Tuesday, June 30, 2009

New-Release Tuesday and Other News

'Wilco (The Album)' came out today, but it's another one of those records that feels like has been out for months. Here's what I had to say about it last month, and you can download my favorite song from the record (so far) below.

Other than that, the only other release of interest is a three-song EP from Austin's own Spoon. It's of interest because this is the first new music from them since the well-done 'Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga' album in 2007. The single, "Got Nuffin", according to Spoon, is supposed to tide us over until they come out with a new record. There is no release date for said record, however, and this song is not a homer. The band will be performing some new songs in Austin at Stubb's in a couple of weeks. Hopefully I can get a hold of them. All three songs on the 'Got Nuffin' EP are available on CD and by download today. The 12" will follow sometime in July.

Spoon - Got Nuffin (mp3)
Wilco - Wilco (The Song) (mp3)

Since it's a slow release week, I thought I would share a few songs from upcoming releases and let you know about some exciting music news. Then I'm going to take off a day or two to assemble my favorite songs from the first half of 2009. I hope to have them posted on Friday.

I'm very late to the Yo La Tengo party, but this prolific Hoboken trio has been heavily in my rotation for the last year. Shame on me. Matador has announced a release date of Sept. 8 for the new 2LP 'Popular Songs'. The first song has me excited for this one:

Yo La Tengo - Periodically Double or Triple (mp3)

It has been forever since we have heard from Eric D. Johnson's Fruit Bats. The follow-up to 2005's 'Spelled In Bones' is coming out Aug. 4 on Sub Pop, and this is the first single from 'The Ruminant Band'. It sounds to me like early lo-fi Of Montreal. I hope that's a compliment.

Fruit Bats - My Unusual Friend (mp3)

Scott McCaughey has been very busy, but it will all seem worth it on July 7 when both of his bands release new records for Yep Roc. Young Fresh Fellows return after an eight-year hiatus with the same lineup they have had since the '80s. I'm sure 'I Think This Is' will be full of lyrics that bring laughs. As for his other band, The Minus 5, regulars Ken Stringfellow and R.E.M.'s Peter Buck return with lots of interesting guests on 'Killingsworth'. Take a listen:

Young Fresh Fellows - YOUR Mexican Restaurant (mp3)
The Minus 5 - The Long Hall (mp3)

Not much info on this one yet, but Apples in Stereo are getting the "Best Of" treatment from Yep Roc on Sept. 1. The 16-track
'#1 Hits Explosion' seems to cover the band's entire career, but this is not confirmed since the track list isn't available yet. I hope this one makes the cut:

Monday, June 29, 2009

Musical Career Resurrected

Too bad he had to die for it. I promised myself I wouldn't write about Michael Jackson, but I'm a sucker for music by the numbers. I love to track sales, and this week's UK charts just came out. I'll let these numbers on Jackson speak for themselves:

Album Sales
#1 Number Ones (compilation)
#7 Thriller
#14 King of Pop (compilation)
#17 Off the Wall
#20 The Essential Michael Jackson (compilation)
#45 Thriller 25 (deluxe reissue)
#59 Bad

Singles Sales
#11 Man in the Mirror
#23 Thriller
#25 Billie Jean
#28 Smooth Criminal
#30 Beat It
#38 Earth Song

Another 14 songs either by Jackson (solo) or the Jackson 5 appear in the Top 75. I have never seen anything quite like it. Will he repeat this feat when the American charts are released later this week? Well, he can't. Billboard separates the charts between older catalog albums and new releases. This week the Jackson material on the older catalog chart will surely outsell the new release #1 spot many times over. That's too bad. This shows a real hole in Billboard's process.

I loved the 'Thriller' stuff as much as any other 12-year-old-kid, but I didn't care for much of his work after that record... except this one.

Michael Jackson - Leave Me Alone (mp3)

American Update:
Billboard's numbers have just been released, and Jackson or Jackson 5 titles have taken the Top 9 spots on the Top Pop Catalog Albums chart. Remember, catalog albums do not qualify for the Billboard 200. If they did, based on sales, Jackson's work would be #1, #2 and #3, with The Black Eyed Peas (this week's #1) coming in at #4. The top catalog album has never outsold the top new record in a given week... before now. In digital news, Jackson's work accounted for 2.6 million downloads last week. He is the first artist to even crack the million download mark for a given week. Twenty-five of the Top 75 downloads are Jackson's. Jackson dominated the radio airwaves as well. For example, "Billie Jean" was spun 4,540 times on 1,600 stations last week. Yes, Jackson may have temporarily saved the big-studio music business.

Johnny Marr Changes Teams Again

The Cribs are no longer only a family affair. The former Smiths' guitarist has joined the three Yorkshire brothers as a full-fledged member in much the same way he became a part of Modest Mouse and The The. Yes, Marr gets around, and in every case he has made the band better. When a legend like Marr calls, you welcome him with open arms. Here's what we know so far: The Cribs' fourth record, the follow-up to the excellent 'Men's Needs, Women's Needs, Whatever', will be called 'Ignore the Ignorant'. The first single, "Cheat on Me", hits the street Aug. 30, and the album follows Sept. 7.

