Tuesday, May 30, 2006

An Homage to Our Conservative Brethren

Our buddies over at National Review recently released their list of the 50 "greatest conservative rock songs." In that spirit, The Toaster is taking a stab...

>> Featured Artist: Art Brut

When Art Brut frontman Eddie Argos belts out gleefully "I've seen her...twice!" in the band's latest single "Good Weekend," he is referring to a concpet that liberal musicians like to step all over - love at first sight (you know, some of us old fogies, including - evidently - Art Brut, still believe in concepts like that and abstinence). Just like The Beach Boys "Wouldn't It Be Nice" is clearly a song celebrating family and not even wanting to have sex marriage, "Good Weekend" is a song that captures the purity and innocence of young puppy love.

These two lovebirds send messages, make phone calls and go to the movies. ("So we went to the cinema.) Now that's what I call old-school. Chalk it up!

>> Album Lookout: The Avalanche (part two)*

Sufjan Stevens - Due Out: July 25, 2006 Asthmatic Kitty

(We know this track won't actually be featured on the Illinois outtakes album due out in July, but we couldn't pass up this opportunity to show further that rockers know how to promote preserving the status f-ing quo!)

Listen up all you hooligans: Sufjan's an unabashed Christian! So put that on your blog and smoke it. And not only that, but he's an unabashed America-lover, even going to the lengths of singing the "Star Spangled Banner" at his 2005 shows - you know, for our troops defending our freedom.

"The Star Spangled Banner" (live) is there to shut up all that Dixie-Chicks liberal claptrap:

"And the rockets red glare / And the bombs in the air / Gave us proof through the night / that our flag was still there.../...O say, does that star / spangled banner yet wave / O'er the land of the free / And the home of the brave?"

Go USA! Woot.

* This is the second of a three-part Sufjan series, previewing the release of The Avalanche.

>> Reverting to: 1972

How did The National Review's Top 50 conservative song list forget "Rocket Man (I Think It's Going to Be a Long, Long Time)"? Talk about pro-family (Space-bound Elton misses his wife, dammit!).

Elton and Bernie show both a sense of good parenting and an acknowledgment of the Judeo-Christian afterworld in this one - a conservative classic.

“Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids / In fact it’s cold as hell / And there's no one there to raise them / If you did.”

Monday, May 22, 2006

The British Are...Doing Something...

>> Featured Artist: Paul McCartney

The Toaster had planned an homage to Paul for his birthday coming up in June (and we might still do something special for the knighted one), but the news last week that he and his second wife Heather Mills would be separating made us pop in some solo Paul a few weeks early (and it apparently made Paul issue a number of personal statements on his website).

Now we know that most hipsters are dismissive of Macca, at least ever since Wings went their separate ways (but mostly since the Beatles broke up). At the very least we were all massively disturbed by "Freedom." Still, Paul has had moments of brilliance throughout his solo career.

And once in a while he'll write a great lyric. Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, McCartney's 2005 release that was you might have caught on any of the several dozen VH-1 airings of Paul's exclusive behind-the-album vignette, leaves listeners with more than just a speckle of great Paul. It's probably his most solid album in a decade, and it's definitely the most somber of his solo career (with lines like "I was open to friendship / But you didn't seem to have any to spare / While you were riding to vanity fair" from "Riding to Vanity Fair").

The whole album only has two or three clunkers and is balanced by a remarkable performance from Paul and production from Nigel Godrich. It is without a doubt worth a listen.

>> Album Lookout: The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living

The Streets - Released: April 25, 2006 Vice

Always intrigued by the Streets, Mister Toaster decided he was going to round up a number of songs from his 2006 release and ponder actually purchasing an album (something he'd not even considered in the past). The reviews are pretty good: Village Voice's Christgau loved it; Pitchfork gave it a cool 7.0; AllMusic gave it a wishy-washy three stars.

Mister Toaster was not convinced. At least not to buy the album, that is. We at the Toaster find Mike Skinner's approach extremely endearing and often quite entertaining. But the hooks are lesser than in previous Streets efforts.

That's not to say it's not a good album. In fact, there are a number of catchy songs that will likely assure it success. A highlight is "Hotel Expressionism," on which Skinner romanticizes the oft-explored rock'n'roller issue of trashing hotel rooms (Editor's note: Skinner thoroughly separates himself from rock'n'roll, which is - as he puts it - "fucking old").

Among the clever and deftly-unrhyming lyrics is: "Throwing the TV out the window, mate, is nothing clear of weak cliche. It's vandalism. And expressionism is keenly disassociated."

>> Reverting to: 1970

Back to the McCartney egg. Paul just makes it seem so easy. And his confidence and inspiration can't be witnessed more clearly than on his first solo album, McCartney (you know, the one that came out immediately after Paul publicly disbanded the Beatles). "Every Night" has always been a favorite of the Toaster's, perhaps just because of the acoustic guitar that McCartney lays down. That and the freewheeling "woos" that make up the song's chorus. Even though we know he can write the "Yesterday"s and "Eleanor Rigby"s, it's the happy-go-lucky Paul that we love and that feels most natural.

