Friday, October 30, 2009

Wes Anderson Week: "The Darjeeling Limited'

For me, Wes Anderson Week ends with a whimper. 'The Darjeeling Limited' is the only Anderson film I don't like. Just prior to the film's release, Anderson released a free 13-minute short film to iTunes called 'Hotel Chevalier". It starred Jonathan Schwartzman and Nataile Portman and was meant as a prologue to 'The Darjeeling Limited'. I downloaded it immediately and was hooked. Perhaps a naked Portman helped, but the short did whet my appetite for the feature. It was nice to see Schwartzman back in an Anderson film, and he co-wrote it to boot. When I did some research on the film this week, I was surprised to find many critics that hated 'The Life Aquatic' actually liked this movie. I thought it was a bore. When it recently came to my premium movie channel, I decided to give 'The Darjeeling Limited' another try. I fell asleep.

My disappointment was reflected in the soundtrack as well. For the first time, Mark Mothersbaugh was nowhere to be found. Satyajit Ray did the film score, which was understandable since the film took place in India. Anderson favorites The Rolling Stones and The Kinks are here, but my two favorite songs were new ones for me. Take a listen to the 1969 tunes by Joe Dassin and Peter Sarstedt. The Sarstedt song made it to No. 1 in the UK back then, and it appears in the film several times, including in 'Hotel Chevalier'.

OK, so Anderson had one flop. He's still one of my favorite contemporary filmmakers, but I do need a fantastic 'Fantastic Mr. Fox' to renew my faith. Cut. That's a wrap on Wes Anderson Week.

The Kinks - This Time Tomorrow (mp3)
Joe Dassin - Les Champs-Elysees (mp3)
The Rolling Stones - Play With Fire (mp3)
Peter Sarstedt - Where Do You Go To (My Lovely) (mp3)

Click Here for 'Hotel Chevalier' Part 2

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Wes Anderson Week: 'The Life Aquatic...'

All but die-hard fans of Wes Anderson seem to think the filmmaker took his first wrong turn here in 2004. True, this isn't as good as any of his films that came before it, but the world in 'The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou' is so beautiful that I didn't care that the characters got bogged down in a rambling plot. The ship, especially when Zissou shows us around the craft, is one of the coolest sets ever made. The props and costumes are absurd, and I mean that as a compliment. Once again, thankfully, Anderson's musical choices are at the forefront of this adventure.

Brazilian musician Seu Jorge is a member of the Zissou crew, and he provides much of the soundtrack. He covers several early David Bowie songs while on deck. Jorge sings in Portuguese while playing an acoustic guitar. I wouldn't necessarily call myself a big fan of his work, but his appearance in the film seemed quite natural. I particularly liked his countdown on "Space Oddity" as the pirates board the sub (see video below). Two Bowie songs also appear, sans Jorge. "Queen Bitch" made a nice closing as the crew gathers together one at a time like a group of superheroes. Mark Mothersbaugh's work seemed less important to the film than in the past, but it was still a solid effort. I like The Zombies a lot, but I had never heard the song used for Ned's funeral. Now it always makes my Zombies' mixes. The Stooges' "Search and Destroy" added to the mayhem during the struggle with the pirates, but my favorite song on the entire soundtrack was "Gut Feeling" from 'Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo'. Give it a listen.

'The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou' isn't my favorite Anderson film or soundtrack. Through the years, however, both continue to grow on me. If you haven't watched the movie or listened to the soundtrack in a while, I hope the following inspires you to give them another try.

Devo - Gut Feeling (mp3)
Mark Mothersbaugh - Ping Island/Lightning Strike Rescue Op (mp3)
David Bowie - Life on Mars? (mp3)
Seu Jorge - Rebel Rebel (mp3)
The Zombies - The Way I Feel Inside (mp3)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Wes Anderson Week: 'The Royal Tenenbaums'

With a critical and mainstream audience firmly in his corner, Wes Anderson followed up 'Rushmore' with this 2001 film. When the project was first announced, my first apprehensions were about the ensemble cast. Reading about the involvement of Hollywood giants like Gene Hackman, Danny Glover, Anjelica Houston and Gwyneth Paltrow made me question whether it was all over before the film had even been released. When the trailer was first released, I assumed, wrongly, the movie was adapted from one of my favorite J.D. Salinger books, 'Franny and Zooey'. It wasn't, but you have to admit there are a few similarities.

