Thursday, June 28, 2007

In the soup with John

Like a lot of people, I wasn't too impressed with the first hour of HBO's surf noir John From Cincinnati. It was hard to find things to like about any of the characters, and it was cryptic in a way that was more 'wtf??' than 'wow, you just blew my mind!' But now that I've seen three hours of the David Milch drama, I'm hooked to it like The Sopranos, Lost and, yes, Milch's last HBO series, Deadwood. Since it's probably not a show you can just drop in anywhere on, HBO is re-airing the first three episodes tonight – like lined up peaks for you to totally shred (Dude.)

There's so much going on in these three episodes, it's hard to put in one post, but here's some of the highlights. First and foremost is the opening credits, which are a mesmerizing montage of old surf film clips cut beautifully together with Joe Strummer's "Johnny Appleseed." In this regard, JFC dutifully fills The Sopranos shoes as opening credits that you relish watching again. I'm not sure if it's intentional or not, but Strummer's lyric about "don't go killing all the bees" feels especially ominous with recent news and all John's talk about "the end is near."

The music grows as a storytelling method throughout the series. When the second episode ends with a 'resurrection,' TV On The Radio's "Staring at the Sun" plays with the opening lyrics "cross the street from your storefront cemetary..." and goosebumps appear.

By the third episode, we're inundated with musical references. As Freddy "the ice cream man" (Deadwood's Dayton Callie) talks to himself in his car parked outside the hospital, he's listening to the Sarah Brightman duet with Andrea Bocelli of "Time to Say Goodbye (Con te partirò)" Freddy must assume the worst about Shaun to be listening to a song like this (especially considering his brutish nature.) "Aww. That's where the blind dago was supposed to come in. What's this, a different version?" No, Freddy, Bocelli actually comes in later. Some may remember once upon a time this song served as a sort of theme for Carmela on The Sopranos.

Then, in a very Twin Peaks-like scene back at the 'haunted' hotel room, Barry says, knee-deep in Milchspeak: "I alone, then, am favored by that jovially croaking postcoital falsetto winsomely caricaturing Debby Boone?" To which he starts to sing "You Light Up My Life," (did anyone else flashback to Todd Solondz' Happiness here?) When Barry later mutters the seemingly non-sequiter "black bobby socks," I find myself eerily looking forward to a Lynchian flashback that involves said song and socks.

Later in the episode, John makes Kai "see God," set to Buddy Guy's rendition of John Lee Hooker's "Boogie Chillen." Why Buddy Guy's version? Most likely because in the middle he starts improvising with the lines "gotta get away from John for a bit." The 'seeing god' montage is once again very David Lynch, showing four of the characters all being burned by metal: Kai's piercings, Ramon's necklace, Vietnam Joe's shrapnel in his leg, and the transdermal horn implants in Butchie's head. That last one was an odd revelation, one that you'd assume will have more meaning later, but Butchie as "the beast" here makes perfect sense. As Shaunie skates the half-pipe outside the Yost home, it's set to the song "Feeling Good," popularized by the great Nina Simone, but covered here to great histrionic effect by Muse. The onlookers gasp (Link revealingly says "Jesus Christ!") as they watch the resurrected son riding the homemade wave... cue credits.

Speaking of resurrection, you can imagine there's a lot of religious themes going on here - even the main character, named John Monad, a last name which philosophers associate with the obscure metaphysics of Leibniz. This use of a last name in sync with philosophy is pure Lost. Monism is the theological/metaphysical belief that 'all is one,' and there are no fundamental divisions. The setting of Imperial Beach is full of these 'divisions' or borders – Mexico and the US, Tijuana and San Diego, land and ocean, life and death. The main characters are faced with miracle after miracle, but refuse to recognize it as such, until Dr. Smith (played by chameleon Garret Dillahunt, who played two different roles in Milch's Deadwood) is shaken to his science-based core by Shaun's recovery. Then folks start to acknowledge what they've known all along: weird things are afoot since John arrived.

And last, but certainly not least, is Milch's dialogue he perfected with Deadwood. The characters speak a lot that seems nonsense, but with their actions, these words have a lot more meaning. When Linc (Luke Perry) says to Dr. Smith "Thank you. Thank you for the work you do," he sounds polite, but the look they give each other suggests enemies have been born. Meanwhile the following exchange appears to lead to punches, but instead to comaradie.
Bill: "What is your name please?"
Freddy: "What's your name?"
Bill: "Bill Jacks. I'm a retired police officer. And you don't want to make me ask your name again."
Freddy: "Retired cops don't get my name, what time it is, or pissed on if they go up in flames."
a few minutes later...
Freddy: "I'm a friend of the family, all right?"
Bill: "I'm a friend of the family."
Freddy: "Then they got two friends looking out for them."
Bill: "And you look out for them how, by seeing when their backs are turned so you can steal their drapes?"
The characters stand side-by-side with arms crossed staring at the house, the cop and criminal on the same side. It's exchanges like these that lessen the blow of not having another season of Deadwood to look forward to.

