Friday, February 26, 2016

Don't Call it a Comeback




Richard Ashcroft is back:

Six years on from his last major interview and with barely a handful of solo acoustic shows under his belt since he stopped touring 2010’s critically maligned (but quite intriguing) rap-rock fourth album ‘United Nations Of Sound’, Richard is bursting out of the woods like a wolf attack. He arrives at this west London photo studio as if fresh from lobbing Molotovs – hair shaven, eyes shaded, scarf across his craggy features and jabbering like an enlightened monk finally breaking his vow of silence.


He is, after all, released from years of self-imposed solitary confinement in Josef Fritzl’s idea of a recording session. His brilliant new album ‘These People’, a slice of classic Verve song craft with modernist electronic touches, was pieced together in his home basement studio in bursts over the past six years, in between “being a dad and living a standard-ish kind of life with dogs and school runs”. Having discarded the distraction of his mobile, he tinkered at length with “new old keyboards”, learning new crafts and trying reinvent the looping melodicism of ‘Urban Hymns’. “With all the studios closing down, record sales hit massively, the whole industry changing, I had to re-evaluate how I could still create these super records,” he explains. “So [album track] ‘Out Of My Body’ is in the mould of ‘A Song For The Lovers’, ‘Bittersweet Symphony’, going right back. It’s a proper old-school record made with modern technology and old stuff to create something you’ve never heard before.”

I'm expecting live dates in the United States. Is that wrong of me? It would be wrong not to demand an American tour.



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Thursday, February 25, 2016

Out of Time




I think a lot of this is oversold hogwash:

R.E.M. released its seventh studio album, “Out of Time,” in March 1991, roughly six months before Nirvana unleashed “Nevermind.” The record was an obvious musical evolution from 1988’s “Green,” as it deemphasized electric guitars, featured a bevy of guest stars (rapper KRS-One and Kate Pierson of the B-52’s, along with session musicians) and amplified a broad array of instruments.


Spidery mandolin drives “Losing My Religion,” R.E.M.’s biggest chart hit to date (and, as it turns out, overall), while harpsichord adds a longing tint to “Half a World Away” and steel guitar bends through “Texarkana.” Merry circus organ exacerbates the exuberance of “Shiny Happy People,” while layers of gooey harmonies and winsome piano ensure “Near Wild Heaven” channels the Beach Boys. Saxophones, clarinet, congas, melodica and even flugelhorn pop up elsewhere to cement the album’s orchestral-pop sheen. “Out of Time” still sounds like nothing else in R.E.M.’s catalog.


Yet the album almost became more notable because it was reported to be full of love songs. “I’ve always despised love songs, so I had to try them,” vocalist Michael Stipe told the New York Times, while also stressing that “nothing on the record is autobiographical. If I ever write an autobiographical record, I’ll make it very obvious. I’m trying to do something that Tom Waits and Peter Gabriel do really well, which is to write about things I may or may not have experienced from different points of view.” In theory, the idea that R.E.M.—a band of romantics who nevertheless had largely eschewed such an obvious, common musical trope—decided to write love songs was intriguing and provocative.


The reality was more nuanced than that, of course. In practice, “Out of Time” moves beyond the subtle (and misunderstood) romantic scorn permeating R.E.M.’s 1987 hit “The One I Love”: The album is an attempt to capture and document the specific, different ways people could love and be loved. “I’ve written love songs, but they were pretty obscure and oblique,” Stipe told Spin in 1991. “These songs deal with every kind of love — except maybe love of country.” In fact, “Out of Time” is more a psychological dissection of love’s various forms—whether extant, extinct or somewhere in between.


“Near Wild Heaven” describes a relationship that’s on its last legs and teetering on the edge of breaking apart, while the aching “Half a World Away” captures the longing sewn into the fabric of a long-distance relationship. “Losing My Religion,” meanwhile, describes an uneasy scenario when love is uncertain—someone is walking on eggshells and anguished due to the unpredictable (and potentially unkind) behavior of a partner.


This is the album that Green gave birth to--an indulgent mix of overcooked songs that are as embarrassing to listen to now as it was then. And I sort of liked it when it came out. Grunge was never an option for me in the 1990s because, hello, it was always a ridiculous jaunt through 70s nostalgia.

