Sunday, August 26, 2007

An open letter to Josh Rouse

Hi Josh,

I don't like to beat around the bush with things like this, so I'll get right to the point: I'm worried about you. I've listened to Country Mouse, City House multiple times now, and it still sucks just as bad as it did the first time I listened to it. It's even worse than Subtitulo, and I didn't think that was possible. It's just boring, meandering music.

Is this really the best you can do now? There was a time when you were better than just about anybody else out there. 1972 is still one of the best albums start to finish in my record collection. Under Cold Blue Stars blew my socks off when I first heard it. It was dark, true, beautiful music. I can't even believe that was the same guy who is now writing stuff like "Sweetie" and "Domesticated Lovers."

I'm really happy that you've found someone you love and moved to Spain. That's awesome. But where is the fire now? Where is the guy who wrote "Miracle," "My Love Has Gone," and "Sparrows Over Birmingham?" Where is the storytelling of "James," of "Christmas with Jesus?" You used to tell great stories with your songs. Now they seem like random snapshots from a settled and, if you'll forgive me for saying so, rather boring life. They don't get outside yourself the way your previous stuff did.

Please don't take this the wrong way. I've got mad respect for anyone who follows his heart. But the things that you are writing now are not worth putting out on records. Please get your head on straight before making another one.

Still love ya, man!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

TGI Bruce

Listen to Bruce's new single, "Radio Nowhere," here.

Is it good? Well, it's Bruce, isn't it? Of course it's friggin' good!! Heather over at I Am Fuel, You Are Friends compares it to Warren Zevon's "Splendid Isolation." That's a pretty good comparison. It's got a dark melody, rolling thythm, and Bruce's signature sense of urgency. Can't wait to hear the rest of the album.

In other news, we've found an apartment out in L.A. I threw up in my mouth a little bit when the lease came, though. I haven't paid this much to live since New York. Yikes!! If anyone has any celebrities they want me to hunt down and photograph, let me know. I hear the kids all like Lindsey Lohan these days. And Debbbie Gibson. Huzzah!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

L.A. on the brain

Record Review
Rilo Kiley - Under the Blacklight

Looking at the album cover for Under the Blacklight, you'd be right to assume that Rilo Kiley is trying to do something a bit different on this album. And in one big way you'd be right. It's still the same band, with the same sorts of melodic pop. But now they're sleazy.

Yes, sleazy. It's just about the last word that comes to mind when one thinks of Jenny Lewis. She and Neko Case have been battling it for the title of most lusted after indie songstress for quite some time now (anyone who throws Feist into that mix is dreaming), and when pressed I get the feeling that most indie guys would choose Ms. Lewis. Her porcelain doll looks and cooing voice go a long way to make that argument.

But she seems to be getting sick of that image. She's more obsessed now with the dirty side of life, the angel turned pornstar, the innocent turned filthy. The first sign of this was the video for The Moneymaker, starring adult film stars Faye Runaway, Hailey Young, and Tommy Gunn:

The cover of the record looks like a still from a low-budget snuff film, and Ms. Lewis sings of sleazy characters and supercharged sexual beings all over this record. On "Close Call" she sings of an uncommonly beautiful woman struggling on the edge of depravity, a real note of tension wavering across her voice. It seems like they are really trying to make a suite of songs about the sleazy side of life.

But it just doesn't work for them. This album is lyrically their weakest to date. They give up the frenetic, inspired wordplay of More Adventurous for surface stories of people on the fringes of life. Their offbeat words were always the strongest thing to recommend them as a band, but such things don't often translate well to major label debuts. There are, of course, exceptions on the album. "Dreamworld" has some interesting imagery in it, and "The Angels Hung Around" recaptures some of their previous lyrical magic. On the whole, however, they seem to be sacrificing their lyrical talents for the sake of a greater theme.

Under the Blacklight is a very good album in spite of this, however, because musically it is a magnificent piece of pop craftsmanship. The production is significantly stepped up on this album, but rather than drowning their songs, it fleshes them out and turns them into bigger, better things. Even their forays into disco, "Breakin' Up" and "Dejalo," are endearing rather than annoying, bright pieces of fluff that make you nod your head. The title track is the best songs I've heard from them, a lilting juggernaut of a song. The whole thing smacks of Southern California; it's the first album that they have made that roots them in a specific place.

I think I'd still choose More Adventurous if pressed. That album's strength is in its words, which survive long after the music grows tiresome. At a time, however, when I am picking up stakes and moving to L.A., I can not think of a better album to driving in a Uhaul across California than Under the Blacklight. It's a perfect piece of summertime pop.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

They call Los Ang-ulus the City of Angels...

As most of you know, my last few months have been devoted almost exclusively to searching for a job. And now, I am happy to announce, that search is over. We are no longer going to be East Coast kids!

Yes, Becca and I are headed for sunny, sprawling Los Angeles. I will be working at an agency called Team One as a junior planner. The people I have met there are just awesome, nice as they can be and very down-to-Earth. Those of you who have some familiarity with advertising people know how rare those traits can be. I'm going to get great experience out there. I really couldn't have asked for a better first job.

So that's the story! We will be headed out there in the next month. My first day of work is Sept. 24. Looking down the barrel of finding a place to live, a car that meets CA admissions standards, and some big, burly men to move our lives across the country for us, that date does not seem that far off. Lotta ins, lotta outs, lotta what-have-you's.

