10.11.16 Regina Spektor's new album Remember Us to Life came out last week, and I've been absorbing it for the past couple of days. Her last album, What We Saw from the Cheap Seats, was the first album of hers that I listened to after I picked it up when it was on sale for $5 at Amazon. It took a little while to grow on me, but eventually it charmed its way into my heart, especially with "Don't Leave Me", which has become one of my favorite songs over the past year.
This record seems a little more adventurous——there's still plenty of the stuff that she's known for, the piano-heavy tracks that border on the overly melodramatic even if you love her, but she has a few, like "Bleeding Heart", "Small Bill$", and "Tornadoland" that incorporate electronic instruments and veer off into unexpected directions.
I doubt this record is going to change anyone's mind about Regina Spektor——you've either discovered her or you haven't, and you likely either love her or really don't care for her if you have gotten to know her even a little bit——but for fans, it's another solid entry in the catalog that gives a few twists to her now-established formula. There's nothing on here I love quite as much as "Don't Leave Me" or "Patron Saint", but I'm enjoying this record as a whole object despite the lack of individual songs that make me swoon.
Can I make a running playlist from the Smiths, New Order, Depeche Mode, Duran Duran, OMD, the Cars, and other 80s favorites? I'm not sure, but I'm getting bored enough with my current rotation that I might give a playlist like that a serious try.
10.13.16 Amber Coffman used to be one of the vocalists and the lead guitarist for Dirty Projectors, but she left the band when she left her partner, Dirty Projectors frontman David Longstreth. Longstreth is still releasing music under the Dirty Projectors moniker, and he shared a new song from the upcoming first album without Coffman last month, and now Coffman has announced her own solo album, City of No Reply, and shared a song from that record called "All to Myself":
There are definitely elements of the sound and style of Dirty Projectors here, but overall it's much more subdued and, well, simple, than most Dirty Projectors songs. I like it——it reminds me of when Eleanor Friedberger started making solo records instead of recording music with her musically complicated brother as Fiery Furnaces——but frankly, it only needed to be about three minutes long, and it's nearly twice that.
I'm highly likely to pick up this record, but I sitll want to hear more from it before making that commitment. The lack of editorial self-awareness troubles me——an album of great songs that all go on for way too long will not be a great album, and I need to see if this is an aberration or if this is representative of the rest of the record.
10.14.16 Cloud Nothings have announced a new album, Life Without Sound, and shared a track called "Modern Act":
I loved Cloud Nothings' first two releases, but after that they got a lot darker and seemed more interested in showing off their musical chops than writing the hook-laden tracks that made me fall in love with them in the first place. Even a collaborative record with Wavves didn't bring them all the way back to the things I loved most about them, although I did like their next record pretty well.
This song seems to indicate that the needle is moving a little bit closer to what I'd like to hear, but it's still a litle too midtempo for me——my guess is that if they played this at the warp speed of their early work, this would have come in a lot closer to three minutes, which is probably the outer limit for the ideal length of this one.
I'm still excited for this record——there are always at least a couple of great songs on their albums, and I'm eternally hopeful that bands who have made a record I love can make that magic happen again even if it's been a while since they've done it.
Today is the thirteenth anniversary of this site, and I find myself seriously questioning whether it's tenable as its own entity given my struggles with posting content in a timely manner. It might be time to think hard about incorporating my posts about music back into my main blog and giving up on maintaining two blogs at the same time——I just don't have the time to keep up with this stuff the way I did a decade and a half ago when I began blogging.
But that won't happen today, or this month, or anytime the rest of this year. But maybe if I'm not back on track by the start of 2017...
Last Tuesday night I went to Center Stage to see one of the best but oddest double bills in my life: punk stalwarts Gang of Four opening for 80s goth-dance revivalists the Faint.
Where The Nightingale Sings
Not Great Men
I Parade Myself
Isle of Dogs
Natural's Not In It
At Home He's A Tourist
To Hell With Poverty
This is a band that knows where its bread is buttered: more than half the setlist is from their seminal album Entertainment! (not coincidentally, the only record I own from them so far), while only two were written this century, coming from their most recent album where the only original member was guitarist Andy Gill.
What surprised me about this show was how urgent and alive this music and the people playing it managed to sound. I don't know what the original vocalist looked like, but the young guy they had in his place did a pretty good job mimicking his voice on the older tracks, and was also able to take them off into some other directions on the more recent tracks, which seem influenced more by bands like mid-period Depeche Mode and, well, the Faint.
But it was a great set overall, and reminded me more viscerally of what I had already gleaned from Entertainment!: Gang of Four were the punk band who best understood how to use the bass guitar as a muscular primary instrument. This idea is still so underused that it still feels vital and new even though the guy playing the instrument for this version of the band probably wasn't even born when the songs were originally recorded.
I'd love to see this band as headliners and see where a full set would take them——as much as I loved hearing all of the Entertainment! tracks, their lesser known stuff was pretty fun to listen to as well, and it was definitely better live than when I went back after the show to listen to the recorded versions.
It's been quite a season for concerts this fall, with more coming up soon. A week after I saw Gang of Four and the Faint, I went to see Echo & the Bunnymen at the newly renovated Variety Playhouse. Here's the setlist:
Do It Clean
All That Jazz
Bedbugs and Ballyhoo
All My Colours (Zimbo)
Over the Wall
Bring On the Dancing Horses
The Killing Moon
Nothing Lasts Forever
Lips Like Sugar
I last saw this band (which only has two remaining original members, although they are the most important roles——the guitarist and the singer) back in 2011, and as with that show, this one was raucous and robust despite the two main band members being in their 50s (early 50s then, late 50s now).
