Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Revealed: Ubu, the new blue blood (Nov. 2006)

One last beautiful mix into the sweet, sweet 2006 air...His name is Ubu.

>> Featured Artist: Band of Horses

When Band of Horses hit the scene with March's Sub Pop-released Everything All the Time, the Toaster found itself confused over the masses of music blogs swooning over "The Funeral," which Mister Toaster himself dubbed "an otherwise decent song."

The hype cruelly shattered with one swat of the Man Behind/Who Is the Toaster, we all moved on with our lives, leaving the Seattle band behind - you know, to think about what all those mp3 blogs had unwittingly done.

Meanwhile, one of our trusted blogger friends (we can't remember which one) posted "The Great Salt Lake." And Mister Toaster sent out a brief statement: "Oops."

This song, which begins the denouement of Ubu, combines a compelling melody with catchy stop-start instrumentation. We all hear a little Brian Wilson in the lead vocal, and - could it be?! - is that a remnant of that Christopher Cross song we hear?

Great tune, sure to do well on the 2006 charts.

>> Album Lookout: Two Thousand

The French Kicks - Released: July 18, 2006 Vagrant

The Toaster first got a taster for these guys when they opened for the Decemberists on the 2004 tour. After the show, everyone but the lead singer (typical...) came out to talk to fans and sign copies of their latest release, 2004's Trial of the Century.

Again, we remained underwhelmed by what got leaked and filed everything away for a second listen at a later date.

When Ubu started bringing the crew together, it kept coming back to "So Far We Are," which wound up slated as an alternate track and worked its way in to the Big Time after it kept getting stuck in Mister Toaster's head.

The rest of the mix is history; the rest of the album...um...we're still unconvinced.

>> Reverting to: 1964

Toaster mix connoisseurs have commented that Ubu has more than your typical load of "oldies." The Jewels' "Opportunity" is the cement that holds the mix's intro together, unstable as it is from all that new flava.

The Jewels' biggest hit may be deemed a classic by All Music Guide, but it gets drowned out by all the amazing music coming out of the early '60s girl group scene. What's more, The Jewels hail from our nation's capital, and we couldn't be prouder to give a shoutout to our fellow DCers.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

A Quick Post While He's Away (for Thanksgiving)

>> Featured Artist: Ruth Brown

It was a long, wonderful run for Ms. Brown. We'll miss you, Ruth. Here's "(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean."

>> Album Lookout: LOVE

The Beatles - Released: Nov. 21, 2006 Capitol

The Beatles, or more accurately George Martin and his son Giles, have completed the Cirque du Soleil remix of the Beatles' classics. And, to much avail, they didn't screw it up. This isn't Mamma Mia, after all. Indeed, it's tasteful, even subtle at times, and interesting. Its take on "Strawberry Fields Forever" is particularly noteworthy.

While the Toaster hasn't heard quite enough to give it a ringing endorsement, our collective interest sure is piqued.

>> Reverting to: 1962

Previously we posted "My Sweet Lord." We've been notified by the authorities that we are required by law to post the Chiffons' Laurie Records' release "He's So Fine."

Thank you.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Some Things Last a Long Time

>> Featured Artist: Daniel Johnston

Mister Toaster had been meaning to get out to see The Devil and Daniel Johnston for months. Sadly, the D.C. screenings were few and far between. And then we had to wait for Netflix to get it in stock. Alas, it arrived and lived up to all expectations.

There may not be a more fascinating true story in rock music today. Somewhere at the intersection of mental illness, fragility and Beatlesque songwriting talent lies Daniel Johnston, who - spiting all the sung premonitions of his death - is still alive.

Traveling in singer-songwriter circles, it's hard not to hear about Johnston, whose severe manic depression and striking and wildly honest, childlike and arguably schizophrenic performances have paved for him a road to an unassuming cult status. Voices all over the rock community - from David Bowie to Beck to Clem Snide - sing his praises and his songs.

Devil portrays an unstable, artistic, reclusive Johnston growing up in a conservative Christian home with parents that had no idea how to handle his talent and/or eccentricity. His expulsion from home leads eventually to his unlikely emergence on the Austin music scene and, later, drugs and a further psychological deterioration. His songs center around stories of God and the devil, good and evil and - most importantly - a single case of unrequited love that has served as his muse for more than 20 years.

The film, which is highly worth seeing, leaves the audience understanding that Johnston deserves every bit of his cult status.

