Category Archives: Music Review

Six Thousand Dogs Ahead of the Game, in a Sense

“I was happy to be a black-hearted man in his mind if that would solve the issue between us because that was a bad-looking piece of pipe he had there and I was still six thousand dogs ahead of the game, in a sense.”

– Donald Barthelme, “I Bought a Little City”

The good people over at Tee Pee Records in NYC have just released Swedish rock band Blackstrap‘s new album, “Steal My Horses and Run.” I’ve got a soft spot for music that reminds me of the 90’s radio hits I used to record onto tapes with the first 11 seconds missing. Their best are the album openers, “Winning Speech” and “Rough Parade,” which sound like Garbage (the band) on a good day.

You might also want to check out Rachel Haught‘s cool bizarre electronica. My favorite track is “The Stars,” the song that dares to ask, “Why won’t they let you touch the stars?” And the more I think about it, the angrier I get.

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Blockbuster Music: That went under a long time ago, right?

Streamin’ music roundup:

kid theodore

Kid Theodore is an eclectic Utah band with an ear for melody and an eye for gorgeous packaging. My favorite tracks of theirs are the loose, improvisation-heavy “Fasion-able,” with its mellow lead and excitable backup singers who nearly threaten to drown him out, and album closer “Os Passarinhos,” both of which can be streamed at their dot com along with the rest of their full-length debut, Hello Rainey. Which is real sweet a them.

interiors

Tracks from The Interiors‘ self-titled album are ripe for the plucking, especially their hit, “Power Lines.” The guitars shine on this track, perfectly offset by the jagged vocals and relentless drums/percussion. Love it. If their next record is as good as this song, we’ll be in business.

bowerbirds

Finally, I just saw the Bowerbirds play at the Iron Horse on Saturday night. This hard-working trio of multi-instrumentalists mix it up enough to keep it interesting, but have a sound I can only describe as seafarer folk. “My Oldest Memory” was great. They closed with the beautiful “Dark Horse” and left the stage only after they played all the songs they knew. Which took about 45 minutes. Their myspace has their whole EP available for stream, and, like most good bands, they have a Daytrotter session. All of them are singing a lot of the time, sort of like that trio that Pete Francis was in. I’m seeing him at the Iron Horse for $11 on March 13.

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Me too me too me too: GRC Favert* Albums of 2007

andrew bird

1. Andrew Bird – Armchair Apocrypha: The first four songs on this album are damn near perfect and the rest is consistantly nice, including the iTunes add-on “Sick of Elephants”. I played “Plasticities” for my English 112 class and they used these words to describe it: inspirational, dynamic, relaxing, mellow, fantastical, Beatles, Guster, Dave Matthews (because freshman year of college, everything’s Dave Matthews), and one of them made a good case for the lyrics being about fighting death. Big year for Bird: He also did a great Daytrotter session and put out an EP featuring an acoustic demo of “Heretics”.

2. Arcade Fire – Neon Bible
3. Radiohead – In Rainbows
4. Once Soundtrack
5. Modest Mouse – We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank
6. Wilco – Sky Blue Sky
7. MIA – Kala
8. Josh Ritter – The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter
9. Iron & Wine – The Shepherd’s Dog
10. Robert Plant and Alison Krauss – Raising Sand

Nothing too surprising, here, but I stand by ’em. I’ve spent a lot of time this year listening to older stuff (as in any year older that ’07), especially since the move. Stuff includes: The Beatles – “Love,” Bjork – “Medulla,” Bruce Springsteen – “Nebraska,” Bob Dylan – “Modern Times,” Elliott Smith – “From A Basement On A Hill,” Gillian Welch – “Soul Journey” and “Time (The Revalator),” Nick Drake – “Way to Blue.” I also dig the Michael Ocean album and the Good Cheer recordings on their dot com. Special thanks to Forbes Library for their decent, eclectic music collection.

* That’s web-cute for “favorite”. My sponsors have been asking me to throw more of that crap on here. Personally, I hate it.

Show me forlorn. No, no, that’s dejected, I said… There! Keep doing that!

graveyard

Graveyard by Graveyard

I don’t spend a lot of time listening to bands that sound like Led Zeppelin and when I do, I listen to Led Zeppelin. But if Robert Plant’s album of gorgeous duets with Alison Krauss doesn’t quench your thirst for gritty classic rock, Swedish band Graveyard will do about as well as any.

