Awesome Covers Corner: Who Wants to Cover The Pixies?

July 29, 2009

You may have heard recently that the Pixies are about to embark on another tour of Europe and North America commemorating the 20th anniversary of the release of alternative-Hall-of-Fame album Doolittle.  Unfortunately, they will be coming nowhere near Texas, so the likelihood that I will get to attend one of these shows is virtually nil.  Still, the opportunity to hear the Doolittle album performed live in its entirety sounds so incredibly awesome to this die hard fan that I would seriously consider dropping the cash to make it happen if I had such cash available.  Damn you, recession/depression!

The documentary of the Pixies’ reunion tour made it abundantly clear that the band members were not afraid to come together for purely financial reasons to capitalize on the belated respect and widespread acceptance that they had earned nearly 15 years after their dissolution, but media reports made it abundantly clear that the band members would not be coming together for a new record, reportedly due to the classic tension between Charles Thompson (aka Black Francis/Frank Black) and Kim Deal (aka Mrs. John Murphy).  But these plans for a new tour at least reveal that their old animosity has not completely deterred them from working together in the future.  So will we ever get another proper Pixies record?   I am optimistic.  History tells me I shouldn’t be, but dammit, I am!

So that long set up was to introduce two covers that I wasn’t even aware existed until very recently.  The first is done by maybe one of my favorite musicians of all time, Mr. David Bowie.  This cover comes from his 2002 release Heathen, and it is pretty great.  While the song does not come from Doolittle (it was on Surfer Rosa), “Cactus” was an early indicator of the sound that would come to shape the iconic 80’s alternative sound that the Pixies personified.  Bowie’s version is a surprisingly awesome, slightly industrial reinterpretation that still remains true to the original.

David Bowie – “Cactus”

Next up is a completely a capella version of “Mr. Grieves”, a song which actually does appear on Doolittle.  Really, this cover takes my breath away and leaves me speechless.  I will only say that is is an incredible reinterpretation that turns the manic original into an improbably yet completely successful doo-wop tune.  This version of the song both proves Charles Thompson’s ability to craft a great song and TV on the Radio’s unique musical sensibilities.

TV on the Radio – “Mr. Grieves”

Album Review: St. Vincent – Actor

July 28, 2009

I have had a rocky past with female rock and roll artists that, I believe, was a product of growing up in the 90’s.  I always had a seething hatred for female alternative bands like Hole, No Doubt, L7, Veruca Salt, etc.  That list could go on forever (although I did enjoy Garbage’s first record a lot).  I also had no love for the Lilith Fair crowd, as it always seemed to my underdeveloped teenage mind to be some sort of false granola “empowerment” thing for ladies in Birkenstocks.  In retrospect, however, I would gladly listen to Sarah McLachlan and Co. sing about their vaginas all day rather than have to endure the painfully shallow “Sex and the City” culture that exists today.  Lastly, we had the quirky weirdo chicks, like Bjork, Tori Amos, and Portishead.  Nothing in their music was particularly appealing to a teenage boy, and they were also kind of frightening.  Sure, it all looks a bit sexist when revisited from my current vantage point, but them’s the facts.  I remained for a long time fairly averse to female musicians of any kind, and I’m sure I missed a fair amount of solid music because of my youthful biases.

Well, here’s me, all growned up now with much more diverse tastes and a willingness to explore music from anybody, regardless of gender.  I suppose this grew out of my self-induced musical education, which involved listening to lots of great rock, pop, and r&b from previous decades.  The discovery of the great women of popular music’s past opened me up to accepting the new contributions that women continue to make to the musical landscape.  I’m glad that I’ve gotten over my unfair negative gender stereotype, because if I hadn’t, I never would have heard St. Vincent’s latest record, Actor.  And that would be a crime.  Against my ears.  Because they likey.

