Saturday, December 17, 2005

Merry Xmas

Shane MacGowan is perhaps the most romantic drunken Irish bard of the past 25 years. Therefore, it seems fitting that he crafted the most romantic drunken Christmas song of all time. "It was Christmas eve babe, in the drunk tank," begins The Pogues' morosely upbeat and dysfunctional holiday classic about the elusiveness of the American dream. Coupled with a frosty pint of Guinness, this duet with the late Kirsty MacColl makes for some truly sublime Yuletide listening.

Download here.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Read Me

Words and Music: A History of Pop in the Shape of a City
by Paul Morley

This book first came to my attention when I was studying abroad in England two years ago. I took a video documentary class that was taught by Carol Morley. She is Paul Morley's brother. Paul Morley wrote for the NME in the late 70s and early 80s. Let's just say he's a beloved music critic. Anyway, before I left, she recommended this book to me. It had just been released and was not widely available, so I had trouble finding it in London. I went home and forgot about it for about a year and a half. When my Joy Division/New Order addiction kicked in this year, I came across some of Paul Morley's writing on the bands. I then saw a reference to the book and I had to find it. It's hard to find in stores, but Amazon has it.

On the surface, the book is about Kylie Minogue's "Can't Get You Out of My Head" and a 45-minute experimental audio piece by Alvin Lucier called "I Am Sitting In a Room". But it also mentions just about every band you've ever heard of and hundreds more you haven't. It's about pop music. From new wave to hip-hop. And just about everything else.

It took me a very long time to read this book and that is my fault, not the book's. Every time a new band/song was mentioned that I wasn't familiar with, I would stop reading to download and listen. I don't think it's necessary to have that knowledge or to have heard most of these songs to read and enjoy the book. It's not about knowing what the songs sound like. He does a good job of explaining when it's required, but obviously there are certain things you will want to hear if you haven't already. What works so well about the book, I think, is that even if you don't care THAT much about music, the book is still exciting and fun to read. As much as you'll learn, you'll be even more entertained. The book just steamrolls forward until it stops. I feel like I can't really tell you what else this book is about. What I do know is that my knowledge of music has increased by one thousand percent due to reading it.

If I took anything from the book, it's that I now have a much greater appreciation of electronic and other experimental music because of it. Specifically the ambient works of Brian Eno.

This is what the back cover of the book says:
"Has pop burnt itself out? Paul Morley takes the reader on an epic drive through the history of music to find out. A succession of celebrities, geniuses and other protagonists led by Madonna, Kraftwerk, Brian Eno, Erik Satie, John Cage and Wittgenstein appear to give their points of view. Detours and sights along the way include Missy Elliot, Jarvis Cocker, Eminem, Human League, Radiohead, Lou Reed, Now! That's What I Call Music, Ornette Coleman and the ghost of Elvis Presley."

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The Ricky Gervais Show (Podcast)

I never knew much about podcasts until recently. I mean, I knew what they were, but never understood why I would have use for them or even want to listen to them. Basically, they are just radio shows that you can download for free (and some very easily through iTunes). I never actually listen to the real radio, but there are some radio shows that interest me. So this is a good way to hear them. I've also found they're great to listen to while you're at work, or even on your commute in the morning/evening. You can listen to them on your computer or on your iPod.

Ricky Gervais is one of the creators of The Office (the original UK version), as well as Extras, which just completed its first run on HBO. He also plays the main character in both series. Who doesn't love (or hate) David Brent?

At any rate, he's launched a podcast, available for free on the iTunes music store, along with Steven Merchant, who co-wrote the above shows with Gervais. There have been two so far in a series of twelve, and each installment is about 30 minutes. They pretend to talk about topical issues, but get sidetracked very easily, and often at the expense of the third guest, Karl Pilkington, who, well, let's just say he isn't the swiftest of mind.

Super hilarious, A++++

Download them here, free!

