I’ve never been so happy to be wrong. I was afraid that by their third album, we knew what Arcade Fire had to offer, but as it turns out, NOPE. And it’s not just James Murphy. There’s an interesting piece on Grantland about this record (Reflektor, Arcade Fire’s fourth album), in which the author posits a popular theme in reviews of this album, which is that they’ve made their disco/dance/electronica album, in the vein of Achtung Baby or Remain in Light, with James Murphy playing the Brian Eno role. The problem with this is (at least) two-fold. Continue reading
So a large part of the reason I started and continue to run this blog is because I love some things that seemingly no one has heard of and that I would love other people to love. Chief among them is Starlings and the subsequent work of Chris Sheehan, about whom I wrote long ago in this blog post, which continues to be one of this blog’s most read and commented on entries. I’ve had people read it, email, and ask me for albums and EPs long since out of print, I’ve had people email asking me how to get in touch with him, I’ve had Chris Sheehan himself reach out in response, which touched me more than I can say.
Which is to say, I guess, that I’m glad I could extend the reach of his music in whatever small way I was able. Then, this week, I received a message pointing me to a Fundrazr where he, though terminally ill, is trying to fund one more record.
You can find that here: https://fundrazr.com/campaigns/eYGa7
Yo La Tengo occupy an odd place in my personal musical history, if you’ll forgive me a moment of navel-gazing. Electr-O-Pura was the first album I remember ever buying without having any idea of what it sounded like. I knew I had read about Yo La Tengo (and, actually, Superchunk, whose album Foolish I bought at the same time), and the general thrust of what I had read led me to believe that I would like them, but I had no idea what they actually sounded like. I just knew I ought to know. Continue reading
So, here’s the thing. Four years ago (almost), I voted, for the first time, for someone that I actually wanted to vote for. I mean, I think, for what it’s worth, that John Kerry would have actually been a decent president. He saw (and spoke, often unclearly) in shades of grey, which is how the world actually is, but unfortunately, we like to pretend that it’s black and white for the purposes of presidential elections.
But anyway. For the first time in my presidential voting life (full disclosure: Dole, Gore, Kerry, Obama), I was happy with my choice. A candidate who seemed like he was intelligent and principled and mostly he held positions I agreed with. And once he actually got into office, he did things I agreed with. Passed legislation that was a good idea, tried to work with the other party (as they reviled him and made cooperation impossible and implied he might not even be American and generally did everything but govern), generally kept his campaign promises, seemed, frankly, to be working his ass off. Continue reading
Much has been written, of late, about Kickstarter, due in no small part to the success of several high-ish profile game projects and, more recently, Amanda Palmer, who really knows how to do this shit. Of course, as with anything, for every high-profile success, there are numerous lower-profile successes (not to mention many, many failures). The most recent Hallelujah the Hills album falls into this latter (not parenthetical) category – back in 2010 the band attempted to fund the production of their third album via Kickstarter, and succeeded, albeit with a modest $5800 from 139 backers (compared to the nearly 1.2 million dollars raised by Amanda Palmer from nearly 25000 fans/backers). Continue reading
“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
- John Lennon
If a band’s albums are the musical path they choose to chart, their b-sides are often the unexpected detours that, I’d suggest, reveal a bit more about their tendencies than the thoughtfully recorded and carefully sequenced documents they release every two years or so. (Except for the White Stripes, who seemed to care not too much at all about being careful or deliberate.)
In the case of the Hold Steady, their debut is the hard-charging introduction, Separation Sunday is the ambitious mission statement, Boys and Girls in America is the beginning of the party, Stay Positive is the start of the come-down, and Heaven is Whenever is a band trying to figure out what to do next. The contemporaneous b-sides and ephemera, however, paint a different picture. Continue reading
We’re all adults here, right? We can talk like adults about whatever that was last night? Because what was that? Look – I recognize that I’m predisposed to be annoyed by any host that isn’t an acerbic comedian who pokes holes in the whole ridiculous construct of the show and Hollywood in general (Steve Martin the first time, Jon Stewart both times), and likewise, I can imagine that most celebrities are predisposed to be annoyed by any host who doesn’t make lame softball jokes that are make them feel good about themselves while creating the pretense that they’re actually laughing AT themselves when they clearly are not (Billy Crystal always, most other hosts). And I can also sort of understand Hugh Jackman – he’s not a comedian, and he was awful, but at least he threw himself into it. Whatever was there, he left it on the table in a maelstrom of singing and dancing and sucking.
