miami and going to Cozumel and the Grand Stirrup Cay. Part of me thinks, “Ooh, a week  with John Darnielle and John K. Samson” and then the rest of my higher brain functions kick in and remind me that it’s a cruise, and not even a cool cruise.

However, if it sounds like a fun- and music-filled vacation to you, you can find full details here. Book fast – there are only a hundred cabins left (of course, it’s also just a month away).

MP3: The Weakerthans – Left and Leaving


Upcoming: microDecibel Festival

December 30, 2008

Alex Smoke

The Decibel Festival is hosting a two-night end-of-year blowout at Neumo’s in Seattle. Night one, on Tuesday, December 30th, is “Best of Bass,” with variants of house, in the persons of Jesse Rose and Kilowatts, at the top of the bill. Night two, the 31st, is “Dirty Dancing: NYE” and focuses on techno, with live performances from John Tejada, Alex Smoke [pictured above], and more. I saw Alex Smoke in late 2007, and he was phenomenal – definitely one of the best performances that I saw that year.

Full details on udB can be found at the Decibel Festival Myspace page, and a Stranger article is here.

Image: Alex Smoke by Flickr user couchetard, reposted here with permission.


Upcoming: Anarchy Evolution

December 29, 2008

[embedded YouTube video; if you can’t watch it, click here]

Bad Religion frontman and UCLA biology professor Greg Graffin is working on a book, Anarchy Evolution, that’s scheduled for release on Harper Books in 2010. It’s supposed to be about naturalism and atheism as well as (one presumes) anarchy and evolution. Graffin (looking extremely professorial in the video) describes it as a personal narrative about ‘how to be a more interesting atheist than has been [cough] advertised by popular books of the last three years, by calling yourself a naturalist instead.’ [my links, of course]

No Amazon pre-order link yet – stay tuned.

MP3: Bad Religion – Sorrow [amazon]


Video: Goldblade, “City of Christmas Ghosts”

December 26, 2008

[embedded YouTube video; if you can’t watch it, click here]

Rounding out our week of alternatives to traditional Christmas music, we have this new song by British punk band Goldblade, featuring the legendary vocalist Poly Styrene. As befits a punk Christmas, it’s an elegy for lost friends coupled with distinctly anti-consumerist sentiment.


Merry Christmas from Chiron Beta Prime

December 25, 2008

chiron-beta-prime[Image credit : Len from the Jawbone Radio Show]

As you may have gathered from an earlier post, I’m not so much about holiday music (hey, it’s a secular democracy, deal with it). So it’s perhaps unsurprising that “Chiron Beta Prime” by Jonathan Coulton is one of the very few Christmas songs that I like. This live version features zed equals zee’s very own guest blogger Scott in a cameo as the robot voice.

MP3: Jonathon Coulton (and Scott) – Chiron Beta Prime (live)


Working on Christmas

December 24, 2008


It’s Christmas Eve, and I’m in my office, even though I probably shouldn’t be, so I can use my printer and my big monitor. I actually find it kind of amusing to send out letters time-stamped on Christmas Eve – doing my bit to remind people that our culture is pluralistic, not a monolith. But I know that working on Christmas, for many people, is not voluntary. I’m streaming KEXP and they just played this  Seattle-centric song by Harvey Danger. Even for an occasionally snarky non-Christmas celebrant, it captures some of the melancholy of working on the holiday.

This song is for my friends Erich, Scott and Ken, none of whom could go home to see their families because they had to work around Christmas.

MP3: Harvey Danger – Sometimes You Have to Work on Christmas [amazon]


Threesome: alternative holiday songs

December 24, 2008


In response to my ‘Christmas songs for non-Christmas people,’ guest blogger Scott offered up three finds. The first is “Father Christmas,” by the Kinks, which I immediately recognized as a staple of my local alt-rock station. It’s a heartwarming holiday song about getting a job as a department store Santa Claus and being mugged by a gang of kids. Rilo Kiley‘s ‘Xmas Cake’ and Jenny Owen Youngs‘s  “Things We Don’t Need Anymore” are both about how depressing Christmas can be if you don’t feel like your life is going very well. The former is mostly just sad (crying in the eponymous cake) and the latter song is heavily leavened with anger (‘Here’s to wishes that’ll never come true.’)

Scott also sent me a song called “I’m Going to Spend My Christmas With a Dalek,” off an album of Doctor Who related songs, Who Is Dr Who. I got 56 seconds in (1:32 to go) before I had to shut it off. It managed to offend me musically, as a fan of Doctor Who (since when do Daleks have left toes?) and, well, as a human (the faux-childish lisp of the singers – yeesh). I think it would be rather fitting if its perpetrators really do get to spend Christmas with a Dalek, since they are pretty low on the holiday spirit and big on the ‘EX-TER-MIN-ATE!’

