Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Big Country Chronicles: 'Fields of Fire'

Five months before the band's debut album hit the shelves, Big Country released their first single recorded specifically for 'The Crossing'. As I mentioned in last week's installment, "Harvest Home" was technically their first single, but it was later rerecorded for the album. Now, if you're an American, you may be questioning your memory because you just swear "Fields of Fire" was the followup to the smash single "In A Big Country". You're not crazy. "Fields of Fire", however, was released before "In A Big Country" in the UK and other parts of the world.

The 12" single, released on Feb. 18, 1983, was an extended version that eclipsed the 7" single by almost two minutes in length. Most of the extra time is due to a pretty cool introductory chant of "400 miles" and lots of percussion from Mark Brzezicki, a key member added to the band after the original "Harvest Home" and 'The Crossing' demos. The flip side was the 7" inch version of "Fields of Fire", as well as one of Big Country's best B-sides, "Angle Park". In 1984, "Angle Park" would also be part of the 'Wonderland' EP. If you had the import version of 'The Crossing', "Angle Park" was there as well. Today, the remastered version of 'The Crossing' CD has it too, but back in 1983, an American just shy of his 13th birthday could only get "Angle Park" on this 12" single. What ever happened to the thrill of the hunt?

What I remember most about "Fields of Fire" was MTV's premiere of the video. That was back when a premiere video would be played at the top of the hour for an entire day. By then I already owned and loved 'The Crossing' and had seen the "In A Big Country" video dozens of times. That song will be our next installment of the Big Country Chronicles.

Big Country - Fields of Fire 12" (mp3)
Big Country - Fields of Fire (mp3)
Big Country - Angle Park (mp3)

Monday, July 27, 2009

First Listen: A Bevy of Bands

I'm going out of town later this week. So, it's time for a little house cleaning of leaked songs and music news. Let's start with Nick Diamonds' catchy synth-pop band Islands. You may remember Diamonds from the quirky band Unicorns. Islands, if you haven't heard them, is much more listener friendly. I really got into Islands' debut, 'Return to the Sea', back in 2005, but I couldn't get into their last one, 'Arm's Way'. If the first released song from their third album, 'Vapours', is any indication, I think I'm going to dig these guys again. You can get the album from Anti- on Sept. 22.

Islands - No You Don't (mp3)

You may remember me touting the Aussie band Crayon Fields on my Best Songs of 2009 list a few weeks ago (No. 7, to be exact). Well, I like the second leaked song from their upcoming sophomore record even more than the tune that got them on my list in the first place. The band's label, Chapter Music, still doesn't seem to have the name of the new album, the tracklist or a release date anywhere on their site, but I have read in a couple of places that we can expect the LP in September. Get ready for a shot of Zombies.

Crayon Fields - All the Pleasures of the World (mp3)

Matador released a couple of new songs last week that caught my ear. After a 20-year hiatus, post-punk gods Mission of Burma made an incredible comeback earlier this decade. I highly recommend their 2006 release, 'The Obliterati'. I swear, these guys may be graying around the edges, but it sure doesn't sound like it. That goes double for the first song from 'The Sound The Speed The Light', set for release on Oct. 6.

Mission of Burma - 1,2,3 Partyy! (mp3)

I feel like I have written about Yo La Tengo's 'Popular Songs' quite a bit already, but consider this your reminder it will be out Sept. 8. Here is a second song that has found its way to the blogosphere. I don't like it quite as much as "Periodically Double or Triple", but you won't be too disappointed.

