Monthly Archives: April 2013

Win 2 Tickets to See NTNT May 2nd at Seattle’s High Dive

My friends at City Bird Publicity are giving away two free tickets to see NTNT (Ninja Turtle Ninja Tiger) this Thursday (May 2nd) at Seattle’s High Dive.

Remember Bloc Party circa 2007 when they released A Weekend In the City?  NTNT pick up where that record left off with dance-infused rock and hints of Edge-style delay pedals.

Check out the video for “Vines, Baby” below:

To enter the contest email melissa@citybirdpublicity.com with the subject “NTNT Contest”.  Entries must be received by 11 PM EST, Wednesday May 1st.

Full info on the show below:

NTNT 
at The High Dive, Seattle, WA
May 2nd at 9pm
21+

Song of the Week: “So. Central Rain” – R.E.M.

 

Of all the early R.E.M. songs, this is the one.  It’s the one I’ve never gotten tired of even when I’ve grown tired of R.E.M.  The one I still listened to when I was ready to throw in the towel of a band that defined much of my childhood.  It may not get played the same way as “Man on the Moon” or “Losing My Religion”, but “So. Central Rain” is as perfect as a song that R.E.M. has ever written.

Like most R.E.M. songs, Michael Stipe’s vocals are the crux of the song.  On most of the early records, he mumbled his way through the song daring the listener to decipher what his intentions.  He could be ironic, distant and cool, and sometimes you could never tell which was which.  That was half the fun of those early records.

On “So. Central Rain”, it’s a different Michael Stipe at the helm.  He’s still mumbles, yes. But there’s a sadness this time.  “Did you never call?” He asks in the opening line.  “I waited for your call.”  Even a guy like Michael Stipe feels the pain of rejection, it seems.  When he cries out, “I’m sorry!” in the chorus, you feel the pain of both parties: his pain and the pain he may have caused in return.  Is this a break-up?  Like most Stipe lyrics, it’s difficult to tell, but he stills manages to have the upper-hand by kissing-off with, “go build yourself another dream”.

Of course, Stipe’s delivery won’t matter as much if he didn’t have great music to back it up.  Peter Buck’s plaintive chords are the perfect match for Stipe’s confessional lyrics: they’re neither soft nor jarring.  Bill Berry’s simple yet effective drumming is a high-point (especially during the bridge on which he’s given the closes thing he ever had to a ‘solo’) as is Mike Mills’  lead bass.

As the song draws to its conclusion, the tension builds.  Stipe realizes that the only way to get his emotions through is to scream and moan.  It’s one of the rare moments where he doesn’t stick to the script.  Stipe is no Jagger – throwing in endless supplies of non-verbal shouts  – so to hear him fly off the rails makes it all the more effective.

 

New Music: “Confessions of a Songbird” – Kristin Errett

 

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It’s not exactly easy to incorporate the phrase “blah blah blah” into a song.  But Kristin Errett does it so effortlessly on “Don’t Call Me Sweetheart” when referring to what her would-be man said.  She then follows it up with a real killer: “were you talking to me?”

Ouch.

Lines and phrases like that form the backbone of  Errett’s debut album Confessions of a Songbird.  The melodic Neo-soul and piano-driven songs cover up Errett’s psyche.  She’s wounded and put down by men and her own expectations in life, but refuses to go down without a fight or a sense of humor about it all.  “I kissed a frog,” She sings on “Happily Never After.  “But he was just a toad.”

Still though, Confessions of a Songbird doesn’t have the caustic and unnecessary put-downs of Taylor Swift’s 22.  Errett lives too much in the real-world for that.  Her experiences can inspirations for songs, but she doesn’t find experiences just so she can create a song.   “If you had a secret to hide,” She sings softly on “Cross My Heart”.  “I would know it.”

Confessions of a Songbird is a very good debut from an artist who looks like she’ll have a lot to offer in the future.  Sometimes debuts are measured more by being groundbreaking rather than on their own merit.  Confessions of a Songbird isn’t genre-bending, but on its own terms it’s a success.

Listen to “Don’t Call Me Sweetheart” here.

“Happily Never After” live at Mission Sound:

For more on Kristin check out her web-site.

 

Song of the Week: “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter In A Small Town” – Pearl Jam

 

“Uh ,this next song is the longest title in the Pearl Jam catalog,” Eddie Vedder announces on Pearl Jam’s 1998 Live on Two Legs.  Not only is the title of the song the longest in Pearl Jam’s vast catalogue, it might also be the most absurd.

