Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

November 22nd

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

Impromptu playlist for 11/22:

Re-imagined, Reissued, Remixed, Recovered

Saturday, October 5th, 2013

My original plan wasn’t to review these two albums together, but when the synergy hit me I couldn’t pass it up.

Nirvana & Mike Doughty somehow managed to intertwine themselves with my musical DNA years ago and haven’t ever let go. Nevermind was my first favorite album and the one that pretty much made me who I am today. Doughty’s Skittish solo record dethroned it when I’d tell everyone I knew that “the guy from Soul Coughing has this amazing acoustic solo album!” Both artists left a heavy stamp on Timely Persuasion. By my unofficial count Nirvana got 14 allusions and a subplot about a time traveler trying to stop Kurt’s death, while Doughty got 21 allusions (10 solo & 11 SC) and his handwriting font used on Local Boy’s setlists and retirement letters. (Yeah, I’m not fanatical…)

And now they both put out records a week apart that let me revisit my misspent youth in new and interesting ways. Nirvana’s In Utero gets the 20th anniversary deluxe treatment highlighted by a new nifty alternate-history style Steve Albini mix. Doughty hits the reset button on his past band by re-imagining 13 songs from the Soul Coughing back catalogue in solo form on the greatly titled Circles Super Bon Bon Sleepless How Many Cans? True Dreams Of Wichita Monster Man Mr. Bitterness Maybe I’ll Come Down St. Louise Is Listening I Miss the Girl Unmarked Helicopters The Idiot Kings So Far I Have Not Found the Science (which are the names of all the songs included, but not the actual running order…).  Re-issues and re-covers in general tend to be a mixed bag with a touch of a bad name, but these manage to pull it off in differing ways.

When I heard about the In Utero deluxe edition I was more excited about spending some 20th anniversary time with the record than actually buying it again. I’d already bought it thrice in my life (on the day of original release, then again 6 months later when I found an import copy, noticed something was off about the back cover tracklist and excitedly realized it had a bonus track!, and finally about a year later when I found a bootlegged version billed as the Pachyderm Sessions with Albini’s mixes), already had all of the B-Sides (pre-box set from singles and compilations — I confess I bought The Beavis & Butt-head Experience the day it came out so I could hear Nirvana’s “I Hate Myself and Want to Die” song…), and never really found remastered or remixed versions of anything all that compelling. But when details of the mysterious “2013 Mix” started to emerge I was pretty intrigued.

The idea was pretty cool. This remix would be more about “exploring the roads not taken” by subbing in different guitar solos, vocal takes, and backing parts recorded originally but not used. Sort of an alternate history, second chance at mixing the album with 20 years of hindsight. The changes are relatively minor in the scheme of things, but I still smile when I catch one of them. “Serve the Servants” has a different guitar solo. “Dumb” no longer has a cello. “Heart-Shaped Box” has an extra harmony on the verse. “Very Ape” adds some more guitar feedback to the intro. But my favorite part of all are Kurt’s screams on “Scentless Apprentice.” I’ve always said that “Spank Thru” had my favorite studio version of a Cobain howl, but now there’s a new winner.

While the In Utero 2013 mix is about small differences, Mike Doughty went for some bigger changes with his album of re-imagined Soul Coughing songs. Soul Coughing covers used to be a big part of his solo shows, but they slowly dwindled as he had more of his own material until they evaporated altogether. Doughty later started discussing more openly how much he really hated his time in Soul Coughing and how the old songs brought back that pain, culminating with the release of his memoir, The Book of Drugs.

After reading the book I felt guilty about often referring to Doughty as “the guy from Soul Coughing” (as I did at the start of this post), but later realized that wasn’t really such a sin. I wasn’t calling him “one of the guys” from an old band, but specifically “THE GUY” — as in the one and only. In the eyes of my younger self it was his band, they were his songs, and he can and should take them with him to do whatever the heck he wants with him. So I was especially excited to learn he was taking them back in an attempt to reclaim them for himself and purge the demon of a dark time in his life.