Yo La Tengo - Here to Fall (mp3)

In music news, Oscar winners Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova from the film 'Once' have a record coming out through Anti- on Sept. 29 through the band name Swell Season. Neil Finn's son Liam has an EP followup to his debut album 'I'll Be Lightning' coming out on Sept. 4. The five-song 'Champagne in Seashells' was done with bandmate Eliza Jane-Barnes, and her name will appear on the name of the record alongside his, in part, because of her increased role and lead vocals on one of the tunes. The first 250 preorders will receive an autographed copy from Yep Roc. I'll pass along songs from Swell Season and Finn as soon as I can get my mitts on them.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Premature Apple Pickin'

As I mentioned earlier this month, Apples in Stereo are getting the "best of" treatment from Yep Roc with '#1 Hits Explosion'. The tracklist for the Sept. 1 release just came out:

1. Energy
2. Go
3. Strawberryfire
4. Tidal Wave (Radio Remix)
5. Please
6. The Rainbow
7. Seems So
8. Same Old Drag
9. The Bird That You Cannot See
10. Shine a Light
11. 20 Cases Suggestive Of...
12. Ruby
13. Signal in the Sky (Let's Go)
14. Can You Feel It?
15. Winter Must Be Cold
16. Sun Is Out

I could argue for about a dozen other songs that should be included, but I understand it's a tough task to boil down a prolific 15-year career into a single-disc compilation. Even though the band is primarily known for three-minute pop gems, I have always found Robert Schneider's albums work best listened to from beginning to end anyway. My biggest disappointment is that the underappreciated 'Velocity of Sound' is represented with only one song. I'm going to make a mix of these songs to see how they work together. Pre-order and stream the album here.

Apples in Stereo - Go (mp3)

Friday, July 24, 2009

Whatever Happened To...

...Ranking Roger? We know he was one half of the duo General Public and a huge part of English Beat before that, but what happened after he and Dave Wakerling called it quits? Well, I know he had a pretty decent solo album in 1988 because the single "So Excited" has been running in my head for months. The album it was from, 'Radical Departure', has been out of print for years, but I got pretty excited when I heard the label it was on, I.R.S., was reissuing a bunch of material from that period and putting it on iTunes. Perfect. I can shell out 99 cents and get this song out of my head already. Well, I.R.S. seemed to put everything out there... except Ranking Roger.

Finally, a couple of weeks ago I went hunting on eBay and bid 99 cents for the CD. I was the only bidder. As I'm sitting here listening to it for the first time in many years, I'm struck by how catchy that single is to this day. I did a little searching around and found out Ranking Roger did have another solo record, 'Inside My Head', in 2001. I have never heard it. In fact, the only media exposure I remember from his solo career is the video for "So Excited" that was played on MTV's '120 Minutes' a few times when it was released. So, where is Ranking Roger now? Smash Mouth featured Roger on "You Are My Number One" in 2003. Today, like fellow second-wave ska sensations Madness and The Specials, English Beat have reformed in recent years (although some key band members are not involved), and there will be a new record.

Ranking Roger - So Excited (mp3)

Check out the video someone posted on YouTube. It was ripped right from '120 Minutes'. Ha!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Big Country Chronicles: 'Harvest Home'

Back in 1983, prior to discovering Big Country at the age of 13, most of the music I loved was the result of digging through my Mom's record collection of Beatles, Beach Boys and Monkees. I liked David Bowie and a few other contemporaries, but Big Country was brand new and the first band that felt like was mine. And wow, what a sound! I had never heard anything like it. I was obsessed. For about three years I bought up all the Big Country vinyl that was released... and they released a lot.

Today, Big Country is more about nostalgia, and I gave up on their new music after 1986, but I still have a pretty big soft spot for these Scottish lads. So, it's with that in mind I'm creating the Big Country Chronicles. One day a week I'll share singles, remixes, B-sides, demos and live songs from my favorite band of that era. I'm guessing this will take a few months.

This is the song that started it all. "Harvest Home" was Big Country's first single, and the 12" was released more than a year before the band's first album, 'The Crossing'. This version wasn't the one that appears on that album, but unlike all of Big Country's other 12" singles, it isn't a remix or extended version either. In fact, it's even a little shorter than the album version that was released on July 19, 1983. This is the version that helped get them signed to Phonogram, and it was released on Feb. 22, 1982. In my opinion, the B-sides on this single are a little weak... especially "Flag of Nations (Swimming)". Shockingly, "Balcony" appeared on the soundtrack to the 1984 film 'Against All Odds'. Yes, that's the soundtrack with the Phil Collins smash. The sound quality on this vinyl is not the best, but my other 12" singles are pretty good. In next week's installment, we begin the extended singles from 'The Crossing' era.

