Saturday, May 30, 2009

regarding Fabulous Stains covers.

YACHT, whom I have never heard of until just now, is putting out a 7" of Fabulous Stains covers entitled Don't Put Out June 16. HECK YES. It'll feature "Waste of Time" and "Professionals" from the '80s cult film, Ladies and Gentleman, The Fabulous Stains. "Waste of Time" is streaming via the link above. The band gives it a great tweaking, keeping the apathetic vocals but blending in a poppy disco groove. Given how sparse the original was with just rudimentary guitar, this cover is both faithful yet original. If I had money, I'd try to score one of the 1,000 copies pressed, but I'll prolly have to settle for the digital option.

Speaking of da Stains, check out Ladies and Gentleman, The Fabulous Stains. It's a surprisingly smart punk flick (featuring a very young Diane Lane and Laura Dern) that predicts the riot grrl movement. It chronicles the rise and fall of Lane 'n' Dern's band, The Fabulous Stains, and the impact their violent feminist music has on America's lady-youth. At 87 minutes, it's not a perfect film - the rise/fall dynamic is forced and naive and there are some really stupid movie cliches - but the soundtrack, which blends glam rock, punk, and reggae is spot-on, perhaps helped by a bevy of icons, including but not limited to Paul Simonon from The Clash and Steve Jones and Paul Cook from the Sex Pistols. Lane is affecting in one of her first film roles, playing fucked-up teenage orphan Corinne Burns with a mix of anger and fragility, determination and nihilism.

Basically, if you like punk rock and hate sexist pigs, check out the flick, then hit up YACHT's covers.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Nirvana - 'In Utero'

[Strap in. I flipped pickles when I saw that didn't have an In Utero review. I like to bait the kids from time to time, so I made this mother wicked long and scholarly or whatever.]

16 years after its release and 15 after the death of its primary creator Kurt Cobain, it feels almost pointless to review Nirvana’s studio swansong In Utero. Almost. The record topped numerous “best of” lists both in its day (Rolling Stone ranked it number one for 1993, while Village Voice gave it the number two slot) and since (Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, Spin, and others have all factored it into some sort of rock retrospective, both ’90s-centric and otherwise). Plenty of words have already been dedicated to its description – Spin’s Charles Aaron delivered the best, most to-the-point review with “The difference between drums produced by Butch Vig and drums produced by Steve Albini is the difference between watching somebody get punched in the gut and being punched in the gut.” Rolling Stone’s Charles M. Young once wrote that “if you time the album, the dissonance would probably outweigh the melody by a factor of three to one – but the dissonance is compelling.” And Gillian G. Gaar’s 101-page look at the album for the 33 1/3 series, while at times tedious (she catalogues every In Utero demo ever), covers the album’s creation with a record collector’s obsession.

With so much hooplah about it, why bother reviewing In Utero? Well, for starters, it’s the only essential Nirvana release lacking from the Org’s vaults (Feel free to champion/tear down lesser works like Incesticide and From the Muddy Banks of Wishkah, ye hounds of the Internets). Which is a shame, since it’s a pretty good album that tends to get overshadowed by Nevermind’s cultural impact and MTV Unplugged in New York’s honesty, humor, and fragility. As Charles R. Cross once wrote, “If it is possible for an album that sold four million copies to be overlooked, or underappreciated, then In Utero is that lost pearl.” And based on the comments floating around on this site – “not to be a dick but they really sucked and i agree with everyone that said they sucked” and “This review reqlly sucked” – it seems there are a few looking to knock the grunge kings down. The more intelligent negative comments lash out at Cobain for his heroin-addiction, scene posturing, and really shitty parenting skills. Which are valid criticisms for Cobain the person, but not Cobain the musician. Not to oversimplify, but I think at least part of Nirvana’s backlash stems from the fact that one day they stopped being a band that sounded good and started being a band we’re expected to like, and then, maybe, to a band we’re expected to think was overhyped. You’d think the latter would stem from the former, but that leap is a big, alienating one.

So let’s compromise by forgetting that Nirvana conquered hair metal and Michael Jackson to champion the supposed underground rock movement. Let’s forget about Cobain’s contradictory, churlish press statements. And let’s forget about his world-shaking suicide, if only to evaluate In Utero without hype or hate or yesteryear reverence for context. Given that I was eight years old when Cobain’s body was discovered April 8, 1994, it’s easy for me to do. For me, it was a blip – I was more into Sega Genesis and Boyz II Men at the time. I hope these things are easy for you to ignore too. The only outside context you need is Nevermind, by which I mean the actual collection of songs, not the cultural juggernaut.

