Hardlikealgebrarchive

The archive of the old hardlikealgebra.com

Category: reviews

Stereo, my baby baby baby baby baby

we're in no hurry

Cameraphones were made for bloggers: Pavement, September 3, 2010

Impressions after seeing Pavement play at Edgefield last night

Maybe I missed this very obvious point, but Pavement’s songs are pretty sad. I dunno, I suppose I knew that the “slacker” label never really meant anything (and there was proof of that last night: Malkmus can clearly play the hell out of the guitar. Sloppy is an affectation, and he wears it well, but it’s a choice in his world), but last night we heard these songs back to back to back.  So the set kicked off with “Gold Soundz,” a song off the same album that spawned “Cut Your Hair,” and it’s crazy to think of these guys in their 20s/30s writing this stuff:

Go back to those gold sounds/And keep my advent to yourself
Because it’s nothing I don’t like/Is it a crisis or a boring change
When it’s central, so essential,/It has a nice ring when you laugh 
At the low life opinions/And they’re coming to the chorus now

And then you’ve got one of the best “dammit, this hits me in the head at the wrong time” lyrics ever in “I’m flat out./You’re so beautiful to look at when you cry” from “Shady Lane.” And let’s think about “Spit on a Stranger,” which gives us this beautifulness:

I’ve been thinking long and hard about the things you said to me
like a bitter stranger
and now I see the long, the short, the middle and what’s in between
I could spit on a stranger

Okay cool. No wait, that last song was from their last album, but here’s something from the first, from “Here,” and seriously, I almost didn’t post these lyrics because they are awesome and something you should discover while listening to a mixtape someone gave you, or at the very least, when standing outside on a perfect oregon night watching the least likely reunion show since the pixies or soomething:

I was dressed for success, but success it never comes
And I’m the only one who laughs
At your jokes when they are so bad
And your jokes are always bad,
but they’re not as bad as this

…and so I’m wondering: was this a band that stopped playing because “Cut Your Hair,” which along with good old “She Don’t Use Jelly” arguably iced the “novelty pop songs of the mid nineties” cake, but also didn’t at all reflect the sort of corporate what the fuck and genuine “jeez, this stuff all kinda sucks and it’s really getting to me” vibe* that we are seeing above?

I mean, I guess I am saying that I always thought of them as the cool older brother to Beck in his “Loser” stage, but they are more like Radiohead’s dreamy good looking cousin who, instead of raging about corporations, instead tries to act either uninterested or uncaring, but fails at both.

All this from a reunion show, folks.  Go see these guys.

*admittedly, this might just be why my brain is at lately

Advertisements

Murmurs

I searched for years for a vinyl copy of the first R.E.M. LP, Murmur, on vinyl. My requirements were: I wanted it to be cheap, and I wanted the original release (partly because of my Hi-Fidelity-style collector’s mentality). Or at least not a remastered or fancy resissued version (though, y’know, the recent fancy reissue was something that I put on my Amazon Wish List. I don’t mind if other people spend that kinda money for me!), because I’d read so many reviews to know that part of the early-R.E.M. charm was that the vocals were buried/oddly mixed, and I wanted the Authentic Experience.

So after two years of striking out and a few months of eyeing that there fancy re-issue, I finally just hit up ebay, bid on the thing, and got it for about $15.

And it’s great.

And no only is it great, I am finding myself absolutely unable to get Catapult out of my head. And I’m thinking that “Shaking Through” might shoot to my top ten all-time R.E.M. songs, just on the basis of the catchy, goose-bump-inducing, absolutely-built-for-singing-along chorus.

And I love this. I love that this album is from 1983, and it’s from a band that I love, but about 10 years prior to the R.E.M. period that I know. I love discovering this stuff. I love hearing “Talk About the Passion” and “Radio Free Europe” in their original context.

It’s just really great. I don’t know what took me so long.

*I am probably at least a 65% proponent of the “hey, the internet is great and all, but it kinda ruined the hunt for things, especially music” theory. I can remember trying for years to find a copy of the ska version of “The Freshman,” but once I was able to start downloading music, I nearly instantly looked for, and found it. It’s still good, but I still look for the 7″ now and again. I suppose I could find it on eBay.

