Short blurbs recommending GOOD tunes.
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. Most of these reviews originally appeared in the Ear Buds section of the Athens News.
Pomplamoose is "grapefruit" in French, but Pomplamoose (the band) is hot enough that they've got the search term locked up in Google. Formed in 2008, this California duo exemplifies the latest amalgamation of videosongs and intelligent indie rock. What's a videosong? While the term is new to me, the fledgling format's been a fave of mine for so many weeks I'm getting tired of counting. (See my previous review of thru-you.com). Take both audio and video recordings of the studio performance and mash'em together. If you hear it emanating from your speakers it makes at least a cameo somewhere in the videosong. Back to Pomplamoose... Think: The Cardigans' Nina Persson meets Nico and you're close to Pomplamoose singer Nataly Dawn's vocal timbre (and look.) Oh, and there's a guy in the band too. Their latest videosong is a cover of Michael Jackson's Beat It.
Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, "Whipped Cream & Other Delights ReWhipped" (Shout Factory, 2006).
Austin Powers' 30-year sleep aint got nothin' on the four decades it took to reinvent this already derivative album. Released in 1965, the original Whipped Cream was no slouch, but like most instrumental loungey offerings of the era it's largely relegated to the obscure "deep classic" bins. Herb Alpert provided the original masters to several notable new fangled musician/producers, re-recorded some of the trumpet solos and poof! The ReWhipped remixes aren't always a huge improvement, but fans of the original will almost certainly dig the new backbeats. My dad is a big Tijuana Brass fan, but he's kinda stuck in his ways. So when I gave him a copy, he either didn't bother listening to it or found it so unremarkable as to not comment. Me? I like it.
Various Artists, "Livin' Lounge" (Continuum, 1995).
A few lounge standards ("Caravan", "Summertime",) get the new blood treatment but it's the originals, sometimes loosely and occasionally properly labeled as contemporary lounge, that make this compilation perfect poolside party music. "Confabulations" by Everlounge is a personal favorite. The only recognizable name in the lineup is Buster Poindexter aka David Johansen by way of New York Dolls. His contribution "Knock'm Down Whiskey" is a playful, showy ringside take on a heroic bout between man and a personated bottle of booze.
Silversun Pickups, "Caravans" (Dangerbird, 2006).
Apparently these guys (and gal) from L.A. were the bees knees of the modern/alternative charts in 2006/7 but I missed the boat. Get on the short boat with me! Think Smashing Pumpkins meets Mars Volta and you're getting close. "Lazy Eye" is the standout track, maybe even pleasing to grandma, until the 2:45 mark when the trademark Silversun Pickups jaws-of-life distorted guit kicks in.
Beck [Record Club], "The Velvet Underground & Nico" (beck.com/record_club 2009).
Beck and pals (including Giovanni Ribisi amongst others,) practiced the classic VU album's tunes for a day or so and then recorded the whole lot the next day. It's free and only available online. Give this audio-visual treat a whirl even if you're amongst the ranks who thought Scientology was sucking the edge from Beck. This homage is rough as hell, and that's a good thing. Note the detuned instruments in "Waiting for My Man" and the apropos teenage garage angst captured for their rendition of "Heroin".
The Gregory Brothers, "Auto-Tune the News #6: Michael Jackson. drugs. Palin." (icurd.com/at6 2009)
This is their sixth and best of seven currently available installments of hilarious poignant commentary on politics and pop culture. The Gregory Brothers use Auto-tune to jumpstart the singing careers of your favorite and not-so-favorite politicians and pundits. Auto-tune is music production technology software 'popularized' by Cher's 1990's hit "Believe" and maligned ever since by pursits' cries of, "Learn how to sing, ya damn robot!" Regardless, it's my second favorite music video meme of 2009.
Nada Surf, "Let Go" (Barsuk, 2002).
When I first listened to this album a few years ago my first thought was, "Nada Surf? Didn't I hear one of their songs on the radio in the '90's?" Yep, but their brush with fame was fleeting. The opening track "Blizzard of '77" is a sublime acoustic piece that'll evoke memories even if you didn't experience said blizzard. I like to think "Fruit Fly" is a metaphor for a totally forked up relationship but it might just be the perfect anthropomorphic tale of Drosophila. Either way, it's a great song. Some criticized Nada Surf for "stealing/borrowing Bob Dylan's magic" with their song "Blonde on Blonde" a mellow tune about listening to the album of the same name while walking around NYC. The borrowed magic doesn't bother me.
The Grownup Noise (2007)
Paul Hansen's voice is so fragile on this self-titled self-released debut effort, you'd never guess he sports a near-hulking six foot five frame. Based in Boston, The Grownup Noise's diverse and deliberate songs borrow strength from that fragility. (Is that ironic? Ask that dingbat Alanis.) A few songs on their album really grab me but it's their live show that keeps me coming back for more. Pay close attention to "The Trick" and "Nothing is Real" my two favorite tracks whether live or canned. The Grownup Noise is staffed by some of the most talented musicians this side of anywhere. Highly recommended.
