Trying To Get To You

Friday, October 26, 2007

Bootleg Friday: The Rolling Stones

First things first. I need to apologize for not putting up Bootleg Friday last week. No excuses, but I'm still working on finding a final file hosting solution. The one's that I'm using now have very limited daily bandwidth, so if you cannot access the file today, try the following day, etc. I will have this issue resolved by the middle of next week.

Ok, now that business is taken care of, today's episode of Bootleg Friday is short (due to the bandwidth issue) but very sweet. It's two Rolling Stones songs; an alternate version of Let It Bleed's "You Got The Silver" with Mick Jagger instead of Keith Richards on vocals. I've always been more of a Keith guy and I slag Mick pretty casually, but Mick's vocal on this is incredible, and is a revelation. The other song is an outtake called "Highway Child," recorded around 1970 with Ry Cooder at Keith's house.

I haven't been listening to the Stones all that much lately, but their music from this period, 1968-1972, continually occurs for me as the greatest rock n' roll ever. Better than Dylan, better than the Beatles. Why? Because the Stones brought sex and groove like no one else, and in doing so, they exemplified the form of rock as music. If an alien came to me and said, "Play me one song so I'll understand what rock n' roll is," I'd probably play them "Gimme Shelter." Or "Rocks Off." Or "Brown Sugar." Or "Sway." You get the idea.

Download: "You Got The Silver"
Download: "Highway Child"

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Give Me The Groove

There was a good article in yesterday's Guardian about the importance of drummers that's worth reading. Ironically, I found the article only a few hours after I got a text from a friend of mine who was at the Shins show on Tuesday night who told me that he was loving the show, but that I was right about their drummer. (The lameness of most indie drummers is one of my difficulties with the genre.)

At the Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band show last week at Madison Square Garden, while I was continually amazed by the energy Springsteen was generating, I found myself almost as often frustrated by the stiffness of Max Weinberg's playing. Weinberg is one of the great power drummers, and on the Springsteen material that calls for power ("The Ties That Bind," "Backstreets," "Badlands"), he's unparalleled. But on most of the new material from Magic, and on the earlier songs that call for groove and precision ("Brilliant Diguise," "Thundercrack"), well, I heard plodding instead.

I write this not to criticize Weinberg; he's suffered for his music, with several hand operations and back problems. Rather, it's to illustrate one of those truisms of music that is rarely mentioned and is isn't even consciously noticed by most listeners - although I think they know it intrinsically; without a great groove, even the best performances are dragged down. Or as Duke Ellington said, "It don't mean a thing if ain't got that swing." video of Clyde Stubblefiled and John "Jabo" Starks (James Brown's legendary drummers)

Monday, October 22, 2007

Some Worthy Reading

Another year, another CMJ, another four nights of me standing in clubs wondering what the hell the big deal is about buzz band _______. No matter, for this is not a post about me whining about my incomprehension at the continued ascendancy of indie rock. That's because I've got an article for you to read that sums it up much better than I could. It's Sasha Frere-Jones' piece in this week's New Yorker about indie's lack of soul. It's sure to cause a major (mostly negative) reaction in the blogosphere, as indie is dis-proportionally influential in media circles, and here is one reaction from Slate, which I enjoyed as well.

I especially admired Jones' willingness to slaughter some sacred cows that, well, needed some slaughtering. Espeically Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.

Monday, October 15, 2007

American Flag Lapel Pins

This made me laugh very deeply.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Bootleg Friday Delay

I'm having a little trouble with my file service this morning, and I have 1pm meeting, so there's going to be a delay in today's edition of Bootleg Friday. It will be up this afternoon.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Great (Internal) Radiohead Discussion

Ben: So you’ve listened to the Radiohead album three times. It seems like everyone is raving about it. What do you think?

Lazar: I think basically the same thing that I always think. It’s “good.” It’s well-crafted. It’s very modern and of the moment. It's intelligently arranged. I don’t think there are any particularly great songs on it. I can listen to it and derive a little pleasure from it. But it doesn’t do much for me.

Ben: You’ve never been a fan.