Big Country - Harvest Home 12" (mp3)
Big Country - Balcony (mp3)
Big Country - Flag of Nations (Swimming (mp3)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

First Listen: The Flaming Lips

Only a few tidbits about 'Embryonic' have made their way to the blogosphere. It will be a double album with a few guests, including MGMT and Karen O of Yeah Yeah Yeahs. There is a release date of Sept. 29 floating around, but this has not been confirmed by the label. Here are a couple of leaked songs. I thought there were a few bright spots on their last record, 'At War With the Mystics', but it was a bit of a letdown after 'Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots' back in 2002. Will 'Embryonic' bring me back in the fold? Fans who watched the band play these two at the Pitchfork Music Festival last weekend seemed to like what they heard.

The Flaming Lips - Silver Trembling Hands (mp3)
The Flaming Lips - Convinced Of the Hex (mp3)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

New-Release Tuesday

It's pretty rare when an album of covers becomes a favorite, but I thought the 2006 Matthew Sweet-Susanna Hoffs collaboration, 'Under the Covers, Vol. 1', was a terrific exploration of '60s pop that happened to hit on several songs from the era I think are great. The duo even managed to introduce me to a song I took to so much I promptly went out and bought the original album. For the record, it was The Zombies' 'Odyssey and Oracle'. Now I'm a huge Zombies fan.

When I heard Sweet and Hoffs were doing a second volume of '70s songs, I was less excited because although I like many bands from that decade, I would not count them among the hit makers. I believe there are a couple of duds among their selections (Grateful Dead and Bread), but almost all of 'Under the Covers, Vol. 2' lives up to the first volume because they dug even deeper with their picks than the first time around. Look at this lineup: Two by Todd Rundgren from 'Something/Anything', Mott the Hoople, Big Star and The Raspberries are alongside big names like Carly Simon, John Lennon, Rod Stewart and Yes. 'Vol. 2' is available as a two-disc deluxe edition, and I recommend spending the extra bucks. You'll get 10 extra covers by Blondie, Ramones, Elvis Costello (or Nick Lowe, actually) and Queen.

Sweet just completed a lengthy and very interesting interview with the folks over at Popdose on this record. Sounds like a third volume on the '80s could be on its way. It will have to be, like, awesome to be in the same league as the first to volumes.

Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs - Go All the Way (mp3)

There are a couple of new singles out this week that deserve mention. I mentioned a few weeks ago that The Fruit Bats' new album, 'The Ruminant Band', would be out Aug. 4 on Sub Pop. The first single, also called 'The Ruminant Band' is available now.

The Fruit Bats - The Ruminant Band (mp3)

Modest Mouse has another single out from the upcoming release, 'No One's First and Your Next', also out Aug. 4.

Modest Mouse - Perpetual Motion Machine (mp3)

Finally, from the world of the curious, '80s one-hit wonders a-ha have a new album called 'Foot of the Mountain'. The Norwegians have had many records since their 1985 single, "Take on Me", but I gather the guitar-oriented sound they adopted at some point didn't really catch on (at least for them). Their new single below sounds more like the a-ha you knew and probably loved. You know, it's not too bad.

a-ha - Foot of the Mountain (Radio Edit) (mp3)

Monday, July 20, 2009

You're About to Be Mooned

About the time President Kennedy pledged America would win the space race with the Soviets, the easy-listening world went moon crazy. Throughout the 1960s, artists like Mel Torme, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and many, many others recorded songs (and often entire albums) about the moon. Funny thing is, most of these recordings were of the same songs done over and over again since there were a limited number of tunes on the subject. "Blue Moon", "Oh, You Crazy Moon" and "Moonlight Serenade" are a few examples.