Track List

1. We Were Aborted
2. Cheat on Me
3. We Share the Same Skies
4. City of Bugs
5. Hari Kari
6. Last Year's Snow
7. Emasculate Me
8. Ignore the Ignorant
9. Save Your Secrets
10. Nothing
11. Victim of Mass Production
12. Stick to Yr Guns

And if you haven't heard Marr's work on Neil Finn's 2001 live album '7 Worlds Collide', check it out to prep yourself for the follow-up, '7 Worlds Collide - The Sun Came Out'. Finn, Marr and many other friends, including members of Wilco, appear on the double CD out Aug. 10. Yes, that Marr gets around. Here's a single from The Cribs' last record, and watch Finn and Marr perform Marr's song, 'Down on the Corner'. This was Marr's first single from the Johnny Marr & The Healers debut album.

The Cribs - Men's Needs (mp3)

Friday, June 26, 2009

And the Oscar Goes To...

...one of 10 Best Picture nominees. This is a bit off the usual subject of music, but I'll find a way to bring it back around. Earlier this week the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences increased the number of nominees from five to 10, and I'm miffed. I'm one of those people who make it a point to see the five nominees prior to the Oscars telecast. If there is one thing this process has taught me, it is that the Academy often does a poor job choosing five nominees, let alone 10.

My personal favorite movie of the year selection is rarely something nominated. Yes, my pick is usually an indie, foreign or small-budget studio film. I have read several critics and others in the know who believe this increase will help my kind of movie. Why should I believe this when history shows the Academy does such a poor job with five nominees? I imagine fat-cat studio heads are popping champagne this week knowing they have doubled their chances at the top prize. And let's not forget the increased ticket and DVD sales for these honchos.

I took a look at the recent nominees. Remember these classics? 'Titanic', 'Good Night, and Good Luck', 'Jerry Maguire', 'The Lord of the Rings (yes, all three) and 'Babel' are just a few of many missteps. These are not all bad movies, to be sure, but I don't believe we will look at these in 50 years like we do, say, 'Casablanca'. No, instead of honoring cutting-edge film making like we found in 'Once' and 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind', my guess is we will get watered-down major-studio picks like 'The Devil Wears Prada' and 'Dreamgirls'. Watching these might be a nice way to waste a rainy Saturday afternoon on the sofa, but there are usually far better films to be honored. This increase will bring in an even lower tier of films.

If the Academy must honor more films, do what the Hollywood Foreign Press does with the Golden Globes. Separate Best Picture into two categories. That way a "serious" film doesn't have to go head-to-head with a light but well-done comedy or musical. If something like 'Munich' was matched against a 'There's Something About Mary' type of motion picture, Academy members would have to vote for the drama. Don't laugh. This scenario is bound to happen as 10 films are nominated. Mega box-office comedies will start making their way onto the ballot.

Finally, with 10 films splitting the vote, this only increases the chances of a major studio winning the big prize. Many voters will see only a few of the nominees, and chances are they will see the biggies. When the votes are split among 10, the winner will only need a much smaller amount of votes to win. There will be no runoff elections like when politicians only receive a small percentage of votes but still win. I hope I'm wrong about all of this, but I won't be surprised if the new 'Harry Potter' is on the ballot when the Academy's selections are announced on Feb. 2.

Back to the music. I mentioned 'Once' earlier. At least the Academy recognized the film for its soundtrack. And it won, I might add. Here are a couple of picks from that great movie.

Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova - Falling Slowly (mp3)
Hansard and Irglova - When Your Mind's Made Up (mp3)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Songs in Cinema: Part 1

Here's another in a long list of British films I've never seen because it never made it across the pond. Yet, the soundtrack to 'Party Party' made quite an impression on outsider American teens like me in the early '80s. I wanted this record, primarily, for one song, Elvis Costello & The Attractions' "Party Party". The song has never appeared on a Costello record... not even with all of the reissues and reissues of reissues. Many fans (and even Costello himself) have shown disdain for this period in his career and this song in particular, but I thought 1983 was a great year for the artist. I love his work with the TKO Horns and, like on his album 'Punch the Clock', they are featured prominently here.

Turns out, there are some other fun songs here. Sting does a rousing version of Little Richard's "Tutti Frutti", and there are appearances by Bananarama, Altered Images, Madness and the great Dave Edmunds, to name a few. Perhaps the best of the lot is Midge Ure of Ultravox doing David Bowie's "The Man Who Sold the World". Maybe this was Nirvana's inspiration. I found this lovely piece of vinyl in a used record shop for $1.99.

Elvis Costello & The Attractions - Party Party (mp3)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Spiral Stairs Ascends Again

Matador just announced 'The Real Feel' will be released Oct. 20. Spiral Stairs, aka Scott Kannberg, has spent quite a bit of time Down Under, and it sounds like it on the first leaked song.

Spiral Stairs - Maltese Terrier (mp3)

Although he is not using the moniker Preston School of Industry this time, members of the band appear on this record, as well as members of Posies and Broken Social Scene. PSOI's first record, 'All This Sounds Gas', is an absolute overlooked classic. The follow-up, uh, not so much. Still, I hope Stairs gets his due the way Stephen Malkmus has. I can't wait for this one. If you missed PSOI's Cure-influenced "Falling Away", check out the video. Hilarious.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

New-Release Tuesday

Lots of good stuff came out today (too many to mention, in fact), but I have already written about many of them in previous posts over the past couple of weeks, including Bjork, Dinosaur Jr., God Help the Girl and my very first post, Those Darlins. I like that record so much I'll give you another song:

Those Darlins - Red Light Love (mp3)

Evan Dando returns with a Lemonheads cover album called 'Varshons'. He chose songs that were mostly sent to him as mix tapes over the years by the Butthole Surfers' Gibby Haynes. Haynes also produced the record featuring songs by Leonard Cohen, Gram Parsons and, yes, Christina Aguilera. Guest vocalists include Kate Moss and Liv Tyler. Wild stuff. Here's the Aguilera tune.

