New Music: “Everyone’s Talking” – Night Owl

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“Everyone’s Talking” the latest song from Los Angeles indie rock outfit contains elements of garage rock, psychedelia and contemporary indie rock. The sparse but cutting chords provide a harsher contrast to the moody vocals and rhythm section.

Take a listen to “Everyone’s Talking” over at Wolf in a Suit and follow the band on Facebook and Twitter.

 

“Nevermind” at 25

In many ways, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is the ‘90s version of “Like a Rolling Stone”: the song that stopped time in tracks and changed everything that came after it. But there’s a key difference: “Like a Rolling Stone” was truly revolutionary its approach of combining rock music with sophisticated lyrics. The sound of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” wasn’t particularly new (just listen to the Pixies’ Surfer Rosa for instance), but it sounded revolutionary to most people’s ears. And that can be just as powerful.

Usually, front-loading an album with the single (and what would become the band’s most famous song) is a risky move: will the rest of the songs measure up? But also “Like a Rolling Stone” (which was the lead track off of “Highway 61 Revisited”), it’s a signal of things to come. What follows on both albums is a set of brilliant songs that find both artists at the peak of their powers.

The genius of “Nevermind” lies in its contradictions. The band attacks its songs with a punk-rock thrash but the melodies are catchy as anything the Beatles came up up. The guitars are distorted with noisy solos, but the production is clean and crisp: purposely designed to get a big audience. Cobain’s screams and wails sound angry (and they definitely can be) but there’s also wit and sarcasm in the songs too. (Something that is missing from Pearl Jam’s “Ten”, much as I like that album.)

I was too young to truly grasp the impact that “Nevermind” or “Teen Spirit” had musically or culturally. But even at 9 years old, when I first heard the song in my older brother’s bedroom, I could tell something was special about Nirvana that set them apart. The music was so immediate and intense. Like the mumbled lyrics of R.E.M.’s “Murmur”, it didn’t matter that I couldn’t understand a fucking thing Kurt Cobain sang. What mattered was that it stopped people in their tracks and made them feel something.

Sometime later, when one of my other brothers gave me a cassette of “Nevermind”, I played the hell out of it on my walkman on the bus ride to school. I loved every single song on the album for different reasons: the watery guitar sounds of “Come As You Are”; the instrumental break-down on “Drain You”; the double-timed second half of “Lounge Act” just to name a few. Every single song was captivating and exhilarating.

As I got to be a bit older, I began to had a more conflicted view of “Nevermind”. Be it elitist or stupidity (and maybe they’re the same?) I began to discredit its merits over artists who were noisier than Nirvana or artists who I felt like the band owed a massive debt to. This is a case where listening to “Raw Power” too much can be detrimental: “Nevermind” should have sounded as abrasive as that! Or: Damn, every single song Kurt wrote is a half-assed Pixies song! The most absurd was thinking “MTV Unplugged” was the only good thing they did.

These ideas are not only bullshit, but flawed. “Raw Power” is great and so are the Pixies. Nirvana’s Unplugged performance is legendary, but it’s not the band’s definitive statement. And “Nevermind” deserves every accolade it gets, because it’s the kind of album that comes along once in a lifetime. It changed everything. Of course, sometimes that means you forget how great the songs were and what a visionary Kurt Cobain was. Take an hour and listen to the album with fresh ears. Brush aside all the hype, impact and stories. Just turn up the stereo and take it in.

That’s why we’re talking about it 25 years later.

Matt’s 25 Favorite Bruce Springsteen Songs

I realized recently that I hadn’t updated in months. There were various reasons, but a big part was I was having trouble with things to write about. In honor of Bruce Springsteen’s 67 birthday and release of his memoir next week, I decided to list my 25 favorite Springsteen songs. Why 25? Well 10 didn’t seem like enough and something like 50 is a very daunting task. So I decided on 25. 25 also happens to be the age that Springsteen was when he recorded and released Born to Run, so there you go.

As you read this, you’ll note that some very big songs and fan favorites are missing. If I was writing “best” instead of “favorites” the list would be completely different. For instance, “Backstreets” is actually a better song than many listed, but it doesn’t speak to me as much as the ones l came up with. I also didn’t include “Because the Night”, because I consider the Patti Smith version to be the definitive one.

