Monday, July 19, 2010

The Cure - Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me

The Cure – Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me
Fiction, 1987
Acquired: Love Garden, Used, 2010
Price: $9

And wouldn't you know it, I walk down to Love Garden after listening to Staring at the Sea to look for Cure records and I actually find some! Good timing! Sadly, the other one was the fucking “The Walk” 12”!! Oh cruel fate! But I'm satisfied, and this plays really nicely right after that fine compilation. I've always liked Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me because, well, it's the album with “Just Like Heaven” on it. That was pretty much my only reason til I started digging on the Cure. Now, I like it because it's a nice “shape of things to come” sort of record and a great precursor to Disintegration. It retains a decent dose of their early post-punk stuff but it's clear that it's a skin being shed. It's all drama, and pop, and it's all pretty fucking great even if it is really damned long, which is a hard feat to pull off for a lot of artists. And that's all I got. It's the Cure, the Cure made some good records, this is one of 'em.

The Cure - Standing on the Beach

The Cure – Standing on the Beach
Elektra, 1986
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2010
Price: $2

As it chronicles the first ten years of the Cure's career, Staring at the Sea is varied as hell. My true introduction to the Cure (that is, the Cure outside of Disintegration and “Just Like Heaven”) was through Jenny, who is a pretty rabid Cure fan and one of THOSE girls. You know, one of those girls who thinks she's still going to marry Robert Smith. I tell him he looks like a fat cross-dressing clown these days, but when we watched their Greatest Hits DVD (which naturally, Jenny owns and often puts on when we make dinner) I could see the appeal in the younger Mr. Smith. And that's what this compilation is. It's young Robert Smith and the evolution of the Cure from a pretty run of the mill post-punk band into a sad, dreamy, gothy and beautiful work of art. So, basically, this is all the hits up til Disentigration. And it's got loads of hits. “Boys Don't Cry,” “The Hanging Garden,” “Lovecats,” “In Between Days,” and “Close to Me” are the biggies. Honestly, my only real quibble with this other than my disinterest in “Killing an Arab,” “A Forest,” and most everything before “Charlotte Sometimes” other than the aforementioned “Boys Don't Cry,” is that two of my favorite tracks, “Let's Go to Bed” and “The Lovecats,” sandwich “The Walk,” which is pretty much terrible to my ears. That stupid little synth line. I mean, it's not as bad as like, “Wrong Number” or any of the later hits that are pretty fucking bad, but man, that stupid little do-doot doo doo doo doo doo doo synth line gets stuck in my head and I want to die. BUT it closes with “Close to Me,” and not the weird trip-hop remix that's on the Greatest Hits. The one they use on This American Life all the time. I'm amazed that the upbeat pop bliss of “Close to Me” and “In Between Days” is only two albums separated from the gorgeous, dense, and I-just-can't-say-enough-good-things-because-I'm-still-falling-in-love-with-it Disintegration. We got a handful of Cure CDs at CD Tradepost towards the end of my tenure there, and one day, I was listening to this, Disentigration, and the Smiths best-ofs that came in the same by. That was during my last couple of weeks, where I decided to work as hard as everyone else and thus spent most of the time sitting behind the counter on my laptop. Summer came in from next door and got really worried, worried that all the depressing music was going to cause me to kill myself. “No,” I told her. “I got a better job, I'm really happy this just sounds right today.” She came in later that day to check on me and I was listening to Elliott Smith's XO. Sometimes sad songs just hit the spot, and I'm always amazed at how remarkably upbeat the Cure can be despite their reputation.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Mastodon - Crack the Skye

Mastodon – Crack the Skye
Reprise, 2009
Acquired: Love Garden, Used, 2010
Price: $10