Playlist: John From Cincinnati - Ep101-103
1. "Johnny Appleseed" - Joe Strummer - opening credits/theme song
2. "Sun/Rise/Light/Flies" - Kasabian - closing credits episode 101
3. "Tic" - Kava Kava - surfers get ready for competition, episode 102
4. "Staring at the Sun" - TV On The Radio - Shaun opens his eyes, closing credits, episode 102
5. "Time To Say Goodbye" - Sarah Brightman - Freddy listens and talks to himself in the car outside the hospital, episode 103
6. "You Light Up My Life" - Debby Boone - , episode 103
7. "Boogie Chillen" - Buddy Guy and Junior Wells - John bones Kai / Kai sees God, episode 103
8. "Feeling Good" - Muse - Shaun rides his skateboard as people look on in disbelief, episode 103

More: HBO, in their infinite wisdom, has included a "inside the episode" section, giving the viewer more insight into each episode. It's very illuminating and you'll find yourself wanting to rewatch an episode as a result. Bonus: Here's Milch discussing discussing the show in a recent interview.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Now Downloading: New Releases 06.26.07

The theme of this weeks releases is a (slight) return to form, with new releases from Ryan Adams, Adam Franklin of Swervedriver, Bad Brains, Nick Lowe and Bryan Ferry. I already wrote a bit about Ryan and Bryan yesterday, so we'll concentrate on the rest (and throw in the new one from The Sharp Things for good measure.)

Playlist: New Releases 06.26.07

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Album: Adam Franklin - Bolts of Melody

Adam Franklin - Bolts of MelodyFrom the first driving chords from Adam Franklin's Fender Jazzmaster on the opening track "Seize the Day," Swervedriver fans (and that includes me) everywhere rejoice. Franklin is back after a shoegazing hiatus with his ambient pop Toshack Highway project, and the swirling sounds of his Jazzmaster + effects is a welcome sound to my ears after all this time. Bolts of Melody is not as driving a record as past Swervedriver efforts (see: Mescal Head,) as the only other upbeat song is the rocking "Shining Somewhere." Instead, it's like Swervedriver matured and reigned in their guitar acrobatics for more melodic introspection, channeling some Elliott Smith ("Birdsong (Moonshiner Version)") along with My Bloody Valentine and Dinosaur Jr. While it's tempting to call it a 90's nostalgia ride, Franklin has far more to offer here then just the desires of a Swervedriver fan, which is why I guess it's his name on the billing and not SD.

I have to admit, though, that it has me going back and listening to old SD and remembering just how awe-inspiring they could be (check out some amazing live recordings available for download here.) But this 90's nostalgia trip is all on me, and I admit it happens more these days than I care to admit.

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Album: Bad Brains - Build a Nation

Bad Brains - Build a NationWhen Beastie Boy Adam 'MCA' Yauch used to mosh in the front row of Bad Brains concerts back in 1980, he'd probably sh*t himself thinking he'd one day produce one of the band's albums. A quarter century has passed and Yauch as done just that, with the band's first album with the original lineup in a decade. Build a Nation is a sort of return for the the band to their early strengths of hardcore muscle and attitude. If it weren't for the weakened voice of H.R., this could've been their best album since I Against I, but as anyone who's seen the band live lately knows, the range and dynamics of H.R.'s vocals aren't even a shadow of what they once were. Yauch is able to work around it somewhat with delays and effects, but you can't help but notice H.R. singing an octave lower then he normally would on hardcore standouts "Let There Be Angels (Just Like You)" and "Universal Peace," and it loses something as a result. H.R. had sort of sworn off hardcore, favoring straight reggae, and it's taken a lot of edge off his energy in the songs, and the visualization of the lead singer is one of him sitting in a chair sipping tea instead of thrashing about like their legendary performances. Cue nostalgic reference (CBGB's 1979.)

Free album stream from AOL

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Album: Nick Lowe - At This Age

Nick Lowe - At This AgeMuch like Ryan Adams' release today, Nick Lowe's title, At My Age, is both a knowing wink, and a realization of his current strengths. It's been six years since his last release, and he's mellowed even more, with the heart of the album not unlike a Charley Rich release, a country-tinged jazz shuffle with elements of rock which suits his age 58 voice very well. "I was sure that I could find a way to use this to my advantage," says Lowe (AP.) "Luckily, all of my influences, all of the things I liked musically, were all rather old for my age." The success of Solomon Burke's Don't Give Up On Me might have edged Lowe to this realization as well. Lowe has his own take here on "Two Sides of the Coin," which he originally contributed to Burke's album. Just because he's mellowed musically, that don't mean his lyrical bite isn't still snapping. Take "I Trained Her To Love Me," which follows a misogynistic old fart who can't help but take advantage of young women. Lowe knows that he'd be fooling himself to try an appeal to a younger market, and unlike another aging left-handed bass player I could name, Lowe could care less if his fans adored him or not. And that somehow makes him even more endearing.