In Utero is the uglier, perhaps punker kid brother to the glossy yet powerful Nevermind. Almost everything about In Utero is a reaction to its predecessor – the lyrics are at times confused and angry, caught up in the haze that comes with fame, while digging deeper into personal issues. “Serve the Servants” hits both – “Teenage sex has paid off well/Now I’m bored and old” satirizes the band’s success, while “I tried hard to have a father/But instead I have a dad” hits the listener with familial strife through subtle word differences. The songs are also much more confrontational, both lyrically and musically, as evidenced by the dissonant “Scentless Apprentice” and the rather direct “Rape Me.” Even its poppiest track, the single “Heart-Shaped Box,” bears a muddied guitar tone and a dissonant solo. All of which is thanks to the record’s engineer, Steve Albini.

Albini was chosen to record In Utero specifically because he was Butch Vig’s opposite. Vig has helmed some great, spit-shined rock breakthroughs, such as Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream, AFI’s Sing the Sorrow, and Against Me!’s New Wave. If you want to blow up, he’s your man, thanks to lots of overdubbing and glossing. Albini, by willful contrast, achieves power by different, seemingly simpler methods – well-placed mics, spacious rooms with good acoustics, and an emphasis on sounding live (or “real” if you prefer). No one sounds quite like Albini, but he makes the recording process sound so easy. As a result, In Utero’s dry sound is enhanced by dirge-y guitar/bass and seemingly bottomless drum sounds. Dave Grohl, one of the best drummers of the ’90s, gets his best sound on tracks like “Scentless Apprentice” and “All Apologies.” Even with additional vocal tracks, strings, and guitar overdubs, the record still sounds raw.

But In Utero doesn’t just succeed thanks to Albini’s aesthetically pleasing techniques. Ya still gotta have the right tunes, man. “Serve the Servants” announces In Utero as a wholly different animal with its distorted opening note – a ’90s update of The Beatles’ single attention-grabbing chord from “A Hard Day’s Night” if I might be so bold. “Scentless Apprentice” ratchets the harshness up a notch. “Heart-Shaped Box” is haunting by comparison, hitting the listener with a mix of cancerous, romantic, feminine, and mournful images. It’s a fucked-up love song. A bitter diatribe. “Rape Me,” with and without contrast, is a lot less convoluted or fleetingly sweet. It’s about being used, and Cobain uses his voice to inject meaning into the fairly basic lyrics (He says the title a lot). By the song’s end, Cobain, with Grohl on back-up, drowns out all the music with his angry urge to be abused. It’s daring and energetic.

The record’s first half or so, for all its ebb and flow, is pretty cohesive. The second half diverges. Relatively gentle, Lennon-esque tunes like “Dumb,” “Pennyroyal Tea,” and “All Apologies” are spread among freakouts like “Milk It,” “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter,” and “Tourette’s.” The listener can never fully get comfortable here, but everything is catchy so who cares. Cobain reveals a knack for pop genius on “All Apologies” and shreds his vocal chords seconds earlier on “Tourette’s,” and it all works.

“You Know You’re Right” left me hoping for a great “lost” fourth Nirvana album. With the Lights Out proved that, if there is such a thing, it’s going to take time and editing before anything close emerges. But maybe it’s OK if it never happens. Nirvana left behind three immaculate studio albums, plus Unplugged, arguably their best album overall. Regardless of when the next rarities set drops, there’s In Utero to punch me in the gut every time.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

regarding other people's blogs.

Justify FullIf you're like me, you assume that every living writer besides MEEEEE and Chuck Klosterman is a dumb-dumb. As it turns out, my friends are good writers too. Sometimes. My former boss Erin Brodbeck started a super-secret fashion blog called tour de fab. I'm more of a band tee/pants-bought-from-Kohls kinda guy, but she's got insights into looking like anything other than a stoned-out crumb-bum, so that's something.

My Husky Justice associate, Nate Adams, is back on the bloggin' bandwagon after we both got not-paid at our not-jobs at the not-newspaper People's Xpress News. Hit up Left of the Dial for reviews of bands I hate too much to bother writing about.

Nick Gregorio finally started updating his literary blog Infinity's Free Throw Line again. His latest is a super-depressing yet slightly uplifting story about post-education malaise in the Philadelphia suburbs. I identify with everything in the story because he's writing about places and people I know, but I think anyone stuck in a 20-something rut should be able to grab hold of the gist.