The Lemonheads - Beautiful (mp3)

In reissue news, R.E.M. gets its second deluxe edition with 1984's 'Reckoning'. Disc one is the remastered album, and disc two is 16 songs of odds and sods that includes b-sides, a cover of 'Femme Fatale' and several live songs from a show at Chicago's Aragon Ballroom. I'm not much for their work after the jump from IRS to the majors, but I will put their first two records up against anybody and am happy these have received the star treatment.

In other release news, Modest Mouse have released the single "Autumn Beds" with "The Whale Song" as the flip side. The song is heavy on the banjo and quite good. I heard it was only going to be limited edition 7", but I see today it is available for download.

Modest Mouse - Autumn Beds (mp3)

Wrapping up for this week, Rhino released a Factory Records complication called 'Communications 1978-1992' earlier this year, and now you can get it as a digital download. I mention this because most of the best New Order 12" singles are on it, and you can pick the ones you want for 99 cents each on iTunes instead of paying $30 for the set. Without the set however, you do miss a few nuggets by Joy Division and Electronic too. Bernard Sumner has quite a family tree, eh?

New Order - Temptation 12" (mp3)

It Was 25 Years Ago Today...

...Ryno taught the Cubs to play. The "Ryne Sandberg Game" was on NBC's Game of the Week, and the Cubs trailed 9-8 in the bottom of the 9th at Wrigley. Former Cub Bruce Sutter, baseball's most daunting closer, threw one low and in to Ryno. He hit it into the left-field bleachers to send it to extras. The Cards scored two in the 10th. Sutter pitched the home half of the 10th when Ryno hit another one out to tie it again. The Cubs went on to win it an inning later.

I was a brooding 13 year old watching the game on a little grainy black & white set in the family camper at a campground in Goodfield, Illinois. Although I had been going to Wrigley Field with my grandmother since 1979, this was the day I fell in love with baseball. Here are a few Top 40 hits from that summer I still like quite a bit to this day. Enjoy.

Talk Talk - It's My Life 12" (mp3)
Icicle Works - Birds Fly (Whisper to a Scream) (mp3)
The Style Council - My Ever Changing Moods 12" (mp3)

Monday, June 22, 2009

Vinyl Is King

I love the LP. Before yesterday it had been quite some time since I was able to peruse at a real, 100-percent dedicated, all-vinyl record store. This was all I asked for this Father's Day. The store was Dave's Records in Chicago's Lincoln Park. It had been so long since I hit that store it was called 2nd Hand Tunes and had a different owner the last time I walked through the door. Well, the place looked (and smelled... you know that used record store air) exactly the same as it did upon my first visit in 1989.

There was only one change, and it was a pleasant one at that. I, of course, know vinyl has made a bit of a comeback the last couple of years, but Dave's illustrates the LP is alive and well. I'm going to guess of Dave's 40,000-record stock, at least 10 percent of it consisted of new releases or brand-new reissues. This made my day (well, at least as much as my holiday lunch at Frances' Deli a few doors down).

I picked up several cheapo '80s records and 12" singles, but I also bought two relatively new records, The Lodger's first record from a couple of years ago, 'Grown-Ups', and Robyn Hitchcock's 2009 release, 'Goodnight Oslo'. Now, I had already downloaded a few songs from 'Goodnight Oslo' this spring, and I dug these tunes enough to want to buy it. That, my friend, is the power of the blog. Without those mp3s, I would never buy the record. That, however, is a love letter for another day. Today's entry is about what I got with that record.

With many indie-label LP purchases, you get a card with a special code to download the record in a digital format as well. This is why, I believe, vinyl will not only stay alive, it will thrive. The download even included two extra songs that weren't on the physical album! As an added bonus, Yep Roc (Hitchcock's label), allowed me to download a sampler of several other Yep Roc artists free of charge. Yes, the indies get it. Why wouldn't you buy the rich-sounding LP when they throw in the kitchen sink? Now I will pass it on. Here is a song from 'Goodnight Oslo' you might also know from Hitchcock's appearance in the Jonathan Demme film 'Rachel Getting Married'. If you like it as much as I do, support the artist and buy the record in the format of your choice.

Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3 - Up to Our Nex (mp3)

Remembering Dad

My father liked the Cardinals. I like the Cubs. And the list of differences went on and on. Dad liked country, for the most part, while I favored punk, new wave and no wave while I was growing up. My father has been gone for many, many years now. I would like him to know I have come around on some of his favorite artists. Here are a few. Yes, there is one here that is completely inexplicable. Miss you, Pops.

Johnny Cash - Folsom Prison Blues (live) (mp3)
The Everly Brothers - When Will I Be Loved (mp3)
Culture Club - Karma Chameleon (mp3)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Sweet Evening Under the Stars

There is much to love about living in my fair town of Naperville, Illinois. We have a quaint downtown with a river walk, abundant green space, as well as great restaurants and shopping that (on a smaller scale, of course) rivals Chicago. In the summer, we have three major festivals that include music. Off the top of my head, in the past couple of years, you could have caught the following here: Cheap Trick, Urge Overkill, Joan Jett, Psychedelic Furs, The Alarm, The Fixx, The Smithereens, Todd Rundgren and Colin Hay from Men at Work. Those are just the ones I thought were decent. These festivals are an even bigger dream for classic-rock fans. Well, this summer has been no exception. I caught the power pop of Matthew Sweet tonight at Naper Settlement's Naper Days.

