Album Review: The Bitter Tears – Jam Tarts in the Jakehouse

May 31, 2009

The Bitter Tears’ Jam Tarts in the Jakehouse gets off to a rousing start with “Slay the Heart of the Earth,” a rocking shuffle that shows their promise. It deploys all the weapons in their arsenal–two singers and a bevy of instruments played by a tight band. I bet it’s a blast live.

The rest of the album, unfortunately, demonstrates the band’s key weakness–poor songwriting. “Inbred Kings” is typical. It has verses, but no bridge or chorus, unless the horns after each verse count as a chorus. There are several songs just like it, and it gets monotonous pretty quickly.

Throw in a demerit for a song that rhymes “girl” and “world,” and another for vocals that sometimes sound like the satanic bastard child of the guy from Cake and the guy from Wall of Voodoo in full-on “Mexican Radio” mode, and it’s clear we have a problem.

This is too bad, because the Bitter Tears have an interesting and engaging sound that has some real potential. They’ve got the instrumental chops. If they develop the songwriting chops to match, they could be a band to watch.

two-stars

You can hear and download “Slay the Heart of the Earth” here. I encourage you to do so. It’s the one song I’ll be keeping from Jam Tarts in the Jakehouse.

Here is a promotional video that demonstrates both how good and how irritating this band can be.

Despite panning their album, I wouldn’t mind checking the Bitter Tears out live. I suspect it might work better that way.


Album Review: Black Lips – 200 Million Thousand

May 29, 2009

Self-styled Atlanta “flower punk” band the Black Lips have been putting out consistently great material since their 2003 self-titled debut.  Their unabashed aping of 60′s garage rock has been a staple on my iPod for a few years now, and I’m always excited about a new recording.  I even managed to catch them during their mouth-pissing, guy-on-guy kissing period of live show insanity, which I hear is sadly behind them now.  Oh well, everybody’s gotta grow up sometime.  But the great thing about the Black Lips has always been their juvenile refusal to change their ways.  They are the kids in the back of the room that always cause trouble, throwing spit balls at the teacher and lighting up a smoke in the boy’s lavatory.  Their whole aesthetic was summed up in a song from their 2007 record Good Bad Not Evil, the infinitely catchy “Bad Kids.”  The Black Lips are the champions of the high school losers who grew up with no dads, got all F’s on their report cards, and drew penises on every available wall surface.

Interestingly enough, though, that same album seemed to be a turning point for the band; their Vice Records debut was their most well-produced, cleanest sounding album, and it contained some of their most conventionally catchy songwriting to date.  Behind them were the intentionally lo-fi recording techniques and fuzzy, hazy feel that had been present on all of their previous recordings.  It looked as though the Black Lips were poised to clean up (a little bit, anyway) and make a strong push to bring their Jackass-ery into the mainstream.  Which is what makes their latest album, 200 Million Thousand, such an enigma.

Upon first listen, 200 Million Thousand almost comes off as a step backwards for the Black Lips.  The clean studio feel of Good Bad Not Evil is nowhere to be found, and the songs once again sound deliberately sloppy and maybe even a bit lazy.  Many songs have an even dirtier psychedelic rock sound to them, and the instant sing-alongs like “Bad Kids”, “Oh Katrina!”, and “It Feels Alright” are conspicuously absent, with the exception of the Ringo backbeat-driven “Drugs” and the Byrds-influenced jangle of  “Starting Over.”

I was a bit disheartened after a few listens still didn’t convince me that this record was any good.  The Black Lips putting out a bad album?  Unpossible!  This feeling was not aided by their ill-advised foray into hip hop towards the end of the album with “The Drop I Hold.”  Cole Alexander does not have any flow to speak of, and I don’t think we’ll have to worry about him starting a rap career any time soon, although his improvised yet enthusiastic beat boxing at the end of the song is entertaining.