In lieu of passing on something recent and well produced, here's a cut off his first homemade cassette, Songs of Pain. "Wicked World" shows the playfulness with which Johnston approaches songwriting. Not to mention his sincerity.

>> Album Lookout: So Divided
...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead - Released: Nov. 14, 2006 Interscope

So Trail of Dead fanatics dug Worlds Apart just as much as they had its predecessor Source Tags & Codes, even if the critics didn't.

Still, So Divided comes out of a turbulent time for the band, which contemplated breaking up before it started work on this, the group's third album.

Trail of Dead's range is hard to miss - as it defiantly wavers between pop classicism and introspective guitar-heavy rock.

Most entertaining, the band's swagger is intact. On "Stand in Silence," the band , as it did on the title track from last year's Worlds Apart, starts with a sample of human screams - this time, it doesn't sound so much like cheering. What begins like a punk-pop outfit morphs suddenly into a airy, heroic piano-centric solo that screams of Beethoven's catalog. And then it's back to the attacking pop song as if to leave on a bang.

>> Reverting to: 1966

With the tragic demise of Tower Records comes good sales and opportunities for us all to beef up our record collections. Mister Toaster made a long-overdue foray into The Byrds catalog, having barely more than a classic rock-radio IQ when it comes to the jangle-, country-rock '60s.

"Eight Miles High" was introduced to a good lot of us in a rock 'n' roll history course as one of the most psychedelic, drug-ifnluenced songs in history.

To reduce this gigantic single in pop music history to drugs is a crime and will not be tolerated on the Toaster Talks. The song's driving bass line, angelic harmonies and jaunty (tripping, perhaps) guitar solo override easy drug references and place this song into a more appropriate category - as one of the most interesting pop singles of the 1960s.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Please, God, Let This Work (OR: Jinxing Everything With Music)

>> Featured Artist: The National

The Toaster is getting up early to campaign in the V-A aujourd'hui. We are posting early with the knowledge that we're either going to be too ecstatic or too devastated (and, either way, drunk) to do it later. And because we have a history of jinxing our beloved Democrats with optimistic predictions.

The National made it out of 2005 as one of the most critically acclaimed newbies on the scene. In the context of today's election, "Mr. November" fits in nicely. In fact, we're pretty sure Sen. George Allen is using that "I'm the new blue blood. I'm the great white hope" lyric in speeches, and we all know that the president borrowed from the "I used to be carried in the arms of cheerleaders" line in his 2004 race.

>> Album Lookout: Declare a New State
The Submarines - Released: June 20, 2006 Nettwerk

So The Submarines missed a few opportunities to get into the Toaster Talks with their June release, Declare a New State. The album's title was begging for it, for sure, especially from us representation-less folks.

Still, every song is just a little too sad -- and understandably so; the album is a package of duets serving as an obituary to the fizzled relationship between the two songwriters. The happy epilogue is the the couple got back together and got married during the making of Declare a New State.

Even "Vote," which has nothing to do with voting, but rather a lack of motivation to do so due to that damn breakup. Lyric: "On Super Tuesday I wanted to die." In Mister Toaster's insistence about not getting too prematurely happy about tonight, The Submarines found their place in our post.

See, Republicans, we're sad.

>> Reverting to: 1999

Before everyone starts yelling about how our "reverting to" section is getting less and less dated by the week, we might point out that we have gone back in time six years from last week's all the way back to the last decade.

The Toaster Talks is tired of every damn campaign pumping out "Born to Run" and "Won't Back Down" at their rallies. Each time it reinforces the notion that these guys have absolutely nothing new to say. "No, sirs and madames, I too will not back down. I intend to stand my ground as well. Health care for all!"

So, the editors down here started coming up with dream songs for our indie candidate's campaign soundtrack. We sped through dozens, never really landing on the right one. The New Pornos "The Laws Have Changed" felt good; Salt 'n' Pepa's "Whatta Man" had potential, as long as we're talking about a male candidate who isn't afraid of being framed as a sex machine; "Mr. November" above might have been a bit too blunt; and "Hold On Hope," the classic Guided By Voices ballad just seemed a bit too hopeless.

Then came The Flaming Lips to save the world. "Race for the Prize" misses on a few lines as it's a song about scientists, not politicians. But we love the devotion and determination these "humans with wives and children" give toward the cause - the cause of winning. There are some great phrases one would think would be about campaigning - "forging for the future," "hope against hope," "where the pressure is too high," "for the good of all mankind," etc. Just tune out all the "microscopes" and the opening "two scientists are racing..."

It is decided.