Sweet is one of my favorite '90s artists, and his set list was heavy on his two best albums, 'Girlfriend' and 'Altered Beast'. He opened with "Divine Intervention". During the next 45 minutes he zipped through "Ugly Truth Rock", "Time Capsule", You Don't Love Me", "Girlfriend" and "I've Been Waiting". He closed with "Sick of Myself" and came out for a one-song encore of Neil Young's "Cinnamon Girl". I believe he played only one tune from his latest, 'Sunshine Lies'.

The weather was great, the tickets were cheap and the length of the show was perfect for a family (like mine) to spread out a blanket and catch the whole thing. In these situations, I can rarely get my little ones to last more than a couple of songs. I got lucky tonight. And the best part for me was I bumped into Sweet as he was leaving, and I was able to personally thank him for a wonderful evening. I'm no whiz on the camera, but the shots of Sweet found here are from tonight's show. As a special bonus, here are a couple of "sweet" demos.

Matthew Sweet - Time Capsule (demo) (mp3)
Matthew Sweet - The Ugly Truth (demo) (mp3)

Friday, June 19, 2009

Air Blows Into Stores This Fall

It didn't look like anyone would challenge Phoenix for best French album of 2009, but electronic-pop duo (and Phoenix friends) Air finally has a release date for its latest. Astralwerks has announced 'Love 2' will be out Oct. 6. Like Phoenix, Air takes its sweet time between albums. By fall, it will be two-and-a-half years since 'Pocket Symphony' first saw light. For those champing at the bit, there will be a digital single -- "Do the Joy" -- out July 7. The first proper single -- "Sing Sang Song" -- follows Aug. 25.

This is their first album done at Air's own Atlas Studios. It's also the first album written, recorded and mixed solely by the band. In another rare move, the two fellas are handling all the vocals themselves. The songs with female guest vocalists like "Cherry Blossom Girl", "Once Upon a Time" and "Surfing on a Rocket" are among my favorites. So, I'm not sure how I feel about this move. I do know I can't wait to hear these new songs. If anything leaks, you'll find it here. In the meantime, check out Air classics below.

'Love 2' Tracklist:

Do The Joy
So Light Is Her Footfall
Be A Bee
Missing The Light Of The Day
Tropical Disease
Heaven's Light
Night Hunter
Sing Sang Sung
Eat My Beat
You Can Tell It To Everybody
African Velvet

My Fave Four
Air - Playground Love (mp3)
Air - Once Upon a Time (mp3)
Air - Cherry Blossom Girl (mp3)
Air - Kelly Watch the Stars (mp3)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Maybe I'm Amazed at These Prices

I had a stroke of genius... then I almost had a stroke. The idea was to surprise Mrs. Linear Tracking Lives! with tickets to see Sir Paul in New York. I am an unapologetic fanatic of McCartney. I even love his '80s stuff, and I'm not ashamed to say it. My mother was going to watch the kids for a night while we whisked off to Citi Field in Flushing, followed by a post-concert night on the town in Manhattan on July 18. I was pretty excited to see him on the same grounds The Beatles played when Shea Stadium opened 44 years ago. Now he was opening the new stadium.

The tickets went on sale this past Monday morning at 9AM central time. Seat prices were as follows: The best seats, called floor center, were a whopping $275 each. These are right in front of the stage, located in center field. These seats were too rich for my blood. The next level of seats, called floor side, were still on the field but to the side of the stage. The next level, called field side, were box seats from first base to the right-field corner and third base to the left-field corner. Both the floor-side and field-side seats were $175. This is a lot of money, to be sure, but these two areas were my target. If I'm flying all the way to New York from Chicago, I want to be close enough that I'm not watching a Jumbotron all night. If I couldn't get these seats, I would pass on the experience. For the record, the rest of the seats were priced between $49.50 and $99.50.

If you have bought tickets for an arena-style show online at sale time, you can guess what happened. I was in a virtual waiting room that refreshed my computer every 60 seconds as I "lined up" for my turn. After an hour or so (yes, just about everything should have been snagged by this point), I was finally told I could get a "Silver Hot Seat Package". Well, they would be field-side seats, which is what I wanted, and it even came with a few other things. There would be access to a pre-hospitality room with food, an exclusive merchandise item and a collectible laminate. The price, however would not be $175. It would be $450 per seat. Yes, I would have to pay $900 for two seats (before taxes and fees). For the additional money I imagine I would have received cold broccoli and carrots on a paper plate and a Happy Meal-style prize. As for the laminate, my ticket stub is the only souvenir I needed. The bottom line is I just want to hear the music. Needless to say, I took a pass with no regrets. How much do you think is too much to see a Beatle? Here is one of his '80s songs that seems apropos.

Paul McCartney - Take It Away (mp3)

Urge to Congratulate Merge

In a time when the majors are dying a slow death, it seems to me the industry is actually stronger than ever. Labels like Secretly Canadian, Kill Rock Stars, Domino, XL Recordings, Sub Pop, Matador and Yep Roc are consistently signing great bands and digging into archives to reissue indie classics and forgotten gems. Perhaps my favorite indie label of them all, Merge Records, turns 20 this year, and the Durham, N.C.-based outfit is celebrating with free shows, a Merge covers compilation and much more.