St. Vincent, a.k.a. Annie Clark, crafts slightly disjointed pop that can change on a dime mid-song, and she borrows from several interesting cultural and musical sources to create some extremely affecting pop music.  In my mind, Clark seems to be having a musical conversation with TV On The Radio, answering last year’s Dear Science with an argument of her own in Actor.  Both artists are indebted to David Bowie, with St. Vincent’s “Save Me From What I Want” echoing Bowie’s “Golden Years”, while several other songs work in minimalist elements from the Berlin Trinity.  Also on display is Clark’s affinity for world music, which she artfully peppers into songs like “The Strangers”, which features a lilting Parisian accordion, and “The Bed”, which rides a vaguely Asian melody.  Tying all of these elements together is Clark’s steady, soothing voice, like that of a schoolteacher, which serves as an excellent anchor through the sometimes jarring arrangements.

And, in almost every case, those arrangements are killer.  This is a purposefully disjointed record, and many of the elements play off of each other to make for unsteady and arresting moments.  Clark’s aforementioned voice always remains on an even keel, even when most of her lyrics feature women in some form of emotional distress.  The soft, lullaby melodies in many tracks, such as “The Strangers” and “The Neighbors”, are often interrupted by blaring horns and quick tempo shifts.  The beautiful flute driven melody of “Black Rainbow” is capped off by a key-shifting crescendo ending that abruptly drops out to end the song.  Clark obviously has a lot of ideas, but the songs never come off as overstuffed.  Instead, we get tight songs with unpredictable and sometimes messy structures, once again showcasing the record’s inherent contradictions.

Actor is a fine album, and I am continually impressed with a lot of the music that has been coming out in 2009.  I must also offer an apology to the ladies of rock for my ill-advised shunning of their efforts as a result of teenage ignorance.  Women have plenty to contribute to popular music, and if they keep producing music like St. Vincent’s Actor, I will keep on singing their praises.  I still hate Hole, though.

St. Vincent – “Actor Out of Work”


July 26, 2009

OK, I have no idea what to make of this. Maybe you can tell me.

“I’m an American, boys.”

July 25, 2009

What song is that line from? I know, but you likely don’t. Somehow, I don’t get the impression that you’re about to rush out and spend money on a twenty-year-old album that I like and recommend when you can’t even hear one song from it. I don’t blame you.

Warner Music: Do you seriously think your posture is helping your catalog sales?

Here’s something else written by the artist you are not allowed to listen to. Someone else sang it. It will probably be yanked, too, so enjoy while you can.

The Wrens – “Boys You Won’t Remember” live at Emo’s 7/21/2007, featuring ME onstage!!!

July 22, 2009

Holy crap! Just randomly found this on YouTube. This was from the Wrens’ last Meadowlands tour stop in July of ’07 at Emo’s in Austin, TX.  The song is Boys You Won’t Remember, and they pulled me and a bunch of other people up on stage.  For most of the video, you can see me in the very back banging on the rafters with a drumstick.  There’s a very brief close up on me at about 2:06, then another of me singing with Kevin at about 2:47.  In the screencap below, I am directly in the middle with my arm raised up.  I am an extreme fanboy, so this was a real thrill.  I only wish the video quality was better, but I’ll take what I can get! 

How often do you get to get onstage and sing with your favorite band in the world?  Best concert experience of my life by far!!!

Album Review: Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion

July 21, 2009

So, if you have read many of my past album reviews on this site, you will notice an obsession that I have with the notion of influence and how artists distinguish themselves from the sounds from which they take inspiration.  No matter how much I enjoy a new album, I tend to have a bit of a hard time getting fully behind artists that make an obvious homage to a specific musical movement that came before.  There is a fine line between inspiration and blatant copying, and it sometimes feels like I’m apologizing for a band sounding too much like their influences.  It’s an internal argument that I may never quite get past, but I have been able to suppress it enough to remain objective on a very basic level, meaning if it sounds good and the artist is bringing a new spin to the material, I’ll give him/her the benefit of the doubt.  Just when I feel I’m getting hopelessly bogged down in my own weird, sick thing, however, a group puts out an album that is wholly unique and original, granting me a much needed reprieve from sorting through who’s ripping off whom.

