Saturday, March 29, 2008

Gnarls Barkley Is Back with a Vengeance

I didn't buy Gnarls Barkley's new CD The Odd Couple right when it came out because I was skeptical that it would hold up to their surprisingly fantastic St. Elsewhere. Boy was I wrong. With their first single, "Run," Gnarls Barkley have proven their staying power.

If you've been hiding out in a spider hole in Iraq and don't know Gnarls Barkley, they could be described as a mix of Outkast and Black Moth Super Rainbow - a combination of innovative beats, instruments, and creativity.

From front to back, The Odd Couple scores big with a vast array of songs that won't get old anytime soon. Check out the seizure-inducing (but kickass) video for "Run."

You'll dance to it.

Friday, March 28, 2008

New Raconteurs

Even though I just realized that Heather already posted this clip, I figured I'd do it anyway. This new Raconteurs song will make your nipples dance:

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

iTunes Sucks - Is the Balls

I admit it. For years, I was an illegal music downloader. The RIAA would probably have had a good case against me if they caught me, but in my defense, I was a principled downloader. I railed against the selfish and conservative recording industry and their $18.99 Sam Goody CDs and their terrible digital stores that only provided a fraction of a fraction's worth of available music. I swore that if anyone ever came out with a comprehensive legal downloading site, I would renounce my ways and purchase music again.

Luckily, iTunes came along and satisfied my demands. After using iTunes exclusively for a few years I was able to buy most of the music I wanted at reasonable prices with little inconvenience. However, after a time I time I became annoyed: limited burnability of purchased music (only 7 burns in one playlist? wtf?), lower sound quality, and .m4p (.m4a if you're lucky) formatting of songs. iTunes had become ruler of the market and it seemed like no one was able to secure contracts like they had with so many different labels.

That's when I turned to Amazon. Amazon has an incredible used CD collection that you can buy at dirt cheap prices - I've bought amazing albums for as low as $1. I still like buying the physical CD since it allows me to rip the songs at a higher quality and also have a permanent backup in case something should ever happen my computer and 2 backup external hard drives. I'm a bit paranoid.

As if I didn't like Amazon enough, they go and roll out an iTunes-crushing mp3 store that rocks harder than Zach de la Rocha on fire (I don't know, I just picture him screaming "Bulls on Parade" louder if he's on fire). Slowly but surely Amazon is accumulating an incredible library of mp3's for purchase.

Instead of iTunes' $.99 songs, Amazon's are $.89. Instead of iTunes' average $9.99-10.99 ablums, Amazon's are $6.99-8.99. Instead of iTunes' 128kbps quality, .m4p format with DRM-protection that only plays on iPods, Amazon gives you 256kbps quality in user friendly .mp3 format that is DRM-free all the time and compatible with all players.

iTunes tried to do DRM-free music at higher quality, but they called it iTunes Plus and charged you like $1.19 a song. F*#@ that. Now with some stiff competition, iTunes is trying to do iTunes Plus for $.99 a song on some of their new music. Sorry iTunes, too little too late. I've taken my business elsewhere.

So buy your music at Amazon. And here's me getting off my soapbox.

Monday, March 17, 2008

My South-by-Southwest

I went to SXSW in Austin, TX for the first time this year. Here’s what happened.

My buddy Will and I arrived late. There was supposed to be a dance celebrating spring break at the end of our school day on Friday, and I was going to take off early from school so we could get up to Austin in time to see Basia Bulat at 9 PM, followed by the famed Vampire Weekend at 11. However, at 1:30, the power went out in our school, the dance was canceled, and Mr. Little Gun was stuck in a non-air-conditioned room with 22 13 year olds who haven’t all gotten behind the idea of deodorant just yet.

