Monthly Archives: February 2013

Song Spotlight: Yeah Yeah Yeahs-Sacrilege

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YeahYeahYeahs Sacrilege

The first priority I established upon entering the crowded blog scene was to focus on music I love and exude all of the positive aspects associated with the art. And while it is not my wish to abandon that approach, there are few bright spots to highlight on the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ new single, “Sacrilege.”

Arriving four years after the band’s last studio effort, 2009’s It’s Blitz, “Sacrilege” is the first single from the upcoming album Mosquito. The song starts out promising enough, with lead vocalist Karen O’s voice at its sugary sweetest as she sings, “Fallen for a guy / fell down from the sky” before using her trademark high-pitched yelp to deliver, “Halo, ’round his head.” This back and forth exchange continues throughout the first half of the song, separated by repetitious choruses partly sang, partly yelled. “It’s sacrilege, sacrilege, sacrilege you say.” Meanwhile, bandmates Nick Zinner (guitar, keyboards) and Brian Chase (drums, percussion) lay down a restrained groove that becomes increasingly aggressive and layered as the song progresses.

Those traits are normally a good thing in the trusty hands of the trio, yet I found myself underwhelmed during the first two minutes of the song. Still, I had high hopes of a payoff in the end. However what I received instead was a tired, overused cliche often employed anytime a band incorporates language associated with religion: you guessed it, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs Tabernacle Choir! While it worked triumphantly for the Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and, to a lesser extent, Madonna’s “Like A Prayer,” I found it to be a cheap, unimaginative ploy that fell flat on the ground the band walks on. I also couldn’t help but think that the song sounded better suited for the introduction to a movie, appropriately enough given Karen O’s recent soundtrack contributions.

A cynic would declare the first indication something was amiss was the Mosquito cover art the band released when announcing the new album.  While the quality of their music has often outweighed the sub-par album art, the new cover appears like something you could expect from Green Jelly or Ugly Kid Joe.

Yeah-Yeah-Yeahs-Mosquito

Raw, chaotic energy and Karen O’s in your face shrill-sung vocals have always been the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ strong suits. Though utilized to a lesser extent on It’s Blitz,  the band managed to deliver a solid product not too far removed from their previous efforts. I am not suggesting that the group shouldn’t evolve, as I never advocate “creating the same album” twice. But the sins of “Sacrilege” and the Mosquito album cover can only be atoned if the rest of the tracks bring forth deliverance. Can I have an amen?

 

 

 

 

 

Ryley Walker: More Chicagoan Than Deep Dish Pizza

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Rylie Walker

Like John Fahey before him, fingerstyle guitarist Ryley Walker’s music is steeped in the traditions of, but not limited to, folk music and blues. Perhaps Walker also prefers a grassroots approach when it comes to reaching the masses, as there are only scant details to be found on the information superhighway. No website, no Facebook page; just a smattering of YouTube videos and blurbs on websites such as Chicago Reader-appropriately enough, since the Windy City is where Walker calls home.

My first introduction to Walker’s tunes was Laurie’s Planet of Sound, a record store based in (yes) Chicago that carries an ample supply of vinyl to meet your needle’s needs. After releasing a few tapes on (drum roll please) Chicago label Plustapes, he made his vinyl debut  last week for (Los Angeles? Detroit? New York City? NOPE) Chicago record label Addenda Records. Available on their website as well as stocked by Laurie’s, “Clear The Sky” is a 7″ single b/w  “Joni’s Tune.” Both songs, along with other offerings I have had heard, are a perfect blend of sparse, yet rich, layered textures that fingerstyle playing is known for. Walker’s vocals also contain a weathered-wisdom well beyond his 22 years.  The first one hundred copies of the 45 are available on gold vinyl, with an additional five hundred available in standard black. Each comes with a digital download too.

Much like Chicago deep dish pizza, it’s best to experience his music for yourself, instead of relying on a description from me. And like that Second City staple, it is destined to reach far beyond its current surroundings.

I Was Sure Out To Lunch

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There is both beauty and frustration in the fact that one’s music collection will never be complete. On one hand, there is the immeasurable joy of hearing a great song for the first time, and also the realization that life doesn’t grant enough time and resources to find every beautiful noise ever recorded. When memories are as scattered and fragmented as mine are at times, the task can be considerably more difficult.  Still I press forward in hopes of filling my soul with as much good music as possible.