I digress. The film was just slightly below his previous work, in my opinion, and there are moments I think are brilliant. A few of my favorite scenes include Raleigh St. Clair and Dudley trying to sort out Heinsbergen Syndrome, Royal ripping it up with his grandkids, the tennis match and the background file on Margot. The supplemental DVD on the Criterion Collection edition of the film has a talk-show spoof using Peter Bradley, the TV host from the film, leading an interview with the movie's most minor actors. His Charlie Rose mannerisms and line of questioning are a smile.

I have a huge bone to pick when it comes to the soundtrack. I purchased it on the first day it was released in December 2001. I had no idea the set would be rereleased seven months later as a "collector's edition" with additional tracks. So, I didn't get John Lennon's "Look at Me", Paul Simon's "Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard" and a couple of other little nuggets. Sure, I own these songs on other discs, but that's not the point. Vital songs from the movie that didn't make the soundtrack include Van Morrison's "Everyone", and The Rolling Stones' "She Smiled Sweetly" and "Ruby Tuesday". For this, the soundtrack loses a grade.

Mark Mothersbaugh's score is strong and includes a few longer pieces. One of them, "Lindbergh Palace Hotel Suite", was replaced by a Mutato Muzika Orchestra version in the collector's edition. That was a mistake. Of all the music in this film, Anderson's use of Nico's "These Days" and "The Fairest of the Seasons" are my favorites. These songs come from her solo debut, 'Chelsea Girl'. Her record is a must purchase. Overall, I don't listen to 'Royal Tenenbaums' as much as 'Rushmore', but it still stands as one of the strongest soundtracks of this decade.

Nico - These Days (mp3)
Ramones - Judy Is a Punk (mp3)
The Velvet Underground - Stephanie Says (mp3)
Nick Drake - Fly (mp3)
Mark Mothersbaugh - Sparkplug Minuet (mp3)

Margot Tenenbaum's Background File

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Wes Anderson Week: 'Rushmore'

This sharp little guy is going to lay it on you straight. This is Wes Anderson's best film and soundtrack. I love 'Bottle Rocket', but it's a distant second to this brilliant bit of celluloid. Bill Murray's character, Herman Blume, has a great line when talking to Jason Schwartzman's character, Max Fischer, about the beautiful Miss Cross. He says: "She was my Rushmore." Well, in my opinion, 'Rushmore' is Anderson's 'Rushmore'. If he never makes another, it's OK. This 1998 movie makes him immortal. Enough gushing... let me quickly write about the soundtrack so I can go watch it.

Anderson envisioned scoring the entire film to songs by The Kinks because they "played loud, angry teenage rock songs, and they wore blazers and ties" like Fischer. The concept shifted a bit to include the entire British Invasion "because they all basically dressed like that." Bands like Chad & Jeremy, The Who, The Faces and The Kinks strike a perfect balance with the playful film score by Mark Mothersbaugh. I know this is a blog about rock music, but I'm including Mothersbaugh's three best contributions to the movie because they are so well done. If you have seen the film, these pieces will be immediately recognizable and take you to the exact moments in Fischer's life.

Moving on, the Stones' song below didn't make the soundtrack, but the tone and lyrics were perfect for its scene. The Kinks' tune is used as we get a glimpse into the miserable family life of Blume. The song by Creation was new to me in 1998, but I remember waiting in the theater for the closing credits to find out who did "Making Time" as we saw all of Fischer's extracurricular activities on parade. If you have four minutes and are a fan, check out the Max Fischer Players' work for the MTV Video Awards. It's a hoot.

Mark Mothersbaugh - Hardest Geometry Problem in the World (mp3)
Mark Mothersbaugh - Sharp Little Guy (mp3)
Mark Mothersbaugh - The Lad With the Silver Button (mp3)
The Kinks - Nothing in This World Can Stop Me Worryin' Bout That Girl (mp3)
The Rolling Stones - I Am Waiting (mp3)
Creation - Making Time (mp3)

Monday, October 26, 2009

Wes Anderson Week: 'Bottle Rocket'

Wes Anderson's first feature film, released in 1996, has an interesting history. The filmmaker first shot a black-and-white, 13-minute short version (see below) in 1992 that hit the film-festival circuit in 1994. It was picked up by a studio for a feature-length version that opened in 1996. It went on to critical acclaim (but a small audience) and even made Martin Scorsese's Top 10 Films of the '90s list.

