notes - a music blog
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august 2008

I was definitely a Spencer Krug man on the first Wolf Parade album, Apologies to the Queen Mary, but I think I'm more partial to the Dan Boeckner tracks on the follow up, At Mount Zoomer. This record is taking longer to grow on me than the first one——"The Grey Estates" is the only song that grabs me immediately, and the overall vibe is less varied than on the debut disc. Plus, the vocals from each singer are less distinct from one another thanks to the heavy echo effect that gets used on pretty much every song.

This is still a band worth watching, but for me, this is a sophomore stumble somewhere between Arcade Fire's Neon Bible (good, but not as good as it could have been) and Tapes 'n Tapes' Walk It Off (a huge disappointment).

I spent about an hour and a half yesterday when I should have been working on my paper splitting the singled downloaded track for Paul Westerberg's 49:00 (which is actually only about 43 minutes long) into 23 tracks using breaks recommended by an obsessive fan who has been keeping a blog about the release. But I just had to get it out of my system; I like a lot of stuff on 49:00, but having to listen to it as one gigantic track was making me a little crazy.

If I were Weezer, I'd be a little afraid to let Tokyo Police Club open for me. Given the suckfest of the former's recent records and the ascending awesomeness of the latter, I predict many nights when the headliner gets blown off the stage and seals their fate as a band whose best days are clearly behind them. Seriously, how will they even play "The Greatest Man That Ever Lived" and not have everyone in the building feel a little bit less human afterwards?

This video makes me laugh and laugh. And the fact that I discovered it via a message board post from Frank Kozik makes it ten times as awesome. NSFW, by the way, although if you're listening to it on headphones, you'll be fine. Your coworkers might think you're a little odd for watching a TMNT video on YouTube, but otherwise no harm done.

Melvins' "The Kicking Machine" lives up to the awesomeness promised by its title. "The Savage Hippy", however, does not.

So Paul Westerberg's 49:00 disappeared from the sites that were selling it with no explanation and no notice, and in its place was a new song, "5:05" (the 49:00 album was actually 5:05 short of the length in the title). Speculation is that someone sent him a cease and desist because of the short covers of several well known songs that appeared in a medley towards the end of 49:00, but no one really knows for sure at this point.

I hope he manages to get it reposted, because it's a nice piece of work, and it would be a shame if the people who downloaded it in the first week or so are the only ones who get to hear it going forward. Hopefully at least a few of you snagged it before it disappeared; at 49 cents, you really had no excuse.

I still want to love you, Conor Oberst. But I'll be honest: I'm more excited about the Faint's new record than I am in your first official solo release (although let's get real for a moment: all the Bright Eyes records have been your solo releases, just like all the Cure records are really Robert Smith efforts, and all the Smashing Pumpkins albums are Billy Corgan releases). But I'm not completely jaded to you yet, so I'll be picking it up at some point. This might be your last chance to win me back, though.

The Fiery Furnaces are releasing a 51(!) track live album today called Remember, and while I'm still hanging on as a fan, I'm not sure I'm going to get this. Their live sets are wildly inventive and much different from the album versions of their songs, so it seems like it might be a good investment, but from the clips I've heard (I've listened to about half), a lot of them are of the let's-push-the-envelope-as-far-as-we-can variety, which is the side of their music that I've kind of lost interest in.

But there were some really intriguing takes, too, so we'll see. If the price of this double CD is only $15 or $16, I might have to grab it. If it's $20 or more, it's probably not worth it given the number of songs that will actually make it into my long-term rotation, and it might be better for me to just buy individual tracks on iTunes.

I am unexpectedly softening on R.E.M.'s Accelerate. I have no explanation for this.

But make no mistake: "I'm Gonna DJ" still sucks hard.

Hold Steady at the 9:30 tonight. If I'm able to go (some last minute stuff might interfere unfortunately), I'm hoping it will be an improvement over their show last fall, and also that it might help convince me that the new album is better than it seems to be so far.