Whatever and Ever Amen

ben folds five whatever

I finally got my copy of the re-issue of the incredible Ben Folds Five album Whatever and Ever Amen the other day, after watching it rot on my Amazon Wish List for years. It’s so cheap now that it’s insulting, for such a great album to be bargain-binned out like this.

This album exists on a tape that was so beloved that even my good buddy Nate talks about it. One side had this album, the other had the Promise Ring’s Nothing Feels Good. I flipped that shit into the Ford Tempo so many times. I remember entire moves—from college to the “home” that was my mom’s new apartment, back again—where all I did was throw this in my old stereo and flip it over and over. I still don’t know the full lyrics to “Evaporated,” because the song always cut off during one of the “oh God, what have I doooone” lines. It always trips me up.

Whatever and Ever Amen also has “Brick,” the biggest Ben Folds song until “Landed” became an unlikely 2005 hit. I go back and forth about finding out the origins of lyrics to my favorite songs. One side of the coin is that knowing The Sunset Tree is heavily autobiographical makes it even more powerful of an album—the best of the Mountain Goats catalog, in my opinion. On the other hand, songs like “Brick” make me not want to compare the narrative to real life events; maybe I’m stupid and that’s why I didn’t know what he was getting at in the song, but really, I think it’s more that the song can mean a lot of things and I hate singing it and thinking of what it’s supposed to be about.

I remember that moment in 1997 when this album and this band was everywhere. It spread around campus so quickly, seemingly coming out of every dorm room that fall of my sophomore year of college. Musical theater majors would bring the house down by covering “Selfless, Cold, and Composed.” My closest friend would baffle me by being someone who listened to them when he was still in high school. I wonder if bands can do this anymore; are there albums that just blow up like that now, or is it all just singles and Gaga and BitTorrent on campuses now?

I’ll always love this one. “Kate” will forever make me laugh about using the words “cake” or “Nate” instead; “Battle of Who Could Care Less” will always be catchy as hell; and this will always, always be one of the best albums ever to sing along to in the car. And that needs to be the barometer for more good albums: driving away, wind in your hair, friends singing along, who the hell cares where we are driving?

***

One album a day says it better in three words: “plonky piano pleasure

Read part of a 1997 review of the album on my new “reviews from when they came out” tumblr

SEVEN DAYS OF THE NEW MOUNTAIN GOATS ALBUM: DAYS 4 AND 5

Avoiding listening to anything else but this album has been one of the more fun/kinda silly conventions I’ve set up for this week.
Read the rest of this entry »

SEVEN DAYS OF THE NEW MOUNTAIN GOATS ALBUM: DAY 2

marquee

SOME BULLETS IN WHICH I FIRE OFF SOME THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS HERE THE LIFE OF THE WORLD TO COME BUSINESS

Read the rest of this entry »

30 Days in April: Day 16 / Perfect: “Sycamore,” Bill Callahan

Bill Callahan’s “Sycamore” exemplifies the kind of song that completely derails your intention to listen to a full album. I swear, I still fully believe that Woke On A Whaleheart is a brilliant album, but when you put “Sycamore” fourth (right after the stellar “Diamond Dancer,” too) on it, you’re basically asking a listener raised on CD’s to listen to the first four songs on the album over and over.

The song starts out with the looping, swirling, complicated-but-not guitar lick that Callahan comes back to again and again, and then straight into the lyrics:

There’s sap in the trees if you tap ’em
There’s blood on the seas–if you map ’em
Christian, if you see your papa–tell ‘im I love ‘im

And he goes from there, short pithy sayings that make you feel so much like he owns his lyrics, like he can pull them off and make them amazing and no one else could. He’s like a one man mythos every time out, and “Sycamore” is no exception.

Other than that, you’ve got the basic drumbeat, understated gospel backing vocals (how often can someone say that?), and lyrics that just continue to somehow be killer and yet not wordy at all. Callahan doing “basic” equals simple that defies you to write something so great. He’s also got the guitar solo that fits somewhere between caffeinated country and the cherry music from Mr. Do!, a man playing guitar that sounds like 8-bit video games…and also, aw hell. Eff the critic-speak.

