Monday, November 7, 2011

regarding growing up.

Picasso Blue is on indefinite hiatus. Like some of my favorite bands, I don't want to put a period at the end of it, but I do know that I can't maintain it with the same energy I've put in over the last three years. My reasons for shutting down shop are as follows:

1. I started this blog when I was an unemployed recent college grad. Now I have a full-time job and responsibilities. I'm still a huge music fan, but I have other concerns now.

2. I didn't just start Picasso Blue to pass the time. I also started it to I could continue generating clips. While I have written for other publications over the years, Picasso Blue was a consistent place for me to publish anything, with the hope that these articles would somehow lead to a steady writing gig. Well, they have. As the Reviews Editor for, I'm still going to be involved in music. While the Org's focus is definitely more restricted than Picasso Blue's, I just don't see myself maintaining both while holding down my real job. As much as I'm going to miss writing columns like Vinyl Vednesday and Versus, I certainly have other things to focus my attention on.

I have regrets about closing. I was going to make a December tradition of discussing Joe Strummer's copious vinyl releases. I still have many, many albums left to cover for myPod. Also I just think it's silly that Saturday Night Crap-o-Rama is going to outlast Picasso Blue. But that's how it goes. I'm gonna get back to finishing up the latest batch of reviews for the Org now. Feel free to read them tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Vinyl Vednesday 10/26/2011

[Vinyl Vednesday is a weekly feature about three favorite vinyl finds. It’s not meant to be a dick-measuring contest, but it usually turns out that way. This week’s edition is an early Halloween celebration. Hail Satan, and such. E-mail with your own big finds!]

AFI’s Answer That and Stay Fashionable (1995) on turquoise marble, The Cure’s Faith (1981) on black, and Siouxsie and The Banshees The Scream (1978) on black.

Place of Purchase:
AFI was bought at Repo Records in Philadelphia, Pa. The Cure came from Hideaway Music in Chestnut Hill, Pa. Siouxsie and The Banshees was obtained via eBay.

Thoughts: My favorite AFI records are Black Sails in the Sunset and Decemberunderground. One of them is just an awesome hardcore record with gothic lyrics; the other is a goth-pop record bordering on a dance album. They don’t have much in common, which is why I feel little need to justify fitting my other favorite AFI record, Answer That and Stay Fashionable, into the equation. Answer That has some psychobilly elements and captures the band at a really young age. Also, the lyrics are supremely goofy, as heard in “Brownie Bottom Sundae” and “Cereal Wars,” in which frontman Davey Havoc goes off on cereal brands. It’s all intentionally hilarious, while still getting in plenty of Misfits-y love. Plus, the vinyl version comes with the bonus tracks “Self-pity” and “Key Lime Pie.”

Early AFI is goth but silly. The Cure, now there’s a band for soundtracking my eternal despair. Faith is one of the band’s darker records. Opener “The Holy Hour” is a slow churner that sucks up all joy. The record owes a big debt to Joy Division – it captures The Cure’s transition from punk upstarts to psych/goth/pop explorers and falls somewhere on the post-punk lines – but I honestly prefer it over anything JD ever did. “Primary” is a bouncy tune indeed, while “The Funeral Party” predicts the wall of atmosphere that would create the band’s best album, Disintegration. There are better Cure records, but Faith is an album I’ve come to really respect over the years. It doesn’t have any of the band’s big hits, but it’s such a great, swirling mix.

