I'm still here. D.C. is still a swamp. Life continues on its merry course. More updates soon.
Death to Small Rock! Long Live Medium Rock!
Last night, Mike Doughty kicked off his U.S. tour at the Black Cat, and I was lucky enough to be there. I don't have it in me today to write much, but suffice it to say, Mike gave the type of performance I've come to expect from him. He was witty, upbeat, and in good voice. This is my second time seeing him, and I'll gladly see him again the next time he comes through town.
In lieu of more gibberish from me, I'm going to post some lyrics from "Rising Sign," which is the song of the day for me. Enjoy!
the dangers of
your rising sign
but i swear
to drink the fuel straight from your lighter
it's all inside the wrist, it's
all inside the way you time it
I resent the way you make me like myself"
I don't have a whole lot of time at the moment, not to mention I've only been able to listen to my new discs a few times, but I wanted to give my initial impressions of M.I.A's "Arular" and The Decemberists' "Picaresque."
M.I.A., which is basically made up of MC Maya Arul, created a disc that is, in a word, awesome. This is one of the most danceable hip-hop discs I've heard this year. The beats make you move. You can't fight it. Frankly, if you put this on at a party, you could probably leave it on repeat for the night, and the dance floor would stay full.
The Decemberists have delivered another solid album. I need to listen to it more, but from what I can tell, if you like their past work, you'll like this album. If you hate their past work, you won't find anything to change your mind with this effort. It's good. It contains songs about quirky subjects using unusual words. As you'd expect, I'm digging it.
It's Good Friday. I had pepperoni pizza for lunch. That's supposed to be bad, right?
This weekend is Easter, and this Easter I'll be in Boston. Expect no updates from me while I'm up North...then again, I'm sure you've stopped expecting updates from me already.
However, you might see some changes around here, simply because I'm in programming mode at the moment and wanting to try out some new things. I might change the design up a bit, as I'm reading The Zen of CSS Design : Visual Enlightenment for the Web, and am enjoying it quite a bit.
Besides that, I'm in the process of building a good concert calendar application for the DC area. When I say "good," I basically just mean "centralized." I spend a bit of time pouring over the schedules for the clubs in the area, so I might as well do something useful with that time. I'm still working out all the details, and I'm hoping to enlist the help of Brian Kieffer, who has a great eye for UI and design, but I think I'll have something up fairly soon. Along the way, I might finally roll out that comments section that I've been promising for two years. We'll see.
I'm listening to Godspeed You Black Emperor! That makes me happy, despite the fact that their music reminds me of a truly tragic death from some great piece of classic literature. It's sad, dark, ominous music...but in a good way.
I should be receiving the newly released discs from the Decemberists and M.I.A. sometime next week. I'll see if I can get off my ass to write a decent review for, at least, one of them.
This Makes Me Cry
The Decemberists, who have quickly become one of my favorite bands, had their trailer, with all of their gear, stolen . As luck would have it, this theft came right at the start of their new tour. They recovered the trailer, but unfortunately, the theives took all of their equipment. Take a look at this gear list (PDF) and you'll understand why this whole event makes me cry.
I can't even imagine how crushed they must be. I saw Colin's two Martin acoustics at his solo show in January, and they were gorgeous. One was a 12-string that just shimmered beautifully when he strummed it.
If you'd like to donate a buck or two to the band and their sound engineer, a PayPal account has been set up.
Purple Monkey Pants
After a slow winter, my concert going has increased a bit. In the last few weeks, I've seen Gogol Bordello, Flogging Molly, Ambulance Ltd (with VHS or Beta), and Dirty on Purpose (opening for the Small Shouts). As I have practically given up on writing any sort of coherent review of the shows I go to, I present to you a random list of comments.
1) Gogol Bordello, the Ukranian gypsy-punk band (think polka, with a bit more attitude), is insane. Insane in a good way, no doubt, but definitely insane. They played with so much enthusiasm and energy, to a sold out crowd at the Black Cat, that I didn't care that I could only understand three words from Hutz, the lead singer, the entire night. Those three words were "purple," "monkey," and "pants." I think.
2) See Gogol Bordello if you ever have a chance to. If you become friends with them, they might come to your apartment after the show to dance to "Zorba the Greek" while smashing wine glasses on your floor. Sadly, I didn't get a chance to experience that spectacle, but this guy did.
