Los Angeles: huge, sprawling, and eclectic, has been likened to microcosm of the country as whole — truly a melting pot of various cultures, ethnicities, tastes and influences. So is her music. With various scenes and sub-scenes, rarely has there been a defining “sound” that marks the overall zeitgeist of what is happening in the city at any one time. In 2008 I set out to create a compilation of a dozen or so L.A. based artists that I felt were creating something both unique and diverse. After some thought I decided that there needed to be a running theme, something to tie the artists together into a cohesive whole, a common bond.
As records tend to do, a revisited appreciation of Paul McCartney’s 1971 solo album, RAM, had begun to see a resurgence of sorts within a number of local Eastside artists, coming up in conversations and on the turntables of various house parties.
The theme was found. Over the course of the second half of 2008 eleven Angeleno artists individually went in to various studios, rehearsal spaces and apartments to record their take on what is my favorite, and arguably, McCartney’s best solo work…. the end result is RAM On L.A.
Listen to one of the covers, from Merge Records’ Broken West. Other contributing artists include folks like Frankel, Travel By Sea, Le Switch and Earlimart.
NB: Denverites, Broken West is at the Hi-Dive next Wednesday (March 11) with Blind Pilot, a band that I just can’t get enough of lately (I bought their actual physical CD on Thursday night! Like whoa).
In late June I received a cryptic email message from my friend Tony, who knew I was heading out to California at some point in the heat of the summer, but said he was “going to LA for a once in a lifetime event,” thought he might have an extra pass, and wanted to make sure I was going to be 1500 miles away and not 5. Intriguing.
The plane ticket I was holding was indeed for the end of July, not June, and on barely four days notice I couldn’t find a way to get out to the California coast that didn’t involve knocking over a liquor store. If I had, this is what I could lived through, and this is what I could have heard:
During the event on a Wednesday evening, Tony texted me with something that read like “so ringo starr is standing right next to me. this is insane.” Even that tenuous connection with the proceedings three states away made me feel happy and I couldn’t wait for the boot to eventually surface. Also definitely read this piece to feel the excitement, an evening “too good to be true.”
I was in Starbucks last night, and every time I pop in there and see this poster I kind of want to smack Paul right in those pouty lips, as much as I love him. But hey, instead, I’ll take a picture and share the joy with you!
Have you seen this? Is it just me? It’s like “McCartney Does Blue Steel.”
So I learned how to play the game of Cornhole this weekend.
Seriously, don’t ask. (I don’t know if it was more fun playing the game or just making endless jokes about the name of it).
The End Of The World Ash Irish band Ash has opened for bands like U2 and Weezer, and collaborated with Coldplay’s Chris Martin, but chances are really good that you’ve not heard of them if you aren’t British. Well, listen up. This is my new favorite song today, a soaring tune that I want to sing along with and be listening to if it is, indeed, the end of the world. Tinglingly good, I love the epic feel of the key changes (I am a sucker for those); for some reason this line gets me: “Can’t hardly see the stars, there’s too much light pollution . . . That’s the catch, it’s such a beautiful confusion.” Their 5th studio album Twilight Of The Innocents is out in the UK this week, and they say it shall be their last proper album (then moving to what Mason Jennings considered, and releasing only singles). Ash plays at London’s KOKO for a run this entire week, and then they hit the festival circuit this summer, including Asia, then Reading and Leeds festivals.
Dream Brother (alternate take) Jeff Buckley Reading a recent review by a friend of mine, I realized that I never weighed in on the new So Real: Songs from Jeff Buckley collection, which was released in May to commemorate ten years of his absence. While it’s a bit disorienting to hear a rearranged Grace (no Mojo Pin starter? No Lilac Wine following Last Goodbye?), I like the overall effect here, and would recommend this addition for any Buckley fan who already loves his studio debut album front to back, as I do. The compilation adds some excellent songs of Jeff’s that surfaced after Grace (such as the sexy swooner Everybody Here Wants You, or The Sky Is A Landfill), as well as alternate takes on favorites. These new versions are interesting in the different vantage points they offer (Eternal Life slays like the best Zeppelin tune, there are some new lyrics here in Dream Brother), and while I wouldn’t say that I prefer any of the new versions more than the originals, this collection offers an apt and different take on the talent we lost.