Such is the case with Animal Collective’s latest album, Merriweather Post Pavilion.  Released way back in January of this year, this is one of the albums that I have been sitting on as I wait to really digest all the minute details.  Granted, six months is a long time to wait for an album review, but I had other shit goin’ on.  Sue me.  As anyone who is familiar with Animal Collective’s earlier work, this is a group that can be notoriously difficult to “get”.  They are known for their dense soundscapes, loose song structures, thumping afro-beats, clicks, beeps, whoops, and hollers.  Not much has changed for Merriweather Post Pavilion, but many of their stranger tendencies have been reined in in a great way, making this the closest to mainstream pop that Animal Collective has come thus far.  However, with a few exceptions, it’s difficult to characterize this as pop music.  Even the most easily digestible songs on the record contain tweaked song structures, endlessly repetitive digital noises, and multi-layered vocalizations.  “My Girls” has several moments that resemble a formal verse/chorus/bridge structure, but it also recalls a kind of primal chant interwoven with tribal drums, beginning with a slow, zen-like drone before bursting into a joyous noise.  “Summertime Clothes” contains Animal Collective’s most catchy chorus, but it’s also surrounded by looped rave noises and drums. Other songs manage to work along the same lines, such as “Also Frightened”, the beautiful love song “Bluish”, West African-influenced album closer “Brother Sport”, and… okay, every song has something unique and different going for it.

One of the coolest tricks on this record, however, comes in the very first song.  “In The Flowers” begins and ends with much of the same droning, repetitive bass, digital clicks, piano, and various other looped noise.  Mid-song, however, after an intense blast of cacophonous loops, Avey Tare breaks in with a decidedly pop lyric (“Then we could be dancing, no more missing you while I’m gone”) that actually creates melody out of the noise, as if each sound comes together with the singer to create brief beauty out of aural chaos.  It reminds me of the familiar jazz instructional cliché: “You have to listen to the notes he’s not playing!”  Granted, this could just all be in my head, but I hear it every time I play the song, and it makes me smile every time.

Merriweather Post Pavilion has received astonishingly good marks from critics everywhere, but many die hard Animal Collective fans will not view this as their most daring and experimental work.  This may be correct, but as their first major dip into the pop music world, Animal Collective have used this record to change the game, creating an all digital album full of electronic noise that yet does not sound like modern techno, rock, pop, or anything else out there, for that matter.  Animal Collective has created an original and solid statement of the band’s vision of where popular music is headed, and I am confident that, in the future, this record will be regarded as far ahead of its time.

Animal Collective – “My Girls”

“Say Say Say” by Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson

July 18, 2009

I was reading something completely unrelated on another blog, and it almost randomly caused “Say Say Say” to pop into my head. Less than a minute later, I clicked over to my music-related RSS feed and found that someone on a different blog had written a brief post on…”Say Say Say.”

I don’t know exactly what that means, but it’s all the excuse I needed to post this excellent song and video. I’m willing to bet that a lot of MJ’s younger fans don’t know this song exists. Here’s hoping it’s on the eventual box set.

Confirmation Funnies!: Al Franken, Sonia Sotomayor, and Perry Mason

July 15, 2009

The junior senator from Minnesota covers the important subjects in these clips from today’s Senate confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (if you don’t want to sit through both, the shorter and funnier clip two is the one to go with):

Part One:

Part Two:

In recognition of this rather, uh, interesting moment in confirmation history, here are a couple of related numbers.

“Perry Mason Theme”

Ozzy Osbourne – “Perry Mason”

Not music-related, but also funny–Sotomayor on ninja nunchucks:

Shuffle Mania! Silly Facebook Games

July 9, 2009

So an old friend from my high school days tagged me with this over at Facebook. It’s silly, but I really enjoyed it. I almost never use shuffle play, as I’m an “album guy.” Turning the shuffle play on made me wish I used it more often. When you have as much music as I do, inevitably there’s some stuff that you haven’t listened to in years, and when you’re an attempted critic, you tend to focus on recent material so that you can write your review.  This reminded me that I have a lot of great music on my hard drive (the 17,000 songs I mention below is not an exaggeration), and need to dig deeper than I have lately.

The reason I’m sharing this (other than needing some filler) is that I think it does a pretty good job of showing you where I’m coming from. This is useful information when making purchasing decisions based on reviews. For example, I know Roger Ebert overpraises movies with flashy visuals or far-left political leanings, and I take that into account when trying to figure out whether or not I’m going to spend money on a movie he has praised. This will give you some insight into my musical tastes, and you can take it into account when reading my reviews.

