Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Aimee Mann’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: WEYES BLOOD–Tiny Desk Concert #923 (December 11, 2019).

The new Weyes Blood album has been on many people’s best of the of year lists. I hadn’t heard any of it but I’d read that it was lovely.

When I first listened to this Tiny Desk Concert, I really didn’t think much of it–couldn’t imagine what made this simple folk music so special.

But on a second (and third and fourth) listen, I heard a lot of the components that made it quite a beautiful set.

Nataile Mering sings and plays acoustic guitar.  Her voice reminds me a lot of Aimee Mann.

The blurb says that this set is

simple and restrained — a strummed guitar, two-part harmonies, a brushed beat — but still managed to re-create the majesty and wonder of the band’s latest release, Titanic Rising, one of 2019’s loftiest and most layered albums.

The music here is simple and straightforward–“rooted in ’70s folk-pop traditions, with mystical themes of rambling on to find meaning and purpose.”

“Andromeda,” an astral ode to love, set the tone with the acoustic guitar.  After a minute and a half there is a really cool otherworldly-sounding guitar solo from Stephen Heath.  It is just a slide on an electric guitar but it sounds very cool amid the folky quiet.  There is a very traditional organ sound from Walt McClements  filling in the spaces, but I think what really makes the song transcend folk are the fantastic backing vocals from bassist Eliana Athayde.  Whether it’s oohs and ahhs or harmonies, her contributions are monumental.

“Wild Time” is next and Athayde’s oohs are there supporting Mering’s gentle leads.  Like the previous song the acoustic guitar sets the pace with the keys filling in the gas and Andres Renteria’s drums keeping pace.  This time the standout sound from Heath’s guitar is a buzzing e-bow–an otherworldly insect buzzing around the song.  Near the end, Heath turns that buzz into a proper guitar solo and there’s a brief moment where I think Althayde and Mering are singing different lines at the same time.  The end of the song rings of early Pink Floyd with the piano sound and Heaths now noisy scratchy e-bow filed soloing.

The final song, “Picture Me Better,” is “a heartbreaking remembrance of a friend who died by suicide while Mering was working on the album.”  It’s the quietest song of the bunch.  Renteria leaves and it’s just acoustic guitar and keys with gentle electric guitar notes and Mering’s voice.  This time Athayde’s backing vocals add an otherworldly quality as we get lost in this song of loss and yearning.

It’s quite a lovely set, and if this is stripped down, I do wonder what a full-on, layered album must sound like.

[READ: December 16, 2019] “Sevastopol”

This was a story about writing stories.

The narrator, Nadia, receives a postcard from Klaus.  The postcard is of Sevastopol, although Klaus has never been there–he probably got it from a site like easterneuropeanjunk.com.

Klaus had rented a theater space in São Paulo (the story was written in Portuguese and translated by Zoë Perry) and called Nadia to insist that she come and help him fix it up.

They had met at the museum where she works.  He led a drama workshop and since staff could take classes for free she decided to check it out.  Klaus had directed a play which ran in a local theater.  Nadia hadn’t seen it, but her friend said it was awful.  Nevertheless, Nadia liked Klaus. (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: AIMEE MANN-Bachelor No. 2 or, the Last Remains of the Dodo (2000).

Aimee Mann writes really pretty (often sad) songs.  From seeing her play live (in person and on video), she is very upright when she plays.  And I feel like this uprightness comes forth in her music.  She is very serious–not that she isn’t funny, because she can be–but that she is serious about songcraft.  Her songs, even when they are catchy, are very proper songs.  I don’t know if that makes sense exactly.

It also means to me that most of her music sounds similar.  She has a style of songwriting and she is very good at it.  For me, it means that a full album can start to sound the same, but a few songs are fantastic.

“How Am I Different” opens up with a super catchy melody and a guitar hook that repeats throughout.  “Nothing is Good Enough” is a bit slower and less bouncy.  But “Red Vines” brings that bounce back with a super catchy chorus (and backing vocalists to punch it up).  The piano coda is a nice touch.

“The Fall of the World’s Own Optimist” starts slow but adds a cool guitar riff as the bridge leads to a catchy, full chorus.  “Satellite” slows things down as if to cleanse the palette for “Deathly.”

Now that I’ve met you
Would you object to
Never seeing each other again

The chorus is low key but the verses have a great melody.  It stretches out to nearly six minutes, growing bigger as it goes with a soaring guitar solo and better and better rhymes.

“Ghost World” has some wonderful soaring choruses while “Calling It Quits” changes the tone of the album a bit with a slightly more jazzy feel.  It also adds a bunch of sounds that are unexpected from Mann–horns, snapping drums and in the middle of the song, the sound of a record slowing down before the song resumes again.  It’s probably the most fun song on the record–unexpected for a song with this title.

