February 11, 2008

Monday Music Roundup

The Grammys were on last night, and even though I watched them, I felt just as disconnected from the alleged art contained within them as ever. I went to the Grammys in 2003 in NYC and at the time was struck by what a spectacle, what a circus it was. It was barely about the music, more about the fashion, the pyrotechnics, the manufactured emotion of the mini-crowd they select to run down to the front, wild in their staged arm-waving enthusiasm — trying to inject an emotion into the show that doesn’t exist in the natural state.

The queen of the evening Amy Winehouse looked addled, twiggy, and uncertain with what to do with her limbs while she skittered through her material (scaring the bejesus out of half the folks watching her, asking their spouse over the beats, “Who is this Amy Winehouse gal? And why did she win all those awards?”). Lackluster performances reigned; even Feist was not represented as gloriously as she should have been (where was the rainbow colored dancing? that would have been better than that painful Beatles medley with the walking umbrella and the flying culotte lady that I thought was Heather Mills). I was surprised to find Kanye West’s performance the most potent of the night; his inspired collab with Daft Punk lead into a wrenching, broken tribute to his mama that added Kanye onto the short list of people that have made me cry this month (how did that happen?!).

Anyways, score one for the corporate death of music that makes me feel anything inside. Yep, pretty cheerful around here today.

Here are five tunes for you to spin this week:

Up Against The Glass
The Botticellis

The musical byproduct of communal living in the Outer Richmond district of San Francisco, indie pop-surf band The Botticellis impressed me when I saw them at NoisePop last year opening for Cake. They’ve got a tight, sunny, ’60s sound saturated with multihued orchestral melodies. I’d posted an earlier version of this addictive little song last year; it’s now revisioned for their debut album on the Oakland, CA label Antenna Farm. Check out the vintage, analog sound of the album Old Home Movies when it comes out May 13. They’re playing some Bay Area shows in the coming months and also will be at SXSW.

Grounds For Divorce

Among the bands with weird noun names (Spoon, Aqueduct, Sponge, what have you) Manchester band Elbow is the only one who would be taken on a desert island with John Cale. Not a bad endorsement. This radio rip of the first single from Elbow’s upcoming 4th album The Seldom Seen Kid (due on the UK’s Fiction Records, home of Stephen Fretwell and Ian Brown’s latests) is a haunting, gospelly blues track with a guttural punch and stomp. It sounds downright epic to these ears. [thx]


The soundtrack to last year’s excellent Little Miss Sunshine brought some well-deserved acclaim to Denver quartet DeVotchKa. Since spinning those quirky, inventive, whistle and theremin-laden tunes for the film, DeVotchKa has signed to -Anti Records, and their album A Mad And Faithful Telling is due March 18th. This first single doesn’t sound like much else I’ve heard lately, spinning dizzily by the end as we discuss someone who won’t mean what they say or say what they mean. I feel confused, but I like the effect. You can stream more new stuff on their website.

Song of Love/Narayana
Kula Shaker

Hazy and trippy as ever, London’s Kula Shaker always get lumped into the Britpop header, but really, why? Reformed in 2005 after six years apart, their recognizable Indian chanting and psychedelic overtones remain intact on this “new” song from the album Strangefolk. Released last year in the UK, this one slipped past me originally, but is finally gearing up for a US release on Cooking Vinyl next week. The band is still steadfast in their belief that love can save the world, and this cut bends eras and genres. It builds slowly but is solidly good; have a listen.

Return To Me
Glen Phillips

As a pretty hearty fan of Toad The Wet Sprocket throughout the Nineties, I’m always trying to keep up with the quality, heart-warming output of the various band members since their 1998 official disbanding. Of the projects, frontman Glen Phillips has consistently grabbed my ears with his literate and earnest solo output. On tour now, Glen played last night at the Fox Theatre in Boulder (and I was sad to miss it but had just been there Saturday night for the scathingly funny rock of Mr. Matt Nathanson). One of my kind readers notified me that there’s a new EP Secrets Of The New Explorers up for download on his website, the follow-up to Mr. Lemons, his strong 2006 full-length. This winsome track is a free download and there are more like it for mere dollars.

Okay and this is getting long today but — can we file this final PS under things that make me say “hmmmm”?

I was at the auto parts store yesterday (brake light out, as two nice construction workers let me know at a stoplight the other day) and I saw this keychain breathalyzer dealie for 39 bucks by the register. I found it highly amusing that it claims to have “Hundreds of Uses.”

Um, actually? I am pretty sure it has just one.

That’s all. Rock on.

March 6, 2007

Noise Pop: “As soon as you’re born you start dying, so you might as well have a good time . . .”

Almost local band (Sacramento) Cake just blew my mind Sunday night, the perfect way to end six craaaazy nights of Noise Pop.

