Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Mistakes, etc.

>> Featured Artist: Lonely, Dear

Oh, Sweden! You do so many things so well. I had danced around Loney, Dear's latest release Lonely, Noir for a while and never really honed in on any tracks.

Then one accidentally got left on my iPod. "I Am the Odd One," which brings us Brian Wilson-esque melody and arrangement with the lyrical idiosyncracies of a Sondre Lerche. Normally, these iPodial mistakes would be quickly rectified. But after a listen or two, I decided to keep it on their as my leaving-the-house-in-the-morning song. If you tune out the apologies and self-degrading lyrics, it's quite pleasant.

Two earbuds in!*

>> Album Lookout: It's a Bit Complicated

Art Brut - Released: June 19, 2007 Downtown

Even though I've loved this band's irreverent rock for a while, I've been slow to digging up It's a Bit Complicated.

"Direct Hit" is just as spot-on as the title indicates. Everything I've appreciated about this band - the conversational lyrics, subtle (and not-so-subtle) humor and social commentary along with damn-catchy hooks and powerful rhythm sections.

More to come, I'm sure. For now, it seems to be another winner.

>> Reverting to: 1985 (not 1982)

Speaking of Apple products, I was browsing the iTunes store yesterday and found a personalized list of songs that iTunes "recommends" for me. Looking down the list, I saw a bunch of indie-rock songs - most of which I already owned or had roundly dismissed every owning.

And then I spotted the No. 2 recommendation - Heart's "These Dreams."

After playing the :30 teaser, I decided, "Yeah, I guess they're right. I do need to own that '80s classic." (I cannot tell a lie.) But how did they know? HOW did they know?!

* This is not, and never will be, the Toaster's rating system.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Warm, Confused Places

>> Featured Artist: LCD Soundsystem

Yeah yeah, I know I've already done my fair share of talking about songs from the new LCD Soundsystem. Still, as we find ourselves on the other side of summer, I've yet to find its anthem.

"All My Friends" might not be it. But there's no question that it's anthem material. So I'll submit it to you, fine constituents.

The hypnotic repetition of the piano alternates between irritating and mesmerizing, depending on which listen I'm on. And James Murphy's lyrics aren't too shabby, almost benefiting from the simplistic melody. "And if I'm sued into submission, I could still come home to this." Yeah!

The central question, in the end, is a good one for summer: Where are your friends tonight?

>> Album Lookout: Emerald City

John Vanderslice - Released: July 24, 2007 Barsuk

The warm spot in my heart for John Vanderslice can be directly attributed to his opening for the Mountain Goats on their 2005 tour. It's not so much the music that I care for, as it is the fondness I have for any person who would share a stage with Mr. Darnielle.

That is not say that Vanderslice doesn't, on occasion, wow me with one of his alterna-indie pop creations. On "White Dove," the free track from his latest album, released today, Vanderslice doesn't stray much from the confusing but imagery-filled lyrics. And the driving plugged-in acoustic give the song a good level of drive.Still, he opts for lifting a Tom Petty line in the middle 8 and loses me a bit.

Bottom line: it's enjoyable, if just a little too contrived.

>> Reverting to: 1982

In the Toaster world, there are few things valued higher than a classic Elvis Costello track. My love for picking out the meaning in his clever turns of phrase knows little in the way of boundaries.

To that extent, "Man Out of Time" has become the Holy Grail of sorts for me - beautiful in concept but impossible to realize. Just what do lines like "Cause the high heel he used to be has been ground down, and he listens for the footsteps that would follow him around" mean? Or "To murder my love is a crime, but will you still love a man out of time?" (Or is it "To murder, my love, is a crime..."?) Or "he's got a mind like a sewer and a heart like a fridge / He stands to be insulted and he pays for the privilege")?

My best guess - and this, I admit, has been influenced by my penchant to think to interpret art to be a statement on capital punishment - is that the subject here is an upper-class murderer who is facing the death penalty and the song deals with how this affects his family. But, wow, even that doesn't hold up to "the after-dinner overtures are nothing but an afterthought..."

