Wednesday, October 24, 2007

What I'm listening to this week...

The Beastie Boys - Check Your Head
However much excitement I have for the Beastie Boys' entire catalog, this one remains my favorite. So amazingly organic and hard-hitting that it's hard to believe the album's almost fifteen years old. "Pass the Mic" has all the street-fuelled intensity of a bareknuckle boxing match, and "Time For Livin'" is one of the rare tracks that exposes a bridge between hip-hop and hardcore punk in a credible way. Trivia: the shriek in "The Maestro" is sampled from a Bad Brains song "Supertouch/Shitfit."

Thievery Corporation - The Cosmic Game
Chill but righteous. A rare combination. There is every reason to be cynical about the Ibiza/Buddha Lounge sound, but Eric Hilton and Rob Garza mix real substance and intelligence into it. Dub, Brazillian jazz, Middle Eastern and Punjabi rhythms all blended into a sound that comes the closest electronic music can to real internationalism. Best track is most definitely "Revolution Solution" with Perry Farrell on vocals.

The Libertines - The Libertines
I don't care what anyone says; Pete Doherty is an amazing songwriter, and that's all that should matter. His reunion with Carl Barat for the Love Music Hate Racism compilation has me going back to their stuff a lot this week. Up the Bracket is close to perfect, but this album is positively infectious in its looseness and attitude. "Campaign of Hate," "The Ha Ha Wall," and "The Saga" take the cake.

Radiohead - In Rainbows
Yes, it really is that good. The record's "minimalism" is nothing to be embarrassed about here. And the fact that I paid what I want for it makes it that much more delicious. "Bodysnatchers" is the kind of slow-build chaos that we love Radiohead for. "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi" is wide-eyed and beautiful, and "Videotape" is a song that reminds us it's better to be in pain than hopelessly numb.

M.I.A. - Arular
After a month of obsessively listening to the new one, I got bored and went back to the last one. Yet another example of how minimalism can work to your advantage if you have the right message. "Pull Up the People" and the lush "Sunshowers" are Maya's swagger at their best, and I can't get enough of the Sanford and Son sample on "URAQT."

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Pete Doherty and Carl Barat Reunite on Anti-Racism CD

From the NME


Babyshambles' Pete Doherty and Dirty Pretty Things' Carl Barat have united for a free double CD to combat racism.

The double CD comes free with this week's NME, in partnership with Love Music Hate Racism, who are making a stand against the BNP who have begun targeting schools.

The two discs contain a mix of new songs, hidden tracks, live versions and remixes.

The Enemy, The View and Hard-Fi also feature on the CD.

To get hold of the first disc simply pick up this week's issue of NME on UK newsstands now.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Why Pandora Rocks

1.) It's free.

2.) No commercials. Just music. (There are ads along the side, but that's the norm for most online surfing these days)

3.) Taylored to your needs. You can skip songs you don't like and highlight ones you do.

4.) It's free.

5.) Selection goes way beyond the mainstream. Type in "the Libertines" and you'll get similar bands outside of typical Clear Channel radio--not just Arctic Monkeys and Modest Mouse, but the (International) Noise Conspiracy, New York Dolls and the MC5.

6.) You can select genres not regularly available on terrestrial. There aren't that many stations that are "all roots reggae, all the time," now are there?

7.) It's free.

If you haven't checked it out yet do it right away. You won't regret it.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Trouble in the Heartland: Springsteen Casts a Tortured Spell With Magic

By Alexander Billet

Published in Znet

Once again, the Boss is untouchable.

Magic is the kind of revelatory, despite-all-odds, nose-to-the-grindstone, rock n' roll that only Bruce Springsteen can create. And as an added bonus, it's the kind that he can only create with the aid of his E Street Band back in full force. It's his first studio album with the band since 2002's The Rising, a gorgeous sonic remembrance to 9/11 that paid respect and tribute without buying into all the jingoistic crap that seemed to be flowing through American culture like so much bad wine. Springsteen himself even had to step up to remind fans that the album was not a call for war, but a dedication to the victims.

At their base, Springsteen's songs have always been about people before anything else. Whether it is war, national tragedy, racial tensions or recession, they have always been through the lens of ordinary people. His ability to give epic dignity to these stories through his lyrics and sound is almost definitely what has given him his legendarily devoted fan base. Magic is no exception.

That's clear on the album's first track, "Radio Nowhere": a hard-edged renegade anthem that seems to pay as much homage to the garage rock of yesteryear as to its present revival. "I want a thousand guitars / I want pounding drums / I want a million different voices / speaking in tongues." The refrain of "is there anybody alive out there" hearkens the familiar cry of his live shows, when he takes the role of rebel preacher, invoking the kind of cathartic liberation that only the truest rock n' roll can deliver. The hero of "Radio Nowhere" is the lonely driver frantically searching the dial for that liberation. Though he doesn't find it, the song doesn't bemoan this so much as predict and warn of its imminent return.

It’s not just the music that he wants back. Just as he calls for a return to the days when music set your soul on fire, he continues to long for the simplicity and security of old Americana. It’s a recurring theme, from “Glory Days” to this album’s playfully seductive “Girls in Their Summer Clothes.”

Beneath the surface though, he’s pining for something much more meaningful than soda jerks and friendly neighbors. Springsteen’s words have always come from some lost heartland of opportunity, where people might be secure in the knowledge that a life of hard work will be repaid with relative comfort. In an America where that’s no longer an assurance (if it ever truly was), that longing is no doubt shared by most working people.