“Driving Sideways” seems like it will be a slower downer of a song but once again, she pulls out a super catchy intro to the chorus (with harmonies) as the rest of the chorus trails on in Mann’s solo voice as we hang on every word.  It ends with a tidy, pretty guitar solo.

“Just Like Anyone” is a quiet guitar song, just over a minute long.  It’s a surprisingly complete song and shows that not only can she pack a lot into less than 90 seconds, she should do it more often.

“Susan” is a surprisingly boppy little number that bounces along nicely on the two-syllable rhythm of the title character.  “It Takes All Kinds” slows things down with piano and gentle guitars and “You Do” ends the album with Mann showing off a bit of her falsetto.

This is in no way a party album, it’s more of a quiet autumn day album.  And it’s quite lovely.  Thanks, Nick, for reminding me of it.

[READ: May 20, 2019] “It’s a Mann’s World”

Nick Hornby wrote High Fidelity and became something of a musical expert because of it.  As such, he wrote a half a dozen or so musical review sections for the New Yorker.

This was his first and, as one might guess from the title, it is about Aimee Mann.

He begins by talking about the British magazine Mojo and how every month they ask a musician what he or she is listening to.  He says that many musicians of a Certain Age seem to have abandoned rock and roll and are listening more to jazz or classical.  They are doing this “for reasons I can only guess as: Prokofiev! Ellington! Take that Hanson and Wu-Tang Clans fans! ”

These performers seem to suggest that pop music is dead.  Much in the way that people say fiction is dead.  Meanwhile good, talented musicians continue to make albums that people continue to listen to and good talented authors continue to write novels that people continue to read. (more…)

Read Full Post »

[ATTENDED: September 27, 2018] Rosali

Rosali opened for Graham Coxon.  She is a Philadelphia-based singer songwriter with two albums out (her last album got some pretty glowing reviews).

She has a lovely voice which reminded me of Aimee Mann.  In fact, a number of times I thought that she might be singing an Aimee Mann song.  But the problem was that there were no hooks in her songs.  There was nothing to hold on to.

She also had very little stage presence.  She stated as much, confessing that stage banter wasn’t her thing.  No kidding.  One time she asked if anyone watched the news today, after some mild boos, she didn’t follow it up.  Every other time that she tuned, she was basically quiet.  In fact, she never said her name, the most basic thing you do when tuning your guitar.  (I arrived a few minutes late because of the incompetent staff, so maybe she had introduced herself before I got there, but I’m not entirely sure it was her). (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACKJUST SAY NOËL: A Gift for You from Geffen Records (1996).

This is a weird mix of songs.  I purchased this all those years ago because I loved the Sire Records Just Say series, and this seemed like a fine addition.  But this album really pushes what might have been anticipated in a Christmas collection.

Look at the names!  Beck! Sonic Youth! (when they were riding high), Elastica! But man, this is just a crazy mix of stuff.

BECK-“The Little Drum Machine Boy” (NSFC)
This is like 7 minutes of drum machine nonsense from Beck.  There’s mention of the Hanukkah robot funk.  Gonna drop some Hanukkah science.  And then 7 minutes of Beck’s nonsense lyrics.

AIMEE MANN with MICHAEL PENN-“Christmastime” (NSFC)
This is a little mopey because Aimee is always a little mopey.  The Michael Penn parts are a bit more upbeat.  They sound great together, but “all alone at Christmastime” isn’t really much for holiday cheer.

SONIC YOUTH-“Santa Doesn’t Cop Out On Dope” (NSFC)
I had no idea that this was a cover.  Martin Mull recorded this back in 1973.  That explains the spoken word part that doesn’t sound like something Sonic Youth would construct.  But after the spoken intro, they turn the end into 2 minutes of utter noise.  Thurston sings the actual song almost a capella with strange noises in the background and twinkling bells.  The last 40 seconds are just squelching noise.  And they end with Thurston saying “Merry Christmas, David Geffen.”

THE POSIES-“Christmas” (NSFC)
This song is downbeat and sad (“you made me for the last time.  That’s okay Christmas means little to me”).  The chorus is kind of pretty though.

THE ROOTS-“Millie Pulled A Pistol On Santa” (NSFC)
I had no idea that this was a cover.  And never would have guessed it was originally by The Roots.  It is shockingly about incest. The Roots version is even darker (and the recording features an echoed voice making it even harder to hear the words).

SOUTHERN CULTURE ON THE SKIDS-“Merry Christmas Baby” (NSFC)
This version is bluesy and slightly funky in a very white way.

REMY ZERO-“Christmas” (NSFC)
This is muted and mopey and I have literally no idea what its about.