Shuffle Mania!

Once you’ve been tagged… (1) Turn on your MP3 player or the music application on your computer (iTunes, Media Player). (2) Go to SHUFFLE songs mode. (3) Write down the first 30 songs that come up–song title and artist–NO editing/cheating, please. (4) Choose 25 (or so) people to be tagged. It is generally considered to be in good taste to tag the person who tagged you.

If I tagged you, it’s because I want to know more about your musical tastes, or at least a random sampling thereof.

(To do this, go to “NOTES” under tabs on your profile page, paste these instructions in the body of the note, enter your 30 Shuffle Songs, Click ‘Preview’ below to tag 25 people (in the right hand corner of the app) then click Publish, the little blue box at the bottom of your screen.

My list:

  1. “Terminal Show” – Motörhead (A fitting beginning!)
  2. “This is Pop” – XTC
  3. “I Can’t Control Myself” – The Troggs (I have lots of bad Troggs songs but I got a good one! Way to go, randomizer!)
  4. “Do it Again” – The Kinks (Out of all the Kinks songs you could have played, you give me this one?)
  5. “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” – Elvis Presley
  6. “Scarlet Pussy” – Prince (This is not a good song.)
  7. “Midnight Man” – Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
  8. “Out of Blue” – James Luther Dickinson (Am I the only person in the world with this album?)
  9. “Jayne’s Blue Wish” – Tom Waits
  10. “Dig, Lazarus, Dig” – Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds (WTF? How much randomness is actually in the Windows Media Player randomizer? I have 17,000 songs on my hard drive and I get two from the same album?)
  11. “New Sunshine” – Freedy Johnston (I’ve been meaning to write a piece on how incredible this nearly-unknown album is.)
  12. “Over the Next Hill (We’ll Be Home)” – Johnny Cash
  13. “She Told Me Lies” – Chesterfield Kings
  14. “The Man in the Santa Suit” – Fountains of Wayne (A B-side, and rightfully so.)
  15. “Scarecrow” – Pink Floyd (Haven’t heard this one in awhile!)
  16. “Emotion” – Bee Gees (This list would not have been right without the Bee Gees.)
  17. “Silent Night” – Emmylou Harris (Out of season, but lovely. What’s with all the Christmas songs? I swear I don’t have that many.)
  18. “Spike Driver Blues” – Mississippi John Hurt (From the Anthology of American Folk Music.)
  19. “Mirror of Your Mind” – We the People (Nuggets!)
  20. “I See Monsters” – Ryan Adams
  21. “Fresh is the Word” – Mantronix
  22. “Fox on the Run” – The Sweet (Oh, hell yeah!)
  23. “Lost” – Adam Schmitt (Unjustly obscure artist. Been meaning to write about him, too. Not my favorite song, though.)
  24. “Look On Up at the Bottom” – The Carrie Nations (Awesome! This is from the soundtrack to Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. I have a framed original poster on my living room wall! No, that doesn’t make me weird.)
  25. “Groove to the Eye” – The Psychotic Turnbuckles (Great band-name/song-name combo right there…)
  26. “Only to Other People” – The Cookies (A girl group number. The Detroit Cobras have covered it. I haven’t heard their version, but I’d like to.)
  27. “Los Angeles” – X (Double hell yeah!)
  28. “Going Nowhere” – Los Bravos (More Nuggets stuff. I have a lot of it.)
  29. “Eazy-Duz-It” – Eazy-E
  30. “Woman 2 Woman” – Urge Overkill (Not a bad way to end!)

So there ya go. As a glimpse of my music tastes, not bad at all. Not enough country, and many of my favorite artists weren’t represented, but that’s nitpicking.

I think the randomizer knew that its job was to provide you with a snapshot of my taste in music. My evidence for this is that it opened with Motörhead.

The Troggs – “I Can’t Control Myself”

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When the Fun Stops: An In-person Report from the Michael Jackson Memorial

July 8, 2009

Guest post by Former Housemate Mike.

Austin, TX 7/7/09

Austin, TX 7/7/09 (Photo by Gordon Winslow)

I consider myself quite the lucky guy. And what a roller coaster it was.