I can’t actually bring myself to propagate the song further, sorry. There’s enough horrifying stuff on the Internet without my adding to it.

MP3: The Kinks – Father Christmas [amazon]

MP3: Rilo Kiley – Xmas Cake [buy]

MP3: Jenny Owen Youngs – Things We Don’t Need Anymore


Christmas songs for non-Christmas people

December 23, 2008


So, as you could probably tell from yesterday’s post, I’m not a big Christmas person. My family doesn’t celebrate Christmas, never has. Jonathan Trigell puts it well: “I went to a Christian primary school. We all did back then; it was called “school”. At Christmas time, we prayed little-children prayers and sang jolly songs about Jesus. We were credulous children and we believed what the teachers told us.”  But it didn’t take. (Nor did the other religions I was raised with.)

Perhaps as a result of this early attempt at indoctrination, my taste in Christmas songs definitely runs towards the twisted, cynical, funny or, really, anything that isn’t religious or heartwarming. “Fairytale of New York,” originally by The Pogues and Kirsty McColl, squeaks in because any Christmas song that includes “Happy Christmas, your ass/I pray God it’s our last” fits the bill. And Pansy Division – well, they’re Pansy Division, and they sing about what they always sing about, with a holiday veneer.

I’m going to post my very favourite holiday song on Christmas Day. But in the interim, I want to hear from you – what are your favourite examples of non-traditional holiday songs? Please post in the comments.

MP3: Pilate – Fairytale of New York

MP3: Pansy Division – Homo Christmas [very NSFW! Also not safe for straight men who are insecure about their sexuality.]

Image: Full story is here.


Coverage: “Hallelujah” on the UK charts

December 22, 2008


Last week guest blogger Scott posted about the Jeff Buckley cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” describing it as ‘insipid’ compared to the original.

Well, as he pointed out, apparently all of the UK is conspiring against him.

This week, the number one song on the British charts is a cover of “Hallelujah” by Alexandra Burke, the winner of the British analog of American IdolX-Factor. The number two song? Quoth the Guardian: “In second place…was the late Buckley’s interpretation of the song, which was propelled…by an internet campaign masterminded by music fans who feared that Burke would desecrate Cohen’s 1984 anthem.”

Sorry, Scott. The fact that Cohen’s own version also charted, at #36, makes me feel slightly better.

You can see the video of the Burke version here. Or do something better for your soul and download the original from Amazon here.

EDIT: In the comments, Mike Epstein recommended the John Cale version. It is indeed wonderful. Enjoy.

MP3: John Cale – Hallelujah (live)


In the bleak midwinter

December 22, 2008

"Snowy" by g93dotnet

I’m not normally about holiday music. But both Seattle and Boston just celebrated the winter solstice by getting positively hammered with snow, and that made me think of this Pipettes version of “In The Bleak Midwinter.” It’s always kind of tickled me because it’s up there with ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?‘ as an egregious example of seeing the world through cultural blinders – I mean really, Ms. Rossetti –  I don’t think midwinter in Bethlehem is exactly characterized by “…water like a stone/snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow.”

Having said all that, the Holst tune is lovely, and I have a soft spot for this version.

MP3: The Pipettes – In the Bleak Midwinter

Image: Snowy by Flickr user g93dotnet, reposted here with permission.


Advance warning: Mission of Burma

December 19, 2008


zed equals zee faves Mission of Burma, together with Faces on Film and The Neighborhoods, are doing a show at Somerville Theatre on January 24th. The show is a benefit for Arts at the Armory, a nonprofit arts and culture group in Somerville that offers after-school classes, adult classes, and performances in the visual arts, theatre, dance and music. Tickets go on sale on Saturday, December 20th at 10 am at the Somerville Theatre or the Middle East box office (or, well, TicketBastard, if you must).

MP3: Mission of Burma – Spider’s Web [amazon]


Matador’s year-end anti-list

December 18, 2008


Bored of almost-identical year-end lists? Can’t stand the arbitrary nature of exactly 10, or 20, or 100 items? Has Matador got a list for you! The record label sent an e-mail to its artists, staff and associates, asking for their ‘favorite people/places/things/records/memories from the year about to conclude.’ They then concatenated all the responses into a giant blog posting of 2008 goodness – pages and pages worth. Given the rather vague specification, the posting includes the usual lists of albums and movies, as well as highlights like:

  • ‘Top Ten times I wished I was dead on tour this year’ (Jonah Falco of Fucked Up)
  • ‘Gladly having to cut short a tour in the spastic fuckhole that is America, thank fuck for drummers with serious heart issues’ (Barry Burns of Mogwai)
  • ‘Fried asparagus rolls from the venerable E. Village sushi haunt Sapporo East’ (Jeffrey Jensen)
  • ‘Seeing Eddie Izzard perform live twice. The man is a genius in heels.’ (Annette Lee of 4AD)

Head on over and check out the Matablog list for yourself, and feel free to share highlights or your annotations in the comments.

