Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Name Your Price Again

The thoroughly average Paste Magazine is offering a year's subscription at... you guessed it any price you want to pay... as long as its more than a $1. You'd be hard pressed to find an industry that's worse off than the music biz... and then you remember the print pubs that cover the music biz.

Hey, who buys ads in a music magazine targeted to 18-34 year-olds who stopped buying magazines like this 5 years ago?

Oh, music companies do?

Oh, yeah... yer fucked.

You pay via credit card, so it's unclear to me if this is one of those 'AOL taking your Visa hostage in perpetuity' situations. But I guess you could cancel the card if worse came to worse... you know just like that time you couldn't figure out how to cancel the trial subscription to dudes.com and had to tell Master Card you lost your card to avoid the $39.95 monthly charge.

You're saying that didn't happen?

Oh, of course... we totally believe you... minus the lies about the internet porn of course.

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss -- Raising Sand

One is among the most recognizable front men of all time -- a true rock star and the voice of one the biggest bands of all time. His solo career, while successful has never been overly compelling.
Golden god rides again
The other is the first lady of contemporary bluegrass, which in case you didn't realize, is basically the same as classic bluegrass. She is a very capable producer, having worked on her own albums with Union Station and helming the board for acts like Nickel Creek. She also has a well deserved reputation as a standout collaborator, working and performing with everyone from Dolly and Shania to Phish.

But leave it to T-Bone Burnett to push these two voices to create an album that feels completely comfortable and natural but in many ways should be comOBP, Original Bluegrass Pimp Ralph Stanleypletely unexpected. Burnett a one time singer/songwriter/performer has spent nearly the last 30-years building a resume producing a albums for a considerable breadth of artists in a style that can only be summarized as distinctly and wonderfully American. This album is no exception.

There's very little here that points to Alison Krauss's bluegrass roots and there's certainly nothing that approaches the bombastic blues rock, epic arena rock or even folk-y acoustic side of Robert Plant's Led Zeppelin. If anything the album sounds like a warm and modern equivalent of the estuary Sun Records once occupied, neither completely country or rock n' roll and frankly unconcerned with those types of labels.

The Nashville band is typical of one Why no t-bone?manned by Burnett -- tasteful, competent, loose and fully capable of cutting loose on a dime. While it's tempting to say that the voices are the real stars here, it's not fully the case. Plant and Krauss have a wonderful vocal blend that belies the recency of their collaboration. They effortlessly switch between the lead and supporting roles and you never feel cheated when the album moves from an "Alison song" to a "Robert song".

But the star is the arrangements and the songs themselves. Burnett supplied them with songs from classic American songwriters like Sam Phillips, Tom Waits, Townes Van Zandt and Mel Tillis. They nail almost each one with the right amount of guitar twang, tremelo, slap backed vocals and economical use of overdrive and fiddle in equal measure. Plant's voice has in particular not seemed so comfortable in years, he never pushes his range to perhaps lost extremes and his often soft delivery is entirely successful.

Stand outs include the Everly Brother's "Gone Gone Gone" and the Page, Plant penned "Please Read the Letter" which didn't sound nearly as compelling on the Page, Plant reunion record of a decade ago.Obvs

While the impending Led Zeppelin reunion concert, release of their catalog to digital downloads and completely unnecessary re-repacking of Zep hits may take center stage in the weeks to come, let's hope that doesn't overshadow this stand out album.

Certainly if the Zeppelin can't take flight, Plant could find far worse ways to spend 2008 than with Krauss and Burnett touring smaller stages.

Rating: 4/5


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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Haiku Review
Van Halen
Ky-Mani Marley
Auburn Hills, MI
October 22, 2007

Cancer survivor
Recovering alcoholic
Replaced hip, still shreds

Diamond David Lee
Synthetic rock n' roll star
Surprisingly works

Big secret revealed
The back up vocal sound of
Van Halen is Ed

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Haiku Review

Andrew Bird

Fox Theater
Detroit, MI
October 17, 2007

Crazy Victrola
Speaker spin for doplar sound
In Bird's crazy songs

Fat Elvis, Fat Jeff
Both know how to rock a joint
Stock in sequence jumps

Defined, pristine sound
Audiophile clarity
Made the whole damn show

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Monday, October 22, 2007

At Least SOMEONE, Wants Baseball to Be Interesting

The two most magical words in the English language, free tacos.

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Wag Your Finger at the Scalawag

Maybe you've heard, the music industry isn't doing well.

Sales are down, the majors are eating it and more rounds of layoffs and jettisoning of artists are bound to happen. Radiohead is leading the way for any artist that can live comfortably off touring, the rapidly declining back catalog sales and has a reasonably digitally savvy fan base (unless someone figures out how to rejuvenate those with a sell-able, presumably download equivalent of the impact of CDs on the industry in the late '80s and DVDs on home video in the late '90s).