On Saturday, July 4th, I became aware of the Michael Jackson Memorial to be held at Staples center here in Los Angeles and subsequently of the free ticket lottery to said service. Like many people I know, I registered. I told my roommate Laura, a huge MJ fan, about and she registered as well. I received an e-mail saying I would be notified by 6 P.M. Sunday.

The next day at 6 P.M. I was working and received a call from my girlfriend saying our roommate had won tickets. I was amazed. She also said that the e-mail stated that the tickets had to be claimed by 9 P.M. I gave her my pass code and she checked my e-mail, as I would not have been able to do so in time.

Against all odds like Phil Collins, I had been selected as well. The next morning the three of us drove to Dodger Stadium to pick up the tickets. I was amazed at how painless the process was. We didn’t even have to get out of the car and there were our four tickets to what would prove to be possibly the most incredible experience of my life.

All day Monday we heard nothing but doom and gloom about how much of a pain the next day would be. No parking, scary crowds, you name it. My roommate almost decided not to go. But in the end, the three of us woke up at 6 A.M. Tuesday, and hopped in my car, ready for the worst.

Knowing the roads pretty well, we avoided the highways and amazingly made it downtown with virtually no traffic. It took about 15 minutes. Once downtown, we were hit by the street barricades we had heard about, but still found relatively cheap parking (for downtown LA for such an event) in minutes. It was about 7:45 at this point. We walked straight to Staples in about five minutes and realized the hassle was almost non-existent. The only real hassle was all the exploitative street vendors selling boot-egged, sweat-shop Michael Jackson shirts and buttons every ten feet. But that’s another story.

Credit for the ease should go to the LAPD. They were so organized, so well staffed and set up. And actually very polite and helpful. Kudos.

A large sector around Staples was blocked off as to where only press and people with tickets could walk in. We entered this area with ease and still had time for breakfast before going inside. We actually entered Staples about 8:45 A.M.

The energy inside was electric. Chants and shout outs to Michael came in regular succession. The crowd was also pleasantly diverse. Many different races, economic sects, and ages were represented. And almost everyone there felt like a sincere fan. Many red, zippered jackets. Many one-glove wearers. Even an Elvis impersonator.

The wait until the beginning of the ceremony was made pleasant by a wide scope of Michael Jackson songs being played, from Jackson 5 to Off The Wall to Thriller to Triumph. There was even MJ’s recording of “Smile,” foreshadowing beautiful moments from Brooke Shields and Jermaine Jackson.

The crowd looked oddly empty for a long time, but filled greatly just before the ceremony’s start. The general quiet, respectful anticipation in the crowd was only broken by the occasional eruption when a celebrity was seen entering. Jesse Jackson received some cheers, but Kobe Bryant by far got the loudest reception.

The event began with the announcement of Smokey Robinson coming to the stage. He read two quotes from friends unable to attend. The first was from a friend who wanted her mourning to be private, and ended with “Diana Ross”. The second was quite powerful, with South Africa references hinting at the sender. It ended with, “Nelson Mandela”.

Smokey then left the stage and a very long break followed. I’m not sure what of this was shown on TV. I expected a lot more unrest and shout outs from the crowd at this point, but again there was a patient, respectful, and quiet feel to the crowd.

The Jackson family entered to a huge response. They were followed by Michael Jackson’s casket. This led to a great deal of response and talk in the crowd, as us Angelinos were made to believe that his body was to be buried before this service. Possible a very smart redirect.

Most of the rest was seen entirely on TV, I assume, so I will focus on crowd response the rest of the way. The choir that opened set an amazing spiritual feel to the event. Queen Latifah’s reading of Maya Angelou began the emotional surge that was in the crowd throughout.

Mariah Carey and Trey Lorenz rehashing their infamous MTV Unplugged duet was expected, but very well taken and performed. I don’t know how it sounded on TV, but Trey Lorenz was particularly impressive.

Stevie Wonder had the first big emotional moment felt throughout the crowd with his statement of “I prayed I would not live to see this day.”

Lionel Richie was tremendous, showing particularly impressive restraint during “We Are The World,” the song he co-wrote with Jackson.