Oh yeah, and check out the rest of my chicas to the right. Under "chicas." UH-HUH.

Friday, May 22, 2009

regarding twats.

Per The Next Big Thing's request, I hopped on the Twitter bandwagon. I hope you fuckers like Prince references. And what's up with it loading my photos like 1/3 of the time?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Promise Ring - 'Electric Pink'

[NOTE: With my income down to nada, Picasso Blue is gonna feature some more reviews about older albums. Specifically, stuff that's missing from the archives. Or hey, feel free to e-mail me at about getting your record reviewed. We'll see how long this lasts.]

“They totally peaked with Nothing Feels Good.”

Very Emergency was way too poppy.”

“How come the Tanner kids don’t look Greek, like at all?”

Friend, do these quotes sound familiar? You’re hanging out, maybe thinking about grilled cheese, when somebody drops an ignorant remark – they hate post-’97 Promise Ring! FACT: If you replace “Very Emergency” in the middle quote above with “minorities” and switch “too poppy” to “stupid,” you would have a sentence that is not only racist, but grammatically incorrect. Your friends are a hair away from causing a race riot. You have two choices: 1) Find new friends or 2) Hit ’em in the face with the soothing sorta-emo indie pop rock sounds of Electric Pink! Guaranteed to make ’em even rethink Wood/Water! Maybe!

Housed within its metallic, some might even say electric, pink cover is four songs totaling 12.5 minutes. Three of ’em bounce with Very Emergency’s poppy energy, but with a tightness that the EP format specializes in. The title track opens with a simple bass line and frontman Davey von Bohlen’s lispy word play. “Please don’t press that we dress / high heels and loud shoes are a mess / step out with quiet feet / and now I’m pleased to meet / meeting is so hard to do when you’re dead,” goes one memorable verse. The song is pretty much fun from every angle – to-the-point rock riffs, a hummer of a chorus, and those previously mentioned fun rhymes ensure that much. Track two and Very Emergency holdover “Strictly Television” sounds like slightly more retro TPR, if only for its punkier drumming. Hooks are still big though.

The EP shifts for “American Girl (V.01),” a reimagining of the Boys + Girls cut. Though it’s faster and steadier than the original, it’s still the mellowest/slowest song of the bunch, cleansing the palate before “Make Me a Mixtape.” It’s well-placed. So is “Make Me a Mixtape.” Arguably Electric Pink’s catchiest ditty, its pop-minded wistfulness is enhanced nine years after its release. The mixtape was long ago left behind by playlists and CD-Rs, but its nostalgia factor just ups the ante on this, a song about asking a loved one to make a mixtape for a road trip. Like any good driving song, it’s fast-paced and catchy, with some crunchy riffs thrown in. Grown-ass man von Bohlen acknowledges that he’ll never again be 22 (something this 23-year-old knows as well), but that he wouldn’t mind having a mixtape with “something old and something new / something I said or that we did / that reminds me of you.” Later on he gets a little more specific with requests for Husker Du and “something the Cars did in 1982.” He’s even willing to take “Duran Duran Duran Duran” too, sung with such precious honesty. I’m thinking “Hardly Getting Over It,” “Shake It Up,” and “The Chauffer,” but there are probably peppier numbers to commit to tape. But hey, your stupid friends don’t like catchy songs, right?

Monday, May 18, 2009

regarding new Big D.

Big D and The Kids Table, who've been my favorite ska band for like five years now, announced a new record for the summer called Fluent in Stroll. Two tracks are streaming right now on label Side One Dummy's Web site. Not sure how indicative the tracks are of the overall album, but they're definitely a departure from the two-tone of Strictly Rude. I'm digging the new emphasis on vocals.

Fluent in Stroll drops July 7.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Venice is Sinking - 'AZAR'

“It’s all too much / But sometimes it’s more than enough,” Venice is Sinking – “Young Master Sunshine

Though the first few months were duds (why, Bruce Springsteen, why?!), 2009 is starting to turn into an exciting year for music. I’ve got a solid 10 top going so far that consists mostly of surprises. As in, records from bands I’d either written off before (The Horrors, Morrissey) or just never heard of at all (Pains of Being Pure at Heart). The latter designation is about to get an addition in the form of Venice is Sinking. The Athens, Ga. five-some’s sophomore full-length AZAR fell out of the digital sky like manna when frontman/guitarist Daniel Lawson e-mailed me about a review. I’m glad he did.