When I read a headline last month mentioning Tandyn Almer’s passing, the name rang a bell, but unfortunately I couldn’t make the connection until I read the obituary posted by The Washington Post yesterday. Like most music fans, I was familiar with The Association‘s catchy pop masterpiece, “Along Comes Mary” and the Beach Boys‘ “Sail On Sailor”-just not the talented writer and co-writer, respectively, behind them. Thankfully there are record companies like Numero Group and Sundazed Music that have made considerable efforts to re-introduce obscure and/or out of print music. The latter will be releasing Along Comes Tandyn, a retrospective collection of Almer’s songs, next month.
Tandyn Almer

I appreciate second, third, fourth chances to be made aware of quality music. While many people salivate at being the first ones to “discover” a band, I am happy just to make it to the party, however late I may be. And if I happen to be the early bird, I welcome any who arrive after me with open arms. Having one’s heart moved by music is one of life’s greatest pleasures. Who are we to dampen others’ experiences simply because we had the opportunity to hear something sooner?

Whether Not Bound To Follow Suit becomes a regular part of your music-loving experience, or tossed aside like a Perry Como Christmas album, I encourage you to embrace both newcomers and the old school brigade as you continue your own journey.  After all, the songwriters are the real first discoverers, rendering the rest of us immigrants.

Song Spotlight: The Lumineers-Slow It Down

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A lot has been said or written in recent years about a “resurgence” in the Americana music scene. But much like the countless stories detailing renewed interest in vinyl, it is something that never truly went away. Rather, more bands are getting mainstream attention and therefore reaching a wider audience and media coverage. Much credit has been given to the 2000 Coen Brothers film, O, Brother, Where Art Thou?  for bringing this music to the forefront once again, as well as artists like The Avett Brothers, Old Crow Medicine Show and others.

While many of the current Americana favorites are made up of large ensembles employing fuller sounds, The Lumineers might best be described as minimalist folk in comparison.  Starting out in 2005 as a two-piece band, they evolved into a five-person group by 2012, but managed to keep their sound simple. Instead of relying on an onslaught of instruments, they have found their strengths in Wesley Schultz’ worn, convincing crooning and honest lyrics.

Like many of the songs on The Lumineers’ self-titled debut album, the words in “Slow It Down” focus on a broken relationship and the desperation to understand  what went wrong.  Written by guitarist/vocalist Schultz and drummer Jeremiah Fraites, it’s clear that one or both of these gentlemen has endured his share of heartache.

An aptly-titled ballad, the song starts out with Schultz calmly describing his world crumbling around him:  “I feel a filth in my bones / Wash off my hands ’til it’s gone / The walls, they’re closing in / with velvet curtains.” But by the third verse, he is channeling his inner Black Francis in the way he sings, “They’re making noise in my street / My blinds are drawn, I can’t see / Smashed in my car window / Didn’t touch the stereo.” The manner in which he yelps the last two lines effectively conveys his increased frustration about his lover’s infidelity. His indifference concerning the world around him also speaks volumes about his singular focus on the hurt he is experiencing. The remaining lyrics are delivered in much the same manner, faintly accompanied by slowly strummed, electric guitar.

As the song continues to unfold, Schultz repeatedly declares a willingness to welcome his lady back, but not without lamenting about her indiscretions. Still believing their relationship is salvageable, he opines in the last verse that “Only love can dig you out of this,” in reference to what they once had and still can, with her cooperation.

The raw emotions expressed in songs like “Slow It Down” and a simple, folkafied sound have brought The Lumineers much recognition and several sold-out concert appearances, less than a year since their album’s release.
If they continue to approach their craft in this manner, it should help establish them as true artists and not just poster children for a “revitalized folk movement.”

Love Is All Around

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Like most people, my first introduction to The Troggs‘ music was the oldies radio staple, “Wild Thing.” I always felt it was a serviceable song, if not somewhat one dimensional. Since it was catchy I wouldn’t turn the station if it came on, yet I wasn’t enamored enough to delve into the rest of their catalog either.

That all changed when R.E.M. made their first appearance on MTV Unplugged in 1991. In one of his rare lead vocal performances, Mike Mills sang “Love Is All Around” and I was deeply intrigued. I can’t remember if he specified at the time who the original was by (probably did), but I fell in love with the tune and thus began my quest to hear more of The Troggs’ music.

It was announced this afternoon that Reg Presley, lead singer of The Troggs, had passed away after a year-long battle with cancer. Up until that point, he was still performing with the group, though the only other original member was lead guitarist Chris Britton. After taking ill, Presley retired, leaving Britton to carry on without him.

In memory of Reg Presley, I leave you with The Troggs’ version of “Love Is All Around,” followed by R.E.M.’s rendition, featured as a B-side on their “Radio Song” single.

February Made Me Shiver

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By now, most music fans are quite familiar with the details surrounding the tragic deaths of music legends Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper on February 3, 1959.  In fact, thousands have made the pilgrimage to the Surf Ballroom (site of their last performances) in Clear Lake, IA and the plane crash site in nearby Mason City to pay their respects over the years. In 2004, my wife’s family decided to stage their family reunion a couple miles away from the Surf and opportunity came knocking like the cardboard drumbeats in “Not Fade Away.”