I came to Siouxsie and The Banshees a little later in life. It wasn’t until I had digested The Cure’s complete discography that I then gravitated towards Robert Smith’s mid-’80s side project, The Glove. Knowing that Smith did time with The Banshees (He plays on Hyaena and toured quite a bit with the group), I started snatching up Banshee records at a rapid pace. They’re one of those bands that makes a lot of contemporary music sound redundant. The Scream, the band’s thrilling debut, exists somewhere between punk’s rawness and post-punk's jitteriness, exuding a kind of passion and depth that would develop into goth. It’s not quite as psychedelic as what the group would cultivate on later albums, but The Scream is a thrilling listen from start to finish.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Banner Pilot - 'Heart Beats Pacific'

With the breakout success of their 2009 effort, Collapser, Minnesotan act Banner Pilot has a lot riding on LP #3. Like their labelmates the Flatliners, the band seems poised for bigger things. These expectations make the group’s follow-up to Collapser, Heart Beats Pacific, something of a disappointment at first, to the extent that it’s a predictable follow-up. For all the Jawbreaker comparisons that follow frontman Nick Johnson’s lyrics, the band has yet to approach that band’s level of stylistic experimentation. At the same time, though, it’s hard to get mad at the band for refining what made Collapser so good. I mean, have you heard that record? It made me choose life.

By the band’s own admission, Pacific is a safe move. It takes everything Collapser did well – the introspective lyrics and the infectious, snotty hooks – and goes bigger. Johnson sounds more assured here. The guitars are denser, heavier and generally more interesting. The production in general is straight up better, clean enough that all of the instruments come through without glossing everything over in studio cheese. One way the band earns their Jawbreaker comparisons is by letting Nate Gangelhoff’s bass anchor so many of the tunes (Also, the intro to “Isolani” sounds like something off of Dear You. Who’s with me?).

Heart Beats Pacific is a really good Midwestern punk record. It’s up there with Dillinger Four’s greatest hits. Sure, it sounds like a bevy of other Midwest bands like Dear Landlord and Off With Their Heads (who, coincidentally, have borrowed Gangelhoff on occasion), but it’s better. It’s in the way the songs bounce effortlessly, constantly propelled by desire and winter despair. It also helps that the guys are good songwriters.

Take “Eraser” for example. It’s a song about drankin’ and missing someone something fierce. A fairly common topic for the punk set, but Johnson injects so much empathy into the track that it defies what’s come before. The whole song is lush with imagery, but lines like “Nothing changes but the time” and “I’m finding out I don’t do very well alone / But I know that you’re not coming home” hit hard. I don’t care if you’re straight edge, this one goes for the heart. In the great pop-punk tradition, it’s also catchy as hell despite being pretty darn depressing.

The last few years have been good for Banner Pilot. Collapser rocked faces, the 2010 remaster job on Resignation Day proved it was actually a great record all along and now fans have Heart Beats Pacific to memorize. Yeah, all three repeat the same style. But it’s a good one.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Wild Flag at Union Transfer.

It was a night for new beginnings in Philadelphia Wed., Oct. 19, as indie rock supergroup Wild Flag and a new band from Fiery Furnaces member Eleanor Friedberger cut loose on a crowd gathered at the month-old venue Union Transfer. For all the newness, though, it ended up being a night for older classic sounds. Either way, it was a good show.

Union Transfer, a new 600-capacity venue located in the old Spaghetti Warehouse on 10th and Spring Garden, is a joint partnership from Philly locals R5 Productions and Four Corners Management and New York City group Bowery Presents. In other words, no Live Nation, and that’s a good thing. The space has tons of room to move, but it’s not so large that it kills intimacy. There’s plenty room for drunks at the bars. Hell, there’s a bar in a whole other room, so hopefully people who come to concerts just to drink can get their fill without pissing off other attendees. The sound is a little dubious – muddled and bass-heavy – but that’s pretty much standard for a venue this size. Union Transfer is still independent and pretty cool. Also, they have a reasonably priced parking lot.

I had plenty of time to note Union Transfer’s layout (three bars!), as Friedberger took the stage about 50 minutes after her advertised start time. Supported by an ace backing band, she played through some easy going soft tunes that bordered on the Fleetwood Mac side of the rock ‘n’ roll spectrum. When the band got to grooving, the tunes were actually quite beautiful, but after a while Friedberger’s songs kind of blurred together for me. She has a tendency to repeat phrases just a little too much (“It’s a critical year / 2010” comes to mind), and several tunes felt too slow. While her latest material has a ’70s vibe, it still felt like an odd choice for pairing with Wild Flag’s looser, louder tendencies.