But “Elderly Woman” or “Small Town” as it is written on the band’s set-lists, is the band’s campfire song.  It’s their version of “Sweet Virginia”, though not quite as raucous or drunken.  As it appears on the band’s second album, Vs. it’s a bright spot in otherwise bleak album.  Vs. found Pearl Jam fighting against what they perceived as enemies from all sides – critics, expectations, and perhaps even themselves.

“Small Town” hangs back a bit from the onslaught of “Go”, “Rearviewmirror”, “Blood” and “Leash” – punk tunes where Eddie Vedder is at his angriest.  “Small Town” by comparison is a folksong with a gentle melody that begs for a sing-along with its famous chorus: “hearts and thoughts they fade away”.  It’s a portrait of American life that seems forgotten, and at times taken for granted.  “I just want to say, ‘hello’!” Vedder sings during the song’s most emotional moment.  Even on an album where he screams, “Get out of my fuckin’ face!”, here Vedder seems happy to see loved ones.

The line resonates even more when the band plays it live.  The crowd almost always sings it so loudly, that Vedder himself is drowned out by the noise.  Like his heroes The Who, Vedder has always tried to break down the barrier between band and audience.  In the early days, he might not have been as successful as he wanted.  Fans were lost over the band’s war with Ticketmaster and other detours.  In recent years that line can be seen as a thank-you for those for that stuck around and are still supporting the group.

Even people I know that don’t like Pearl Jam absolutely love this song.  For a group that has been around a long time with little left to prove, “Small Town” remains an absolute high-mark of their career.

New Music: “Always on My Mind” – Dancing Heals

 

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No, Australia’s Dancing Heals aren’t doing a cover of the Willie Nelson classic “Always On My Mind”.  But their “Always On My Mind” is acoustic-based with a laid-back vibe. But that doesn’t mean that the band is on the heels of the Lumineers or Mumford and Sons.  “Always On Mind” has more in common with the lo-fi pop of Pavement’s “Gold Soundz” than the camp-fire singalong of “Ho Hey”.

Check out “Always On My Mind” here.

New Music: “Losing Sleep” – In My Coma

 

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Canada’s In My Coma act like the past decade of popular music never happened.  “Losing Sleep” the group’s latest single off of their debut Magnets & Miracles is a heart-on-your-sleeve guitar-rock ballad.  No irony or “too cool” poses here: just pounding drums and crunching guitars and earnest vocals from lead singer Jasper James.  The overall effect is big and arena ready in a way that recalls many 90’s bands.  If you feel like “rock” in popular music is missing check out In My Coma.

Listen to “Losing Sleep” here and check out the band’s web-site here.

 

Album of the Week: “Room on Fire” – The Strokes

 

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I have no idea if Iggy Pop’s The Idiot was an influence on Julian Casablancas when he was writing The Strokes’ Room on Fire, but the two records present their singers in transition. The Idiot, finds Pop wanders around Berlin completely fucked-up.  The night-life is still alluring, but he’s struggling to find a way out.  He sings about the club-life with a loving eye on “Nightclubbing” only end up on a train in “The Passenger” reflecting on the life that’s passing him by.

Casablancas’ mind-set seems similar throughout Room on Fire. He’s ready to move on beyond the drunken nights, even though he’s still in the thick of it.  “It’s just a phase, it’s got to pass/I was a train moving too fast,” Casablancas observes on “Automatic Stop”.  The Strokes’ debut was an ode to New York City night-life circa 2000 and 2001: distant, cool, ironic with a bottolm-less supply of parties.  Whether or not they invented modern hipster-dom, they certainly perfected through their image and the music found on Is This It.  Room on Fire contains plenty of parties, but Casablancas seems unsure whether he wants to be there or not.  If Is This It was a straight-up party-record, Room on Fire is the end of the night where you know a horrible hang-over is inevitable, and yet you keep drinking anyway regardless of the consequences.

“I said, ‘please don’t slow me down if I’m going too fast,”” Casablancas screams on “Reptilia”.  Considering that he would eventually become sober a few years later, it’s hard not to interpret this line as a cry for help.  “Reptilia” is the band’s “Passenger”: the sound of a man caught between two worlds, neither of which sounds completely appealing to its narrator.  The music on the song is the most intense the band has ever recorded.  Nick Valensi offers a furiously glorious riff – it’s chaotic and melodic.  Underneath, Albert Hammond Jr’s rhythm is violent and unwavering.  Its pulls the listener along at a frantic pace and the effect is unnerving.