Even if you don't want the headache of setting up your own Radiohead-esque distribution, you can cut your own deal with a brick and mortar (like Wal-Mart and the Eagles) or a digital distribution service (like Tune Core and Frank Black).

There has been a lingering question about what the hell emerging artists and new bands will do in the new age. The answer might very well be succeed.

If you were the type that was motivated enough to work hard and get a deal in the old model, you should be the type that's motivated enough to run the business of your music. Labels often functioned to outsource a lot of the bullshit leg work that bores and disheartens potential rock stars, but as Steve Albini famously pointed out in his legendary article "The Problem with Music," this outsourcing came at the expense of almost all the monetary reward for most newly signed artists, even those small percentage who sold quite a few records. (If you've never read it, read it and notice that even though it predates the digital revolution, it points out how the majors implosion was basically inevitable).

In the future a few of lucky lazy, who had talent and were scooped up and became famous and rich will probably fall through the cracks and be lost -- because they'll be so little scooping going on.

But it also points the way to the next wave that's already happening... capitalism is returning to the music business. With the majors' cartel over distribution effectively broken and TV and radio's declining relevance in breaking new artists you have a freer market. Small labels, marketing companies, artist reps etc. are out there making money with and for there artists and covering the same leg work bullshit the majors did at a fraction of the cost. In some sense we may just see the same sorts of assholes in smaller office buildings, and some artists will still get ripped off -- but now it will be more as an artifact of the free market, not a standard operating procedure of the whole industry.

The industry has been declared dead before, several times actually and every format change has been declared inferior to the predecessor (LPs took almost 10 years to catch on, in part because a lot of people thought '78s sounded better). They could find a way to come back, gain a new foothold and become more dominant than before (as they did after they were declared dead in the wake of the death of disco).

If you want to bet on anything, bet on even more convenient consumption for consumers (if an iPod is 100X more convenient that LPs, what's 100X more convenient than an iPod?) and for a new trend in music to arise that will get people excited again and offer an opportunity to make money.

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

You Should Read This

recordreviews.org contributor Dmitri jr. has a very compelling rant about a recent
Sasha Frere-Jones piece in the New Yorker up at his other home, barber-college.org.

Frere-Jones says indie rock is racist, Dmitri jr. says bite me.

Good stuff. Please to enjoy.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Haiku Review

The Ponys
Majestic Theater Detroit, MI
October 13, 2007

Spoon has a fourth guy
Plays guitar, keys, other stuff
Adds performance depth
the iSpoon from Apple
Fourth great Spoon album
Rewarded with sold out show
Good guys win sometimes
Kim Thayil's Wet Dream
Could have cut a fourth
From the nearly two hour set
No "Small Stakes" was heard
Sky's the limit

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October 16 Notable Releases

Jimmy Eat World --
Chase This Light. I've seen some promos for this album calling Jimmy Eat World a lasting icon of rock. WHA? At most I'd give them credit for popularizing the term EMO, otherwise we'd still be calling them whiny-version-of-Weezer-Rock. Side note, did anyone notice that Amazon sells digital downloads for $0.10 less than iTunes? That's only $0.89 more than anyone should pay for a Jimmy Eat World song!

R.E.M. -- R.E.M. Live 2CD/1DVD. This album is a great example of the state of major labels. Live albums have always been a tactic bands have used to hasten the close out of lengthy record deals. Recall that in 1996 R.E.M. signed a 5 album $80 million deal -- something a bands like this aren't likely to see again without getting into shares of tickets, merchandise and publishing. But this is also the kind of tepid stop gap solution the majors are using to stem declining sales. Repackage popular songs, usually with a DVD because so far, those have been more difficult to pirate online on a massive scale.

Toby Keith -- A Classic Christmas. Toby's first Christmas album in 12-years is a double album!! (why you make us wait so long TK?) Surprisingly, it doesn't include the ignorant asshole favorites, "Why Jews? Why?" or "I Can't Afford Gifts for My Kids on $11.50 an hour so I all I Want for Christmas is For Dubya to Keep the Queers from Getting Hitched." Happy two weeks before Halloween Y'all!


Friday, October 12, 2007

Radiohead -- In Rainbows.

There's this apocryphal story in the history of rock that involves Dylan and Lennon. The crux is that Dylan says that popular music is all about the words, the poetry. Heaven can't hold ODB hostage forever.Lennon says no way man it's all about the sounds, that's where the emotional content is -- the sounds are the source of the spiritual resonance that makes people respond or at least react. True or not its an easy enough debate to imagine. One side, a musical poet who's been considered for the Nobel Prize and the other a brilliant song writer who often scribbled nonsense phrases in the margins of revolutionary studio exercises.