You know what?  It’s just a damn good song.  A great song.  The one song that I remembered from the time I saw him open for Joanna Newsom to the time the album came out.

Simple, complex, catchy, twangy, clean.

It’s perfect.

[audio:sycamore.mp3]

***

I’ve got about 10000 songs in iTunes, and about ten of them have made the “Perfect” playlist. This is one of them.

Top Ten Albums of 2008

This year’s year end list posed a problem that seems to be happening more an more in music writing-dom: with a few exceptions, I just don’t feel like I listened to full albums this year. The singles list (that I hope to write soon) will probably feel more comprehensive and emblematic of 2008 as a result, but that’s how it goes, I suppose.

In a year when two of my favorite bands (The Mountain Goats and the Hold Steady) put out new albums, I am certainly shocked that neither album tops the list, and only one of them cracked the top five.  And a hip hop group I never listened to before 2008 leapt them both?  So it goes with expectations.

Here it is, in particular order!

#10: Deastro, Keeper’s

An 8-bit sneaky dark horse that I’m just getting to know, Deastro fills the “dancey background for walking” niche quite well–well enough that it can made the list.  The second track on the album, “the Shaded Forests,” feels quite 80’s synthpop with its stuttering lyrics and quasi-overly-fake-British enunciation; when the blown-speaker guitar jumps in, it becomes even more endearing.  I want to hear this one in a club, lights blinking, music up, dancing the night to oblivion.

#9: TV on the Radio, Dear Science,

It’s got the “We Didn’t Start the Fire/End of the World as We Know It” track, the Flaming Lips-esque track, a dangling comma in the title, and some of the biggest hype of the year. But more importantly to me, It’s got a kick-ass opening track that I can put on when I need to fucking GET A MOVE ON, and “Stork and Owl” has an indie sparse-click that sounds like this year’s version of The Shins’ “Red Rabbits.”  I don’t know how long this album will stick with me, but it certainly merits mentioning.

#8:  M83, Saturdays = Youth

Can you put an album on a year-end top ten based on the strength of one perfect song and the promise that you hear in the surrounding tracks?  When the song in question is M83’s “graveyard Girl,” you bet you can.  It feels like a sequel to “just Like Honey,” and it pulls out all the tricks of an epic song:  the sorta kid-like background vocals, the curve-ball spoken speech in the middle, the stadium-ready keyboard that brings it back, and most of all, the feeling that nothing matters but this song right now. I can’t wait to hear more and more from this album and this band.

#7:  The Hold Steady, Stay Positive

I feel like the boys ran out of steam with this one, like they’ve gotten so good at dishing up lyrics that they know their audience will like (“Get hammered!”) that they somehow strayed from the dense, moving tales that we are used to from one of America’s best live bands. They did write one fantastic Hold Steady ramble-banger and smartly named the album after it, but so much of this album lacks the storytelling and meticulousness that made their last two albums great.

#6:  Matmos, Supreme Balloon

Admittedly, I’ve got this on here to fill the token “weird-ass electronic noise thingie” slot.  On Supreme Balloon, Matmos gets playful with their bleeps and whirs, creating wisdom through repetition and layers like any good experimental, dancey, electronic music will, all the while filling up your head with their version of a 2008 Yellow Submarine soundtrack.

#5:  Dr. Dog, Fate

Dr. Dog plays music that excites me in the way a good, straight up porter does–you’ve had porter before, but the differences in this one are what make it great. The brew they pour is the kind of classic-rock tinged full bandstravganza that makes you wonder why so many bands are duos or trios as we close out the aughts. “The Rabbit, the Bat & The Reindeer” anchors the album, ambulating forward with the simple message that “man you ain’t like anybody else,” while asking “Are you my curse/are you my friend?” The song is the sound of a band taking every great rock trick that they know and combining them into greatness.

#4:  The Mountain Goats, Heretic Pride

“I am coming home to you–with my own blood in my mouth,” the Mountain Goats’ lead singer, John Darnielle, fires off in the first chorus of the opening track.  “I am coming home to you–if it’s the last thing that I do!” and once again, Darnielle explores the muck between threats and love, making anyone who will listen have to decide if they can tolerate–or at least take a stab at unpacking–the violence therein.  God, unfit relationships, longing–these are the ingredients in any soup Darnielle stirs, and they are all here, again, and it’s tasty.  And then there’s the title track–wow the title track–one of the best songs all year, full of fire and a martyr and, yes, misguided pride–I wonder if Darnielle knew how much that would feel like 2008?

