Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Disappoint. Instill hope. Repeat.

>> Featured Artist: Nine Inch Nails

It seems that Trent Reznor lost his muse sometime during the making of 1999's The Fragile. While parts of that double LP reached the heights of Renzor's career, there was a notable drop-off in some points. And With Teeth (2005) felt like so forced and calculated that the title seemed to be poking fun at the band. Reznor's creativity and pop sensibility, both of which have never really left him, are apparent, but muted by horrible lyrics with no depth or meaning whatsoever.

Maybe it was far from the truth, but The Downward Spiral felt honest - like Reznor was putting it all on the line. He sounded desperate, he sounded fucked up, he sounded pissed. And believable.In 1994, NIN showed us what they meant. Since then, Reznor's outfit has mostly feigned these attitudes and feelings. I just found everything so hard to believe.

But, as we're told every time Trent heads back to the studio, they're saying the man is back. I'd love this to be true (even if to vindicate my youth).But from what I've heard of the forthcoming album, Year Zero, it's not. And yet while the clunkers still clunk, they aren't clunking as hard. And there are even moments of great promise - such as the refrain of "My Violent Heart" and the majority of "Survivalism," the first track of his in years that has sounded inspired.

It'll take another track or two of this promise that'll make me want to open up my wallet for NIN. Again. It occurs to me, though, that maybe it isn't just Reznor who is past his prime. More likely the root of this issue is that I have just grown up and out of my Nine Inch Nails era.

My faith, however, will continue. Perhaps he should try a country-western album.

>> Album Lookout: Cassadaga

Bright Eyes - Due Out: April 10, 2007 Saddle Creek

I've never loved Bright Eyes. Not like everyone else has at least. Not even close. There was always something just a little too precocious in his lyricism and something a little too wobbly in his voice.

Without fail, though, there is always at least one song on every album that is truly brilliant. On "Four Winds" Oberst takes another stab at a relevant political song. He seems to be going after a little bit of everythign - after war, religion, etc., etc.

Some lyrics tip off the "oh-god" meter, such as the line suggesting "if you burn [the Bible, the Torah and the Koran] together, you'd be close to the truth" and something about a genocide "sleeping" in South Dakota. But the song - with its fiddles and country overtones - survives. At moments its build even creates a sense of urgency.

>> Reverting to: 1972

I realized a few years back that no Cleveland Opening Day could be complete without Randy Newman's "Burn On." About to venture up to the "city of light, city of magic" for what will be my 19th of the past 21 consecutive home openers with my dad and a few compadres, I find myself with the same fresh hope that each new season brings.

No other day of the year competes in this arena.

And though Randy Newman wrote this with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek, it has acquired an anthemic quality to me. That lush breakdown before the final refrain has been known to bring a few goosebumps in its day.

And as the season begins next week and the Indians take the field, Cleveland will reclaim its spot - even just for a moment - as the greatest city I've ever known.

Burn on, big river, burn on

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Lay Down Your Arms

First, let me personally apologize for the technical difficulty experienced last week. This has been taken care of and I have taken the additional step of severing each and every unnecessary Toaster staffer. And, hence, The Toaster Talks has finally found the first person. - Love, Mister T.

>> Featured Artist: I'm From Barcelona

I've always known the Swedish love their repetitive lyrics. On "This Boy," which features Lonely, Dear, these strong contenders for 2006's best band name basically just add a vocal track to signify a reason to sing the verse again. And while this sounds pretty irritating, it isn't. Call it the foreigner soft-spot.

Today sees the U.S. release of I'm From Barcelona's Let Me Introduce My Friends and I'd be remiss if I didn't finally give them a Toaster shout-out. They've been in and out of rotation over the past five or six months, and I'm happy to say they've finally made it. And it's not just because I find the band name supercute.

>> Album Lookout: Costello Music

The Fratellis - Released: March 13, 2007 Cherrytree

Why am I always drawn into those goddamn iPod commercials? Even when the song is not particularly appealing to the Toaster taste (about 31% of the time), I perk up and pay attention. And no matter how much I hate those iPod headphones, they are forgiven because they look scrumptious. And because Apple will tell me what I like.

The Fratellis are among the bands who have actually stuck around in my head following all the flashing pinks and oranges and greens.

Other bloggers and music experts have placed this band (that has no evident relation to the NBA coach Mike Fratello) in the Arctic Monkeys of 2007 folder. The Arctic Monkeys, as much as I enjoyed a track here and there, never really outpaced the hype that accompanied them. And, even in perhaps the shiniest hype medium possible, the Fratellis have quickly transcended the talk.

On "Henrietta," the first track from Costello Music, they go for our pop throats - from cheeky lyrics ("Buy us some shoes and maybe take us for cola") to the mock vocal doubling of the guitar solo to the song's catchy changes themselves. And, maybe it's how much fun it sounds like they're having or maybe it's the effortless front they've created, but I'm becoming a believer. (And they're making me reconsider what I said about those headphones...)