Bon Jovi, "Slippery When Wet" (Mercury, 1986).
Because of the 80's pop hair metal void below, and because of three iconic tunes, you get to read about this rocktastic 80's album. "You Give Love a Bad Name" is ostensibly the anthemic tale of a succubus in angels' garb taking advantage of a mullet clad bohunk. "Livin' on a Prayer" instantly seduces with its opening riff. (What instrument is that?!) Presumably our two main characters' narrative continues here in an unlikely New Jersey love story. In "Wanted Dead or Alive" Mr. Bon Jovi ditches the star crossed lovers for a classic Western motif. I dare you to find a more infectious 12-string riff. That he references a 6-string in the song only adds to the mystery. The rest of this album is garbage, but these three tunes keep it floating above the poop.
Bleu, "Redhead" (Red Int, 2003).
The coveted triumvirate: brilliant songwriting, huge guitar sound and a dose of eighties throwback comes to life in this near perfect collection. "Somebody Else" is one of many quintessential, introspective, tweener, panty-wetter power-ballads. Triumphant anthemic orchestrations and refrains in "We'll do it All Again" channel Roy Orbison dosed on the musicians' designer drug du jour. "You Know, I Know, You Know" demonstrates understated R&B chops a-la Hall and Oates. "Ursula Major, Ursula Minor" is the last, best and most cohesive track. Had this album been released fifteen years earlier, Bleu would be a household name.
Kutiman, "ThruYOU" (http://thru-you.com/, 2009).
Transcending the mashup with mesmerizing freshness, this audio/video internet art caught my attention as its creator discussed his process on NPR. He explodes relatively mundane YouTube clips of musicians performing solo into amazing collaborative soundscapes with video montages of the footage used in the songs. Though the constituent clips are often unimpressive alone, the aggregate emerges thick with luxury. How thick? My musically disenchanted and disenfranchised friend exclaimed, "This makes me want to start listening to music again." Not every track is a hit, but the multimedia immersion lessens the infrequent lulls.
Wheeler, Konitz, Holland and Frisell, "Angel Song" (ECM, 1997).
Stardate spring 1997: I'm tuned into WOUB FM, cramming for an obtuse senior philosophy final when my third eye notices the other two have glazed over. Convinced it was the soundtrack and and not the mesmerizing academic content, I call the station to find out who was slurring the guitar that caused me to space out and immediately order the CD. "Kind Folk" was just one of many tracks featuring intricately mellow, drool worthy duals between Bill Frisell's guitar and Dave Holland's bass. The album is the perfect soundtrack for that hoity-toity wine and cheese soiree you'll have this spring. Airy trumpet and sax accompany the strings creating stately mood music to turn off your brain. Warning: don't play near the ill or exhausted. They will pass out.
Field Music, "Tones of Town" (MIR, 2007).
An excellent collection of songs about relationship, but not the boy meets girl kind. Think: How do we relate to the world? and ponder the song titles on this UK act's sophomore effort. "A House is not a Home" "Place Yourself" "Working to Work" And if you want a new spin on progrock, note the decidedly progressive "Give It Lose It Take It"
a song that unfolds like the mating of Ben Folds and Yes. (Gross! Don't picture it. Imagine it in your ears!) Fun orchestration and tasteful strings over quirky rhythmic piano create a great indie rock soundscape.
fIREHOSE, "Flyin' the Flannel" (Columbia, 1991).
Mike Watt formed fIREHOSE in 1986 from the ashes of proto-post-punkers
The Minutemen. I'm just sorry it took me ten years to notice. Many vignettes on this album remind me of the Talking Heads more than The Minutemen. Maybe it's the instrumental tracks or the light and fruity juxtaposed with grating rhytmic spasms. A sublime cover of Daniel Johnston's "Walking the Cow", the lone track sung by Watt is one of many standouts. There are a couple of grungey songs I could live without but it's otherwise a banner indie rock album... albeit on a major label.
The Dandy Warhols, "The Dandy Warhols Come Down" (Capitol, 1997).
The Dandys are one of those singular sound outfits, in that after you're familiar with them, upon hearing an unfamiliar song from another Dandy album, you'll recognize it in a few short notes. They've borrowed the wall of sound from Phil Spector and harmonies from the Beach Boys but they've massaged droning fuzzy guitars and catchy synth leads into a new sound all their own. The infectious "Not if You Were the Last Junkie on Earth" is clearly the hit on the CD. Rent 'DiG!' the must-see 2004 Dandy documentary film companion piece, depicting the Warhols' rise contrasted with the sometimes sad, always animated floundering of friendly rivals The Brian Jonestown Massacre.