Since the 1960s, however, it's obvious to me a bevy of bands have written on the moon and space. My only research for this is the fact that I have hundreds of songs in my iTunes library that I could have used today to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Neil Armstrong's moonwalk. I leaned toward David Bowie's "Space Oddity" since it was, indeed, released in 1969. Then I thought about Peter Schilling's '80s sequel "Major Tom (Coming Home)" because these two songs are so great together. Within about 60 seconds I had a list that included The Police ("Walking on the Moon"), The Waterboys ("The Whole of the Moon"), Talking Heads ("Moon Rocks"), R.E.M. ("Man on the Moon"), The Dukes of Stratosphere ("Bike Ride to the Moon") ,Komeda ("Rocket Plane") and Beulah ("If We Can Land a Man on the Moon, Surely I Can Win Your Heart").

Ultimately, I went with the following two songs for several reasons:

1. They were released during the space race.
2. Torme actually penned this rare original on the subject... instead of one of the usual standards.
3. The lyrics are examples of top-notch writing. Here is one small example.
And if your mother asks why the moon, honey
Just tell her your feller has gone interstellar

4. Check out that swingin' '60s babe on the album cover!!!
5. Sinatra's song was recorded with Count Basie and his orchestra.
6. Most of the rock songs I was considering are obvious for the occasion and will be covered by other bloggers today.

Mel Torme - Swingin' on the Moon (mp3)
Frank Sinatra - Fly Me to the Moon (mp3)

On Friday, Comedian Bill Maher said America is a lot like Michael Jackson. For both, their last great moment was a moonwalk done decades earlier. This gave me a deep belly laugh... for about one second. I'm wondering, is he correct?

Friday, July 17, 2009

Pitchfork Music Festival Preview

The Pitchfork Music Festival starts today, and I couldn't let this opportunity pass without a few comments and band recommendations. First, I still think the folks behind the festival have their hearts in the right place. Regardless of how I feel about Pitchfork in general,* from the first year these guys have brought the best indie lineup and festival to Chicago. Lollapalooza is not even close in talent, organization or value.

I fear, however, the kind of audience that makes this festival so special is about to be driven out by the mainstream masses because it has suddenly become the thing to do and is relatively cheap. It's an old story, really, much like the old Lollapaloozas. I could give numerous examples why I feel this happening, but I'll just give you one here. WGN radio, the channel my 85-year-old grandmother listens to, broadcast several segments about the festival this morning. She would have even been serenaded by Yo La Tango. I just hope this thing doesn't get inundated by frat boys and thugs (or grandmothers).

Friday's and Saturday's lineups are, in my opinion, relatively weak. Tonight's best is Yo La Tengo. Saturday's best is The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. Much like The Go! Team, Pipettes and others from past years, this band owes Pitchfork much for its popularity, and I expect a big crowd when they gaze at their shoes. Sunday's lineup is a juggernaut. There is a reason the tickets for this day were quickly snapped up while Friday tickets were still available this morning. Check out Vivian Girls, The Walkmen, M83, Grizzly Bear and, of course, festival closer The Flaming Lips. Their setlist will be made up of songs chosen in advance by fans. Expect many deep cuts. Now, a couple of these bands will be playing simultaneously. So, wear your jogging shoes. Here are some samples of the bands I recommended. If you can't make it, follow the shows here.

Yo La Tengo - Black Flowers (mp3)

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - Come Saturday (mp3)

M83 - Kim & Jessie (mp3)

The Walkmen - The Rat (mp3)

Vivian Girls - When I'm Gone (mp3)

The Flaming Lips - Pilot Can at the Queer of God (mp3)

*I love Pitchfork as a place for music news, but I don't like the record reviews. Do you ever get the impression the reviews are more about the reviewer than the record?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Sir Paul Gives His Regards to Broadway

For the benefit of those who caught the excellent appearance by Paul McCartney on the 'Late Show with David Letterman' last night and were left scratching your head with the second song he performed, here is a quick synopsis:

The Fireman is the moniker given to electronic music experiments created by McCartney and Youth that date back to 1993. The song from Letterman's show, "Sing the Changes", is from their latest, 'Electric Arguments', released in 2008. McCartney and Youth have done at least three records together, and I can vouch that their latest is among McCartney's best of the last two decades. I'm sure there were lots of viewers screaming for another Fab Four classic, but I thought his selection was inspired. FYI: For those who saw him live on the street, they did get a second Beatles song... "Helter Skelter".