I Know the Government Administered AIDS

Music Video

Artist: Kanye West
Song: Heard 'Em Say
Album: Late Registration
Director: Michel Gondry

See it here.

I'm not really sure why music videos are even made these days. MTV hardly plays them, and if they do, it's rarely in their entirety. I understand why big name artists can do it, because their labels will pay for it, but I'm often surprised to see indie artists doing it. Seems like a waste of money. They do make nice promotional pieces, though.

Well, people like Kanye West can make videos. And they can probably have their choice of directors. Michel Gondry is one of the best and one of my favorites. He uses a lot of camera tricks and stop-motion photography. He did the White Stripes video for "The Hardest Button to Button" (the one with all the drums moving around). He also directed Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

The concept for the video is this: Homeless Kanye and his children are let into Macy's* on a cold, rainy night. The person who lets them in is a Macy's security guard, played by Adam Levine, who sings the chorus on the song. They live it up in the store overnight, and a wonderful time was had by all. Gondry uses lots of stop motion. One of my favorite moments features Late Registration-producer Jon Brion playing a series of miniature pianos. Another cool shot is of the children jumping on beds that are laid out to look like piano keys. (Pictured above and below, respectively.)

The look and feel of the video is not only warm and, well, nice, but it's also very Christmas-y. That's strange to me, because I associate this song with when I first heard the album in August. In my head, it's a fun summer song, so it's interesting to see it infused with the feel of Christmastime.

*Kanye, being from Chicago, should know better than to use Macy's, what with them buying up Marshall Field's and changing the name.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Album of the Week (12.11.05)

Artist: Love Is All

Nine Times That Same Song

This album won't be available until next month, and I already know damn well that it's going to make my "best albums of the year" list at the end of 2006. Love Is All bravely splice the exuberant twee melodicism of Architecture in Helsinki with the gutter-punk majesty of the Stooges and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

Much to my surprise, they also make exceptional use of the saxophone - in a free-form skronking way that seamlessly blends in with the guitars, bass, and drums (think the Stooges' "Fun House"). Nine Times That Same Song is consistently concerned with the universal joys and pitfalls of love. Thankfully, Love Is All is smart enough to write sincere songs that avoid love-song cliches by presenting their ideas as a dizzying rush of make-out sessions, broken hearts, crushes, moping around, and orgasms.

Personal favorites: "Make Out Fall Out Make Up" and "Busy Doing Nothing"

We've Grown!

In celebration of being online for one week, I decided we needed our own web address.

Turns out that web addresses cost $3/year (THREE DOLLARS PER YEAR) through Yahoo!, so I decided to break the bank and snatch that shit up.

Adjust your bookmarks accordingly.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Misc. Monday Song (12.12.05)

Artist: The Streets
Song: Stay Positive (6:15)
Album: Original Pirate Material

Download here.

Briefly: The Streets is Mike Skinner. He's a British rapper, but I don't really want to call him that. It's not really "grime" either. It's "garage" (rhymes with carriage), I suppose. But really it's just mostly spoken word story-poems with beats and samples.

Why?: "Stay Positive" is the last song on the first Streets album, Original Pirate Material. It's probably my favorite album closer of all time. To be sure, the album has upbeat moments, but it grows heavier as it rolls forward and it ends on this faux-uplifting track that is the defintion of bleak. Skinner's dry, often monotone (and in some ways robotic) delivery has never been more perfect. The song just trudges forward with a message should be uplifting, but it's so dak and descript that it makes you even feel bad about yourself. It also manages to perfectly explain how heroin addiction can strike: "Weed becomes a chore/ You want the buzz back/ So you follows the others on to smack". This is Trainspotting in this decade. If that movie were to come out now, I couldn't think of a more perfect person to dominate the soundtrack than Mike Skinner. After his vocals drop out at the end of "Stay Positive", it slowly unravels until it fades out. But before the end, the heavy bass picks back up and it sounds like another chapter is going to begin, but it never does-- the album is over. The second Streets ablum, A Grand Don't Come For Free, has a closer ("Empty Cans") that's almost, but not quite, as good as "Stay Positive". Skinner sure knows how to end an album.

