Monthly Archives: September 2012

New Music: “Fields Lie Fallow” – Indyns

 

No joke – upon first listen of Indyns’ “Fields Lie Fallow” I thought that I was hearing an Arcade Fire out-take from Funeral or their first EP, Arcade Fire.  The wordleess harmonies are pushed to the forefront while the band has plenty of punch and energy to keep the song from sliding into the melodramatic territory of Coldplay or Snow Patrol. A definite must listen.

Check out: “Fields Lie Fallow” here.

 

{Backpages} The Who: “Long Live Rock”

This is the first in a series of posts, where I look back at artists, songs and albums that meant much to me at various time in my life and reflect on what they mean to me.  This first installment tackles the band that got me through my teenage years: The Almighty Who.  

In March of 2007, after nearly a decade of trying, I finally saw The Who in concert. As a teenager, they were my favorite band. Between the ages of 16 and 20, I would have given anything to see them.  To call me obsessive would have been an understatement.

Months prior to the show, I prepared myself by listening to the band’s catalogue.  I quickly pulled Who’s Next, Live at Leeds and Quadrophenia. Pete Townshend’s power chords brought me back to my high school days. As other kids pulled into the school parking lot listening to Sublime and Third Eye Blind, my car speakers erupted with Pete Townshend’s power chords and Keith Moon’s violet and manic drumming.

Even before I went, I knew this was going to be the best show I would ever see. It wasn’t just nostalgia. The Who were always known as chaotic and wild performers. I had heard numerous bootlegs of their shows from the early 2000s, and even without John Entwistle they could still outplay most bands a quarter of their age.

That was much was certainly true of the show I saw. The Who played with more aggression and fire than most bands a quarter their age? Pete Townshend leapt and played with usual aggression much to the crowd’s delight. Roger Daltrey was in fine form as well – still able to perform his signature scream at the end of “Won’t Get Fooled Again”. This was not a band going through the motions.

When the show ended, something strange happened: I was disappointed. The show itself was great, but after years of anticipation, I felt let down. This should have been the greatest show of my life! Pete did the windmill!  Roger swung his microphone!  They played “Baba O’Riley”! They played “Sparks”! Instead of gushing about the show afterwards, I just had the feeling of “meh”.

I spent the next few days trying to figure out what this meant. Was something wrong with me, that I no longer was excited about seeing a band?  Had I seen too many shows over the past few years?  To paraphrase Pete Townshend: was it in my head?

Feeling slightly depressed, I put on Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited. I discovered him in college and he quickly became my favorite artist. Each time I listened to one of his songs I heard something different in the lyrics. I realized then, that I no longer felt that way about The Who’s music. They seemed to be a band for teenage angst, while Dylan tackled more complex and adult issues.

It would be another few years before I listened to The Who again.

In high school, The Who weren’t just an obsession. They were the soundtrack to my confusion and isolation.  The characters in Pete Townshend’s songs – Tommy, Jimmy, the snot-nosed and angry kids who narrate “Substitute” and “My Generation”, the young kid who discovers pin-ups and masturbation in “Pictures of Lily” – perfectly matched the awkwardness and the self-consciousness I felt.

My first real introduction to the band was through my older sister. For my 15th birthday, she gave me a copy of the band’s famed Live at Leeds album. On the way back from her house, I sat in the back of my parent’s car and put the CD in my disc man. Almost immediately, I was hooked. The opening song, “Heaven and Hell” was unlike anything I had ever heard. Keith Moon’s drums crashed wildly. Pete Townshend’s solos were fiery and chaotic. John Entwistle’s bass lines were thick and clearly audible

But it was the next song – “I Can’t Explain” that really caught my attention with its inward looking lyrics:

Got a feeling inside (Can’t explain)

It’s a certain kind (Can’t explain)

I feel hot and cold (Can’t explain)

Yeah down in my soul (Can’t explain)

No song had perfectly captured my own insecure feelings like this. Townshend’s lyrics were so simple and direct, but I felt like he wrote this song specifically for me. And the music was pummeling and forceful. I could identify with the character, but also hide behind the band’s power and aggression.

