Tuesday, June 26, 2007

So Much for Everybody to Know

>> Featured Artist: Ryan Adams

For someone who has never bought a Ryan Adams album, I consider myself a moderate fan. His songstyling is so solid, his vocal performances so distinct and his high levels of both music output and (formerly) drug-alcohol abuse that it's hard not to be at least intrigued by this guy.

Everyone says this is a return to form - the way Ryan Adams sounded on Gold or, even better, Heartbreaker. Not having been a die-hard from the get-go, I don't really understand the complete dismissal of his middle solo works. Sure, there's a lot of crap he put out, but there's rarely an album without at least some classic Ryan Adams gems. (And his great songs are great enough to be called classics).

"Everybody Knows" - one of two songs leaked from his latest release Easy Tiger - didn't necessarily blow me away. It's a solid song with some great lines (especially "You and I together, but only one of us in love, and everybody knows" from the chorus); the harmonies are nice; and the guitar work sounds like James Taylor is in the studio either guiding Ryan how to pull of his sound, or playing the song himself.

But does it make me want to break my self-imposed, unintentional Ryan Adams record-collection sanctions? Eh...I'm waiting.

>> Album Lookout: Fables

Immaculate Machine - Released: June 11, 2007 Mint

I promised last week that I'd spend more time and give full due to Immacluate Machine's latest excellent pop album, Fables. I'm ready now.

As I said last week, I expect fun, fast pop songs from this band (not that their slow songs are bad). I expect songs that are so easy to like that it's hard to notice everything that is going on, all the ins and outs and whatnot.

"Nothing Ever Happens" is exactly what I'm talking about. Fables may not find its way onto many year-end lists (then again, who knows?), but it's going to be one of the records that defines this summer for folks like me.

Power pop me home.

>> Reverting to: 1970

Time for another Toaster classic. Eric Clapton's Derek and the Dominos outfit put out two classic love songs - "Layla" and "Bell Bottom Blues."

"Layla" is great, but it is nothing - nothing - compared to the latter. All that over-the-top guitar work in the coda of "Layla" doesn't just turn me off; it actually kind of hurts my ears in the most literal of senses.

"Bell Bottom Blues," on the other hand, plays a much more subtle hand - even if the entire band is screaming the bridge and chorus. The solo is so good it's tragic and the lead licks are so prevalent (and not in your face) that it's easy to see how this song gets second billing. I mean, at least this one isn't about George Harrison's wife.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

There Probably Is Such a Thing, Actually

>> Featured Artist: Immaculate Machine

With Fables released last week, I realize I'm a bit behind in covering it. So, as I did with Boxer, I'm going to highlight a past cut and get to the new album in the coming weeks.

I like this band not just because they opened at one of the best shows I've seen in the past few years (New Pornographers, 9:30 Club, October 2005), but because this band is fun and they sound like they're having fun. "No Such Thing As the Future" perfectly displays this - turning a cynical view of times to come is much more of a carpe diem number than it is an end-of-the-world piece.

What the band lacks - purposely - in gravity is made up in pep and catchy arrangements. Kathryn Calder and Brooke Gallupe have voices that harmonize in a Mates of State way - which gives it an urgency you don't always find in straight power pop. All this is to sayI'm excited to dig into Fables.

>> Album Lookout: The Fragile Army

The Polyphonic Spree - Released: June 19, 2007 TVT

I've never been a huge Polyphonic Spree guy, always getting a little put off by the airiness of the lyrics and the over-the-top arrangements.

That said, The Fragile Army is getting some great reviews - and who can resist that album cover? Still, the way the band has broken each track into section numbers (with parenthetical subtitles) irks me.

My test track was "Section 29 (Light to Follow)." Immediately, I was a bit shocked by the electronic intro. In fact, the arrangement grows in a way that is both interesting and not irritating. And the lyrics, while still a bit universal and lofty, are much more palatable. In the end, it's still the same band that can write the songs that can send shivers up your back while watching a commercial.

Combined, "Light to Follow," the rave reviews and that damn cover have more than piqued my interest and make me wonder if this could be The Life Pursuit of 2007?

>> Reverting to: 1995

Sometimes I just need a little Matthew Sweet pop music. It's taken me to the store to buy The Thorns album (which has Shawn Mullins on it - yeah...) and his syrupy vocals have made me like unnecessary cover songs that just aren't that good.

He's the kind of guy who, back in the late '50s and early '60s, would have been working in the Brill Building pumping out hit after hit. Instead, he was a minor solo success in the mid '90s - certainly one of the best of all the ugly white guy songwriters from that era.

If "Not When I Need It" doesn't hook you right away, wait until the sign-off a cappella coda that comes straight out of the Brian Wilson playbook. I swear I even hear Carl Wilson singing in there...

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Some Enchanted Night

>> Featured Artist: Arctic Monkeys

The new Arctic Monkeys LP has been widely well received, and it's not hard to figure out why. The brash attitude and headstrong songwriting that wooed British critics on last year's Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not has survived the hype. Boy was there a lot of hype. (I mean, NME called Whatever People Say one of the best 5 British albums - ever. Yeah...) Song to song, I enjoyed the band but I never got convinced that this was anything special.