Bran Van 3000, "Glee" (Capitol, 1998).
Though described as an "electronica collective" by some, it's BV3's genre-bending crossover tracks like the loungey, trip hop, art-pop "Drinking in L.A." that light my ears. Clearly those quick to label focused more on robotic specimens like "Oblonging" while ignoring almost completely naked folky tracks like "Mamma Don't Smoke" with its appropriately Big Lebowski-ish refrain "I'm more laid back than you'll ever be." Is it a coincidence that both 'the Dude' and Glee (BV3's debut) first graced our eyes and ears in 1998? Listen to the album for more Coen brothers conspiracy connections.
Danger Mouse, "The Grey Album" (2004).
If you're amongst the still large group of earbuds uninitiated to the world of mashups, you owe it to yourself to witness this quintessential groundbreaking bootleg effort of a still fledgling genre. The Grey Album is the unlikely yet planned serendipity of combining The Beatles' rock classic The White Album with Jay-Z's hip-hop neo-classic The Black Album. If you're a fan of either release, you'll find something to love.
The best way to get this album is via BitTorrent or other peer to peer file sharing solutions, but you can also acquire it from some popular online stores, like Amazon.
Guns N’ Roses, “Chinese Democracy” (2008).
If you’re a PC gamer, you’ll understand that “Chinese Democracy” had become the Duke Nukem Forever of the music world. But Axl Rose finally completed the album while a decade later fans are still waiting for 3D Realms to release the latest Duke Nukem installment. If, when the game is eventually released, its merit is of the same caliber as this album, fans of the Duke will enjoy an overproduced trip down memory lane and a sigh of... is that relief? Disappointment? Or some long lost primordial atavism unable to be expressed in words? “Democracy” is a mixed bag, but worth it for fans.
Broken Social Scene, “Bee Hives.”
This remix and B-side collection predates Feist’s 2007 iPod-fueled U.S. breakout and isn’t particularly Feisty, but her name might get you to check out the rest of this Canadian music collective. An understated schizo battle between plodding dreamscapes and dancey alternarock, from the untitled off-white-noise intro to the anticlimactic but superb finale of Feist’s sexy elegy “Lover’s Spit” (lyrics: “You know it’s time that we grow old and do some sh*%”). “Bee Hives” takes a little while to grow on you, but then becomes the rash that won’t go away, and you’re OK with that.
“A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All” (iTunes, 2008).
It’s too bad that this, easily the finest collection of new holiday songs since Bing Crosby and David Bowie teamed up, is only available via download from iTunes. Friends don’t let friends use iTunes, so do yourself a favor and buy the DVD version of these songs or watch the “A Colbert Christmas” on Comedy Central instead. Witness Christmas truthiness a la Stephen Colbert and a stalwart genre-crossing lineup including Willie Nelson, Elvis Costello, Toby Keith, and the requisite Hanukkah duet with fake-news pal Jon Stewart. The nine songs are clever, topical and irreverent — everything you want in a Xmas album.
Sufjan Stevens, “Illinois” (Asthmatic Kitty, 2005).
Stevens’ bold plan to concoct an album of songs inspired by each of the 50 U.S. states might be unattainable, but “Illinois,” the second installment in the series, is strong enough to represent the border regions of Indiana and Iowa, too. Airy vocals, exquisite orchestration, eclectic instrumentation and the unlikely pairing of schizophrenic arrangements with catchy hooks helped to make it the top-rated 2005 release on online review aggregator MetaCritic. The sparse accordion, banjo and electric guitar ode to Decatur is one of my favorites.
Ambulance LTD, “LP” (LVT, 2004).
On their debut, easily one of the best 10 indie releases in the past half decade or so, Ambulance LTD unites genres, seamlessly melting ominous plodding lounge and jangly folkinspired ditties amidst swimming ethereal sounds. Most of the 13 tracks are strong; my favorite, “Sugar Pill,” illustrates and justifies pristine deliberate production sans over-the-top gloss. The U.S. release features a bonus cover of Lou Reed’s “The Ocean.” Alas, only one performer from this amazing recording remains in the current incarnation of Ambulance LTD.
The Raconteurs, "Consolers Of The Lonely" (Warner Brothers, 2008).
I liked Jack White and co.'s first album (Broken Boy Soldiers) but this one's at least twice as sploogtastic. It makes me want to grow my hair out and scream "EPIC!" You should try it.
Dan Dreifort is a writer, consultant, musician and an IT/marketing/SEO/usability geek. He co-founded several companies including Eden Marketing and enjoys international travel. He wears size 10.5 shoes and has a 32" waist. Friends called him 'Duck' in high school. His mother calls him 'wonderful.'