On "Every Night," Paul is in his element.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Wimping Out (Or: Throwing Babies in the Air)

>> Featured Artist: The Weepies

The Toaster stumbled on a track from this Boston- (or is it New York-? Or is it Pasadena-?) based duo in his usual online daydreams and became immediately smitten with Deb Talan's voice and the harmonies that Steve Tannen laid under it.

So the Toaster dished out $13 at his local record store and picked up the full-length, Say I Am You, released on Nettwork in February. Our first thought: "Somebody call Zach Braff." Alas, somebody beat us to him, as Scrubs featured "World Spins Madly On" on a recent episode.

Perhaps the album purchase was a little premature, as a full album of this sort of wimp indie gets a little draining on the...um...will to live (that's to be expected, no?). Still, each individual song plays like perfection.

>> Album Lookout: The Avalanche (part one)

Sufjan Stevens - Due Out: July 25, 2006 Asthmatic Kitty

OK, we know the world got a little Sufjan-ed out over the past year. And maybe that's fair. Illinois was one of the best and indie-hyped albums of 2005, and then there was that pregnancy rumor. That'd normally be enough to do any young Michigander wimp-rocker in.

But Sufjan's not done with us yet. The plan is to release another (another!) 21 Illinois-themed tracks, outtakes from last year's gem on an album, The Avalanche, to be released in July.

The first track leaked is "Adlai Stevenson," named for the three-time Democratic candidate for president. While it immediately gets planted in the part of your brain that traps catchy melodies, the inspiration is weak - much weaker than anything on the album (hence the outtakes part, we guess).

Still, if you like Sufjan or perennial presidential losers, you'll probably dig it.

* This is part of a three-part Sufjan series, previewing the release of The Avalanche.

>> Reverting to: 1986

Jonathan Richman is 55 today. Alas, we had to get out of the wimp-rock. So today The Toaster Talks delves into Reason No. 231 that we're all happy the 1980s are over.

One of our favorite memories growing up was being thoroughly disturbed by the Henson project Labyrinth, which featured a young'n Jennifer Connolly, an aging (and freaked-up) David Bowie and - rumor has it! - The Toaster himself.

Aside from getting lost and trapped in a maze of magic spells and synthed-out soundtrack cuts, there were babies thrown unsafely high in the air (this was the '80s, when we were much more carefree about endangering the lives of infants - see the moralizing thrown at Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, et cetera).

"Magic Dance" encapsulates it all - the synths, the baby (goo-gooing), David Bowie saying "puppy-dog tails," and Muppet-esque monsters.

And it all ends happily, just like the movie, just 10 hairs after we lose interest.

(Interactive Toaster: a Role-Playing Opportunity)
Bowie: You remind me of the babe.
Unidentified Muppet: What babe?
B: The babe with the power.
UM: What power?
B: The power of voodoo.
UM: Who do?
B: You do.
UM: Do what?
B: Remind me of the babe!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


>> Featured Artist: Pearl Jam

A lot of the chatter out on the sidewalks of American pop music is that, holy crap!, Pearl Jam has finally returned to form. Reviewers are basking in the fact that Pearl Jam, released a few weeks back, is a rocker like Ten or Vs. It doesn't stray from the straightforward sound they mastered back in the early '90s.

While the Toaster knows that the Pearl Jam that emerged on the Seattle scene in the wake of the likes of Nirvana, Mudhoney and Soundgarden was important (if only to the radio soundscape that emerged), but we certainly weren't relishing a return to that era.

Thankfully, Pearl Jam doesn't sound like they're reaching to return to greatness. Instead, the sound - for the first time since No Code - like they're having a good time. The only evidence of a Pearl Jam-past we can identify is the return to Vedder's signature guttural mumble, which makes trying to decipher lyrics a bit tricky (and which had given way to more straightforward singing on recent albums, Yield, Binaural and the underwhelming Riot Act).

"Marker in the Sand" may not be a single; it may not be the best song on the album. But if it's further evidence that Pearl Jam can be liked again, well, we're for it.

Oh, and Mister Toaster wants to point out that it's about time everyone stopped picking on "Bugs." It's just getting unoriginal, guys.

>> Album Lookout: Under the Covers, Vol. 1

Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs - Released: April 18, 2006 Shout! Factory

OK, the Toaster was a bit hesitant to subscribe to yet another all-star band from Matthew Sweet, especially one that got its roots in an Austin Powers film. And ESPECIALLY when they're delving into favorite hits from the '60s...

But though the stars of trite-ness were lined up against the two Ming Tea veterans, Sid'n'Susie, as the pair likes calls itself, have actually plucked out a few highly respectable covers. Only having heard a quarter of the tracks, the Toaster is still reluctant to issue a blanket endorsement (we've heard the "eh"-tistic cover of "And Your Bird Can Sing" on the group's MySpace.