The differences in the new Doughty versions vs. the old Soul Coughing versions vary a bit, but all in all I’m really digging the re-done versions. “Sleepless” loses the lo-fi intro I never really liked and gender swaps the personified sleep character to make the lyrics work better. I have a vague recollection of sitting in a car outside a party listening to the original “How Many Cans?” when a friend said “this song would be awesome if the music part was better.” Seems he was right. “True Dreams of Wichita” has always been one of my favorite songs by any artist, and the new version further cements it for me — even improving on it by nicely retconning the awkward “stand on the corner and bellow for mush” lyric with the far better “stand in the branches of a juniper bush.”  (Plus I love the inclusion of “I Miss The Girl” since the line “going down to Baltimore, going in an off-white Honda” is among the top utterances to slip out in my lifelong battle with lyrical tourette’s.)

Of course playing the comparison game sometimes exposes some questionable calls on the new takes. Does “Dumb” really benefit by taking away the cello? Was “Monster Man” really worth redoing when most of the lyrics were skipped? How would Kurt Cobain have felt about the whole reissue/anniversary type thing?  That’s a loaded question that’s pretty much impossible to answer. Doughty’s change of heart around revisiting his past illustrates that anyone’s perspective can shift — and that’s a good thing.

A Wiki Edit That Makes Me Sad

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

This isn’t the kind of time travel I like 🙁

Benji Hughes – Wikipedia

February 2013 Edit:

2013-09-11 09.49.03 pm

August 2013 Edit:

2013-09-11 09.46.53 pm

Guess Thao & The Get Down Stay Down won’t have the competition for album(s) of the year I was hoping they would.

(Then again, Mike Doughty has this thing coming up…)

Outside Lands Recap

Sunday, August 18th, 2013

In the spirit of my 2010 Coachella recap, here are some thoughts on last weekend’s Fester-esque trip to Outside Lands in San Francisco.

  • Arrived a little late on Friday, mostly getting the lay of the land while gearing up for Paul McCartney’s highly anticipated headlining set and fulfillment of my lifelong dream to see a Beatle live.  (Yes, I realize that in some regards this might be me.)
  • Band of Horses were ok, but not exactly what I expected. The National were more impressive and quite solid. But Sir Paul exceeded all expectations and then some.
  • I could go on and on but I’ll try not to, consolidating down to two points: If the reason I went to shows was to seek the perfect performance, I could stop now. (Don’t worry, I won’t.) And if you say your favorite band is anyone other than the Beatles, you are a liar.
  • Ok, a little bit more. Singing along to “Paperback Writer” was a transcendental life moment. As was “We Can Work It Out” and “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” and “Hey Jude.”  Unexpected surprises included “Magical Mystery Tour,” “Your Mother Should Know,” “All Together Now,” “Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” and “Day Tripper.” And my neck still hurts from banging my head to “Helter Skelter.”  Wow…
  • The Beer Lands & Wine Lands concepts were pretty cool, though I was most impressed with the special beers at the Sierra Nevada Beer Camp tent. Shawn Smith from Fester would have been in heaven — assuming he could get a wristband and some scrips…
  • I liked the location in Golden Gate Park better than the Empire Polo Field where they hold Coachella. Cool wooded walkways, a nice hillside view of the second stage, a fun old-timey side stage (complete with 3 card monte for a buck!) — plus it’s not 3 gajillion degrees out in the middle of the desert.
  • Day two highlights included Thao & the Get Down Stay Down (still holding the lead for my album of the year), Tallest Man on Earth, and the Head and The Heart.
  • The most fun of the whole weekend (outside of Paul) was the Bring the Rock show in the Barbary comedy tent at noon on Sunday. Quoting the perfect description: “Comics and Musicians tell funny stories about music and then…they rock.” The rocking was all cover songs (Replacements, Lucinda Williams, Stone Temple Pilots, Motörhead, Social Distortion) that loosely tied to the previous story. If this was a recurring thing in LA I’d go see it every month.
  • Day three became the inevitable festival lightning round day due to setlist conflicts. Got to see Camper Van Beethoven play “Take the Skinheads Bowling,” Fishbone cover “Date Rape” by Sublime, some kick-ass rocking from Deap Vally, and the first half of a fun set by Trombone Shorty.
  • Hall & Oates were a neat nostalgic trip, though I still can’t fathom how they could NOT play “Private Eyes” or “Kiss on My List.”
  • Rounding out the night Dawes were impressive and warrant a further listen, Willie Nelson made for nice hillside viewing, and I think I re-aggravated my “Helter Skelter” neck injury with some guilty pleasure rocking out to “Give It Away” at the end of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Next up on the belated Fester festival tour will be Way Over Yonder in October. See you there!

