Monthly Archives: October 2009

On the Turntable

what spins

what spins

A list of what I want to hear this week:

Smog vs. Stars–The Glass (Hibernation)

Titan–Les Savy Fav (Cat and the Cobra)

100%–Sonic Youth (Live at Battery Park)

Don’t Take Your Guns To Town–Johnny Cash (Love God Murder)

Lust For Life–Girls (Album)

AT & T–Pavement (Wowee Zowee)

Shoot The Singer–Pavement (Watery Domestic EP)

Written In The Snow–The Autumn Defense (Circles)

The Queen Is Dead–The Smiths (The Queen Is Dead)

Kissing The Beehive–Wolf Parade (At Mount Zoomer)

Watching The Planets–The Flaming Lips (Embryonic)

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On Stouts: Don't Judge A Beer By Its Color

Today, the New York Times ran an article about Stouts (the beer) in which the author, Eric Asimov, and others tasted 19 different American stouts. Asimov (no relation to Isaac?) made a pretty good point, and one that is often overlooked or ignored, that stouts traditionally are low in alcohol, possibly even lower than the Buds, Coors, and Millers of the big breweries, and have a much more delicate flavor than the name implies and the color indicates.

You can check out the article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/28/dining/reviews/28wine.html?_r=1&8dpc

This discussion of stouts makes me wonder, as I have before, why so many people tend to classify beers, and base their own preferences of beer, solely on color. While color sometimes provides an indication of what a given beer will taste and smell like, it’s by no means fool-proof.

I’ve tried to think of an apt analogy for this phenomenon, but the best I’ve come up with is “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” The ugliness of a given John Grisham book’s cover will not keep people from reading it en masse, just like the attractiveness of a new edition of David Foster Wallace’s 1000+ page Infinite Jest will not likely be an impetus to read or not to read. End lit. references and book analogy. There are just too many things that go into making a beer that affect how it tastes to only consider what it looks like. Are people really so lazy that they make their drinking choices, important as they are, based on appearances? Don’t they realize that they primarily taste the beer, not just observe it? Yes, goddamn people are lazy.

To be fair, I’m sure plenty of people actually do choose to drink a dark beer, such as a stout or porter, because of the color rather than the taste. But that doesn’t really help me prove my point or strengthen my argument so I’ll not discuss it. (This isn’t a fucking comp 2 paper.)

I’ll stop with the lecture/bitch session there. In any case, next time you ask what a certain beer is like, try not to ask if it’s dark or light. Ask if it’s particularly hoppy or not. If the answer you get doesn’t mean anything to you, don’t worry about it. Nod your head, pick it anyway (try something new, it’s easy), and just be glad you’re drinking a beer instead of doing something else less fun.

The Box of Vinyl Project: #3 Michael McDonald-If That's What It Takes (1982 Warner Bros.)

About a year ago, I acquired a little more than two crates worth of old vinyl LPs (about 200, give or take, records). I’ve listened to some of them, the ones I already knew and liked, but the majority of the records have stayed put in the box they came in. I figured I’d start making my way through the collection of vinyl. I don’t intend to research any records that I’m not familiar with, so hopefully I’ll arrive at as objective a review/summary of each records as possible. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve never tried my hand at music criticism/record reviews.

the record your parents wanted you to want

the record your parents wanted you to want

I am not a fan of the Doobie Brothers, so big surprise that I’m also not much of a Michael McDonald fan. I’m basically indifferent when it comes to these two pop music staples. I guess they’re staples. That said, If That’s What It Takes is a damn near perfect document of what I think of when I think of 80’s pop music. You’ve got the optimistic up-beat love songs and the less optimistic, sometimes still up-beat, love songs.

You know one song, at least, off of this record. “I Keep Forgettin'” is the song that Warren G’s “Regulate” sampled, and the chorus lyric “I keep forgettin'” sounds like “I can’t forget,” at least to me. So you’ve probably heard the song like a million times, and not without reason. It’s a solid pessimistic pop love song. And it’s one of many on the record, albeit the most memorable one.

The rest of the record, with the exception of side one’s closer and the track “Losin’ End,” is a tug-of-war between the optimistic and pessimistic up-beat pop songs that I already mentioned. It’s actually pretty hard to distinguish the songs from each other. Imagine 80’s sitcom themes–Perfect Strangers or Family Ties–and you’ll have a pretty good idea of the record’s feel. It sounds like studio musicians fronted by Michael McDonald’s unmistakable voice. Maybe that’s exactly what it is, I don’t know.