Here’s the skinny, ninny: AZAR is one of the best albums of ’09. It’s twangy like a mellow Wilco, slow and jammy like Yo La Tengo, and Lawson’s got a soothing voice a la Matthew Caws of Nada Surf. The record has a warm immediacy. Tracks like “Ryan’s Song” or the four murky “Azar” themes that run throughout the album are intimate.

The first of the “Azars” penned by keyboardist Jeremy Sellers, “Azar One,” opens the record slowly, pulling in more notes as it builds. Evoking a sunrise with its slow/steady measuring and gorgeous orchestration, it perfectly sets the tempo for AZAR. It starts off rather electronic-based before more organic instrumentation – dig those cymbal swells – kicks in. In the first of many excellent transitions, the track segues into lead single “Ryan’s Song.” Lawson and violist/vocalist Karolyn Troupe harmonize pretty dang well over a driving beat and ethereal guitar/strings/keys. And of course, it transitions well into track three, “Okay.”

Putting the “orchestral” in orchestral indie pop, AZAR feels like a classical suite, right down to its revisited eponymous theme. The album flows graciously; this isn’t just a collection of songs bashed out over a few months. Yet at the same time, every song stands out. “Okay” is the rocker in defiance of the dreamy charm of “Ryan’s Song” and “Wetland’s Dancehall.” “Sun Belt” combines slowcore and jazz for a rebirth of cool effect. Horns color the triumphant late number “Iron Range.” The lengthy finale “Charm City” caps it all off.

Given how spacey the album gets at times, it’s a wonder Venice is Sinking showcases such strong pop sensibilities, not to mention good editing skills. Aided by engineer Scott Solter (The Mountain Goats, John Vanderslice), AZAR is tight with its 43-minute time budget when it could have easily devolved into noodling and overly expansive negative space. As is, it’s a beguiling compromise. With a third record already in the bag, Venice is Sinking has my attention for the rest of the year.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Horrors - 'Primary Colours'

Strap in motherfucker. In order to appreciate Primary Colours, the sophomore effort from former U.K. horror punks The Horrors, folks might be better off blissfully unaware of the band’s previous output. See, pretty much everything appealing about the band’s debut, Strange House, is gone. Primary Colours drops garage rock posturing in favor of ’80s underground – Psychedelic Furs, Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine, and Siouxsie and The Banshees paint the album’s spectrum. The lyrics are accordingly less shock-centric and more gothic. Since comparing Primary Colours and Strange House is an apples/oranges debate, I’m willing to take a mature, moderate stance on the record.

Primary Colours is the best fucking album of 2009 yet.

Guitarist Joshua Third pulls out some of the sweetest tricks this side of Kevin Shields. The gap between his swirling leads and orchestral strings, like on “I Only Think of You,” is barely there, creating an intriguing blend. Bassist Spider Webb lays down thick, dirty dirges. The former keyboardist switched places with Tomethy Furse, and the switch is mutually beneficial. Furse further enhances Third’s aura, updating The Horrors’ keyboard usage from “discordantly tinny” to “murky and sexy.” Vocalist Faris Badwan holds it down with his Ian Curtis baritone. And as for drummer Coffin Joe, well, he bangs the drums hard and has a sweet stage name.

At a lean 10 tracks, the record never gets dull. The front half comes loaded with dissonance and aggression. Sure, lead-off track “Mirror’s Image” starts off all ambient and techno-minimalist, but it’s just a big ol’ set-up for some dance-pocalypse. It kicks into discordant gear about 90 seconds, continuing through “Three Decades” and “Who Can Say.” The post-punk angst gets dialed up on “Who Can Say” during the bridge. Over a half-time beat replete with tambourine, Badwan sums up dumping his chick with “And when I told her I didn’t love her anymore / she cried / And when I told her her kisses were not like before / she cried / And when I told her another girl had caught my eye / she cried / And then I kissed her, with a kiss that could only mean goodbye." He says it with this perfectly detached, moody, British tone that turns the song into the inverse “Just Like Honey.”

The second half loses some frenetic swagger in favor of even more churning atmosphere. “Scarlett Fields” and especially “I Only Think of You” have an excellent comedown effect. Not that the record ever gets flaccid; these songs aren’t exactly ballads. Besides, track eight, “I Can’t Control Myself,” forces the tension back into play. While the record has an excellent give-n-take flow, it feels almost as if the first nine tracks are building towards “Sea Within a Sea,” an eight-minute piece that explores every nook and/or cranny Primary Colours built up during the previous 37. It’s epic and spacey and boasts a pretty neat keyboard trick near the end.