The Night Starts Here Stars The new album from Montreal, Canada’s Stars isn’t even out until September, three long months away, but this newly released mp3 is already burning through the blogs (thanks Arts & Crafts!). In Our Bedroom After The War will be the newest album from this melodic, dreamlike, deftly-harmonizing band that I quite enjoy, and the first single continues where 2005′s Set Yourself On Fire left off – lots of turntaking in the verses between honey-voiced Amy Millan and incisive Torquil Campbell, over a backbeat of synths and layered orchestral pop.
Apeman (Kinks cover) The Format In honor of the one year anniversary of the release of Dog Problems, charismatic Arizona pop band The Format is offering that entire album free for download on their website, no catches, until July 16th. That’s a whole lot of goodness, gratis. The Format remains one of the most exciting live shows I’ve seen (very high on the list) and I recommend catching them on this current tour if you can. They love covers like I do, and have put their unique stamp on everything from Harry Nilsson to Bruce Springsteen. Here they take on the Kinks’ Apeman very faithfully — but it’s fun.
Come And Get It (demo) Paul McCartney Last week I got an email from my friend Tony wondering, hypothetically, if I might have enough frequent flyer miles to be his accomplice in the Paul McCartney private show at Amoeba Records in LA. On less than 24 hours notice, I could not swing it, but oh, how I need a private jet. This demo recording of the McCartney-penned Badfinger megahit (Paul laid this down one day at Abbey Road when he arrived early for a recording session) is something I’ve been listening to a lot recently. Posting it today is just an enjoyable excuse to link to Tony’s review of his ultimate fanboy experience. (Oh, and I think we can call Lefsetz a fanboy too).
I got to see the fantastic Jesse Malin on Friday night at a criminally under-attended show (perhaps due to the borderline negligent website for the venue/promoter, which didn’t even mention the show). After the show I thanked Malin for the sheer joy in the music that comes out through him when he performs. He is a musician full of heart, who knows how to rock. With an engaging stage presence, the new material sounded tight (balanced with his older songs) and he connected well with most of the crowd. The notable exception being the drunkie heckler in the front row with two bendy, feisty, lady-companions who kept interrupting Jesse during a very promising sounding story about moving a bed with a van in NYC and getting a phone call from Barbra Streisand’s “people.” Jesse utilized his NYC street-skillz with and told ‘em to put a cork in it or leave (deservedly), and we never got to hear the rest of the tale.
Jesse hopped off the stage for his campfire moment where we all sat on the ground in a circle and helped him sing “Solitaire” and braid each others hair and make friendship bracelets. Actually, it had the air of effusive spontaneity (even though it was admittedly contrived for the Blender.com cameras that were filming the show) and made me feel happy inside. Especially when he sat down right next to me and we all belted, “I don’t need any . . . I don’t need any . . . I don’t need anyONE!!” Go see him if you can this tour (oh and check the pics here and mini-video I was able to surreptitiously capture here).
Music for this week:
Long Forgotten Song The Thrills The two new songs posted on MySpace by Dublin’s The Thrills are shimmering and lovely, making me look forward to the new album. Even though they are from Ireland, their songs sound like California. This tune, about “a long-forgotten song but everyone still sings along,” sounds somehow like a song you once knew but forgot, and it feels weighty. It’ll be on their upcoming album Teenager, due 7/23/07 with great cover art.