The crowd broke into clap-along mode almost immediately during Jennifer Hudson’s awesome “Will You Be There?” You could tell they were waiting to set that moment up later, but the crowd beat them to it.

John Mayer was a real surprise. Very nice touch on the song, and excellent choice on not singing. I heard this muttered by several people around me also.

Usher seemed genuinely moved. I was kind of afraid he was going to embrace the casket at one point, he seemed so in the moment. They was a very audible “aww” in the crowd when he began to break up at the the final line of his song, and a very respectful wait for him to finish embracing the Jackson family.

Jermaine Jackson’s rendition of, as Brooke Shields stated, MJ’s “favorite song”, really hit an emotional note. He sounded amazingly good live though he looked like he was having emotional and equipment difficulty the whole time. Hope it sounded as good on TV.

The speakers today had a great thing in common. They made you feel that you not just at the memorial of an icon, but also one of of a real person that meant a lot to many people on a personal level. He was their brother or buddy.

Brooke Shields was the favorite of many as she seemed very real and genuine, and really epitomized the whole “Michael was a real person and a great one” theme. Her Liz Taylor wedding story drew great response. Magic Johnson’s KFC story filled a similar role, and made up for the pointless waste of an appearance and chance to speak by Kobe Bryant. Barry Gordy and Smokey Robinson’s shared story of a ten year old MJ out-doing Robinson on his own song also brought great response. What an anecdote.

Gordy also shared biggest crowd response/fastest standing ovation with congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee from Texas and the Rev. Al Sharpton. Gordy’s entry was his reference to the title of King of Pop not being “big enough” for Michael Jackson, and he should be called “the greatest entertainer who ever lived”. Not to be outdone, Sharpton caused an insanse eruption with his line directed to MJ’s children of there being “nothing strange about your daddy.” Sheila Jackson Lee answered with saying that she and her fellow congress members know the law, and “a man is innocent until proven guilty.” Fantastic.

By the time the Jackson family got on stage, hardly a dry eye was to be found around me. And Marlon took out the rest. “I hurt”. So real, it was overwhelming. He appeared to say that Janet wanted to say something. You may have not heard this on TV, but at that point a few guys in the crowd started yelling “I love you, Janet” and were immediately greeting with shushes and boos. Inappropriate. Then Paris came on stage.

If any eyes were dry after Marlon, an end was put to that. It was so unexpected. I literally saw gaping jaws and covered mouths all around me. I realized that inadvertently, I had covered my heart with my hand. To my knowledge none of his children has ever spoken in public or on record. What a brave girl, and what a statement to all those who doubted MJ as a parent.

And then it was done. The casket carried away, and the tears began to dry. Once again, the event was so well organized that exiting was also a breeze. Which was a good thing, because we were all no doubt spent.

As I said before I am quite the lucky guy. I am lucky to have been blessed with the chance to be at this once in a hundred lifetimes event.

But more than anything, I am blessed and lucky to have been alive in an era where a man like Michael exists. Though it is sad and tragic that he left us so soon, not many in the history of man have had the honor of having a heart and talent like him at all. But, in the words expressed this morning by Maya Angelou, “We had him.” And that is all the luck and blessing we should ever expect to have.

Jermaine Jackson – “Smile”

Michael Jackson – “Billie Jean” (Motown 25th Anniversary)

Editor’s note: A hearty thank-you to Former Housemate Mike for covering this important event. A hearty thank-you to Michael Jackson for the music.

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New Music: We Were Promised Jetpacks – “Quiet Little Voices”

July 7, 2009

Man, there are some great bands coming out of Scotland lately.  One of last year’s best records was made by Glasgow band Frightened Rabbit, Glasvegas have caused a huge stir on both sides of the pond, Camera Obscura recently released a gorgeous record, and the list goes on and on.  The latest Scottish band to get some attention from the music press is We Were Promised Jetpacks, a power pop band from Edinburgh that have just released their debut record, These Four Walls.  I have not yet had a chance to pick up the album and give it a listen, but if the first single is any indication, there will be yet another Scottish indie rock band fighting it out for space on my iPod.  Once I get my hands on ths album, I will be sure to give it a proper review.  Until then, please enjoy their first single, “Quiet Little Voices.”