Further listening:
A Grand Don't Come For Free by The Streets ("Fit But You Know It", "Dry Your Eyes")

Cos this world swallows souls
And when the blues unfold
It gets cold, silence burns holes
You're going mad
Perhaps you always were
But when things was good you just didn't care
This is called irony
When you most need to get up you got no energy
Time and time shit'll happen
The dark shit's unwrapping
But no one's listening, your mates are laughing
Your brethren's fucking and then you start hating
Your stomach starts churning and you mind starts turning
So smoke another draw
It won't matter no more, but the next day still feels sore
Rain taps on your window
Always did though but you didn't hear it when things were so-so
You're on your own now, your little zone
Yyou were born alone and believe me you'll die alone
Weed becomes a chore
You want the buzz back
So you follow the others onto smack

Just trying to stay positive (x4)

Feels nice and still
Good thing about brown is it always will
It's easy, no one blames you
It's that world out there that's fucked you
You know less of a person and if God exists
He still loves you
Just remember that- the more you sink the further back from that brink
Maybe you've lifetime scars and you think tattoos might be more fitting
But who's picking?
Searching for yourself you find demons
Try and be a freeman and grasp that talisman
Cos you're the same as I am
We all need our fellow man
We all need our samaritan
Maybe I'm better looking than you tho
Maybe I've got more dough- but am I happier? No
Get the love of a good girl and your world will be much richer than my world
And your happyness will uncurl

Just trying to stay positive (x4)

Stop dreaming
People who say that are blaspheming
They're doing nine to five and moaning
And they don't want you succeeding when they've blown it
And your idols- who are they?
They too dreamt about their day
Positive steps will see your goals
Whether it's dollars or control, feel the gold
I ain't helping you climb the ladder
I'm busy climbing mine
That's how it's been since the dawn of time
If you reach a cul-de-sac
The world turns it's back
This is your zone, it's like blackjack
He might get the ace or the top one
So organise your two's and three's into a run then you'll have fucked him son
And for that you'll be the better one
One last thing before you go though
When you feel better tommorow you'll be a hero
But never forget today. you could be back here
Things can stray
What if you see me in that window?
You won't help me I know
That's cool, just keep walking where you go
Carry on through the estate, stare at the geezers so they know you ain't lightweight
And go see your mates
And when they don't look happy
Play them this tape

Just trying to stay positive (x4)

I hope you understand me
Just trying to stay positive
I ain't no preaching fucker and I ain't no do-goody-goody either
This is about when shit goes pear-shaped
And if you aren't or never have been at rock bottom
Then good luck to you in the big wide world
But remember that one day shit might just start crumbling
Your bird might fuck off or you might loose your job
It's when that happens that what I'm talking about will feel
much more important to you
So if you aint feeling it, just be thankful that everything's cool in your world
Respect to BC

Just trying to stay positive (x4)

Ben's Top 5 Live in 05

Coincidentally, I was already gearing up to make this list before I saw Rob did his. Like Rob, I saw a shitload of shows this year, and I also attended a majority of them with Rob. Without further ado, my list:

1. The Arcade Fire w/ Wolf Parade (Riviera, Chicago, Sept. 28)
I had already seen the Arcade Fire twice the year before (at the Logan Square Auditorium on Thanksgiving, and, then, at the Empty Bottle the following night). I honestly believed that seeing Arcade Fire at the Riviera could not beat the intimacy and power of their show in a tiny club with a couple hundred fans. Against all odds, the Riviera show blew my fucking mind (and topped the previous two shows). The band (now 9 people strong) was playing like a telepathically linked unit erupting with unhinged intensity and emotion. To make it even better, they began the show by covering Bob Dylan's "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" (which quickly segued into "Wake Up" after a few verses) and then covered David Bowie's "Five Years" about halfway through the set.
I was also dying to see how Wolf Parade would turn out live. I had been enamored with them for most of the year and having both theses bands on the same bill had me in a childlike state of euphoria. Wolf Parade came out blazing with "Dear Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts" andleft me gasping for the next 40 mins. Christ, I can't even articulate how immensely exciting it was hearing "This Heart's On Fire" and "I'll Believe in Anything" back to back.