Graveyard’s influences are narrow enough that their self-titled debut could have come out anytime between 1972 and today. That includes their straightforward production and arcane lyrical content, which boasts Spinal Tap titles like “Right is Wrong,” “Evil Ways,” and “Satan’s Finest.” As near as I can make out, the band doesn’t reference cultural touchstones from any decade. The semi-recent exception is the vocal style, which emulates Chris Cornell as much as Plant.

Imitation aside, this band rocks. Most of these songs are built around classic rock riffs in which the guitar doubles the bass line while the other guitar wails. They’re capable musicians, so I’m rarely disappointed when the inevitable instrumental break shows up two-thirds of the way through each song.

This isn’t an album to listen to all the way through, so I find myself coming back to “Thin Line” as my favorite go-to Graveyard song for it’s heavy lead riff, rock-out chorus and vocals doubled on the octave. In case you forgot that rock and roll is a lot of fun, Graveyard is here to remind you.

Graveyard MySpace

Graveyard Site

Another Reason I’m Unsure of Whether Sam Goody Still Exists

cyanide

The Three Sides of Cyanide Valentine reviewed by Gabe Durham

The name Cyanide Valentine makes me think of a muscled skinhead screaming “Pull the trigger / Pull the trigger / Stick it to ya head / and pull the trigger” in songs with titles like “Final Solution” and, uh, “Pull the Trigger.” So when I downloaded The Three Sides of Cyanide Valentine, my expectations were way down there.

They exceeded them in the first few seconds of “MegaFauna”. “Hey,” I said to my wife. “This doesn’t suck. Plus it’s free.” Free! Let’s not give Radiohead too much credit. Just because they released the best free album, they didn’t release the first.

The Three Sides alternates between dreamy, psychedelic pop and electronica, sometimes in the same song. They mention Flaming Lips’ Soft Bulletin as an all-time favorite, and I think that’s a pretty good touchstone. I’d throw out the names Pink Floyd and Massive Attack.

The album delivers some great pop moments. “Neanderthals,” with its big, ah-filled chorus, march drums, and steady build, sounds like Blur at their more melodic. “Nosferatu” is a sleek single with a chorus (“Inside your heart you’re dead”) that works better as a comment on Jim Jones’ suicide cult than a no-brainer observation about vampires. The song is best heard in tandem with its music video/Jonestown mini-documentary on the band’s blog.

The downside to free is that the band probably doesn’t get the diversity of instruments they might like and have to lean a bit to heavily on ahs, guitars, beats and tricks. A bass guitar would give “Neanderthals” the muscle that a programmed bass can’t deliver.

Some of the instrumentals are skippable. “Neon Skyhustler” would be more comfortable on the soundtrack to a spy videogame than here. “Kate” is the album’s best instrumental, as it offers something different, whereas the others sound like they’re just unfinished songs.

Valentine saves it’s best material for last. The pretty, acoustic guitar driven “Milk in the Gutter” deftly transitions into the electro-rock of “The Reprise,” which features the best studio noodling on the whole album while maintaining its emotional core.

Still, The Three Sides is a cohesive, homespun-in-the-good-way effort by a band that is serious about production and songwriting. See how this works? As long as we eschew the economy and share our work, we’ll all be happy if a bit hungry.

The Album: The Three Sides of Cyanide Valentine

The Band Website

For the Gun-Toting Squid In Us All

tmbg

 

 

The Else by They Might Be Giants

There’s a gem buried in the otherwise lackluster second half of The Else. “Withered Hope” is a piece of slick, irresistible sample-heavy funk featuring blazing Ricky Martin horns, harmonies, and unpredictable chord changes. Best of all, it’s got that TMBG trademark wit. The song begins with Sad Sack, an intentionally unspecific man—all we know is that he is “a sad bag”—who is in love with Withered Hope, a gal who doesn’t like him. When he confesses his feelings for Withered Hope, she tells him of her “soul mate in another state”. But, alas, the soul mate is in love with a crook, the crook is in love with a motorbike, and the motorbike is (somehow) in love with Sad Sack, thus completing the absurd cycle. Finally, Withered Hope’s hope withers enough that she pursues Sad Sack in desperation and, as the horn jams over that fuzzy funk, the song ends in just under three minutes. The lack of any morsel of character detail in work’s to the song’s advantage, suggesting that this isn’t a story about two people but instead an outbreak of romantic settle-for-lessism.