I'll post a more in-depth review next week, but last night's Hold Steady show was a much more satisfying experience than the one we saw last fall. Craig Finn's histrionics were much more contained, and the weird sound issue with his vocals from the last show was absent this time. The only real disappointment was that they could have really nailed their ending, but once again they got caught up in an extended jam where Finn gave his joy speech and had members of the opening act take over instruments from the Hold Steady. But it was still a great show, and I think it's made me start to appreciate the new album more.

Picked up a bunch of stuff over the weekend: Conor Oberst's eponymous solo debut, the Faint's Fasciinatiion (no, my "i" key isn't broken), Wire's Object 47, the Charlatans' You Cross My Path, of Montreal's Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? and Sunlandic Twins (I've been waiting for the store to stock both of those for a while), and a used copy of Arab Strap's The Red Thread.

For the first time I can remember, all of the new CDs were in Digipaks or paper-only packaging, so I didn't have to deal with the nastiness of trying to scrape the supersticky (and stupidly redundant) seals off the top of the jewel cases. I'm not sure if this is a general trend or if this is just a reflection of the preferences of the smaller labels that these bands are signed to (my last set of purchases had three jewel cases and three Digipaks), but they are so much easier to deal with (and I assume they are better for the environment, because they use a lot less plastic, and they plastic that the newer ones are made from is recyclable) that I hope this is part of a broader movement away from jewel cases.

I've been playing around with as a way to show my most recently listened to tracks on my blogs, and while they offer lots of widgets and a way to design custom charts, I really wished they just offered a basic feed like Twitter does so I could fit it into the space I have available and customize the appearance with CSS. Maybe there is something like that and I just haven't found it yet——I've really only been looking at the site for an hour or two——but if it does exist, it's not very obvious where to find it.

I was really getting into of Montreal, who I've long suspected I would fall for hard if I ever bought one of their records, when the track "Wraith Pinned To The Mist (And Other Games)" came on, sounding weirdly familiar. A few seconds of slowly unfolding horror and a quick google search later, and it was confirmed: this was the song that was repurposed for an Outback Steakhouse ad, with new lyrics imploring listeners to "go outback tonight."

It's not a bad song, but I'll never be able to hear it without thinking of those stupid commericals, and yeah, I know they're not the first indie band to sell their music for a commercial, but of Montreal went a step further, recording new lyrics specifically to shill a product. I know we're not allowed to cry sellout anymore, because so many good bands have jumped on the advertising bandwagon, but man, I'm this close to just deleting the track, because I was still in that warm sundappled haze of falling in love with a new band when the realization of what this song had become hit me like a blow to the head with a crowbar.

This song may have otherwise been rated a 3 or possibly even a 4, but I think I'm going to have to slap a 2 on it just to make sure it never shows up in my highest-rated playlists after I take it out of the recent acquisitions playlist.

Conor Oberst's solo outing isn't up to the standards of his best Bright Eyes material, but it's definately better than his last couple of releases, especially the limp Cassadaga. He can still be overly earnest about Big Issues, but this disc feels looser and more adventurous than the self-important Cassadaga, although there's still a serious folkie bent. Bright Eyes was at its best when Conor played around with laptop electronica, and his only disc dedicated to that style, Digital Ash in a Digital Urn (which was a companion piece to his first full-fledged folk album, I'm Wide Awake It's Morning), is still one of my favorites.

A little of those influences and more electric guitar would have made Conor Oberst a stronger record, but there's enough forward movement here that I'm not ready to give up on him yet.

"Fulcrum and Lever", from the Faint's new Fasciinatiion, is a weird little song that has singer Todd Baechle recounting a childhood incident where he broke a bone after attempting to fly. It's as keyboard-heavy and influenced by new wave as anything in they've done, but it's definitely not meant for the dancefloor; it's just this strange little abstract thing. But it's fast becoming one of my favorite entries in their catalog.

The most recent Hold Steady show at the 9:30 Club in DC was definitely improvement over the last one. Granted, the opening act (the Loved Ones) didn't hold a candle to last year's openers, Art Brut, but as for the Hold Steady set itself, it was hands down a stronger performance.