Springsteen is no fool. He sees the heartland slipping away just like any of us do. In “Your Own Worst Enemy” he achingly croons over rousing strings about a man who feels he is losing control of what he thought he once knew. “Yesterday the people were at ease / baby slept in peace / you close your eyes and saw her / you knew who you were / Now your own worst enemy has come to town.” It’s a story that could apply to any one of us who feel our grip loosening on our lives, in any situation. Until the song’s last words, that is, when he declares “your flag it flew so high / it drifted into the sky.”

A mere metaphor? Perhaps—were it not for Springsteen’s own actions over the past four years. Fans who paid attention to his solo Devils and Dust will hear Bruce’s own anger toward the invasion of Iraq. His enthusiastic campaigning for John Kerry in ’04 also reflected a deep desire to find some alternative to Dubya’s rogue-ish policies. If the heartland is indeed being hijacked, then it’s clear the war is the biggest force behind that. The high-flying flag that gets lost in the wind might be a much more potent image at second glance.

In the case of “Gypsy Biker,” even the returning soldier’s hometown is changed. He returns disillusioned and angry, knowing that “the speculators made their money / off the blood you shed,” and hoping to find some respite in his town. But it is divided, lost in the idea of a worthy cause, far from the reality of what that really means:

“Sister Mary sits with your colors
Brother John is drunk and gone
This whole town’s been rousted
Which side are you on?
The favored march up over the hill
In some fool’s parade
Shoutin’ victory for the righteous
But there ain’t much here but graves”

The honking harmonica and surging guitars, along with the iconic imagery of the vet-biker, make this a song about escape. With no solace even in his own town, he sets off, doing his best to get away in any way he can. The final lyrics tell of counting “white lines” and getting stoned.

While the images are vividly specific, their time and place are notably vague. Iraq isn’t mentioned once on the whole album. And the motorcycle veteran archetype obviously recalls the years of Vietnam more than the present quagmire. The parallels are there, however, and are drawn with even more striking clarity on “Last to Die,” a righteously angry piece that recalls John Kerry’s famous line from his long-gone days as the militantly anti-war vet testifying to congress: “who will be the last to die for a mistake?” It’s a far cry from Kerry’s sheepish behavior when Bruce endorsed him. Maybe just as he longs for the days of blue-collar pride, so he does for the days when we had reason to believe in leaders.

To call all of this a simple case of nostalgia, though, would be off the mark. Bruce’s sound has always pointed towards a sense of revival, not mourning; the defiant knowledge that despite everything, his characters do in fact have the power to survive in this world. The critics who put down his lyrics as being “depressing,” or “too political” miss the point. Though he may not preach from the mount about why we need to go to the marches and build a movement, he hits us in a deeper way: he challenges us to find that strength somewhere deep inside us that continues to hold our shoulders high.

No song off Magic exemplifies this struggle like the closing tune “Devil’s Arcade,” a haunting ode to the troops coming back wounded and confused. The weariness of four years of war drips from the atmospheric opening, giving way to simple acoustic guitar as Bruce sings about the exhaustion of the soldiers themselves:

“You said ‘Heroes are needed, so heroes get made’
Somebody made a bet, somebody paid
The cool desert morning and nothing to save
Just metal and plastic where your body caved
The slow games of poker with Lieutenant Ray
In the ward with the blue walls, a sea with no name
Where you lie adrift with the heroes of the devil's arcade

You sleep and you dream, your buddies Charlie and Jim
And wake with a thick desert dust on your skin”

The inability to shake the experience, the memory of your friends blown away, the loneliness and alienation of the military hospital, the untold stories beneath the flag-waving and yellow ribbons. It all builds in this song like a slow tide. And it’s so real that it’s almost heart-stopping.

But as hopelessness seems destined to drag it into sadness and depression, a steady drum-beat leads the band into a symphonic rising and a guitar solo that cries out to be done with it all. As the song reaches its crescendo Bruce sings in poignant testimonial, repeating over and over: “the beat of your heart, the beat of your heart.” One final note rings out as Max Weinberg’s pounding drum soldiers on, reminding us that the people beneath the uniforms are human being with hearts and souls all their own. Life, after all, is the one thing that matters in this world. In times of war, though, the lives of ordinary people are the first forgotten. In Magic, those lives take center stage.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Even the Kicking Screaming Gucci Little Piggies Will Approve

Here is what we know about the upcoming Radiohead album:

It will be released for download only on the band's website on October 10th. What will you pay for it? As much as you like, including nothing.

In December they will release a disc-box set that will feature a bonus album.

The music is going to be very minimalist. From live versions already available for viewing they range from the frantic to the beautifully melancholy. A review will be up on on this site on October 11th.

This is quite a moment.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Nobody Can Say This Isn't Just a Bit Laughable...

While surfing the trivia addict's paradise known as Wikipedia, I came across this tid-bit of information on the late Klaus Nomi

"Nomi's flamboyant cover of Lesley Gore's 1964 hit "You Don't Own Me" is sometimes featured on The Rush Limbaugh Show. This was done after Gore's original was for a time adopted as the Feminist Update. Nomi does not change the lyrics (e.g. "Don't say I can't go with other boys")."

It would be hilarious if it weren't so jaw-dropping. Rush Limbaugh, by far this era's most notorious radio bigots, picks a feminist song re-done by an open and flamboyantly gay artist who was one of the first celebrities to die from AIDS as filler for his show.

I'm more than a little sure that Rush has no clue.