This is how I wish Interpol sounded. Primary Colours slinks through assorted cool poses, dark without being morbid, sullen without being depressing. I know music elitism means only liking a band’s earlier works and whatever, but now is the time to hop on the Horrors bandwagon. As for the old freaks and weirdos, the sounds aren’t psychotic anymore, but that’s just part of the artistic growth.

regarding Spike Jonze's latest.

Spike Jonze has a super cool blog going called We Love You So. It's meant to shed some light on the ridiculously lengthy wait for his upcoming film Where the Wild Things Are, as well to explain the work and inspirations that went into its creation, but he's been posting on bands, exhibits, and the like as well. Overall, it's Jonze bein' Jonze, which means it's a great read.

And seriously, how cool is this trailer?

Friday, May 8, 2009

A Camp - 'Colonia'

Cardigans frontwoman Nina Persson revived her A Camp side project this year with Colonia (technically she started recording it in 2007, but you get my meaning, doncha?). Husband and Shudder to Think guitarist Nathan Larson helps out this time, but the family affair just feels that much more disappointing. Colonia, A Camp’s second album, struggles to find its own identity, settling into a fey malaise.

Persson has said in interviews that she didn’t want Colonia to sound like A Camp’s self-titled debut or any phase of The Cardigans’ discography, which eliminates indie rock, country, trip-hop, and Black Sabbath covers. What’s left could be sort of compared to The Cardigans’ Long Gone Before DaylightColonia similarly deals in indie pop, but it dials down The Cardigans’ blend of smart yet depressing lyrics married to catchy hooks. And while it makes sense that Persson would want to grow as an artist, one has to ask what was wrong with writing clever, infectious pop songs.

Not that Colonia is a bad album. It’s just not a great one. Orchestral indie pop has been done better, both with and without Persson. So while songs like “Love Has Left the Room,” “Strong Than Jesus,” and “Chinatown” feature lush arrangements and big vocals, there’s still that sinking feeling that, well, there are better Persson albums one could be spinning. Gran Turismo’s spacey electronica and First Band on the Moon’s lounge pop certainly come to mind.

In the interest of being fair and balanced and whatever, here are a few more of the album’s positives: “Golden Teeth and Silver Medals,” a duet with Nicolai Dunger about singing duets. It’s so meta! The chiming piano opening to “The Crowning” is kinda interesting. And Persson’s voice is still a great selling point. She doesn’t necessarily have the widest range, but she can still go big with flecks of grit peppered in. And that coo still makes me swoon.

Colonia suffers from the burden of expectations. If it came from an up-and-coming band, I’d be polite and call it “promising.” But coming from a pop genius like Persson, I have to call bullshit. The record just doesn’t hit me, either on a lyrical or pop level.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Depeche Mode - 'Sounds of the Universe'

The double-nils have been good for ’80s comebacks. The Cure dropped the vastly underrated Bloodflowers and 4:13 Dream. Bruce Springsteen released more awesome albums this decade than he did during the Reagan administration (Working on a Dream is his mulligan). Morrissey’s Years of Refusal might very well be his best solo record. Heck, even Prince, with his gazillions of songs about fucking and/or wanting to fuck, had a flash of relevancy with Musicology and 3121. Throw in the scads of ’80s revivalists making money nowadays, and it’s clear that fellow ’80s leftovers Depeche Mode were due for a comeback record. And while some jumped the gun in declaring 2005’s Playing the Angel to be that record (c’mon, it wasn’t), the truth, however subjective, is that 2009’s Sounds of the Universe is the freshest Depeche a la Mode in almost 20 years.

Or 19, given that Violator came out in 1990. Since then, the Mode has been more or less artistically bankrupt, trying bad ideas that ranged from live band instrumentation (Songs of Faith and Devotion, which sucks) to giving their albums extreme titles that contrast with the boring music contained within (Ultra, Exciter, which blow). The band’s most recent output has aimed for a back-to-basics approach. Of course, ’80s artificiality is “the thing” right now for pop music, which also means that Sounds of the Universe sounds kinda modern.

Let’s get the criticisms out of the way. Sounds of the Universe’s beats don’t experiment quite like on Some Great Reward. None of the songs touch on eroticism like “Master and Servant,” although “Jezebel” gives it a go. Neither controversial nor thought-provoking, it’s a ham-fisted deep cut about a sexually liberated girl who dresses somewhat revealingly. In a world of sexting and online child pornography, “Jezebel” doesn’t shock or amaze. And the arrangement is boring.