That opinion is starting to be swayed.

With "Brianstorm," the Monkeys unleash a relentless drum mess that intros the April release, Favourite Worst Nightmare. Talk about brash and headstrong. Finally, the band sounds not just like a bunch of hipster pop, but like it's actually doing something important. And urgent (see the drum punctuation around 2:20 and the fidgeting lead guitar riff throughout the song).

If the rest of the album is like its opening cut, I could see it ranking very highly in the end-of-the-year lists.

>> Album Lookout: New Moon

Elliott Smith - Released: May 8, 2007 Kill Rock Stars

For those of you who know me, you already know that I would anticipate the release of a double CD of Elliott Smith rarities more impatiently than Christmas morning. It's a little strange, then, that I've waiting more than a month to post about New Moon.

Covered with outtakes from Elliott's KRS era, 1994-1997 - many of which have been leaked in poorer-quality MP3s on fan sites, this set doesn't feel like new music.

Rather, it plays like a scrapbook of an artist's ideas, which are (suprisingly) laid down with such care even though he probably never thought any of them would be more than a draft.

This puts New Moon into a different category - for a different audience than From a Basement on the Hill. It is not necessarily a must-have for the folks who enjoy a little bit of Elliott now and again (especially if you're familiar mostly with his fully produced Dreamworks).

But for us die-hards, it's remarkable - insight into the songwriter's craft.

Nowhere is that more evident than on an early version of "Miss Misery," the song that got him nominated for an Oscar for Good Will Hunting.

What's interesting is that the song is virtually finished as far as the chord changes and melody are concerned. The lyrics, however, sound as if they're in a rough second or third draft. Sometimes this makes for awkward phrasing (the interludes), but occasionally it shows a slightly different take on a line that perhaps would have been more emotive if left intact.

In fact, the referain (which would later become "Do you miss me, Miss Misery, like you say you do?") is much more hopeful - a rare, refreshing quality for an Elliott Smith song, tempering all the negatives with "But it's all right, some enchanted night I'll be with you."

And I particularly enjoyed "I can't hold my liquor, but I keep a good attitude," which would become "I don't have you with me, but I keep a good attitude."

If anything, it puts on display Elliott's perfectionism and his process. The mere fact that there's an audience for this sort of case study is indicative of how much lasting power the music has and how Elliott will likely go down as one of the greatest - and certainly the most depressed - songwriters of his generation.

>> Reverting to: 1997

Oh, and if you're interested in how "Miss Misery" turned out...

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Selling Cigarettes to Mexican Children

>> Featured Artist: These United States

As I was trained as a reporter back in my collegiate days, I am always on the lookout for news. I am, some say, an investigative reporter.

A few weeks back, D.C.'s own These United States opened for D.C.'s own Let's French for the latter's CD release party. During some of frontman Jesse Elliott's stage banter, he responded to a shouted request for what I can only assume is one of the band's fan favorites - "The Business."

Elliott responded first by saying the song was just too old to play (circa 2006, he said). Then he explained that the band had just emerged from a fight over whether to sell the song to a Mexican cigarette company who wanted to use it in ads. Faced with the opportunity to give more Mexican children lifelong addictions, it appears the band has refused. I mean, they didn't even make a counter-offer?

The band, its "integrity" aside, put on a pretty fantastic show. And "The Business," which the band eventually played, is a free download on their site. (Shh...don't tell the Mexicans).

>> Album Lookout: Once (original motion picture soundtrack)

Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova - Released: May 22, 2007 Columbia

I really wanted Once not to suck. After all the hype - from one of my favorite film reviewers A.O. Scott (New York Times) to the Chicago Tribune review that said it "may well be the best music film of our generation," I wanted to have faith. I may have said a Hail Mary or two.*

Much to my pleasing, the movie really met those steep expectations. Glen Hansard (of Frames fame) plays the lovable, everyman singer-songwriter street performer. And his Czech partner from The Swell Season, Marketa Irglova, plays the unexpectating other half of this unpretentious love story that miraculously (credit Mother Mary) sidesteps every cliche the film could have used.

Most importantly - and this is the reason it should be placed among greats like A Hard Day's Night, Almost Famous and maybe Hedwig and the Angry Inch - it doesn't just remind you why you love music; it makes you want to make music.

It's hard to pull one song from the film that conveys all of this to those who haven't seen it. "When Your Mind's Made Up" is a suitable track. In 5/4 time, this is the song the hodge-podge musicians nail on the first take in the studio. Yeah.
[Actually, aside from those director's conveniences, the recording scenes are particularly entertaining to those who have recorded on a low budget

In the end, even if you don't really like the song, you should see the film. It's much more than a Garden State.

>> Reverting to: 1983

Ever find something in your music files and wonder where the hell it came from?

CORRECTION: A few weeks back, I posted the wrong links for Patrick Wolf. My apologies to Mr. Wolf and his fans.

* I don't know what that means.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Scheduljng Conflicts

Due to scheduling conflicts, the Toaster Talks will post tomorrow, Wednesday, June 6.

Thank you for your patience,
Mister Toaster (and the Mgmt)