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Wednesday, Aug 26, 2009

Music does not always cost money these days, but it always costs time, something just as disappointing when it’s wasted. On occasion I’ve found myself listening to a CD of interesting sonic experiments, yet concurrently wondered if it occurred to the artist to ensure the record was an entertaining experience.

The concept of entertainment in music is one that is often outweighed by the quest for artistic exploration, but it’s one that should not be forgotten. The journey should be as rewarding as the destination. Unless there’s something provided during the listening experience to make it a rewarding sensation, chances are repeat plays will be few.


Consider that most albums will take an hour out of your day; this is especially important if you’re the sort to tune out the world to the detriment of everything else going one around you during the recording’s run-time. Live gigs have even more of an imperative to give you sufficient entertainment value. Depending on the type of show you are attending, you pay anywhere from pocket change to a small fortune to get a look at your latest sonic infatuation, and if you’re going to be there for an hour and a half (not counting finding parking, entrance queues, the opening acts, and trying to leave at the same time everybody else does) you should come away with a feeling a bit more satisfied than “Ehh, it was alright”. No matter what kind of musician and regardless of genre, at the end of the day, you have to ask: has the artist made an effort to entertain you, and can you honestly say that you were entertained?


One group whose chief goal it always was to deliver an entertaining spectacle was Queen, rock’s consummate showmen.


Tagged as: queen
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Tuesday, Aug 25, 2009

Nothing makes you feel like a Johnny-come-lately quite like stumbling upon a new band, only to discover that all their releases are way sold out. So it goes with Cold Cave, a loose collective of delightfully noisy, new wave revivalists from Philadelphia who I happened upon this morning via the Matablog. Wesley Eisold, who formerly fronted totally crucial hardcore acts Some Girls and Give Up the Ghost, is the band’s principal, around whom a cast of contributors—including former Xiu Xiu member Caralee McElroy—rotates.


Luckily for us latecomers, Matador has seen fit to snap up the band and will re-release their full-length, Love Comes Close, on November 3. A collection of odds and sods, presumably culled from the band’s long out of print singles, will follow. In the meantime, listen to “Life Magazine,” a fuzzed-out slice of eminently danceable synth-pop with an invitingly childlike vocal assist from McElroy. As it turns out, McElroy’s backing vocals on Casiotone for the Painfully Alone’s cover of “When You Were Mine” only hinted at her potential. On “Life Magazine” she comes into her own as a frontwoman who’s equal parts disarming and enigmatic—the distant echo of her voice only leaves the listener wanting more. Just try not to get hooked on this song—I dare you.


Cold Cave
“Life Magazine” [MP3]
     



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Monday, Aug 24, 2009
Pop Heroism, One Song at a Time

“Don’t You Want to Be There” - Jackson Browne
Written by Jackson Browne
From The Naked Ride Home (Elektra, 2002)


This V-C-V first appeared in slightly different form on pcmunoz.com, June 14, 2005


In his speech inducting Jackson Browne into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame in 2004, Bruce Springsteen coined a fitting term to describe Browne’s music: “California Pop-Gospel”. I like that description quite a bit, because not only does it distinctly locate Browne as a Californian artist, it also acknowledges a kind of spiritual component to his work. Like his musical soul-brother Bob Marley, Jackson Browne has often urged us to consider the state of our spiritual selves as well as our connectedness to others, concerns that are usually addressed in the liturgical realm. The fact that he writes about these concerns with probing self-doubt (and often self-indictment) is significant, and in my mind a major reason why his many admirers have such a strong, emotional bond with his work.


“Don’t You Want to Be There” is primarily a meditation. Like a lot of Browne’s best work, it will break your heart, call you to reflection, and inspire you to hopeful action, all in the span of one listen. It opens with a simple enough invitation: “Don’t you want to be there / Don’t you want to go / Where the light is breaking / And the cold clear winds blow?” Around the middle, that invitation softly becomes an encouraging challenge: “Don’t you want to be there? /  Don’t you want to cry / When you see how far you’ve got to go /  To be where forgiveness rules / Instead of where you are?” The last line of the last verse then contains the most potent variation of the titular question, one that no listener can escape: “Don’t you want to be where there’s strength and love /  In the place of fear?”


Tagged as: jackson browne
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Friday, Aug 21, 2009
The upcoming season of ABC's Dancing with the Stars features two official one-hit wonders and one wannabe.

Dancing with the Stars has recently released the names of the contestants for the new season, and questionable celebrity status aside, two of them are one-hit wonders (and one is an almost).


Macy Gray reached national prominence after “I Try”, the second release from her debut album, spent half a year on the Billboard Hot 100, eventually peaking at #5. The single won her a Grammy Award for “Best Female Pop Vocal Performance” in 2001.


Unfortunately, with the exception of a featured role on the Black Eyed Peas’ “Request Line” (which stalled at #63), none of Macy’s subsequent singles have cracked the Hot 100. She has remained busy, however, acting in movies including Training Day and Lackawanna Blues in between recording albums. She has also guest starred on That’s So Raven, American Dreams, and other television series from time to time.


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Thursday, Aug 20, 2009

For some acts, even the title of “One Hit Wonder” is too extravagant an honor. For self-proclaimed “scabby witches from Glasgow”, Strawberry Switchblade, OHW status can only be claimed in Europe and Japan—in the US, they didn’t even rate as a blip on the radar screen, unless you were a moody teenager who subscribed to Smash Hits and bought creepers and Communards 12” dance singles at import shops with names like the Berlin Wall.


To such a teenager, however, the heady mix was unbeatable: morose but danceable electronic pop about certifiable anxiety disorders and unrequited love, sung by the Scottish love children of Siouxsie Sioux and Frida Kahlo after an explosion at the squaredance costume factory. Rose MacDowell and Jill Bryson wore getups and hairstyles so massive, so elaborate, it was a wonder they could even stand up, much less strum guitars or shake maracas. They covered songs by the Velvet Underground and Dolly Parton! Their record label (Korova) was named after a reference from A Clockwork Orange! I couldn’t have found a more perfect duo to worship if I had constructed it from whole cloth myself. My favorite subjects were depression, polka dots, dolls, strawberries, fishnet stockings and obscure British pop music. What were the odds of finding such a tailor-made treasure?


Strawberry Switchblade scored a #5 hit in England in 1985 with “Since Yesterday”, but by 1986, collapsing under the weight of all those ribbons, silk flowers and pancake makeup, they were history. Their eponymous album remains one of my favorite of that decade, and one that bears surprisingly frequent listens today. So even if your adolescent fantasy wasn’t to look like Blueberry Muffin working behind the MAC counter… give Strawberry Switchblade a try. I’ll bet you dollars to donuts it was their version of “Jolene” and not Dolly’s that first inspired Jack White to cover it.


“Since Yesterday”


“Jolene”


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