Fester Commentary

Sunday, January 27th, 2013

The Coachella Lineup announcement reminded/inspired me to work on the long delayed commentary for my “Fester” short story. I’ll use the same bulleted stream of consciousness format from the old series of Timely Persuasion commentary posts.

Warning:  Some of the below contains minor spoilers. If you haven’t read “Fester” you probably don’t want to read the commentary just yet. “Fester” is available as an eBook from the Apple iBookstoreBarnes & NobleDieselSony, or Smashwords.

First the background & origin story. “Fester” is a chapter in a novel about jury duty I’ve been writing on and off (mostly off) for the last few years. Working title is Duty Calls, though sometimes I think Jury’s Out might be better and other times I think both of those titles are lame. So TBD, but for simplicity I’ll keep calling it Duty Calls for now when needed.

That said, “Fester” as a standalone has nothing to do with jury duty whatsoever. Concept was to do an ode to Coachella-esque summer music festivals. A road trippy adventure that turns into a comedy of errors around getting there, getting beer, and getting home.

Why do a standalone? That was never really the initial plan, but one day TP fan Scott Schnaars sent me a Facebook message asking when my next book was coming out. I didn’t have a new novel ready, but that got me thinking as to why I couldn’t start chunking out Duty Calls as one-offs when each story reached a logical conclusion. Could serve to both build demand for the real deal and allow an avenue for reader feedback — much like I promised a couple of critics I’d consider on future works. Felt like a win win all around, and here we are.

On to the proper commentary:

  • Much like what happened when I was writing the first chapter of TP, I wasn’t sure on where this music festival story should start. And much like what happened with that chapter of TP, my past self came to my rescue. I had written a short story called “Wrong Number?” based on a real life incident involving many calls from a mysterious international number. Felt like a great answer to a “why are you late today?” question so I made some modifications and ran with it as the intro.
  • Back when we were in high school, the last 4 digits of my friend Jon Mack’s number used to spell “BOYS.” Shawn’s number spelling “COCK” was half based on that, and half on the referenced Jeff Tweedy monologue.
  • I couldn’t resist the subtle LOST reference with the “We have to go back!” line.
  • I am a firm believer in the rules around not listening to the band you’re seeing that night beforehand and not wearing the shirt of the band you’re going to see.
  • The list of bands Bobby introduces Shawn to are mostly earlier projects by artists who later became more famous either in a different band or solo. I also included a few easter eggs of bands my friends have been in. (Which may someday satisfy the same criteria of early bands by people who became more famous later…)
  • The Handoff is an unfinished screenplay I wrote back in 2001 or so. I’d send it in serialized format to my friend Nate Pepper for feedback, mainly to motivate me to keep the story moving. He’s the only person who will get the deeper meaning of the reference besides me. I re-read it for the first time in ages a couple of months ago and was surprised by how much I still liked it.
  • The state police really did shut down part of route 95 leading into Lollapalooza one year, which led to a similar parking lot party on the freeway.
  • The spilled beer on the lap was something that happened to me in college when I was a passenger on a late night drive from Syracuse to Boston in my friend Farley’s car. My spill was coffee rather than beer, which was a bit worse…
  • In high school I knew some people who often used the Moscow Symphony Orchestra ticket trick to get into shows at clubs in Providence. It was amazing how rarely the ticket taker noticed that the ticket was for the wrong event.
  • I first encountered “scrips” at Jack Johnson’s Kokua Festival in Hawaii, and to this day I still don’t really understand the purpose.
  • The wordplay with the bolding and the exclamation points about the loud band is one of my favorite parts.
  • “Cacophony of controlled chaos” is one of my favorite phrases. I’ve used to to describe Nirvana for as long as I can remember (and used those exact words to do so in Timely Persuasion), but a quick Google seems to show the phrase isn’t as original as I had thought. At least I still seem to be the only person to have written that phrase while referring to Nirvana in Google’s wide-reaching eyes.
  • I don’t remember if it was the same Lollapalooza referenced previously, but I did once accidentally leave Jon Mack at Lollapalooza in Rhode Island, inspiring the ending here. We had many Jo(h)ns in our circle of friends, leaving Jon Mack with the nickname “Jon Jacob Left At Lollapalooza.”
  • Because “Fester” is a small part of what is intended to be a much longer work, we’re left with quite a few dangling plot threads. Though it’s somewhat subject to change, right now I know (or think I know) that the mysterious phone calls, Doug’N Donuts, The Handoff, Bobby’s bookie & hooker, the girl Shawn meets at the festival, and the impact the events of “Fester” have on Shawn & Bobby’s relationship will all be explored further in the larger Duty Calls novel.

