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by Dylan Nelson

4 Aug 2010


The year 1967 makes one think of “hard” culture: hard drugs, hard music. It was the year of The Velvet Underground & Nico, Boogie With Canned Heat, Forever Changes, and Piper at the Gates of Dawn, a year of gritty electric blues and twisted psychedelic pop. Now, hear the sunshine-bubblegum-daisy-puppy pop of “Kites Are Fun”, by the recently rejuvenated family band, the Free Design. Some—persuaded no doubt by the era, the novelty, and the peace and love vibe—would describe the record as psychedelic. But what does that mean?

There’s certainly not much that’s mind-bending about the song’s quiet, precise arrangements, or the hushed falsetto harmonies that croon lines like “I like flying / Flying kites”. The patter of the drums and the gentle thrum of the bass suggest folk or jazz in their least experimental forms. In the song’s refrain, the singers land high on the ‘n’ in “fun” and sustain the note into the next measure; the effect is somewhat comic, since the sung word enacts its connotation of benign and mindless diversion. The orchestral instrumentation, especially the flute, pigeonhole the track into an easy listening vibe rather than expanding its affective vocabulary.

by Jane Jansen Seymour

3 Aug 2010


Everest is a So Cal band made up of musical veterans that embrace a solid rock format, although for “Let Go” the group has also added some strings to the mix. It’s a lush sonic landscape with a hard-hitting rhythmic romp from a band only a few years old, yet clearly comprised of accomplished musicians.  Frontman Russell Pollard played with Sebadoh, the Watson Twins, and the Folk Implosion, just to name a few. The group was tapped by Neil Young to tour with him in 2008 and two Everest CDs were released on his label, Vapor Records. These five guys are also a fave opening act of Minus the Bear as well as My Morning Jacket.

“Let Go” is the opening track of the band’s new release, On Approach. It was actually recorded at an old chicken ranch before the group completed the process in its studio in L.A. The video for the song begins with a nice little intro of the band tuning up in a studio. After some cooing vocals the lyrics begin with a simple yet sweet concern: “May I come in / My old friend / You’re looking thin / Do you feel alright?”

by Andy Johnson

3 Aug 2010


In announcing their latest and tenth album, to be released in late September, Welsh rock veterans Manic Street Preachers described Postcards From a Young Man as “one last shot at mass communication”. Provocative as ever, the band will have meant for this fascinating choice of words to sound ominous, but after the first UK radio play of “(It’s Not War) Just the End of Love” last night, responses will be varied.

Anthemic, brief, uplifting and string-laden, the new song will not be received by the faction of the band’s fanbase that applaud only the darkest of the group’s material, and have always felt that the harrowing 1994 album The Holy Bible was a singular high point from which the group have since uniformly declined. Those fans also didn’t like and may well have forgotten some of the band’s past explorations with pure pop-rock, including a number of wonderful and accessible songs spread across past albums like Everything Must Go (1996), Know Your Enemy (2001) and especially the tenderly icy Lifeblood (2004). Another faction of fans—myself included—lapped up that material, and will be impressed with the radio gleam of the new song.

by Jessy Krupa

2 Aug 2010


Every artist has a signature song, which becomes the symbol of their entire career. For better or worse, it sums up how the public views them in usually less than five minutes. In Paul McCartney’s case, that song is “Maybe I’m Amazed”.

Ironically, it almost didn’t become a hit. When he originally recorded the song in 1970, McCartney refused to release the song as a single, in keeping with the British tradition of not releasing album tracks as singles. Despite this, the song still became well known enough through radio airplay that he performed it during Wings’ concerts. In 1977, the group included a live version with an extended ending on Wings Over America, a three-record live set. Performed in June 1976 at the Seattle Kingdome, this is the version that most people identify with the song. Capitol records released a promotional 12” record with four different versions of the song on it to radio stations, but for the commercially released version, the live rocker “Soily” was its flipside. In the UK, it only hit number 28 on the singles chart, but in the US, it cracked the top 10.

As for the original studio version, it was written and recorded in London. He recorded many different versions of the song, most of which have never been released to the public (these original takes were examined by DJ Hellraiser for the 2005 Twin Freaks album’s “Maybe I’m Amazed” remix; additionally, some of the “beat-boxing” sounds McCartney recorded for those sessions were scattered throughout the rest of the album). Not surprisingly, McCartney wrote the song about how his wife Linda helped him through the emotional mess that was the break-up of the Beatles. Originally entitling it “Baby, I’m Amazed”, McCartney changed it in order to sound less “self-assured”. Linda’s voice can be heard singing back-up on the track, but that is not the only involvement she originally had with it.

by Andy Johnson

30 Jul 2010


As huge a presence as he is, Prince is not a musician who has ever loomed particularly large in my world. We’re only a product of our influences after all, and for whatever reason mine have not led me to explore Prince’s purple path in much detail. Prince worked his way into my attentions recently, however, when on July 10th, he released his latest album 20Ten as a free gift with a number of European newspapers, including the British Daily Mirror. The copy of the paper which brought the CD to me was one of 334,000 copies by which the publication’s sales soared that day. It’s not the first time Prince has used this method to distribute his music—he gave his 2007 record Planet Earth away with the papers, too—but am I the only one that feels that such a strategy cheapens the music and even Prince himself?

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