ELASTICA-“Gloria” (NSFC)
This is without a doubt the best song on this record.  Although as far as I can tell aside from chanting (and playing) the melody from the Christmas song “Gloria In Excelsis Deo” there is no connection to Christmas whatsoever.

WILD COLONIALS-“Christmas Is Quiet” (NSFC)
This is six-minute mellow folk dirge.  Her voice is pretty, but good lord, six minutes?  Even a build up and backing vocals doing la las can’t rescue this.

XTC-“Thanks For Christmas”
Obviously, I love this song as I have mentioned elsewhere.

THE MUSICAL CAST OF TOYS FEATURING WENDY & LISA -“The Closing Of The Year”
The Toys song is such a weird inclusion–clearly it’s only here because they own the rights.  But it’s a really pretty song and it should be played more at the closing of the year, for being a lovely optimistic song.  Even though I like this version, I’d like to hear a cover from someone else with a strong voice (and not necessarily Seal, or whoever that is, joining in).  I’ll bet it could be done really well.

TED HAWKINS-“Amazing Grace”
Hawkins has a low gravelly voice.  This is a lovely cover of just him and his guitar.

So overall, this is a disappointing collection of songs.  Most of them can’t be played in a festive way.  But there are a few rocking standouts.

[READ: December 12, 2017] “Announcements”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This year, there are brief interviews with each author posted on the date of their story.

Hello. Welcome. It’s finally here: Short Story Advent Calendar time.

If you’re reading along at home, now’s the time to start cracking those seals, one by one, and discover some truly brilliant writing inside. Then check back here each morning for an exclusive interview with the author of that day’s story.

(Want to join in? It’s not too late. Order your copy here.)

This year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection.

This was a fun, light-hearted look at Wedding announcements.  And of course, as with any fun, light-hearted look at something, there were undercurrents of seriousness that made the story even better. (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: XFM-It’s a Cool Cool Christmas (2000).

This is a long Christmas collection (about 72 minutes).  So it’s a bit hit and miss.  But the hits are pretty great.  The problem really is that the disc gets a little bogged down and slow in the back half.  The first half is bright and fun.  Either re-sequnce or add in some peppier songs!  There are a couple that just don’t belong on a Christmas collection.  Remove them, and you’ve got a good one.

GRANDADDY-“Alan Parsons In A Winter Wonderland”
I’ve loved this version of this song ever since I heard it here.  By making the simple substitution of Alan Parsons for Parson Brown (which doesn’t make any sense, really), they are able to make all kinds of weirdo jokes and musical changes to an otherwise completely faithful version of the song.  It’s terrific.

THE DANDY WARHOLS-“Little Drummer Boy”
Generally I don’t like this song.  It’s a little too ponderous and repetitive, but The Dandy Warhols totally rock it out.  It’s not crazy or anything, it’s just super catchy with a cool synth riff and great backing vocals on the “bum bum bum bums.”

THE WEBB BROTHERS-“Every Day is Christmas”
I feel like this compilation is the first I’d heard of this song, but since then I see that others have done it as well.  This version anyway is slow although it’s catchy–particularly the chorus.  I’m not sure I get exactly what the chorus is saying though: “every day is Christmas, if only tonight,”  What does that mean>

EELS-“Everything’s Gonna Be Cool This Christmas”
This is a poppy punky track that’s upbeat and fun.  Just before the solo E (the singer) even mutters, “Baby Jesus, born to rock.”

El VEZ-“Feliz Navi-nada”
One of my favorite Christmas songs–rocking and silly but with the spirit still in tact.

MORGAN-“Christmas In Waikiki” [NSFC]
This track opens with a Merry Christmas to the soldiers, in what sounds like Marilyn Monroe’s voice.  It then turns into a keyboard-heavy, almost reggae march through a wah wah instrumental.  Then there’s a quote from, I assume Richard Pryor, who jokes about a 300 pound honky.  This f-bomb dropping joke makes this not safe for Christmas.

DRUGSTORE-“Maybe At Christmas Time”
This a slow song filled with hope for Christmas.

BELLE AND SEBASTIAN-“O Come, O Come Emmanuel”
I have always been puzzled at the way they change the melody of the song–they sing the “and random captive” part without a pause, so the first line runs right through.  It feels rushed, but is anything but.  Once you get past that though the music sounds lovely with those gentle guitars and voices.”

GIANT SAND-“Thank You Dreaded Black Ice, Thank You” [NSFC]
This is kind of a dark song, spooky and whispered vocals.  Even if there is a happy message, it’s not really a very festive song.

THE FLAMING LIPS-“White Christmas” [NSFC]
Despite my love for The Lips, I never cared for this version.