Of The Year – 2012

Tuesday, January 1st, 2013

The Play ‘Em All experiment meant that I didn’t give new music the attention I usually do in 2012, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a top list.

(And yes, once again I was too busy/lazy to post this when I should have so I’m time traveling back to insert this post.)

1.  Boys & Girls – Alabama Shakes
Don’t you love it when your most highly anticipated album of the year satisfies that expectation?  Great record, pretty good live show. Not sure how long the band will last, but Brittany Howard is the real deal.

2.  Daytrotter Session – Mike Doughty
This might be on the line of violating my rule that an EP can’t be album of the year, but rules are made to be broken, right?  My favorite Daytrotter session of the year if not all time. The covers felt super random at the time, not yet knowing that Doughty had an all covers album cooking.

3.  Barchords – Bahamas
A little more rockin’ than Pink Strat and a strong follow-up. Also has the honor of being the last band I saw live in 2012 and the first band I saw live in 2013. Afie Jurvanen has a great stage presence and banter during his shows, right up there with Benji & Doughty.

4.  A Wasteland Companion – M. Ward
He just keeps doing his thing, and that thing is fine by me. Now when is that new Monsters of Folk record coming out?

5.  There’s No Leaving Now – The Tallest Man on Earth
Every time I listen to this I love it more. His gig at the Ford Amphitheater was my favorite of 2012.

6.  I Know What Love Isn’t – Jens Lekman
A little more quiet and a little less goofy than what came before, but I still dig. (And for the record I have nothing against goofy at all – that’s meant as a compliment.)

Play ’em All

Sunday, December 30th, 2012

Christmas Eve was an especially historic day this year.  It ended up being the conclusion of my yearlong project to listen to all 13,747 songs in my iTunes library at least once in 2012.  Started with “A Commotion” by Feist and ended with “I Wrote A Book About Rock and Roll” by Dr. Frank (of MTX fame).

The exact origins of “Play ‘Em All 2012” elude me since it’s been nearly a year, but I recall the motivations included:

  • Based on our Last.fm stats, we listened to a lot of the same things over and over
  • I often claim that I like all of the music I own, and wanted to see how true that really was
  • I was starting to worry that at some point it may no longer be mathematically possible to take on this project, so why not now?

Rigged up a Smart Playlist in iTunes and just let it count down all year.

Last Played is Before 1/1/12; Media Kind is Music

That “Media Kind = Music” bit is important, or you’ll end up including Podcasts, videos, and voice memos.

The goal was to listen to what we felt like as always, but knowing the playlist was counting down would drive us to mix things up and dive into the archives more frequently.

There were only a couple of ground rules:

  • Certain albums were off limits, ensuring some gems would be saved for later.  (The whole Beatles catalog fell into this category, under the reasoning that the joy of being surprised by the Beatles on shuffle outweighed the joy of intentionally satisfying a periodic craving for Rubber Soul.)
  • Myself or my wife had to be present and at least passively listening when something was on.  No “cheating” by leaving something on while we went out, or leaving iTunes on all night while we slept.

At first it was pretty much business as usual.  We blazed through those well worn albums like nothing was different.  I’d alternate between Podcasts and throwing my iPod on shuffle while commuting, diligently synching each night to watch the countdown progress.