The soundtrack was released in early 1997 and was almost completely the work of Devo member Mark Mothersbaugh. It wouldn't be the last time the genius would score an Anderson film. The best songs from the movie, in my opinion, were the ones that didn't make the soundtrack. When I think of the film, the three scenes that come to mind are the ones accompanied by the music of Love and The Rolling Stones. My guess is they didn't make the soundtrack because of licensing fees. As I mentioned yesterday, early Stones almost always show up in an Anderson film, but the songs never appear on the soundtrack... that is, before the upcoming 'Fantastic Mr. Fox' record. So, how did Anderson finally snag a Stones song? I noticed yesterday while writing that his new soundtrack is on Abkco Records. Hmm, isn't that the label of '60s and early '70s Stones? If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

With the commercial success of his next film, 'Rushmore', 'Bottle Rocket' got a second life as audiences went back to look at Anderson's earlier work. Then, last year, 'Bottle Rocket' got a third life as the fabulous Criterion Collection folks repackaged the film on DVD, complete with several deleted scenes, the 1992 short version and much more. As someone who owns the first go around of this movie on DVD, the Criterion Collection edition is much better and worth the extra bucks. If you own any of the other Anderson films available on Criterion, you already know that.

Another surprise from 2008 was the digital release of the short version soundtrack. Although only eight songs, this jazz compilation is much different than the feature soundtrack. The Vince Guaraldi Trio and Zoot Sims Quartet make their first -- but not last -- appearance in an Anderson film. It's such a big smile to hear the piano from a Charlie Brown Christmas special while our protagonists are trying out and then purchasing firearms in the short. You could tell from this great film and soundtrack that Anderson would be a director to watch.

'Bottle Rocket' Songs Not on the Soundtrack
Love - Alone Again Or (mp3)
Love - 7 and 7 Is (mp3)
Rolling Stones - 2000 Man (mp3)

From the 'Bottle Rocket' Short Film Soundtrack
Vince Guaraldi Trio - Skating (mp3)

Film Score Piece From 'Bottle Rocket' and 'Rushmore'
Mark Mothersbaugh - Snowflake Music (mp3)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Wes Anderson Week: 'Fantastic Mr. Fox'

Welcome to Wes Anderson Week. Unless there is breaking news deemed more important, we will focus on music from Anderson's films. We begin with his upcoming release, 'Fantastic Mr. Fox'.

The movie will be out on Thanksgiving, and the soundtrack hits the stores Nov. 3. The film, based on a Roald Dahl book, is Anderson's first foray into animation. It stars the voices of Anderson regulars Owen Wilson, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman and Willem Defoe, as well as George Clooney and Meryl Streep. The biggest disappointment musically, for the second straight time, is the absence of Mark Mothersbaugh. Personally, I think this seems like a perfect project for the playful Mothersbaugh. In his place is Alexandre Desplat. This composer's film credentials are quite impressive. Recent movies include 'Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium', 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button' and 'The Queen'.

The Rolling Stones make a brief appearance on the soundtrack, but that's it for the usual suspects. The Beach Boys are here a couple of times, as well as Jarvis Cocker of Pulp fame. For the young and young at heart, Burl Ives has three songs that first appeared on his 1974 album, 'Burl Ives Sings Little White Duck and Other Children's Favorites'. I'll bet that one was played a lot around the Anderson house when he was a kid. The collection is rounded out with songs by jazz pianist Art Tatum, The Wellingtons, The Bobby Fuller Four and Nancy Adams.

This is far from Anderson's strongest soundtrack but, based on the trailers below, I have a good feeling about this film. Although in a new genre, it still feels like old-school Anderson. His work has been, admittedly, pretty spotty since 'The Royal Tennenbaums', but I'm excited to see this one with my kids on Thanksgiving evening. By then both of them will know and love these songs.

