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Friday, Aug 15, 2008
Polyhedron - Little Jinder

There’s something about the diminishing quiet of this song that draws me into the subterranean chase of its music box clatter.  The Bjork touchstone seems obvious, but its not forced or even earnestly parroted.  She doesn’t have the range and seems less interested in doing a floor routine with her vocals than in curling through curious and coy paces.  The sound parallels the work of Little Dragon (no relation) in that they both seem to be working with R&B out of its modes and moods, complicating the traditional subject matter and glacially arresting the genres movements with slipper beats and elongated ambience.  The VCR and the dated recording equipment add to the artifactual elements of the song, which, ironically, sounds like a perfectly shaped, delicate piece of pop architecture. The lush room fabrics and casual observers further deepen the song’s intimacy, making it seem like Josefine Jinder just shuffled her way up to a cozy coffeehouse open mic.  It’s a security blanket song and an easy ease into the weekend.

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Thursday, Aug 14, 2008

When the Old Grey Whistle Test DVD Set came out, for some reason I wasn’t surprised that the Replacements performance wouldn’t make the cut. Although I never got to see the band during their days of performance, countless hours have been spent on YouTube seeking out their performances—and “Kiss Me on the Bus” has been one of the most consistent, exceptional pop songs that the Replacements ever produced.

This performance, circa 1986—shows the Replacements in their prime. Although not quite as memorable as their famed Saturday Night Live performance, this highlights Paul Westerberg’s raw vocals at their best, and Bob Stinson whips up a solo variation that has the guitar sounding massively out-of-tune, and massively wonderful. Every time you watch the Replacements play, there’s something different to be offered, and that’s part of the glory of the Replacements. They never tried to be something they weren’t and the songs were never perfect. They were more focused on a valued performance and a songwriting that left an impression—a lesson a plethora of bands that spend entirely too much on their image and exact reproductions of the studio sound can learn from.

Tagged as: the replacements
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Thursday, Aug 14, 2008
The introduction to the video for "Poppin'" provides a pretty good summation of what viewers can expect: "Hopeless Records Presents All Time Low."

I once attended college in Los Angeles, where I came across a lot of rich So-Cal kids (or rich, wannabe So-Cal kids) who casually used the n-word to insult each other and openly admitted their racism, even expressing pride in it.

I’ll be damned if this piece of garbage doesn’t remind me of some of those old acquaintances. These guys might as well have filmed their minstrel video in blackface.

Tagged as: all time low
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Wednesday, Aug 13, 2008

The ninth installment of Live from Abbey Road (Sundance Channel, Thursday, August 7th at 10 p.m. Eastern and Pacific) is quite possibly the most dynamic yet. The Kills kick things off with “Getting Down” and “Last Day of Magic” from Midnight Boom. These are those fantastic, kinetic types of tunes that can only come from two people feeding off of each other and inspiring ever-escalating bursts of brilliance. It’s clear watching VV and Hotel facing off for these performances that they are locked into each other on every level, musically, and that’s what makes the songs so compelling.  Of course, good songwriting is important too, and the Kills have that locked in as well. “Goodnight Bad Morning”, also from Midnight Boom, is a languid, churning and obvious ode to the Velvet Underground, but it feels very in-the-moment, rather than sounding like a Lou Reed rip-off, which imparts an even greater sense of depth within the song. 

Sara Bareilles begins her segment by discussing—and then demonstrating—the depth of her relationship to music. She talks about not being taken seriously as a musician, because she’s a young girl playing “pop” music, but concludes that it ultimately doesn’t matter, because she knows who she is. Who is she? Well, to judge from these performances, she is a remarkably assured songwriter with an equally strong voice. If you’re unfamiliar with Bareilles’ piano-based songs and no-frills style, you’re going to be pleasantly surprised with this segment. She performs “Gravity” and her big hit, “Love Song”, from her debut disc, Little Voice, and then she pulls out all the stops for a stripped-down version of The Beatles’ “Oh Darling” in honor of the “sacred” atmosphere of the environs.

The Fratellis were one of my favorite finds of the past two years, and this set of songs doesn’t disappoint. Tales are told of coming up to St. John’s Wood for a weekend at 18, only to wander up and down Abbey Road all day (because you can’t just walk into the studios, you know!), and a bit of a warm up with some Pink Floyd is played to get the band ready for its set. First up is “Flathead” from the band’s incredible debut album, Costello Music, and in case you were wondering, yeah, neighbors will look at you funny if you funny if you’re dancing in front of the television and singing along to the chorus. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it anyway, this performance practically demands it.