Wow, this doesn't sound like the same band we jammed on our way into LA five years ago. I remember listening to Leviathan for the first and last time (for whatever reason) at 3AM on the freeway into the heart of Hollywood and just having Mastodon be the perfect soundtrack for the on set of the most awesome Summer of my life. Metal is something I know nothing about. Literally nothing, and I wish I did (but only because John Darnielle loves it so much and he's my hero on all fronts). And I really like Mastodon. But maybe I love this metal because it isn't the same double-bass-drum heavy stuff I subtly make fun of in the newsletter every week. Actually, it was while writing the newsletter that I first listened to Crack the Skye and that combined with reading all about the weird thematic crux of the album (wormholes, Stephen Hawking, and suicide) sucked me into this weird sense of awe where I thought it was great. Listening to it now is really my first listen-through where I'm paying attention and it's blowing my mind in the best way. In that way where I can sense the layers, and I can hear all of the depth and complexity but it's going to take many listens to decode all of it and appreciate it on the proper level that it deserves. It doesn't sound loud enough on my stereo, but that's ok. The solos are still sick, and the evidence that it's just an immaculately crafted record is all there. It just sounds fucking great, and it's a great example of what happens when a little beloved band signs to a major and uses all the right resources and enhances their sound while not betraying anything they'd built up before. I think this is going to be one of those groundbreaking metal albums, something that serves as a gateway to the unitiated because like punk or pop proving that they too could be art, metal is sort of the last fronteir of outsider music that well, doesn't need to be outsider music if people just approach it with an open mind. I mean, I never thought I'd ever say that I thought a metal album was beautiful, but this is a beautiful record. Beautiful and sad and metal. Bonus: when I was music director I got a Mastodon shirt along with the album. I'm pretty sure the album disappeared with one of my incredibly unreliable staff members, but I still have the shirt and only recently started wearing it. I feel like a poser, but the shirt fits and laundry is expensive and well, this is a fucking great record and I love getting the thumbs up from metal dudes.

Crocodiles - Summer of Hate

Crocodiles – Summer of Hate
Fat Possum, 2009
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2010
Price: $4

I think this is where I started getting disenchanted with the lo-fi scuzz whatever movement that is somehow still around. It's not because it's bad music or anything like that, it's just not music I want to listen to. Crocodiles pulled a big trick though, in that they released a really excellent single, “I Wanna Kill,” and the rest of the album just kind of meandered til the end with nary a righteous jam to be found, only distorted, delayed, and reverbed to death noodling with the occasional burst of angular shouty songs with slightly more intricate punk rock drums. Even the damn single goes on a chorus or two too long (but I won't complain, they pull off a weird lo-fi new wave 80s jam vibe so well that I always get excited when a DJ plays it on KJ every now and then). I think it's just become incredibly hard to review new music. It started hitting me in my last semester as music director where A.) I couldn't keep up anymore because B.) it all started to sound the same. Once I realized that the Vivian Girls were kind of boring and that my initial fervor about how they sounded so much like Black Tambourine morphed into “well, why don't I just listen to Black fucking Tambourine?” all new music sounded like it was copping someone else's game who had initially done it better. But that's just the case with new music, and why all band names are either boring (Crocodiles, Woods) or just outlandish and weird because well, fuck, there's nothing left (Psychedelic Horseshit). It's a cruel mistress, new music, and I just feel too old for her and have a hard time understanding if my opinions are valid or if there's something I'm missing. Although, those things missing are probably cigarettes and ten PBR empties at the Replay two Summers ago. This sounds like a record you buy at a show because the band puts on a good show and you're like “Oh yeah, that was great guys” and then a couple months later when you go to sell some records it's at the top of the pile. Which is probably why I have it. And even then, I only bought it for “I Wanna Kill” and for $4, well, why not?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Clash - Combat Rock

The Clash – Combat Rock
Epic, 1982
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2010
Price: $1.50

Ok, now I know why this was so cheap: There's a big old surface scratch. Luckily, it doesn't effect the play of this record, which I've never listened to until right now, which is bizarre. I was always overwhelmed by punk rock when I was 16-18 years old, and kind of had to pick and choose. I devoured all of the new stuff that was coming out (see: Alkaline Trio, Millencolin, Dillinger Four, NOFX, etc) and while I balanced it about 60/40 with old goodies, I only ended up with one or two albums from the Clash, Dead Kennedys, Husker Du, etc. I actually didn't get really into London Calling until college, and my early jams were from the self-titled debut. Combat Rock, their penultimate LP, has the bands two most popular songs (see: Songs that have been used in countless commercials and romantic comedies) “Should I Stay or Should I Go” and “Rock the Casbah.” I can't stand “Rock the Casbah,” but man oh man how I love the former monster hit. Combat Rock also has “Straight to Hell,” which was sampled in a song that was really, really popular a couple years ago. KJHK started playing that song a lot once people realize that MIA sampled it in that one song and on more than one occasion I had to overhear people complaining about how this band had ripped off MIA. Effectively, this record is just pretty weird. It's got the big commercial (DOUBLE MEANING! DO YOU GET IT) appeal and one of their most hardcore political songs in “Straight to Hell.” It's a weird contrast but I dig it.