Vanilla Sky Paul McCartney I finally watched Vanilla Sky this weekend for the first time (thanks Tony!) and shame on me for it taking me so long. I was scared off by the mixed reviews when it first came out (and a general fatigue of Tom Cruise’s smile) so I never took the plunge, even though it is a Cameron Crowe film and sweet bejesus I love him. Vanilla Sky blew me away — it’s my favorite kind of intelligent reality-bending/brain-messing movie with a marvelous soundtrack. For those who have seen it all the way through, think about the perfect placement of R.E.M.’s “Sweetness Follows” in light of what happens from that point forward in the film, even though you don’t know it at the time. There’s also priiiime placement of the eerie, icy, otherworldly sounds of Sigur Ros and some always-appreciated Jeff Buckley. The credits start rolling with this tune, penned by Paul for the film. Thoroughly enjoyable.
Head Like A Hole (NIN cover) Giant Bear Not to be confused with either Giant Drag or Grizzly Bear, Giant Bear is a Memphis five-piece that has decided to reinterpret Trent Reznor’s seething defining moment as a fiddle-twinged bit of Americana-rock with shared male/female vocals. It’s interesting, I’ll give them that, and not unlikeable. Off their self-titled debut album due out August 14 on Red Wax music. Luther Dickinson (North Mississippi All-Stars) and Rick Steff (Lucero) also play on the album.
Collarbone Fujiya & Miyagi The first time I heard this song by Fujiya & Miyagi, I pictured it as the perfect soundtrack theme song for the movie of my life when I doll up and head out into the sparkling nighttime streets to wreak some sort of imaginary unspecified havoc. It’s a pimp song, sleek and funky and absolutely irresistible. I don’t know why three guys from Brighton go by Japanese monikers (other than perhaps a partial tribute to Mr. Miyagi from Karate Kid?) but I ain’t complainin. From their 2006 album Transparent Things, which I definitely need to investigate further.
The Devil Never Sleeps Iron & Wine
[let's try this new music stream thing? Let me know if it doesn't work] There are some songs from Iron & Wine that just devastate me in the best way possible; I think Sam Beam is an amazing songwriter. I thought I knew him, kinda had his sound pegged as the perfect soundtrack to activities like moping, looking out a window at the grey clouds, or falling asleep. So get ready for the sounds on the new album Shepherd’s Dog (due Sept 25 on Sub Pop) — the songs are just as wonderful, but with a heck of a lot more spitfire and pluck. This one sounds like something from another time, floating out the window of a neighbor’s house into the humid summer night. The devil never sleeps because he went down to Georgia and is dancing to this.
******** Also, a final P.S. on Father’s Day – after an immense father-feteing BBQ at my parents’ house, I dozed off on the couch yesterday afternoon while my dad watched sports on TV. The sports channels are rarely on in my house (unless it’s the Giants), so I had forgotten how comforting and nice it is to weave in and out of sleep on a full belly listening to my dad comment on the game to no one in particular.
I’ve been enjoying this video and this song recently. In case you hadn’t seen it yet (it splashed on the scene a few weeks ago, and I’m slacking), it’s essentially an inventive short-film story with director Michel Gondry, who also made the excellent Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind:
PAUL MCCARTNEY, DANCE TONIGHT
This is probably my favorite track of the new Macca album (wait, I didn’t just say that – I meant off the new Paul McCartney album). All summery and stompy, mandolins and oooh-oooh-ooohs . . . It’ll be part of my upcoming summer mix (that is called foreshadowing).
Here are some thoughts from Sir Paul himself on both the video and the new album. He says the album art is supposed to make the album a desirable object that we will want to pick up from off the shelf. For me, an armchair just ain’t doin it. It kinda makes me want to knit. Or maybe nap? I think he could have done better. He says:
I actually started this album, Memory Almost Full, before my last album Chaos And Creation In The Backyard (released September 2005). The first recording session was back in the autumn of 2003 at Abbey Road with my touring band and producer David Kahne. I was right in the middle of it when I began talking with Nigel Godrich about a brand new project (which became Chaos And Creation In The Backyard).