The opening track, “Playin’ By The Rules,” is a good way to sum up the record, thematically and musically. It’s one of the optimistic songs that gives an unnamed so-and-so romantic advice. Lines such as “Love’s not always happiness/ Sad, but it’s true, girl” are vague enough to be interpreted in any number of ways but still provide the familiarness that a good pop song generally does. Musically, the song is piano/key driven with a pretty standard drum/bass/guitar backup. The title of the song explains the entire record. Nothing about any of the songs is offensive or extraordinary in any way. It’s more whitebread than fucking Leave It To Beaver. It definitely plays by the rules.

I know this review probably seems a little slight and vague. But to be honest, so does this record. The songs mostly bleed together, so it’s easy to listen to it without realizing it’s even playing, which maybe that’s not a bad thing. It sounds like it could be a soundtrack to the movie Mannequin–harmless and familiar (the music, not the movie (because, holy shit, you remember that movie? Wow, right?)). McDonald made a solid pop record that sounds exactly like it was made in 1982, which it was, and it just doesn’t interest me. Unless I want to pretend I’ve just turned on the local easy listening radio station in 1982.

Will I listen to it again? Only when I’m sad and lonely and making a name for myself as the next successful department store window dresser.

Next up: The Autumn Defense-Circles (wasn’t part of the collection, but was a gift I got recently, so I thought I’d throw it in)

Then: The Doors-Waiting for the Sun

10/30 Poacher Flyer

what's photoshop?

What's photoshop? I got tape, bitches.

Here’s the flyer for the Poacher show next week. I think I might have spent way too much time with scissors and tape today. Now I know the tediousness of creating a ransom note. It’s super-tedious. Look for this beauty the next time you’re in Dave’s. Also, please don’t tear it down.

The Box of Vinyl Project: #2 Emerson, Lake, and Palmer (1971 Cotillion)

Is that an airbrushed doved growing out the back of a bald head (notice the ear in bottom left corner)? Of course it is.

Is that an airbrushed dove growing out the back of a bald head (notice the ear in bottom left corner)? Of course it is.

 

Before listening to this record, I knew nothing about Emerson, Lake, and Palmer other than vaguely recognizing the name. After listening to the record, I realized why.

It’s hard for me to figure out where to start with this record, so I’ll start with what seems like the thematic thread that holds the six songs (six songs and it still clocks in at around 40 minutes) together: pretentiousness and an implied fondness of wizards, fairies, eagles, and fire. And solos played on anything with keys. The record sounds like it’d double pretty well as the soundtrack to old fantasy/sci-fi movies with wizards, fortresses, and weird synthesized soundtracks (e.g., Krull and The Dark Crystal) even though these fantasy elements aren’t ever actually mentioned in the lyrics, which said lyrics are few and far between on this record.

So, the majority of the record is instrumental with an emphasis on key instruments (piano, organ, synths, others that I don’t know the names of–we’ll just call them KI collectively for brevity) and occasionally drums. The solos on the KIs are pretty obviously meant to be the main attraction as every single track has one. In fact, the entire seven-minute track entitled “The 3 Fates: Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos” (Seriously) is one long extended organ and piano solo. Jesus-God is it boring. Did I mention the record is pretentious as well? The second track on side two, “Tank,” is probably the most egregiously mistitled song I can bring to memory. It comprises rinky-dink KI solos and an unnecessary (because they are all unnecessary) extended drum solo.  A goddamned drum solo.

The second track on side one, “Take A Pebble,” can be considered an embodiement of the record. First of all, it’s long. Twelve and half minutes long. Also, it’s carried along by some pretty sparse (in this case a good thing) lyrics that could have been borrowed from a philosophical 14 year-old’s journal. Take for example: “Sadness on your shoulders/Like a worn-out overcoat […] Disturbing the waters/Of our lives” sung in utter earnestness. With feeling. Maybe most important is that it jumps from a section of what sounds like an autoharp to acoustic guitar to hand-clapping countryesque sing-along to bad freejazz/fusion KI wankery. Wankery is a good way to sum up the overall feel of the record.

The one oddity on the record is probably the only thing most people would recognize–the closer “Lucky Man.” As in “oooooh what a lucky man he was.” You’ve heard it if you’ve ever listened to classic rock radio. The song’s not that bad, but holy shit having to listen to the five songs preceding it is like being weakly punched in the ear repeatedly.