3) Flogging Molly. There's really nothing to say that hasn't already been said here. They are one of the best live bands I've ever been able to see. Despite having a bit of laryngitis, Dave King still managed, with the help of some whiskey (actually, not "some" but rather a lot of whiskey), to belt out all of my favorite FM songs. Good times.
4) The lead singer of the Riverboat Gamblers, who opened for Flogging Molly, is best described as Mick Jagger's ADD suffering son. The band was fun, and the music was pretty damn good, but the highlight was the singer who was all over the place...on the speakers, in the crowd, hanging from the balcony. He's an accident waiting to happen. He shook my hand though when I congratulated him on a good set. Good guy.
5)VHS or Beta, which was supposed to close the night I saw them with Ambulance Ltd, ended up opening. They seemed to have some technical problems during their sound check, and ended up standing on stage looking a little lost for about 20 minutes. By the time they started playing, some of the band seemed to be a bit pissy. It only got worse as the band realized that no one in the crowd was dancing to their disco pop. Someone forgot to tell them that they were in DC.
6) In the middle of the VHS or Beta set, the lead singer, who sounded EXACTLY like Robert Smith of the Cure, started singing into a mic that was running through a synthesizer. It was AWFUL. That one song was enough to kill any enthusiasm the crowd had for the band. Their last song of the night was quite catchy, and pretty damn good, but by then it was too little, too late.
7) Ambulance Ltd is a good band. I can't say they are a great band. They don't give me goosebumps or get my heart racing, but they don't really make any bad music either. They are a consistently solid band that sometimes, with songs like "Heavy Lifting" and "Yoga Means Union," produces some really great material. I've seen them four times now, and each time I've found myself tapping my foot and nodding my head with their sound. My only suggestion for them is that they need to work a cover into their encore. Most definitely.
8) Dirty on Purpose needs to either spend some time tuning their drummer's drums, or they need to get him a new set. He's technically good and really gives them a great backbone for their outstanding guitar work, but every time he hits his floor tom, I wince. Also, they need to play some bigger venues so that they can send their instruments through a decent PA. They've outgrown the backstage of the Black Cat.
9) I got to hear half of the Small Shouts set. I guess they are going on hiatus, but I have one suggestion for them if they ever head back out on the road. They need to do four things:
I) Get a decent drummer. II) Move Opal, the one woman in the band, to lead vocals/rhythm guitar. III) Have the other two guys take the lead guitar, bass, and backup vocal duties. IV) There isn't a fourth thing.
If they do that, they could actually be a pretty decent indie pop band. They took turns singing and playing each other's instruments. The only singer who sounded reasonably decent as the lead was Opal. When the other guys harmonized as backups, they had a winning combo.
10) Go listen to Ted Leo cover Kelly Clarkson, with a little bit of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs thrown in.
Chill Like a DQ Blizzard
Chris Ward, the man who is the beloved voice of Hesh from Sealab 2021, also happens to be a pretty decent MC. Who knew? Sure, the humor of his music probably positions him as a novelty act, but his hooks are catchy and his mixes are pretty solid.
He's just launched a cross country tour, and believe it or not, he sold out his first 8 shows. He'll be hitting DC on April 29th at Nation. I'll definitely be there. You should join me.
He has a good selection of free tracks at his web site. "DQ Blizzard" is not to be missed.
Microsoft, in an effort to help parents understand what their little script kiddies are typing, developed a guide to understanding "leetspeak." They got a lot of it right, but ultimately, I couldn't stop snickering while reading it. My mirth was mostly due to my remembering when a lot of that slang was coming into practice (I'm such an old man).
I found it amusing that the guide warns parents that the use of certain words and phrases may indicate that their "teenager is involved in the theft of intellectual property, particularly licensed software."
I can just imagine, "Son! Where did you learn to download that pirated software?!?"
"From you, alright?! I learned it from watching you!"
Yes, I'm still alive. Here are a few random items for you five readers out there.
