Wednesday, March 30, 2005

spin the black circle

At a time when I should be in super-saver mode, I still find myself buying too much music. I think that once my CD collection surpassed 500 CD's that extreme measures needed to be introduced. I went into one Vinnie-esque CD selling phase. "But no, I can't possibly sell this Del Amitri album. I mean come on! 'Roll To Me' rocks!!'

Ok, for the record, 'Roll To Me' never rocked. The video was awful too. But the above statement typifies the type of inner conflict I'd experience while deciding what to get rid of. If I could find one vaguely cool song on a CD, chances are that I'd keep the entire thing. Maybe I'd find another gem. There are also those albums I want to like either because the artist used to put out good music ('Machina; The Machines of God'), or for purely historical reasons (any Byrds album). Seriously, do I still need every single Tori Amos album? I think I've listened to 'Scarlet's Walk' three times and never made it deeper than 5 songs. And minus five points for 'Strange Little Girls'. What's my freaking problem? Am I scared that I'll have some rabid Tori fan over who will notice the gap in my collection between 'Under The Pink' and 'From The Choirgirl Hotel' and stab me in the name of Pele?

Isssh. So now I have even more CD's to add to the pile of the un-listened and the unwanted...picked these up today...

Sunny Day Real Estate - 'Rising Tide' (proto-emo, melodic rock)
Yellow Magic Orchestra - 'Solid State Survivor' (early electronic beat and squeak fun)
Cocteau Twins - 'Heaven or Las Vegas' (echoy and shimmery post-goth love)
Tangerine Dream - 'Dream Roots Collection' (atmospheric, doesn't age very well, bought for $1.00 on clearance, epic box-set, soundtrack-ish mood music)
Juno Reactor - Shango (former goa-trance freaks expand into world beat and mainstream dance love'n)

So now we wait for the next CD to fall. I already know that the Cocteau and Sunny Day CD's kick some serious ass. Now its time for the others to slowly win me over... Or to end up being ignored somewhere on my shelf between A Perfect Circle and Zwan...

Sunday, March 27, 2005

the decemberists 3/25/2005 - CANES san diego

My dear friend Vinnie and I went and saw The Decemberists perform last Friday night. The venue was Canes, which is a neat beach bar and grill with a decent stage and two floors. I'd only been there twice before. Once was to see the now defunct band Ten Pound Brown perform, and the other time was when my first band played there. That was a bit of a rough day, since I got in my first and worst car accident about 4 hours before the show.

But I digress. I don't see a lot of live shows for two reasons. #1) I've been in a couple of bands and got burnt out on all the local venues. I also found that as a musician, I'd spend more time analyzing the show than actually enjoying myself. #2) For each band that really rocks, there's a ton of garage crap. Many of these random bands don't lack the ability to write or perform; they just lack any special quality that makes me want to get into their performance.

Case in point, the opening band for The Decemberists' show: Okkervil River. They had energy. They had the skill. They had a touch of stage presence. And they could write a catchy song or two. But in the end, it bored me. They all looked very indie and the lead singer sang with earnest. But the music just bounced off of me like stale water. And when the acoustic guitar and harmonica came out, I couldn't help but think: "Hey guys, I own Blonde On Blonde. Whatever you are about to do is WAY unnecessary. That said, they instead launched into what sounded like a bad Ryan Adams song. And anyone who knows of my distain for Mr. Adams knows that this is a cold insult. Multi-instrumentalists, tight jeans, funny hair, and earnest singing ... maybe I'm just a jerk. Or maybe they are trying to hard.

The Decemberists put on a fine show. After a setup period that lasted as long as the Mesozoic period, they took the stage. Colin Meloy may seem like an unlikely troubadour, but he is very confident and comfortable as they launch into their strange world of theatric, melodramatic, folk-rock (I refuse to use the term Chamber Pop). The opening number, 'The Infanta', gets the crowd going with its steady vamp and dramatic lyrics. The set is played very cleanly, and the sound at the venue is very good. Petra Haden, formerly of that dog and The Rentals, supplies gentle back-up vocals and furious violin. Many of the songs resolve around sad and ironic stories. That's what was so great about the sound quality. Even with songs you didn't know, the lyrics were audible.