I also noticed several things while writing this. My favorite Springsteen songs are either 1.) the short-punchy numbers with a clear early rock and roll influence or 2.) the soul-influenced songs. Roy Bittan is without the doubt the most musically talented member of the E-Street Band (even more so than Springsteen, I think.)

25. The Wrestler (Soundtrack for The Wrestler/Working on a Dream)

Originally written for inclusion in the 2008 The Wrestler (for which it won a Golden Globe) “The Wrestler” got tacked on a bonus track to Springsteen’s worst album (Working on a Dream”). For my money, the song is perhaps his most under-rated. You could argue that he’s written better songs about a broken man, but the opening lines (“if you’ve ever seen a one-trick pony, then you’ve seen me”) remain a heartbreaking portrait of someone who has hit rock bottom.

24. From Small Things Big Things One Day Come (The Ties That Bind Boxed Set)

It might seem like a throwaway and a throwback to ‘50s rock. Again, this is a song you could argue that he’s written better songs in the same vein, but the performance is perfectly executed. I also love Max Weinberg’s taught drumming that propels the song. Bonus points for having a “fun” song contain a murder at the end.

23. Death to My Hometown (Wrecking Ball)

A bit of an experiment musically, in that it contains element of hip-hop, folk, celtic punk and soul. It’s probably also one of Springsteen’s angriest songs. There’s no mistaking his disgust when he spits out lyrics such as, “Send the robber barons straight to hell/The greedy thieves who came around/And ate the flesh of everything they found.” One of the few Springsteen songs where I find the live version to be inferior to the studio version.

22. I’m on Fire (Born in the U.S.A.)

You can just feel the sex ooze from the speakers in this track. An understated track that sticks with you in more ways than one. I used to think the fade-out should have gone on longer, but then I figured that two and a half minutes is actually  quite appropriate considering the subject matter.

21. Mary’s Place (The Rising)

I’m a sucker for anything Sam Cooke related, and here Springsteen lifts the chorus from Sam Cooke’s “Meet Me at Mary’s Place” for his own purposes. The premise in both songs is the same: everybody’s going to Mary’s place for a party. But by including it in on The Rising, Springsteen’s version of Mary’s party is a bit more like an Irish wake. How you feel about it live, depends on how you feel about Springsteen’s rock and roll testament act.

20. Ain’t Good Enough For You (The Promise)

This is a case where other acts would kill to have written something this good and Springsteen shelves it, because it doesn’t fit into his vision. It’s one of the songs I always turn to and put myself in a good mood, which is ironic considering the subject matter. But the call and response between Steve Van Zandt and Springsteen is absolutely infectious.

19. Hungry Heart (The River)

Being from Baltimore, I had to include this one. I’m also curious as to what The Ramones version would have sounded like.

18. The E-Street Shuffle (The Wild, The Innocent and E-Street Shuffle)

The first time I heard the song, I remember thinking about half-way through , “Okay this a pretty good Springsteen. But very indicative of his early days: great music, but quite wordy. But then I got to the false ending and the funky fade-out and the song became one of my favorites instantly. And the slow-burn soul found in the version from the Hammersmith Odeon 75 show is not too shabby either.

17. Brilliant Disguise (Brilliant Disguise)

This song contains of my favorite Springsteen lines: “Is that you baby, or just a brilliant disguise?” This song is interesting, because the pain is on the surface, but the crisp (if somewhat dated) production helps sooth the wounds just a little. Speaking of the production, the opening seconds sound like they belong at the closing credits of a 1980’s John Hughes movie.

16. Save My Love (The Promise)

There’s something magical about the way this song unfolds with Roy Bittan’s slightly melancholy piano carrying the melody that drives the song. The lyrics harken back to Springsteen’s early days when radio and young love were two of the things that mattered most to him. “Save My Love” is a good reminder that Springsteen doesn’t always have to go big to create something meaningful or heartfelt.

15. Meet Me in the City (The Ties That Bind Boxed Set)

To me, this song is better than half The River combined. I’ve always thought it of it as a kind if late night sequel to “Out in the Street”, but in this case, the narrator may or may not have gotten busted. (It’s unclear to me if the lines about parole violation and being in jail are a metaphor for a relationship).The E-Street Band is on fire here, and Clarence Clemons nails the saxophone solo like only he could. There’s no way to hear this song without gleefully singing, “if you can holler than say alright!” along with the band.