I had signed up for iTunes Match in an effort to have remote access to the “Play ‘Em All” playlist from anywhere, letting me easily sneak some extra tunes when running errands, walking the dog, etc.  Good idea in theory, but it was almost my undoing.  Turns out iTunes Match does a rather poor job of keeping play counts and last played data in sync, which led to a lot of “I swear I’ve already heard this song…” thoughts before I figured out what was going on.  iTunes Match was turned off for good after about a month.

Event based listening took on new extremes.  I always try to work through the Nirvana catalog on April 8 or the 311 catalog on March 11, plus have a nice playlist on standby for whenever it rains.  This year saw new custom playlists themed for an Eclipse, Judgment Day, 4th of July, and Thanksgiving.  Any excuse to thematically (and creatively) group bunches of unplayed songs was a welcome challenge.

Around early September I realized the math wasn’t working and we were in danger of not achieving the goal.  This resulted in a ban on podcasts while commuting (at least in a car; the poor showing of iTunes Match opened the door to Podcasts when commuting by foot) and perpetual shuffle play most waking hours.

It’s interesting the fun facts you learn about your music library in an exercise like this.  For example, your wife used to like the Grateful Dead way more than you imagined.  #1 artist by song count in our library, though the bulk of the tracks had a play count of zero prior to the big Play ‘Em All experiment.  Ripped from CD years ago and forgotten on the hard drive.  To be fair, I did develop a new appreciation tolerance for the Dead after working through 500 tracks this year.  (Sorry, Jerry Garcia!)

500 Grateful Dead songs is neither an exaggeration nor a rounded off number.  I’m surprised iTunes doesn’t natively handle this better, but exporting my library and manipulating it a bit in Excel yields this top 15 list by song count:

Artist Song Count
Grateful Dead 500
Mike Doughty 291
Wilco 288
Pavement 233
Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine 228
Mason Jennings 200
Bright Eyes 197
Jack Johnson 185
Nirvana 183
Jeff Tweedy 179
The Felice Brothers 172
The Beatles 166
M. Ward 162
Beck 161
Jim Bob 142

Even rolling solo Tweedy with Wilco and solo Jim Bob with Carter, the Grateful Dead still rule the roost!

Grateful Dead jokes aside, it was pretty impressive how true the “I dig everything I own” theory proved to be.  I wish I had a better way to track this accurately, but I’d venture that less than 25 total tracks got banished to the trash via mutual veto as a result of this ongoing review.  Most were one off tracks picked up as part of free sampler downloads.  Only one full album ended up being a casualty.  (Sorry, John Mayer!)

Now that it’s done, it’s both strange and refreshing to be back in “album mode” for the first time in what seems like ages.  Plus having the freedom to listen to anything at any time again.  Really curious to see how this impacts our Last.fm stats in 2013…

Only downside is that I’m way behind on my Podcast listening and have 20+ episodes of Coverville to catch up on.  (Sorry, Brian Ibbott!)

Year Zero

Saturday, August 25th, 2012

Recently finished reading Year Zero by Rob Reid and mostly dug it.  Learned about the book via this headline on the All Songs Considered Blog:

Aliens Have Landed, Hoping To License All Of Humanity’s Music

Gets a little wacky and a little campy at times, but overall it’s a heck of a fun ride.  I especially liked the hidden musical tourette’s scattered throughout ala Timely Persuasion.  (Less frequent, but I’ll admit sometimes less forced…)  And the epilogue is just plain brilliant.

Check out the trailer below.

Of The Year – 2011

Sunday, January 1st, 2012

After a so so year for albums in 2010, this time around I actually have enough candidates for a proper top 10.

1. Pink Strat — Bahamas
This record came out in Canada in 2009, but just came out in the US in 2011. (Yay, time travel!)  Quietly snuck up on me as my go to album this year.  And I love that the band is named after a lyric in that old Wreckless Eric song.

2. Circuital — My Morning Jacket
Felt like a shoo-in for album of the year upon release and sustained that for most of the year. Majestic and fun rock songs that go really well together.

3. Fixin’ To Die — G. Love
G’s best work since The Hustle. Whenever I start to think he’s all washed up he goes and does something like this to win me back.

4. Kiss Each Other Clean — Iron & Wine
Iron & Wine & Electronica & Orchestration…and it works really well.

5. The Whole Love — Wilco
Some are calling this a comeback record or a return to form, but I don’t think Wilco ever really left.