One complaint when it comes to the track, 'The Sporting Life'. I've read so many reviews of their latest album that compare this song to Belle & Sebastian's 'Stars of Track and Field'. One review (I'm looking at you AMG) said that the track came "dangerously close" to the aforementioned B&S track. Listen to the two tracks back to back motherfucker! Ok, so they are both about kids playing sports. Yippie! The lyrics have shite in common, nor do they share melodies or mood. Just because The Decemberists are seen as being in the same genre as B&S doesn't make this a rip-off song. This is what I call LAZY journalism. It happens all the time in record reviews and music articles. People always look for the effortless comparison. Anyway....

The set closed with 'The Mariner's Revenge Song', proving that they had saved their best for last. Well, actually, they did do a rather anti-climactic encore. But I was tired and still a bit drunk, so I've forced myself to forget about it. The set was long and paced pretty well. I'm so amazed by the talent and variety of influence today's young musicians have. Ten years ago, you would have never heard music like this from a group of 20-30 somethings. As aimless and directionless as today's music scene seems to be, there is so much beautiful music hiding between the cracks. Which is why I should probably go to more shows. But hey, I spend my money well by being choosey. My last three shows were these guys, The French Kicks, and The Walkmen. Can't fault me there, can ya?

Monday, March 21, 2005

an ode to the mix tape

I am currently listening to a mix CD a friend made for me. The current track is called 'Standing' from the band VNV Nation. It begins with a very dance club, come-down, electronic cascade before launching into a military marching beat. The vocals kick in and are sorta New Order-ish. Why was this track chosen as track 2? That's part of the fun in making mix tapes. Track order! Picking the songs you plan to use can be easy. But the order inwhich to play them can make or break a mix tape. Let's go to Rob from 'High Fidelity' for the perfect quote:

"The making of a great compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do and takes ages longer than it might seem. You gotta kick off with a killer, to grab attention. Then you got to take it up a notch, but you don't wanna blow your wad, so then you got to cool it off a notch. There are a lot of rules."

In this CD age, the only time I really miss the tape cassette is when it comes to mix tapes. Anyone can keep loading songs onto a CD-R with a burning program, figure out how much time they have left, add and subtract, and BA-BOOM! Not so with the analog tape. One must be careful and precise. I was the master of these bastards back in the day. Armed with a boom box, a pencil, some paper, and a calculator, I would sit there for hours making these damn things. Rearranging the track lists, cutting corners, only choosing PART of a song. It was always fun and expressive. Because you always need to start off by saying: "What am I trying to say with this mix tape?"

Not that every mix tape/CD needs a message. Sometimes its as simple as: "You should really check out these bands, they are great." But in my case, usually when a girl was involved, the mix tape/CD takes on deeper meanings, filled with subtle messages. Sure, there would be a good share of quality songs. But always sprinkled in-between the catchy shit was the message! Always the message! I'm not sure how many of those ladies actually ever listened to the CD's...and if they did, did they even notice the lyrics? Probably not. People like big red signs and lights, not subtlety.

Of course, secret messages are just part of the mix tape's charm. They can be journeys and adventures. Or a chronological record of a certain time in your life. I used to save my old track lists on my computer. You never know when that battered CD-R gets worn out and you need to make a new one. In the end, I don't think the mix tape/CD is usually appreciated as much by the person who receives it as much as by the one who made it. But isn't that the way of life? And I don't think it subtracts from the joy one bit.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

getting in tune

Ok, let's cut the the chase! Music has been a savior, a lover, a friend, and a great distraction these last few weeks. I've been obsessed with finding 'new' music to listen to. I say 'new' music, because I don't necessarily mean 2005. Just something I'm not familiar with. More importantly, I'm always looking for that new band or artist to obsess over. My usual pattern is to find a group to fall in love every album over the course of a few months (if available), research their history, memorize important and obscure facts, and find visual documentation. Finally, I make a blood oath to see them live (if possible) before I die. I went through this mess with each of the following artists, in no particular order:

Queen - Smashing Pumpkins* - Bjork* - Nine Inch Nails* - The Doors - Pink Floyd# - Radiohead* - King Crimson - Roxy Music* - Beach Boys* - Genesis - Tool* - Peter Gabriel* - At The Drive-In - The Mars Volta*

* Denotes that I have seen that band live.
# Denotes a technicality. I did see Roger Waters live. This almost counts in my opinion since he wrote the bulk of Pink Floyd's music. And since Roger, Dave, Nick and Rick will never fully reunite...that's the best I'll do!!

Well, that's all I can remember right now. Of course, these represent some of my favorite artists. Unfortunately, its been a while since I've gotten excited about an artist. No, excitement has occurred many times...obsession is what I seek. To immerse myself fully in their work. To that end, I've started listening to and purchasing a lot of CD's lately. Here is a list of what I've purchased in the last two weeks or so...

Santana - 'Lotus': An energetic two disc live set recorded in Japan, back in 1973. At this time, Santana was deep into his jazz-fusion period. Vocals are kept to a minimum during this mostly instrumental journey of discovery and enlightenment. Santana is in top form, which would continue on through his classic albums 'Amigos' and 'Moonflower'.

Hawkwind - 'Space Ritual': Another adventurous live album. Hawkwind were a sci-fi, psychedelic metal band with a reputation for devastating live performances. With future Motorhead icon Lemmy on board, the band took on the sound of a cosmic Armageddon. Not for the squeamish!!

The Decemberists - 'Her Majesty': Given to me by a friend. This band of chamber-pop mischief makers will be hitting San Diego soon, and I want to know their sound. Living somewhere between Belle & Sebastian and Death Cab...though more B&S. Makes me think of costal towns...

The Orb - 'Orbus Terrarum': Ok, this shouldn't count because I already owned a copy. But it was all worn out and it was time to replace it. How to describe this incredible CD? Ambient house? Atmospheric dub?? All I know is that when I lie in the dark and listen to it (which is the ONLY way to listen to it), I am transported into a Martian rainforest...through an underworld sea...deep within the echoing caverns of some underground alien ruins...finally to pass sweetly out into the peaceful void of space, with dust from Saturn's rings trailing behind me... I really want to make love while playing this album. Its been a goal since I bought it in 1995. No shit.

David Sylvian - 'Secrets of the Beehive': Also recommended by a friend. Currently it is on order and should arrive soon. Not sure what to expect, but I am familiar with Sylvian's original band - Japan. For anyone who digs the cold perfection and exotic tones of 80's production values married with oriental grooves, then I highly recommend Japan's last album, 'Tin Drum'. David Sylvian is Bryan Ferry's unbaptized disciple.

Orbital - 'In Sides': Another 'techno' offering. I've found myself drawn to the cold but futuristic leanings of electronica lately. This album comes from the mid 90's, when techno was at its peak in my opinion. The most recognizable track off the album is 'The Box' ... which was a minor late-night MTV hit. Back when MTV played videos ... often ...

The Mars Volta - 'Francis The Mute': Continuing my Cedric Bixler / Omar Rodriguez obsession, the latest offering from the boys is about as prog as one can ever hope to get. The entire album operates as one large piece constructed of various movements, moods, and breaks. Sure, within the pile of melodies, rhythms, lyrics, and noise, there are some 'songs'. The radio successfully tore 'The Widow' off the album as a throw-away single. But I pity anyone who bought this album expecting more classic rock heroics and catchy choruses ... unless their idea of classic rock is the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Yes circa 1974, Can, or Fela Kuti and Africa 70. A difficult album, but it is offering slow and lovely rewards.

I guess that's about it. I've also been listening to Tears For Fears' first album, 'The Hurting', far too much lately. And that damn Pinback CD. Ah you rule me...