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Album: The Sharp Things - A Moveable Feast

The Sharp Things - A Moveable FeastWith their third album, NYC's The Sharp Things have stripped away some of their trad-rock elements and focused more on scribing off-broadway symphonic rock, which suits the vocal vibrato of Perry Serpa much better. While in the past it sounded like he was auditioning for the chorus to Camelot, now he sort of is, with the the New York Symphonic Arts Ensemble backing him up. The album starts out alright, and just when it seems to falter (the mistep "Storm King") along comes the soulful "Cruel Thing" with it's fine background vocals and counter-melodies. While the album's production feels a little flat at times (apparently recorded on a laptop,) it's dynamic enough that the theatrical element of the songs shines through.

Also contributing is Hold Steady keyboardist Franz Nicolay, who fills in the ends of side 1 and side 2 (for you vinyl fans out there) with his instrumental magic.

Download: "An Ocean Part Deux" (thesharpthings.com)

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More going (or already in) the Sansa
Ryan Adams - Easy Tiger
Bryan Ferry- Dylanesque (Free album stream from AOL)
Beastie Boys - The Mix-Up (Free album stream from AOL)
Hem - Home Again, Home Again
Kelly Clarkson - My December
Sinead O'Connor - Golden Pollen
The Conformists - Three Hundred
Deleted Waveform Gatherings - Complicated View
Gore Gore Girls - Get The Gore
King Wilkie- Low country Suite
Marc Almond - Stardom Road
Rasputina - Oh Perilous World
Slaraffenland- Private Cinema
Kelly Willis - Translated From Love (Free album stream from AOL)
Pharoahe Monch - Desire

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Monday, June 25, 2007

Ear On TV: The Week of June 25

The prolific Ryan Adams returns with a new album tomorrow that is sort of a return to the alt.country focus of his much lauded debut, Heartbreaker. The album's title, Easy Tiger, serves as a mantra to the hyper-kinetic songwriter who's spread himself pretty thin since his reach-for-the-golden-ring album Gold in 2001. Couple that with his recent sobriety and you have Adams' most focused release since his debut. To get an idea of what to expect Wednesday night on Letterman, check out this earlier performance of album opener "Goodnight Rose" on The Henry Rollins Show from a couple months ago.

Also gracing Letterman's stage is Roxy Music's Bryan Ferry, who's latest solo release (Dylanesque - out tomorrow,) is made up entirely of Bob Dylan covers. Never one to play it straight, Ferry ups the irony of the album's title by making sure none of the songs sound at all like Dylan. Meanwhile, The Henry Rollins Show features one of my heroes, Robyn Hitchcock, along with his backing band The Venus 3 which features REM's Peter Buck, Scott McCaughey and Bill Rieflin.

Playlist: Picks for the week
Monday, June 25
CBS: Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson: Ben Kweller
NBC: Late Night With Conan O'Brien: The Apples in Stereo (REPEAT)
SYNDICATION: Live With Regis and Kelly: Kelly Clarkson
SYNDICATION: The Ellen Degeneres Show: Joss Stone
Tuesday, June 26
CBS: Late Show With David Letterman: Bryan Ferry
NBC: Late Night With Conan O'Brien: Explosions in the Sky (REPEAT)
NBC: Last Call With Carson Daly: The Format (REPEAT)
Wednesday, June 27
ABC: Jimmy Kimmel Live: Keely Smith
CBS: Late Show With David Letterman: Ryan Adams
NBC: Last Call With Carson Daly: Teddy Bears (REPEAT)
Thursday, June 28
NBC: The Tonight Show with Jay Leno: Velvet Revolver
NBC: Last Call With Carson Daly: Midnight Movies (REPEAT)
SUNDANCE: Live From Abbey Road: Red Hot Chili Peppers, Snow Patrol, Madeleine Peyroux
Friday, June 29
IFC: The Henry Rollins Show: Robyn Hitchcock
ABC: Jimmy Kimmel Live: T.I.
CBS: Late Show With David Letterman: Morrissey
NBC: Last Call With Carson Daly: The Nightwatchman (REPEAT)
Saturday, June 30
NBC: Saturday Night Live: Tenacious D (REPEAT)
Sunday, July 1
NBC: Concert for Diana: Kanye West, Bryan Ferry, Lily Allen, Tom Jones, Duran Duran and more

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Friday, June 22, 2007

Apocalypse ahora

I don't know about you, but I was pretty disappointed in the final episodes of Entourage's third season, and the prospect of season four coming so quickly on the heels of disappointment had me feeling a bit of dread (hence the delay in recapping.) The show needed a reboot, a shot in the arm... something to pull it out of the Turtle-Drama comedy spinoff that it had become. Turns out, all it needed was an Apocalypse Now-like journey into the jungles of Columbia to do the trick.
Medellín is not a movie. It's a life. It's how it is. And I defy anyone to define where life stops and the film starts... or vice versa.
Shot in documentary style, the episode was a sort of homage to the film Hearts of Darkness, which was a behind-the-scenes look at the madness surrounding the filming of Francis Ford Copolla's Apocalypse Now. As the cameras follow Vince on his passion project Medellín, the story of Pablo Escobar, we witness the insecurities of director Billy Walsh (Rhys Coiro) spiral out of control as he falls for an extra (played by Knights of Prosperity's Columbian bombshell Sofia Vergara.)