By the time I finished listening to the album, I was truly hooked. They were unlike any band I had ever heard. Every single song on the Leeds album was played for maximum impact. The power-pop songs like “Happy Jack” and “I’m a Boy” were tight and furious. In contrast the extended jams on “My Generation” and “Magic Bus” showed a band that could go in any direction they wanted.

Soon after that, I decided to pick up as many of the band’s albums as I could. I quickly added The Kids Are Alright, The Who Sell Out and Who’s Next to my collection. Within a few weeks, I had become a die-hard Who fan. Just as R.E.M. had been the band of my childhood, The Who were the band of my turbulent teenage years.

While I loved all of their albums, it was the band’s 6th album Quadrophenia that really left a mark. Through the character of Jimmy, Pete Townshend perfectly captured teenage angst. Is there a better representation of teenage confusion than when Daltrey screams, “Can you see the real me?  Can ya?!”  Jimmy’s self-identity issues mirrored my own.  Though I didn’t have the rage or drug issues that Jimmy had, I could still relate to feeling a bit adrift.  I didn’t really have a clue what life would be like after high school.  Beyond that little bubble, the world outside seemed uncertain and scary.

Though some have suggested that Townshend’s idea to incorporate the four different personalities of the band into the album, I found it to be very apt. Some days, I felt like a completely different person than I had the day before. I wanted to be liked and please many, but there was also a side of me that desperately wanted to choose my own path and not care what anybody thought.  I felt pulled in many different directions.  “I’m being pushed round, I’m being put down,” Daltrey sings in “The Dirty Jobs”.  I knew the feeling.

It was Pete Townshend’s solo Empty Glass that got me back into The Who. Even though I stopped listening to The Who, I still gravitated to this album. Unlike most of The Who’s catalogue (with the exception of The Who By Numbers and a few other songs) Empty Glass was a deeply personal album. Throughout the album, he tackles his problems with drugs and alcohol, attacks his critics and gives two of his best love songs (“A Little is Enough” and “Let My Love Open the Door”.)  It’s brutually honest and not that far removed from Blood on the Tracks and Plastic Ono Band. Empty Glass felt grown-up and real.

With a renewed interest in Townshend’s songwriting, I started listening to The Who again. The songs felt different than they had a few years earlier when I saw the band live. The teenage attachments were no longer present. I realized how much of a pioneer Townshend was.

Obviously, I knew his use of feedback, power chords and the synthesizer were ground-breaking. What really struck me Townshend was probably one of the first songwriters in rock who wanted to connect with his audience in an emotional and visceral way. True, many of his characters were fictional, and many were written outside of his own perspective, but he was constantly searching for a spiritual connection with his fans.  Though Lifehouse was aborted, its attempt was to make the music and its audience one. Townshend wanted the listeners to be part of the music and participate in it with him, not just listen to it.

Tommy’s revelation at the end of the album wasn’t just about his own journey. He fed off those who followed him: “Listening to you/I get the music/Following you, I climb the mountain, I get excitement at your feet” goes the chorus at the end of “We’re Not Gonna Take It!”  Similarly, “Join Together” demanded that the audience “join together with the band.”  Listening to The Who isn’t so much of a solo experience, but rather a communal one.

This interaction with the audience might be a good indicator of why the First Responders of 9/11 reacted with such enthusiasm when the band played at the Concert for New York City in October of 2011. No doubt that the band played their asses off. Unlike the other acts who offered reflective, somber or uplifting songs the band chose to play supercharged versions of “Baba O’Riley”, “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, “Behind Blue Eyes” and “Who Are You”. As Pete Townshend flailed around on stage and struck his guitar (he didn’t so much as play as attack it) the audience roared in approval.  For those few moments, Townshend, Daltrey and Entwistle proved that music is not only important but also necessary.

As for me, I doubt I’ll ever give up on The Who again. The band that meant so much to me as a teenager still has a lot of offer a 30-year old.  And if nothing else, I’m still blown away by live version of “Join Together/Road Runner/My Generation Blues” from The Kids Are Alright.

 

New Music: “ElektroAkoustic” (EP Link) – Rieces Piec.es

 

Elektroakoustic is the new EP by Jamaican producer Rieces Piec.es.  Rieces Piec.es was the sole producer behind MIA’s “XXXO Remix” featuring Jay-Z. Elektroacoustic finds the producer remixing tracks by such indie and diverse artists as Metric, Citty Towers and the Glitch Mob.

