Happy Birthday, Johnny Cash!: “The Chicken in Black”

February 26, 2010

I think people sometimes forget that Johnny Cash had a sense of humor.

I discovered this over at No Depression. How it eluded me until now, I have no idea.

Here’s all I know about “The Chicken in Black.” From Wikipedia:

Cash’s recording career and his general relationship with the Nashville establishment were at an all-time low in the 1980s. He realized that his record label of nearly 30 years, Columbia, was growing indifferent to him and wasn’t properly marketing him (he was “invisible” during that time, as he said in his autobiography). Cash recorded an intentionally awful song to protest, a self-parody. “Chicken in Black” was about Cash’s brain being transplanted into a chicken. Ironically, the song turned out to be a larger commercial success than any of his other recent material. Nevertheless, he was hoping to kill the relationship with the label before they did, and it was not long after “Chicken in Black” that Columbia and Cash parted ways.

It was released as a single only. It peaked at #45 on the country chart in 1984.

Johnny Cash – “The Chicken in Black”

Happy birthday, Johnny Cash!


Album Review: Surfer Blood – Astro Coast

February 25, 2010

The debut album of Florida band Surfer Blood absolutely rocks my shit.  There, it’s been said.  If you don’t wanna hang around for the rest of this review, that’s probably for the best, and unless you suffer from poor reading comprehension skills, that first sentence tells you that you should have immediately abandoned this review after reading said sentence, knocking over your crusty computer chair in a mad dash to grab your car keys and fly to your nearest record store to purchase Astro Coast.  Barring that, if you are one of them digital-type persons, you should have at least furiously aggravated your carpal tunnel in the rush to download this album from your nearest legal purveyor of digital music.  Seriously, are you still reading this?  Go on, you can come back later to have your feelings validated about how kick ass of a record this is.  Don’t worry, I’ll be here.

Oh, back so soon?  Well, at this point, you may have given this record one or two spins, and maybe you’re thinking, “That Jason guy from the computer is wack!  This album has yet to change my life in any profound manner.  What a dick!”  Well, stick with it, friend.  I myself had to give this record several spins before I realized what a jewel I had on my hands, and it took me even longer to realize just what Surfer Blood had created:  a perfect pastiche of all of the good things that have happened in indie rock since the late 80’s.

With every spin of Astro Coast, I hear a new glorious influence from some titan of indie rock.  Here’s a list of influences that I have spotted so far:  Pavement, Dinosaur Jr., Built To Spill, the Shins, early Weezer, the Pixies, Vampire Weekend (although Surfer Blood derives their influence from the Tropicalia sound moreso than West African rhythms), Modest Mouse, Sonic Youth, Secaucus-era Wrens, Fugazi, etc.  Oh yeah, and throw a little Beach Boys in there, too.  If that list looks as awesome to you as it does to me, then please purchase this record.  Personally, it almost seems to me like someone interviewed me about what my favorite indie rock bands were, and then they proceeded to make an album based on those suggestions.

In addition to the bands mentioned above, Surfer Blood shares a lot sonically with now defunct Austin band Sound Team.  But while Sound Team were criticized (most notably by Pitchfork) for being pretentious, there is not an ounce of pretension to be found on Astro Coast.  This is guitar pop, pure and simple, and there is a simple little lead guitar run at the end of late album track “Anchorage” that summarizes everything I love about this album and good indie rock in general.  Put it on, nod your head, and have a blast with this great new album.

Surfer Blood – “Twin Peaks”

Surfer Blood – “Swim”


My Favorite Songs of the Year of the Ox

February 23, 2010

It’s about a week into the year of the Tiger. RAWR!!!

Lets look back at the year of the Ox.

Although many excellent albums were released during this most Bovine of lunar cycles, a few stand out in my mind as truly noteworthy. The nameless decade (I refuse to call it Oughts [fucking Steam Punks]) is over people! A new age is a brewin, three years ago I would have predicted a Grunge revival following the 70’s revival in the 90’s and the 80’s revival in the 00’s, a 90’s revival in the 10’s seemed logical. However, the fact that bands like “Nickleback”, “Creed”, and “Staind”, with the help of the corporate asshats at KROQ, managed to milk Grunge well after the teats of the Puget Sound’s sound shriveled and died off, the 90’s managed to morph into the early 00’s and it might be another 5 to 10 years until the flannel is flyin’ again. Frankly I hope I’m dead by then. I know Neil Young will be.