Out of Time, as an album, is a mess. You can argue that it's an album they outsourced. It's an album that contains the single biggest mistake of their entire career--Shiny Happy People. It's got a rap song on it. Well, so did Roll the Bones, people. There is nothing spontaneous here--it's overcooked and made to sound great on television. This is exactly what happens when someone has too much time, money, and a bunch of exotic instruments to mess around with. This is the album where art divorced itself from immediacy and ended up getting run over by commerce. 





I just gave up on R.E.M. in 1996. They should have broken up after touring the world behind Green. We'd have a vastly different view of the band and their legacy if they had gone their separate ways (and it would make it easier to swallow the overindulgence that was the Green album, which is almost indistinguishable from Out of Time in that they both ended up being loaded with filler and overwrought personalization). Individually, all of the members of R.E.M.have been capable of great things, and so this is not a knock on them personally. What you can knock is how they embraced their corporate music label ownership, walled themselves off from their fans by not touring for four years, and courting favor with MTV. 





The recent MTV documentary about how the music channel and the band entered into some sort of friendly symbiotic relationship has done more to destroy their legacy than a string of poor albums did. The five album punch of Murmur, Reckoning, Fables, Pageant and Document stands as one of the greatest achievements in all of independent music. Nobody has five stronger, tougher, more innovative albums than that. Nobody meant more than R.E.M. in the 1980s. They became the face of sincere, meaningful independent music. And then they fucked it all up.





The back nine of their catalog reads like something out of a horror film. Do you know what it's like to walk through a store and hear Man in the Moon? Remember when Stipe sang about being on talk shows? Do you know how sad it is to sit there and watch the band make nice with Tabitha Soren? Did you catch their tribute to Kurt Cobain, who betrayed everything about independent music and basic artistry by checking out on drugs and blowing through shitty songs? Does anything on Reveal sound like it matters? What the hell were they thinking when they dumped their last album into the indifferent marketplace of ideas and then didn't even bother touring behind it?





Out of Time does not hold up very well. Pieces like this are meant to reassess things that were commercially successful. Do you know what you'll find if you can locate a used music store or a pawnshop that still carries CDs? A butt ton of R.E.M. CDs from this erea. It had no staying power as a statement of the times. And you can prove that by noting that it won three Grammys. How many important, really significant albums have actually won Grammys? I can't think of any, but, remember--I'm biased.





Any discussion of R.E.M.'s legacy is going to bring up a lot of my own baggage, so, you know, there's that. But the best thing you can say about Out of Time is that it wasn't as embarrassing as Up.





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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Church Live in North America






The Church are bringing their latest show back to North America (they toured extensively last summer and fall). They'll be playing The Blurred Crusade and then Further/Deeper live.



The Church 2016 – Headline North American Tour Dates




4/8/2016   Dallas, TX   Sons of Herman Hall




4/9/2016   San Antonio, TX   Maverick Festival




4/10/2016 New Orleans, LA   House Of Blues




4/11/2016 Athens, GA   Georgia Theater




4/12/2016 Nashville, TN   Mercy Lounge




4/13/2016 Columbus, OH   Skullys Music Diner




4/14/2016 Alexandria, VA   The Birchmere




4/15/2016 Brooklyn, NY   Music Hall Of Williamsburg




4/16/2016 Fairfield, CT   Stage One




4/17/2016 Wilmington, DE   World Cafe @ The Queen




4/19/2016 Northampton, MA   Iron Horse Music Hall




4/20/2016 Londonderry, NH   Tupelo Music Hall




4/22/2016 Sellersville, PA   Sellersville Theater




4/23/2016 Buffalo, NY   The Tralf


4/24/2016 Cleveland, OH   The Music Box Supper Club




4/25/2016 Evanston, IL   SPACE




4/26/2016 Evanston, IL   SPACE



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Monday, February 22, 2016

The Stone Roses Live at Madison Square Garden

I want to go but I cannot go:

The Stone Roses have announced a lone US date as part of their 2016 live reunion.
It had already been confirmed that the band will return to play four nights at Manchester's Etihad Stadium in June, as well as a headline slot at T In The Park and a concert in Dublin.
Now it has been announced that the Stone Roses will play New York City's Madison Square Garden on June 30. Pitchfork reports that support will come from Rodrigo y Gabriela.
Tickets for the New York show goes on sale this Friday (February 26). It will be the band's first US date since playing Coachella in 2013.

Oh well.

Damn, this year has been tough. I'm already committed to seeing Lush, and now Leo Kottke. I'm still thinking about going to see the Church. I would like to see some other bands, and I will probably go see Richard Ashcroft if he comes to America. Beyond that, I'm going to be burned out before too long. I can barely handle one thing per year, you know.