However, after several more listens, I started to get it.  This record is not too far off from some of their earlier recordings like Let It Bloom and We Did Not Know The Forest Spirit Made The Flowers Grow.  I’m beginning to think that 200 Million Thousand is a statement album.  While Good Bad Not Evil said, “See?  We can make a clean-sounding, catchy rock record that all the kids will like,” 200 Million Thousand screams, “Fuck you, you won’t pin us down!”  The Black Lips are going to continue to make music on their own terms, and in defying expectations have reminded me that, while there’s a lot of “flower” to their sound, there’s also a good dose of “punk.”  I’m glad that they can still surprise me.  I was excited to see what they would do after Good Bad Not Evil, and now I’m even more excited to hear their next record, because I have no idea where they will go with it.

Black Lips – “Drugs”


RIP, Jay Bennett

May 26, 2009

Former Wilco member Jay Bennett passed away in his sleep of unknown causes over the weekend.  Bennett was a member of Wilco from 1994 through 2001.  He was immediately dismissed from the band following the completion of landmark album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot due to disputes with band mate Jeff Tweedy over his involvement in the mixing of the record.  Bennett’s multi-instrumentalism and songwriting genius will live on, both through his Wilco recordings and his subsequent solo and collaborative projects.

Below is the video for one of my favorite Wilco songs from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, to which Bennett contributed some vital music and lyrics (Jay is not shown in the video).

Wilco – “Jesus, Etc.”


Memorial Day 2009

May 25, 2009

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

You can read the story of the Memorial Day tradition of passing out red poppies here.

Today, I will repost the video I made for “The Sinking of the Reuben James,” as performed by the Kingston Trio, my tiny effort to help ensure that the fallen are not forgotten. You can read the history of the song at my original post.


Album Review: New York Dolls – ‘Cause I Sez So

May 24, 2009

The New York Dolls, in their original incarnation, are one of my favorite bands of all time. When I picked up their “reunion” album (two original members), Someday It Will Please Us to Remember Even This, it was an impulse purchase made on a Saturday afternoon when the flesh was weak and I had some extra cash, and I expected to trade it in at the used music shop pretty quickly.

I was astonished to discover that it was excellent. No, it wasn’t New York Dolls or Too Much Too Soon, but an attempt to recreate those classics over thirty years later would have been laughable. Instead, it was the work of elder statesmen who may have lost their youth, but have not lost their attitude or significant songwriting chops.

‘Cause I Sez So, the Mark-Two Dolls’ follow-up to their well-received comeback, could count as a sophomore slump, as the songwriting on the whole is not quite at the same level as Someday. But you know what they say–you have thirty-three years to write your third album and only two-and-a-half to write your fourth. And if ‘Cause I Sez So suffers a bit in comparison due to being maybe two killer tracks short, it’s also filler-free, tough where appropriate, tender where it needs to be, and sardonic in a manner that early-twenties punkers are incapable of: “Tried to bum a cigarette,” David Johansen wearily complains–”Nobody smokes no more.”

The Dolls’ primary touchstones remain the same (garage rock, blues), but they’ve broadened the palette a bit on songs like “Temptation to Exist,” which sounds somewhat like young David Bowie crossed with something from the 1980′s psychedelic pop scene, and “Drowning,” which goes for arena rock bombast.  They even do a reggae remake of their classic “Trash,” which will no doubt irk some long-time fans.

While it may not rise to the level of its immediate predecessor, ‘Cause I Sez So is the work of a still-vibrant band. A sentence I never thought I’d write: The New York Dolls have a bright future ahead of them.

Three Stars

Rhino Records has not seen fit to release a video or two for ‘Cause I Sez So (way to promote, guys!) and I’m sick of being busted so I’m not going to post one. We’ll have to make due with a couple of pretty-good live clips.

New York Dolls – “‘Cause I Sez So”

New York Dolls – “My World”


American Idol, 2009 – Episode 40 (5/20/09)

May 20, 2009

Idol LogoSince there are only two contestants left, a separate post for my weekly power rankings seems pointless, so I’ll just do it here.

Power Rankings:

  1. Adam Lambert
  2. Kris Allen

Who Should Win

Adam Lambert. I thought Kris was better last night, but if we’re picking our new American Idol based on the body of work created over the course of the season, Adam gets the prize.