Of particular loveliness is the Michael Nesmith (yeah, the Monkee)-penned "Different Drum," which was a big hit for the Stone Poneys back in 1967. The Toaster digs not just the sweet Sweet-Hoffs harmonies, but especially the Banglish delivery of the vocal turnaround "Sooo!"

>> Reverting to: 1990

Dipping into our page's history, it's hard to believe the Toaster hasn't given a shout-out to Yo La Tengo. But it's only recent history - and thanks to the one, the only Dan Weiss - that the Toaster has been hip to the band's 1990 classic covers album, Fakebook. And that's from which "You Tore Me Down," a Flamin' Groovies song, hails.

It also makes us wonder where R.E.M. got their intro to "Strange Currencies." Hmm...

As usual, all the Toaster is going to say on this one is "Enjoy, friend."

Monday, May 01, 2006

Because There Is No End And No Beginning

First for some business: The Toaster Talks regrets to be informed by its host server that it is WAY over its space quota. Ahem. That means we must all cut back. All MP3s will be available for only three weeks after it is posted, and then they will be burned to destroy the evidence.

"Tug" is still available in hard copy. Please contact Mister Toaster.

>> Featured Artist:
Henry Darger

Mister Toaster is fascinated by the same things that fascinate most of us, and the subject of Henry Darger - however obscure the artist remains - fits nicely into the strange, reclusive, violent, sexless outsider-art division of our obsessions.

Henry Darger (1892-1973) and his work have been fodder for hipster art references for years. Natalie Merchant wrote a song about him; a documentary, In the Realms of the Unreal, played Sundance a few years back; bands have surfaced using names from characters from his epic manuscript, The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinnian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion
, which weighs in at more than 15,000 pages (we've heard claims that this is the longest work of fiction ever recorded).

Darger's works are probably too convoluted to summarize into a blog entry, but an aspiring Dargerite might want to Netflix the documentary or spend some time with
his Wikipedia entry.

Darger lived two distinct lives - one as a Chicago-area janitor and dishwasher who didn't impress upon too many people's lives and the second, relegated to his tiny apartment in whch he fantasized, imagined, wrote and illustrated his private masterpiece. His art was purely for him, left behind in his room when he died. Some accounts, though contradicted of course by the people who eventually ended up with the rights to the manuscripts and paintings, suggest that Darger asked for them to be thrown away. [This, of course, didn't stop the people who discovered them from unbinding and selling them one by one, thus making it nearly impossible to recreate the story in the order Darger had intended.]

What fascinates the Toaster is Darger's level of obsession and dedication to a single creative work. Hell, most songwriters get sick of their own infant songs after a half-hour of trying to find a rhyme or chord change. It's passion, we guess.

Onto the music. This post is merely a tribute to the fact that Darger exists, and that's exactly what we get out of "Henry Darger" by Mazarin. The song itself is enjoyable, complete with Neutral Milk-esque lyrics and perspective. If you don't know who Darger was, the song makes little to no sense whatsoever. This song, rather, is for the perversely intrigued among us. It captures a part - but only a part - of the Darger mystery while using creative license to imagine up hints of a back story. We continue...

>> Album Lookout: Bottoms of Barrels

Tilly and the Wall - Due Out: May 23, 2006 Team Love

The Toaster caught the last two songs of Tilly and the Wall's set when they opened for Rilo Kiley at the Grog Shop in 2004. With a tap-dancing percussionist, how can you dislike these Bright Eyes compadres?

On their upcoming release, they too delve into the Darger. They take a different route on "Lost Girls," putting a bit of the Vivian Girls into song, as if reading aloud from parts of the story. They then merge the story with the man, with reference to its creator.

Darger may in fact be the true subject of the song, with lyrics like "No one will ever save you / If no one can ever find you." Darger strangely and obsessively collected pictures of young girls he found in advertisments and newspapers, and then traced them into his works, thus leading to many of his thousands of subjects' faces having precisely the same expression and head position [Darger was particularly fond of the Coppertone girl]. Oddly, his heroes were unwaveringly composed of these young girls, all of whom were given hairless penises, almost as if Darger had never encountered the genitalia of the opposite sex.

This obsession has led to many a suspicion about Darger...

>> Reverting to: 1977

Apparently, Darger's fictional origin to The Vivian Girls... was based on something that actually happened to him. As a review of a Darger biography in Salon.com put it: Darger began the epic around the "so-called Aronburg Mystery, the incident that Darger writes was responsible for beginning this cycle of war and catastrophe. It was the unsolved theft of a coveted newspaper photograph of Annie Aronburg, a murdered little girl. As [biographer John] MacGregor shows, such an event happened to Darger in real life, and caused him enormous, lifelong anxiety."

His obsessions and reclusive lifestyle, combined with knowledge that he had a strange connection to a murdered little girl, have fueled the fire of those who theorize that Darger could have been a law-evading child molester or, worse, a murderer.

Which brings us to our last song, the Talking Heads classic off their debut, Talking Heads: 77. It's a song sung with deranged resolve. And it's a post by which The Toaster means no harm to Darger's legacy.