Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Malfunctions or a Grand Design?

[Note: The Top 10 of 2005 are still posted, but not for long. Get 'em now!

>> Featured Artist:
The Strokes

Sometimes appliances have a tendency to malfunction in what we at the Toaster like to think of as a public, albeit ineffective, protest of what you're trying to do -- the coffeemaker doesn't want to make you today's cup; the microwave isn't cooking your Hot Pocket all the way today; or, worse, the Toaster just isn't going to bring you your hot daily bread.

That's when it occurred to us that maybe this Toaster has been letting all of you down. Hell, we've been a decent fan of the Strokes in the past. Our launch missed the Strokes' new album, First Impressions of Earth, which has received mixed reviews, by a few weeks (what was with the Jan. 3 release date?). To be honest, the Toaster has always been reluctant about this band -- with all the vocal compression, how can you trust them? (Sure, you're cool, Julian, but what's your voice really sound like?)

So we did the I'll-download-a-song-or-two-to-see-what-I-think thing and now we can't decide whether we want to butter the toast and buy the album or burn the toast (sorry for the abused analogy) and write this hyper-hyped act off once and for all.

That's where the Toaster reader comes in. Here's a song, "Killing Lies," from the album. It's the median track, we'd say, falling somewhere in the middle of the album's goodness (based on what we've heard). Not the catchiest ball in the bundle, but definitely tolerable and typically Strokes.

Based on this -- and we encourage you to download a few more -- and give us a little nudge. C'mon, you'd do it for your coffeemaker.

>> Album Lookout: With Strings: Live at Town Hall

Eels - Released: February 21, 2006 Vagrant

Eels have never really been handed the indie street cred that the band largely deserves. Without the hype and circumstance of their contemporaries, they are a band that instead inspires pure loyalty in its fans. If you like one Mark Oliver Everett song, chances are you'll probably like a lot of them.

His approach to songwriting is deceptively simple, if nothing more than because his lyrics are rooted in seemingly simplistic concepts and are put succinctly. The perception is that Eels pump out simple songs -- nothing too fancy, nothing too innovative. The unimpressed indie-street-cred handers-out mostly stopped paying attention a few years back.

Fans embrace them and pine for every new release. For those of you who don't get it, let the Toaster put it this way: Whether its ours or his life he's soundtracking, E has produced a series of undeniably honest, heartfelt, mixtape-worthy songs that catalogue one unfancy boy's life.

Eels are real.

So we bring to you a track off the live album that just hit stores last week, "Trouble With Dreams." It's E, a drummer and a string quartet from last year's stellar and quirky (pajamas?!) tour. The Toaster couldn't ask for more.

>> Reverting to: 1967

In Benjamin Nugent's opportune biography of Elliott Smith, Elliott Smith & the Big Nothing, Nugent writes that The Left Banke's "Pretty Ballerina" was a heavy influence on the sculpting of the Elliott Smith vocal approach - leading to the soft, airy, and intimately pretty singing that grace and temper his often intense songwriting.

It's been on the mind lately because Eels cover it on the aforementioned With Strings live album. Take a listen, though, to the original version and see if you can't picture Elliott taking the helm.

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