Rieces Piec.es describes the album as an “ode to my biggest musical influences, Pierre Schaffer, John Cage and other forefathers of Electronic Music.”

Check out Elektroakoustic music here.

Space Fight: “There’s nobody out there that sounds anything like us.” (Exclusive Interview)

 

In 2009, Spencer Miles – frontman, bassist, and New Jersey native – quit his job, left the band he was in, and packed up to follow his girlfriend to London. Once he arrived, Miles fortuitously met drummer Billy Hawkes and guitarist Tom Welch. Space Fight, named in tribute to old school Atari and Intellivision games, was born shortly after.

Space Fight is currently recording their debut full length album, title TBD, and will be making their North American performance debut on September 12th at Pianos at 10pm with Best Friends, Leila Adu, and Sleep Shy.

Check out the band’s energetic and psychedelic single “22” here.

Spencer, before starting Space Fight in the UK, you were in a band here. Was that band different than Space Fight?

Spencer: Yes, we were stylistically different, and I was just the bassist in that band. The turning point for me was the first time I saw Ra Ra Riot in 2006, my little brother is the lead singer. I thought they were amazing, and if he could sing in a rock band, maybe I could do that too. I started taking on a larger singing role in my old band for a few years, until I had the confidence to take on the “frontman” responsibilities. But by then, I was leaving that band and moving to London.

You guys met in London. What’s the story behind that first meeting?

Billy: Tom and I have been friends since we were eight years old and played in bands together since we were fifteen. We were completely bored with our last band so we put an ad out for a bassist and proceeded to ignore everyone’s replies, including Spencer’s.

Spencer: Billy finally emailed me back a few days after I responded to his ad. We first met over a few pints before we played any music, and it was weird. Good weird though. These two guys who grew up 3500 miles away, in a different country, had strikingly similar tastes and experiences to me. We had all grown up in the 80s, and it seemed the cultural differences between the US and UK were minimal. I remember there was some confusion about what each other meant by “football.” We lost track of time, and I missed the last tube home. And then they started talking about the chord changes in Steely Dan tunes, so I knew we were gonna click musically before we’d ever played a note.

I was surprised to find out that you guys have only been around for a few years. Based on “22” it sounds like you guys have a great chemistry together. When did you find out that you “fit” together?

Billy: I think ’22’ was the first original song we did together. Before Spen came to London he sent a load of weird demos, so me and Tom messed around with a lot of ideas before he even got here. When we met up in the rehearsal room for the first time it just clicked, or rather we said to Spen “we’re gonna do this to your songs,” and he said “that’s great!” There’s never been any awkward silences really, except when Spencer fails to understand one of our strange London slang type words. When we asked each other what stuff we were into, we came up with pretty much the same bands, though I still can’t get my head around his fascination for U2.

Speaking of “22” – it’s a great mix of psychedelic sounds with some manic drumming. Billy, your drumming in the chorus reminds me of some of Keith Moon’s fills and cymbal crashes. Would you call him an influence?

Billy: As a drinker, definitely. Not so much as a drummer. John Bonham and Stewart Copeland are more my thing as far as drummers are concerned. All lunatics behind a kit anyway.  I think you need to be a little bit of a nutcase to be a successful drummer. I like drummers that hit hard – your job in the band is to be the noisy one and completely piss off the rest of the band.

Are the songs more collaborative or is there one person in particular who writes the music and lyrics?

Spencer: I would give them a demo, and let them run wild with it. The chord changes and melodies stayed pretty much the same from my demos, but the final product has a distinctly different sound once they get through with it.

Billy: The lyrics are Spen’s. The music is usually his to start with, then Tom and I tend to bastardise it completely. His demo’s are usually all soft and sweet, then we come and smash seven bells out of it and it turns into Space Fight.

 You’re currently working on an album. What can we expect from a Space Fight full length?

Spencer: I think there will be a broader spectrum of sounds compared to the EP. On the EP we wanted to smack the listener over the head and say, “Hey, here we are!” On an album, some things can be more drawn out, and we’re having fun with that idea. We’ve already come a long way in evolving our sound, and we’re going to have some bangers like “22” on there, but we’ll showcase some other sides to Space Fight on our debut LP.