The Fireman - Sing the Changes (mp3)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Songs in Cinema: '(500) Days of Summer'

In my mind, the most-anticipated soundtrack of the summer-movie season is out this week... and so is the film. The anti-love story '(500) Days of Summer' stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel. In other words, there is an actor for me and Mrs. Linear Tracking Lives! I have no idea if this movie will be any good, but I know the music is getting two thumbs up... way up! For me, the best moment is She & Him covering The Smiths. I have read this version of the song is not really in the movie, but I don't care. Give it a listen. Check out the tracklist too. It's a great mix of '80s memories and presently relevant indie performers.

She & Him - Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want (mp3)

1. Mychael Danna And Rob Simonsen - "A Story Of Boy Meets Girl"
2. Regina Spektor - "Us"
3. The Smiths - "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out"
4. Black Lips - "Bad Kids"
5. The Smiths - "Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want"
6. Doves - "There Goes The Fear"
7. Hall & Oates - "You Make My Dreams"
8. The Temper Trap - "Sweet Disposition"
9. Carla Bruni - "Quelqu'un M'a Dit"
10. Feist - "Mushaboom"
11. Regina Spektor - "Hero"
12. Simon & Garfunkel - "Bookends"
13. Wolfmother - "Vagabond"
14. Mumm-Ra - "She's Got You High"
15. Meaghan Smith - "Here Comes Your Man"
16. She & Him - "Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want"

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Pixies To Do 'Doolittle'

How sad was it on this side of the pond when we learned the Pixies were reuniting (again) to commemorate the 20th anniversary of 'Doolittle'... but only in Europe? Those lucky bastards were going to hear that seminal record in its entirety, complete with B-sides, no less. Hope you didn't buy your ticket overseas for those October shows because Frank Black just broke the news to Spin that they would do a handful of these shows in America too. Sounds like it will happen in Oakland, Los Angeles, Seattle, Denver, Chicago, Boston, Washington D.C. and New York right after the trip abroad. 'Doolittle' is cool enough, but I dig some of those B-sides. Here is a reminder of those songs:

"From Monkey Gone to Heaven" single...
"Manta Ray"
"Weird at My School"
"Dancing the Manta Ray"

"From Here Comes Your Man" single...
"Wave of Mutilation (UK Surf)"
"Into the White"
"Bailey's Walk"

Now, Pixies played the UK Surf version of "Wave of Mutilation" on their last tour, and Black mentions in the liner notes of the B-Sides compilation that this slower take "got even a bigger reaction from the audiences than the more rockin' version from 'Doolittle'. I guess mellow can sometimes be much more rockin'." My hope is the band will play both versions at each show to complete the record and B-sides. Here are both versions and another slow take recorded for John Peel's BBC show on April 16, 1989. Which one do you like best?

Pixies - Wave of Mutilation (mp3) (from 'Doolittle')

Pixies - Wave of Mutilation (UK Surf) (mp3) (from "Here Comes Your Man" single)

Pixies - Wave of Mutilation (mp3) (from 'At the BBC')

Monday, July 13, 2009

Do We Need Another 'Repo Man'?

Legendary director Alex Cox thinks we do. Cox directed the original 1984 masterpiece (as well as 'Sid & Nancy' and a few other gems), and now he returns with a sequel produced by David Lynch. This is not a remake. In fact, this is a whole new story with a new lead. Sorry, no Otto here. This film is called... trumpet fanfare, please ...'Repo Chick'.

Yep, the film stars Jaclyn Jonet. You may know her from another Cox film, 'Searchers 2.0', from 2007. The movie was shot in January and February and is in post-production now. Cox says on his blog that the film already has a slot in an unnamed film festival this September.

Cox says the movie will "unfold against the background of the credit crunch and the subprime mortgage crisis in the US, where repossessions of homes, cars and other forms of property is at a new high. The repo business has expanded to everything from boats, houses, aeroplanes, small nations...children." If you want to follow the past, present and future of this movie, I suggest you check out Cox's blog. I'm afraid, curious and a whole lot of other emotions when it comes to this one. The film and soundtrack have quite a bit to live up to, eh?