But these shortcomings only matter to the diehards, and even then they’ll probably just be glad to have a solid Depeche Mode record in their hands. Sounds of the Universe is cool and catchy. Tunes like “In Chains,” “Come Back,” and single “Wrong” have a spacey elegance to them that recalls the better moments of Music for the Masses or Violator, even if they don’t supplant them. This record is a safe bet in every sense of the phrase. It’s a moderate artistic statement from the band, and it’s a decent purchase for fans of new and old synthpop. While the album doesn’t need to be an hour-long, some editing on one’s digital music player will cut Sounds of the Universe down to a more pleasing 45-50 minutes or so.

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart at The Barbary

New York City bands The Pains of Being Pure at Heart and ZAZA made a quick stop at Philadelphia’s The Barbary before finishing up their spring tour together. And by quick, I mean half-hour sets. Maybe it was a mercy – was I the only one in attendance who didn’t have a final the next day? Maybe it was a lack of songs – the Pains could play their entire released discography and still not fill an hour. Either way, the too-brief night, however fun it was for the moment, felt anticlimactic in the end.

ZAZA, featuring Pains drummer Kurt Feldman, went on first with an introduction of “Hi… errrr… banter” from guitarist/fronmtan Danny Taylor. Though the band experienced some guitar issues early on, they eventually found a working groove. Swirling, ethereal, droning… pick any shoegaze adjective and it’ll stick to ZAZA, though that’s not meant as a dig. Taylor unfurled a vast array of guitar tones with his mother of an effects board while bassist/keyboardist Jennifer Fraser danced through the layers with her fleet lines. Though Feldman has pretty perfect time and proved to be a top notch drummer later, he felt like a waste here. ZAZA uses preprogrammed drums, which were louder than Feldman’s floor tom/snare/cymbal setup. And while the beats were solid, nothing seemed beyond the grasp of a drummer with a full kit. Granted, Feldman was working a double shift, but given that he only played for like 65 minutes total, ZAZA’s choices in percussion became distracting.

Preprogrammed or not, ZAZA still provided a cool set, featuring songs like “Sooner or Later” and “Always On” from the band’s new EP Cameo. All four songs are available for free online at The crowd wasn’t particularly into dancing… or clapping… or jokes… but this was also the same crowd that filled The Barbary back-to-front, as if they didn’t want to appear too eager to attend this sold-out show. As such, ZAZA seemed to have gone over well.

Aside from a few minor amp issues and flubbed notes, Pains of Being Pure at Heart put on a mighty tasty show. Tunes from their eponymous debut like “This Love is Fucking Right!”, “Stay Alive,” and “Come Saturday” were played to near perfection, with waves of distortion drifting over the audience. A disco ball and a bubble machine made the lovesick, charming music that much more adorable. Frontman and Philadelphia Kip Berman was excited to be playing a show hosted by R5 Productions, arguably the city’s strongest alternative to Live Nation, and WPRB 103.3 FM, Princeton University’s radio station. The latter even got a dedication with the uber-catchy new song “103.” Berman later wished his mother, who was in attendance, a happy Mother’s Day. What a good son.

But while the set was fun and peppy, it was also awfully short. The Pains played for about 35 minutes. Throw in ZAZA’s half-hour set and it still doesn’t match the hour wait after door’s opened plus the 25 minutes spent setting up between bands. Granted, the Pains only have one full-length to their credit, but it wouldn’t hurt to throw in a Jesus and Mary Chain or Smiths cover or two… or three.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Playlist: 'Songs From the Black Hole'

[Playlist is usually an attempt to distill my favorite artists to 80-minute compilations. Today, I attempt to recreate Weezer's long-lost opus, Songs from the Black Hole.]

Fresh from the success of "Blue Album," Weezer wunderkind Rivers Cuomo had a whirlwind year - he enrolled in Harvard, had leg surgery, took a shit ton of drugs, and then somehow tried to write a sophomore album. A lot worked against him. Aside from the usual second album blues, there's the fact that he was hopped up on drugs, hence him writing songs like "Blast Off!" and "Come to My Pod." Then Matt Sharp, Weezer's bassist, went off on his own with The Rentals, allegedly take some songs with him for Return of The Rentals.