While there are still some records to look forward to this year, Wild Flag is easily one of the best albums of 2011. It’s fun and loud and awesome. Yet Wild Flag’s live show puts that record to shame. Everything Wild Flag does well in the studio, they do even better live. When Carrie Brownstein, Rebecca Cole, Mary Timony and Janet Weiss came on stage, they proceeded to have a whole lot of fun for 60-plus minutes while rocking faces off. Their tunes were more psychedelic, complemented by all manner of guitar poses ranging from high kicks to windmills. Timony even played behind her head at one point. Weiss and Cole’s cooed backing vocals were spot on throughout. The stage banter was hilarious (“There are so many steps to a stage dive, and they all end in the hospital,” said Brownstein. “This is like a Fugazi show,” responded Dischord alumnus Timony).

With only one 40-minute full-length to their credit, the biggest challenge the fearsome foursome faced in headlining this show was filling time. They certainly met that challenge head on with stage banter, covers (including an excellent take on Television’s “See No Evil” during the two-song encore) and a couple of new tracks. They also jammed the dickens out of the tunes “Glass Tambourine” and “Racehorse.” I wasn’t tracking it, but I’m pretty sure “Racehorse” went on for at least 15 minutes. There were like five guitar solos. The recorded version is just under seven minutes, and it actually sounds a little empty to me now, simply because the band so thoroughly explored its every nook and/or cranny live. Yet for all its freewheeling, rambling quality, “Racehorse” came off as a tightly written piece, with the members locked into each other the whole time. Yeah, it was a long-ass song, but it was a good one, building up and releasing tension several times over. Simply put, the Wild Flag tour needs to be seen by all. The gals are funny and furious in equal measure, and the tunes deliver some fine psychedelia.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Vinyl Vednesday 10/19/2011

[Vinyl Vednesday is a weekly feature about three favorite vinyl finds. It’s not meant to be a dick-measuring contest, but it usually turns out that way. E-mail with your own big finds!

Less Than Jake’s Greased (2000 repress) on pink marble, Joni Mitchell’s The Hissing of Summer Lawns (1975) on black, and Simon and Garfunkel’s Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme (1966) on black.

Place of Purchase: Joni Mitchell and Simon and Garfunkel were purchased at Disc World in Conshohocken, Pa. (R.I.P.), while Less Than Jake came from a recent excursion to Shore Things in Ocean City, N.J.

Thoughts: Less Than Jake has stayed with me since my pre-teens. I’m a fan through and through, which means I enjoy the band’s weird detours as much I do the obvious faves like Hello Rockview (Although not even I could defend In With the Out Crowd…). Greased takes the ’90s of ska bands covering pop songs to its breaking point by skanking up the Grease soundtrack. “Summer Nights” kicks the record off admirably, complete with a ska breakdown, and “You’re the One I Want” is super catchy, but over time the songs kind of blur together. Still, there’s something entertaining about two grown men screaming “You’re the one that I want, honey” at each other.

I love Joni Mitchell. I love her classic folk period, obviously, but I also love when she started to drift further into jazz abstraction. In a way, indie rock and even metal owes her a debt for all the weird tunings she came up with over the years. The Hissing of Summer Lawns doesn’t necessarily contain my favorite Mitchell songs of all time (“Case of You,” “Blue”), but it’s still one of my favorites. Whether dishing out a smooth L.A. jam on “In France They Kiss on Mainstreet” or on the futuristic funk of “The Jungle Line” (All I can say is it sounds like Bjork well before her time), Mitchell is something else on Lawns. I understand why some fans didn’t like it, but got-damn do I love this record.

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme is a fascinating record if for no other reason than it’s actually pretty uneven. Sure, it’s got some amazing folk tunes like “Scarborough Fair/Canticle” and “Homeward Bound.” But there are some astounding clunkers on the flipside, like the pretentious cultural allusions made throughout “The Dangling Conversation” and “A Simple Desultory Philippic (Or How I Was Robert McNamara’d Into Submission).” Sometimes the lyrics are way off the mark, even though Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel still hit upon some stellar harmonies. Bridge Over Troubled Water is a better album by miles, but I have more to say about Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

myPod: Ga-Gi

[myPod is a biweekly attempt to edit down my CD collection as I import my music on to my brand new 160 GB iPod.]