Even though they released a new album
in 2014, they knew what people were coming to see them play, and they stuck to the oldies. It was nice to see a lot of young people in the audience who seemed to know the lyrics just as well as I did when I was their age, although it's a mystery to me how they're disocvering bands like this.
The overall demographic, however, skewed much more towards my age group, and as with other concerts I've been to where the artist is of a similar vintage, I found myself not believing there was any way these people could have been listening to Echo & the Bunnymen when they were in high school like I did. It was an assortment of cool kids and jocks, with only a few that looked like they could have ever been bookish introverts whose fondest memory of high school was graduating and moving on to college far away from home. But they were all at the show just like I was, so...
I had never seen the Faint live, so I wasn't sure how well they'd pull of their sound in a concert setting, but boy did they nail it. Despite the sparse attendance at the show (it was a Tuesday night at a downtown venue that doesn't host a lot of indie rock bands), they put a lot of energy into the performance, and the light show was the best I've ever seen on a medium-sized stage (and one of the best I've ever seen——the only one that immediately leaps to mind as being better was Radiohead'sIn Rainbows tour).
They weren't touring behind a release of new material, but rather a greatest hits collection that spans their career and includes a couple of previously unreleased tracks. Here's the setlist:
Southern Belles in London Sing
Take Me to the Hospital
The Geeks Were Right
Your Retro Career Melted
Worked Up So Sexual
Posed to Death
Dropkick the Punks
Young & Realistic
Let the Poison Spill From Your Throat
I thought opening with "Southern Belles" might have been a nod to the location (the specifically mention Georgia), but it looks like they ran pretty much this exact setlist for the entire tour (maybe because of the complexity of the lighting design——I talked to the lighting guy afterwards and he said it took him and the drummer several weeks to program it).
It's a pretty good selection of songs, but there were two that are special favorite of mine that they didn't play——"Machine in the Ghost" and "Fulcrum and Lever"——but for some reason the record they are from, Fasciinatiion, isn't well loved even by other fans of the band (they only played a single track from it). It happens to be my favorite release from them behind their almost-univerally-acknowledged best record, Danse Macabre, but a lot of folks didn't appreciate it like I do.
I would love to see them in a smaller venue with a bigger crowd——if they could actually get a room full of people dancing along to their manic energy, it would take the performance up another level. But it was also great to see that they didn't tone it down just because they didn't have a huge crowd, and there were a lot of people like me who were focused and listening but not into the dancing thing. Great show, especially when coupled with Gang of Four opening——I'd see either of these bands again in a heartbeat.
I've now seen Echo & the Bunnymen three times in my life: once in 1987 when they were touring in support of their eponymous fifth album, once in 2011 on the tour where they played their first two albums, Crocodiles and Heaven Up Here, in their entirety, and again earlier this month. And despite that, I've never heard them play a song written earlier than 1997, and that was only a single song (the same song in 2011 and 2016, "Nothing Lasts Forever" from Evergreen); all of the other songs were written in 1987 or earlier.
For the first show that makes complete sense: they hadn't written any of the songs they'd write after 1987. And even in the 2011 show this makes some sense, because the tour was intentionally staged to played Crocodiles and Heaven Up Here straight through in the same sequence that they were on the albums, so it would stand to reason that the encore would come from that same period.
But this most recent show wasn't billed as a "play the oldies" tour, and since they have now released more albums since their split and reformation (singer Ian McCulloch left the band in 1988 and Will Sergeant released an Echo & the Bunnymen album with a new vocalist before reuniting with McCulloch for 1997's Evergreen)——five albums prior to the split and six with McCulloch after the 1997 restart——so you'd think they'd find more than one song out of those six albums that was worth playing live.
Don't get me wrong——I loved that setlist. But it's weird for a band to still think it's worthwhile to record and release new records so obviously admit through their setlists that they really haven't written anything decent in the last thirty years.
10.24.16 Allison Crutchfield, who sang and played guitar for Swearin' but who I know mostly because she's the twin sister of Waxahatchee'sKatie Crutchfield (she's mentioned by name in a song on Waxahatchee's debut, and I've also seen her tour with her sister), has announced a solo album called Tourist in This Town and shared a track called "Dean's Room":
I have to admit, I was mostly interested in hearing this to see if it might be Waxahatchee lite and help tide me over until Katie decides to release a new album (please god don't make me wait another year), and while it has some of the same charm that makes me love Waxahatchee, musically it's pretty different, like a too-cool-for-school version of the Go-Gos. Nothing would make me happier than to fall in love with Allison's music as much as I have Katie's, and this track gives me some hope that this is at least a possibility.
10.31.16 James Mercer, frontman for the Shins, recently announced that the band will release a new album in 2017, and shared a song that will presumably be part of that release called "Dead Alive":
Depsite the long layoff and investment in his Broken Bells side project, Mercer hasn't forgotten how to write a Shins song——the production style and songwriting here might be the closest thing to the songs on their 2001 debut, Oh, Inverted World that they've done since that record was released, but there are also elements of the new that make it more than just a revisiting of that sound.
The Shins haven't produced a bad record yet, although I've liked each release slightly less than the one before it, and if this song is any indication, they're likely to keep that streak intact, amd maybe even turn the tide with a record that I'll like a little bit more than their last one, 2012's Port of Morrow.