Wow. This week has been one of the craziest weeks of my life. I don’t even know where to begin. Here’s the skinny: Superbad: Musical: cut from Fringe due to conspiring actors, parties, death threats, Gazette cover stories, concerts, Durak, the beast with two backs, strange dreams, Texas Hold ‘em, rocking the Ward Room. The highs were very high. The lows just make me want to cry right now. At the end of the day, I could only listen to one song to make everything Zen, and that song was by this week’s band of the week…
My second favorite band of all time (after The Beatles), The MC5 are a legendary proto-punk band like The Stooges. They released three albums in their short existence and each one is a vital piece of musical history.
The first is the legendary live Kick Out The Jams, which features the incredible song of the same name. The second is the John Landau (Bruce Springsteen)-produced Back in the USA, which was a great album, though it is criticized (rightly so) for taming The MC5’s wild edge. It is still, however, a great album. The third is the juuuuust right High Time, which balanced the bands pop-skills with their wild edge. It is also the album featuring the song that got me through this week: “Over and Over”.
While the issues the songs deal with (politics, ecology, the Vietnam war, labor) are somewhat more sophisticated than the ridiculous ones I’m currently dealing with, its chorus, which reinforces how we deal with same problems again and again throughout history, seemed to apply to my life and how I keep winding up in horrible Kafka-esque situations even when I never really do anything all that drastic to begin with. Then again, that makes things exciting, which is kind of cool in a way…if only it weren’t making me feel an incredible desire to learn more Yiddish sayings along the lines of, “oy guvult!”
And speaking of exciting, The MC5 are fucking awesome. Combining a strong blues edge with the hard rock welded into Detroit’s mentality, The MC5’s sound is an explosive amalgamation of blues, pop, jazz and psychedelia. Any of their three essential albums are mind-blowing and feature the stunning duel guitar work of Wayne Kramer and Fred “Sonic” Smith (who later married Patti Smith). Meanwhile, the lead vocals of the amazingly-afro’d Rob Tyner are beyond belief, particularly in “Over and Over” where he strains his voice to the breaking point, howling out, “I see people dyyyyyying/ While others sit around cryyyying!!!” I’m honestly not sure how to describe them, though they do have a sort of bluesy edge, though not the same kind that Mick Jagger had. Something else…
If there was one band that knew how to combine the sexy, the psychedelic and the political perfectly, it was The MC5. They were the first ones to kick out the jams, motherfuckers, and they did it best.
In My Own Company
(Pigeon Row; 2009)
Ah, singer-songwriters: sensitive, literate, sophisticated poets with their acoustic guitars and delicate melodies, who would women love and men hate without you? Well, I guess now we have the Jonas Brothers, so you’re off the hook for now singer-songwriters, but I’ve got my eye on you…
But I kid, I kid. Luckily, MacGrath doesn’t subscribe to the ridiculous John Mayer school of singer-songwriter anyway (uch, I think I just threw up in my mouth a little) but rather, he’s more along the lines of a more personal, less Balkan Beirut or a somewhat less OUT Rufus Wainwright. And indeed, those two comparisons are quite apt, as MacGrath’s precious, somewhat theatrical vocal style bears a strong resemblance to Zach Condon’s (of Beirut) stylized tenor, while MacGrath’s dandy-like qualities (“is it really Louie Vutton? / Or is it a knockoff instead?” MacGrath inquires on “Bell Boy”) bear resemblance to none so fabulous as the inimitable Wainwright.
His debut EP, In My Own Company is a strong collection of ornate pop songs written with a wonderful literate flair, conjuring up images of 5th Avenue (“Bell Boy”), fairy tales (which he sort of debunks on “Cinderella”) and MacGrath’s home province of Nova Scotia (“Way West”, in which he dreams of running off to Alberta) magnificently. On most songs MacGrath sticks to his brand of theatrical, piano-based melodramatic pop, though he does get to throw in a nice modern day Can-indie rocker in “Featherweight” (which, with a different mix, could have been the single).