Burl Ives - Fooba Wooba John (mp3)
Burl Ives - The Grey Goose (mp3)
Burl Ives - Buckeye Jim (mp3)
The Beach Boys - Heroes and Villains (mp3)
The Rolling Stones - Street Fighting Man (mp3)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Cover Me Impressed: 10,000 Maniacs

I actually have a bit of breaking news to go along with this regular feature. Natalie Merchant, former lead singer of 10,000 Maniacs, has been persuaded out of retirement by Nonesuch Records and will have a new record in the spring. This is a big surprise because she hasn't had an album of original songs since 2001, and she quit the business about seven years ago to raise her daughter. Although, admittedly, I never got into her solo work, I love her voice and put the 10,000 Maniacs album 'In My Tribe' among my top records of the '80s.

Today's featured song, "(Don't Go Back To) Rockville", originally appeared on 'Reckoning', R.E.M.'s second album. Merchant and Co. recorded it for the "Candy Everybody Wants" single in 1993. As you will hear, they remained true to the original. It's not surprising since Merchant's obvious affection for R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe has been well documented over the years. For those on the hunt for this single, it's worth noting there is another cover on it. The band was also true to Morrissey's "Everyday Is Like Sunday". Yes, "Candy Everybody Wants" is a cover collector's dream. Enjoy.

10,000 Maniacs - (Don't Go Back To) Rockville (mp3)
R.E.M. - (Don't Go Back To) Rockville (mp3)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Hit the 'Bleach'... It's Pure Nirvana

To mark the 20th anniversary of Nirvana's best album, Sub Pop has remastered and expanded 'Bleach' for a Nov. 3 release. It's difficult to believe the band's debut sold less than 40,000 copies prior to the explosion that was 'Nevermind'. The trio, obviously, sold quite a few more copies in the days following "Smells Like Teen Spirit". In fact, 'Bleach' is Sub Pop's only record to go platinum.

I haven't listened to much Nirvana since the early '90s, but those were heady days for college-aged students like myself. When I put on 'Bleach', I think about -- quite possibly -- the best show I ever saw. It was Nirvana at Metro in Chicago on Oct. 12, 1991. I took my then 15-year-old brother. It wasn't an all-ages show, but he made it in unscathed. By the end of the night, we were, indeed, scathed. The moment Kurt Cobain struck the first chord, a body flew over my head. Within minutes, I lost my shoe, broke my watch and bent my glasses. It was all worth it.

Anyway, back to the reissue of 'Bleach'. This time around, the record comes with a complete Feb. 9, 1990, show from Pine Street Theatre in Portland, Ore. The CD has a 52-page booklet, and the double LP comes with 16 pages. If you preorder from Sub Pop, the CD is only $12. Yes, grunge is dead, but Sub Pop is right to resurrect 'Bleach'.

Nirvana - About a Girl (Remastered) (mp3)
Nirvana - Scoff (Live) (mp3)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Big Country Chronicles: 'One Great Thing'

The third single from 'The Seer', released in August 1986, is Big Country filled with unbridled optimism. If you have seen the music video, you can't help but notice the fellas are all smiles as they sing:

If there's one great thing to happen in my life
If there's one great day, if there's one great height
Let it be the time for peace, let it be the time of right
If there's one great thing to happen in my life

The 12" version was called "Extended Mix" in some countries and "Boston Mix" in others. There was a second 12" version of "One Great Thing" called the "Big Baad Country Mix". It was later renamed the "Disco Mix" and issued as a bonus track on the reissue of "The Seer". Pretty tough to keep straight, eh? The two 12" versions are as different as night and day. In my opinion, "Disco Mix" is pretty awful, but I'm not a big fan of saxophone in most rock songs. Which version is your favorite?

Big Country - One Great Thing (Album Version) (mp3)
Big Country - One Great Thing (12" Version) (mp3)
Big Country - One Great Thing (Disco Mix) (mp3)

See Also:
Big Country Chronicles: 'The Teacher'
Big Country Chronicles: 'Look Away'
Big Country Chronicles: 'Just a Shadow'
Big Country Chronicles: 'Where the Rose Is Sown'
Big Country Chronicles: 'East of Eden'
Big Country Chronicles: 'Wonderland'
Big Country Chronicles: 'Chance'
Big Country Chronicles: 'In A Big Country'
Big Country Chronicles: 'Fields of Fire'
Big Country Chronicles: 'Harvest Home'

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

First Listen: Julian Casablancas and More

I have bad news and good news. First, the bad news. Julian Casablancas' highly anticipated solo album, 'Phrazes For the Young', has been pushed back to Nov. 3. Grr. The good news is the crooner has given us another song to tide us over.