“Milk and Money”, off the sophomore release Here We Stand starts as a piano ballad featuring, dare I say it, a Harrison-esque guitar sound and a sad and lovely refrain questioning what happens when the last song has been played. Then it erupts into a frantic, all out rocker before briefly returning to the mournful piano melody as it ends. Finally, “Mistress Mabel”, which had its lyrical genesis in Cream’s “Badge” (yet another George Harrison connection!), closes out the Fratellis segment, and does so with possibly more energy than all the songs in all the segments preceding it! 

So if last week’s episode was about being happy and letting it come through in the music, this week is all about relentless, high energy coupled with an anchoring, unshakable depth. And remembering to close the curtains when we dance!

Upcoming Line-ups:

Episode 10 - August 21
The Subways, Gnarls Barkley, Herbie Hancock w/ Sonya Kitchell

Episode 11 - August 28
Bryan Adams, Ben Harper, Justin Currie

Episode 12 - September 4
Teddy Thompson, Martha Wainwright, Brian Wilson

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Thursday, Aug 7, 2008
This is the reggae album for people who do not know, or claim not to like, reggae music.

Go and Seek Your Rights: The Mighty Diamonds’ Right Time

Big misconception about reggae music: it’s all happy, at the beach, drinking music. Biggest misconception about reggae music: it all sounds the same. Even Bob Marley (and it is both respectful and required to at least mention the great man’s name in any consequential discussion or reggae) had markedly different styles he embraced throughout his career, as his sound evolved from straightforward ska and rocksteady in the ‘60s to the full-fledged rastaman vibration everyone has heard on the radio—or at Happy Hour. Indeed, Marley serves as the most obvious case study for the distinctive sounds reggae has produced: anyone unfamiliar with songs not included on Legend, but curious to explore what else is out there, are encouraged to start with the crucial transition albums from the early ‘70s. You cannot go wrong with African Herbsman, the culmination of his brief but bountiful collaboration with Lee “Scratch” Perry. Or to appreciate the incomparable harmonizing of the original Wailers (Marley along with Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer), Catch A Fire and Burnin’ are indispensable cornerstones of any halfway serious reggae collection. And, above all, if it’s possible to single out one work that encapsulates Marley’s genius, Natty Dread is the alpha and the omega: not only is this his masterpiece, this one holds it own with any album, in any genre.

Okay. Even for those who are not sufficiently intrigued by the notion of a deeper dive into reggae’s abundant waters, there are more than a handful of sure things right on the surface. Enter the Mighty Diamonds and their first—and best—album, Right Time from 1976. Like the Wailers, the Mighty Diamonds are a harmonizing trio (with a killer backing band), and these three men, Donald “Tabby” Shaw, Fitzroy “Bunny” Simpson and Lloyd “Judge” Ferguson, created songs that stand tall alongside the very best reggae. Right Time manages to combine several styles and merge them in a seamless, practically flawless whole. This, to be certain, is roots reggae, yet at times it sounds like the most accessible soul music, closer to Motown than Trenchtown.

The group’s allegiance to Rastafarianism is skillfully articulated in the socially conscious lyrics, but the ten tracks on Right Time tackle romantic turmoil, violent crime, and redemption—sometimes all in one song. The title track, equally an ominous call to arms as well as a rallying cry against the system, sets an immediate tone that predicts chaos while promising resolve, pre-dating Culture’s epochal Two Sevens Clash by a year. The brilliance of the songs that follow must be heard to be believed, and it’s difficult to imagine how singing and song craft this tight, spiritual, and emotionally rich could fail to convince. The next two songs, “Why Me Black Brother Why?” and “Shame and Pride” constitute a one-two punch that manages to invoke Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson and Otis Redding: Gaye’s authentic words, Smokey’s silken voice, and Redding’s gut-rending fervor. If the world was right side up, all of these songs would be standards, familiar to anyone who listens to the soul legends mentioned above. The album’s highlight may be the resplendent anthem “I Need a Roof”—-a rather uncomplicated piece of poetry that invokes Marcus Garvey and Jesus Christ with its (obvious) insistence that without shelter there can be no peace, and without justice there can be no love. Listen: even writing about this record, albeit while offering the highest possible praise, inexorably mutes the message. That message is conveyed with voices that must be heard so that the music can make sense. Go seek it out.

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