Iggy Pop - Repo Man (mp3)

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Songs in Cinema: Oingo Boingo Edition

We all know how vital Danny Elfman's music has been in films like the Tim Burton canon, 'Superman', 'Spiderman', 'Good Will Hunting' and dozens more. Let's not forget, however, that his old band, Oingo Boingo, appeared on the soundtracks of what seemed like every film in the '80s. 'Bachelor Party', 'The Last American Virgin', 'Ghostbusters 2', 'Summer School', 'Teen Wolf Too', 'My Best Friend Is A Vampire' and 'Beverly Hills Cop' make up only a handful of examples. The ones that I enjoyed the most during the "me decade" are from the following films:

Oingo Boingo - Weird Science (mp3)
If you can find the out-of-print soundtrack, you can get this single as well as an extended dance version. What a blast!

Oingo Boingo - Wild Sex (In the Working Class) (mp3)
Try to listen to this one without picturing Anthony Michael Hall attempting to dance with Molly Ringwald in 'Sixteen Candles'. "Very hot. Very hot."

Oingo Boingo - Not My Slave (mp3)
It's hardly pivotal to 'Something Wild', but this is one of my favorite soundtracks of all time. It will get an entire entry from me at some point. This soundtrack version is about 30 seconds longer than the single.

Oingo Boingo - Dead Man's Party (mp3)
The band actually performs this one in Rodney Dangerfield's dorm room in the film 'Back to School'. "Always look out for number one, and be careful not to step in number two." "Oh, you're a poetry major. Maybe you can help me straighten out my Longfellow." "Flunk me? Flunk you!" I could do this all day.

Oingo Boingo - Goodbye Goodbye (mp3)
This one closes out 'Fast Times at Ridgemont High' as Hamilton spalshes a would-be robber with hot coffee while working at a convenience store. Awesome, totally, awesome way to end a classic.

Did you know that 'Fast Times' was also a short-lived TV series? It's true, and Oingo Boingo did the opening music for this CBS show back in '86. Check out the song and a couple of future stars that appeared on it. Wow, how about the show snagging the original Mr. Vargas and Mr. Hand, too?

Friday, July 10, 2009

First Listen: Bloc Party

What ever happened to these guys? I loved their debut, 'Silent Alarm', so much I plunked down big bucks for the import because I couldn't wait for the U.S. release. Are you, like me, filled with regret weeks later when you see the domestic version in your neighborhood shop for $10? Anyway, I have not liked anything by Bloc Party since "Banquet", "Helicopter" annd all the other greats on that album and, although this is not a 'Silent Alarm'-worthy song, it's still the best thing they have done since then. This single is officially released on Wichita Recordings Aug. 10.

Bloc Party - One More Chance (mp3)

First Listen: The Clientele and Arctic Monkeys

This continues to be a great week for new music. Merge has announced The Clientele's fifth record, 'Bonfires on the Heath', will be released on Oct. 6. I ranked these dry, '60's-influenced Brits No. 8 on my list of favorite Merge artists, and you can download my favorite song by the band right here. The following new song does exactly what a leaked tune is supposed to do... make you want to run out and buy it. Here is the tracklist, too.

1. I Wonder Who We Are
2. Bonfires on the Heath
3. Harvest Time
4. Never Anyone But You
5. Jennifer & Julia
6. Sketch
7. Tonight
8. Share the Night
9. I Know I'll See Your Face
10. Never Saw Them Before
11. Graven Wood
12. Walking In The Park

The Clientele - I Wonder Who We Are (mp3)

I have been a big fan of the Arctic Monkeys' snotty neo-punk since they debuted with 'Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not' back in 2006. They have not let me down yet, and by the sound of this leaked song from the upcoming Domino release, 'Humbug', we are in for another really good time. It's amazing how big these guys are in the UK. Imagine Oasis back in the '90s. Could this be the one that explodes stateside? Check out the cover artwork above, and turn this one way up. 'Humbug' hits the streets Aug. 25. Here is the tracklist:

1. My Propeller
2. Crying Lightning
3. Dangerous Animals
4. Secret Door
5. Potion Approaching
6. Fire And The Thud
7. Cornerstone
8. Dance Little Liar
9. Pretty Visitors
10. The Jeweller's Hands

Arctic Monkeys - Crying Lightning (mp3)

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Hey You! Don't Watch That...