This is as good a time as any to plug the three-disc set 'Old Enough 2 Know Better' Merge released to commemorate its 15th birthday. The first two discs are boilerplate "best of" material, but the real fun stuff comes in the form of unrelased songs on the third disc. The collection is still in print and priced at less than $15. Believe me, Merge is the one giving out presents here. So, let's all thank Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballance for starting this fine label two decades ago.

I'm celebrating Merge's birthday with my own list of label favorites. I was going to make it a Top 20 bands list for obvious reasons, but I found in order to do that the last few ranked would be bands whose peak years were at other labels. A few examples include Buzzcocks, Dinosaur Jr. and Teenage Fanclub. I love Teenage Fanclub, but the band has only one record at Merge. With this caveat in mind, here are my 15 favorites. The most difficult aspect of this list is choosing one favorite song for each artist. Here goes:

1. She & Him
M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel have recorded only one record, but it was my favorite of 2008. No other Merge band has captured my top spot in a given year.
She & Him - Sweet Darlin' (mp3)

2. Arcade Fire
'Funeral' was Merge's first record to crack the Billboard 200. The followup, 'Neon Bible', debuted at No. 2, making it Merge's highest ever charting release.
Arcade Fire - Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels) (mp3)

3. Camera Obscura
The good news is each of their records has been a little bit better than the last. Sixties girl-group vibe in its infancy has become a fuller, more mature sound today.
Camera Oscura - French Navy (mp3)

4. The Rosebuds
I thought the dance pop on 'Night of the Furies' was only a minor hiccup in an otherwise stellar career.
The Rosebuds - Blue Bird (mp3)

5. Spoon
I didn't fork over any love for these guys until 'Gimme Fiction'. Now I scoop up all of their hooks.
Spoon - You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb (mp3)

6. M. Ward
He sounds like a old-timey Tom Waits. Beautiful.
M. Ward - Chinese Translation (mp3)

7. Shout Out Louds
After the first record, I considered these Swedes a guilty pleasure because they seemed to wear their '80s influences on their sleeves. By the second record I realized I was selling them short.
Shout Out Louds - Very Loud (mp3)

8. The Clientele
These Brits have a sound right out of the softer side of the '60s that remind me of The Association.
The Clientele - Since K Got Over Me (mp3)

9. The Broken West
Catchy Cali popsters seem to listen to everyone right -- Cheap Trick, Big Star, Matthew Sweet -- but need to focus more on The Broken West sound. Their debut was one of the best of 2007.
The Broken West - So It Goes (mp3)

10. The Clean
As I mentioned the other day, get Merge's excellent anthology of these New Zealanders. The first disc is disjointed and whimsical, and I mean that as a compliment. The second disc is a collection of polished pop. Here is their first single from 1981.
The Clean - Tally Ho (mp3)

11. Lambchop
You picture this guy strumming and telling stories on the front porch of a Southern shack at sundown. You get to be on the front step tapping your toes, picking your teeth and daydreaming.
Lambchop - Paperback Bible (mp3)

12. Caribou
Dan Snaith is a sun-drenched popster that must listen to a lot of The Zombies and post-'Smile' Beach Boys. Well, I do too. Thanks for 'Andorra'. Look up Snaith's story. He's fascinating.
Caribou - Melody Day (mp3)

13. Neutral Milk Hotel
Part of me is putting Jeff Mangum's baby on the list so I don't get hate mail. 'In the Aeroplane Over the Sea' is a must in your musical education. That's about as deep as I get with him.
Neutral Milk Hotel - Holland, 1945 (mp3)

14. Destroyer
Dan Bejar's work on New Pornographers records are usually the least liked by fans. I admit they are usually the most challenging. His voice is not as smooth as A.C. Newman's or Neko Case's, to be sure, but I enjoy his quirkiness. Bejar's Destroyer work is more symphonic and even more difficult to digest. If you don't like him with New Pornographers, you most certainly won't like him here. He reminds me of early Bowie on this song.
Destroyer - Notorious Lightning (mp3)

15. Superchunk
Two band members founded this label in rented office space 20 years ago. That and this anthem earn them a spot on my list.
Superchunk - Slack Motherfucker (mp3)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

New-Release Tuesday

There is only one new one out today worthy of discussion, and it's a compilation at that. George Harrison has never had a solo-career-spanning retrospective before today. Some of you may remember 'The Best of George Harrison' that was released in 1976. To fill it, one side was his best work with The Beatles. Yep, his solo work was one side of one piece of vinyl (six measly songs). On the new 'Let It Roll: Songs by George Harrison', you get 19 remastered songs. A few tunes are, indeed, Beatles songs, but they come from his 1971 'Concert for Bangladesh', one of Harrison's pivotal post-Fab Four moments.

Like most compilations, there are problems. In order to collect songs from his entire career, you get questionable moments from his least inspired years. It seems impossible that Top 40 hits "This Song", Crackerbox Palace", "You" and "Dark Horse" wouldn't make the cut. All of these were released between 1974 and 1977, however, and this time period is well represented on the single CD. On the plus side, "Cheer Down" from the 'Lethal Weapon 2' soundtrack appears here, and that has been a tough tune to find. My favorite Harrison soundtrack moment, however, didn't make it. "Dream Away" from the 1981 Terry Gilliam film 'Time Bandits' (produced by Harrison's Handmade Films) would have been an interesting choice for this collection, but now I'm quibbling.