SAINT ETIENNE-“My Christmas Prayer” [NSFC]
A pretty, moody piece of longing.  Not really anything I want to hear on Christmas.

DEPARTURE LOUNGE-“Christmas Downer” [NSFC]
This is surprisingly catchy for such a downer.  But it is indeed a downer.

SIX BY SEVEN-“I Believe In Father Christmas”
Things pick up with this version of the dark, but wonderful Greg Lake song.

SNOW PATROL-“When I Get Home For Christmas”
This seems like its kind of dark and mopey, bu the sentiment is actually quite nice.  Sounds a bit like Sebadoh.

TITÁN-“Spiritual Guidance” [NSFC]
Titán are a Mexican electronic band.  This instrumental samples a movie which has a guy telling a young woman to remove her panties.  It’s a shame it gets dark like that because the disco Jingle Bells in the middle is good fun.

BIG BOSS MAN-“Christmas Boogaloo”
This is a groovy, funky instrumental with random chants about Christmas.  Its good fun indeed.

TEENAGE FANCLUB-“Christmas Eve”
This is a beautiful guitar based mostly instrumental.  It’s a lovely piece and far too short at only 2 minutes.

CALEXICO-“Gift X-change”
Despite Calexico’s usually bright sound, this song is pretty sad, musically and lyrically.

GORKY’S ZYGOTIC MYNCI-“Hwiangerdd Mair”
This is a very pretty song which, if Google Translate is to be believed actually means Mary’s Halloween in Welsh.  But whatever.  Gorky’s always has a great way with a melody.

LOW-“Just Like Christmas”
I actually thought this was Aimee Mann singing. Despite Low’s penchant for slow, broody songs, this one is upbeat, even if it wasn’t just like Christmas at all.  But the big thumping drums keep it moving along nicely.

LAUREN LAVERNE-“In The Bleak Midwinter”
This sounds like a children’s choir very far away.  I’d never heard of her before and I have learned: Lauren Cecilia Fisher, known professionally as Lauren Laverne, is an English radio DJ, model, television presenter, author, singer and comedian.  Wow.  This is pretty neat but could use a bit more oomph.

[READ: December 15, 2017] “The Copy Chief”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This year, there are brief interviews with each author posted on the date of their story.

Hello. Welcome. It’s finally here: Short Story Advent Calendar time.

If you’re reading along at home, now’s the time to start cracking those seals, one by one, and discover some truly brilliant writing inside. Then check back here each morning for an exclusive interview with the author of that day’s story.

(Want to join in? It’s not too late. Order your copy here.)

This year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection.

I had to play catch up with these earlier stories because this collection arrived late (my fault, not theirs).  I put this one off because it was so long, and yet it turned out to be one of my favorite stories in the collection so far.

Not because of anything flashy or exciting, just because of good writing and compelling characters. (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: AIMEE MANN-Tiny Desk Concert #618 (May 8, 2017).

Aimee Mann is pretty legendary at this point.  Starting out in ’til Tuesday, she has since made a name for herself as a solo artist (and collaborator).  Her solo albums are sweetly sad: she writes pretty melodies with rather downcast lyrics that sometimes have humor in them.  She has done a previous Tiny Desk with Ted Leo–they were called The Both.

Her voice is calm and kind of deep and she casts rather an imposing figure given her height.  I saw her live about ten years ago and while I don’t remember all that much from it, I know I enjoyed her.

I have a few of her albums, but I haven’t really gotten anything recently because she’s a bit to melancholy for me, and I feel like her songs tend to sound a bit the same–I keep waiting for all of these songs to end with the chorus of “I’ve Had It” (one of her earlier songs that I rather like).

Despite these criticisms, there’s no doubt that her songs are quite lovely, and when Jonathan Coulton sings backing vocals it’s pretty great.

She plays four songs from her new album, Mental Illness. On “Rollercoasters” it’s just her and Coluton.  The second song is “You Never Loved Me”–“It’s another cheery, optimistic number.”  For this track, Aimee plays guitar and is joined by Paul Bryan on bass and Jamie Edwards on piano.  The band fleshes out the sound nicely, with a good bottom end.

The title of “Goose Snow Cone” is never explained, which is a shame.  There’s a lovely guitar melody on this song.   “Patient Zero” opens with a backing ooooh vocal.  There’s some great deep bass notes from the piano and I love the way the end of the song features the guys singing a chorus while Aimee sings a counterpoint vocal.  It’s my favorite moment in the show.

[READ: March 2, 2017] “The I.O.U.”

I didn’t think I’d read any storied by Fitzgerald (aside from Gatsby) but it turns out I had read a short story by him about five years ago.  I described it as enjoyable but slight.