I’ve seen Cake thrice now and they never fail to pull off an excellent show, easily in my top 5 live acts (actually, probably top three). John McCrea is a fearless ringmaster of his own little circus, with a sardonic wit and perfect 800 SAT vocabulary to boot, and the band is tight and ace-rhythmic. The whole crowd was dancing just as hard as we could, and indeed you’d have to be dead not to want to join in. Check how they started their set:

VIDEO: Cake — “Comfort Eagle
(it stabilizes at around 20 seconds – aka I stop jumping)

If you’ve ever been around me while I listen to Cake, you’ll realize that it was a genuine sacrifice for me not to sing and dance my little heart out to this one, in order to hold the video camera (mostly) steady. I usually manage to dance to Cake even if seated.

Cake plays with no setlist, freestylin’ along as they feel the urge (much to the chagrin of some pugilistic and determined audience members, who seemed to think Cake was a jukebox for requests until McCrea shouted several fire-eyed “f*ck you”s in their direction).

We got songs from all the Cake albums, from the vastly underrated ‘You Part The Waters’ off Motorcade of Generosity, to ‘Stickshifts and Safetybelts’ (!!!), ‘The Distance’ and the Willie Nelson cover ‘Sad Songs and Waltzes’ from Fashion Nugget, delightfully lots off Prolonging The Magic and Comfort Eagle (my 2 favorite albums) – ‘Love You Madly,’ ‘Mexico’ (in lamentably forgotten 3/4 time signature) the fantastic ‘Shadow Stabbing,’ ‘Never There’ . . . and a few from the newest one Pressure Chief (‘Wheels’).

They also threw in some non-album tunes like their cover of ‘Excuse Me I Think I’ve Got A Heartache’ by Buck Owens, and mentioned that they finally have a “new” release coming out (independent, now that they are free of the indomitable iron will of the major labels – “You’ll never see us on Conan again!” McCrea defiantly pronounced) called B-Sides and Rarities. It’ll be available shortly via cakemusic.com.

You think perhaps that you are too cool to sing along at concerts? Not at Cake you aren’t, my friend.

McCrea never fails to lead the crowd in several extremely passionate participatory tunes, including ‘Sheep Go To Heaven’ and, my favorite, the “Na na na na nana, Na na na na naaaaana“s of ‘Short Skirt, Long Jacket.’ He splits the audience down the middle, and pits us against one another in a savage fashion (it’s like Lord of the Flies, really), taunting us (“They’re f*cking LAUGHING at you!”) to whip the crowd to a fever pitch. I think I almost bust a blood vessel in my eye, and probably made up for six days of fitness slackery with all the gleeful pogoing and hip-shaking boogying I could muster. What an evening. If you’ve never seen Cake live, DO IT. Get as close to the front as you can, wear comfortable shoes (I ditched my knee-high boots behind a speaker after about 5 minutes) and prepare to have one of the best times you can legally have in the contiguous 48.

The show was held in fine closing-night soiree fashion at Bimbo’s 365 Club — the classiest live music joint in the city, bar none. It’s a 1930s dinner club that retains all of its elegance and suavity from that era, even down to the grand piano, the wooden dancefloor, and the row of angled make-up tables and attendant in the ladies’ bathroom. The walls are draped with swags of glittery silver fabric, and until recently, they also had the real, live lady-mermaid swimming in a fishtank. McCrea commented on the missing mermaid, and it truly is a crying shame. Not enough ladies swimming in tanks in today’s modern nightlife, I say.

The show was ably opened up by a trio of great bands, San Francisco’s Scrabbel and The Botticellis, plus the effortlessly cool Money Mark. I liked all of them – here are some video clips:

VIDEO: Scrabbel — “Rosamo

VIDEO: The Botticellis — new song

VIDEO: Also from The Botticellis — “Up Against The Glass

Money Mark was rad. I’ve spun his new disc Brand New By Tomorrow several times now and like it more each time. I caught part of his in-store at Amoeba Records earlier in the day:

Despite some keyboard malfunctions which prevented a successful rendition of his great new tune “Pick Up The Pieces” (which was co-authored with Jack Johnson), Money Mark pulled off a really good-spirited and varied set. He invited folks up on the stage to dance along and I almost, almost did. But the guy who actually did climb up and doggedly jogged in place, dropped for push-ups, and did jumping jacks far bested anything I could have come up with.

There was also diminutive curly-haired Hispanic fella standing next to me in a leather bomber jacket, bobbing his head and taking in the show. About halfway through the set, Money Mark notices him and beckons him to join the band up on stage. He climbs up, Money Mark hands him his sweet gold guitar, and dude jumps right in with the melody. Turns out it was Tommy Guerrero, who has collaborated with all those guys on stuff like the Sprout surf film soundtrack. Tres cool.

Here is the rather restrained opening tune – he launched into much more upbeat stuff after this, but I rather enjoy this good-day sunshine pop vibe:

VIDEO: Money Mark, “Color Of Your Blues

They’re calling boarding for my gate now as I type this in the airport, so I should go. I’ve never figured out why everyone is in such a rush to pack onto the plane as soon as boarding is announced — I always wait until the last minute. Less time in the sardine can, the better.

Bon voyage, San Francisco. Thank you for taking such good care of me and entertaining me in fine style. I think this was an absolutely peerless festival experience. I will definitely be back, because as Cake says (and I heartily second), as soon as you’re born you start dying. So you might as well have a good time!

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Bio Pic 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

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

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