Julian Casablancas - River of Brakelights (mp3)

Sloan are in a giving mood, too. Go to their Web site or download below for a listen to the Canadian rockers' new single. It's some of the band's best hand claps since "The Good in Everyone".

Sloan - Take It Upon Yourself (mp3)

I really liked The Magic Numbers' first record a lot, but I kind of lost track of them when the second one came out. Here's my chance to rediscover them. Their harmonies, once again, sound stellar on this new song that will be part of their third album due out sometime this spring. These hippies don't look or sound much like anything I would normally be into, but good is good, people.

The Magic Numbers - Hurt So Good (mp3)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Daniel Johnston Continues Story

During the 1980s and very early 1990s, I spent countless hours listening to Daniel Johnston. His lo-fi basement recordings were beautiful, brilliant, charming and, above all, outsider art. By the 1990s, Johnston had gained the acclaim he deserved, but music execs and alternative musicians began "helping" him in actual recording studios. Sure, the songs were clean and crisp, but the charm was lost.

Last week, Johnston released 'Is And Always Was'. One of my power-pop heroes, Jason Falkner, produced. Hmm, this was a quandary. Would Falkner, follow his predecessors with the overproduction that, in my opinion, had ruined Johnston's records? As expected, I have mixed feelings. I'm happy to report Johnston's songs are strong. As someone who hasn't bought one of his records since '1990', I was stunned to hear the gravely voice of a middle-aged man. He sounds nothing like he did on 'Hi, How Are You?' or 'Yip/Jump Music'. Falkner's work on the record is far from lo-fi but, thankfully, he didn't go over the top.

'Is and Always Was' doesn't fill me with the pure joy I felt upon hearing Johnston's work when I was a young teen, but the record plants me firmly back into the artist's camp. Here are a couple of my favorites from the LP.

Daniel Johnston - Tears (mp3)
Daniel Johnston - Freedom (mp3)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Listen to (and See) New Spiral Stairs

So, the two new Spiral Stairs songs I posted still haven't sold you on buying his record, eh? Well, perhaps Think Indie can sway you. Stream the entire album here. Then buy it from them or your local independent record store when it's released on Tuesday. In other news, Matador just released the first video for 'The Real Feel'. Check out "Stolen Pills".

Captain Is Called Home

For those of a certain age, wrestling personality Louis Vincent Albano was known as a rubber-band wielding weirdo that showed up on a few Cyndi Lauper music videos and helped bridge the rock 'n' wrestling connection in the 1980s. My love for Captain Lou can be traced back to his work as a manager of and performer with NRBQ. Captain Lou died on Wednesday at the age of 76. I'm sure he tried to team up with Peter at the Pearly Gates... and then asked for his cut. You'll be missed, brother. "It's psychedelic pandemonium..."

Some say the man's not wrapped too tight,
Captain Lou, Captain Lou, Captain Lou
But when he's on the scene, everything's alright,
Captain Lou, Captain Lou Albano

NRBQ & Captain Lou Albano - Captain Lou (mp3)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

12 Inches of Love: INXS Edition

My love for '80s 12-inch singles knows no bounds, and I think INXS was an absolute master of the extended mix. My two favorite pieces of wax from the Aussies are the 1983 four-track EP called 'Dekadance' and the 1985 extended version of "What You Need". Take a gander at these tracklistings. These 'Shabooh Shoobah' cuts on 'Dekadance' never sounded so good. I can assure you this will not be the band's last visit.