This story from 1920 is clever and funny and was previously unpublished.

I enjoyed the initial construct:

The above is not my real name—the fellow it belongs to gave me his permission to sign it to this story. My real name I shall not divulge. I am a publisher. I accept long novels about young love written by old maids in South Dakota, detective stories concerning wealthy clubmen and female apaches with “wide dark eyes,” essays about the menace of this and that and the color of the moon in Tahiti by college professors and other unemployed. I accept no novels by authors under fifteen years old. All the columnists and communists (I can never get these two words straight) abuse me because they say I want money. I do—I want it terribly. My wife needs it. My children use it all the time.

Interesting opening, right?

So the unnamed publisher tells his story that six months ago he contracted for a book that was going to be a sure thing.  It was by Dr Harden, the psychic Research man.  He had published Harden’s first book in 1913 and it was a huge success.  This one promised to be even bigger.  The crux was that Harden’s nephew had been killed in the war and Dr. Harden had been able to contact him with psychic powers.  Harden was a distinguished psychologist–no fruitcake–and his book was neither callous nor credulous.  He even mentions in the book how a man named Wilkins had comes to his door claiming that his deceased nephew owed him three dollars and eighty cents–but Dr Harden refused to ask his dead nephew about the money–that was like praying to the saints about a lost umbrella.

When the book was finally done (and it looked beautiful), they sent copies everywhere–300,000 first print run.

The book was a success already and he decided to visit Dr Harden to celebrate.  He hopped on the train with some free copies of the book.  He handed them out to people on the train

Before we came to Trenton, a lady with a lorgnette in one of the staterooms was suspiciously turning the pages of hers, the young man who had the upper of my section was deeply engrossed in his, and a girl with reddish hair and peculiarly mellow eyes was playing tic-tac-toe in the back of a third.

The publisher fell asleep and when he woke he saw the man reading the book seemed deeply agitated.  The publisher asked him what the matter was and the man said that the value of the book depended entirely on whether the young man was actually dead or alive.  The publishers said the the man must be in Paradise not–in Purgatory.  The man said it would be even more embarrassing if he were in a third place.

Like where?

Like Yonkers.

For, it turns out that the man reading the book was in fact Cosgrove P. Harden: “I am not dead; I have never been dead, and after reading that book I will never again feel it quite safe to die.”

I loved this joke:

The girl across the aisle was so startled at my cry of grief and astonishment that she put down a tic instead of a tac.

The rest of the story concerns our publisher’s attempts to figure out what to do about this mess.  Surely the not-dead boy wouldn’t spoil all of the fun (and money).  They wind up going to the doctor’s house where the publisher meets Thalia, the woman who was in love with Cosgrove.  And she is angry at the Doctor for humiliating Cosgrove in death.

And the publisher gets an idea.

So he plays out his idea as best he can and things seem to be going along pretty smoothly but then Fitzgerald does something rather unexpected and I really got a kick out of it.  It turned this story which was pretty funny into a story that was pretty funny and really clever as well.

I wonder why it was never published.

Read Full Post »

animalSOUNDTRACK: THE BOTH-Tiny Desk Concert #346 (April 7, 2014).

bothThe Both is a mini-supergroup of sorts featuring Aimee Mann and Ted Leo.  I don’t know too much about Ted Leo, but I do know a lot about Aimee Mann.  I was curious to hear what these two sounded like together (this Tiny Desk was recorded before their album was released and was one of their first public performances together).

They play four songs, and I feel like they sound very much like Aimee Mann songs.  I never thought of Aimee Mann as having a terribly distinctive voice, but I guess she does.  And her voice and melody lines over these simple songs sounds very much like her own.  Since I don’t know much about Ted Leo, I don’t know exactly what he adds to the songwriting.  His voice is good (he can hit some high notes) and his guitar playing is minimal but very effective.

“You Can’t Help Me Now” sounds a lot like an Aimee Mann song, so it’s nice to hear Ted come in on the second verse, to change it up a bit.  “Milwaukee” sounds a lot like a Beautiful South song to me–the way the verses are sung and the way the chorus comes in, there’s just something that sounds very much like the way Paul Heaton writes songs (this is a good thing).  “No Sir” is a rather different song from the others.  It  features some great echoey guitars to open and has a loud ringing guitar solo.  The verses still sound like Aimee Man (that has to be unavoidable), but the choruses change things up.

“The Gambler” sounds like a jointly written song.  It’s a bit more raucous and highlights both of their strengths.  Overall, the music isn’t the most exciting but I’m not really sure what else would have come out of this pairing.  Obviously, if you like Aimee Mann, you’ll like The Both.