MP3: Fucked Up – No Epiphany [Daytrotter Session]


Upcoming: Rolling Tundra Revue 2009

December 17, 2008


The Constantines and the Weakerthans are teaming up again to reprise their 2005 Rolling Tundra Revue tour. As the name suggests, they’ll be touring all across Canada, starting in St Johns, Newfoundland in March 2009 and ending with a show in Whitehorse, in the Yukon Territory. They won’t be crossing into the US on this tour, but I’ll probably brave the border crossing to catch one of the Vancouver shows in early May.

Full tour details at Epitaph’s site.

MP3: The Constantines – Hard Feelings [amazon]


Neophile: The Gaslight Anthem

December 16, 2008


I am not working-class. I’ve been tenure-track practically since I learned to read, and instead of wisely spending my youth drinking in the woods, hanging out with the ‘bad boys,’ and learning to play pool,  I wasted it in libraries, doing calculus problems, and starting college early. I suspect that my fondness for bands with lyrics like “this whole town is like this/been that way our whole lives/just work at the mill until you die” stems from the same root that leads suburbanites, who’ve never been closer to a cow than the plastic-wrapped-packages in the meat case, to go to dude ranches. And I wouldn’t be at all surprised if a similar urge – for an idealized, all-American, authentic experience – contributed to UK music mag’s Kerrang!‘s decision to put New Jersey’s The Gaslight Anthem on the cover a few months ago, with the headline, “The Best New Band You’ll Hear in 2008.”

The Gaslight Anthem’s second album, The ’59 Sound, is filled with teenagers, cars, and teenagers in car crashes. Their musical aesthetic is post-punk melded with classic rock – fellow Jersey boy Bruce Springsteen meets Alkaline Trio. It sounds instantly familiar, in the best possible way, and certainly will make you nostalgic for a life you probably haven’t led.

More The Gaslight Anthem:  myspace

MP3: The Gaslight Anthem – The ’59 Sound [amazon]


Coverage: The danger of lists

December 15, 2008


Guest blogger Scott writes:

As the end of the year approaches, music blogs everywhere will be producing lists; best of ’08, most anticipated of ’09, biggest letdowns of ’08. And for every list, there is someone like me who has nothing better to do than to poke holes in it.

I was recently directed to nuTsie’s comprehensive page of lists with the instruction to call up the list from the year I turned 14 and sink into nostalgia. It didn’t succeed at this for very long; I was mostly just reminded of how bad music was the year I was 14. I suppose that’s a form of nostalgia. Those among you with strong feelings about the worst year in recent musical history should feel free to speculate regarding my age.

What I went to from there, of course, was the 100 Greatest Cover Songs list (105, as it turns out). Wow. Just, wow. Now, I understand that there’s going to be some component of radio play and chart toppers involved in this selection. So we aren’t going to get something like Jason Faulkner’s cover of Joni Mitchell”s “Both Sides Now” or Violent Femmes’ recent cover of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy.” But even accepting that, I have some complaints.

David Lee Roth’s cover of The Beach Boys’ “California Girls” is, under no circumstances, one of the 100 best covers. It probably isn’t one of the 100 best covers with the word ‘California’ in the title. Similarly, “Red Red Wine” by UB40 is not a good song, and while I have a special place in my heart for The Bangles’ “A Hazy Shade of Winter,” it probably doesn’t belong here either. Bow Wow Wow’s “I Want Candy” is a quintessential 80s song, but that doesn’t mean that it’s worthwhile or important. And I know I’m in the minority on this, but Jeff Buckley’s cover of “Hallelujah” is just insipid. The Leonard Cohen original sounds as if some minor miracle has just walked him back from the edge of death and despair. Buckley’s, by comparison, sounds as if God just granted his request for a Mercedes-Benz. Sure, he’s impressed and happy and his faith has been strengthened, but there wasn’t anything of consequence on the line, so who the hell cares?

And there are obvious, as well as less-obvious but deserving, alternatives. nuTsie’s telling me that The Beatles recorded four of the top 100 covers and not one of them was “Twist and Shout”? I couldn’t tell you who originally sang three of the four listed (I did know that “Long Tall Sally” was by Little Richard), and couldn’t even call up a good recollection of the Beatles’ versions. Whereas with “Twist and Shout,” I can remember hearing both the Beatles’ and Isley Brothers’ versions on the radio and making the cover song connection, probably for the first time. Similarly, where is Aretha Franklin’s cover of “Respect”? Just because no one has ever heard the Otis Redding version doesn’t make Aretha’s not a cover. Ella Fitzgerald wasn’t the original performer of “Dream a Little Dream of Me,” but it would have been considered a standard in her time, rather than a cover. By the time Mama Cass recorded it, though, it was unquestionably a cover (for most people, of the Ella version). Either version of the song could easily fit here. Lastly, another great cover that deserves inclusion is Frank Black’s cover of “Hang On To Your Ego,” but since The Beach Boys’ original ended up being retitled “I Know There’s An Answer,” it’s understandably missed.

