Saturday, June 23, 2007

iPod Roulette

It's been a busy week, with me starting back to class on Wednesday and everything, so I haven't had time to write a review yet. Sorry. Hopefully I'll have one posted by tomorrow.
In the meantime, we'll play a little game called iPod Roulette (which I took from the guy at Silly Pipe Dreams).
The rules are simple: hit "Shuffle" on your iPod, and write down the first 10 songs that come up. I'll end up writing something about every song.
If you want to play along, post your songs in the "Comments" area.
I think this will be fun.
Here we go.

1. Have You Ever - Brandi Carlile
Not a bad way to start. I like her...don't love her...but this is a pretty good song.

2. Cheatin' - Gin Blossoms
I have been a fan of the Gin Blossoms since their first album...where this song is found. However, I have always (ALWAYS) hated this song. The entire album is a nice little pop/rock album with a slight nod to country every now and then. And then, all of a sudden, they decide, "Hey, for this last track, let's go full out country." C'mon fellas, you can do better than that.

3. I Don't Ever Give Up - Patty Griffin
I'm not a huge Patty Griffin fan, but her latest album was pretty good. I give this one a thumbs up.

4. Sail to the Moon - Radiohead
Kind of fitting, what with Evan Almighty hitting theaters this weekend and whatnot. A beautiful song about Thom Yorke's son growing up to be president and sending people to the moon to save them...kind of like a modern-day Noah...but with a spaceship and people. Beautiful, beautiful song.

5. Tell it to Me - Tom Waits
BIG fan of this song, which comes off of his "Orphans" set. There's not a whole lot that Tom Waits has done that I'm not a big fan of.

6. Jesus Christ - Big Star
Gotta love Big Star. This song is a really upbeat, super-poppy song with "Jesus Christ is born today" for the chorus, which rocks over horns. It amounts to one of the least Christmasy Christmas songs in existence.

7. Whatever (Some Folk Song in C) - Elliott Smith
A while ago I found a website called Elliott Smith B-Sides, which contains a massive amount of free, unreleased Elliott Smith b-sides, outtakes and the like. This song is taken off of an album I found there called "From a Basement on a Hill 2". When he was recording his last album, he recorded over 40 songs. 15 of them made it to the album, and these are the leftovers. There's some pretty wicked stuff in here.

8. DVNO - Justice
I still haven't listened to this yet. By all accounts it is a mixture of techno beats and metal guitars. It will either be amazing or completely frightening...perhaps a mixture of the two.

9. Lucky Town - Bruce Springsteen
This is taken from his MTV Unplugged album. Not my favorite of his, but I could do a lot worse.

10. Who At My Door is Standing - Johnny Cash
From the collection "Personal File", which came out last year. If you haven't checked it out, definitely do it. It's a great collection of recently discovered tapes from Cash's "vault". They're basically performances with Cash and his guitar that were recorded in the 70s.

Well...that wasn't too bad. I didn't have a single embarrassing song on here.
Now it's your turn.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The National - Boxer