After being released at 4, we made the best time we could, but didn’t get to Austin until 11. Apparently Vampire Weekend is a popular band, because when we got there, there wasn’t a seat to be had. So we focused our attention on the 12 o’clock shows. At 12 we checked out the White Rabbits. I found the White Rabbits to be very legit. First, they have 2 drummers with full kits on stage, which is usually a positive. They also feature a keyboard, another positive. The band sounds a bit like the Cold War Kids, only with vocals that don’t soar as high as Nathan Willet’s. You can check out their whole album at their website. If you don't have time to listen to the whole album, listen to "While We Go Dancing;" in my opinion it's far and away their best song. If you like the Cold War Kids or The Walkmen, I’m betting you’ll like these guys. (side-note: I always enjoy when random band members walk around stage during songs banging on random percussion instruments…this band does that. 2nd side note: I’m hoping that a lot of you have never heard of the White Rabbits of The Walkmen so that I can sound really edgy by comparing a band you’ve never heard of to another band you’ve never heard of.)

After the White Rabbits, we caught Blitzen Trapper, out of Portland, OR. They were good, but not awesome. Their music was kind of bluegrass/psychadelic/rock/jam-band-leaning-ish, if that makes sense. Requirement for being in the band was that you had to have an unkempt beard; unless you’re the lead singer. The next day we met the bassist downtown, and he was a really cool guy…he was a big fan of my hold steady t-shirt…apparently they’ve opened for them…propers. The title track of their album "Wild Mountain Nation," is ridiculously good.

Before I move on to day two, let me explain SXSW real quick. First of all, its absolutely nuts. Walking down sixth-street at night you’re not sure if there are a lot of people out having fun, or if the world is ending. You can’t walk without knocking into someone. People are banging drums and dancing in the street, and there is loud music emanating from every bar you pass. There were 1,700 (I think) bands in Austin this year, and there is live music in just about every bar in town. Most places will charge a cover, but the max cover is about $15 dollars, so conceivably you can pay $15 dollars to get into a bar at 7 and watch ridiculously good live music by some very legit bands until 2.

On Day 2, that didn’t exactly happen with me. We got up a little too late and missed Paste 4 to Watch artist Lightspeed Champion. However, we did make it to The Whigs show at 1:00 PM (no cover). The Whigs are a power-trio that pretty much play straight rock n’ roll in the same vein as the Replacements. They rocked pretty hard, and I thought they were good, but I don’t see myself buying their album. After The Whigs I took a long hiatus to drive my buddy to the airport, go for a run, take a dip in Barton Springs, and enjoy some Texas craft brews before the big event of the night: M. Ward, followed by Jim James of My Morning Jacket (side note: if you don't own MMJ's Acoustic Citsuoca you's beautiful), playing at St. David’s Church. So excited was I for this show that I got to the church an hour beforehand, so I’d be sure to get in. As it turned out, others had a better idea than I did and I was about an hour too late. By the time I got there, they were only letting you stand in line if you had a wristband (which costs lots of money) or a badge (meaning you were “in the industry.” Apparently my KTTU press credentials didn’t cut it). As a pretty sweet consolation prize, I caught Okkervil River at Stubbs (awesome venue). After that I got turned away from the Dirty Dog (wrist bands and badges) who had the Tokyo Police Club on at 1am, and then Buffalo Billiards (same) who had Sea Wolf on at 1am. So then I caught up with some friends at Latitude, which featured exclusively acts from the United Kingdom. I caught a British band called Scouting For Girls, with hits like “James Bond,” which featured the chorus “I wish I was James Bond/JUST FOR A DAY!” Awesome. After that I wondered over to B.D. Riley’s where through the windows I caught part of the show by a promising sounding band from Chicago called Bound Stems. If you clicked on what I just had you click on, listen to "Excellent News Colonel." It sounds like a Bright Eyes track off of Noise clearly JTR won't be clicking that link. Check out their website, and click on South to get more favorable reviews. Anyway, next time I’m in Chicago I’m definitely going to see if they’re playing; a lot of energy.