Unfortunately, the EP lacks any real standout songs or outstanding qualities to make it a smashing entrance for the talented MacGrath. Then again, none of the big indie bands of the last couple years blew the doors open with their first EP: that all came with the full-length. Regardless, In My Own Company marks a classy entrance for a talented, young singer-songwriter who, I’m sure, will be quickly embraced by his home province.
(Note: This review also appeared in the Dal Gazette)
This week’s artist of the week is a New Yorker who was part of the CBGB scene of punk intellectuals that included Tom Verlaine, Patti Smith and Richard Hell. Though his name isn’t as well preserved as the aforementioned artists, his legacy lives on in movies and books in addition to his music. This week’s artist of the week is…
Like all those guys mentioned above, Jim Carroll was a hard rocking intellectual punk poet influenced primarily by the French surrealists Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine (Tom stole his last name, in case you were confused). Musically, he’s best remembered now for the song “People Who Died” which has appeared in movies like E.T. (for some reason) and the remake of Dawn of the Dead. At the time of its release it was a “near hit”, according to AMG. True, the song probably is his most visceral and affecting musical accomplishment, but he also released several albums with plenty of other great tracks, like “Catholic Boy” and “Three Sisters”.
As great as some of his music was, he is best remembered as the author of The Basketball Diaries, an autobiographic work detailing his experiences with sex and hard drugs from the ages of 13 to 16. The book was made into a movie of the same name in 1995 and starred a young Leonardo DiCaprio as Carroll.
Though his music sounds a little aged in 2009, Carroll’s great lyrical writing still holds up wonderfully and should be checked out by anyone interested in the CBGB intellectuals or people who just like great song lyrics. Also, it’s pretty badass.
Note: This album was printed in the Dal Gazette but was edited in such a manner that it actually degraded the writing. Out of frustration, I’m posting it here so that there exists somewhere the review as it was meant to be.
Lou Reed was once asked what he thought of The Band in an interview. His reply was something along the lines of, “sure, they’re great, if you want to sit on your porch and pretend it’s 1832.” In some ways, that statement could apply to The Deep Dark Woods. Unlike bands like My Morning Jacket, Wilco and Fleet Foxes, TDDW make no effort to bring their brand of Appalachian folk music into the present, with the melodies, instrumentation and lyrics all doing their best to hold up the illusion that it’s still 200 years ago…only it isn’t.
However, if I were judging the album as someone living in the 19th century, I might think differently. In terms of construction and song composition, Winter Hours is as solid as the evergreen wood the album’s rustic sound evokes. While most songs are gifted with a sort of classic kind of sad backwoods beauty, at times a poppy element buried within the songwriting bubbles up to the surface, most notably in the strikingly Band-esque “Polly”, with its sticky, 70’s bar-band guitars and woozy melancholy.
Like The Band did on their classic 1969 self-titled album, TDDW are able to make music from the past by writing from the perspective of a person living from that time. The most memorable example of this off The Band was “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”, the story of a Southern general watching his side lose the civil war; on Winter Hours it’s “The Gallows”, a song about the hanging of a young man for murder. Lyrically, TDDW principle songwriter Ryan Boldt has a novel-like ability to tell a story, with a knack for creating poignant characters and situations.
The way that Winter Hours holds together stylistically, in addition to it’s highly literate lyrics, makes listening through it an almost conceptual experience. While the album lacks the charm of The Band or the majesty of the Fleet Foxes album needed to make it sound vital in 2009, Winter Hours is still a thorough and engaging listen. At least from the perspective of someone from 1832.
Hey, this is the first of a new feature I’ll be starting called “Awesome Album Covers!” in which I find really bad, awesome or weird album covers and just right a funny little caption below them. This will be a regular feature and I’ll probably post one at least once a week. Here’s this week’s, Warren Zevon’s 1989 Transverse City.
Well, it was sort of my first foray into the Halifax scene. While I’d gone to a couple of the Halifax Pop Explosion shows, this was the first time I’d gone and checked out some of the local acts in their natural habitats.
First off, Halifax has a lot of café’s where people perform acoustic stuff, possibly because folk music is pretty big out on the East Coast. So, Saturday morning I decided I’d go check out a cool guy here named Ben Caplan play a set at the Ouro Preto Café which is pretty close to where I live.