Well it’s time these youngsters came up with something new (as new as any modern Western music can be anyway). With that in mind, one album stands out in my mind that may help to define this “new” sound I’m looking for. Manners, the first full length album from the band “Passion Pit” was one of the first of what I hope will help to define this new sound that seems to be coming out of the East, hatched in dorm rooms, lofts, and Vermont hippie collectives on Macbook Pros by lovelorn lads and lasses (Passion Pit), Canadian Expats (Metric), College sophomores on LSD (MGMT) and plain old fashioned Freaky McFreaker’s like “Dirty Projectors”, “Animal Collective” and “Yeasayer”.

Anyway, that’s what the kids tell me and the last time I checked the kids are still alright.

Oh and just because it has synthesizers in it doesn’t mean its “80’s”. That’s a shortcut to thinking. How can a decade monopolize a musical instrument?

Passion Pit: Moth’s Wings

Yeasayer: Amblin Alp

Metric: Help I’m Alive


Dirty Projectors: Stillness is the Move

Animal Collective: Summertime Clothes

Enjoy, I’m going to eat some Nutella on Wonder Bread because I’m White.


Hova’s Back

February 23, 2010

On Jay-Z’s latest album The Blueprint 3, the once and future king of hip-hop elevates bravado to an art-form not seen since his Black Album.  After Hov announced his retirement in 2002, he released two more albums that made you wish he really had quit the game.  It was confusing to say the least.  After clawing his way from being an unknown to being the president of Def-Jam records in ten years time, he left us after delivering the best rap album in a decade.  It’s not exactly a new schtick in rap music.  Too Short used to announce his retirement on every album.  The two albums Jigga released after The Black Album sold well but did not garner much chart success with Kingdom Come’s “Show Me What Your Working With” the only top ten single on either album.  American Gangster, released in 2007, fared even worse on the Billboard Hot 100 with no singles charting above number 55.

With sales already in excess of 1.6 million albums The Bluprint 3 put Jay-Z back on top.  Its third single, “Empire State of Mind” featuring Alicia Keys earned the rapper his only number 1 hit.  “Run This Town” with the ubiquitous Rihanna made it to number 2, but it’s the first single, “D.O.A. (The Death of Autotune)” that made this writer yell “Oh snap!”  The song brings to mind great battle raps like Rakim’s “Follow the Leader” or “I’m Bad” by L.L. Cool J all set on top of brilliant production from No I.D.  The mix of trumpet and electric guitar gives the track a smooth yet edgy sound. He admonishes other rappers to “grow a set” and says the way to prove your street cred is to simply, “get violent”.  That sentiment appears to be at odds with his assertion on “What We Talkin About” that “Ain’t nothin cool about carrying a strap”.  But this is rap music, not a dissertation.  That’s one of the best things about hip-hop:  It doesn’t have to be a seamless world-view. It can be jumbled and contradictory just like its predecessor Rock and Roll.  Example:  the self-proclaimed hater of auto-tune uses an auto-tuner on “Hater” later on the album.

“On to the Next One” and “Off That” are interchangeable, theme-wise. Namely:  Jay-Z is a trend-setter.  What do you expect from the only MC that does yoga?  In “On to the Next One” he proclaims, “Used to rock a throw-back, ballin on the corner, Now I rock a Teller suit, lookin like an owner.”  This song is good but I was hoping against hope that it would be some kind of insane collaboration with The Foo Fighters. (See “All My Life” from FF’s 2002 album One By One) “Off That” continues in the “I’m so avant-garde” vein.  Jay’s awe-inspiring ego is on full display on this one as he reveals that he’s “so tomorrow they order mines on yesterday”.  He even takes a second to get political on “Off That”:

“This ain’t black vs white, my n***a we off that
Please tell Bill O’Reilly to fall back
Tell Rush Limbaugh to get off my balls
This 2010 not 1864”

Once again:  “O snap!”

The Blueprint 3 isn’t all machismo though.  The obligatory, One For The Ladies type song is usually a throw-away on rap albums.  Not this time.  “Venus vs Mars” is one of the best tracks on the album.  Jay discovers the yin to his yang and even likens he, and his fictitious paramour to James and Florida Evans.  But the thing that makes this song great isn’t all the nice “she’s the Bonnie to my Clyde” type of statements; it’s the last verse that really makes this song special.  That’s where the listener figures out that this is a break-up song!  That’s right boys and girls, even mega-rich, music industry moguls get their hearts broken.  The Florida and James comparisons turn to Shaq and Kobe in the final stanza with Hova lamenting that the girl took his “whole flavor, I call her Coke Zero” and even comparing her to Bernie Madoff.  Ah the longing, ah the bitterness.  It’s good to know that Jay-Z is just like you and me. Except baller as hell.

The last stand-out track is one of the six on the album produced by Kanye West.  “Young Forever” finds Jay-Z rapping over Alphaville’s 1984 pop hit “Forever Young”.  On one hand Jay is at his most philosophic on this, the fifth single from The Blueprint 3.  He is a man coming to terms with his own mortality.  He stresses remembering the good times and wistfully wishes that life could be like a rap video with pretty girls and champagne all the time.  On the other hand, this is Jay-Z.  He ain’t trying to be too damn sad.  He also infuses this cut with some thoughts on his figurative immortality.