Black And White (Extended Version)
To Look At You (Extended Version)
The One Thing (Extended Version) (mp3)
Here Comes II (New Version)

What You Need
What You Need (LP Version)
What You Need (Extended Mix) (mp3)
Melting in the Sun (12" Version)
Burn For You (12" Version)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Curtain Call: Robert Palmer

Outside of, perhaps, Power Station, I wasn't a huge Robert Palmer fan. There was one album in the Palmer catalog, however, that rose above all others. 'Clues', from 1980, had a new-wave vibe not found on any of his other LPs. The two singles, "Looking for Clues" and "Johnny and Mary", were particularly good. Fast forward to this 1988 recording released as an import in 2001. The sound quality of 'Live at the Apollo' is stellar, and most Palmer followers will like that almost all of the tracklist is taken from the smash hits 'Riptide' and 'Heavy Nova'. For me, I was pleasantly surprised my two favorites from 'Clues' were included.

Robert Palmer - Johnny and Mary (Live) (mp3)
Robert Palmer - Looking for Clues (Live) (mp3)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Big Country Chronicles: 'The Teacher'

This second single from 'The Seer' was released on June 9, 1986, about one month before the LP hit the stores. Sadly, this song marks the first time I was ever disappointed by a Big Country release. Over the years, the song has grown on me, but it has never really been a part of the multiple Big Country mixes I have made. By the time 'The Seer' was finally released later that summer, I was already feeling apprehensive about my favorite band. Like all of the singles before it, Big Country had another Top 30 hit on its hands (in the UK), but my intuition turned out to be justified. Other than 'Look Away' and the next single I will showcase, the album was a disappointment to me.

Big Country - The Teacher (12" Version) (mp3)
Big Country - The Teacher (Album Version) (mp3)

See Also:
Big Country Chronicles: 'Look Away'
Big Country Chronicles: 'Just a Shadow'
Big Country Chronicles: 'Where the Rose Is Sown'
Big Country Chronicles: 'East of Eden'
Big Country Chronicles: 'Wonderland'
Big Country Chronicles: 'Chance'
Big Country Chronicles: 'In A Big Country'
Big Country Chronicles: 'Fields of Fire'
Big Country Chronicles: 'Harvest Home'

Monday, October 12, 2009

No Replacing Paul Westerberg

For the second time in as many years, ex-Replacements frontman Paul Westerberg has released -- without warning or any marketing -- new music on the Web. Like 2008's, '49:00', the six-song EP 'PW and The Ghost Gloves Cat Wing Joy Boys' is lo-fi to the maximum. Unlike '49:00', you will pay more than 49 cents for this one (on Amazon only, if you're looking). It's well worth the price. As Westerberg approaches his 50th birthday (on Dec. 31), I'm happy to report his music is relevant. The production, or lack thereof, is reminiscent of 'Androgynous', and the music brings to mind stripped-down Wilco. In case you were scratching your head about the album title, it's one word from each of the six song titles. Don't be afraid. Give these a try.

Paul Westerberg - Ghost on the Canvas (mp3)
Paul Westerberg - Good as the Cat (mp3)

Friday, October 9, 2009

Like Father, Like Son

If we continue to listen to his music, John Lennon will never die. Happy 69th birthday to the "Walrus"... and 34th birthday to his son, Sean.

John Lennon - Real Love (mp3)
Sean Lennon - Parachute (mp3)

Curtain Call: The Clash

The year was 1982. It's true The Clash were falling apart as they opened for The Who on their "farewell" tour. Yet, through all of the turmoil, the band really got it together for this performance in front of 72,000 at Shea Stadium. There's no way those Who fans marched back to the No. 7 train thinking the best band on stage that night was Roger, Pete and Co. Rhino released 'Live at Shea Stadium' a year ago this week, and it has been on my stereo many times since then. There are those who will say by the time The Clash were supporting 'Combat Rock' they were already way past their peak. If you fall into this camp, I encourage you to give the following a listen.

Kosmo Vinyl Introduction (mp3)
The Clash - London Calling (mp3)
The Clash - Tommy Gun (mp3)
The Clash - Career Opportunities (mp3)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Beulah... Anyone... Beulah

I miss Beulah. The band left us with a whimper, in my opinion, when 'Yoko' was released six years ago. Now comes word former frontman Miles Kurosky has signed with Shout! Factory. His solo album is already in the can and slated for a March 2010 release. While we wait for that first Cali-pop single, here are my Fave Five from his old band.