#3:  Plants and Animals, Parc Avenue

The story behind this album made me check it out originally–this is a band that made an album the old way, taking two plus years and a 24-track to create their masterpiece. It turns out that it also has two of the most perfect moments in song from the year.  The first comes a particularly quiet moment of “Good Friend” when, out of nowhere, we are admonished that “it takes a good friend ot say ‘you got your head up your ass.'”It’s a hilarious line delivered with the utmost importance. The other perfect moment comes during the next track, “Faerie Dance,” a track that sprals and meanders as a sort of microcosm of the album as a whole.  Just when you are jamming along to a particularly banging, noisy breakdown, everything drops out, comes back piece by piece, and you get smacked by an amazing drumbeat that ties the song together while it takes you to another world entirely.  Bands wait an entire career for this kind of moment, and this year, it belongs to Plants and Animals.

#2: Atmosphere, When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold

This is an album that’s angry, and it’s hard, and it give me the chills every time I focus on it, every time I really listen to Atmosphere’s stories of good intentions that never really pan out.  And it begs for close listening–you have to listen in the same way that you have to examine the car wreck you pass, or keep reading that awful breakup note over and over again . “Dreamer,” one of the album’s best, talks about the choices a single mom needs to make as she decides to “do what you need to do to cope.”  “Go ahead and hate the world girl, you earned the right,” Atmosphere’s omniscient narrator yells during another especially powerful stretch. This is not background music–it’s a singular event, a meditation on life you have to center your mind on, and that makes it hard to take sometimes.  It’ s also one of the best albums of the year.  You won’t listen to it constantly, but you’ll always respect its ability to draw you in.

#1:  Vampire Weekend, s/t

It doesn’t feel real to write about this album, now, because there seemingly has never been a time when I couldn’t walk over to the record player, start this record, hear, “I see a Mansard Roof through the trees!” and make home feel happier, more upbeat, and, somehow, in love. Most of the album still feels so fresh–though I have almost reached saturation with “A-Punk”–and the future just looks up and up with these boys. Any album that owns my consciousness this much cannot be anything but number one.

I am sure that, had I listened to thejm more, the albums by Of Montreal, Mercury Rev, The Airborne Toxic Event, and many others could have made the list.  But then, what stopped me from listening to those more?  Hope you liked the list–I’d love to hear any arguments in the comments (adnd I’ll try to post sample tracks soon).

The Greatest Band That Ever Lived (for tonight at least)

You guys, I am seriously in one of those music-devouring phases again (yes know, hard to believe, but they really are phases, it’s not a constant thing) and the devouring has come from two sources, one of them fairly unlikely.

The real source was a recent Sound Opinions episode, during which they covered their Best of 2008 (so far). This kind of thing always charges me up, and I love listening to Kot and Dero because I typically get turned on to a few things that I want to check out (and also vehemently disagree with them on a few things).

Well, this time around, Dero decided to defend the Red Album.

Yes, that Red Album.

Weezer seemed to have gone from brilliant to totally gone to exciting to bleh, earning themselves one of my favorite music reviews of all time in the process. I had given up on them doing anything worth hearing based on second-hand snobbery from that review (and I will now come clean: I do actually like that “Beverly Hills Song)(though seriously, “We Are All On Drugs?” I am pretty sure that Cuomo singing one of his Harvard papers would have been more interesting), and so it was weird to hear Derogatis gushing about Weezer. Prog-rock and Rush-leanings aside, Dero rarely gushes about stuff that isn’t worth at least checking out.

He started to talk about a song called “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived (Variations on a Shaker Hymn)” and I thought, “oh here we go, pretension disguised as fun, please,” but then he played it and I was like, “who the hell is this?” It starts off sounding like a Modest Mouse song and then goes through about four different versions of the song, including an intro that has about 9 different power chords palm muted in a seemingly random way and a Beach Boys style a capella section and…well, as Dero pointed out, this was a band that used to make complicated songs out of disparate parts, and here they were doing it again.