All of these factors eventually killed Cuomo's dreams for Weezer's second LP, Songs From the Black Hole. Well, that it's a rock opera about horny astronauts, which I imagine is really hard to write with a straight face. And while a lot of Weerez fans hold Songs From the Black Hole up as some lost gem, I think we all need to admit that a better Weezer album came out of the mix; Pinkerton. For a certain era of awkward kids with zits and worries and piles upon piles of angst, this was their Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Catchy hooks, scatterbrained, lovelorn lyrics, and the slight feeling that the band might have a psychotic breakdown at any second make it one of the most beautiful, emotional records of all time.

Of course, being a Weezer fan means wanting more, and to that end, I've made myself a hypothetical playlist of how Songs From the Black Hole would have sounded. Obviously, some speculation and editing went into this idea. The record went through two proposed track listings, which I have combined. Other songs from that era that were never specifically linked to the album, like Weezer's "Why Bother?" and The Rentals' "Please Let That Be You," were included because A) They sound nice, B) They still fit thematically, even if they don't fit into the goobledygook story, and C) I kinda wanted to pad this thing out. I mean, it's still only 45 minutes long.

So here's my attempt at reconstructing Songs From the Black Hole. Feel free to post your own ideas.

Songs From the Black Hole
1. Rivers Cuomo - "Blast Off!", Alone: The Home Recordings of Rivers Cuomo
2. Rivers Cuomo - "Who You Callin' Bitch?", Alone: The Home Recordings of Rivers Cuomo
3. Rivers Cuomo - "Oh Jonas," Alone II: The Home Recordings of Rivers Cuomo
4. Rivers Cuomo - "Please Remember," Alone II: The Home Recordings of Rivers Cuomo
5. Weezer - "You Won't Get With Me Tonight," Buddyhead Presents: Gimme Skelter
6. The Rentals - "The Love I'm Searching For," Return of the Rentals
7. Weezers - "Come to My Pod," online only
8. Weezer - "This is Not For Me," online only
9. Weezer - "Tired of Sex," Pinkerton
10. Rivers Cuomo - "Superfriend," Alone: The Home Recordings of Rivers Cuomo
11. Rivers Cuomo - "Dude We're Finally Landing," Alone: The Home Recordings of Rivers Cuomo
12. Weezer - "Getchoo," Pinkerton
13. Weezer - "I Just Threw Out the Love of My Dreams," "The Good Life" single
14. Weezer - "No Other One," Pinkerton
15. Weezer - "Why Bother," Pinkerton
16. Weezer - "Waiting on You," "The Good Life" single
17. Weezer - "Devotion," "El Scorcho" single
18. Rivers Cuomo - "Longtime Sunshine," Alone: The Home Recordings of Rivers Cuomo
19. The Rentals - "Please Let That Be You," Return of The Rentals

I can't wait for Alone III to force me to redo this whole list. Or, ya know... an official Songs From the Black Hole release.

Pretty Whores - 'Teens of USA'

The cover of Teens of USA, the new EP from the Pretty Whores – they’ve nixed “…of Manhattan” from their name – proudly displays three dudes in ripped jeans kicking, punching and grinning like goofballs. The accompanying music is pretty much the aural equivalent of that photo. Firing off eight songs in 18 minutes, Teens of USA consists of no-frills Hives-style garage rock. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it sure has fun spinning it.

The title track kicks off the EP with buzzsaw guitars, pounding drums and screeching (some might even say “howling”) vocals. From that start until the finish of “My Hometown,” Teens of USA does not let it up. What’s offered here is uncomplicated rock and/or roll in the vein of The (International) Noise Conspiracy and, ya know… The Hives.

Teens of USA’s biggest strength (it’s fist-pumping bar-ready punk rock!) is also its biggest weakness though. The CD offers no surprises and, given its close proximity to other, higher profile bands, Pretty Whores is the kind of act you already know your feelings towards without hearing a single note. Either you dig Jack White-esque shrieks or you don’t. Same thing with the topics: partying and scene politics. The closest thing the band comes to discussing “real” issues is “When are You Going to Start to Study?”, which is way catchier than its patriarchal title implies.

That said, it’s hard to hate Pretty Whores. They bring the rock, however derivative. Like Teens of USA’s cover implies, the music exists in the space between thrash-worthy and danceable.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Camera Obscura - 'My Maudlin Career'

*Le sigh* I have a weakness for Scottish women. The burning passion. The alabaster skin. The ever so slight connection to Star Trek’s Scotty. Which reminds me… the accents. YES.