Watch this! It's the new Madness video below.

Thirty years after the release of 'One Step Beyond', the band returns with, yes, a brand-new album, and it's vintage "Nutty Boys". 'The Liberty of Norton Folgate' has been out for a few weeks across the pond, and many reviewers, including those at MOJO and the Daily Mirror, say it's the band's best work. Pretty difficult to believe, I know. Suggs & Co. got Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley to produce just like the old days. So, that's a good start. You can purchase the results on iTunes (out this week), or you can wait until Aug. 18 to get the CD from Yep Roc. Pre-ordering it will get you two bonus tracks to boot. You can stream the entire record here. To get you in the mood, here is one of my favorites from the lads that goes back to 1980.

Madness - Embarrassment (mp3) (from Absolutely)

First Listen: Air and The Cribs

Uh-oh. I just heard the first single from Air's 'Love 2', and it was not quite what I was expecting. As you know from my preview a couple of weeks ago, I have been looking forward to this moment for a long time. I have enjoyed the mature sound of the last couple of albums much more than the '10,000 Hz Legend' and, to a lesser extent, 'Moon Safari' songs from their youth. I made the assumption (wrongly, it appears), the French duo would continue to move in that direction. Perhaps it's a midlife crisis. What do you think? 'Love 2' hits the streets Oct. 6. I'll try to remain optimistic (or unpack my dancing shoes).

Air - Do The Joy (mp3)

I wrote about The Cribs' new album last week, and now we get a sneak peek at what adding Johnny Marr to the fold has done to their sound. For 24 hours, the record's opener, "Abort the Aborted", was made available on their Web site. Thanks lads. They definitely sound more expansive and confident on this one, but it's still very much the kind of anthem we have come to expect from them. We'll hear the rest when 'Ignore the Ignorant' is released Sept. 7.

The Cribs - We Were Aborted (mp3)

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Wise Guy

When I think of all the brilliant performers who didn't get a Staples Center moment like Michael's... I need a tissue.

Songs in Cinema: Part 2

"I'm Not in Love" is an excellent 10cc ballad that made it all the way to No. 2 on the Billboard charts in 1975. I have a vivid memory of listening to that song via transistor radio on WLS radio out of Chicago (long before they went all talk).

Fast forward to 1993 and the indecent piece of celluloid called 'Indecent Proposal'. When a film is remembered for nothing other than a dress worn by Demi Moore, you know you're in trouble. The soundtrack, in general, was also horrible. In fact, Lisa Stansfield was a Razzie Award nominee for Worst Original Song with her classic "(You Love Me) In All the Right Places". Ugh, how about that for a title?

In the middle of all this sludge, however, The Pretenders covered the 10cc classic. I think it's the band's second-best cover behind their very first single, The Kinks' "Stop Your Sobbing".

The Pretenders - I'm Not in Love (mp3)

Friday, July 3, 2009

Best of 2009 (So Far)

Six months are in the books, and the first half of the year in music has been fruitful. Here are my favorites. First, a few caveats about my list. If I heard it, the song qualifies... even if the record is not officially out yet but is expected to be released in 2009. Also, a band can only fill one spot. This keeps me from having one band in the Top 5 spots. I stopped at 30 because the list has to stop somewhere. That means singles by Vivian Girls, British Sea Power, The Sounds, Office and about a dozen others were considered but not included. Enjoy.

1. Phoenix - 1901 (mp3)
I have to side with the blogosphere on this one. 'Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix' is by far my favorite album of the year. If I didn't have rules, this is the band that would dominate my list like Michael Jackson did on the Billboard chart this week. Their previous, work, 'It's Never Been Like That', was my favorite album in 2006.

2. Neko Case - This Tornado Loves You (mp3)
Her voice is like an angel, but even I'm surprised she is the top New Pornographer on my list.