5.5 An Argument With Myself (EP) – Jens Lekman
I have this weird and arbitrary rule that an EP doesn’t qualify for album of the year.  But if it did, this one would rank right around here.  Very excited for the new full length Jens to land sometime in 2012.

6. Rome — Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi
Super group alert! Danger Mouse continues his impressive run, while splitting vocal duties between Jack White & Nora Jones was just about perfect.

7. Yes and Also Yes — Mike Doughty
Not quite as good as Sad Man Happy Man, but Doughty is still the infallible band for me.

8. Celebration, Florida — The Felice Brothers
2011 will go down as the year I began to embrace the Felices on my own outside of them being my wife’s favorite band. This guy has a review that’s better than anything if have to say about this record, so I’ll let him speak on my behalf.

9. Rave on Buddy Holly — Various Artists
Heck of a compilation. Hearing Paul McCartney go crazy at the end of “It’s So Easy” might be my favorite individual moment in a song this year.

10. Minnesota — Mason Jennings
Had high hopes for this going in and initially felt a little disappointed, but warmed up to it more with each listen.  But just 9 songs?  More, Mason, more!

Newermind Track by Track

Saturday, August 6th, 2011

Been (mostly) digging Spin’s cleverly titled Newermind cover album in honor of the 20th anniversary of Nirvana’s Nevermind.  Song by song thoughts:

“Smells Like Teen Spirit” covered by the Meat Puppets
Great choice of band to kick things off, great cover that’s both true to the original while performed in an Unplugged-ish Meat Puppets style.

“In Bloom” covered by Butch Walker & the Black Widows
Groovy take that accentuates the bass line and funks up the guitar.  Really like the vocals here too.  A fun cover.

“Come As You Are” covered by Midnight Juggernauts
Gothy and ambient with a weird child-like vocal, I didn’t really like this one at first but it’s grown on me a little.  Best part is the extended repetition of the “memoria” mantra in the middle.

“Breed” covered by Titus Andronicus
Straight up rocker gets a straight up cover treatment.  One of my early faves from Nevermind back in the day that holds up no matter who covers it.  Love what sounds like the whole band singing the “she said” bit.

“Lithium” covered by The Vaselines
I really like the Vaselines.  I really like the concept of having the two bands Nirvana most famously covered return the favor here.  But this version doesn’t really do it for me as much as the Polyphonic Spree cover of the same song does.  (Related — I wish they took this “covers by bands covered” concept a little further with tracks by Devo, Greg Sage of the Wipers, and Lou Reed.)

“Polly” covered by Amanda Palmer
Haunting version that turns this into a creepy lullaby accentuated by music box sounding chimes.

“Territorial Pissings” covered by Surfer Blood
Another rocker gets the straight up treatment, right down to the “Get Together” opening.  Doesn’t try to break any new ground, but doesn’t really need to.

“Drain You” covered by Foxy Shazam
Another one that’s grown on me a lot, starting off as a ballad before unexpectedly rocking out.

“Lounge Act” covered by Jessica Lea Mayfield
I’m torn here.  This is my favorite song on Nevermind, so my expectations were probably a little high.  And the Painting Tasters managed to hit it out of the park when Ken Gordon covered it.  So this version here isn’t a bad cover per se, just disappointing.

“Stay Away” covered by Charles Bradley & the Menahan Street Band
Hands down the best song on this tribute.  If you weren’t paying attention and heard this cold you might not realize what it is until midway through.  A perfect example of what Brian Ibbott from Coverville is talking about when a band makes a song their own.

“On A Plain” covered by Telekinesis
Neat turn on a classic.  Almost sounds like an electric cover of Nirvana’s Unplugged version, taking things full circle in a metaphorical loud-quiet-loud Pixies concept Kurt was so fond of.

“Something In The Way” covered by JEFF The Brotherhood
Speaking of  loud quiet loud, this take on the not-quite closing track does just that.  I dig.

“Endless Nameless” covered by EMA
Props to SPIN for including this, even if they didn’t try the ten minutes of silence hidden track trick.  It’s a hard song to cover and pulled off admirably here — though I may have preferred a Local Boy style softer take that took the song in a different direction.