Minor Victories




I think the thing to do this year is to support your favorite bands any way you can. Minor Victories is a supergroup that is planning to put out a record later this year. Do whatever you can to reward such things:

Minor Victories is the supergroup of Slowdive's Rachel Goswell, Editors' Justin Lockey,Mogwai's Stuart Braithwaite, and James Lockey of Hand Held Cine Club. Today, they've announced their debut album. The self-titled record is out June 3 on Fat Possum (US) and PIAS (worldwide). It'll feature Mark Kozelek's previously reported duet with Goswell, as well as a collaboration with the Twilight Sad's James Graham. Below, watch the Hand Held Cine Club-directed video for "A Hundred Ropes," featuring a band of samurai charging over a hill in extremely slow motion.



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Friday, February 19, 2016

Out of Control




In case you were wondering, the new Lush single is called "Out of Control" and it is absolutely
brilliant.

 

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bD4O20ePnXo]

I know it's early, but the Lush reunion reminds me of what happened when Suede came back and put out a great record and toured and just sounded spectacular. I am getting the Blind Spot EP--are you?



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New Music on the Way From Richard Ashcroft




On Monday, we'll get some idea as to what Richard Ashcroft is going to do.

A few weeks ago, we told you that Richard Ashcroft had finished recording his new studio album.


According to Ashcroft's new manager, Steve Kutner, former The Verve's frontman, Richard Ashcroft finished recording his new material. Kutner took to IG to share news on the new album posting a picture of a cd and writing below 'It's finished' #richardashcroft a few weeks ago.


The album was apparently recorded at This is Metropolis studios where The Verve recorded one of the best albums of all time 'Urban Hymns'.


Now, it seems Ashcroft is set to share some big news on February 22. It has been confirmed that Ashcroft will drop some new material on Monday on Radio X.


I'm guessing a solo album by summer, a tour, and some festival dates. Will this feed the beast? Will this mean no more questions about a second Verve reunion?



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Thursday, February 18, 2016

Why Aren't There More Guitars Like This?




It seems like a no-brainer to me:

St. Vincent, otherwise known as Annie Clark, has created a guitar designed specifically for women.

She now joins Albert Lee, John Petrucci, and Steve Morse in the release of a signature guitar with brand Ernie Ball Music Man. Given free rein on the piece's design, Clark set out to create something that would tackle her own past issues with the standard design of the instrument.

"For me a guitar that is not too heavy is really important because I’m not a very big person," she told Guitar World. "I can’t even play a Sixties Strat or Seventies Les Paul. I would need to travel with a chiropractor on tour in order to play those guitars. It’s not that those aren’t great guitars, but they render themselves impractical and unfunctional for a person like me because of their weight."


Clark's model, therefore, is light in its construction with a slim, tapered waist. "I was always finding when I was playing onstage and wearing various stage outfits the guitar would cut across one of the best features of the female body, which is your waist," she continued. "I wanted to make something that looked good and not just on a woman, but any person."

Follow the link and watch the whole video. It's interesting, at least to me, to see someone own their art and try to expand it and share it with others by giving them a tool designed to eliminate a lot of the issues created by the fact that the guitar was originally designed and marketed to men.


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Monday, February 15, 2016

The Psychedelic Furs Forever Now Reissue Covers

























I would like to do something on the first five Psychedelic Furs albums because they're all very vital pieces of rock and roll history. I realize that there were seven major label releases, but I think they could have ended before Book of Days. Really, after Mirror Moves, what was left for them?

The third release was Forever Now and I'm going to get this one out of the way because I think it has one of the most God-awful covers of the 1980s. It has always sort of bothered me, and I realize I'm probably the only one who has this issue with it, but, oh well.

The music inside? Excellent stuff. The cover? Bleh.

I just think the patterns and designs that mar the cover photo are too much. The stars and diamonds are too distracting. Pink and green isn't an awful color motif but when you lay that over a blurry black and white photo, it just doesn't work for me. There is probably nothing wrong with it, but that's how I see the cover. I see it as too busy and too distracting. Their other album covers are all much more appealing. I think All of This and Nothing is probably the best cover. Nothing could be more different than this one.


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Johnny Marr and the Healers Bangin' On










This is a great way to package a single and promote something and give fans a pretty good value. The idea of the CD single often ends up going south for a lot of bands. But Johnny Marr and the Healers have a great thing going with this, the Bangin' On single.