3. Coconut Records - Microphone (mp3)
Jason Schwartzman put together a beautiful piece of piano-driven pop. I love this album from beginning to end.

4. Robyn Hitchcock - I'm Falling (mp3)
'Goodnight Oslo' has become my favorite Hitchcock album. Thus, he makes my list for the first time in his long career.

5. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - Stay Alive (mp3)
Pitchfork's most recent pet is fuzzy like Jesus and Mary Chain's 'Psychocandy'.

6. Casper & The Cookies - Little King (mp3)
Most critics were hard on their latest album because it was too long (70 minutes). It is too long, but you can edit it yourself and have a great record with about half the music. This song is one of my favorites.

7. The Crayon Fields - Mirror Ball (mp3)
This is the first song on my list from a record not yet released. These Aussies craft a gentle '60s vibe that's very catchy. I hope they can match 'Animal Bells'.

8. The Clean - In the Dreamlife You Need a Rubber Soul (mp3)
It's so exciting to have these New Zealand popsters back. This album will be out in September.

9. Boy Least Likely To - Saddle Up (mp3)
Childlike melodies set to layers of interesting instrumentation make the British duo's two records among my favorites this decade.

10. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Heads Will Roll (mp3)
Their sound has changed and become more accessible, and the new one as a whole is better than the last record.

11. M. Ward - Never Had Nobody Like You (mp3)
Zooey has joined him for this one. Enough said.

12. Those Darlins - Red Light Love (mp3)
When these three Tennessee gals do it, I almost like country.

13. Spiral Stairs - Maltese Terrier (mp3)
This is the first leaked song from the Pavement founder's upcoming record due this fall. Me likey.

14. 1990s - The Box (mp3)
There were at least four songs on their last album that were absolute keepers. This is the only song from their latest that comes even close to being an anthem.

15. Yo La Tengo - Periodically Double or Triple (mp3)
Fourteen albums in I finally get it.

16. God Help the Girl - Come Monday Night (mp3)
Belle & Sebastian's Suart Murdoch has been working on this side project for years, and it was worth the wait.

17. A.C. Newman - Like a Hitman, Like a Dancer (mp3)
'Slow Wonder' was in my Top 5 for 2004. His latest, 'Get Guilty', is not nearly as strong, but there are a few gems.

18. Jenny Owen Youngs - Led To The Sea (mp3)
Some of her work sounds too much like about 10 other gals (Feist, for example), but there are worse people to emulate.

19. The Breeders - Fate to Fatal (mp3)
Kim Deal has been relevant this whole time, but nobody seems to notice unless she is standing next to Frank Black. Too bad.

20. Camera Obscura - French Navy (mp3)
These Scots are getting better with each new record.

21. Roger Joseph Manning Jr. - Down In Front
He's still likes that over-production slickness like he did in Jellyfish, but it works for me.

22. Fruit Bats - My Unusual Friend (mp3)
I'm a sucker for anything that sounds like lo-fi Elephant 6.

23. Modest Mouse - Autumn Beds (mp3)
This list needs a lil' banjo.

24. Elvis Costello - Hidden Shame (mp3)
Declan does Americana for at least the third time in his prolific career.

25. Wilco - Wilco (The Song) (mp3)
I haven't loved a Wilco record since 'Yankee Hotel Foxtrot'. I don't see this one making me year-end list either.

26. Marshall Crenshaw - Someone Told Me (mp3)
'Jaggedland' is his best album since 1996's 'Miracle of Science'.

27. Franz Ferdinand - No You Girls (mp3)
I haven't been into these Scots for quite a while, but this one reminds me of their stellar debut.

28. We Were Promised Jetpacks - Quiet Little Voices
Debut shows lots of promise. Better keep an eye on these Scots.

29. The Drums - Let's Go Surfing
Catchiest whistling since Peter, Bjorn & John. This song is from a six-song EP out in August called 'Summertime!'.

30. Modern Skirts - Soft Pedals (mp3)
Second-rate Air, but I don't have any new Air yet. So, this will have to do.