'Let It Roll' is a must buy for all Harrison fans, including those who already own the six albums these songs are culled from. The superior sound quality and rarely seen photos are real difference makers. After you purchase this one, I'll see you at the record store Sept. 9 for the remastered Beatles catalog.

Cheer Down - George Harrison (mp3)

Monday, June 15, 2009

Vegas Wants You to Want Cheap Trick

I love Cheap Trick. I love The Beatles. I completely understand the historical importance of the Sgt. Pepper album. So, why do I feel angst after the announcement that Cheap Trick will have a brief residency in September at the Las Vegas Hilton to perform the Sgt. Pepper album? Is this a good idea?

The band will have a little help from its friends (ugh, I know). They will be accompanied by a full orchestra, Indian sitarists, and the sound will be handled by Grammy-award winning Beatles' engineer Geoff Emerick. Actually, all of that seems pretty interesting. It could be worse. Remember that Bee Gees/Peter Frampton debacle in the '70s? Perhaps I just have a Fab Four hangover after Cirque de Soleil's 'Love' at the Mirage and all of this gaming buzz about Rock Band. There was a time when it seemed impossible for Sgt. Pepper to be performed live, but Cheap Trick has already pulled it off a handful of times at the Hollywood Bowl in recent years. It seems, however, the band has upped the ante considerably. No word on if they will wear the costumes. It could be fun to see Bun E. Carlos dressed in one of those shiny uniforms. Maybe not.

Wait! I just got in touch with my feelings. As I mentioned, I love Cheap Trick, but as the following song will prove, perhaps the band should leave The Beatles alone.

Cheap Trick - Magical Mystery Tour (mp3)

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Brendan Benson Is Back!

This is probably not the sentiment of most Brendan Benson fans, but I never really took to The Raconteurs. In other words, I have had to wait four years for that band to take a long enough break for Benson to assemble his next solo record. Well, the wait is almost over with the announcement ATO Records will release 'My Old Familiar Friend' on Aug. 18. I thought his last record, 'The Alternative to Love', just barely missed the mark of his previous work, 'Lapalco' and One Mississippi', but I do believe he is one of the best power-pop artists out there. It's just too bad he releases music so slowly. Since 1996, Benson has exactly three full-length LPs under his belt.

There is a tracklist floating around for 'My Old Familiar Friend' but no art or final versions of songs at this point. A while back I did get a hold of a few Benson demos. One of these tunes is on the final tracklist. Find that below. I can't wait to hear the real thing.

1. A Whole Lot Better
2. Eyes on The Horizon
3. Garbage Day
4. Gonowhere
5. Feel Like Taking You Home
6. You Make a Fool Out of Me
7. Poised and Ready
8. Don’t Want To Talk
9. Misery
10. Lesson Learned
11. Borrow

Brendan Benson - Lesson Learned (demo) (mp3)

Friday, June 12, 2009

New Music: God Help The Girl

Stuart Murdoch of Belle and Sebastian fame has an exciting side project coming out on June 23. Murdoch has been working on God Help The Girl since 2004, and it has been worth the wait. There are lots of interesting side stories about this project, but this one is my favorite. You may remember more than a year ago Murdoch had a competition on a social networking site to find vocalists. The contest attracted about 400 would-be singers. Well, he actually found a couple of Americans -- Brittany Stallings and Dina Bankole -- that became pivotal pieces to this record. A third vocalist, Scottish lass Catherine Ireton, does a bulk of the lead vocals. Throw in a 45-piece orchestra and a little help from Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy and you have a wonderful ode to '60s girl groups.

Yes, there have been a few of those in recent years, but this sounds very little like The Pipettes, Lucky Soul and others. I love that stuff, but this material is much heavier and more serious in theme and tone. Give the first single, "Come Monday Night", a listen. I have also included the song "God Help The Girl". This is sure to make my best of the first half of 2009 list coming at the end of the month. I think it will make yours, too.

God Help The Girl - Come Monday Night (mp3)
God Help The Girl - God Help The Girl (mp3)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Congrats to Costello

The latest Billboard 200 chart was just released, and Elvis Costello's 'Secret, Profane & Sugarcane' debuted at No. 13 with 28,000 copies sold in its first week. This is Costello's highest rank on the Billboard 200 since 'Get Happy!!' peaked at No. 11 way back in 1980. I reviewed this one last week and included the song "Hidden Shame". Here is another one of my favorites from the new one that first appeared in a completely different form on 'All This Useless Beauty' back in 1996.

Elvis Costello - Complicated Shadows (mp3)

Cover Me Impressed: Part 2

Did you catch Vampire Weekend's performance on 'Late Night With Jimmy Fallon' back in March? The new song they played, "White Sky", got me excited about their second record coming out this fall. I'm really hoping the band doesn't have the sophomore slump Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Tapes 'n Tapes and other Internet sensations have had in recent years. One of the best covers of 2008 was Vampire Weekend's live take on Fleetwood Mac's "Everywhere". Enjoy both versions.