Even if its often easier to understand the nonsense of Lennon over the intelligibility of Dylan we see the tension of the illustration -- words and music, two separate languages existing in the same space, hopefully collaborating, but often competing for neurons.

It's never been hard to tell what side of the debate Radiohead was onSoutheast Jerome was the inspiration for Paranoid Android AND Kid A, after all Thom Yorke's vocal delivery is fully in the Micheal Stipe mumble method. From the soft/loud explosion of "Creep" that imbued the Pixie/Nirvana formula with a positively other worldly guitar explosion through the prog rock re-imagining of a "Day in the Life" of "Paranoid Android" and the deconstructivist pop of Kid A there's been a lot of effort put into sounds.

Frankly, I think this why today a lot of people have "Radiohead problems" -- they're in the words first camp. "Creep" was cool, the basic pop formulas of the Bends was clear enough to follow and everybody said you were suppose to like OK Computer. Entertainment Weekly even amended their original negative review to conform with the view that became soFucking English Majors prevalent that OK Computer won a Q poll for the greatest album of all time.

The result of the requirement that everybody like OK Computer was that everybody had to listen to Kid A. Not everybody liked Kid A, even if they wouldn't admit it. The side you choose still colors your opinion of the band -- even if you'd like to contend that it was Amnesiac that rubbed you the wrong way (complete bull shit by the way, you could have rationalized it as just the Kid A leftovers, you didn't like the blips and bloops).

Rainbow Brite later worked porn conventionsTo see the Kid A material live when the band first toured was revolutionary, in fact many word-firsters in press said they could't do it. But they translated every computerized blip to the context of a rock band. It would have been as radical to successfully come out and play the Bends with a bank of synths controlled by laptops. Hail to the Thief attempted to continue on in that aesthetic -- electronica played by a live rock band and it was received fairly as a pretty mixed attempt.

In Rainbows, operates in this same mode. Acoustic instruments, electric instruments of the analog era and computerized instruments have to play nice with each other. There can be no separate but equal like the OK Computer to Kid A era -- integration is paramount. More importantly, the results are thoroughly successful.

"Weird Fishes" pulses as a kind of amArp Stringsbient trip hop jazz, all played on instruments the Ramones would recognize. "Faust Arp" is built around a beautifully simple arpeggiated acoustic guitar and George Martin style strings that sound real but may come from the famed string synth mentioned in the title. Older songs like "Nude" and newer ones like "House of Cards" find Yorke's soft voice and clever vocal melodies emerging from a sea of echo and reverb that interweaves the frontman into the fabric of the songs and more importantly the band (one day they'll find a way to pull poor Tommy out of that well).

Finally, "Videotape" is brilliant piece that could exist solely with Thom's voice and the solo piano (as producer Nigel Goodrich showed on his website). Despite this, it also stands to reason that it could be given the full Eraser treatment and driven fully electronically. But it stands a stronger production with a full band arrangement that draws on both these tendancies.

The fact that Radiohead is once again exceeding the sum of their parts musically is perhaps even more encouraging than mini-revolution in distribution.

Rating: 4/5

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Sunday, October 07, 2007

October 9 Notable Releases

Band of Horses -- Cease to Begin. Apparently the Band of Horses dude gets pissed at audiences that ask to hear "Funeral"... DUDE... last year, no one wanted to hear any of your songs and two, if you want people to ask for another song, write another song worth asking for.

Kid Rock -- Rock and Roll Jesus. The Detroit Kid hits back with another original album of songs apparently inspired by the guy who sold bootleg tees at Pine Knob... or was that Rock and Roll Jose? I digress, the cover is a fairly overt sample of Back in Black, although when going black you can never forget Metallica's Metallica or Spinal Tap's Smell the Glove. May we suggest next time going with a direct lift of Shark Sandwich?

Radiohead -- In Rainbows. Yes, we know i
ts a October 10 release... chill out. Chill is really the only way to approach these guys these days. They set the bar so high, but we're prepared to be underwhelmed.

The Raveonettes -- The Chain Gang of Love. Lust Lust Lust. Latest from the Danish duo....mmmmmmm, Danish duo. And remember, look at what your link says before you cut and paste!


Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Quick Hits

The Grizz versus the Lips

Radiohead innovates... somewhat less surprising than that Steely Dan sample in on Kayne's new jaun.

Stones song.
Kinks song.

Kumar, Mr. Littlejeans and Pagoda would no doubt approve.

The Winnona's CD release party Friday with the Prime Ministers at Smalls