I can’t remember the last time I changed my opinion of an album so quickly. I went from thinking, “This is nothing special,” on my first listen, to being head-over-heels in love with it halfway through my second listen. I’m happy to say that it has only gotten better with each listen (and there have been many repeated listens).
They jump right out with “Fake Empire”, a slow burning song that starts with an infectious piano line and the opening lyric of “Stay out super late tonight/Picking apples, making pies/Put a little something in our lemonade/And take it with us/We’re half awake in a fake empire”, delivered in full Leonard Cohen mode. It isn’t too much longer before more instruments make their way into the song, and you find yourself bopping your head and grooving to the music, which is now in full swing, complete with some wicked horns (compliments of The Clogs’ Padma Newsome).
For a second you may be confused. “Is this the new Interpol?” That’s a perfectly normal thought, and it may take a couple of listens to get over this feeling completely. I can tell you right now what is throwing you off: it’s the voice of Matt Berninger, who sounds an awful lot like Paul Banks (who sounds an awful lot like Ian Curtis). Both have the baritone voice often associated with new-wave groups like Duran Duran or Depeche Mode. But The National are not a new-wave group, so don’t let the voice throw you off.
This is especially evident on the very next song, “Mistaken for Strangers”, which starts off with guitars that sound like they came directly from Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation. By the time the nasty-huge drums kick in, your mind should be out of the new-wave gutter.
One of the things that really stands out in this album is the instrumentation. You may not recognize it at first, but give it a couple of listens. There are all sorts of things going on at any given time. A wandering guitar line. A string section playing lightly (or perhaps not-so-lightly) in the background. A keyboard/piano line that you don’t hear until the 4th time through. All of this, of course, is on top of the thundering drums of Bryan Devendorf, the apparent centerpiece of this album the more you listen to it.
Don’t misunderstand me, though. This album isn’t entirely about rockers and thunder: there is an underlying beauty to the entire album, which becomes more obvious with each listen.
It is, of course, more obvious with some songs than with others. “Green Gloves”, “Racing Like a Pro”, and “Gospel” are prime examples that The National don’t have to play hard to make a song huge.
Most importantly, this is, without a doubt, a cohesive album. There are, of course, some tracks that stand taller than others, but that is inevitable. But, by the time everything is said and done, this is one of the most cohesive albums I’ve heard in a long time. There is not a single flaw on this album. Not one.
There are shades of Interpol, Joy Division, Bloc Party, and others on this album. But, at the end of the day, The National are their own band.
Thank God for that.

Rating: 9.7

Essential Tracks: “Fake Empire”, “Racing Like a Pro”, “Gospel”

Favorite Tracks: “Green Gloves”, “Slow Show”, “Apartment Story”
Check out their website here

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

William Fitzsimmons - Goodnight

If you were to only listen to the first three-and-a-half minutes of William Fitzsimmons’ second album, you might be under the impression that he is nothing more than another neo-folk, singer-songwriter type along the lines of Iron & Wine. Sure, there are hints of electronic beats (or “drum stuff”, as Mr. Fitzsimmons calls them), but those dwell below the surface…sporadic at best.
Right around the 3:30 mark, however, things take a bit of a turn. The beat becomes a bit more pronounced…but the song ends shortly afterwards. You’re left wondering what’s next.
“Hold On With My Open Hands” is what’s next, and it just so happens to be one of the best songs on the album. It starts with a simple guitar and William’s hushed voice. Then comes the banjo. Then the melodica. Then the faint sounds of an electric guitar in the background (if you’re not listening, you won’t be able to hear it). By the end of the song, we’re treated to a smorgasbord of instrumentation, all making for something so beautiful you really have to hear it to “get it”.
“Please Don’t Go” is another highlight, chock full of “drum stuff” that really help to drive the song. The instrumentation over top of it is great as well, but, were it not for the imaginative “drum stuff” on this song, it would just be “another song”. With the “drum stuff”, well…quite frankly, it “thumps”.
My favorite lyric on the entire album is found on “Body For My Bed”, where he sings, “My mother warned me of people that would take advantage of my money and my grace/But she forgot to tell me I’m the same.”
There are some great songs on here, some along the lines of Sufjan Stevens or Margot & The Nuclear So & So’s (simple folk songs at heart, but fleshed out with lots of instrumentation), while others make their way into Paper Route territory (pop songs fleshed out with lots of “drum stuff”, and other wonderful noises). It doesn’t matter which style he chooses…it all sounds great. And, in addition to sounding great, it all fits together as a cohesive album. Seeing as how it’s a concept album, being able to fit together as a cohesive album is a pretty big deal.
Look past the songs and you’ll find a story. It’s a gorgeously heartbreaking story of a family broken apart, as seen from the perspective of all the parties involved. I don’t want to say too much about this, as listening to the lyrics for yourself is far more rewarding than hearing someone talk about them. Although the titles of the songs are much like a movie score, in that if you read the titles in order, you can kind of figure out what happens. However, if you’re just listening (or reading) to “figure out what happens”, then you’ll miss the beauty of the story itself. My advice: pick up this album and support a great (if relatively unknown) storyteller.

Rating: 8.9

Essential Tracks: “Everything Has Changed”, “Body For My Bed”, “Afterall”

Favorite Tracks: “Hold On With My Open Hands”, “Please Don’t Go”, “Find My Way Home”

Visit his website here