Fave Five: Beulah Edition
Beulah - Popular Mechanics for Lovers (mp3)
Beulah - If We Can Land a Man On the Moon, Surely I Can Win Your Heart (mp3)
Beulah - A Good Man Is Easy to Kill (mp3)
Beulah - I Love John, She Loves Paul (mp3)
Beulah - Gene Autry (mp3)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

First Listen: Vampire Weekend

Finally, the first studio version of a new Vampire Weekend song has arrived. One thing you will notice right away is the production. It's much cleaner, crisper and lusher than anything found on the first album. I can't wait for the LP, 'Contra', when it arrives in January. In case you were curious, horchata is a Latin American/Spanish drink you can often find here in the United States at Mexican restaurants.

Vampire Weekend - Horchata (mp3)

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Tracey Takes On... Pop Music

"I made my albums as a lark, really. I can't hold a note or hold a tune, and it was good fun." -- Tracey Ullman

What a lark! If you are under the age of 35, you may have no idea that for about a year comedienne/actress Tracey Ullman was a pop star in the UK. With the help of MTV, she even managed a major hit here in America. Then again, if you are under the age of 25, you may not even know who she is at all. That's too bad. Because of the recent rise in '60s-sounding girl groups, such as The Pipettes and Lucky Soul, I have been thinking about Ullman's music quite a bit. If you like that sound, as I do, you should give her five hit singles a listen.

Tracey Ullman - Break-A-Way (mp3)
Her first UK single, written by Jackie DeShannon, made it to No. 4 in 1983. It was later released in America where it peaked at No. 70.

Tracey Ullman - They Don't Know (mp3)
It figures the goofballs at Stiff Records signed her, but who would have thought a dark song by fellow labelmate Kristy MacColl would become a bright Phil Spector sounding hit? This one made it to No. 2 in the UK in 1983. In the spring of 1984, it shot to No. 8 in America. Do you remember Paul McCartney's appearance as her beau at the end of the video?

Tracey Ullman - Move Over Darling (mp3)
Back in the early '60s, Doris Day sang this one for her movie of the same name. Ullman turned it into a No. 8 UK hit at the end of 1983.

Tracey Ullman - My Guy (mp3)
Thanks to another Stiff labelmate, Ullman has another hit. Madness' version was called "My Girl", however, and it was pure ska. This one made it to No. 23 on the UK charts in 1984.

Tracey Ullman - Sunglasses (mp3)
You wouldn't immediately think Ullman would cover Skeeter Davis, but she did. This one peaked at No. 18 in the UK.

Tracey Ullman - You Broke My Heart in 17 Places (mp3)
Bonus: I love "Break-a-Way" and "They Don't Know", but this one is my absolute favorite in the Ullman canon. It's another MacColl-penned tune I first heard on my Stiff Records box set nearly 20 years ago.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Flavor of the Month: Girls

Welcome to the segment where I give my opinion on a new band currently ruling the indie-music blogosphere. Is it ridiculous hype or the real thing? Bands like The Strokes, Tapes 'n Tapes, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Vampire Weekend and Passion Pit would all have made excellent Flavor of the Month fodder when they first hit the scene. High marks from Pitchfork plus endless raves from folks like me equals Flavor of the Month.

I won't go into the backstory of frontman Christopher Owens, half of the duo Girls, but look into his early years when you get a chance. Fascinating. Let's focus on 'Album', the debut LP from these San Franciscans. Stylistically, Girls are all over the place. Power pop, shoegaze and old-timey surf only scratches the surface. Normally, this kind of jumping around might be distracting, but what if, like me, you are a huge fan of all these genres? A few names that have bandied about when describing Girls include Elvis Costello, Paul McCartney, Wreckless Eric, early Beach Boys and Morrissey. Wow, are you kidding me? I love them all. When I first started reading about them, before a first listen, it was those specific names that made me finally put me guard down and park my skepticism long enough to give them a try. I'm sure glad I did. Songs of lost love never gave me such a lift. I recommend you give these guys a listen. Girls deserve the hype.