Billy: We have about three or four more songs to finish and its done. I think it’s gonna be great. There’s nobody out there that sounds anything like us. I’m trying to stop myself coming up with more maniacal “22”-esque drum beats though, as its an absolute bastard to play live. There’ll be a ten minute slap bass solo if Spen lets me do it. Slap bass is popular now isn’t it?

 

10 Songs Everybody Loves. Except Me.

 

“Stairway to Heaven” – Led Zeppelin

Quite possibly the number one offender in this category. Sure, Led Zeppelin were rock gods, but they were also massive dorks and “Stairway to Heaven” might be the dorkiest song (besides any song by Weird Al) to ever achieve mainstream popularity. If getting to heaven required taking a stairway with this song playing, count me out.

“Piano Man” – Billy Joel

I’ve come around a bit to Billy Joel in recent years, but I still find “Piano Man” abysmal.  It really might be the worst song that Elton John never wrote. For some reason, this song causes people in bars to go completely nuts and act as if they’ve never heard the song before, even though it was most likely played from the bar they just came from.

“You Shook Me All Night Long” – AC/DC

If you’ve heard one AC/DC song you’ve heard them all.  This just happens to be the one that I heard at various dances throughout high school and college.  The main riff is unimaginative and Brian Johnston’s vocals sound like squirrel choking on an acorn.

“American Pie” – Don McClean

There’s only one thing worse than “American Pie” and that’s Madonna’s version of “American Pie”.  The whole song is corny and goes on forever. It could have been a nice tribute to Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper.  Instead, McClean attempts to out-Dylan Bob Dylan by referring to Dylan as “the jester”.

“Free Falling” – Tom Petty

Tom Petty is the Patron Saint of anyone who has ever sang and played guitar on open-mic night.  “Free Falling'” just coasts along and never achieves that feeling of letting yourself go.  As for the lyrics, it’s the equivalent of those inspirational sticky-notes or internet memes.

“Crash Into Me” – Dave Matthews Band

I probably hate this song because just about everyone I knew in high school and many others in college adored this song. But really,  it just meanders and the chord progression is grating. Also any song that ends with “I’m the king of the castle” can’t be taken seriously.

“Hotel California”

The Dude said it best: “I hate the fucking Eagles, man.”

“Build Me Up Buttercup” – The Foundations

Third-rate Soul by a British band attempting to sound authentic.  I’ve had people tell me that they love Motown and Soul music and then tell me this is their favorite song.  I can’t forgive There’s Something About Mary for reintroducing this song to my generation.

“In the Mood” – Glenn Miller

You know how Kenny G is categorized as jazz?  Miller’s “In the Mood” is like the Kenny G of the 1940s.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” – Queen

Even as a fan of Pete Townshend and his flirtations with the rock opera, I find Queen’s signature song to be over the top and pretentious. Like McClean’s “American Pie” it could be a good song, but its execution grates on me. As for “opera”(made famous in Wayne’s World) part I find to be more clunky than amusing as most other people do.

 

 

 

“Weird Science” Ferrari Snowday (Video) + Free Download

If you like dance-pop, do yourself a favor and check out the video for Ferrari Snowday’s “Weird Science”.  It’s filled with numerous 80s references, and crazy hijinks.

Ferrari Snowday is comprised of Slimmy Neutron and Lee Wilkie.  Their first album Wasabi is available for free download here.

Song of the Week: “We Will Fall” – The Stooges

 

The first time I heard The Stooges, I had a vague idea of what to expect. I had read about the band in various books and magazines. Chaotic, primitive and raw were some of the various descriptions used to classify the band’s sound.

Still, it came as a shock to actually hear the band play. The album’s first two songs were indeed raw. Ron Ashton’s distorted wah-wah riffs played like buzz-saws. Iggy screamed and wailed over the noise. You could feel the blood and the sweat as the drums pounded your brain into submission.

Based on the album’s first two songs “1969” and “I Wanna Be Your Dog” I was not disappointed. But nothing prepared for the album’s third song, “We Will Fall”. Where the first two songs fed off chaotic noise, “We Will Fall” was two gigantic left turns.  If “1969” and “I Wanna Be Your Dog” sounded like a band a possessed, then “We Will Fall” was a descent into the underworld.