That’s not to say that they got it all wrong. In addition to some of the required inclusions, like Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower,” Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee,” and The Clash’s “I Fought the Law,” they included some lesser-known but deserving works. Steve Winwood’s original of “Back in the High Life” comes across as blithely unironic adult contemporary, but Warren Zevon sings it as if he doesn’t mean a word he says. He hadn’t yet been diagnosed with the cancer that killed him, but on an album called Life’ll Kill Ya, he sounds like he already knows. The two Johnny Cash songs, “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky” and “Hurt,” are the obvious choices and, while I might have chosen slightly differently, they’re obvious for a reason—they’re really good. And I’d have forgotten Deep Purple’s “Hush” if I were making this list, which would have left someone else something to complain about.

MP3: Los Campesinos! – My Year in Lists (not a cover) [amazon]


Video interview: Freezepop

December 12, 2008

[embedded video; if you can’t watch it, click here]

Speaking of Freezepop, the above is a short interview they did for (it’s an Asus/Intel vaguely astroturf-y ‘community-building’ site). The video is pretty much worth watching just for the Duke’s barely-restrained sarcastic understatement as he explains the relationship between the band and music videogames and what being a musician was like in the bad old days.

For a different facet of Freezepop, check out this webcomic.


Threesome: Stalker-iffic love songs

December 12, 2008

[embedded YouTube video; if you can’t watch it, click here]

Here are three songs that are frequently construed as love songs, but are really creepy stalker anthems;  this follows up on a conversation with Nick in this comment thread.

The video above is for the Freezepop song “Stakeout,” which is actually a stalker song. But really, how creepy could being stalked by Liz Enthusiasm (who also did the cool animation) be?

Incidentally, if you happen to be in the Boston area, Freezepop are playing tonight (Friday, December 12th) at the Middle East Downstairs, along with fellow z=z faves The Bon Savants.

If you have a favorite stalker-slash-love song, please share it in the comments!

MP3: Death Cab for Cutie – I Will Possess Your Heart [amazon]

MP3: Proclaimers – I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) [amazon]

MP3: The Police – Every Breath You Take [amazon]


Listen local: Passion Pit

December 11, 2008


[click image for full version]

The head of BBC Radio 1 thinks that Cambridge, MA’s Passion Pit are the next big thing. Radio 1 is unusual in that it is simultaneously non-commercial and mainstream and, at least in the UK, getting added to its playlist means you’ve made it to the big leagues. The Guardian recently posted an interview with Radio 1’s head of music, George Ergatoudis, about the process by which artists get chosen for airplay. It’s kind of nice to read about their involved process of meetings and how their challenge is to balance music that is accessible and that which is more difficult (rather than, say, about how they are beating off promoters with a stick or quietly doing pay-for-play). To be perfectly precise, Ergatoudis says that Passion Pit are the next MGMT, which makes sense given that they occupy a similar point in the happy, catchy, danceable pop-electronica space.

Incidentally, the image above is a charming review of both a Passion Pit concert and their album, Chunk of Change, by artist Andrew Kuo; click on it to see the full version.

MP3: Passion Pit – Sleepyhead [amazon]


Upcoming: AC Newman, Get Guilty

December 10, 2008


Speaking of the New Pornographers, their head honcho A.C. Newman‘s second solo album, Get Guilty, now has a release date – January 20th – and a tour schedule. He’ll be hitting Neumo’s in Seattle on February 21st and the Paradise in Boston on the March 14th (full tour schedule here). Nicole Atkins and Jon Wurster – better known as the drummer for the Mountain Goats – do guest stints on the album, so I am extra-psyched about hearing the whole thing. Here’s a taste to keep you going until then.

MP3: AC Newman – Submarines of Stockholm [preorder]


Video: Moshcam

December 9, 2008


Charmingly-named Australian website Moshcam is the go-to source for concert footage down under. They just posted video of a New Pornographers [pictured above] show at the Annandale Hotel in October, and you can also check out video of The Faint, Australia’s own Youth Group, and more. The site includes two excellent features: a clickable playlist, so impatient types can jump straight to their favourite track, and an audio-only option if you are on a low-bandwidth connection.

MP3: The New Pornographers – Sing Me Spanish Techno [amazon]