The elements are very simple. Three songs are fine (I consider anything with four songs an EP, or extended play single, but that's not a hard and fast rule--that's just my rule), and there's over fifteen minutes of music here. The cover is artsy, and gets a little busy, but when tied into the artwork for the back (and the band photo) as well as the CD labeling itself, well, we're talking a home run here.

So many singles fail to find these simple elements and make them work. They either get the cover and design wrong (a tendency to go cute or gross or shocking comes to mind) or they fail to offer anything worth buying. I tend to prefer this kind of single--anything with B-sides is perfect. Occasionally, someone will stick three live tracks on a single--I like that, too. I'm not too keen on remixes, never have been. A single with seven remixes is not as interesting to me as something with B-sides or live tracks, but, again--that's just me being weird.


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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Coldplay at the Superbowl




If you want to be considered a huge band, you have to play the Superbowl:

“Last Week Tonight” host John Oliver sat down with Seth Meyers on Tuesday’s “Late Night.”


Among other things, the former “Daily Show” correspondent Oliver discussed his fascination with the domestic spectacle of the Super Bowl.


“In most other sports, the sport is the key appeal. And clearly that’s not the case for the Super Bowl,” Oliver explained. “Americans just expect fighter jets and Lady Gaga now.”


Oliver added that he enjoyed the halftime show, but “as a British person, I found the appearance of Coldplay slightly excruciating.”

How is it that Foo Fighters haven't done it yet? What an omission. The biggest band in America should play the Superbowl.




I watched the performance and I really couldn't figure out what was happening. I gather that Coldplay appropriated Indian culture and then pretended to be really happy to be playing along to a backing track of some sort. What's the point of playing a song or two and then leaving?




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Monday, February 8, 2016

Beyonce Said Something True Last Night




I thought the whole Superbowl Halftime Extravaganza Pepsi Show was a steaming turd, top to bottom, but, then again, I always hate these things. Not interested would be my mantra.

It turns out that conservatives didn't like it either, but not for my snobbish reasons. No, they didn't like it because Beyonce sang something true with dignity:

BeyoncĂ© has never been received particularly well by the Fox News crowd, and last night’s Super Bowl halftime performance of her brand new song “Formation” was no exception.

The backlash started early Monday morning on Fox & Friends, where, just five minutes past the 6 a.m. hour, the hosts began to lay into what they viewed as inappropriate thematic material for the most-watched television event of the year.

While Steve Doocy thought Coldplay was just OK and Bruno Mars was “fantastic,” he telegraphed his point by noting that BeyoncĂ© “was in there too.”


If Steve Doocy thinks Coldplay were "just OK" then I don't think Coldplay are going to make another album. And if they really didn't like Beyonce, it's probably because she is against the indiscriminate killing of African-Americans by police officers. You'd think everyone would get behind the idea that police officers shouldn't kill African-Americans and get away with it (sounds pretty conservative to me!) but you would be wrong. Fox News is where pro-killing people go to commiserate about the gun shortage and Obummer and tyranny and all that.





Hey, everyone needs a hand to hold on to. I felt the same way when Springsteen did the half time show. Good Lord, who likes this stuff? The whole thing is fake anyway--they're either lip-syncing to a backing track or singing live over taped music in a stadium where the sound is horrible and the acoustics are non-existent.


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Friday, February 5, 2016

The Slow Death of the Compact Disc




What's missing here is a dose of reality:

The once-proud compact disc seems to be experiencing its death throes in 2016, done in by the convenience and affordability of streaming music, and many are celebrating the death of the format, as if it were some deposed tyrant. But notRolling Stone’s David Browne. In an editorial called “In Defense Of The CD,” the writer says that music lovers should consider the many advantages of the format before consigning CDs to the scrapheap. Browne himself was reminded of these advantages while, in the process of mourning David Bowie, he decided to revisitLow and found that the compact disc version of the album gave him a much more satisfying listening experience than a streaming service, which was plagued by slow loading times and glitchy volume control. The Low CD offered “zero issues and lusher sound.” What’s not to like?


Actually, over its three-decade history, the CD has offered plenty to dislike. The writer says he understands people’s frustration with the discs, which he calls “the Jeb Bush of entertainment media.” CDs remain expensive, even after all these years. They take up space, though less so than vinyl records. Their fragile plastic cases leave annoying little “broken plastic tabs” that have to be vacuumed up later. And, especially in its crude early days, the format robbed music of some of its visceral power, leading to criticism from Neil Young. But, Browne argues, CDs are “the last format to truly honor the idea of the album.” The sound quality is generally better than most other formats, and CDs are more durable than records or cassettes. Plus, those troublesome cases still leave room for liner notes.