Ultimately, it’s a lyrical and musical lack of detail that keeps The Else from measuring up to TMBG’s better albums. “Take Out the Trash,” for instance, reveals its meaning by the second line—the trash is a jerk some girl should dump—and not really elaborated on but instead restated a few different ways over a throw-away melody. In a Paste interview about the difference between kids and adults’ responses to music, John Linnell said, “Kids are more literal. I’m not sure that they understand that “Take Out the Trash” is about your no-good boyfriend. A kid could listen to it as ‘Girl, why don’t you take out the garbage? It’s starting to smell in the kitchen.” I just wonder if Linnell isn’t giving kids enough credit.

For the producers the Dust Brothers, the album is less Odelay and more Guero: A few sonically inventive tracks, but otherwise pretty standard rock fare. “The Shadow Government” and especially “Feign Amnesia” are peppy and grating. “Contrecoup” is boring. “Climbing the Walls” and “The Cap’m” are enjoyable but offer few surprises. The Johns’ attempt to make a record that’s fun for the whole family turned it into one of the their most uneven albums in a career full of them.

Yet when TMBG turns it on for “Withered Hope” and the album’s killer opener, “I’m Impressed,” the results are thrilling and uncharacteristically stylish. The drum machine, crunchy guitar, compressed vocals on “Impressed” come together to create something eerie that rocks.

All of The Else’s strongest tracks have this in common: they don’t put carefully-enunciated vocals at the front of the mix. This wise restraint does shows up again on “Upside Down Frown,” an economical portrait of a couple’s miscommunications with over a quick, distant beat. “Careful What You Pack,” too, features a tense verse with odd noises and a big, sweeping chorus that could be snuck between “Coffee and TV” and “End of a Century” if not for the Yankee vocals.

I also recommend “With the Dark,” interesting for its many wild mood swings and claymation music video featuring the Johns as spies battling a giant squid, gun-toting squid not unlike the giant squid that fights the whale on the cover of Apollo 18.

The reason that the band appealed to kids even before TMBG began to market to them is that kids can listen to music like this for longer. They like enunciation, bright pop hooks, jokes/metaphors they can instantly recognize. Or at least I did at age eleven, when I couldn’t get enough of They Might Be Giants. They were a stepping stone in the development of my musical tastes, much like Smashing Pumpkins or the Presidents of the United States of America. But I return to these bands mostly searching for continuity between the things I liked in 6th grade and the things I like now. I’m reminded, listening to The Else’s better tracks, that when I pull out my Flood tape purely for nostalgia, I may not be giving They Might Be Giants their due.

Modest Mouse Progressive Review

guitar 

At Daytrotter.com: Day 1 of a five-day odyssey through Modest Mouse’s We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. Sure dozens to hundreds of other people have reviewed the album by now, but are their reviews as long as mine? Do their reviews lead off with a Dave Eggars quote? Furthermore, do the other reviews have original artwork portraying the band as creepy fishmen? Alls I’m saying.

The Much-Anticipated Damien Jurado Review

guitarI was at the gas station yesterday and three people hopped out of a convertible and said to me, “Gabe, when are you going to review some old Damien Jurado  album??” and I said, “Really soon, I promise, valued Gather Round fans,” and they were all, “Well get on it!” Part of me was flattered, but there was so much anger in their voice and so many medieval weapons (clubs, a mace, a level twelve broadsword) in their hands that mostly I was focused on getting the HECK out of that gas station. Well, now I can stop fearing for my life: Here it is, Your Precious Review. Our fans are so weird. Fame is tough. 

Gidon Kremer article

Here it is, three years of private violin instruction and one year of orchestra at work. In this article, I pull out all the buzzwords: “staccato,” “harmonics,” “very pretty and nice”.

Go get yourself some culture at La’s The Place.