Tom Gabel

In retrospect, Tom Gabel’s 2009 solo EP Heart Burns was an indicator that maybe the Against Me! frontman was maybe losing his judgment of what did and did not sound good in the studio. I’m not even talking about the tunes; all seven tracks on Burns are great in terms of composition. But the first two songs, “Random Hearts” and “Conceptual Paths,” suffer from clunky ’80s-esque production, drum machine and all. Having heard a live bootleg from when Gabel was road-testing the songs, I can say for sure they would have sounded better stripped down. The later tracks on the EP, like “Amputations,” further confirms this. After the first two songs, Burns really takes off as a great Billy Bragg/Bruce Springsteen-indebted politi-punk work.

Verdict: Keep.

Peter Gabriel

Like Talking Heads and Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel occupies a pleasing niche of funky, world music for me without overindulging. The guy wrote some amazing singles after he left Genesis, and for a long time the two-disc best-of Hit was all I needed. You get massive singles like “In Your Eyes,” “Solsbury Hill,” and “Sledgehammer,” plus lesser known tunes like “Signal to Noise” and “Father, Son.” Less pleasing is Scratch My Back, the only other Gabriel release I’ve purchased. An orchestral covers record, it manages one amazing interpretation (Elbow’s “Mirrorball”), but otherwise it’s tedious. Gabriel decided not to use guitars or drums for the album, and some of those tunes are just begging for percussion.

Verdict: Keep Hit, sell Scratch My Back.


Garbage had a sort of jack-of-all-trades quality. They were kind of alternative, kind of industrial, kind of goth, and while that lack of distinction means I’ve never loved them as much as, say, The Cure or Nine Inch Nails, I still harbor a love for all four of their studio albums. For a long time, my favorite release was the group’s self-titled debut. It’s got some of their biggest hits (“I’m Only Happy When It Rains,” “Stupid Girl”), and on top of that it’s just such a slinky, sexy affair. Version 2.0 is a little derivative in the lyrics department, but the hooks are still huge. I realized recently that I actually like beautifulgarbage quite a lot, and it might secretly be my favorite Garbage album. It had a wider swath of influences, jumping from Prince to surf rock to electronica from one track to the next while maintaining a surprising amount of cohesion. That record has no duds. I was a huge fan of reunion/swan song Bleed Like Me when it dropped in 2005, but that enthusiasm has gradually dissipated. Still, it’s their most overtly rocking record, with a nice amount of low end and lyrics about sexy sex to propel it. It’s a little heavy on the ballads, but it’s still solid. I never bothered picking up Garbage’s singles, but “Why Do You Love Me” comes with a cover of The Ramones’ “I Just Wanna Have Something to Do,” so…

Verdict: Keep.

State soundtrack

While the film that spawned it is debatable, the Garden State soundtrack boasts some choice tunes from The Shins, Nick Drake, and Frou Frou. It’s yet another compilation that introduced me to a couple of artists that I’ve chosen to hold on to.

Verdict: Keep.

The Gaslight Anthem

I’ve got a love/hate relationship with The Gaslight Anthem. They’re such a solid American punk band with a classic rock fixation, but my problem is that they pilfer so many moves from other acts. Just as I chide Lady Gaga fans for acting like Madonna never existed, I can’t fully respect TGA for lifting lyrics and styles from Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits, and Counting Crows. The more I explored the band’s catalogue, the less interested I got, so much so that I didn’t even bother with American Slang. And yet, I find that I cannot part with SeƱor and The Queen, the stunning concept EP about lovers from yesteryear.

Verdict: Keep.


EMBRACE THE FACE. These Florida punkers write super catchy, fun No Idea-style punk rock for shits/giggles.