Who Will Win

Kris Allen. A solid night and the mass movement of former Gokey voters to Kris should put him over the top. I’m not rooting for him, but I can be satisfied with that result.

One of the things that I like about this show is that nice guys can finish first. The music industry can be a nasty, backstabbing, evil thing. But American Idol can, if the contestants can make it through the judges’ and producers’ manipulations, provide a platform for some talented nobody who isn’t a lying, thieving vampire to get the shot he deserves. I don’t know either Kris Allen or Adam Lambert personally, but the online gossipers and the journalists who interview people from their hometowns and such all seem to have the same thing to say: Both of these guys are very nice people. And that makes me happy.

They say the same thing about Danny Gokey, Allison Iraheta, Matt Giraud, and hell, almost everyone from this season. They say it about Kelly Clarkson. They say it about David Cook. They say it about Jordin Sparks and Carrie Underwood and many others. That is a wonderful thing, a thing not to be overlooked.

Of course, there’s always the chance that one or more of the folks I’ve been so kind to in this post insists on only getting brown M&Ms soaked in Perrier backstage, prior to screaming at some stagehand and demanding a private dressing room for his poodle. I may be being much too romantic here. I hope I’m not. Talented people who are also good people should finish first once in awhile, and my sense is that, through this show, sometimes they do.

My blog will be very late tonight. Mom and Pops Winslow are in town, and after dinner with them, I have to prepare for an interview that takes place tomorrow for a job I badly need. So I have no idea when I’m going to be able to watch the show. When I do, live DVR blogging and spoilers will be below the fold.

Read the rest of this entry »


American Idol 2009: Jason’s Episode 39 Recap

May 20, 2009

Idol LogoI wasn’t going to do a recap of last night’s performance by the final two, but after reading Gordon’s live blog, I felt compelled to respond.  My response?  Gordon is smoking large amounts of delicious crack rock.

Last night’s episode was good in spots, but overall, it was fairly disappointing.  I guess I will review each performance round by round.

ROUND 1

In this round, the contestants get to pick their favorite performance from the season.  I hate it when they do this.  Shouldn’t we get a new performance here?  As evidenced by Archuleta’s performance of “Imagine” during last year’s finale, something usually gets lost during a repeat performance of these songs.  It could be that the initial surprise of any vocal tricks or arrangement adjustments has worn off, but these rarely seem to be able to compare to the first performance.  Until now.

Adam Lambert:  Adam wisely picks the Gary Jules version of “Mad World” for his favorite performance.  This was the performance that had many people proclaiming Adam Lambert to be a genius the first time around.  I actually did not like it as much as many other viewers did, preferring instead his earlier performance of Smokey Robinson’s “Tracks of my Tears.”  That said, I think Adam’s performance of “Mad World” last night was more restrained, more emotional, and more affecting than his original performance.  I could have done without the fog machine and Hellraiser jacket, but Adam sang the song very well.

Kris Allen:  For some reason, I was kind of expecting to hear Kris perform “Heartless” tonight, because in my opinion it has been his most relevant performance to date, showing his ability to take a current pop hit and successfully rework it to suit his style.  However, I think Kris actually made the right choice in picking “Ain’t No Sunshine.”  First, Kris just performed “Heartless” last week, so it wouldn’t have seemed as fresh.  Second, “Ain’t No Sunshine” was the first performance from Kris that made people recognize him as a genuine contender for the top spot, and having a reminder of that moment was a good boost to Kris’s underdog status going into tonight.  Finally, Kris actually outdid himself, turning in an even stronger performance than his first.  Kris did a lot tonight to remind us why he’s there, and he also showed how much he has grown over the season by improving on one of his standout performances of the season.

WINNER:  KRIS (barely!)