I did not like this record, and unless you like listening to musicians who possess the misunderstanding that musical ability can substitute for interesting or at least listenable songs, I bet you won’t like it either.

Will I listen to it again? It’s yours if you want it.

Next up: Michael McDonald-If That’s What It Takes

Then: The Autumn Defense-Circles

Missing Tom Waits Live

A little over a year ago, in July ’08, Tom Waits played in Birmingham, AL as part of his “Glitter and Doom” tour. I remember finding out about the tour a few months earlier and telling my then-finacee that we would have to go no matter what because I wanted to see a Tom Waits show more than any other show I could think of, and I told her what date he’d be in Birmingham. She had bad news for me and had to spoil a fairly big and cool surprise.

glittery

glittery

We were getting married at the end of that May, and she had already put together her wedding present to me. She had planned a trip to Chicago for a few days and got tickets to see a Tom Petty show as well. So we’d be in Chicago on the day of the Tom Waits show. I felt like a sizable ass for messing up the surprise and making a big deal out of the whole thing. Tom Petty and Chicago were both a really good time, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t even think about the other show I was missing.

So yesterday I learned that Tom Waits is putting out a double live record from the same tour. And you can download the first 8 songs for free from his website. Awesome. And the second record of the set is one long track of stage banter called “Tom Tales.” Kick-ass. And it’ll be released on vinyl in addition to CD. Choices. And it’s pretty exciting all-around.

The Box of Vinyl Project: #1 Carly Simon-No Secrets (1972 Elektra)

About a year ago, I acquired a little more than two crates worth of old vinyl LPs (about 200, give or take, records). I’ve listened to some of them, the ones I already knew and liked, but the majority of the records have stayed put in the box they came in. I figured I’d start making my way through the collection of vinyl. I don’t intend to research any records that I’m not familiar with, so hopefully I’ll arrive at as objective a review/summary of each records as possible. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve never tried my hand at music criticism/record reviews. Off we go.

First up, Carly Simon’s 1972 record No Secrets.

this is not Joni Mitchell

this is not Joni Mitchell

Prior to listening to this record, all I knew of Carly Simon was “You’re So Vain,” which is on this record, and everyone knows it, and “Anticipation,” not on this record,  which I knew because J Mascis covered it on his rarely cited acoustic record Martin & Me (which is a great record that I let someone borrow and never got back. Shit–different story).

No Secrets is a record that sounds indecisive as to whether it’s soft-rockin and a little pissed  (“You’re So Vain” and “(We Have) No Secrets”), loose with melodies that are winding but not totally inaccessible (“The Carter Family” and “His Friends Are More Than Fond Of Robin”), or country-tinged and subversively feminist (“Waited So Long” and “It Was So Easy”). To me, soft-rockin and pissed works best for the record.

“You’re So Vain,” “(We Have) No Secrets,” and arguably “The Right Thing To Do” are the strong points that show Simon’s ability to put together a well-written, catchy, and specific but relatable pop song. Each of these songs has a little bit of earned meaness, mixed with the implication that whatever got fucked up can be worked out, that makes good hit pop songs. Since there’s probably little original to say about it, I’ll forego the discussion of “You’re So Vain,”  but “(We Have) No Secrets” exemplifies this description just as well except that the relationship in question isn’t over, which makes the song that much more realistic and relatable–and isn’t that what good pop songs are good at? These three strongest songs are all, it should be noted, credited solely to Simon. Three of the ten songs are co-written by Simon.

So the record has its faults, notably “The Carter Family,”  “His Friends Are More Than Fond Of Robin,” and “Night Owl.” “Night Owl” was written by James Taylor, who I’m no fan of at all, and has Simon proclaim to be a night-life person who can’t be bothered to wake up during the daytime. Whether she, or Taylor, were big enough night owls intent on raising hell and then singing about it in vague animal metaphors to warrant the song’s existence, I don’t know. But I do know I don’t have to buy it. Neither do you. The song is pretty shitty.

Aside from the other winding, melodically constipated poor man’s Joni Mitchell songs, I enjoyed the record. It’s harmless, mostly innocent, early 70’s easy listening that reminds you of riding in your mom’s, or dad’s, car on the way to dinner at a shitty family restaurant. There’s something to be said for vaguely recognizable nostalgia.

Will I listen to it again? You’re So Vain, No Secrets–yes. The rest, only by accident.

Next up: Emerson, Lake, & Palmer-Self-Titled

Then: Michael McDonald-If That’s What It Takes