Verdict: Keep.

The Get Up Kids

I got into The Get Up Kids a little later than everyone else. They didn’t really come on my radar until Guilt Show, arguably their weakest album, and by that point in my life I was drifting away from pop-punk. My cousin Mike was a huge fan though, so I went with him to see their farewell tour in 2005. Oddly enough, that show made a fan out of me, and I gobbled up the group’s pop-punk/emo/Superchunky first two records, as well as the more acoustic/indie-leaning On a Wire. After Mike and I had a falling out, however, which made it a lot harder to listen to his favorite band.

Then, after he died in 2010, I couldn’t stop listening. Almost every line from every song reminds me of Mike, even the ones that are so clearly written about girls and what-not. “We’re loyal / Like brothers,” “When he lied about intentions / I should have done something,” etc. 2011 saw a new Get Up Kids album, There Are Rules, which I absolutely love for its drone and ambience. It’s a big departure from the band’s amped up angst, but just as great. That said, part of me always comes back Four Minute Mile and Something to Write Home About. Four Minute Mile sounds like ass in terms of production, but the songs take me back to another time.

Verdict: Keep.

Ghost of the Russian Empire

Spacey, psychedelic rock band from Texas. When I first became a staff writer for, their album The Mammoth was the only good record out of a box of maybe 50-70 promos. While I named the album one of my top picks of 2008, I haven’t listen to it since then. I still enjoy the record, but knowing that I went three years without once thinking to put this album on has me rethinking its place on my shelf.

Verdict: Sell.

Gimme Skelter

Man, remember when Buddyhead’s cyberbullying passed for music criticism? While the Web site doesn’t hold much weight with me, their Gimme Skelter compilation does. Hosted by Iggy Pop, who shows up every few tracks to rip off a quick tune, the comp sounds eerily contemporary, even if it is split between ’90s alt-rock acts (Mudhoney, Weezer) and early ’00s garage rock bands that fell apart (Your Enemies Friends, The Icarus Line). Still, it holds up.

Verdict: Keep.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Deleted Scenes - 'Young People's Church of the Air'

With their jittery dance rhythms, Washington, D.C.’s Deleted Scenes recall classic punk acts like XTC and Talking Heads. In application, they recall local heroes like Dismemberment Plan and even contemporary dance outfit High Places. A handful of their songs even recall early Arcade Fire. Pick whichever comparison gets you to start listening. The group’s new album, Young People’s Church of the Air, is a hypnotic, lushly arranged record, eminently danceable yet constantly shifting.

“A Litany for Mrs. T” opens the record with soft noise and coos before drummer Brian Hospital shifts the song into something more propulsive. Each member of Deleted Scenes adds an important element to the songs, but it’s Hospital’s drumming that really decides where a song is going. “A Litany” has certain shoegaze elements – the atmospheric guitar work, the blurred and blended vocals – and these things become more pronounced on track two, “The Days of Adderall.” At the same time, the song adds in more world music rhythms, as if Young People’s was the belated shoegaze response to Graceland.

Generally speaking, the album is a swirling, catchy mess. But from track to track, the band shifts gears as they see fit. “A Bunch of People Who Loved You Like Crazy” opts for heavy layers of noise before abruptly switching to the sleepy acoustic number “Nassau.” At just 39 minutes in length, the record feels epic in scope but still wraps up neatly without overplaying any one style. Still, the most successful tracks are the most danceable. That includes “Burglarizing the Deaf,” given a prime spot on the record by kicking up the energy after chilling out with “Nassau” for a while. “English as a Second Language” has it all though, a funky electronic beat, a catchy chorus and an explosive outro. That one’s “the hit.”

Young People’s is just Deleted Scenes’ second album, but it has such an enticing atmosphere to it by blending together post-punk and shoegaze with indie rock. There’s not a single dud among the 11 tracks. Live, the songs transform to an epic electrical burst. Here, they have a little more nuance, playing up quieter elements and building more tension. Regardless of the volume, though, the tunes are solid.