And that was my SXSW

Friday, March 14, 2008

Kiss Me I'm Irish

Happy early St. Patty's Day! I was going to save this for Monday when it's official, but I figured I would post this now and give people some fodder for the festivities and debauchery that should be taking place tomorrow. I have a weird thing for Celtic music as it is, so I tried to limit my tastes to more mainstream tunes for your perusal.

Jack the Rabbit, I hope these are on the playlist for tomorrow. I know Afro Celt Sound System will be.

Enjoy these Irish artists as they provide some welcome energy to this holiday weekend.

**Disclaimer: I know the Braveheart song is Scottish, but the bagpipes are amazing and it gets me in the holiday mood regardless. Plus, we both hate the English. Also, Snow Patrol have been living in Scotland but they're originally from Northern Ireland. Suck it, Trebek.**

Bell X1 -
*Rocky Took a Lover.mp3

Damien Rice -

The Ike Reilly Assassination -
*When Irish Eyes Are Burning.mp3

Snow Patrol -
*Shut Your Eyes.mp3

Bing Crosby -
*When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.mp3

Boondock Saints -
*Boondock Saints Theme.mp3

Braveheart -
*The Legend Spreads.mp3

Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova -
*Into the Mystic.mp3

Dropkick Murphys -
*I'm Shipping Up to Boston.mp3

Van Morrison -
*Sweet Thing.mp3

The Pogues -
*London Girl.mp3

U2 -
*Sunday Bloody Sunday.mp3

Afro Celt Sound System -
*Whirl-Y Reel 2 (Folk Police Mix).mp3

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Imagine How Popular Cat Stevens Would Be If He Was First Hitting The Scene Now

These days, the bigger pansy you are, the bigger you're going to be in the indie music scene (see: Bright Eyes, The Format, The Weepies, any other band that Little Gun likes). Given this fact, imagine how successful Cat Stevens would be if he was putting out music for the first time today. The edge he would have on the field would be that he's not in the least bit angsty. So, no, Little Gun, angsty singing does not "happen to everyone." Just see Exhibit A.

Exhibit A:
Cat Stevens - On The Road To Find Out

(P.S. - I would have put Iron & Wine in the list of nancy music except that I think he's more like a Paul Simon on different drugs and with less compelling percussion. I'm actually waiting for him to start a religion. I may join.)

- jack rizzle.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

I Can't Get This Song Out of My Head

I really don't know much about Tift Merritt, but she was the first song on this past month's Paste magazine sampler and I can't stop listening to it. Her song "Broken" combines her sweet voice with some country-twanging guitar, violin, and a steady drum beat that drives this song into your head and won't get out. I have debated whether or not to buy this album solely on the strength of this song, but I'm hesitant to get into an alt-country album like this without at least a little knowledge of the artist first. If you buy Another Country, let me know how it is.

Tift Merrit -

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Mason Jennings signs on to Brushfire Records; new album due in May

So I meant to post this a couple of weeks ago, but I'm just now getting around to putting it up. Mason Jennings, who up until recently held the title of the current greatest singer-songwriter of our generation (Josh Ritter has a slight edge at the moment), is moving up in the world. He has signed on to Jack Johnson's record label Brushfire Records in advance of releasing his much anticipated new album in May.

I'm so excited to hear the new stuff as a follow up to his fantastic 2006 release, Boneclouds. Mason has really begun to make a name for himself, getting featured twice on the amazing soundtrack for the Dylan biopic, I'm Not There. He will be playing at Bonnaroo this summer as well as embarking on a European tour with Jack Johnson and G. Love & Special Sauce.

Mason is known for his thoughtful lyrics (even I listen to his words) and his beautiful acoustic arrangements, combining to showcase a truly authentic Minnesotan persona. Jack Johnson has taken a personal liking to Mason's work, covering Mason's upcoming song "Buddha" at the tail end of his video for "Sleep Through the Static."