And what's with this beautiful pop song bookmarked by guitar chaos? It is an enigma. And I am forever intrigued.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Memories Back in My Head

>> Featured Artist: They Might Be Giants

I remember seeing this band for free back in 2002 and being impressed with what a fun show they had put on in the D.C. summer heat. Not that the fun part was surprising. Or that I was surprised with really liking the music. I guess it was just the kind of show that made everyone turn to their neighbor and smile and/or hug.

So now that we are reminded of TMBG three times a day during Malcolm in the Middle reruns, it's not so much a throwback to our middle-school days to get a hold of a new track. Since the dabbling in children's rock (a respectable field, I must admit), though, I've mostly lost track of interest in these guys.

So The Else, the band's latest LP, is a bit of an "Oh yeah!" surprise. I'll admit that not everything turns my crank the way a "Birdhouse in Your Soul" or "Dr. Worm" would. But "The Mesopotamians" certainly is a return to form - with the wordplay, syllable-loving and geographical/historical references that one comes to expect from the band that wrote "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" and "James K. Polk." And that says nothing for the nice vocal arrangements. I could easily see it being a fun song for those 7th graders to learn all the words to. Oh, the memories...

>> Album Lookout: The Con

Tegan and Sara - Due out: July 24, 2007 Sire

I bought 2002's If It Was You five minutes into listening snippets of it at a French record store. I thought I had discovered something amazing - and European.

Turns out they were Canadians and already doing decently well. Still that album soundtracked my three months abroad more than any other. And now they have a warm place in my heart. But it's not just nostalgia that keeps me coming back to this band.

Even though their songs seem to be written in the voice of a 17-year-old girl, each one is frighteningly catchy. And in the midst of some sort of innocence is a dark streak that turns what would normally be bubble-gum pop to something a little more eerie (maybe chewing-tobacco-imitating-bubble-gum pop).

"Back in Your Head" is the pre-released track. In the best way possible, it doesn't seem like anything has really changed.

>> Reverting to: 1995

To be filed among the things that make me feel old is finding out that Garbage - the band, not the garbage - released a greatest hits album today.

I still remember being wowed when they opened for The Smashing Pumpkins (a band that should have released a greatest hits album last week) back in 1996 and telling people I had seen one of the best concerts ever.


Well, taking a look back brings back mostly nostalgia. It's amazing how you can almost hear the mid-1990s dripping off of these tracks. Take a look at the "Only Happy When It Rains" video. Perhaps you know it by its full title - ("Only Happy When It Rains (and When Objectified in Film)."

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Dabble, Dabble

>> Featured Artist: The White Stripes

Right now, I'm not too excited to give any Detroit shout-outs. You know why, Detroit. YOU KNOW WHY.

But I guess I would have already mentioned that The White Stripes have put out a new album if it wasn't for my personal hold-ups. So, I'm going to try to be ethical and maintain the journalistic standards you all know I have come to embody.

For the record, I have never been on this bandwagon. The Stripes, as their lazy fans call them, have always kinda-sorta grated me with their overbearing guitars and Jack White's grating voice. That said, there are plenty of exceptions; in fact I've come to have an appreciation for the times the White Stripes get out of their musical box and do something different. For just two people, they have weaved a pretty intelligent musical history. I certainly wouldn't deny their importance in the music industry, even if just for being an indie act to hit the big time.

The first single, "Icky Thump," however, does not appear to be one of the exceptions in my book. The signature style is in full effect - from the forboding bass drum to the heavy, guitar-driven hook. (P.S., wtf is that strange-instrument solos, other than annoying. And what are the actual guitar solos other than indulgent?) I guess this one just doesn't do it for me - which isn't to say I don't appreciate the line "went home and learned how to clean a bathroom myself."

Still, I'm going to pass. Maybe next time, Detroit...