Signs are elsewhere throughout the album.  “We could go out and get 40’s/fuck going to that party,” Casablancas tells a girl on “12:51”.  Drinking and getting wasted still has its appeal, but he no longer wants to be in a crowd – he’ll meet girls in the bathroom.  Could it be that he’s tired of his own image or crowds in general?  Perhaps he’d like to just fade away as evident on “Whatever Happened?”  “I wanna be forgotten,” He muses.  “And I don’t want to be reminded.”  The song also name-checks Tennessee Williams – whose plays were filled with tales of alcohol abuse.  Is Casablancas wondering if his own life could turn into a Tennessee Williams type play?

It isn’t just Casablancas that is stuck between two worlds.  The Strokes as a band in 2003 faced a tough choice.  Retread the same sound on Is This It, or try something completely new.  To do either might prove unwise and potentially disastrous.  Luckily, they had the foresight to improve upon their sound and add some other influences without completely alienating their signature sound.  The ballad “Under Control” has a strong Soul groove, while “Automatic Stop” contains a reggae beat.  Nick Valensi’s synthesizer guitar tone on “12:51′ would foreshadow the 80’s vibe The Strokes would take on their latest album Comedown Machine.

Room on Fire might not be as groundbreaking or influential as Is This It but it might be the better record.  There’s more at stake in its eleven songs and its hardly Is This Part II as some critics suggested upon its release.  Like Pop on The Idiot, Room on Fire is a fascinating character-study of a narrator who balances self-destruction and self-realization.

 

Song of the Week: “Hey Jude” – Wilson Pickett

 

 

Everyone knows The Beatles original version of “Hey Jude”.  Its extended ending is imbedded in our musical consciousness.  Lesser-known and nearly as great, is Wilson’s Pickett’s version of the song.

Pickett’s “Hey Jude” is full-on Gospel, something that The Beatles recording only hinted at.  (In fact, Gospel might be the only form of music that the Beatles couldn’t really tackle properly.  The Rolling Stones were much better at it.)  Starting off slow with a faint organ and soft guitar licks, Pickett’s voice is in fine form.  It’s loud and commanding, but also comforting.  When Pickett sings McCartney’s famous line, “the movement you need is on your shoulders” its feel like a helping hand will appear from heaven itself in a matter of seconds.

Wisely, Pickett decided not to recreate the famous coda of the song.  Instead he offers his own version.  As the song draws to its conclusion, the musics soars skyward with a rollicking, bluesy solo courtesy of Duane Allman.  For the last minute or so of the song, Pickett owns “Hey Jude” so much that for those last moments, you forget that the original was done by four lads from Liverpool.

New Music: “Spente Le Stelle” – Tessa Makes Love

 

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As dance music has gotten more popular over the years, it should come as no surprise that many artists and taking their avant-garde visions and pushing the genre to new limits. Take for instance, Russian-born Tessa Lena the force behind Tessa Makes Love.  On the surface, the rhythms and sound are familiar: it’s still music that can make you move. But Tessa’s voice is anything but.  The vocals are almost operatic in tone – its the sound of the old world and new world colliding into something new: strange and exciting.   Equally stunning is the video for “Spente Le Stelle”.  Its colorful and bright with Tessa wearing a distinctive and seductive bodysuit.  But there’s also a hint of menace.

Check out the video for “Spente Le Stelle” below:

For more on Tessa check out her web-site.

 

New Music: “Anika EP” – Anika

 

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Truth be told, I’ll give props to anyone who covers The Crystals – one of my all-time favorite groups from the 1960’s.  The Crystals’ original version of “He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss”) is a slow-burn of a pop song with Phil Spector’s trademark production creating a dense layer of drama. Luckily, Anika doesn’t try to replicate Spector’s vision and instead creates a dark and disturbing atmosphere to go with the song’s lyrics.  Her delivery is cold and robotic over distorted drums.  Imagine Nico singing the Crystals over a Nine Inch Nails track and you can get the idea.

And those two approaches seem to be the crux of Anika EP.  Its dark and mysterious.  Almost every single one of the songs takes a while to creep into your consciousness and it doesn’t really let go. “In the City” brightens things up a bit with a bouncy rhythm but its delivery still behind closed doors.  The two “dub” songs that close the EP stretch these limits even further.  One could argue that this style has become a bit tired, but Anika’s gift shines through even through the darkness.

Anika EP will be officially released April 16.  In the meantime, check out “In The City” here.