When I was just finishing up everything concerned with Chaos and had just got the Grammy nominations (2006) I realised I had this album to go back to and finish off. So I got it out to listen to it again, wondering if I would enjoy it, but actually I really loved it. All I did at first was just listen to a couple of things and then I began to think, `OK, I like that track – now, what is wrong with it?’ And it might be something like a drum sound, so then I would re-drum and see where we would get to.
I took it from there and built it up. I went through, track by track, making changes as I went along. I fixed things I wasn’t too keen on and it just evolved from there. Without me knowing, or really trying, it started to get its own theme, a sort of thread that holds it all together. So I suppose it’s about half new stuff and half old stuff from 2003.
In places it’s a very personal record and a lot of it is retrospective, drawing from memory, like memories from being a kid, from Liverpool and from summers gone. The album is evocative, emotional, rocking, but I can’t really sum it up in one sentence.
There is a medley of 5 songs towards the end and that was purposefully retrospective. I thought this might be because I’m at this point in my life, but then I think about the times I was writing with John and a lot of that was also looking back. It’s like me with `Penny Lane’ and `Eleanor Rigby’ – I’m still up to the same tricks!
I know people are going to look at some of the songs and interpret them in different ways but this has always been the case. The thing is that I love writing songs, so I just write and write. I never really get to a point where I start thinking I’m going to write about specific subjects. Inevitably though, what I am thinking is going to find its way into what I’m doing.
The opening track of the album is `Dance Tonight’. I recently got myself a mandolin and I was just playing about with it and came up with the basis of this track. A couple of weeks ago we made the video, which was great fun. It’s directed by Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind) and stars Natalie Portman and Mackenzie Crook. I’m not going to give the plot away. You’ll have to go and watch it for yourself, but we had a good time doing it.
The album title came after I had finished everything. For me, that’s when they normally come, with the exception of maybe Sgt. Peppers, otherwise I don’t think I have ever made an album with The Beatles, Wings or solo where I have thought of a title and a concept. I was thinking about what would sum the whole thing up and `Memory Almost Full’ sprung to mind. It’s a phrase that seemed to embrace modern life; in modern life our brains can get a bit overloaded. I realised I had also seen it come up on my phone a few times. When I started bouncing the idea round with some friends they nearly all got different meanings out of it, but they all said they loved it. So the feedback helped solidify the title.
After completing the album I then started thinking about the album artwork and how I’d want it to look. I really wanted to make the CD a desirable object. Something that I know I’d want to pick up from the shelf, something that would make people curious. I hope our final concept has done that. The album sleeve itself includes an etching by a friend of mine, Humphrey Ocean. As with the album lyrics, I’m looking forward to seeing how people might interpret the artwork.
Currently I’m just starting out on the promo trail and beginning to get the first bits of feedback about the album and so far so good! It’s interesting now as I’m getting to hear what other people are making of the songs and what their feelings are. I’m also talking about the album myself and I’m really enjoying the discovery process.
I really enjoyed making this album with David Kahne and I’m proud of all the songs. We had a great time. I hope that the fun we had will communicate itself to the people who are going to listen to it.
I’m gonna warn you before you even listen to the new Paul McCartney (from his upcoming first album on the Starbucks label, as previously mentioned): It will totally and completely stick in your head.
You’ll think as you listen, “Huh, self. That’s catchy. Kinda synthy, kinda Wings-y, a little Devo. Plus, it’s PAUL, and you get That Voice, so — not bad.” Then like an hour later you’ll be doing something completely different and all of a sudden you’ll want to bust out with Paul’s double-negative lyrics about “I got too much on my plate, don’t have no time to be a decent lover…”
Audio quality fair here, I think it’s a rip of a rip.