Of course, to use that attraction as a means for explaining my severe crushing on Traceyanne Campbell’s songwriting on My Maudlin Career, the latest orchestral twee pop smash from her band Camera Obscura, would be a redundantly sexist viewpoint (and prolly get me smacked by my Scotch-Canadian special lady friend). See, the band continues to outpace their peers in Belle & Sebastian with a fine mix of shimmering musicianship, evocative lyrics and gorgeous vocals.

While My Maudlin Career isn’t quite as immediate as its predecessor, 2006’s Let’s Get Out of This Country, it still delivers a similarly infectious track listing. But where Let’s Get Out of This Country was about being sick of people in general, My Maudlin Career is an adult break-up record.

It doesn’t start that way, though. The glorious single “French Navy” opens the record. Campbell meets a French sailor, which sends the singer in a tizzy. “Relationships were something I used to do,” she writes. “Convince me they are better for me and you / We met by a trick of fate / French navy my sailor mate.” By the second track, “The Sweetest Thing,” she’s already trying to forget the salty dog, something that fails time and again throughout the record. I’ve always had it in for the French, and I can add breaking Campbell’s heart to my list of complaints. But while Campbell tries “going on a date tonight / to try to fall out of love with you” on “The Sweetest Thing,” she’s also “innocently learning your language / You’ve been taking full advantage haven’t you? / Don’t say it’s true” on “Forests & Sands.”

I’m gonna have to play the emo card on My Maudlin Career. Not in the New Jersey mall-core style that the double nils have developed, but in the ’90s indie sense of the term. My Maudlin Career is about a grown-ass woman who finds out her life isn’t as sophisticated as she thought. She’s still caught up in melodramatic teenage traps, falling for the bad guy she thinks she can change (or least fluently speak with). It’s a mature emo record that goes beyond the Madonna/whore complex that’s plagued the genre for some time now. That it’s sugarcoated with such stellar musicianship, including but not limited to haunting piano, soaring strings and the occasional driving drum beat that’s used so sparingly that you really appreciate its presence, makes My Maudlin Career that much easier to swallow.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Kills at the Theater of Living Arts

The subtle art of droning was in full bloom at the Theater of Living Arts, courtesy of The Kills, The Horrors and Magic Wand. While the TLA has never exactly had the best sound, that weakness turned to be a plus, enhancing the swirling fits of garage rock noise emanating from the bands. The bands drew an interesting mix, with The Kills pulling in hipsters a-plenty – Big shiny garish clothes! Pseudo-ironic mustaches! Sweatbands? – and The Horrors attracting more of a punk/metal crowd. How else can you explain the kids in Misfits and System of a Down tees? And while I missed Magic Wand’s set (I had vegan BBQ chicken pizza to eat, clam flammit), I still gotta say, overall, this was a tasty show.

The Horrors put on a damn fine show. Bedecked in black and synths, the band tore away at their instruments while frontman Faris Badwan mostly kept his back to the audience. There’s a definite shoegaze element to the band’s new Primary Colours that elevates their previous garage band sound, and they’re all the better for it.

Though there was a mini-exodus following The Horrors’ set, a decent amount of people stuck around for The Kills’ 11 p.m. set. Though they ended up playing for only 50 minutes (plus a three song encore), it’s worth giving the band some slack over the short set, if only because lead singer Allison Mosshart was hospitalized like a week ago for breathing problems and still found the energy to give Philadelphia folks a whirlwind of a show. Mosshart constantly paced the stage, hungry and anxious, while guitarist/vocalist Jamie Hince tore at his instrument and called on the crowd to dance.

The set leaned heavily on material from last year’s career highlight Midnight Boom, and songs like “U.R.A. Fever,” “Alphabet Pony” and “Black Balloon” got a huge reaction. Mosshart was noticeably rougher live, again probably thanks to her cold, but the newfound grit gave the songs a dirtier new perspective. Her vocals became more bluesy, which in turn played well off of Hince’s guitar work. The band was also droned more live. Midnight Boom was packed with dance beats; its live interpretation bears more in common with The Jesus & Mary Chain than PJ Harvey. Again, though, this generally worked to the band’s advantage.

Still, the murkier, hazier live sound didn’t suit The Kills’ older songs quite as well. Granted, “Fried My Little Brains” and “Pull a U” sounded good, but “No Wow” felt flat. The song started off slowly building itself into a fervor, just like its studio counterpart, but it led to a climax that never came.

Not that it mattered. Bluesy, hypnotic, salty, sweaty, sexy, writhing, alive. These are the words to use for describing a Kills show. The band clearly gave its all for the crowd and was rewarded with wave after wave of applause.