Kate Bush - Hounds of Love

Kate Bush – Hounds of Love
EMI, 1985
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2010
Price: $2

I can trace my Kate Bush liking back to a Decemberists show where Petra Haden sang “Wuthering Heights” and I had one of those “What the fuck is that song” moments and looked it up via a couple of lines I'd jotted down when I got home. Somehow, this is her fifth album. I don't know anything about Kate Bush other than that I really like this record and it's sort of an isolated thing. I did not know that there were four records before this (other than maybe the Kick Inside) and I suddenly want to hear them all because I like this record a lot. There are just so many massive jams. “Running Up That Hill,” “Cloudbusting,” “The Big Sky,” the title track, and a couple more I'm forgetting. There are also a couple of really weird ones, like the one where it sounds like the devil is doing backing vocals (I think it's “Waking the Witch” but I'm not sure) and the weird Irish-laced “Jig of Life.” They might as well be two separate albums, side A and side B, and maybe that's why Side A is dubbed Hounds of Love and Side B is dubbed The Ninth Wave. It's a rather ingenious method of song-releasing. One side is the monster, synthed out pop songs and the other is lush and much more organic with a folk bent. All of it is glued together by Kate Bush's marvelous, unfuckwithable voice that has become the siren song for a number of modern female vocalists (most notably Joanna Newsom, who wears the Kate Bush badge on her shoulder but very much has gone her own way). I can't really say anything about this album other than that it's, you know, pretty great. I've been listening to it a lot lately because it's been the next album on the docket for the record catalog but I just haven't had time to write about it because I've been too busy exploring the record, which really, is the best compliment I can come up with. This record is so good I can't even distract myself. It sounds remarkably fresh for being as old as me.

I distinctly remember Chris Clark forcing me to watch this video sometime within the past couple of years. It's a great song. Something about the way she sings "I just know something good is going to happen" is so convincing!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Gut Feeling: Best Coast - Crazy For You

Best Coast – Crazy For You
Mexican Summer, 2010

Well, here you have it. Another perfectly fine band ruined by a heap of hype that led to a superfluous LP exposing all the flaws of what is now apparent: the stoned beach pop thing is a passing phase and this should be the nail in the coffin until I don't know, some other faux-nostalgic trend blitzes the blogosphere. There was something wonderful and fresh about Best Coast's 7”s and Eps. It was coy, but never cloying, and came off as a better version of Jenny Lewis doing lo-fi pop jams. And now Bethany Cosentino sounds just like Jenny Lewis and it's boring. There isn't a single song on this record that stands up to monster jams like “The Sun Was High (So Was I),” “When I'm With You” (which is on the record, but tacked on at the end), or “Up All Night.” The production is cleaned up, and does a great job of sanitizing the sound that made her records so appealing in the first place. Crazy For You feels half-assed. Where the flaws were burined in the haze, the simplicity of the songs only exposes tired chord progressions and lazy songwriting about boys and summer (but again, without having anything new to offer unlike, say, her cover of “That's the Way Boys Are”). It's cloying, and it has that undesirable “like me, like me!” trait. “When I'm With You” was the high watermark, and it's inclusion at the end of the album only illustrates the tossed off quality of the preceding 12 songs. I know Best Coast's whole aesthetic is tied to a certain kind of laziness, but, well, this is the bad kind of lazy. The songs piddle around a couple of chords and then fizzle out. The end....and now it's Vivian Girls all over again. Or maybe I should have just stopped reading Cosentino's twitter, which basically just made her out to be a chick who dug smoking weed and talking about her cat. And wait, now I see a line from an interview where she says the songs are about her cat, smoking weed and being lazy! Imagine that! Ultimately, I'm just bummed that such an uncompelling album could come from someone who made songs that I listened to over and over and over again a few months ago. Somehow, it's stumbled into “like me! Like me!” faux-girl group-core.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Hold Steady: Live at the Slowdown in Omaha