Meanwhile, the music used in the was an all Latin affair, with the bulk of it from South American artists. Much of Medellín's score was from the Oscar-winning The Motorcycle Diaries soundtrack, composed and performed Argentinian Gustavo Santaolalla. Meanwhile, two more songs come from Columbian born salsa singer Joe Arroyo, including the song "Suava Bruta," which we hear as the character Drama plays announces the attack on Escobar's hideout. Suave brut indeed.

Of course, it wouldn't be a proper Entourage playlist if there wasn't some hip-hop, and when you say 'Latin' and 'hip-hop' it's impossible not to think of the Mexican act Control Machete, who's song "Asi Son Mis Dias" kicks off the episode. Here's hoping this little journey gets the show back on track.

Playlist: Entourage - Ep401
1. "Asi Son Mis Dias" - Control Machete - The film crew arrives on the set of Medellin
2. "Oye Mami" - Malverde - Walsh convinces E he is ready to shoot
3. "Apertura" - Gustavo Santaolalla - Walsh is watching sexy dailies from Medellin
4. "Lima" - Gustavo Santaolalla - Walsh directs Leila
5. "No Pregunten" - TNS - Walsh and Leila have a drink
6. "En Barranquilla Me Quedo" - Joe Arroyo - E asks Walsh for an ending for the movie
7. "Song for Jordan" - Del Castillo - Walsh belts one down
8. "De Mis Huellas" - Incantation - Eric announces that Stephen Gaghan will re write the ending of the movie
9. "Suave Bruta" - Joe Arroyo - Drama attacks!
10. "La Salida de Lima" - Gustavo Santaolalla - Bombs away at a factory in Medellin

HBO tracklisting with scene details

Previously: My Super Ex-Agent (Episode 313)

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Limp alibi

If it seems like I took a TV break following The Sopranos finale, that assumption would be half-right. I actually spent some time catching up with summer's best show, the Denis Leary post-9/11 firefighter drama Rescue Me. I resisted initially because of Leary's got some some scary dramatic skeletons in his closet (Two if by Sea anyone?) and I've never found myself particularly drawn to police or firefighter dramas, but I overcame my trepidation and am thankful, as it truly is the best thing on these summer months - thanks in part, naturally, to the top-notch soundtrack.

Take for instance in last week's season premiere episode, when the floor blows is blown out from beneath the 62 crew, they're left dangling, holding on for dear life. When the The B-52's song "Dance this Mess Around" is juxtaposed over this tense moment, each firefighter seemingly dances with death, scrambling to try and save their own life (and a cat or two.) Most drama's would play it safe and pick a histrionic song to play to the viewers emotions, but in this case their choice was both bold and perfect. As each firefighter fell into the flames, the music softened the blow just as much as the pile of stuffed animals they landed on below. Later on, the episode ends with The Del Fuego's (should've been) classic "Backseat Nothing," reminding us that singer/guitarist Dan Zanes used to play rock for adults before he started working for Disney.

Leary (and co-creator/writer Peter Tolan) don't like to play by the rules (Tolan wrote a lot of great The Larry Sanders Show episodes hinting at this,) and last season was no exception. It's the blackest of comedy dramas on TV right now, and any given episode you'll be confronted with revenge sex, racial slurs, addictions of all kinds - you name the taboo, and they've looked at it without flinching. While the first two episodes this season have nothing as controversial as the scene where Leary's Tommy rapes his own wife in last season, there's still porn, masturbation, racial slurs, autism and erectile disfunction to piss off the politically correct. But it's all in such a context as to be offensive only to those not familiar with each characters' heart and dysfunction. You could call it a soap opera for dudes.