So now, the obvious next step for me is putting together a California playlist. On it so far are:
"California" by Lucero
"California" by Rogue Wave
"Maybe California" by Neal Casal
"In California" by Neko Case
"Hollywood" by Jackie Greene
"California Blue" by Roy Orbison
"Sunset Strip" by The Riptides
"Hotel California" by The Gypsy Kings
"California" by Joni Mitchell
"California Stars" by Billy Bragg & Wilco
"California Man" by Cheap Trick
"California Sun" by The Ramones
"California Love" by 2Pac

Add your suggestions. You'll be amazed how many songs there about about California.

And now, I will leave you with an homage to the greatest L.A. movie of all time.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Love me some Onion!

Especially the American Voices section, like this one about our Democratic-controlled Congress passing the surveillance measures:

Ed Albaugh,
Elevator Repairman
"You won't need to eavesdrop to hear this: I voted for you assholes because you said you were against shit like this."

Too true, Ed Albaugh, too true.

Get out of the heat!

Stay cool, everybody!

Monday, August 06, 2007

The Unbearable Lightness of Covers

Record Review
A Tribute to Joni Mitchell

Tribute records are undoubtedly hard to do. The last one I remember really liking was Encomium, the tribute to Led Zeppelin that came out in the mid-90's. As a matter of fact, that is the only tribute record that I remember being of any significance at all. Last year's tribute to The Band had some good tracks on it, like Death Cab's interesting take on "Rocking Chair" and My Morning Jacket's scorching version of "It Makes No Difference." Typically, however, the only good songs on tributes come from bands that share a certain philosophy or mindset with the band being covered.

Encomium was different, though, and I think it's because nearly everyone who thinks about music a lot has had a significant relationship with Led Zeppelin in their lives. Everyone goes through a period when they listen to little else but Led Zeppelin. Chuck Klosterman has some interesting theories about this, not all of which I agree with, but I think there's a lot of truth in the fact that Zeppelin is, in a certain way, more ubiquitous than both The Beatles and The Stones, the two bands that most often come out above them on lists of the best rock bands of all time. People's relationships with those bands are just different.

I was very interested to see what folks would do with Joni Mitchell's distinctive catalogue. As always with these records, there are some good and some bad. Mostly bad. People's relationships with Joni Mitchell range all over the map, and so the record seems a bit scattered. Everyone relates to Joni Mitchell differently, but I think everyone relates to Zeppelin in roughly the same way. This leads me to believe that there may never be another tribute album as good as Encomium. At least until someone puts together a Creedence tribute (and if they don't make reference to the flying spoon in the title of that one, I am going to be very upset).

Track by track, here's the album broken down.

1. Sufjan Stevens - Free Man in Paris
Yup, that's Sufjan Stevens. Next.

2. Bjork - The Boho Dance
An absolutely perfect match. Joni's esoteric lyrics are a perfect match for Bjork's interesting phrasing and enchanting voice. Honestly, I could listen to Bjork read the phone book and be enthralled.

3. Caetano Veloso - Dreamland
This one makes a lot of sense. It's not particularly exciting, but it's nice to listen to. Joni's talent for making observation of everyday life seem not trite was formidable, and the fluid style of most Carribean music is a great match for this type of song.

4. Brad Mehldau - Don't Interrupt the Sorrow
I love anything Brad Mehldau does, but this was not among Joni Mitchell's best songs. As always, there is lots of interesting melodic play in what Mehldau does with the song, but it is far from his best work.

5. Cassandra Wilson - For the Roses
Cassandra Wilson bores the crap out of me. This is no exception.

6. Prince - A Case of You
God, I wanted to love this. I really did. I absolutely adore Prince, and I absolutely adore this song. But it just doesn't work that well as a soul song. It comes across as easy listening pap. Damn it, Prince! Why do you torture me so?

7. Sarah McLachlan - Blue
Given that she hasn't made a good album in ten years now, I don't pay much attention to Sarah McLachlan any more. But this is a decent version of a song that Joni really did etch her signature on. Usually covers of an artist's signature songs fall flat on their faces, but this one only falls on its ass.

8. Annie Lennox - Ladies of the Canyon
Wow! I forgot how wonderful Annie Lennox's voice can be. This is definitely one of the highlights of this disc. She delivers a confident, fluid performance of a song that is perfect for her. Very, very good.

9. Emmylou Harris - Magdalene Laundries
The other indisputable highlight of this record. Emmylou has such a gift for interpreting other people's songs, and her voice is absolutely a national treasure. This is what you hope for with tribute records.

10. Elvis Costello - Edith and the Kingpin
Jazzy rendition of a pretty jazzy original. This is one of those Joni Mitchell songs that jazz musicians love to cover. But Elvis Costello is not a jazz musician, nor should he be. I would have much rather heard a rocking version of "People's Parties" or "Coyote" from Mr. Costello.

11. k.d. lang - Help Me
Standard version of a standard tune. Her voice is strong enough to make it listenable. Not much else to say.

12. James Taylor - River

I came away from this album thinking that Joni Mitchell is an incredibly hard artist to cover. Her phrasing, her lyrics, her breezy guitar style, and her charisma as a performer all blended together to make her the type of artist that she was. Few artists had all of that in one package. The album offers little insight into the songs, but it makes for some enjoyable listening on a rainy afternoon.