Vampire Weekend - Everywhere (mp3)
Fleetwood Mac - Everywhere (mp3)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

New-Release Tuesday and Other News

This week's most-anticipated release (at least by the indie masses) is Sonic Youth's 'The Eternal'. It's difficult to admit this without losing massive indie cred, but I'm not, actually, um, a b-b-big fan of Sonic Youth. There, I said it. I think their sound, for the most part, is a little too avant-garde for my taste. There have been exceptions. 'Daydream Nation' is the band's best. There were some good moments on 'Goo' and 'Dirty'. That's about it for me, and that's out of 16 records. These were their most commercially successful moments. So, I guess this makes me a fan in a "best of" sort of way. Not surprisingly, 'The Eternal' didn't win me over. There's a lot of wandering about (although less than usual), and that's when I like Sonic Youth the least. Give me the straight-ahead rockers like "100%". After 16 years at Geffen, this one is out on Matador.

Sonic Youth - Walkin Blue (mp3)

British Sea Power is my favorite band on this week's list. They took an interesting turn this time out by providing the new soundtrack for the documentary 'Man of Aran'. This movie first came out in 1934, and the subject is explorer Robert Flaherty's look at the Aran islands and its people off the coast of Ireland. In all candor, I haven't seen the film. So, I cannot fairly judge the music without this visual context. I can say I respect the band for taking a big risk. It's not surprising that a band that wrote about a giant iceberg on their second album would want a challenge like this.

British Sea Power - Come Wander With Me (mp3)

Norman, Okla., psych-pop band Starlight Mints release their fourth album, 'Change Remains', via Barsuk Records. It's only available digitally today, but you can pick up a physical copy on June 21. I kind of lost track of these guys after 'Built on Squares' back in 2003, but they have an awesome rep as a live band. You're in luck. They are touring with fellow Normanites The Evangelicals right now.

Starlight Mints - Zoomba (mp3)

In Other News: That's it for interesting releases this week, but here's a heads up on some interesting box sets and deluxe editions coming up. Pavement already released 'Brighten the Corners' as a deluxe edition last year, but now comes word they are going to up the ante again. Try a four-LP edition with even more unreleased material. Check it out here. That's crazy. Mark your calendars for June 23.

Also out June 23, the Icelandic goddess Bjork releases a two-CD, two-DVD set called 'Voltaic'. There are live performances from the Volta tour, music videos, as well as remixes of fan favorites.

Rhino has gone Big Star crazy with 'Keep an Eye on the Sky'. Out September 15, the four-disc box set will be a collection of 98 tracks featuring singles, demos and live performances culled from 1968-75. Better start saving your shekels.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Cuckoo for Coconut Records

It's easy to dismiss actors turned musicians (and vice versa, for that matter). Often, deep down, we just don't want them to succeed at everything. Then again, most of the time these "thespians" are just no good. In fact, Zooey Deschanel is the only free pass I have given to anyone in this group, and it might not be just because of her music. Jason Schwartzman has made me re-examine this way of thinking.

You recognize him as Max Fischer from Wes Anderson's 'Rushmore' and other films, and some know his drumming on the earliest Phantom Planet records. I love his film work, but I never considered him a serious musician because I just didn't think Phantom Planet was significant. That's a pretty easy camp to fall into since their biggest claim to fame was 'California', the theme to 'The O.C.' I didn't even pay attention when Schwartzman released 'Nighttiming' under the moniker Coconut Records in 2007. Big mistake.

Earlier this year Schwartzman returned as Coconut Records with 'Davy', and I believe it is one of my five most listened to records in 2009. The songs are catchy acoustic- and piano-driven pop in the vein of, some say, Elliot Smith. I put him more in line with one of my favorites, Epic Soundtracks. I recently gave 'Nighttiming' a try, and I liked it just as much as 'Davy'. These records haven't an ounce of rock 'n' roll 'tude. Like Fischer, Schwartzman can do it all, and I don't hate him for it. As Fischer said, you may think he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, but he's no elitist. Here you go, bro.

From Davy:
Coconut Records - Microphone (mp3)
Coconut Records - Drummer (mp3)
Coconut Records - Any Fun (mp3)

From Nighttiming:
Coconut Records - Nighttiming (mp3)
Coconut Records - West Coast (mp3)

Friday, June 5, 2009

Fifth Beatle? Try the Millionth

I was happy to read The Beatles' catalog is finally being remastered after 22 years of awful sounding compact discs, but some news out of Apple Corps left me sour. Earlier this week video-game enthusiasts stopped playing with their joysticks (or whatever they are called now) for an, apparently, nearly orgasmic moment as The Beatles: Rock Band was unveiled at the E3 Expo. Yes, on September 9, you can hang out and play with John, Paul, George and Ringo... in your little dream world.

Obviously, the surviving band members and widows think this is a great idea, but I feel like this cheapens their legacy. Hundreds of other bands have already done the video game thing. Just because The Beatles' version can do a few new fancy things doesn't mean the most important band in popular music is following trends instead of setting them. It's somewhat ironic this game is unveiled the same week we celebrated the 42nd anniversary of the groundbreaking Sgt. Pepper album. OK, I'm old and bitter. Now go tune your fake guitars.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Tally Ho! The Clean Make a Comeback

Jangle-pop fans rejoice. Merge Records has just announced The Clean end their eight-year hiatus with 'Mister Pop'. Thanks to the label for giving us a listen to the September 8 release. It sounds great, mates. If you're late to the party, buy Anthology this minute! You can get the 46-song retrospective for as little as $10.99 (download). You won't be sorry.

The Clean - In the Dreamlife You Need a Rubber Soul (mp3)

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Marshall Crenshaw on My Mind

Note: I found out about this one by pure chance. I just happened to check the artist's Web site last night. It has not appeared in any of my usual places for new releases. That's a shame.