What’s most interesting to me is seeing Aimee Mann play–she is so causal (she barely changes expression and hardly opens her mouth when she sings) and she stands up so straight and calm.  Check it out here.

[READ: June 26, 2014] Animal Crackers

I’ve mentioned Gene Luen Yang’s books before–I’m very fond of him.  So I was thrilled to see a new book by him.  Except that this isn’t new, my library just happened to get it now. This book was published by Slave Labor Graphics in 2010, but these stories are much older than that.  In fact, the back of the book has a note from Gene in which he explains that the first chapter of this book was actually the first story he ever created.

And what a story it is.

The book is actually three interlocking stories.  Two longer stories: “Gordon Yamamoto and the King of the Geeks” and “Loyola Chin and the San Peligran Order.”  And a brief interlude called “Sammy the Baker and the M.A.C.”  You know they are interlocking because Gordon appears in the Loyola story (and because they both stick cable TV cables up their nose at some point), and because Sammy appears in the Gordon story.

In the first story Gordon is a bully.  He and his buddy Devon find the King of the Geeks each year in school and “crown” him (with super glue and old underpants).  They think this is very funny and plan to do some more devious things to him later that day.  Of course, when Miles, King of the Geeks gets home, his mother is very upset (naturally) and plans to call the police.  But the only thing that he cares about is his father.  Whose only comment is to wonder how he wound up with such a sissy son.

Gordon wakes up in the middle of the night with a pain in his nose.  It turns out to be a space alien (the aliens learned that humans use so little of their brains that they can store data in our brains for use later).  The only way that Gordon can help with this problem is by sticking the coaxial cable in his nose.  Which he does.  And the little alien dude explains what he has to do.  Which is, of course to go to the King of the Geeks (whose brain they are also using) to find the instructions for how to evict the spaceship.  But as they try to exchange the proper information, Gordon gets all of the Geek King’s memories.  And suddenly he feels really bad about what happened. (more…)

Read Full Post »

commitSOUNDTRACK: KANYE WEST-Late Registration (2005).

I lateregcan’t get over how much I’ve been enjoying Kanye West’s music as of late.  So much so that I went back and bought Late Registration.  I wanted to check out his early stuff, so naturally I started with…his second album.  And it’s a really enjoyable, soulful, gospel-filled rap album. Complete with Kayne’s bizarre, humorous and often offensive lyrics.

Musically the samples are wonderful—they create a very specific feel of pop soul that both works with and sometime against the lyrics.  The album suffers from two things that I’ve found I do not like in rap, and in articular in Kayne’s albums.  It bugs me when rappers intro their songs with several “uh, yeah”s.  I don’t know why but it does and that’s how Kanye opens the disc.

And, I wish there weren’t so many guests on the record.  While I understand the guest singers who provide backing vocals, I don’t get all the guest rappers (and there are a lot: Paul Wall, GLC, Lupe Fiasco, Common, Game, Jay Z, Really Doe, Nas, Cam’ron Consequence).  I mean, I’m not here for them, so why devote so much time to others, it makes you seem like you couldn’t thin of enough to say (and we know that’s not true about Kanye).  After a few listens, I have grown to appreciate the guests, but I like Kayne’s style so much that the other guys are just distractions.

Late Registration is largely produced by Jon Brion, who has made some amazing music with Fiona Apple and Aimee Mann—and while it is certainly stripped down Brion, the flourishes that Brion often employs are apparent here.  Like the tinkly pianos and farty bass that opens “Heard ‘Em Say.”  There’s some falsetto R&B-esque vocals from the singer from Maroon 5 here—I had no idea he sang like that.  It fits very well with the song.  And the instrumental section at the end is very Brion.

“Touch the Sky” uses a long sample (slowed down quite a bit) of Curtis Mayfield’s “Move on Up.”  But the sample is so much of that original song that it almost seems like cheating.  Except that he has slowed it down and modified it somewhat, and…his raps work perfectly with it.  The other really crazy sample is from Gil Scot-Heron which samples “Home is Where the Hatred Is.”  The strange thing is that the song is 1:44 and the last 45 seconds of the song are just Scot-Heron’s song playing along by itself.  It’s weird to have given up that much to another song…but it sounds great.

“Gold Digger” is a very funny song about, well, gold diggers.  The topic isn’t new (the fact that it samples an ancient Ray Charles song attests to it), but the chorus of “I ain’t saying she’s a gold digger, but she ain’t messin’ with no broke niggers” is great.  There’s also an intro section with Jamie Foxx doing his now patented Ray Charles.  It’s a pointed song but done with a very funny twinkle in his voice (the Kayne twinkle).  “Drive Slow” is a cool slow-tempoed number with a great sample from Hank Crawford and an interesting slowing effect at the end of the song.  “Crack Music” is a great political song equating making records to selling crack.  The metaphor works well.  And this is one of Kayne’s strong pro-black songs.  It’s really powerful.