Girls - Lust for Life (mp3)
Girls - Hellhole Ratrace (mp3)

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Big Country Chronicles: 'Look Away'

Who changed? Was it Big Country or me? Quite a bit of time passed between the release of the band's second and third albums (Oct. 19, 1984-July 14, 1986, to be exact). Perhaps that's why my excitement for 'The Seer' was tempered a bit. I know my musical tastes had broadened during those 21 months, and every cent I could get my hands on went for new records. I also think, however, 'The Seer' just wasn't as good as the band's previous work, but don't tell that to their UK fans. The album shot all the way to No. 2 and produced three Top 30 singles. 'The Seer' did a little better than 'Steeltown' in the U.S., but it still only made it to No. 59. No singles sniffed the Top 40 here either, but this one should have. "Look Away", for me, marks their last great single.

Big Country - Look Away (Extended Version) (mp3)
Big Country - Look Away (Album Version) (mp3)

See Also:
Big Country Chronicles: 'Just a Shadow'
Big Country Chronicles: 'Where the Rose Is Sown'
Big Country Chronicles: 'East of Eden'
Big Country Chronicles: 'Wonderland'
Big Country Chronicles: 'Chance'
Big Country Chronicles: 'In A Big Country'
Big Country Chronicles: 'Fields of Fire'
Big Country Chronicles: 'Harvest Home'

Friday, October 2, 2009

Wind Knocked Out of Windy City

Congratulations to Rio for capturing the 2016 Summer Olympics. As a resident of the Chicagoland area, I say without hesitation Rio's presentation to the International Olympic Committee was much better than ours. When will Americans (and Chicagoans) realize we can't waltz into Copenhagen with "star power" like Oprah and members of the First Family and just expect to get it? The president's speech, however, was the best aspect of Chicago's presentation. Everyone else was flat. How bad could it have been for us if Barack Obama hadn't shown up? As Chuck Todd, NBC's chief White House correspondent, put it this morning, nobody from Chicago's elite had better come to the White House looking for favors in the near future. This day has been a real slap in the face for the administration.

On the positive side, "Da Mayor" won't get his hands on an infusion of cash he surely would have spent unwisely. It would have been another in a long line of Daley debacles, including Millennium Park corruption, cost overruns and the recent parking meter fiasco. The worst part was Chicago and Cook County would have been on the hook if the endeavor went over budget. Richard Daley has definitely proven he cannot be trusted with something as large as the Olympics. With his approval ratings at an all-time low (and sure to sink like a rock after today), perhaps this is finally the end of the Daley machine. The beating death of 16-year-old honor student Derrion Albert this past week may fit into all of this too, but it's like blaming Steve Bartman for the Cubs' loss in the 2003 National League championship series. The performance was just not there. The best part, for me, is I have an excuse to share this great song from my favorite former Monkee.

Michael Nesmith - Rio (mp3)

Thursday, October 1, 2009

First Listen: Spiral Stairs, The Swimmers, More

Welcome to my 100th post! This has been quite a memorable week for first listens. Matador released a second mp3 from Spiral Stairs' upcoming release, 'The Real Feel'. Although I liked the first song I heard ("Maltese Terrier") better than this one, I'm really looking forward to the new record when it comes out Oct. 20. Scott Kannberg (aka Spiral Stairs) will be touring a bit this fall with Bob Mould. That's a hell of a bill for you West Coasters.

Spiral Stairs - True Love (mp3)

On Nov. 3, Philly's The Swimmers are following up the excellent 2008 effort 'Fighting Trees' with 'People Are Soft'. Dip your big toe right here for cool harmonies and keyboards.

The Swimmers - A Hundred Hearts (mp3)
The Swimmers - What This World Is Coming To (mp3)

Has it really been three weeks since I wrote about faves Air and The Swell Season? That's just not right. Air's 'Love 2' is still set for an Oct. 6 release, and I got my mitts on a third song from the highly anticipated record. As for The Swell Season, 'Strict Joy' will hit the stores on Oct. 27, and I have another song from that one as well. "In These Arms" is taken from Anti-'s fall sampler.

Air - So Light Is Her Footfall (mp3)
The Swell Season - In These Arms (mp3)

Finally, The Clientele's latest, 'Bonfires on the Heath', will be out on Merge Oct. 6. Online reviews have been a bit mixed, but I think it stacks up with their best work (which is 'Strange Geometry', if you were wondering). We listened to "I Wonder Who We Are" way back in July. Let's give two more new tracks a try to whet your appetite for Tuesday.

The Clientele - Bonfires on the Heath (mp3)
The Clientele - Harvest Time (mp3)