So, at around 2:00 PM Ben started his solo set, which was pretty solid. Ben’s got some nice singing and playing technique, better than your average dude with a guitar, and his songs are pretty good. Some are fun, some are serious, some are a little bit of both. He also played two solid covers: the first was Bob Dylan’s “A Simple Twist of Fate” off Blood on the Tracks, the second was Wilco’s “Poor Places” off Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. For the later, he had some kind of pedal that, at the end of the song, made it sound like a jet airplane was falling apart overhead. It was pretty cool.
I went out to try and get enough money for a second hot chocolate but alas, my checking account has no more money left in it (I’m trying to find a job at the moment…waiting for some call backs…any day now).
So I came back and Ben had a nice little three piece going on, with some dude on bass and this King’s girl named Fey playing violin. And man, Fey was rocking that fucking violin: bitch can play! Er, um, respectable young woman can play, really. Her violin actually really spiced up the whole set-up and so Ben delivered another nice little set.
In the evening I went out to see this show at North St. Church. The point of the show was to send this kid Sam to Ethiopia…where he will effectively save Ethiopia. Or something like that.
The first band I saw was The Lamp Shades (at least I think it was The Lamp Shades), which was two chicks and two dudes doing their own little pop thing. None of them were post-high school and they looked even younger. Still, they weren’t bad, they had the right idea, and that counts more than anything.
Then came The Gamma Gamma Rays, who were actually pretty good. They had a nice little indie-pop thing going with keyboards and the guitars and the girl playing mandolin and such. It was good stuff.
This week’s band of the week is one of my favorite bands of all time and one of my biggest influences. They also inspired me to slap down $80 for a Big Muff guitar pedal last year because I noticed how it filled out their sound. They’ve been around in one shape or another since the 80’s and in 2007 they released a comeback album that stands proudly not only alongside their best work, but even above much of it. The band of the week is…
Led by J. Mascis, Dinosaur Jr. have released classic albums like Living All Over Me and Bug and produced classic songs like “Freak Scene”, “Feel The Pain” and “Start Chopin”, all spearheaded by Mascis’ Neil Young-like falsetto vocals and his blistering (a word always used in conjunction with the band) guitar playing. The band’s signature sound is notable for combining all of the aggression and speed of hardcore with a strong melodic pop sense.
What I love about Dinosaur Jr. is that they sound like I feel: on one hand they sound like they’re spinning out of control and about to explode; on the other hand, there’s also this sort of humanism and sensitivity to it all. These two opposing mentalities meshed into one produces some kind of crazy fusion that sounds unbelievable, particularly on their best songs such as the aforementioned classics.
Dinosaur Jr. has influenced scores of bands (My Bloody Valentine, Sonic Youth, Broken Social Scene) over the last two decades, and while the right circles will acknowledge the band’s legendary status, Dinosaur Jr. remain largely unknown by today’s hipsters. And that’s just a fucking tragedy because Mascis and his crew (including prolific songwriter and Sebadoh frontman Lou Barlow) tapped into something incredible and should be appreciated for such. Check out Dinosaur Jr., or like that lawyer in Jurassic Park, you will be eaten by a T. Rex while you poop.
I’ve seen it happen.
This week’s artist of the week is an old singer, songwriter and producer who has garnered incredible respect for the strange, beautiful and brilliant contributions he’s made to pop music over a 40+ year career in the business. As my awesomesauce friend Charloteen thinks my ultimate destiny will be, his name inspires reverence in some and nothing in others. This week’s artist of the week is…
Best known for his dark but stunning 1967 duet with Nancy Sinatra, “Some Velvet Morning”, Lee Hazlewood has made scores of great albums with his own spiked brand of iconoclastic pop and his signature baritone voice. Like fellow classic-pop-legend Scott Walker, Hazlewood’s music is reverb coated with classic orchestration accompaniment standard. This classic set up, augmented by Hazlewood’s mad genius, sounds amazing, particularly on Hazlewood’s originals, though his covers of songs like “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” don’t skimp on awesomeness either.
Though I haven’t had the chance to listen to most of his work, one listen to “One Velvet Morning” is enough to convert anyone into a fan. Check it out homies.