But other than him, basically every host has a background in comedy, which is to say a background of standing on a stage telling jokes to large groups of people without getting self-conscious or weird or boring (I’m being very kind to the comedic stylings of Ellen Degeneres and Whoopi Goldberg, not to mention Billy Crystal, but still). And even when they pulled Alec Baldwin on stage last year to pair with Steve Martin because they were in a movie together or something and someone thought it would be a good idea, at least Steve Martin was there to keep him from looking like a complete stiff. Because here’s the thing – comedians write and perform jokes, actors just read them. And since most of the night is actors reading (bad) jokes as presenters, you kind of need the host(s) to do something more than… that.
Oh, don’t get me wrong – Anne Hathaway was generally charming and is very nice to look at and did the best she could with whatever Bruce Villanch could give her (which was also not very much). And James Franco, I have to assume, did his best to not seem like a replicant, which he was obviously not very successful at, because he’s a replicant. But even if James Franco hadn’t been awful and stiff and a replicant, what exactly did the academy think was the best-case scenario? Two attractive people reading jokes off cue cards? Here’s a pro-tip, guys – get a comedian. ALWAYS get a comedian. They write jokes and tell jokes and generally know how to stand up in front of people and make them laugh. And if your host(s) are just actors reading jokes, the audience (in this example, me) is pretty quickly reminded that really, nothing happens ALL NIGHT LONG at the Oscars. You need someone to break up the monotony, not prolong it. (Additional pro-tip, because I realize I may be digging myself a grave here – Dane Cook is not a comedian. Don’t book him.)
So anyway, the Academy Awards were boring, which is not new, and The King’s Speech was an enjoyable movie but hardly the best of the year, so there’s that, but I was also asleep by then, so whatever. And by now, if you’ve read this many words, you’re wondering what a semi-lengthy screed about the Oscars is doing on a music blog, so I’ll include a song to justify all this. And next year, if James Franco slaughters everyone at the show in what turns out to be the beginning of 2012′s Great Replicant War, just remember that I called it.
Generationals: “Carrying the Torch” (if you were wondering how many Bishop Allen’s the world needed, the answer, so far, appears to be two)
(you can listen to Songs for Christmas in its entirety here, which is an activity I’d recommend. merry christmas, all.)
I don’t think I’ll be making any bold proclamation if I say that Christmas music is uniformally pretty lame. There is, of course, a nostalgic/comfort factor to the old classics, but they were designed (I assume) to be universally appealing, and I’d say that anything that is designed to be universally appealing will be pretty lame as a rule. The lowest common denominator is not a bastion of tasteful creativity.
However, over the 10+ years that I’ve been having Christmas outside of my parents’ house, an interesting thing has happened – we still listen to some of the old classics, because we’re not robots, and nostalgia can be a valuable emotion. But also, we’ve started playing a lot more of things that, I hope, will become classics for our kids – Sufjan Stevens, Low, David Bazan, Aimee Mann, The Boy Least Likely To, etc. Continue reading
I’ve loved Emusic since I first discovered it in 2002. Back then, for a 15$ membership, you could download an unlimited amount of awful-sounding (in retrospect) 128K MP3 files, from a fairly limited catalog. The one big indie label I remember them having was Matador, which would have been even cooler if I didn’t already have every Yo La Tengo and Pavement release I could lay my hands on, but still. I discovered a lot of music I never would have heard otherwise and found bands (The Decemberists and The Mountain Goats among them) that I love to this day. Continue reading
I’m not sure I have anything that interesting to say about Belle & Sebastian. The first B&S record I bought was Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant, which is an excellent album title, but I don’t recall being that impressed by the actual record (although it’s grown on me). But then for some reason I kept buying their albums, never expecting that much, and always getting at least a little more than I was expecting in return. A little more muscle, a little more melody, always unfailingly consistent (if rarely spectacular) songwriting – and in the end it all kind of gels together and wins me over despite myself. Continue reading