For everyone you've ever heard say “music is my life,” they're really making too big a deal about it. Or maybe I've just heard too many people tell me that, or something like that, but not be able to rattle off a few of their favorite bands, instead giving me a half-assed “I like a little bit of everything.” This was one of those questions I threw out to potential applicants when I was hiring people for music staff a couple of years ago and if I got that, I had to throw it out (because really, to be on music staff and to think that your opinion needs to be shared with the rest of the radio station requires a high degree of snobbery, and honestly, I think that's what's contributed to KJHK's downfall: lack of snobbery! Delivering snobbery without alienating people, that's the trick though). The people who are serious about their shit have their top five in their head and while it may change from day to day, it's the sort of thing they mull over on the memo pad in their brain. For instance, on any given day the Hold Steady ran either #2 or #3 on my favorite bands list, depending on the mood, and a lot of this has to do with the times I've caught their tremendous live show. First was in December of 2006 when they were touring Boys and Girls in America, a goddamned triumphant show that made me realize why I love music and trumped both the Arcade Fire and Unicorns shows which had held the top spot for a few years. Then I saw them at the Granada a year or so later and it sucked due to a terrible mix and well, just the Granada being a generally terrible venue to see music. Next were the three times I saw them over two days in Austin in 2009, each show better than the last and culminating in what is easily the greatest display of live music I've ever witnessed via their showcase show at the Mohawk. I didn't even plan on going to that show. Surely there was some IT band I hadn't seen that I wanted to see but something clicked in my brain: Why the hell am I not going to see the Hold Steady at the Mohawk? This would be on the level of skipping Guided by Voices, and I drifted over to the Mohawk, forced my way past some ambivalent, folded-armed hipsters and proceeded to have a religious experience. If Bob Pollard is my God, Craig Finn is my Jesus. A manic preacher spitting out gospels for the kids.

Since that show, live music has been troublesome for me. I started writing for the Pitch shortly after SXSW and that has given me the opportunity to see a ton of great shows for free and to write about them for a small sum, which is great and makes me feel productive and like I finally have some sort of thing to pursue. However, I've realized that most shows are really fucking boring. Like, really boring. Boring to the point where I can hardly get myself out the door anymore unless it's some random band I've heard one song by who're playing at the Replay or Rooftop Vigilantes. Otherwise, I see that the National are playing and I go “Great, I love that band, their records are fantastic but are they really going to do anything other than flawlessly execute their fantastic songs?” Probably not. And really, a few years ago I would have eaten this up but I just changed. I no longer get excited about shows, I actually sort of dread them. That is, with the exception of a small handful of bands. The Mountain Goats, the Weakerthans, Destroyer, Guided by Voices (who, those motherfuckers, announced a reunion gig featuring the CLASSIC 94-96 line-up in Las Vegas for the dumb Matador party thing gahhhhhhh), Superchunk, a few I can't think of right now, and naturally, the Hold Steady. So, I saw they were playing Omaha, told Jenny about it, and Jenny said WE ARE BOOKING A HOTEL ROOM AND BUYING TICKETS RIGHT NOW.

I should note that Jenny's obsession with the Hold Steady proves my “music is like religion” point I half-assedly tried to make a couple paragraphs back. I remember when I got her hooked, too. It was a litmus test. A sort of “if this person doesn't appreciate the Hold Steady I don't know if this is meant to be” sort of thing. I played Separation Sunday for her in the car on, naturally, Easter Sunday on the way to my parents house for dinner. This was a few months after we started dating and fortunately, my gamble paid off. It's gotten to the point where I come home and she's spinning Separation Sunday on the turntable and singing along to all the songs. It's a wonderful thing. So, a girlfriend that forces you to go to a show in Omaha and get over your laziness = good.