This last episode helped resolve the season finale with a case of erectile dysfunction - to stay out of jail, Tommy has to admit he couldn't get it up, but deep down, he knows this to not be true. We all know it's not true... not just because it's one of Sheila's lies, but also because how else could Tommy get the likes of Andrea Roth, Callie Thorne, Marisa Tomei, Jennifer Esposito and (making an appearance later this season) Gina Gershon. The typing the names made me straighten up in my chair. Also referenced in the episode was Brooklyn streetball legend Jack "Black Jack" Ryan, who is considered one of the greatest basketball players ever to not play in the NBA (video.) And finally, the episode ended with TV on the Radio's "Wolf Like Me" which could've made a great theme song for the series (not that "C'mon C'mon" is chopped liver,) perfectly describing Tommy's cursed existence:
Got a curse I cannot lift
Shines when the sunset shifts
When the moon is round and full
Gotta bust that box gotta gut that fish
My mind's aflame...
Playlist: Rescue Me - Eps 401-402
1. "Dance This Mess Around" - The B-52's - The floor falls out from the crew and they fall into the flames one by one
2. "Backseat Nothing" - The Del Fuegos - Tommy goes to meet with Sheila about the fire
3. "Wolf Like Me" - TV On The Radio - Tommy commandeers a fire engine and the crew rides out to find his daughter

More: I totally missed the short lived series Leary and Tolan did called The Job, but after experiencing Rescue Me, this has moved to the top of my Netflix que.

Previously: Dulli lights Leary's fire (Rescue Season 2 on DVD/Season 3 soundtrack

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

In through Abbey Road's back door

What do you get when you parade 36 music artists through a legendary music studio? Probably a hefty cleaning bill. But also some magical performances... and when you add some cameras, you've got yourself some quality summer television viewing. Premiering this Thursday on the Sundance Channel is the live music program Live From Abbey Road, which is a rebroadcasting here of what folks in the UK already saw on BBC's Channel 4 earlier this year (it's also been broadcasted already in Australia and Japan as well.)

The concept is perfect simplicity: take an artist, have them perform three songs in the studio, and weave it with some interviews. There's no host and no audience - just the artist and the viewer... and that's really all you need. The diverse set of artists performing this season include Paul Simon, Gnarls Barkley, Wynton Marsalis, Snow Patrol, Gipsy Kings, The Killers, LeAnn Rimes, Ray Lamontagne, John Mayer, Iron Maiden, Primal Scream, Norah Jones and many more.

Playlist: Artists on Live from Abbey Road

The premiere features Mayer, Jones and Richard Ashcroft, and actually aired as the 11th episode (of 12) on the BBC, but because Sundance is looking for a wider US audience to tune in, they bubbled this one up to the top. I understand the reasoning, but it's unfortunate that for the first foot forward we have to listen to John Mayer wax poetic about his pedestrian "Gravity." And to see Richard Ashcroft still playing the song ("Bittersweet Symphony") that both made and destroyed his band The Verve, could've been a story in and of itself... one that is oddly ignored in the interview with Ashcroft. The second episode seems far more entertaining, with Red Hot Chili Peppers, Madeleine Peyroux and Snow Patrol all sharing air time from the legendary studio.

The diversity of acts on a given episode reminds me a bit of the old NBC show in the late 80's called Night Music, only on that program (hosted by David Sanborn, and later Jools Holland) artists would jam together on a song at the end. For instance, Sonic Youth jammed with The Indigo Girls on Iggy Pop's "I Wanna Be Your Dog" (Click here or look below for video proof.) Can you imagine flamenco masters The Gipsy Kings, UK pop sensation Natasha Bedngfield, and legends of metal Iron Maiden all getting together to play "Hey Jude"? Now that would be some entertaining television. (The Gipsy Kings actually do perform a Spanish version of "Hey Jude" for their segment.)

Of course the series also serves as a great chance to get a look inside the famous studio, where The Beatles recorded nearly all their work from 1962-1970 (192 of the Beatles' 202 songs.) To that point, each episode features a blast from the studio's past, this first episode celebrates the 40th anniversary of The Beatles live performance of "All You Need Is Love," in what was then the first global satellite transmission. It's easily the highlight of this first episode from the series.

While the studio is famous for The Beatles recordings, since the 1980s the studio has been the place to go for scoring film. They recently celebrated 25 years of scoring, from Indiana Jones to The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Abbey Road has been at the forefront.

I'll also be highlighting upcoming episodes from time to time on Ear on TV.

Previously: It was the greatest show on television (Night Music)

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Now Downloading: New Releases 06.19.07

There's been an air of seriousness with indie rock releases of late, so new releases this week from White Stripes, Art Brut and The Polyphonic Spree are a welcome breath of fresh air. Not that Icky Thump is all fun and games, as the lead single has Jack White taking a political stance about immigration: "White Americans, what? Nothing better to do? Why don't you kick yourself out, you're an immigrant too."

Playlist: New Releases 06.19.07

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Album: White Stripes - Icky Thump

White Stripes - Icky ThumpOver the past few years, it's easy to get the impression that Jack White had gotten bored of the confines he'd set forth with the White Stripes. Limited colors, instrumentation and influences seemed to box him in such a way that he needed to break free. The collaborations with Loretta Lynn (Van Lear Rose) and Brendan Benson (The Raconteurs' Broken Boy Soldier,) seemed like a signal, and right in the middle of that came the odd Get Behind Me Satan,) which experimented with keyboards and more sounds outside the lines formerly drawn. The album sounded great, but felt like it was missing something. Icky Thump seems to realize this and fills in that hole, coloring on and around the lines but keeping the spirit (and songwriting) of fave prior releases like White Blood Cells - they're back writing blues in the basement. More then any prior release, it demands to be played loud, and while there's no obvious hit like in past albums ("Rag and Bone" comes closest,) it should still rank with their best. So perhaps White wasn't bored with the Stripes at all, and instead just needed an outlet?