The compact disc is, for all practical purposes, dead as a format way before it should be. You can see that every time you go into a store where music USED to be sold. Go into Best Buy, Target, Wal-Mart, or what have you and look for the CDs. Where did they go? They're gone. And, because of that, manufacturers are going to stop making them in large numbers. The equipment will wither away and fall to disrepair and then you'll have only a handful of producers, just like we now have with vinyl. We are a couple of industrial accidents away from having the entire record pressing industry collapse into nothing. If we don't slow down, we'll lose the CD as a music storage and delivery device. That would be a shame because it's economical, flexible, and durable if you know what you're doing.





Have they really figured out the business model for streaming? I don't think they have and I wouldn't rely on it being there in its present format.





I am not a believer in the idea that vinyl is automatically better. It's just a different experience. The human ear can't tell the difference; the compact disc was originally designed to produce music that was deliverable at 44.1kHz, which is ideal. But let's be completely honest--the lifespan of the CD is equal to or greater than that of the vinyl record. If you have a store-bought pre-recorded CD, the lifespan is either five minutes or 200 years, depending on how carefully you handle and store it. 





Anyway, it's just a product of digital delivery advances. Once everyone agrees on a new format, the need to replace everything comes into play. I have far too many albums that I once owned on vinyl, cassette and CD to worry about replacing, and I'm sure you do, too.





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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Waterloo Sunset




Ray Davies was asked to tell the story behind Waterloo Sunset:

Although I’m an observer in the song, in many ways it is about me. I’d had a breakdown and, though I wasn’t a gibbering wreck, I was feeling vulnerable. The river is depicted as a protective force. I didn’t show the lyrics to the band in case they sniggered. Instead, I played it to my niece Jackie and sister Rosie and, when I told them I didn’t want it to be released as a single, they seemed to understand.


When we recorded it, my brother Dave proved that he can sometimes do what I tell him – he played lovely, compelling guitar lines to underpin my fragile vocal. Afterwards, Penny Valentine, a journalist at Disc magazine, heard it and rang me up to say: “You’ve got to put this out as a single. It’ll be a massive hit.”


The song is about how innocence will prevail over adversity. It starts out delicate, but by the end has become awesome in its power. Those triumphant chords come in – and the angels tell you everything is going to be OK.

Still better than anything the Beatles ever did.



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Monday, February 1, 2016

Pester This Man




You could ask him for cash or you could ask him for directions to the concert hall:

[Noel] Gallagher has a clear goal in mind for his third High Flying Birds LP. "I'm doing some stuff that, this time in particular, will get really, properly ignored in America," he says. "I don't just mean ignored like the rest of 'em. I mean properly ignored. That's what I'm aiming for: total, total anonymity. I'm sick and tired of being in New York and being pestered by one person a month. That's gotta fucking stop."

Amazing. One of the most famous musicians in the world can't go to New York City and find human beings to annoy him. Sounds like a tragedy to me.




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How Does Robyn Still Do It?




Surviving as a musician these days means knowing a handful of useful people:

How involved are you with the less glamorous nuts-and-bolts stuff of putting a tour together?


I’ve got a US agent, I have a British agent, and I have a German agent. I have an Italian agent and a Spanish agent, and I have somebody who helps me in Norway, and I’ve got a contact in Japan, and I’ve got a couple of contacts in Australia. And there’s a man down in Uruguay [laughs] who does that for me down there, in Uruguay and Argentina. But they all speak directly to me. I have a manager who deals with the recording side, with the record company. But I book all the live shows myself. I deal directly with the agents.


Going back 30 or 40 years, the whole hierarchy in music was that you had to get a manager, and an agent, and a record company, and you’d get a publishing deal, and maybe you’d hire a publicist. And the record company would have an in-house art department, in-house publicity, all that. But people like me never quite fitted into that. In the early years I was on independent labels, and really self-managed most of the time. I got onto major labels in the late eighties and then through the nineties, and then I was back onto independent again. Most of my career has been away from major labels. What’s happened in the last 15 years, it seems to me, is that it’s just back to a series of cottage industries.


This is one of the best interviews I've read in a long while. Check it out.




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