One major improvement was a serious reduction in Craig Finn's stage histrionics, which make one of the coolest lyricists in rock seem kind of like a dork. The kids don't seem to mind it as much as I do——many of them were emulating his spastic hand motions——but it sure does take away from my ability to worship him as a rock god. He was a lot calmer when he actually had a guitar part to play, and that seemed to happen on about three quarters of the songs, so he was contained most of the time.

The band was incredible, as usual, although the keyboardist (who I've nicknamed Mr. Moustache) seemed to be taking up Finn's slack in the stage antics department, and since he was right up front, he was pretty hard to ignore. They played a great setlist, including three new songs ("You Gotta Dance (With Who You Came to Dance With)", "Curves and Nerves", and "Girls Like Status"), all of which sounded pretty good (and if I remember right, Finn said that performance was the first successful public debut of "Curves and Nerves").

As with Art Brut last time, the 9:30 show was their last show with openers the Loved Ones, and they pulled the same trick where members of the Loved Ones came out on stage at the end of the set to share microphones and take over instruments from the Hold Steady. To what end I'm not sure; I just know I've got to stop seeing them on their last night with their current openers so I can see if this only happens at the end or if they do it every night (I'm pretty sure it will happen every night on their upcoming tour with Drive-By Truckers, with whom they will alternate headling and opening slots for the duration of the tour, so that one won't count as a real test).

One small disappointment: they could have absolutely nailed their encore if they had stopped with "Southtown Girls"; they ended that track with a drawn out descent into chaos, and all they had to do was drop their instruments next to the monitors to keep the feedback going while they left the stage and it would have absolutely been a blow out closer. But no, they lingered and faded into "Killer Parties", which became the background noise for what I've come to call Finn's "joy speech", where he talks about how much they love living the life of rock stars adored by their fan base. It's not that Finn is insincere, and if I were a different person I might find it kind of endearing, but it's a little too upfront for me. I need a little more mystery from my idols.

They almost made up for this misstep by coming back to play an honest to god encore——not one of those planned deals (that's what they gave us after their little shared moment with the Loved Ones at the end of their first continuous block of songs), but an old school encore. After "Killer Parties", the stage lights went up, someone else's record started playing over the speakers, and it was clear that as far as the band and the club were concerned, the show was over. But no one left; the audience stayed for several minutes more, chanting and demanding another song, and eventually the band complied, giving us one of their strongest tracks, "How a Resurrecton Really Feels", to put a period on the show.

The Hold Steady are so close to being one of the best live experiences in rock despite their still making rookie mistakes, but this show restored my faith in the band as a touring entity, and I'm not going to think twice about getting tickets next time they're in town. The kids fucking love them no matter what, and when they're not doing the little things wrong, they are flat out amazing.

Still figuring out exactly how I want to integrate my feed into either this site or my main blog, but in the meantime, here's a link to my recently played tracks RSS feed. I don't use the streaming service, so all of these tracks are from my own personal collection, and while the plays on my iPhone eventually make their way onto the list, it's not in real time, it's only after I sync my iPhones at night. So most of the time you'll see what I was listening to the night before or what I was listening to at work yesterday. But it's a start.

Wire's latest, Object 47, is solid, but less impressive than I'd hoped. But the opening track, "One of Us", is one of the best things they've recorded in a long while. If there was any prayer of them having a single that could make the charts at this point in their careers and in the scorched earth environment of the current commercial music landscape, this would be it.

8.28.08 is scrobbling some of the songs I listen to twice. And I also can't reliably get it to scrobble the stuff I've been listening to on my iPhone/iPod. I know no one else cares about this, but it's driving me pretty crazy.

My wife wants to go to the Maryland state fair this weekend, and I'm trying to psych myself up for it by thinking of the Breeders' "Saints". Kim Deal just makes going to the fair sound like so much fucking fun. But maybe it was if you grew up in Ohio.