It’s fucking great.

Another song that he mentioned is called “Heartsongs,” and although that one has one verse too many (the last verse is a bit TOO much), it’s an ode to music that they love that will probably inspire another post ’round these parts. Oh, and did I mention that it sticks in your brain? Seriously, I would have to start another twitter feed called “Weezer earworms” for this one.

Is the whole album great? It seems like maybe not, though actually, I don’t know. It seems like there are some standouts, definitely, but the thing is, those songs are so great that I haven’t really delved into the rest of the album much.

I’m really happy to know that I don’t need to write them off any more though. I always sort of forget about Weezer, but you better believe that nearly every time I spot the Blue Album on a jukebox, I play “In the Garage” or “Surf Wax America.”

Enjoy my first nomination for song of the summer.

****

“The Greatest Man That Ever Lived (Variations on a Shaker Hymn),” Weezer

[audio:TheGreatestManThatEverLived.mp3]

Perfect: “Dry Your Eyes,” The Streets

I’m not so great with memorizing things, but somehow music makes such an impression on me that I’ve got a nearly savant-like ability to remember the dates when albums were released. It makes sense I suppose: I’m a musical learner after all, and so it checks that I could remember that that STP album was 1993 and that Soul Asylum one was 1992 and that Flaming Lips album was 2002.

This carries over to mean that I have to filter through what music was playing at the time in order to remember personal dates. So, I know that we were living in the house we built in Marengo because of the fact that I can remember listening to “Black Gold” while cleaning the garage. I know that 8th grade was 1991 because, hello Nirvana (plus Nate listening to Nine Inch Nails from the year before).

So, that means that songs get tied to relationships, of course, of course. There are albums or songs that just naturally end up solidly meaning that person at that time in that place, and there’s nothing I can do about that (nor would I want to, even). I remember how appalled I was when a friend said to me, “you can’t do that you know.” I can’t not do that — I can’t fathom memories not filtered in this way. Maybe that’s another reason why music just means so much.

I’m a veteran of a few long-distance relationships, too, and those songs mailed off to each other, postage to other countries or continents? Even more weight.

This also means, as you might imagine, when a relationship goes south, and stays there, whole albums or songs have to get deleted from the hard drive, figuratively and literally. This doesn’t happen often, though it can be pretty significant.

The Streets’ “Dry Your Eyes” loosely fits in this category.

[audio:Dry_Your_Eyes.mp3]

Read the rest of this entry »

Rachel Taylor Brown: layering, piano, god


If you spend a lot of time reviewing local music, you hear a lot of the Chris Cornell guy singing over a “dunh dunh dunh!” guitar line, or those screamer-Kinney female vocalist clones, or the keyboard duos that Just! Want! Dancing!

As such, when something different comes along, it merits a further look.

So, what exactly is this warbling-but-better-than-that beautiful thing that has landed in my mailbox today?

Why, it’s Rachel Taylor Brown‘s new album, Half Hours With the Lower Creatures!

It all starts off with with a sound collage full of clanks and bells, Brown’s wordless singing setting the atmosphere before she pounds away singing about maniacs and radios in the third track, “Stagg Field.” The vampy piano, quiet-loud dynamics, and bass instrumentation on recalls Ben Folds Five, especially in the beginning and ending sections of “Mette in Madagascar,” when the band bounces along, propelling the song.

The layers of background vocals peppered throughout definitely continue the BF5 comparison, but where he often offered slices of life and tales full of characters, Brown dabbles throughout her album in religious imagery. It slows her down a bit, in that you start to wonder if she’s a one-subject pony–though this album talks about God in Tori Amos way, not a god rock way.

All in all, I have to admit, Half Hours has got a bit of the same-y-itis, but I don’t see that as a sign of weakness–I see it as a decent album from someone who has potential to make some great stuff happen on future releases. I bet her music will fill the room at Mississippi Studios, and I hope I can make it out.

Rachel Taylor Brown plays that official CD Release party on April 5th.

“Mette in Madagascar,” from Half Hours With the Lower Creatures:

[audio:Mette_in_Madagascar.mp3]