“i’ll be alive for a million years, bye bye,
so not for legends, I’m forever young
my name shall survive”

There are a couple of tracks on the record that are throw-aways (“A Star Is Born”, “Already Home”, “So Ambitious”) but if you’re into hip-hop, rejoice.  The king is back.  Hell, even if you aren’t into hip-hop, give this one a try.   In the end it’s a return-to-form for the rapper who brought the term “Flow” back to the vernacular.  Sometimes it’s hard to put a finger on exactly what it is about Hova that makes him so great.  It even puzzles the man himself.  He asks in “D.O.A”, “I’m a multi-millionaire, so how is it I’m still the hardest n***a here?”  Good question, Sean.


Broken Bells

February 21, 2010

Jay Mercer front-man and lyricist for “the Shins” teams up with Danger Mouse of “Gnarls Barkley” for an blah blah blah(just listen to the song). I was able to get my hands on the album which will be released on March 9th of 2010 and it is excellent. Mercer, in my opinion, is one of the best lyricist around. His epically sweet and self-deprecating lyrics inspire sympathy and awe simultaneously such as these lines from “Pink Bullet” off 2003’s Chutes too Narrow: “since then it’s been a book, you read in reverse, so understand less as the pages turn, or a movie so crass, and awkwardly cast, that even I could have been the star”. I could pretty much quote the entire album as it was all I listened to for the entire year of 2004. Here’s a little taste. Let me know what YOU think it sounds like.

Track 1: The High Road

Go down to wait all night
She’s bound to run him out
The rest of the nothing of any how
To each his own
The garden is sorting out
She curls her lips on a bar
I don’t know if you’re dead or not
If you’re anyone

Come on and get the minimum
Before you open up your eyes
It’s all being served in your hands
Your addled eyes
Come on and get to open yours
Collected at the borderlines
They want to get up in your hair

[Chorus]
Cause they know, so do I
The high road is hard to find
A detour in your new life
Tell all of your friends getting warm

The dogs who ran all night
The son who hoped it would
Break from the warfare in your house
To each his own
The soldier is bailing out
And curled his lips on a bar
And I don’t know if the dead can talk
To anyone

Come on and get the minimum
Before you open up your eyes
It’s all being served in your hands
Are you one of us
Come on and get to open yours
Collected at the borderlines
They want to get up in your hair

[Chorus]
cause they know, so do I
The high road is hard to find
A detour in your new life
Tell all of your friends getting warm

It’s too late to change your mind
You let laws be your guide
(repeat)

Track 2: Vaporize

What amounts to a dream anymore?
A crude device; A veil on our eyes
A simple plan we’d be different from the rest
And never resign to a typical life

Common fears start to multiply
We realize we’re paralyzed
Where’d it go, All that precious time?
Did we even try to stem the tide?

Why should we waste it on
Buying into the same old lies?
The longer we wait around
The faster the years go by

It’s not too late
To feel a little more alive
Make an escape
Before we start to vaporize

Doubtless, we’ve been through this
So if you want to follow me you should know
I was lost then and I am lost now
And I doubt I’ll ever know which way to go


The Hotrats cover (You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!)

February 20, 2010

I just picked up “The Hotrats” aka “Supergrass” album Turn Ons featuring all covers. Unfortunately, I was expecting some Zappa given their nome de plum, alas, not this time. However, I do dig their version of “The Crystal Ship”.

Here’s the track list.

  1. “I Can’t Stand It” (Lou Reed) – 2:40
  2. “Big Sky” (Ray Davies) – 3:00
  3. The Crystal Ship“(Jim Morrison/Ray Manzarek/John Densmore/Robby Krieger) – 2:34
  4. (You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)” (Adam Horovitz/Adam Yauch/Michael Diamond/Rick Rubin) – 2:41
  5. “Damaged Goods” (Dave Allen/Hugo Burnham/Andy Gill/Jon King) – 3:07
  6. Love Is the Drug” (Bryan Ferry/Andrew Mackay) – 3:42
  7. Bike” (Syd Barrett) – 2:42
  8. Pump It Up” (Declan MacManus) – 2:41
  9. The Lovecats“(Robert Smith) – 3:03
  10. Queen Bitch” (David Bowie) – 3:02
    • Originally recorded by David Bowie
  11. “E.M.I.” (Steve Jones/Paul Cook/Glen Matlock/John Lydon) – 3:24
  12. Up The Junction” (Chris Difford/Glenn Tilbrook) – 3:21

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