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Album: Art Brut - It's a Bit Complicated

Art Brut - It's a Bit ComplicatedAs I was saying before, all this serious indie rock of late sets the stage perfectly for Art Brut's sophomore release, and where their debut had Eddie Argos genuinely excited about forming a band and seeing his girlfriend naked (TWICE!) it's hard to pull off knowing he's now a rock star (and has his pick of naked women.) With experience comes indifference, "I can't say I'm not enjoying the kissing/But I've a sneaky suspicion that you're not really listening" ("Pump Up the Volume;") and of course a growing number of women he's seen naked "I'm nothing to my peers but envy and hatred/How many girls have they seen naked?" ("Nag Nag Nag Nag.") So while Art Brut pull off the same trick musically, lyrically it doesn't have the same enthusiasm - which honestly is an unrealistic expectation. It's still a lot of fun, though, and if you're already a fan, there's a lot to love.

Free album stream from AOL

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Album: The Polyphonic Spree - Fragile Army

The Polyphonic Spree - Fragile ArmyThe 24-piece ditch the multi-colored choir robes for black army garb which seems like a signal that they're abandoning the joyous naivete of past releases and getting down to business. Unfortunately, while the music is still all there, the attempt at depth in the lyrics don't work as well. It feels, at times, like an homage to Arcade Fire, when they were better at stealing from The Flaming Lips and Danielson Famile. The theme of optimism in turbulent times is one that is ripe and ready to be cut up into a salad, and I applaud (and salivate at) the thought. Just forgive me if I pick out the peppers.

Free album stream from AOL

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More going (or already in) the Sansa
The Mooney Suzuki - Have Mercy (Free album stream from AOL)
Robert Forster - The Best of the Solo Recordings 1990-1997
Grant McLennan - The Best of the Solo Recordings 1990-1997
Digitalism - Idealism (Free album stream from AOL)
Jennifer Gentle - Midnight Room
Savath & Savalas - Golden Pollen
Grand National - A Drink and a Quick Decision (Free album stream from AOL)
Maps - We Can Create (Free album stream from AOL)
Bumps - Bumps
The Lovetones - Axiom
Kinky - Rarities
Misha - Teardrop Sweetheart
Straylight Run - The Needles, The Space
Benji Cossa - Between the Blue and the Green (Free album stream from AOL)

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Ear On TV: The Week of June 18

It's the first week of summer, giving bands and viewers alike a good excuse to lay off the tv. But before you do that, just know that The White Stripes are back and playing Conan tonight, in support of their latest album (Icky Thump) coming out tomorrow. Early reviews see it as a welcome return to the basement blues of White Blood Cells, with the duo leaving much of the keyboard experimentation of Get Behind Me Satan behind, yet remaining heavier (and just as peculiar) as ever.

Elsewhere, this week's requisite Henry Rollins Show plug has Queens of the Stone Age bringing their stoner metal to the studio, with the added bonus of an interview with KISS legend Gene Simmons. But you could also use some fresh air, so... get outside!

Playlist: Picks for the week
Monday, June 18
NBC: Late Night With Conan O'Brien: White Stripes
NBC: Last Call With Carson Daly: Jill Cunniff
Tuesday, June 19
CBS: Late Show With David Letterman: Bright Eyes (Repeat)
Wednesday, June 20
zzzzzzzzz
Thursday, June 21
NBC: Late Night With Conan O'Brien: The Mooney Suzuki
NBC: Last Call With Carson Daly: Lily Allen
Friday, June 22
IFC: The Henry Rollins Show:
Queens of the Stone Age, Gene Simmons (interview)
NBC: The Tonight Show with Jay Leno: Kelly Clarkson
NBC: Late Night With Conan O'Brien: Rooney
Saturday, June 23
PBS: Austin City Limits: Alejandro Escovedo
Sunday, June 24
A&E: Breakfast with the Arts: Bonnie Raitt

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Sunday, June 17, 2007

Father's day absolution

What happens when you mix Father's day with the internet and a dash of Catholocism? True Dad Confessions. Been reading them for awhile tonight... truly addictive. Conveniently, you can make your own confidential confession in the form below.

I won't divulge my confession, but it might have something to do with signal reach of our baby monitor.

truedadconfessions

Song: "Daddy Drinks Because You Cry" - The Hudson Debacle

Friday, June 15, 2007

The kiwis invade, casually

This weekend marks the invasion of the kiwis, as both the box office and the boob tube welcome quirky New Zealand products. First, the film Eagle Vs. Shark hits theaters Friday (in limited run,) closely followed by the HBO television premiere of Flight of the Conchords on Sunday. To be more accurate, though, it's truly a Wellington invasion, as this NZ town is the home to the creators and stars of both. Add to that the band The Phoenix Foundation, who wrote the music for Eagle Vs. Shark, and it's like the entire Wellington scene has mounted an attack on our fair shores.