14. You’ve Got It (Wrecking Ball)

Major points for borrowing the title from a Roy Orbison song and making it sound it like an unreleased Roy Orbison song. (Hey, how come Bruce wasn’t in the Traveling Wilburys yet Tom Petty was?  One of the great wonders of life.)

13. Kitty’s Back (The Wild, The Innocent and the E-Street Shuffle)

The E-Street Band isn’t technically a jam-band, but when they do stretch out, they are far more imaginative and compelling than most jam bands. “Kitty’s Back” is the best example of this, where each member of the band is given their chance to shine in the jazzy breakdown in the middle of the song. The 17-minute live version from The Hammersmith Odeon ’75 is absolutely incredible .

12. Streets of Fire (Darkness on the Edge of Town)

A slow-burn on a song that absolutely explodes in the choruses. This is the song that convinced me that Springsteen is 1.) a great singer and 2.) and a great guitar player. His singing in the chorus reminds of a bit of Roger Daltrey’s performance on “Love Reign O’er Me”: loud and full of anguish with Springsteen fully in control of his voice as well.

 

11. I’m Going Down (Born in the U.S.A.)

I’m glad that Springsteen finally came around to realize how good of a song this is and has been playing it live somewhat regularly again. For some reason, this song became a late night staple at a dive-bar in South Bend Indiana whenever the Fighting Irish had a victory. If it seems ridiculiuous, it absolutely is. But that’s also the point.

10. Candy’s Room (Darkness on the Edge of Town)

Holy shit, that guitar solo. It’s like a hot knife through butter. But the real start of the show here is Roy Bittan whose stinging piano lines perfectly match the sexual tension within the lyrics and Max Weinberg who gives the song its sense of danger.

9. No Surrender (Born in the U.S.A.)

The whole song is fantastic, but the song has become immortal because of that line.

8. Land of Hope and Dreams (Wrecking Ball)

“Land of Hope and Dreams” is Curtis Mayfield filtered through the worldview of Bruce Springsteen. If you’ve ever needed a Springsteen song to lift you out of a rut, this is the one. The breakdown where Springsteen declares all the things and people that this will train will carry, is one of the best things he’s ever done. The song is every more poignant when you remember that Clarence Clemons saxophone track was added posthumously.

7. She’s The One (Born to Run)

Once again, “She’s the One” is another example of Springsteen taking a well-known musical idea that already existed and making it his own. In this case, it’s the Bo Diddley beat. Like all things Born to Run related, “She’s the One” is blown up to epic proportions. What I would have given to see  “Mona” intro he gave the song in the ‘70s.

6. Out in the Street (The River)

Probably the best song on The River, “Out in the Street” is the song where the two extremes of the album (the “party songs” and “life issues songs”) meet in a glorious celebration of the end of the work-week. I love Clemons saxophone solo here and the way the band plays underneath him.

5. Streets of Philadelphia (Greatest Hits)

“Street of Philadelphia” contains one of Springsteen’s best opening lines. The imagery of the narrator not being able to recognize himself in the window is heartbreaking. (A line by the way, I’m almost sure Bono stole from Springsteen for U2’s similar themed “Moment of Surrender.”) The sparse instrumentation perfectly captures the mood and isolation felt by the narrator.

4. Jungleland (Born to Run)

If I’m being truly honest, it took me until the death of Clarence Clemons to truly appreciate this song. A friend once commented that “Jungleland” sounded like a Meatloaf song and the comment stuck with me for years.  With its tale of gritty street-life “Jungleland” is the flip-side of “Born to Run”’s optimism. The howl at the end foreshadows the disillusioned dreams that fill Darkness on the Edge of Town.

3. Spirit in the Night (Greetings from Ashbury Park, New Jersey)

The first Springsteen song that I absolutely loved. This is wordy Bruce Springsteen at his best. The cast of characters here are immediately memorable: Crazy Janie, The Mission Man, Wild Billy, Hazy Davy (who infamously ran into the lake without his socks and his shirt). Always a show-stopper, the 75 version is a real mind-fuck. The E-Street Band turns the chilled out vibe of the original into a scorching rocker without ever losing its groove.