Enjoy some of Mason's work off Boneclouds at his Myspace page.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Special Guest Post - Wilco's Legendary Nights in Chicago

Wilco recently put on a 5 night tour in Chicago where they played every song from their catalog. Our good friend Cherry Ghost was lucky enough to attend nights 2 and 3. Here's his review of those incredible shows.

In mid-February, Wilco played 5 shows in 6 nights in front of a hometown audience at Chicago's historic Riviera Theatre. Billed as the "Wilco Winter Residency 2008," five-night passes sold out in less than 2 minutes for what arguably could have been the biggest concert event to hit Chicago since The Smashing Pumpkins played their final show in December of 2000. Wilco promised to play every song from their six studio albums over five nights, as well as various B-sides and tracks off of the Mermaid Avenuecollaborations with Billy Bragg – and the band delivered in a big way.

After missing the first show that played most of Sky Blue SkyI was fortunate to attend the second and third shows of the series that played more than half of the band's catalog from their first two albums, A.M. and Being There. Night 2 opened with Jeff Tweedy quietly strumming "Someone Else's Song" from Being There(and singing an octave higher than the album version), while the full band joined after the first verse. The band smiled throughout the first song and received a loud and raucous welcome from the hometown crowd. Wilco switched gears to A Ghost is Born's "Handshake Drugs." While I never have been a big fan of the song, it sounds completely different live – and so much better. Glenn Kotche's drums and Nels Cline's ridiculous lead guitar licks drove the song into one of the night's surprise highlights. Cline brings an incredible amount of experience and a great deal of versatility to the live shows. He is, without a doubt, one of the premiere lead guitarists of the modern era. Bold statement, I know – but those who have seen him live would certainly agree. At times while he solos, Cline plays so hard that his right hand becomes blurry – something I wouldn't believe unless I saw it with my own eyes.

The first surprise came just a few songs into the set with "Via Chicago," a song many had predicted would be the closing song on the fifth and final night. After dusting off a solid version of "Hotel Arizona," which surprisingly sounded good live, Wilco fans were treated to an extremely rare occurrence – Tweedy grabbed the bass while fellow original member & bassist John Stirratt picked up an acoustic guitar and belted out "It's Just That Simple" from A.M.. It was just the fifth time Wilco has played the song since 1995. The crowd roared & thanked him with an electric ovation and, in what proved to be a beautiful moment in the night, Tweedy gave Stirratt time to receive the extended ovation, smiled, & said, "I think that's overdue, John."

After delving into Summerteeth with a lively version of "When You Wake Up Feeling Old," fans were treated to fellow Chicagoan violinist/whistler extraordinaire Andrew Bird joining the band for a fantastic rendition of "Jesus, Etc." The crowd's singing echoed nicely along with Bird's violin and Mikael Jorgensen's soulful keyboards. Bird stood in for roughly eight songs on Night II. Wilco dug deep into the archives and played phenomenal live versions of the country-based "Forget the Flowers," "Red Eyed & Blue," "I Got You," the rare Yankee Hotel Foxtrotouttake "Magazine Called Sunset," a loud electric sing-along"Casino Queen," and "Dreamer in My Dreams." Bird even appeared onstage for the dainty little A.M. ballad, "Dash 7," which just so happened to be the first ever live performance of the song. When the band walked off closing with "The Lonely 1," the house lights went up and the roadies started to pack up the equipment. "Peaches" by The Presidents of the United States of America played on the PA system, but the crowd did not leave! Instead, all 2,000+ people stayed standing, cheering wildly and clapping. After a few minutes, "Peaches" faded, the lights turned off, and the band came back & finished with "ELT" from Summerteeth and a high-energy version of "Hoodoo Voodoo" from Mermaid Avenue. It was an emotionally charged moment for all, and the band was clearly touched by their loyal fans graciousness.