>> Album Lookout: Our Love to Admire

Interpol - Released: July 10, 2007 Capitol

"No I in Threesome" is a song title I expect from The Offspring or LFO or maybe ODB. Not Interpol. But, then again, I guess all expectations should be thrown out the window if we are to take Our Love to Admire's cover art as a sign of things to come from this NYC band. I mean, at least it sounds like Interpol.

"Maybe it's time we gave something new a try"..."so just let us be free." This song really is a case for bringing another lover into the bed. Wow.


The collective verdict seems to be all over the place on this album (which I guess makes my use of "collective" a little oxymoronic) - and the loudest voices seem to be a bit disappointed in this Antics follow-up. Considering I've never been able to take an entire album of this band, I'll be happy with a few solid hits. "The Henrich Maneuver," which I'm pretty sure details the life of a peripheral high-school friend, seems like the band's safe bet for a single.

Yeah, I could dance to that...

>> Reverting to: 1967 Nostalgia

I hate Beatles cover albums - that is, covers of Beatles full albums by "today's hottest acts." Sure, there might be an interesting interpretation here or there - take Sufjan Stevens' "What Goes On" - or a respectable cover with the artists' special touch - take Athlete's "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" from the BBC Sgt. Pepper's tribute (we regret the cut-off ending; but thanks to I Am Fuel,You Are Friends for posting).

Still, the disruption of the awful and/or embarrassingly ambitious covers (and there are always a few, if not more) completely destroy the album. And isn't the point of the whole thing to celebrate the album? I mean, the BBC seems to have done not-a-horrible job putting this one together (especially in retaining the flow of the album), but can this please be the last one, folks? Unless of course, you want a Daddy Gonna Kill Ralphie cover of "Sexy Sadie."

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Progress Report, 2007

It's been a grand old year for the Toaster. Looking back on the first half of the Year of the Cricket*, I have:
  • renewed contracts with suspiciously absent staff;
  • commandered the tone and person of the blog's language;
  • fired fictional staff, denying them severence pay;
  • purchased 15 albums, putting myself on pace to outmatch last year's purchasing habits by 43%;
  • bought a new mouse upon third-party diagnosis that the old one had an inoperable dysfunction;
  • ran into the New Pornographers while visiting the Cleveland Indians in Central Florida, reinvigorating my hunger for new New Ps material;
  • installed new mouse through third-party service and immediately realized how much better the world was;
  • figured out how RSS feeds work, leading to a near-clinical obsession with Google Reader; and
  • defended Paris Hilton's newsworthiness from the likes of Al Gore.

For those of you who are concerned with new-now-NOW, I will inform you that the new editorial material ends there for this week. The year in music has yet to really wow me. This is no 2005 - not yet anyway. Here's how I see it:

Honor Roll
The Shins - A
The National - A
Arcade Fire - A
Of Montreal - A

Good Marks
Patrick Wolf - A-
LCD Soundsystem - A-
The Hold Steady (Live acoustic) - A-
Beirut (EP) - A-
Let's French - A-
Elliott Smith - A-
Once (soundtrack) - B+
The Broken West - B+
The Fratellis - B+

Missing Something
Aqueduct - B
Son Volt - B
Sondre Lerche - B
Voxtrot - B-

Paul McCartney - C+
Nine Inch Nails - C

Still Researching
Ryan Adams
Immaculate Machine
Rufus Wainwright
The Polyphonic Spree
Arctic Monkeys
Andrew Bird
Maria Taylor

You Sure They Put Out an Album?
Fountains of Wayne
Bright Eyes
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Blonde Redhead

..What did I get wrong? What did I get right? What am I forgetting?

Regardless, the case is being made that there is a decent amount of good stuff already out there. Looking forward, the big players in the second half of 2007 appear to be the aforementioned New Pornographers, Iron + Wine, Spoon, Rilo Kiley, Interpol and maybe Jimmy Eat World and Smashing Pumpkins (maybe...).

* It is not the Year of the Cricket. I think.