1) I took a trip to NYC during Superbowl weekend (w00p! Pats!), and I got to see Rainer Maria play at Northsix in Brooklyn. The opening bands were spotty, but over all it was definitely a fun time. Caithlin De Marrais is easy on the eyes, to put it mildly, and these days, her voice is sounding incredibly good (especially compared to her early work). The band played with a ton of energy and really excited the crowd. No one wanted them to stop, especially after they played "Ears Ring" and "Tin Foil," which are two of their best songs. If you happen to live in NYC, look out for them, as they play there regularly (next show is March 3). They are the good stuff, my friends.
2) Fark.com ran an item today linking to this story concerning the Church of England's move to possibly allow women to become bishops. The fark item ran with this story summary:
"Church of England debating whether to allow female bishops. Critics say move won't help women to move forward, only diagonally."
Am I complete geek for finding chess humor funny? Wait! Don't answer that.
3) Gogol Bordello, a polka-punk hybrid band from New York, will be playing the Black Cat this Saturday. You should check them out if you're here. Other bands to keep an eye out for in the near future in DC and elsewhere: Menomena, Ambulance Ltd, Flogging Molly, Interpol, Tiger Army, Clem Snide, Animal Collective, M83, Maritime, Crooked Fingers, ...Trail of Dead, The Futureheads, Kings of Leon, Queens of the Stone Age, Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Slint, The Ravonettes and the French Kicks.
4) The House of Representatives just passed a bill authorizing dramatically tougher fines on broadcasters and entertainers for violating decency standards. There's hope that the Senate will shoot the bill down, but I don't like relying on the Senate's good sense very often.
This will likely hasten the end of interesting public programming of any sort. If recent trends continue, most public entertainment will flee to subscription services, like satellite radio and cable television. The subscription barrier might slow one part of the Congressional assault on free speech, but sadly, it won't stop them from crafting more shoddy and ill-conceived pieces of legislation like this one. Ugh.
They Have a Point
Even though I absolutely detest all awards shows, Gentlemen's Quarterly wrote a rather amusing letter to the Grammy's, that caught my eye and is definitely worth a quick read. Among their list of suggestions and complaints is this gem:
"And what's up with the Sting fetish? Sting could fart in a Ziploc and you guys would give it five nominations."
Yes, I must admit. I am a man, and I like fart jokes.
You Used To Be Cool!
Pitchfork! What happened to you? You used to be cool, man! You used to not only look cool and act cool, but you also defined cool.
But that's changed, man. You decided to change your look, but you didn't change for the better. Instead, you figured out how to load your site with more ads than a porn site. Hell, with all the ads for Suicide Girls, you even resemble a porn site in some ways.
You also figured out how to make one ugly-ass website. That type of design was suspect at best in 2000. Now, that type of design should have you sacking your designer. It breaks a dozen web usability rules while obscuring a lot of your best content. All I have to say is, well done!
Maybe I'm just old and cranky. Maybe I'm just missing the way life used to be. Back in the old days, your elitist tone didn't bother me. It made me laugh. In the old days, your bizarre choices for your top X lists were easily ignored. But no more, my dear Pitchfork.
Nope, it's time to look on for the new. Sure, I'll still visit, but you'll have to split time with Tiny Mix Tapes, Dusted Magazine, and Indie Workshop. They may be smaller, they may not have as talented writers, or be as well connected with the labels, but they're hungry, and they're ready to collect all the people you alienate.
Austin City Limits
I'd like to take you back to our regularly scheduled programming. Yeah, that means writing about something music related. Typical, eh?
Well, a good friend and co-worker of mine tipped me off to a great show on PBS, called "Austin City Limits," which I thought I'd take a moment to recommend. This hour-long show features live performances from a diverse array of exceptional musicians, many of whom don't get any other TV or radio play.
I only started having Tivo record the episodes a couple of months ago, but already I've seen performances from The Shins, The Flaming Lips, Spoon and Ben Kweller, with Modest Mouse on the horizon. Those are all indie rock all-stars of the highest caliber. I know some of you out there are always hunting for outstaning new music, so I'd suggest you check your TV schedules for the show's next airing.
When I visited Senegal last May, I was fortunate enough to spend three days in the southern province of Casamance. Despite our tension filled drive to the beach, I must say that the images I saw (and some that were captured) will be jealously guarded in my mind and heart until the day I die.
Hopefully, I'll be able to return there someday. Maybe, upon my return, I'll find far fewer soldiers on the road to Cap Skerring, now that the Senegalese government has brokered a peace deal with the MFDC, who have been fighting for Casamance's autonomy for the last 22 years.