So, we drove to Omaha and saw the Hold Steady and that is what this was supposed to be about. Well, it is now. So, if you haven't seen the Hold Steady live you are missing out. If you have seen them and didn't get what the big deal was, we can't be friends. I am just kidding, or am I? That's my standard protocol. Backhanded criticism of your taste if you don't dig the Hold Steady. I know Kasey Klimes hates them, and since I still liked Kasey Klimes after he told me that, I figured I could tolerate other people's views even if they were a.) different from mine and b.) completely wrong. But then again, the people who tend to love the Hold Steady tend to be zealots. They also tend to be people who like having fun at a show, and after attending the jam packed show at the Slowdown, well, apparently Omaha doesn't like having fun. Or maybe I'm being too judgmental. I remember insane, drunken bonding experiences with strangers at the Lawrence shows and that last show at SXSW. “People touching people that they don't even know, yo,” to quote Finn. The Omaha show was pretty sterile, which was surprising given how fucking great the band was. Ok, so the absence of Franz Nicolay deals a pretty hefty blow to their charm, and the band seemed to be a little put off, but I'll be goddamned if Craig Finn wasn't selling his songs for everything that they were worth. He just never stops smiling, and the six times I've seen the band, he's always done this. There's just such a joy, a gratefulness to his demeanor that's really wonderful and impossibly great.

The sound system at Slowdown is pretty amazing. It's like Voodoo Lounge amazing. The problem is, it's so good the sound guy felt he needed to crank shit up as loud as it could go so Finn's vocals tended to get a little lost in the mix. However, we were standing about three feet away from him at the front of the stage so maybe it sounded better in the back to the folded arm toe-tappers. But, we sang along to all the songs so it didn't matter too much. But still, we'd gone up with hopes that Omaha knew how to party and they just really didn't. Maybe it was the fleet of doucher bros up front who didn't so much as move for an hour and a half, I don't know. I do know that I saw a couple of 18 or 19 year old kids who looked at the set-list (strictly forbidden in my book, but only for my love of surprises) and started pointing out the jams and jumping up and down with glee. Those were my people, and they were the only two other than me or Jenny and a couple of other dudes who were up front, jumping around and pretty much having the sun shine down on us like the chosen few. Watching Jenny through all of this was great. I've never seen her so unhinged! When the band laid into “Stevie Nix” she started screaming really loud. I don't think she remembers this, but I'm pretty sure Craig Finn saw her losing it and felt a little flicker of joy. Even though I sorta panned their latest offering, Heaven is Whenever, all the songs they played form it were the jams from that record so I couldn't complain. But MAN, I will complain forever about how sad I am that Franz Nicolay left the band. There was definitely an energy missing on Tuesday night, and that energy will be sadly missed.

A new keyboardist filled in, but he wasn't really anything special. He sat in the back, looked kind of bored, and his parts were almost always lost in the mix. Actually, the mix was pretty horrible from where I was standing. The bass was up too loud, the vocals weren't inaudible but not nearly loud enough and it sounded really muddy other than when the guitar solos broke out. But yeah, no fault of the band there. Maybe if the crowd had been more into it it would have been more amazing than it was (and really, it was pretty fucking amazing because I won't lie, if I could only see the Hold Steady live on a regular basis at the cost of never seeing another band play live again, I would be pretty happy). But I can't really blame Omaha. They're not bad folk, but they surely don't know how to party like a college town.

In the end, I learned that traveling to see your favorite band is absofuckinglutely worth it if they're coming within three or four hours of you. It's a fun thing you can make a micro-vacation out of. You can stay at a cheap hotel, get really drunk, and feel young and alive and all that stuff when a job and all that gets in the way of that feeling. The Hold Steady remind me to hold steady and to stay positive, and when a band can make me feel as much pure joy as I've ever felt ever, that's a special thing. I don't really hate you if you hate the Hold Steady, we're just fundamentally different. I'm blind like I don't know, that one red-headed Christian kid that went to my high school. I'm so set in my beliefs that I'm going to think you are wrong. I'm not going to think that you are going to HELL because you don't share my beliefs, but I will try to convert you because, like a good Christian, I think that where I'm at right now is the best place that you could possibly be. Except you don't have to die to get to heaven, a concept the Hold Steady are fond of. “Heaven is whenever we can get together/ sit down on your floor and listen to your records,” Finn sang. It's as simple as that. The feeling that I got when I heard the opening chords of “Slapped Actress” is as close to God as I get. Where I look to Jenny and she looks back at me with the same “this is really happening” look. It was pure joy. We got plastered, danced like teenagers, sang our throats raw, felt young and alive and it was pretty much the best ever. And that's pretty much it. I went to the show, blissfully knowing that I didn't have to review it and could enjoy it with pure, blissed out joy and wrote about it anyway because...well, I'm a zealot. Just stop me if I hand you out a pamphlet with the lyrics for “How a Resurrection Really Feels” printed inside.