Lazar: Well, I’ve tried a bunch. Shit, I’ve listened to Ok Computer about 100 times, trying to hear what the hell everyone else hears in it. And I actually like Kid A a lot; I love “Morning Bell.” I think that song is actually soulful. But deep down, I suspect they’re really a bunch of pretentious British art school wankers. Hipsters fall for that sort of thing like evangelicals fall for Bush.

Ben: Didn’t you heckle them once?

Lazar: Yes, I heckled them at MSG in the summer of 2001. Everyone was rapturously into the show and I thought it was self-indulgent bullshit. I even booed them. I got a couple of nasty looks, but no one said anything. A couple of people came up to me after the show and told me they agreed with me – they didn't think it was that great either. My friend who got me tickets to the show wasn’t so thrilled with me. But she enjoys telling the story to people when she’s making fun of me.

Ben: What is it about them that makes you so crazy?

Lazar: The make me feel profoundly alienated. I’ve never been the guy who seeks to set myself apart through music. When I was really young and felt completely alienated from my peers, music was the means through which I could actually communicate with people and be my fully expressed self. I love that music can be the means through which I can make a connection with someone that transcends boundaries of race, class, geography, etc. So I look to music as a tool to face down the coldness of the world, which is probably why I love the heat (and community) of soul music (and Springsteen) so passionately. When I listen to Radiohead, I hear a fetishization of alienation – and the fact that so many people love it and think that it’s of such a high artistic quality makes me a little sad. Also, I have to admit that they’re one of those bands that always make me question myself: “Am I missing something?” “What am I not hearing?” “Do I need to spend more time with it?” It’s annoying.

Ben: You sure make this mean a lot. They’re just a band.

Lazar: Welcome to my brain. It’s not always a fun place to be.

Ben: Maybe you just don't get it.

Lazar: (snarling) Yeah. And maybe everyone's taste is up their...

Radiohead Frustration

A reader writes in...

OK, fuck the hype. This is crap.

  1. The Radiohead site has been inaccessible all day. I've tried several times and each time it's a different fuck up. Earlier it was just way slow. Like 5 minutes per page load. Now it seems their server has crashed and is defaulting to some secure interface that requires a login and password. Yes, I'm sure the traffic is overwhelming, but they should have been prepared. Every potential buyer who can't log in will log in later and use that disappointment as rationale to not pay.
  2. 160kb is lame. Yes, it's higher quality than most of what iTunes sells, but it's not CD quality. Yes, I'm holding them to a higher standard than almost every other web retailer, but they want to be judged by a higher standard. And you know what? Amazon sells their downloads at 256kb which i would consider close enough to CD quality to please everybody but the stodgiest audiophile.
  3. A CD is being released next year? Or in time for the holidays? In addition to the box set? Essentially the band is leaking the new album with a tip jar button.
At the end of the day this is a genius publicity move and not much more. They're not giving away the "crown jewels." they're giving away something that would have been readily available for free to any young computer user with the time and inclination to get it. And, they ARE putting out a traditional CD with traditional distro.

So, 4 stars for the concept. 1 star for execution.
Let's see if Trent gets it right.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Bad Reputation

Trent Reznor announced on Monday that Nine Inch Nails are out of their deal with Interscope Records and are not going to resign with a major label, going the Radiohead route of selling directly to the consumer. That's not surprising, given that he's been bad mouthing his label for a long time, even urging his fans to steal his CD's. It's also a move that makes sense given the fact that the avenues for mass exposure for a band like Nine Inch Nails (alternative radio and MTV) no longer deliver the results they once did.

But what I find fascinating are the comments on the Nine Inch Nails home page. It's over 1400 comments, 99% of which are filled with invective towards the major labels. That's not surprising either, given the anti-establishment bent of NIN's music, and the fact that "the man" is never popular in such a camp. But the intensity of the vitriol is worth noting (especially given recent events: Radiohead's decision to self-release their music, and the R.I.A.A. winning their first trial against a file-sharer); you really get a sense that the reputation of the record industry is probably a notch or two below child molester.
I'm not going to argue the truth or untruth about the perception of the major labels. (It lies somewhere in the middle.) But in a business environment where consumers are super-empowered in their choices in how to consume music, I believe that how labels are perceived by consumers is their number one challenge to turning their business around. And winning $220,000 judgements against single mothers may be a "victory," but it will be, in the long run, a Pyrrhic one.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Bootleg Friday: Johnny Cash, 1994

Today I'm going to dispense with the preamble. Johnny Cash in Austin, Texas on December 8, 1994, touring behind his first album recorded with Rick Rubin, American Recordings. Enjoy.