That's good news for a country that deserves a little stability and for a part of that country that sorely needs an increase in the tourist revenue. It hasn't been a warzone in the same way as the Congo, but still, stories of old violence, and the constant threat of new hostilities, has been enough to keep a large number of tourists voluntarily sequestered in the North.
Not to mention, the beaches really were gorgeous. More people deserve to see them.
Now for random thoughts about the only thing I'm willing to talk about on a public website these days (don't worry people...life is good, treating me well, and I'm finding myself smiling a lot these days. A sad bastard, I am not!). Christmas saw me picking up a total of 23 new and used cds. Needless to say, I need professional help. But since I have all of this new music, I should at least mention some of the good and bad of it. Here goes.
The Killers. I saw them in concert last fall, and I must say, even though the lead singer was acting like a snot, they put on a really good show. Their album, however, is a little less stellar. They seem to have front loaded the disc and left the latter half lacking in quality, catchy, pop songs that you can bop around to (with the notable exception of "Midnight Show." That song is fantastic). However, the only reason I wanted to mention them was to say that "Mr. Brightside" is easily the catchiest song of the last year. I can't get enough of it.
Hold Steady. This is a bar band. Their music is meant to be listened to when you are surrounded by smoke, loud conversation, and bad lighting. The reason being is that their music is perfectly engineered for that environment. The guitars chug and charge over all of that loud conversation. The lead singer sort of talks/yells all of his lyrics, which, while off putting at first, becomes tolerable and even likable rather quickly (or my standards are dropping rapidly). His lyrics, while sometimes repetitive, are pretty funny and witty. This is my surprise find of the holidays. They are never going to have mass appeal, but if I ever open a dingy bar, I'll want them there every Friday and Saturday night.
Colin Hay. The former lead singer of the quirky, lovable, Australian group, Men At Work, has created quite a good solo career for himself. He had the good fortune to gain the admiration of Zach Braff, star of "Scrubs" and creator of "Garden State," who gave Hay's career a shot in the arm by including his music on both "Scrubs" and "Garden State." I ended up getting Hay's "Man @ Work" cd, which had a mixture of songs from his solo career, with solo covers of Men At Work songs along with them.
Overall, the disc has some hits and some duds. The first track, "Beautiful World," while lyrically simplistic, has a wonderful hook. I immediately liked it. But many of the songs on the disc, have an over produced, adult contemporary feel to them. Some people might like that, but it turned me off a bit. I'm going to investigate more of his solo work, though. I haven't given up on him just yet.
I have a lot of other discs I could write about, and maybe I will when I get a moment. The highlight pickup of the holiday was the Otis Redding box set that my mom got me. I doubt I even need to describe how simply amazing and wonderful it is. So I won't. Later, folks!
Music in 2004
I've heard at least a couple of people lament the fact that 2004 had no real breakthroughs in music. I'd agree, but 2004 was by no means a bad year musically.
The most identifiable style was obviously the post-punk dance sound produced by The Killers, The Faint, Franz Ferdinand, The Scissor Sisters and a whole host of others. I didn't necessarily fall in love with all of those bands, but they did produce some outstanding tracks (like "Mr. Brightside," by The Killers and "Jacqueline," by Franz Ferdinand). However, bands like Interpol, The Arcade Fire, and Modest Mouse, who incorporated a little bit of that style into their own sound, were much more compelling in my eyes.
Overall, 2004 was a solid year for music. Bands like Modest Mouse and Bright Eyes had significant mainstream success, which gives me hope that the masses will learn to recognize good music. Without further ado, these are my top ten favorite (favorite, not necessarily the best) albums of 2004, in no particular order.
- Funeral, by The Arcade Fire
- Antics, by Interpol
- Good News For People Who Love Bad News, by Modest Mouse
- Our Endless Numbered Days, by Iron and Wine
- From a Basement On the Hill, by Elliott Smith
- Rubber Factory, by The Black Keys
- Ambulance Ltd, by Ambulance Ltd
- Shake the Sheets, by Ted Leo & the Pharmacists
- Bows + Arrows, by The Walkmen
- A Grand Don't Come for Free, by The Streets