>> Reverting to: 1962

John Lennon once referred to "Soldier of Love," the Arthur Alexander classic, as one of his favorite songs. The Beatles would record it; Pearl Jam would throw it into many a live performance. But Arthur Alexander's record company stuck it on Side B and it never really broke through the pop charts.

It could be the fact I've just fired my staff. It could be that war I've been hearing so much about these days. All I know is that it's resonating today.

Baby, I don't want to fight no more.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

What Toasters Do in Florida

Now with mp3 links!

>> Featured Artist: The New Pornographers

Having taken a trek down to Florida to take in a few spring training games, Mister Toaster was also lucky enough to catch The New Pornographers only non-festival show this spring. Having been duped by Pitchfork into thinking Neko Case would be joining The New Ps for the show, a considerable level of despair filled Orlando's Club Firestone when the stage was set up without a spot for the moonlighting singer-songwriter.

Never fear: Kathryn Calder (who hails from Immaculate Machine and happens to be a cousin of frontman Carl Newman) was quick to close the expectation gap with her best Neko impression - not just in the backing vox, but also taking lead on songs such as "Mass Romantic."

Even Bejar and Case-less, the band still put on one of the best performances in the Toaster's recent memory, making the case that the Carl Newman is not just the brains behind an all-star band, but perhaps one of the biggest stars himself.

>> Album Lookout: Armchair Apocrypha

Andrew Bird - Due Out: March 20, 2007 Fat Possum

Andrew Bird, in all his whimsy, takes a bit of getting used to. His lyrics, such as those in 2005's "Fake Palindromes" ("and I'm goinna tie your wrists with leather and drill a tiny hole into your head"), are unnerving, and at times nauseating.

On Bird's first Fat Possum release, due out next week, he takes up where he left off on Andrew Bird & the Mysterious Production of Eggs with songs with refrains like "Thank got it's fatal" and, regarding an airplane ride, "To save our lives, you got to envision the fiery crash." The latter is a lyric from "Fiery Crash," which is complete in the Andrew Bird style, which is characterized not just by eccentric lyrics, but also with interesting instrumentation, textured backing vocals and his signature whistle.

At the very least, it'll be nice having another album to hum along to while pretending not to hear the lyrics.

>> Reverting to: 1954

With all those old-timers down there in the F-L, that fifites music is EVERYWHERE. Everywhere.

This gets us thinking about all those damn white bands who turned the R&B classics into smash pop hits. It pains us to find that our childhood favorite movie, Clue, has forced into the Toaster hall-of-fame one of these song-napped tunes, the Crew Cuts cover of "Sh-boom." The skatty classic was originally a considerable hit for The Chords, who (according to Wiki) are often cited as being one of the first R&B groups to crossover with a pop hit. We're posting their version.

While we miss the "a-lang a ding-dong, a-lang a-lang a-lang" and the "yadda dada dada..." the Crew Cuts added, the middle 8 ("Every time I look at you / something is on my mind") is best represented in its unneutured version.

Thank god for rock'n'roll history class. Here's to you, wherever you are, Professor Gunderson.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Ruby Tuesdays

>> Featured Artist: Cathy Davey

Irish singer-songwriter Cathy Davey has been winning over blogs left and right with her follow-up to 2004's Something Ilk - a demo. "Sing for Your Supper" is infectious. The snare-heavy drum beat and driving bass line allows an intensity to build around an otherwise playful song. The delivery of "One way or the other, I'll be making eyes at you" does not read as important as it sounds.

Of particular note is Davey's voice, which is interesting and hard to categorize (thank God). It is also not horribly offensive. And, for that reason, the Toaster is intrigued on the basis of one song - a rare feat.

>> Album Lookout: Lynn Teeter Flower

Maria Taylor - Released: March 6, 2007 Saddle Creek

On some days (particularly those when we forget about our obligatory indie love for Jenny Lewis), the Toaster Talks likes to posture controversially: Azure Ray might be the best artist ever to come out of Saddle Creek.

Maria Taylor, now two solo albums removed from Azure Ray, is not so removed from the vocal wonder that she helped define in the group. Her fantastic lead is still partnered with those spooky-beautiful whisper harmonies. And the music still resonates, to the point where The Toaster had difficulty picking between upbeat songs and the devastating slow songs.

Today we opted for a song with drums: "A Good Start," a solid dancy pop song sure to please the Imogen Heap crowd.

>> Reverting to: 1999

For those who haven't seen Children of Men, this post is significantly less impressive. The soundtrack, driven by a rarely noted John Lennon song from the Mind Games era - "Bring on the Lucie (Freda People)" - and a hauting cover of "Ruby Tuesday" by Italian songwriter Franco Battiato.

The latter is so remarkable in its rendition of the classic Stones song that it lingers with your relentlessly in the weeks after seeing the movie - until you finally download it and listen to it on repeat as you're falling asleep. Each chorus hits a different tone, which wasn't lost on the filmmakers, who used at least two of them for crucial moments in the film.