I’m still ambivalent on the Starbucks thing, and that makes me feel like an elitist but I can’t help it. I heard one of Mason Jennings‘ best songs in Starbucks the other day while getting my toasty beverage (apparently we still need hot drinks this time of the year here, what with the spring snow shower nonsense) and I stood there vacillating between elated (because Southern Cross is a great song) and truthfully a little . . . defiant.
It’s been a long time since I compiled one of these odds and ends posts, but there were several little things today that caught my eye:
Ûž Brian Deck is on board to produce the new Counting Crows record, according to Adam:
March 16, 2007 12:53am Berkeley, CA
Rehearsals have been going really well the past few days. I’m pretty excited about the 2nd half of this record. I really dig the producer we’ve chosen. His name’s Brian Deck. He produced “The Moon and Antarctica” for Modest Mouse, “Our Endless Numbered Days” for Iron and Wine, “The Animal Years” for Josh Ritter, and this album I love by the Fruit Bats called “Mouthfuls”. We’re getting really cool weird twisted folksy sounds.
I drink Starbucks. I love McCartney. But why does this just feel so dirty and somehow depressing?
Ûž Mason Jennings has a new blog post that starts with the sentence, “Did you ever just get so high that you wrote on your arm never to smoke weed again? Me neither.” It goes on to discuss music he likes and life in general lately for him, but opening sentences don’t get much more engaging than that one.
Ûž I truly love the new Hold Steady video for “Stuck Between Stations.” That is a dang fine song, and since I haven’t caught them live yet, I’ve never seen it performed, seen the way they jolt out their music.
Incidentally, I think their piano player may actually be Oliver, Kat‘s husband from Miami Ink. Rock the ‘stache, dude.
Ûž Pete Yorn‘s cousin/merch man/video whiz Maxx updates Pete’s MySpace friends with setlists and excellent pictures from the road. The most recent post has a haiku to match each photograph, and is a must-read. I laughed out loud at a few:
sid is funnier when he’s not wearing his clothes but someone else’s
simon is undead he will eat your flesh even from the stage
Ûž SXSW. Most of the SXSW coverage from my fellow bloggers seems like drinking out of a firehose, and I am not able to fully absorb all of it yet (although I am trying). This, however, was one show that I had read about and found video for — very cool. Pete Townshend was at the fest to speak at a panel and joined British buzz band The Fratellis for a cool little cover of The Who’s “The Seeker”:
And the best picture that I’ve seen so far from SXSW was taken by my friend Brian H., who has been regularly updating me with more pics and details than you can shake a stick at (thanks!). I don’t know the story behind this shot, but I thought it was cool how it speaks to the environment of total musical domination in Austin these past few days:
I absolutely love stories behind songs. Knowing a bit of the background illuminates the song in a whole new way. That’s why when I was reading an article about Canadian singer-songwriter Ron Sexsmith, I found this irresistible (from Eye Weekly):
” . . .After chatting to his buddy Paul McCartney about Sexsmith, Chris Difford of Squeeze took Ron over to the ex-Beatle’s house for an impromptu jam session. Maybe you’ve heard this story, but you know you want to hear it again. Difford makes the introduction, they all have breakfast and before you know it, Ron’s singing ‘Listen To What The Man Said’ with Paul taking the harmonies.
‘Well, I didn’t know what to play,’ Ron says, ‘And [McCartney] does this thing when you talk to him — if you say something humorous, he’s got these huge eyes, and he sort of gave me this look like I was being a wise guy or something. Well, it’s a song I’ve always played for myself… and it was cool. I was singing lead and he was doing the harmonies and stuff.’”
I had to hunt down the cover, for me and for you. This version is live with Sexsmith only – I doubt a recorded version exists of them duetting. But I’ll bet that it would sound very nice because (although I have never realized this before) McCartney and Sexsmith have extremely complementary voices.
Name: Heather Browne Location: Colorado, originally by way of California Giving context to the torrent since 2005.
"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel." —Hunter S. Thompson
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