Album: The Phoenix Foundation - Horsepower
Download: "Sister Risk" (via Young American Records)

The Phoenix Foundation just finished touring in support of their debut album Horsepower, a great indie rock synthesis of folk and atmospherics ala Grandaddy or early Beta Band. They're widely considered New Zealand's best band and I had the honor to talk via phone and over a few beers, mostly with singer Sam Scott - main singer and one of the songwriters in the group. The following interview is cobbled together from our communications while they were in Seattle for Eagle vs. Shark's SIFF premiere.

DL: So how did TPF get involved with Eagle Vs. Shark?

Sam Scott: Wellington's not that big of a place, so we all [director Taika Waititi (Cohen) and actor Jemaine Clement were also in a comedy duo called The Humourbeasts] knew of each other from going out to parties and clubs. Apparently Taika was listening to our album Horsepower while writing it, and when he approached us, knowing he'd been nominated for an Oscar [for the short, Two Cars, One Night,] we were like "yeah, I think we'd be into that" as it would be an awesome opportunity. While we're influenced by bands like The Pixies, Velvet Underground and the like, we're also influenced by a lot of soundtrack music. Conrad Wedde [guitarist for TPF] did a lot of the compositions for the film and he and Luke (Buda) are really into Vangellis, Ennio Morricone, and things like that. There's this, I guess I'd call it landscape music that we're into... kind dreamy.. atmospheric...

DL: Kind of like the French band Air?

SS: Yeah... we're very much influenced by Air in a lot of ways. Which is funny because they were backed at one point by the band Phoenix, and a lot people thought we took our name from that, knowing we were into Air.

DL: Speaking of your name, I'm interested in hearing about the origin of the band name, knowing that there's a couple interesting possibilities.

SS: It was from the television show MacGyver [the corporation that Richard Dean Anderson's character worked for] but also kind of making joke of DJ groups in Wellington who had names like the Roots Foundation... Dub Foundation and names like that. It's sort of a silly name in light of that, but here it is nearly ten years later and we can't change it now. But MacGyver was a cool show when we were kids so...

DL: But then there's also the...

SS: Oh yeah... then years later we were googling the name and up comes this right-wing business group that tried to cause coups in various countries, to create their own... uh...

DL: Yeah, in the South Pacific [Minerva, and later in the Bahamas with Abaco,] they tried to create these libertarian enclaves, essentially tax havens.

SS: Yeah, but they never managed to do it. But that's just about the worst thing that we wanted to be associated with. We're pretty left wing and happily pay our taxes.

DL: So is it weird at all to be touring in support of an album you recorded four years ago?

SS: It should be weird, but it's not because we quite like the songs and it feels like the right way to introduce ourselves to America, the sort of starting point for the band. We didn't want to forget about that album, and I think we're going to get our next album [Pegasus] out fairly soon... late this year or early next. Hopefully then we'll be up to speed by next year.

DL: Musically, New Zealand has had only a peripheral influence on America at best. Neil and Tim Finn [Split Enz, Finn Brothers,] Chris Knox [Tall Dwarfs and Toy Love,] Martin Phillips [The Chills,] The Clean are what comes to mind when...

EVERYONE: We love The Clean! They're definitely a big influence on us.

DL: I thought so... them and possibly a bit of The Chills came to mind when I thought NZ bands with you.

SS: Not so much The Chills for me, but definitely The Clean.

DL: Knowing their limited sales here in the states, do you see it as a challenge? I mean, even Neil Finn's popularity here is via Australia (with Crowded House.)

SS: Yeah, I guess it's a challenge, but we'd certainly be happy with the level that The Clean acheived. We're not in it to make loads of money, just enough to keep putting out music for people to hear. And being associated with the movie helps, I hope.

SS: Speaking of that, it seems like there's a kiwi invasion afoot with you guys, the film and Flight of the Conchords all coming at once... is there more on the way?

SS: It's funny, almost like Wellington's taking up residence here in the states or something. And yes, there's certainly more where we came from.

Later in the evening, Scott and Buda quickly give me a list of other NZ bands that are golden in their minds: Lawrence Arabia, The Reduction Agents and The Mint Chicks. All worth definitely worth checking out.

They play their set, which shows their musical growth since the casual masterpiece of the their debut. "We've changed the songs a bit live, speeding up the tempo and making them a bit punchier," says Scott, and it shows. Pegasus came out in 2005 to rave reviews in NZ (see video for song "Hitchcock,") and they've got another album at the ready. Meanwhile, last year both Sam Scott (as Samuel Flynn Scott, see "War over Water,") and Luke Buda released solo albums (Conrad Wedde has one the works as well,) but you can only find Buda's electro-pop gem Special Surprise here if you look (Buda thinks this is due to Arch Hill Records association with Touch & Go.) A track from this also appears on the soon to be released Eagle Vs Shark Original Soundtrack.