I fell under the musical spell of Marshall Crenshaw when, as an MTV-addicted 13 year old, I saw the video "Whenever You're on My Mind". I have bought all of his records and seen him numerous times during his 25-plus-year career, but I have rarely felt the same satisfaction as listening to 'Field Day' and, later, his debut self-titled album. Whenever I make a mix of Crenshaw songs, it's always the same: I have every song from 1982 and 1983, a few live ones from around the same period and about a dozen songs from the rest of his catalog. In other words, I can always find a couple of gems on each record, but the albums as a whole have not passed my ear tests.

There has been one exception. 'Miracle of Science' is in my regular rotaton to this day. Listening to it upon its release in 1996 was like discovering Crenshaw all over again. That's why it was so disappointing to have to wait until 1999 for another studio effort, and it didn't come close to living up to its predecessor. In this decade, prior to yesterday, he only released one record, 'What's in the Bag?' For the first time in his illustrious career I didn't even find those couple of gems to put on the Crenshaw mix.

So, it's with feelings of apprehension and hope that I buy 'Jaggedland' today. I'm not expecting a power-pop juggernaut like I found as a wide-eyed teen in 1983, but it would be nice for a little reward like I got in 1996. Either way, I'll still root for this guy and try to see him. He seems like such a nice person, and his feel-good performances are always presented without an ounce of pretension. You can buy the 429 Records release (yep, another new label for Crenshaw) at Best Buy and online at Amazon and iTunes. Here's a cover of the Bobby Fuller classic from 1989 to get you in the mood.

Marshall Crenshaw - Let Her Dance (mp3)

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

New-Release Tuesday

Arguably my favorite all-time artist returns to his roots today. Elvis Costello changes genres like I change socks. Like my footwear, he occasionally has holes (see opera and some of his classical music). Lifelong fans will tell you ever since the 'My Aim Is True' demos back in 1977 the Renaissance man has had a streak of flawless country. That was especially apparent with the releases of 'Almost Blue' in 1981 and 'King of America' in 1986. Depending on the time of day, I may place 'King of America' as my favorite album in the entire Costello canon. Upon my first listens to 'Secret, Profane & Sugarcane', I'm happy to report this boot scoot also has the loot.

This one is infused with more bluegrass than Costello's previous moseying, but the results are still worth corralling. T-Bone Burnett's production is as good as his work on 'King of America', and the handful of covers mix well with Costello's originals. In much the same way Jenny Lewis' harmonies were welcome on his last record, Emmylou Harris' vocals are a perfect fit for this genre. It's not surprising since these songs sound like something right out of the Gram Parsons songbook. Stream the entire record here. You may recognize 'Complicated Shadows' and the one below, 'Hidden Shame', from Costello's 1996 album 'All This Useless Beauty'. Then again, these songs have gone through such a twangy transformation you may not recognize them at all. Like Sir Paul, Costello has gone the Starbucks music imprint for this release. That's a rant for another day.

Elvis Costello - Hidden Shame (mp3)

While I'm waxing western, this is a good time to let you know Concord Records reissued Ray Charles' 'Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music' today. Volumes 1 and 2 appear on one disc (that's 24 tracks, kids!), or you can download from Amazon ($9.49), iTunes ($9.99) or straight from Concord ($8.98). In my humble opinion, this is his best post-Atlantic record.

I'm a sucker for the Swedes. I probably wouldn't put The Sounds among my favorite Scandinavian rockers, but I enjoyed the single 'Song With a Mission' on their last record. Talk about a car-stereo cranker. Speaking of the last record, 'Dying to Say This to You' has the sexiest album cover of all time. Period. I have to admit it lost a little luster after I found out (months after I first saw it) the girls pictured weren't in the band. Wah-wah. The first thing you notice about the band's latest, 'Crossing the Rubicon', is that the cover isn't sexy at all. I give the album a marginal passing grade. Here's my favorite.

The Sounds - Dorchester Hotel (mp3)

I haven't heard these yet, but just a heads up that Franz Ferdinand and Eels have new ones today. I'm sort of over Franz Ferdinand at this point, but I thought Eels' last one, 'Blinking Lights and Other Revelations', was terrific. Tom Waits helped on the record, and it showed. You can stream the new one, 'Homebre Lobo,' at the band's Web site. The Franz Ferdinand record, 'Blood', is a dub mix of 'Tonight,' the band's third record that was released earlier this year. Yawn.

Eels - That Look You Give That Guy (mp3)

Monday, June 1, 2009

Crossing One Off My List...

There are many bands I wish I could go back in time to see. For instance, I was a little too young to see Talking Heads. What if David Byrne made amends with Tina Weymouth, Chris Frantz and Jerry Harrison and hit the road tomorrow? Would I be happy? Yes, it is Talking Heads, but it would be a far cry from seeing them in 1978. The show would probably be called Burberry's Talking Heads Presented by Kraft.

This is the dilemma I have with The Feelies. After a 17-year hiatus, the band reunited for four shows in and around New York in 2008. Now comes word they will give a free show in my neck of the woods at Chicago's Millennium Park on June 29. Do I want to see one of my favorite bands so many years after their peak? Further, do I want to see them in a setting akin to tailgating at a Bears game? Well, I'm going. The New York shows were critically acclaimed, and I want one of my favorite bands to leave my long list of those I missed. I hope it amounts to more than a nostalgia trip. Here's one from the "Doin' It Again" promo 12 inch.

The Feelies - Barstool Blues (mp3)