The surprising thing is the two really sensitive songs: “Hey Mama” which is a sweet song to his mother in which he promises to go back to school and get his doctorate and “Roses,” which is an angry but beautiful song about his grandmother being in the hospital.  There’s a great verse about her being poor and therefore not getting the best care: “you telling me if my grandmother was in the NBA right now she’d be okay”   As well as a line about a nurse asking for his autograph while they are worried about his grandmother—although, realistically, how often is a nurse going to meet a star like Kayne?  The end of the song has some great soulful crooning by (as far as I can read) an uncredited singer.  And I feel like Brandy, who opens up the next song really falls flat in comparison to this unnamed singer (I don’t care for the way newer black singers wail their scales).  But the Etta James sample of “My Funny Valentine” that floats through “Addiction” is gorgeous.

“Diamonds from Sierra Leone: is a surprisingly political song that samples “Diamonds are Forever.”  There’s two version on the album.  I like the remix featuring Jay-Z a lot less, in part because I’ve never been a huge Jay-Z fan, but also because his verses completely interrupt the flow of the song.  “We Major” has  a very retro, almost easy listening vibe. There’s a lot of backing vocals going on and they remind me somewhat of Ben Folds Five’s backing vocals (which is pretty weird, I suspect). This song is interesting for its talk of worrying about daughters—as with many rappers, women are bitches and hos unless they are your grandma, your mama or you daughter—which is kind of awkward, really.

“Celebration” is perhaps the weirdest juxtaposition of contents.  It’s a celebration, bitches.  A celebration apparently about the fact that he and a woman (who had a fatty) accidentally had a baby (“You my favorite accident”).   That line makes it sound like the child is at the party, which makes the chorus “Grab a drink, grab a glass, after that I grab your ass” hard to fathom.

 “Gone” has a nifty piano melody (and some cool interstitials very Brion-infused melodies) that plays under Cam’ron and Consequence’s raps.  The song is kind of a muddle (although a funny muddle) until Kanye comes in at around 4 and a half minutes.  I really like the way the album ends: with Kayne rapping “Sorry Mr West is gone” and the music completely cutting off.

The bonus tracks include the original of “Diamonds from Sierra Leone” and “We Can Make It Better” (which features Q-Tip, Talib Kweli, Common and Rhymefest). It’s an interesting track (especially the sped up backing vocals) but it seems like a bit of a throwaway (which is surprising given the number of guests).  “Late” is a unlisted bonus track which is very strange.  There’s lots of “ah ha ha has” in a posh sounding falsetto).  But there’s some witty lines in here, especially this verse:

They said the best classes go to the fastest
Sorry Mr. West there’s no good classes, and that’s what yo’ ass get
Not even electives? Not even prerequits?
You mean I missed my major by a couple of seconds?
Now I’m in the shop class or the basket weavin
With all the rest of the muh’fuckers underachievin

So Kayne is clever and stupid.  A great rapper and a not so great singer.  And amazing producer and a good song writer.  And this is as good an album as I’ve heard it was.

[READ: August 8, 2013] The Commitments

I have been reading a number of big, heavy books lately (which I have yet to post about…later in the week), so I decided to take a break with a light, fun book. And one that I’ve read before (and seen the movie of many times).  I looked on the inside cover where I wrote the date of acquisition (a thing I did for a while until I realized it was kind of silly, and yet I’m glad i did it here) October 1993, almost twenty years ago.

But aside from Jimmy playing songs on vinyl, there’s very little that’s dated about the album–which may even be the point of the book.

This is the story of a bunch of misfits in Ireland who join together to form a soul band.  The nucleus of the band is Jimmy Rabbitte, a local kid who lives and breathes music.  He had Frankie Goes to Hollywood before anyone else and he knew they were shit before anyone else.

Some of his mates have started a band (called hilariously And And! And) which plays new wave.  Jimmy tells them they should play soul instead.  He plays them some James Brown and they love it.  Which leads to the talk of music and sex.  And they are really into it.  And then there’s  the oft quoted line from the movie: “The Irish are the blacks of Europe. And Dubliners are the blacks of Ireland. And the Northside Dubliners are the blacks of Dublin. So say it once and say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud.”