"Going Fishing" is the first single from the soundtrack, and features snippets from the film. The song shows a bit of the Grandaddy love...


Eagle Vs Shark Original Soundtrack is available currently only through iTunes

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Seeing red (and yellow)

Like many boys, my son loves his Thomas & Friends wooden train set, and while my wife and I have always found the faces a bit creepy, we indulge him in his little obsession (my dearly departed Grandpa, who was a railroad engineer, would've been so proud.)

I was late to work this morning, so when I logged on I was deluged with email about this massive recall of Thomas & Friends wooden trains and accessories, basically anything painted red or yellow.

Song: "Red and Yellow" - Ampline

Well not everything (see picture to left.) The trains are made in China, and like the pet food recall going on, it seems to be a product of China's cost-cutting to meet US demand for their cheap-ass goods. Since we don't really inspect imported goods for things like poisons and toxins, I expect they'll be more Chinese products in the future.

Odd to think that one of the only red and yellow painted items not affected by the recall is the Chinese Dragon train. That sacred cow somehow got safer paint than the rest. Perhaps they're just a different shade of yellow and red then the affected items, but it does make for an odd coincidence, nonetheless.

One good thing to come out of this is the discovery of the band Ampline. Searching for relevant music for things like this is often kind of pointless, but Ampline's instrumental rock is angular and takes as many turns as a well built train set.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Now Downloading: New Releases 06.12.07

Another low key week as we look towards a hopeful Summer. The new burgeoning Seattle hip-hop scene climbs a few notches with Blue Scholars latest album, and new releases from Queens of the Stone Age, John Doe and Scissors for Lefty round out the highlights.

Playlist: New Releases 06.12.07

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Album: Blue Scholars - Bayani

Blue Scholars - BayaniSeattle hip-hop has been waiting to pop "since big butts and teen spirit" and at the forefront of this 2-0-Sickness is Blue Scholars. Their self-titled/released debut created a slow groundswell, with several groups vying for the crown of being the next Mix-a-lot. Blue Scholars have that opportunity, but their far too principled to make their mark in that way. They turned down many label offers and instead created their own label (RAWKUS) and made an album that remains very Seattle-based in it's lyrics and scope. Not much chance for them to break out based on it's lack of universality, but MC Geologic and DJ/producer Sabzi understand that there's still matters to be taken care of on the streets of Seattle, and if that means invoking the name of Sonic great Xavier McDaniel ("Fire for the People,") dropping zip code clues ("North by Northwest,") street names, landmarks, neighborhoods, and telling the story of the WTO battle in Seattle from a native's perspective ("50K Deep,") so be it. Sabzi's beats are still fresh, and Geologic's lyrical turns hit their mark and those not in the 981XX ZC will either have to wait, or spend some time googling the references, because they're still all ours (for now.)

More: 'Bayani' means 'the divine word' in Farsi (Sabzi's Iranian) and it means 'hero' in Tagalog (Geologic's Phillipino.)

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Album: Queens of the Stone Age - Era Vulgaris

Queens of the Stone Age - Era VulgarisYou get the feeling QOTSA frontman Josh Homme spent a lot of time honing the sound on this album, as it's stoner licks are sticky icky. But once you get past the incredible assortment of chunky goodness for your ear, the songs themselves leave something to be desired, like he's treading water or just bored with the process. As a result, there's a lot of throwing things on the wall to see what sticks. And when you got the sticky icky, your wall can look a little disorganized when you're through. If "Make it Wit Chu" seems like a fine exception, it's probably because it was originally a Desert Session song.

Free album stream from AOL

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Album: John Doe - A Year in the Wilderness

John Doe - A Year in the WildernessThe latest from this half of X is a synthesis of his past: Punk roots over rockabilly polished with country blues. Doe seems to have finally carved out his sound outside X, and with help from Dave Alvin (guitar,) Kathleen Edwards, Jill Sobule, Dan Auerbach (The Black Keys), Greg Leisz and Aimee Mann, has probably his most focused solo album yet. The duet "The Golden State" (with Edwards) is a soulful highlight here, a song that's so good it's likely to define his solo career. While he turns up the amps a bit more ("Hotel Ghost," "Unforgiven" - w/ Mann) there a lot of songs that Nashville should love ("A Little More Time,") instead of the sorry lot that passes for country music these days.

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More going (or already in) the Sansa
Scissors for Lefty - Underhanded Romance
Joan as Police Woman - Real Life
Datarock, Datarock Datarock (Free album stream from AOL)
Sonic Youth - Daydream Nation (Reissue) (Free album stream from AOL)
Porter Wagoner - Wagonmaster
Nada Surf - Karmic
Abra Moore - On the Way

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