After our reunion obligations were finished, my wife and I raced over to the Surf Ballroom, which we had driven past on the way to the family gathering. When we walked through the front door, I felt chills from head to toe, as the venue has been beautifully preserved and holds so much rich history. In addition to the men previously mentioned, the Surf has hosted the likes of Roy Orbison, The Everly Brothers and Little Richard, plus a long list of other well-known entertainers over the years, and still to this day. It is also available to rent for special events, which happened to be the case the day we stopped by. They were setting up for a wedding and alas, our visit was quite brief. But not before witnessing the famed ballroom’s stage, the payphone Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens made their last phone calls on and other pictorial tributes to the famed Winter Dance Party concert tour.
surf ballroom

phone_BuddyHolly
We were able to snap a few quick pictures inside and then made our way outdoors and out of the way of the wedding planners. We got a few shots of the building, including a picture of this memorial near the front entrance.
surf-ballroom-memorial

Upon leaving the Surf, we decided to try and find the location of the crash site. With no mobile devices or internet access of any kind, we made our way to Mason City and used our best instinctive navigational skills to find the location. After driving down some country back roads for a spell, we happened upon a handmade sign that read, “Buddy Holly” with an arrow pointing toward a cornfield. I understand they have since added a monument depicting Buddy’s famed horn-rimmed glasses that is certain to be more visible than that sign. While my wife stayed in the van, I put on my walking shoes and began my trek. I later read that the crash site was approximately a half a mile from the road, but on that hot, August day, it seemed much farther.

Anyhow, there was a beaten path along the fence, where other fans made their trips before me. Navigating through the brush and tall corn stalks, my wife couldn’t see me from the road, nor could I see her,as I occasionally looked back to see how far I had walked. If I happened upon anyone, it was my hope they were the friendly sort making the same pilgrimage I was and not opportunists looking to jump Buddy Holly geeks.

After walking what seemed like forever, I spied this memorial, along with a bevy of mementos other fans had left.
BHM

I also observed three trees planted in memory of Buddy, Ritchie and J.P. and wondered why there wasn’t a fourth one to represent pilot Roger Peterson. In more recent years there has apparently been a memorial built there in his name, though. Each of the trees had bark “skinned” off of them, undoubtedly by fans looking to take home a souvenir. While I didn’t deem it necessary to collect any relics for myself, my treasure was in reflecting on how much joy these memorialized artists had given me and millions of others. Though I was standing in the very place where gifted lives were cut short “a long, long time ago,” I felt an enormous outpouring of peace and tranquility. My wife later observed: “The air stirred and rustled the stalks and was calming and soothing to the ear. It was serene and surreal and oh so quiet. You could imagine no sense of this tremendous loss had ever happened out there. It was beautifully peaceful.” Even though I was a half a mile removed from her, we were simpatico in spirit.

After spending a few minutes at the site, I made the long walk back to the van and my beautiful wife, who was eager to hear about my experience. We got about five hundred feet down the road when I decided to turn on the radio. Appropriately enough, “Peggy Sue” was blaring through the speakers!

DISCLAIMER: The images included in this story are ones I found on the internet and NOT the pictures we took ourselves. I do not have any digital copies of our photos and my scanner is currently not working. I do not wish to misrepresent my experience, but these pictures are very similar to the ones we took in 2004.

Isn’t Anything (New Ever Going To Be Released)?

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MBV2

Ministry once sang, “Every day is Halloween,” but for fans of My Bloody Valentine, “Every day is April Fool’s” might be more appropriate. After releasing one of the most celebrated albums of the 90’s in the form of Loveless (1991), fans have anxiously awaited the follow up for the past twenty-two years. Yet all they have gotten from Kevin Shields & co. were a few cover songs for compilations, re-releases of old albums, a myriad of excuses and, in recent times, promises never fulfilled.

In November 2012, Shields told NME to expect a new album by year’s end. That was followed by a post on the band’s Facebook page December 24 stating the album was finished, to the tempered-delight of their fans. When the 2012 “deadline” came and went, no one was surprised to find they were duped once more. Then on January 27, during their first concert since 2009, Shields proclaimed the album would finally see the light of day in “two or three days.”  In others words: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me 204453 times, shame on me. Fans were once again disappointed when nothing materialized. Now comes word this afternoon that the new album will “go live” this evening.

Besides contemplating whether this will be another promise that goes unfulfilled, one has to wonder after all of these years, will it be worth the wait or will it be MBV’s Chinese Democracy? Though certainly disappointing, sometimes anticipation and expectations of  “what might have been” are more fulfilling than what we eventually receive. If that ends up being the case, maybe people will wish they took more solace in playing the fool.

UPDATE:  The new album IS available! Shortly after launching their new website, the server crashed and disgruntled fans took to Facebook to voice their displeasure. The site is now up and running and the album is available to stream in full here.