ROUND 2

Ah, the dreaded producer’s pick, a job that used to fall to Clive Davis before his old, scaly ass got the boot from the show.  Now the job has been given to producer Simon Fuller, and someone needs to take it away from him, pronto!  Perhaps credit Obama for this, but for some reason we get a couple of late 60′s protest songs from two of the greatest male soul singers of their generation, Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye.  Why?  Both songs are iconic, and neither belongs on a glorified pop karaoke contest like Idol.  And here’s why.

Adam Lambert:  Who in the hell could have possibly thought that Sam Cooke’s “A Change Gonna Come” was an appropriate choice for Adam?  Seriously, Simon Fuller, what were you thinking?  Was it some sort of sly reference to the plight of the gay population as they fight for marital rights, much like African Americans fought for voting rights in the 60′s?  No matter the reasoning, it was stupid, and Adam did the best he could with it.  Despite a few moments that sounded overly screechy and took away from the melody, there were some more restrained moments that actually showed a gospel side to Adam’s voice that had not been heard up to this point.  It was an uneven performance, but I think the good just slightly outweighed the bad.

Kris Allen:  Kris was saddled with Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On,” and here’s one of the areas in which I think Gordon is smoking crack when he says that this song doesn’t have enough melody.  What?  Seriously?  Kris takes the familiar acoustic route on this one, and I don’t think I would blame the song for this performance’s ultimate failure.  No, I think Kris Allen is to blame.  This is a powerful song, and Marvin Gaye was able to convey genuine pain, confusion, and sadness in his untouchable rendition of this song.  When Kris Allen performs it, the song just sounds like a bouncy little pop tune with little emphasis on the weight of the lyrics or the message they contain.  It was a coffee house performance, and I was not impressed.

WINNER:  ADAM

ROUND 3

And even more dreaded than the producer’s pick is the always cringe-inducing Idol song.  There have been many bad songs in the past, such as Jordin and Blake’s “This Is My Now,” but that was absolutely topped last season with David Cook’s “Time Of My Life,” which actually contains lyrics about a “magic rainbow.”  Not kidding.  For the past couple of seasons, these songs were submitted to the Idol songwriting contest, which has apparently gone the way of the dodo.  But not to worry, because Kara DioGuardi, the queen of insipid pop drivel, is on the show and has contributed a song for this year’s Idols to sing.  It’s called “No Boundaries,” and it makes me want to strangle a puppy.  This one even manages to be particularly insensitive to residents of our recently storm-plagued Gulf Coast, containing an inexplicable line about “Weather(ing) the hurricane.”  Nice.

Adam and Kris:  I will quickly review both singers together, because they were both saddled with this terrible pile of dreck.  No singer could work with this song, and it was proven by both Adam and Kris.  Adam missed several notes and seemed lost, while the song was in the wrong key for Kris’s voice.  The music itself was much more suited for Kris’s singing style, but the key issues keep him from gaining a solid edge.  Both singers went down in flames on this one, and I hope that Kara will not be back next season to contribute more awful crap like this, not to mention her worthless, rambling commentary delivered with her ridiculous finger-wagging and head-bobbing.

WINNER:  DRAW

So that makes the final count 1-1-1, and we have a tie ball game!  Who’s going to win?  I can honestly say that I do not know, but I actually have a feeling in my gut that it will be Kris.

If you have ever watched “America’s Next Top Model,” they have a way of referring to models as either “commercial” or “editorial.”  Commercial models are more conventionally pretty and better suited for mainstream ad work, whereas editorial models are more edgy and appropriate for high fashion and avant garde campaigns.  Obviously, Kris would be the commercial model, and Adam is the editorial.  Kris has so much more mainstream appeal than Adam, whether it be his boyish good looks, his shy southern charm, or his safe and inoffensive vocal delivery. Adam seems to be much more on the love-him-or-hate-him side of things.  While both singers failed with Kara’s horrorshow song, Kris would have benefited immensely from a simple key change, while the song itself was just not suited to Adam’s style.  This is the type of album that the winner will have to make, and Kris is much better equipped to handle this dreck than Adam.  For that reason, I think Kris should win, lest Adam be drained of every single ounce of the flamboyant personality that made him such a hit this season.


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