The first half of Night 3's set showed why they are one of today's most talented and versatile bands by shifting from the the folk ballad "Remember the Mountain Bed" to the alt-country, twangy "Hesitating Beauty," "That's Not the Issue" led by Cline's country licks, "You Are My Face," and an electric version of YHF's "Kamera." One of my personal highlights was "Remember the Mountain Bed" from Mermaid Avenue, Volume 2 with Andrew Bird. Mountain Bed has been a staple at Tweedy's solo shows, but it is rarely played with the full band. Cline & Bird helped carry the song by trading licks on slide guitar and violin, as an inspired Tweedy sang most of the Woody Guthrie lyrics with his eyes closed. Also, I was pleasantly surprised as to how good the songs from Sky Blue Sky sounded – almost as if they were meant to be played live (Hate it Here, Side with the Seeds, and Walken – in particular). I was mostly looking forward to hearing the old Wilco classics from the early days, but I was really impressed by the SBStracks, and especially blown away by Cline-Tweedy-Pat Sansone trading guitar licks during "Impossible Germany." Night 3's finish was similar to Night 2 – the band walked off, the lights came on, "Peaches" played, the crowd went nuts, and the band returned minutes later and rocked out to a horns-driven "Can't Stand It" and "Nothingsevergonnastandinmyway(again)."

By my count, of the 160 songs Wilco played during the 5 night Winter Residency series, 96 different songs were played (some were repeated). This is more than just an impressive statistic. It's a testament to Wilco's versatility and ability to diversify their catalog. While only 2 members of the original band remain, their current lineup is by far the strongest – both in the recording studio and live. It's rare to see a band these days play six consecutive songs from six different albums – each one sounding different, but just right. In the end, the Winter Residency series showed that even thirteen years after the release of A.M., Wilco is as strong and dedicated as they have ever been. Hopefully, Tweedy holds true to his promise that they'll "do this again next year."

- Cherry Ghost

Monday, March 3, 2008

rbally Making a Comeback?

From time to time, I still click on over to rbally's site to see if he happened to make a triumphant return. Well today I was in luck. It sounds like the site is making a comeback in the form of a new owner in mid-March. However, Jennings will no longer be posting which is disappointing.

The reason I have an affinity for rbally is because it was the first music blog I stumbled across about three years ago, finally spawning this blog. Hopefully it comes back with a vengeance.

I Could Teach You, But I'd Have to Charge

Sunday, March 2, 2008

This Is An Album

A little while back, our friend Cherry Ghost sent us a track by Bon Iver (actual name Justin Vernon) called “Skinny Love.” The track was fantastic, and upon its release, I bought Bon Iver’s album. I haven’t stopped listening to it since.

It’s literally been two weeks. Vampire Weekend has gotten a few rotations, but that’s pretty much it. I have been listening to Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago, for two weeks straight, and I don’t see myself stopping soon.

This album is “singer-songwriter,” but like you’ve never heard a singer-songwriter before. The songs are wandering, exploring, unpredictable, full of crescendos and decrescendos (yes, decrescendos), hard to peg into a particular genre. Which is probably why his myspace describes the music as neo-soul.

This album is personal. It was written while Vernon was holed up in his father’s hunting cabin in the middle of a Wisconsin winter, alone, following the break-up of his band, and, I’m guessing, a break-up with a girl named Emma.

This album is sparse. The majority of it is just Vernon’s falsetto and his acoustic guitar. But the voice is rich and the guitar is beautiful. Horns are added brilliantly on the title track.

This album is echoes. Voices echoing for the first 40 seconds of “Creature Fear.” A single guitar echo throughout the gorgeous closing track “Wisconsin.” Echoes that call to mind a cabin in the woods.

This album is an album in the truest sense of the world. All the songs are unique, but they’re all strung together, bound together; there is a mood that is maintained throughout the album. This album is an album in the sense that Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks is an album, or Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run is an album; it’s a complete piece that should be listened to from start to finish.

Here’s a video “Skinny Love.”

Pick up the album. It’s gotta have the early lead for album of the year in my book. Although…