Download: "Big River" 12/8/94, Austin, TX
Download: "Sunday Morning Coming Down" 12/8/94, Austin, TX
Download: "I Still Miss Someone" 12/8/94, Austin, TX
Download: "Man In Black" 12/8/94, Austin, TX
Download: "Delia's Gone" 12/8/94, Austin, TX
Download: "The Beast In Me" 12/8/94, Austin, TX
Download: "Ring Of Fire" 12/8/94, Austin, TX

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Review: Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings: 100 Days, 100 Nights

I should be rejoicing at the ascendancy of Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings. MTV play. A feature in The New York Times. A 3 and a half star review in the Los Angeles Times (out of four). I am happy that after toiling in obscurity for years, she's getting more attention and hopefully, (much) bigger checks.

But after listening to her new album, 100 Days, 100 Nights, I'm left cold by her once again. She and the Dap-Kings recreate a lovingly faithful version of soul music circa 1966 - great horn lines, nice walking bass, jaunty rhythm guitar that falls in the "right" spots and lovely upright piano. And Jones' voice projects a gritty charm that makes it impossible not to root for her.

Unfortunately though, the greatness one hears in 100 Days, 100 Nights is in the echo of the era it recreates, not in the album itself. The album is a collection of thoroughly unremarkable songs that, while enjoyable to hear, do not dig deep enough emotionally to be truly affecting. They occur as part "my man did me wrong" and "you're going to pay for doing me wrong," all of it feeling more like an exercise in soul rather than actually being soulful. And while a great soul singer can make the most banal lyric feel like a Biblical truth, Jones is a fine singer, not a great one, and here, that makes all the difference.

There are some high points. "Tell Me" is a lovely piece of Motown feeling pop-soul that gets its point across with welcome brevity, and "Nobody's Baby" is a fine echo of Linda Lyndell's 1968 hit for Stax, "What A Man," which was later covered by Salt-N-Pepa featuring En Vogue and turned into the smash "Whatta Man."

If Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings are going to capitalize on their moment in the spotlight, it is going to have to be on the stage, because 100 Days, 100 Nights is an album that skates on the surface of soulfulness without penetrating the soul itself. If they are to take their game up to the next level, they're going to have to go far deeper.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Fun With Cliches

I'm writing this from a cafe in Williamsburg, one of Brooklyn's meccas of hipsterdom. I just finished a meeting and have a little time to kill before my next one...EVERYONE in this cafe has a Mac. Literally. Twelve computers, all Macs, including mine. Steve Jobs would kvell.

One of the things I love about iTunes is that if I can see what music people have on their computer if we're sharing the same network. An iTunes network named "Professor Esser" just showed up. So I'm checking it out as I write, and I'll be damned if it isn't the most "Willamsburg" collection of stuff I've ever seen in my life. I mean, it's right out of central casting:

Pavement: check (whole catalog)
Devendra Banhart: check (3 albums)
Animal Collective: check (3 albums)
The National: check (3 albums)
Modest Mouse: check (3 albums)
Architecture In Helsinki: check
Deerhoof: check (3 albums)

Then there's the "Pop I love ironically" section:

Ace of Base: check ("The Sign")
Barry Manilow: check ("Copacabana")
Backstreet Boys: check ("I Want It That Way")
Belinda Carlisle: check ("Heaven Is A Place On Earth")

And of course, there's the classic rock section:

David Bowie: check (9 albums)
Lou Reed: check (3 albums)
Iggy & The Stooges (5 albums - 3 Stooges, 2 Iggy)
Beach Boys Pet Sounds: check
1st two Elvis Costello albums: check

And finally, what would a music collection be without a little comedy?

David Cross: check (3 albums)

No Stones, Springsteen, Aretha, Otis or James.

I'm not really making fun. Ok, maybe I am, a little. It's not that the above artists aren't worthwhile. It's that it's a cliche of the music taste of a hipster come to life. I guess the thing about cliches is that they're sometime true.