It’s a dark and moody piece of music. The creepiness is accentuated by a scratching viola, bizarre monk-like chanting and Ashton’s watery wah-wah fills. The song never changes pace throughout its nearly 10-minute length. There’s not a scream from Iggy. Instead his whispers are mournful and lustful. The longer the song goes on, the more it pulls you in.  You get the feeling that you’re being pulled across the river Styx with Iggy acting as Charon.

“We Will Fall” is the first song on The Stooges where Iggy lets his guard down. Throughout the rest of the album, the persona of “Iggy” has taken over. On “We Will Fall”, he actually sounds human. The anticipation of Iggy feels for his girl to arrive, only adds to the song’s tension. “I’ll be shaking, I’ll be trembling,” He moans half-way through the song.

“We Will Fall” is unlike any other song in the band’s catalogue (or Iggy’s for that matter). It’s not one of the band’s signature songs, nor it is one that a fan would rank among their best. But it’s certainly one of the band’s most interesting and chilling pieces of work. And whether they intended to or not, it’s almost as if they beat The Doors’ at their own game without even trying.

 

Album of the Week: “Tempest” – Bob Dylan

 

It’s rather baffling that it took Bob Dylan 50 years to write a song about the Titanic. After all, the ship’s maiden voyage has become something an American myth in the past 100 years. Save for a brief mention in 1965’s “Desolation Row”, Dylan has never touched on the subject at all.

Yet, here it is as Tempest winds down. Over a Irish waltz, Dylan describes the disaster in horrid detail. It’s not entirely accurate. In fact, it’s downright violent. Brother rises up against brother trying to secure a spot on a lifeboat. The watchmen dreams about the Titanic’s sinking, but cannot stop the impending doom.

Doom occupies much of Tempest. Dylan has always written songs about scorned, but the lyrics on Tempest are some his most biting since his the mid-1960’s.  “Even death has washed his hands on you,” He spits in “Narrow Way”.  The love-triangle at the center of “Tin Angel” recalls the cinematic “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts” from Blood on the Tracks. In this story however, no one makes it out all alive with “all three lovers together in the heat, thrown into the grave forever to sleep.”  Even his pets are downright nasty. “I got dogs that’ll tear you limb from limb,” He warns on “Pay in Blood”.

Tempest travels down the same pre-rock and roll territory Dylan’s been fascinated with the past decade. Fiddles and steel guitars are pushed to the forefront, especially on “Scarlet Town” and “Tempest”.  Tempest also contains some of the longest tracks that Dylan has recorded in years.  Four of the songs clock over 7 minutes, and the title track is nearly 14 minutes long. It’s good to hear Dylan stretch out a bit again. (If I have a criticism of Together Through Life, it’s that a few songs had too many repeated lyrics.)

Tempest is of course a great Bob Dylan album. What makes it remarkable however, is that Dylan didn’t seem to create what people think makes a great Bob Dylan album.  Since the beginning of his career, he’s always took left turns when people assumed he would be turning right. Tempest is yet another turn.

Dylan doesn’t seem preoccupied with tackling the world’s problems as Bruce Springsteen recently did with Wrecking Ball. Tempest in its own way does address human issues. It’s the reason why “Tempest” is filled with characters scrambling for safety from a sinking ship.  It’s why lovers are filled with rage ending in murder and suicide. “It’s doom alone that counts,” Dylan sang on “Shelter from the Storm” way back in 1975.

Tempest’s final song is an eulogy of sorts to John Lennon. “You burned so bright,” He laments. Like the Titanic, it’s a subject that makes you wonder why Dylan hasn’t tackled it before. After all, if anyone could relate to people’s perception of what Lennon should and should not do, it would be Bob Dylan. If you’ve ever seen the clip from Eat the Document where the two share a cab together, it’s a perfect example of how fame can destroy a person. Both are clearly out of their minds, but the longer the cab ride goes on the harder it becomes to watch.

Even though the song might be among Dylan’s saddest, ending it with such a tribute lifts Tempest from becoming too depressing. Perhaps Dylan is suggesting through Lennon’s ghost that even in spite of doom, one person can make a difference.