2. Sleater-Kinney (3 shows)
I was lucky enough to see Sleater-Kinney three times this year - twice in Chicago, and once in Knoxville, TN (the home of my alma mater). It's hard for me to pick a favorite of the three shows, but I might just lean towards the Knoxville show. It was a free, outdoor show and they played like they had to convert every single person in a 10 block radius; and, I got to see the show with my girlfriend and younger brother. I have been a fiercely loyal fan of theirs since I discovered Dig Me Out when I was 17, but I had not been able to see them live until this year. Fortunately, they also chose to release the best album of their already stellar career this year. All three shows drew heavily from The Woods and the older songs they played were sort of given a "Woods" makeover - louder, fuzzier, and more powerful than their studio versions. I can not overstate how jaw-droppingly awe-inspiring Corin Tucker is live. I could write volumes on how powerful and commanding her voice is - whether she is howling "The Fox" or cooing "Little Babies," Corin is a force of nature. The union of Corin and Carrie Brownstein's magnificent guitar duels and Janet Weiss's torrential drum fills is a thing of legend.

3. Sigur Ros (Chicago Theatre, Chicago, September 21)
I had already been swept away by Sigur Ros once before on their previous tour, but this show was even better. The stage setup and lighting just magnified how transcendental their songs can be. Now that Sigur Ros have been around for half a decade, I almost feel that any gushing, hyperbolic, adjective-filled review would just be redundant and cliche. So, I will just say that hearing the climax of "Viðrar vel til loftárása" (Track 7 on Ágætis Byrjun) live while having my vision completely consumed by a continuous wash of white light was one of the most emotional musical experiences I've ever had in my life.

4. Built To Spill (Metro, Chicago, May 7 and 8)
My situation with Built To Spill is much like the one with Sleater-Kinney - diehard fan since high school, but, just never saw them perform live -well, I did see them play two years ago, but, it was such a short, lackluster show that I prefer to forget about it. Thankfully, these two nights at the Metro restored my faith in Doug Martsch. The band (now augmented by the additional guitar talents of Jim Roth and Brett Netson) played with renewed passion and vigor, and the setlist was incontestable. When the band tore into their epics, "Virginia Reel Around The Fountain", "Velvet Waltz", and "Stab", the three guitars locked into a glorious rhapsody that, to this day, has very few peers. And Built To spill is still the best indie rock jam-band since Television.

5. Animal Collective (Empty Bottle, Chicago, April 27)
I went into this show expecting the worst, but, I was completely elated the entire show. I was also fortunate enough to have heard some of the new material the band had been playing on this tour. Animal Collective live is a completely different beast than Animal Collective in the studio. There were no breaks between songs, just segues in and out of songs. At all times, the band was whimsical, feral, and utterly mesmerizing. God, I have never been so unashamed of dancing and singing (or hollering in the case of "We Tigers" and the second half of "Kids on Holiday") at a concert. Hearing the sprawling tribal stomp of "The Purple Bottle" put the forthcoming Feelsat the top of my most wanted new albums list.