2. Prove It All Night (Darkness on the Edge of Town)

I’ve always liked this song, but after hearing the ’78 version of the song from a bootleg, I became obsessed with it. The interplay between Roy Bittan and Springsteen for the first four minutes is a thing of beauty. The band keeps pushing itself into oblivion until they can (and the audience) can no longer take it and with a crash from Max Weinberg, they go straight into the studio version of the song. If you’ve ever doubted that Springsteen is a great guitar player, you have to listen to those versions.

1.Born to Run (Born to Run) 

Did you expect anything else? So much has already been said about the song and its themes, so I won’t add to it. Plenty of other people have done it much better than I could.  But I will say this: check out the 75 version where the song is placed in the middle of the set and played at breakneck speed.

 

New Music: “I|L|Y” – Mount Zion

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By taking part in Christian Summer camps in their youth, Synth-Pop duo Mount Zion take a different approach to the genre by infusing some spirituality into their lyrics. Mount Zion is composed of Joshua Catalan (vocals, keys, percussion, guitar) and Cole Ossenmacher (keys percussion) and will be releasing an EP later in August.

In the meantime, check out the icy layers and sparse beats of “I|C|Y”. Take a listen below.

New Music: “Strays in the Cut” (EP) – Anna Rose

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Strays in the Cut, the latest release from singer-songwriter Anna Rose, expands on the bluesy sound of her previous release, Behold a Pale Horse. Strays showcases a dirtier, grittier side of Rose. The songs collected here rock harder and dig deeper. Even the slower songs pack an emotional wallop that was only hinted at on her previous work.

Opener “Force of Nature” kicks things off with blistering fuzz licks from Rose. “Nothing’s ever gonna stop me,” Rose snarls in a defiant tone. It’s a voice that you can believe. In the chorus she says she was born a force of nature, and the music behind her backs up her claim: it sounds like an impending storm and you’d better watch out.  “Under Your Skin” is another rocker, that sounds finds Rose channeling her inner bad-ass bar-band blues singer. The rhythm section gallops along at uneasy pace before letting loose so Rose can spit out a fiery guitar solo.

The slow-burn of “Start a War” is perhaps of the set’s highlights. Backed by soft drums and ethereal guitars, the song perfectly captures Rose’s tender vocals. No doubt that Rose is a rocker at hear, but she hits hardest when she dials in back and basks in the glory in the sound she’s made.

Strays in the Cut is available now. For more info on Rose and tour dates, check out her web-site.

New Music: “Younger Days” (EP) – Bronco Simmons

 

12828967_1136687693030327_7040733066526017224_oOn their debut  EP Younger Days, the Texas Alt-rock band Bronco Simmons recalls the heyday of 90’s Alt-Rock. The songs on Younger Days rock out, but never veer into faster paced territory. Instead, they move along at an unhurried pace that give the band plenty of room to showcase the dexterity of their playing whether it’s the anchoring bass of Dom Garcia (who really shines on the EP) or the interplay between guitarists Jorge Hinojosa and Brendan Freeman. As a lead singer Hinojosa lets the music move around him, rather than push himself upfront, making the band’s choruses seem effortless rather than forced.

Highlights include the slow-burn of “Away She Goes” and the rollicking “Heavy Chandeliers”.  For more info on Bronco Simmons, take a visit to their Facebook page.

Take a listen to “Heavy Chandeliers” below.

New Music: “Heroes” AMFM

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“The West Coast faded, New York’s jaded,” AMFM lead singer David Caruso croons in the middle of his band’s latest single, “Heroes”. The mid-tempo electronically tinged alt-rock number captures the feeling of getting older and realizing that the heroes you held when you were younger don’t always live up to your expectations. The music is a mix of shimmering guitars in the background that contrast with a more jagged rhythm upfront, suggesting the mixed feelings of lost innocence and disappointment in impending adulthood.

“Heroes” can be found on the group’s upcoming EP, due out later this year.  For more info on AMFM, check out the group’s web-site.