We Were Promised Jetpacks – “Quiet Little Voices”

Album Review: Cymbals Eat Guitars – Why There Are Mountains

July 7, 2009

It seems that the various eras of modern music are being recycled with blistering speed these days.  Perhaps the internet age, file sharing, and the mp3 blog culture’s constant emphasis on the Next Big Thing has hopelessly destroyed our attention spans as listeners, completing the job that television started over half a century ago.  Another culprit would have to be the modern hipster’s obsession with nostalgia for the items and styles of their youth.  Seriously, go search the net for some obscure toy, song, movie, TV show, clothing, or foodstuff that you think no one else remembers, and you will invariably find thread upon thread devoted to the obsessive cataloguing of said item’s history.  Nothing is new anymore, so much so that we are vainly attempting to make old stuff new again.  On a long defunct blog that I had back in the early 2000s, I postulated a theory that I termed the “Best Week Ever Effect.”  At that time, the notorious nostalgia traffickers over at VH1 had exhausted their “I Love the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s” format, and they introduced “The Best Week Ever” so that snarky semi-celebs could review the relevant pop culture events from the week before.  In my theory, I predicted a cycle that would soon lead us to “The Best of The Best Week Ever” (happened), “The Best Day Ever” (happened), and “The Best Ten Seconds Ago Ever” (hasn’t happened yet, but ask me again ten seconds from now). 

This theory has manifested itself in the music world as well, and many bands are already mining eras as recent as the early 90’s for musical inspiration.  If I had my way, everyone would be imitating the Pixies, but I would probably be unhappy since some recent bands have already gone that route, such as Blood On The Wall and The Whigs, with limited success.  On first listen, NYC band Cymbals Eat Guitars could easily be identified as a Pavement rip off band.  Indeed, the first two songs on their debut album, Why There Are Mountains, stick almost uncomfortably close to the Pavement playbook.  Album opener “..And The Hazy Sea” begins with a blast of horns before receding into a pretty guitar melody, after which lead singer Joseph D’Agostino launches into a pitch perfect Stephen Malkmus impression, eerily capturing that singer’s odd vocal cadence.  The song itself is an over six minute romp of shifting tempos and joyous noise, alluding to other influences like early Modest Mouse and Built To Spill.  Next song “Some Trees (Merritt Moon)” again plays on the Pavement angle, sounding like a lost track from Brighten the Corners with an infectious chorus.  But just when you think you have shoehorned Cymbals Eat Guitars into a knock off band, albeit a very good one, they change things up and reveal their depth.  “Indiana” emerges from some initial haze to reveal a jaunty, piano-driven slice of Brit-pop.    On a similar note, “Cold Spring” utilizes some incredibly well-placed strings at the beginning to create a quietly haunting dirge followed by wild tempo shifts and an explosive climax, while “Share” begins as a dreamy shoegaze crawl before blossoming into a gorgeous waltz interlude with Sgt. Pepper horns and quietly soaring background vocals before the electric guitar breaks in and takes the song to new heights.  Mind you, the songs described so far only make up half of the album.  The second half remains just as surprisingly addicting, with highlights such as the bouncy “Wind Phoenix” and the guitar squall of “Living North.”

The recycling of musical ideas is nothing new, I suppose.  Rock ‘n’ roll’s beginnings can actually be traced to white artists ripping off the sounds of their black musical forebears to popularize the genre for widespread audiences.  Still, I find myself unusually wary of bands that simply mimic the sounds of groups that came before, especially when the time between originator and imitator seems to be getting exponentially shorter.  Cymbals Eat Guitars, however, pulled a Shyamalan on me, beginning with familiar sounds and then sucker punching me with new and exciting ideas.  As long as bands are willing to be this adventurous and use the work of previous bands as a springboard for greater things, I say bring it on!

Cymbals Eat Guitars – “Cold Spring”

P.S.  If you are fortunate enough to live in the Austin area, Cymbals Eat Guitars will be playing at the Mohawk with the last band I reviewed, The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, on 9/25/09.  That’s the day I leave for Vegas for a wedding, so sadly I will not be there, but I would highly recommend anyone check out these two great new bands.


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