5 more honorable mentions:

6) Sufjan Stevens
7) Kraftwerk
8) Modest Mouse
9) Architecture in Helsinki
10) Bob Dylan (the performance itself was disheartening, but, still, I finally got to see Bobby)

Rob's Top 5 Live in 05

I went to a shitload of concerts this year. And I opted for a lot more than normal because I could get in for free most of the time. That's the perk I miss about working at Pitchfork. Although it still pays off from time to time. Here are the five shows I enjoyed the most:

1. Intonation Music Festival
Union Park - Chicago, IL
July 16-17

For me, this is a no-brainer. Considering it was essentially put together by Pitchfork, I felt I was a big part of this. I didn't necessarily do that much for it myself, I knew and/or met a lot of people there, and walked around like I owned the place. Maybe the best part was hanging out backstage with free beer and sandwiches for two days-- the awesomeness of that can't be denied. But for the most part, the performances were great as well. The highlight was on day one, with the Go! Team. This was the first set that really seemed to get the 15,000+ strong crowd moving and really into it. At the end, they brought up all these little kids (all black) that were hanging out at the pool next to the park, and they danced their little behinds off. Great, great moment. Other standout spots included Les Savy Fav, Out Hud, the Hold Steady, and the Decemberists.

2. Animal Collective
Empty Bottle - Chicago, IL
April 27

I'd been hearing that the Animal Collective live show was crazy and super experimental. I thought it might be too jammy or weird for me, which would be odd, given that I like their weird albums. So I was setting myself up for disappointment. And boy, was I wrong. This show was unbelievable, and I can't really explain why. For one, the energy-- I don't know how they kept it at such a high level for so long. I mean, I was pretty drunk, but not at a point where it really affected how I felt about it. I would have enjoyed it sober. They played mostly songs from their most recent album, Feels, which at that point hadn't been released. But they were great. I think part of it is that I like that album more than the one before it, Sung Tongs.

3. LCD Soundsystem & M.I.A.
Metro - Chicago, IL
May 19

What a fantastic pairing. Also, I was drunk (this seems to be a recurring theme) and rocking out pretty fucking hard. M.I.A. was pretty good, but not outstanding. Still, I like the music so much that it didn't matter. I hear her live show has improved, which is good. But she herself was very energetic, which was great. LCD played next, and rocked my shit off. I knew it would be awesome but not as awesome as it was. "Losing My Edge" was great and "Yeah" blew my mind. This is a band you have to see if you can.

4. Sigur Ros
Chicago Theatre - Chicago, IL
September 21

Every bit as mindblowing as everyone says they are. I'm glad they played in such a big, majestic venue because their sound is so epic that it would requires such a space. I had no idea how they made some of those sounds on the album, and I still don't really know. One discovery was that he saws the guitar with a bow. But his voice! And the drums! Huge. I wasn't stoned and didn't need to be.

5. Art Brut
Schuba's - Chicago, IL
November 15

Because these songs are so hilarious, the show was naturally really fun(ny). Lead singer Eddie Argos has a fantastic stage presence, and his banter was some of the best I've ever seen. I loved how he kept referring to the rest of the band as "Art Brut". "Come on, Art Brut, are you ready for the next song?" Hilarious.

Five more (in no particular order):

Kraftwerk (Riviera, Chicago, June 4)
Read more about this below, but this was a great experience.

Sufjan Stevens (Metro, Chicago, Sept. 16)
This was a really nice performance, and since the album is called Illinois it was kind of like a homecoming show. With cheerleaders.

The Walkmen (Schuba's, Chicago, July 23)
So fucking loud and so fucking great. They played "The Rat" second, which I would argue takes balls.

The White Stripes (Auditorium Theatre, Chicago, August 29)
I'd actually never seen them before, and turns out they put on a damn good show. Plus, who knew Meg was so cute?

The Arcade Fire & Wolf Parade (Riviera, Chicago, Sept. 28)
I'd seen the Arcade Fire with a few thousand fewer people (Empty Bottle, Nov. '04) and about 30,000 more (Lollapalooza, July '04), so nothing was really new about this to me. I was more interested in Wolf Parade. Still, the show was good, and ended with the Arcade Fire walking out to the lobby and playing an acoustic version of David Bowie's "Queen Bitch". The band sounded better than a year ago, but something was missing for me.