 

Song of the Day: “Fell In Love With a Girl” – The White Stripes

An explosive song that clocks in at just under two minutes, “Fell In Love With a Girl” just might be the coolest song to be released this century. Everything about the song – its violent riff, Meg White’s anarchic drumming, Jack White’s insane “ahhhhh-ahhhh-ahhhhh-ah!” screams – blasts out of the speakers and pummels everything in its path.

“Fell In Love With a Girl” just might be the best thing Jack White ever recorded in illustrious career. Inside those chaotic two minutes is a culmination of rock itself: blues chord progressions played at Zeppelin-esque volume; the DIY ethos of garage-rock and punk; the unbridled energy of The Who and the fierce attack of The Stooges; the power-pop sensibility of The Beatles.

A lot was made of the garage-rock revival at the beginning of the century. Some bands were really good (see The Strokes’ Is This It), others I thought were decent at the time but eventually realized were terrible (see The Vines) and some were fashion statements with instruments (The Hives). And  then there were the ones whose music you heard before back when they were called Joy Division. (Interpol, I’m looking at you.)

But The White Stripes established themselves above the rest with one single swoop. Whereas other bands felt like they were trying too had, “Fell In Love With a Girl” seemed spontaneous and off the cuff. (For the record, I do think Jack White does try too hard sometimes. Remember Get Behind Me Satan?)

The rest of White Blood Cells didn’t reach the height of “Fell In Love With a Girl”. The rest of the songs found on the album were very strong, but “Fell In Love with a Girl” was and too intense and too badass to be pushed by the wayside. The only way for White to eclipse or circumvent the song’s power was to create something more repetitive and simple sounding and double-down on it. “Seven Nation Army” might be on its way to becoming the most famous guitar riff of all time, if thousands of sports fans have their way.

But I’ll never get tired of hearing “Fell In Love With a Girl” in all its glory. To quote Bob Dylan, “Play fuckin’ loud.”

 

Song of the Day: “Let It Ride” – Ryan Adams & The Cardinals

Ryan Adams was on quite a roll in 2005. He released brilliant two albums (Cold RosesJacksonville City Nights) and one was pretty good one (29). Always one to confound expectations, Ryan went even further and made Cold Roses a double-album.

Coming off the heels of the sullen and mopey Love is Hell and the rocking (but record company demanded) Rock N’ Roll, the 2005 albums find Adams at a creative peak that many artists could only aspire to have. Each individual album is rooted in the Alt-Country that Adams is known for, but with a distinct flavor. Jacksonville City Nights is the late-night, roots album: the one where you down a bottle whiskey to mend a broken heart. 29 is the introspective album. And Cold Roses – the best of the lot – is the one where Adams channels both the Working Man’s Dead-era Grateful Dead and the ghost of Gram Parsons.

Needless to say, it’s a lot to take in (but that’s pretty par for the course with Adams). The highlight of Cold Roses, is the swinging lap-steel driven “Let It Ride”. Adams’ backing band at the time, the Cardinals provide him with a backdrop that lies somewhere between uplifting and melancholy. The song feels like that moment in the night when dawn is right around the corner, but the events of the night are still fresh in your mouth.

Adams’ drunken-fool narrator, desperately trying to make sense of his mistakes without quite owning up to them, suits this musical landscape perfectly. “I was at the bar til three. Oh lord, I wasn’t ready to go,” He laments. Later, when trying to woo a girl, he realizes that he still has his car keys, but can’t find his car. “Let it it ride,” He sings at the end of the song. “Let it rock me in the arms of stranger’s angels until it brings me home.”

Adams would never quite be this prolific again, and it’s not surprising. Though he did release a set of out-takes from this era entitled III/IV which is a kind of a cross between Cold Roses and Rock N’ Roll, which is definitely worth checking out.

New Music: “The Girls I Wish I Never Knew” – Heroin Girls

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The lo-fi assault of Heroin Girls’ latest single, “The Girls I Wish I Never Knew” comes blasting out of the speakers. The distorted guitars are mixed so loudly that singer and mastermind Billy Bulger’s casual sneer can barely be heard above the cacophony. But that attitude makes the song all the more appealing, since it’s the attitude and provocativeness that drives the song. And “The Girls I Wish I Never Know” has plenty of that to go around.

“The Girls I Wish I Never Knew” can be found on the group’s forthcoming LP, Introducing the Heroin Girls. For more information, check out the group’s web-site.