And so they begin a quest to find the rest of the band.  Jimmy puts an ad in Hot Press (the Irish music magazine) and interviews everyone (some very funny jokes in there).  And the recruits form a crazy quilt of characters.  (more…)

Read Full Post »

songbookSOUNDTRACK: songs from Songbook (2002).

songbook2Songbook came with an 11 song CD.  I’m curious, given the way he speaks so lovingly of the songs in the book how come more bands/labels didn’t want to be included on it.  The proceeds went to charity and it would just be more exposure for the artists.  There were a lot of songs I didn’t know and would love to have heard (or would love to hear while I was reading).  And frankly I see no downside to throwing a track on a compilation which is a collection of someone’s favorite songs.  Of course, things were very different in the music world in 2002.  Now, someone will just make a playlist on their iPod of theses songs, and post them to Spotify.

PAUL WESTERBERG-“Born for Me.” I’m much more of a fan of Westerberg with the Replacements, as he got a little too polished as a solo guy.  But this song has a fun, shambolic quality to it (it doesn’t even sound like Westerberg singing).  It wouldn’t be a favorite song of mine, but it is a nice one.

TEENAGE FANCLUB “Your Love is the Place Where I Come From” and “Ain’t That Enough.”  I really like Teenage Fanclub a lot.  They are one of my favorite jangly pop bands.  So these two songs rank pretty high for me.  Although I admit to liking their slightly more rocking songs a bit more, “Your Love” is a very pretty ballad and “Ain’t That Enough” is just gorgeous.

THE BIBLE- “Glorybound” Hornby says he knew these guys.  It’s an okay song, a little too slick for me and very of its time.

AIMEE MANN-“I’ve Had It”  I like Aimee Mann very much.  I can’t say that I paid a ton of attention to the lyrics of this song (I didn’t know it was about touring) but I’ve always liked it—the understated yet beautiful melody and chorus are very nice.

RUFUS WAINWRIGHT-“One Man Guy” I like Rufus a lot.  I don’t own any of his music, but I really like everything I hear from him.  His delivery is so louche, it makes me smile every time.  This song is actually one his father wrote and sang many years ago (very differently).

ROD STEWART-“Mama You Been on My Mind” Hornby’s essay on Rod Stewart is hilarious.  And his defense of early Stewart is wholly believable.  I, of course, know Rod from his later, laughable stuff, so I never considered his early work  But this track is pretty good.

BADLY DRAWN BOY-“A Minor Incident” Sarah and I love Badly Drawn Boy, and this soundtrack in particular.  Hornby’s discussion of how he Damon got to do the soundtrack is very interesting.

BEN FOLDS FIVE-“Smoke” I’ve liked Ben for years now (going to see him in two weeks).  This song has always been a favorite both for the lyrics, which are great and because that weird harp-type sound is him playing the strings of his grand piano with a pick.

MARK MULCAHY-“Hey Self Defeater” I don’t know Mulcahy at all.  This song has a beautiful wavery guitar and gentle vocals (it’s funny to read about Hornby rocking out when most of this disc is quite mellow).

ANI DIFRANCO-“You Had Time” I was a huge Ani DiFranco fan back in the day, but this song is unknown to me, or should I say unfamiliar to me.  It’s on one of her very early albums.  Perhaps it’s more that I must have ignored the piano opening, which Hornby pays close attention to and really explains it in a useful way, showing how it is more about a beautiful melody being born from chaos.  And now I respect the song a lot more.

[READ: 2002 and July 1, 2013] Songbook

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve written this very book in my head….  A list of favorite songs and why they are so important to me?  How cool is that.  I have no idea how come Hornby got to write it (I know, High Fidelity), but still, what a nice cozy assignment.  And to have this book illustrated by Marcel Dzama is even cooler.

This book came out in 2002 after About a Boy (and in the year that About a Boy was being turned into a film).  Hornby had recently hooked up with the McSweeney’s gang and began writing for The Believer in 2003.

I had no idea that the book was released in the UK under a different name (31 Songs) or that they also released an accompanying CD (A Selection of Music from 31 Songs) with 18 songs on it (see my comment above about CDs).  Although we got fewer songs on the disc in the US, at least ours came with the book. (more…)

Read Full Post »

[ATTENDED: February, 20, 2012] Dan Zanes at State Theatre

President’s Day was Family Day in New Brunswick.  And despite the bitter cold, we had a nice time walking around, seeing the Philadelphia Zoo exhibit and, most of all, seeing Dan Zanes.

We have loved Dan Zanes since we were first introduced to him (like everyone else–as soon as we had kids).  I knew that Zanes was in the Del Fuegos, although (even though I lived in Boston for many years) I’d never heard them.  I have since listened to them but found them to be lacking, especially compared to Dan Zanes’ solo stuff.

So Dan Zanes has been releasing children’s albums for a number of years, now.  He has access to some pretty high-profile guests (his album Night Time features Aimee Mann, John Doe, Lou Reed and Dar Williams).  But even without the high-profile guests, the records are fun, warm and very inviting. (more…)

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »