Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Listening to Yuck, The Kills, and Kurt Vile... (thinking about Jack White)...

Yuck (UK-based), self-titled debut album, on US-indie Fat Possum, formerly known as a blues label, home to the late great R.L. Burnside (introduced to the indie world by Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and later featured on "The Sopranos"), Fat Possum has also released albums by The Black Keys and Wavves and recently announced they will soon release the new Spiritualized album.

Saw Yuck open last February for label-mates The Smith Westerns. Didn't know what to make of them at first, but they grew on me, and we couldn't help but notice the excellent guitar work of Max (the other Max, in The Smith Westerns, is a fine guitarist as well). They sound great on the album too. Give it a listen today!

The Kills, a two-piece featuring (American) Alison on vocals and (British) Jamie on guitar (and vocals). The Kills had been on hiatus while Alison recorded and toured with Jack White's The Dead Weather, and Jamie became a UK-tabloid fixture (I was going to add "regrettably" but who knows? maybe he's having fun with it)  due to his relationship with supermodel (and UK tabloid obsession, or should I say, "obsession for middle-aged guys who write for UK tabloids"?) Kate Moss (please insert your own gratuitous comment here about Kate Moss' sex life with rock stars. Two words for Jamie to think about: "Pete. Doherty."). This album, "Blood Pressures", their fourth, (on UK's Domino, home to Franz Ferdinand & Arctic Monkeys), makes up for lost time with a vengeance.

Saw The Kills in 2008 at San Francisco's Treasure Island Festival. He played guitar, she smoked a lot, stalked the stage like a caged panther (wait, i'm trying to include every cliche about them, give me a minute), and spit out some nasty blues and otherwise let us know she was disgusted with us, her lovers, and the world. I wasn't that impressed. I had come to see Jack White's Raconteurs (who were great, of course) and had already seen Spiritualized (who blew me away with "Songs From A&E"), Vampire Weekend (I know they are good - and popular - but i still can't get over their preciousness - maybe i'll give them another try sometime...), Tegan & Sara (great!), and Dr. Dog (i thought they didn't live up live to the hype, at least on that day, but have liked some of their recordings i've heard since). You can only handle so much music at these festivals.

[Treasure Island Festival does have killer views of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge, especially at night. I didn't care for the line-up last year, but let's see what they offer us this year.... also curious about the line-up for Outside Lands 2011 in Golden Gate Park in August.]

Later i listened to some Kills recordings and liked them. then i saw alison with the dead weather various times (at outside lands and 3 times in Manhattan in 2009, and at coachella, new mexico, and brooklyn in 2010). i became a Believer.

i was skeptical at first - i mean, having one of the best guitarists in the world stuck behind the drum kit, and having a cigarette-smoking banshee as the front person of the band didn't strike me as a winner (more like an alternate universe inverse version of The White Stripes). Besides, what about The White Stripes? Or The Raconteurs? (Or The Kills, for that matter?) Would The Dead Weather be the death of those other bands? Would we never see Jack White play guitar (and those great songs) again??? Well, word spread soon (fortunately) that Jack White DID sing and play guitar for a song or two during each set (inevitably highlights of the show).

Well, now we know that The White Stripes are no more and it doesn't seem like The Raconteurs are going to be playing any shows anytime soon either. Too bad. They had great songs, and it was great to see jack with a full band (no disrespect to Meg, but a two-piece is limited by definition. Suffice it to say The White Stripes did more with two people than some bands do with dozens). The Raconteurs included The Greenhornes' Jack Lawrence on bass (he's plays bass in The Dead Weather too, and subs for Jack White on the drums when White sings/plays guitar on Them/Van Morrison's "You Just Can't Win", and "Will There Be Enough Water?") and Queens of the Stone Age's Dead Fertita on keyboards (he plays guitar & keys in The Dead Weather as well). also, jack had great chemistry with co-leadsinger/songwriter/guitarist Brendan Benson.

But, ahem, speaking of great chemistry.... freakin' Jack White and Alison.... sometimes looked like they were going to either swallow or strangle each other every night or finally just screw right there on stage, especially during the extended set piece "Will There Be Enough Water?" featuring a duet between the two and a couple of explosive Jack White guitar solos.

After seeing Alison's command of the stage, any doubts about her ability to lead a band, be it The Dead Weather or The Kills, vanished in the breeze like stale pot smoke after you open the window on a windy day (or so i've been told).

So a warm and hearty "Welcome Back!" to The Kills. Great new album. Looking forward to the tour.

Kurt Vile. Oops. Sorry, I got on a Jack White rant up there. I guess that means that Kurt Vile gets the short end of the stick here. But I don't really have much to say about him (yet). I know he's from Philly and I saw him open up for Conor Oberst in LA in 2009 and i wasn't moved. He's gotten lots of good press and listening to this album ("Smoke Ring for My Halo"), i can see why. it sounds good and i'm going to give it a good listen today. along with The Kills and Yuck.

Such good music coming out these days!

....really curious about this italian spaghetti-western-inspired record by danger mouse, norah jones, and jack white coming out in May ("Rome")... sounds really interesting.... and will we EVER hear those songs that Jack did with Jay Z?  They would be cool if only as curiosity pieces.  i mean, i would buy a record of those two talking about basketball (or at least download it)....

Monday, March 28, 2011

Iron & Wine - Don't Judge That Book By His Cover!

I had certainly heard a lot about Iron & Wine. Critics seemed to love it, causing me to guess it was lousy. And the photo of the singer - a big, hairy, beardy dude, made me think I was in for some (more) rough bluesy folk, sung with an ironically creaky voice by some weird white guy trying to sound crazy and/or Black.

Oh, how wrong i can be!

I (finally) downloaded the album last night (along with a bunch of M. Ward, having heard him in a coffee shop on Haight St. and remembering how much I liked him) and surprise, surprise!  - beautiful clear production featuring a beautiful and clear voice. And the music is far from stereotypical, ranging from rock to pop and soul to i don't know what else...

Gonna have to get it a good listen today.

Glad to be proven wrong for once....

ThisSmallPlanet Playlist Spring 2011 (Java Beach)

Cage The Elephant "Thank You Happy Birthday"
Richard Ashcroft "United Nations of Sound"
The Vaccines "What Did You Expect from The Vaccines"
The Meat Puppets (single) "Damn Thing"
Queens of The Stone Age (1998, reissued 2011 w/3 bonus tracks) "Queens of The Stone Age"
Brother "iTunes Live: SXSW"
Iron & Wine "Kiss Each Other Clean"
M. Ward (1997) "Demo Tape"
Das Racist (2009 single) "Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell" (Wallpaper Remix)
Kanye West (single) "Monster"
The Strokes "Angles"
Alex Turner "Submarine" (soundtrack)
The Dodos "No Color"
Bright Eyes "The People's Key" & (single) "Coyote Song"
The Chapman Family "Burn This Town" & (single) "All That's Left to Break"
Miles Kane (singles) "Inhaler", "King Crawler", "Rearrange"
Wavves "The Compilation"

all are 2011 albums/singles unless otherwise noted

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Check Out Our YouTube Channel!

Our YouTube Channel features our original videos of recent live performances by:

Wavves, Smith Westerns, Odd Future, Gang of Four, Smashing Pumpkins, Black Keys, My Chemical Romance, Fistful of Mercy (feat. Ben Harper, Dhani "Son of George" Harrison, Joe Arthur), M.I.A., Jack White (Dead Weather), Sleigh Bells, Arctic Monkeys, Titus Andronicus, Jay Reatard (R.I.P.), Tom Morello (Street Sweeper Social Club), Them Crooked Vultures (Dave Grohl, John Paul Jones, Josh Homme), The Pixies, Weezer, and The Pogues (think Shane was drunk in this one....)

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Confessions of an Anglophile

Yes, I think I'm ready to come out of the closet as an Anglophile. "What the fuck does that mean?", you may ask....

Well, my favorite bands are Arctic Monkeys and The Libertines.

Despite the fact that I am American, I have not only heard of The Stone Roses but actually like them (and seeing Ian Brown doing Stone Roses songs in Tokyo a couple years ago was a real highlight of my concert-going life).

When I look at the current American charts, I see artists I never heard of, and they're full of rap, R&B, and pop that I don't care about. When I look at the British charts, I see several guitar-oriented rock bands that I have heard of, downloaded, and like. (This is also true to some extent of the CMJ charts and most of the stuff on Pitchfork but NME is still my go-to for music info.... was recently told I should check out The Guardian's expanded music section more often. I read Rolling Stone, Spin, and a bunch of other mainstream and not-so-mainstream sites. I know what I like and I know it when I hear it.)

Some of the new releases I was most excited about include The Verve's Richard Ashcroft, The Vaccines (a buzz band who deserves the buzz), The Chapman Family, Yuck, Beady Eye (Oasis without Noel), Miles Kane (Rascals and Last Shadow Puppets w/Alex Turner), and Arctic Monkeys' Alex Turner's soundtrack to the film "Submarine" - all of them British (well, Yuck have an American drummer, Johnny with the magnificent 'fro...)

Oh and this band called Radiohead also released a new album all of a sudden.

I was excited about downloading "King of Limbs" but was not very excited to listen to it. Seems like a snooze-a-thon to me, but I really should give it a few more listens before condemning it to hell (by the way, listening at this moment to a new single by The Meat Puppets that really rocks -  "Damn Thing").

Loved Radiohead at Coachella in 2004 (playing right after The Pixies) and love love love their classics "Karma Police" (remembering hearing someone sing it at Union Square, the night of 9/11 "...this is what you get, when you mess with us..." still sends chills up my spine), "Creep" (which may as well be my personal theme song), "Paranoid Android", etc.... but I feel that success led Thom Yorke and Co. to be deliberately obscure, arty, and self-indulgent in their latter releases, in an attempt to sabotoge their success? or defend their artistic integrity or whatever.

I did like Thom's solo album (he performed some of it at Coachella 2010 with his LA band "Atoms for Peace" feat. Flea from the Chili Peppers). Most memorable to be riding in a moto-rickshaw through a torrential downpour in Delhi, listening to "Eraser" on a cheap portable CD player (downloaded at an Internet cafe then burned to CDs), It's mopey speacey sounds and lyrics seemed to fit the occasion perfectly. The motor kept stalling out and the driver had to push start it. The rain lapped onto the floorboards. I realized that if the water was a little swifter, we could capsize and drown on the spot. That's how the lyrics made me feel too.

So anyway, yeah I love Radiohead too but I think they are overrated and undeserving of the cult-like attention paid them by some (Morgan). And since "Kid A" (uh oh), they have been, to some extent, taking the piss out of their audience. This new album simply continues the pattern.

By the way, does anyone else think that Richard Ashcroft's delivery and sound on the new album owes a lot to Black American music - hip hop, funk, soul, R&B, all of it....Or is it just my imagination?

So what does being an Anglophile mean, besides automatically assuming everything from England is great and everything from America is not?

It means being partial to music that is British or British-influenced, especially early 60s British invasion bands like The Beatles, The Stones, The Kinks, The Who, The Yardbirds, and The Animals. A little blues reference, a little psychedelic keyboard, a crisp British accent, and a certain sensibility define the sound, which overlaps to some extent with "Nuggets" and garage music genres (sub-genres?). T. Rex. David Bowie. Pink Floyd. Led Zeppelin. In the late 70s, The Sex Pistols and The Clash continued this British-domination of what was cool and new in rock music (yeah, yeah, I know.... The New York Dolls and Ramones were first, etc etc. Hey, where do you think all those British dudes got their blues references from? Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Brian Jones... they were all listening to Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters.... then famously selling American blues to American teenagers by disguising it as new British rock... even claiming some old blues songs as their own compositions (Stones, Led Zep)... it's all a big cycle, dude....)

The Buzzcocks, Joy Division, Gang of Four, The Smiths, Depeche Mode, Stone Roses/Ian Brown, Franz Ferdinand, Oasis, Pulp, Blur, Gorillaz, Paul Weller, UK-raised M.I.A., Billy Bragg, Art Brut, Spiritualized, Klaxons, Arctic Monkeys, Kaiser Chiefs, Libertines/Babyshambles/Dirty Pretty Things/Peter Doherty/Carl Barat....

Add to that, the fact that Brits like DJ John Peel recognized all the good American music - Pixies, White Stripes, Strokes - WAY before Americans did.... even Jimi Hendrix had to go to England to be "discovered" (thanks to The Animals). Har Mar Superstar is a big star in England and only starting to be appreciated in his native America.... (Oh, remember when Antony and the Johnsons won for best new British artist? haha, we got you there. He's American, dudes....)

So anyway, yeah, I'm an Anglophile.... you got a problem with that? I didn't think so....

The Verve's Richard Ashcroft, Allen Klein, Phil Spector, Noah & The Whale, Cage The Elephant

Noah & The Whale? No.... Cage The Elephant? Yes....

The new Richard Ashcroft album "The United Nations of Sound" is fantastic. He's another one of those guys who's ultra-famous in the UK and still has trouble catching a cab in New York. In the UK, he is a god, but Americans still know him best as the dude bodychecking people in The Verve's video for "Bittersweet Symphony" AKA that song from the "Cruel Intentions" (Reese Witherspoon & Ryan Phillippe - you have seen this movie at least 5 times, if only by accident on TV) AKA that song Allen Klein's ABKCO sued for.

In a case that is still inexplicable to me, Allen Klein made more money on this song than composer Richard Ashcroft did. But that's only because Klein first stole The Rolling Stones' early publishing rights and claimed that a sample used in "Bittersweet Symphony" (the coda, which i count as 12 notes - Da da da Da da da, Da da da, Da da da...) from an orchestral version of The Stones' "The Last Time" violated Klein's and ABKCO's rights, forcing The Verve to pay up or shelve the album right as it was coming out. This despite the fact that no human being has been able to discern any resemblance whatsoever between "Bittersweet Symphony" and "The Last Time". 

Remember that Klein is an accountant and never wrote a song in his life. Yet he was able to insert himself into feuding camps at Chez Beatles and Stones at key periods, negotiate better contracts for both bands, while taking massive fees for himself, and ultimately getting publishing rights to many early beloved Stones songs just to go away. This was after he had stolen from Sam Cooke and Bobby Darin. "Beware of ABKCO...", as George Harrison sang on the demo of "Beware of Darkness", and he knew of what he sang. Although Klein represented Harrison as part of The Beatles, he purchased the rights to "He's So Fine", having heard that the former owners were considering legal action against Harrison for alleged similarities to "My Sweet Lord". Once he had the rights to "He's So Fine", Klein sued his own client Harrison and won. Do we see a pattern here?

The result in The Verve case was that Ashcroft, who actually wrote "Bittersweet Symphony", was stripped of composer credits, and the song was listed as having been written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, which is not true. As Ashcroft said, it was the best song The Stones had "written" in 20 years.

While Yoko-haters rail on her still for "breaking up The Beatles", Klein may have had more to do with it in the end, forcing Paul to formally and legally split from the other 3. Klein could be ruthless when he had to be. His motivation? Might have had something to do with growing up in the Newark Jewish Orphanage.

I ran into Klein several times in New York toward the end of his life, at Beatles' events and at the fascinating lawsuit unfolding in a Manhattan courthouse when I first moved to New York and attended daily - The Ronettes were suing producer Phil Spector and Klein for royalties due on their hits that had been used in many films and commercials, licensed by ABKCO but royalties were never paid the artists. 

The Ronettes were two sisters and their cousins were Black girls from New York who emulated the look of tough Spanish girls in their neighborhood in the late 50s and early 60s - beehive hair-dos and heavy mascara. They recorded classics like "Be My Baby" with Phil Spector, who became lead singer Ronnie Spector's husband and later captor (she landed up running away barefoot from his darkened L.A. mansion).

We gotta love Spector for his production of girl groups like The Ronettes, as well as The Righteous Brothers, The Beatles, John Lennon, George Harrison, etc., but his 2003 murder of Lana Clarkson forces us to consider his substantial legacy to be completely compromised by violence, mental illness, substance abuse, a history of bullying women, and a long list of artists he threatened with guns, including John Lennon, Leonard Cohen, and The Ramones.

In short, he is a nut case. And a murderer.

Spector's association with Klein proved fruitful, as they continued to license "oldies" they controlled the rights to for movies, commercials, compilations for songs which largely comprised the soundtrack to the youth of the Baby Boomers, a lucrative catalog indeed. 

The Ronettes royalties trial was the first time Spector had been seen by many for years, and the first time all three Ronettes had seen each other in ages. Darlene Love and Joey Ramone came to support Ronnie. Cameron Crowe came to support Phil at the trial, or at least to do research for a book he told me he was working on. During a break, Phil took the opportunity to introduce the (female) judge to his "good friend Cameron Crowe, the director of 'Jerry Maguire'...", to which the star-struck judge cooed, "ohhhhhhhhh..... i LOVED that movie...." This was done to try to convince the judge Spector was not the cruel misogynist freak that the testimony indicated. Klein attended court daily to support his partner Spector. He wore the same wrinkled white suit daily, despite the millions he had stolen from artists. We joked we were going to take up a collection for him to get a new suit. Spector on the stand claimed that, "John Lennon was my best friend and I think about him everyday", as the entire story of his career unfolded in the testimony, including the gratuitous "Fuck You!" he added to each alimony check he sent Ronnie. He tried to get her to give up her artist rights in their divorce settlement, and thought he had, thus justifying not sending her any royalties. Ronnie maintained that she did not give up her performer's rights when she divorced Phil, and in any case, was not in a position to give up the rights of her sister and cousin. Because the troubled cousin had turned to Christianity, Spector was convinced this was another ploy by Pat Robertson and the religious right to silence him, a prominent radical and artist. Yeah, right. And Lana Clarkson killed herself, too....

Well, in the end, Darlene Love and The Ronettes were able to recover their rights and royalties, Klein died, and Spector is sitting in jail for life. Ronnie's doing better than ever. So who's to say there is no such thing as Justice, Karma, and so on?

In the end, The Verve may have been Klein's last grand theft. 

It's been a mixed blessing for Ashcroft. A big hassle legally, of course, but the song has become a classic.

And his new album is really great. So score one for the good guys!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Today's Playlist

Arctic Monkeys (great new song "Brick by Brick" from forthcoming fourth album)
Althea  & Donna (classic reggae track "Uptown Top Ranking")
Alex Turner (Arctic Monkeys frontman's soundtrack to "Submarine" - nice!)
Beady Eye (new Oasis sans Noel - surprisingly good!)
Bright Eyes (new Conor Oberst - great, as always)
Billy Hayes
Queens of the Stone Age (first album reissue with three bonus tracks)
The Vaccines
Yuck (good!)
Kurt Vile
The Kills
Black Lips
Kanye West ("Monster")
Smith Westerns (both albums)
The Strokes (new album - good! even this hater liked it and i really wanted to hate it...)
Wavves ("king of the beach", "compilation", etc.)
MEN & Antony (single "Who Am I To Feel So Free")
Miles Kane
Mogwai (new album - great!)
Cold War Kids (new album)
The Chapman Family (new album, etc.)
J Mascis

New Music Today: The Meat Puppets and Queens of the Stone Age

Free download of new Meat Puppets song "Damn Thing":

The Meat Puppets 13th album "Lollipop" is out on April 12th. The brother-based band has been cranking out great music forever and seem to be enjoying something of a comeback or at least a new appreciation of their mad skillz.

I saw them play at UCLA in 1984 (or so), part of an SST Records night also featuring Husker Du (shout out to Bob Mould), The Minutemen (RIP D. Boon, long live Mike Watt, now with Iggy Pop and The Stooges), and SWA (with Black Flag's guitarist Greg Ginn who founded SST Records). I guess most civilians know them for guesting with Kurt Cobain on the classic Nirvana Unplugged video/album. Good to see The Meat Puppets still doing their thing and getting some well-deserved respect.


Queens of the Stone Age (QOTSA) - first album reissued with bonus tracks, currently touring US

Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme (see my gushing tribute from last year below) can do no wrong, and I was happy as hell to see him getting some proper props for his recent performance at Austin's SXSW. The Queens' current US tour is creating a lot of excitement (they play Oakland, California's beautiful Fox Theater on April 11. Taking a break from his supergroup Them Crooked Vultures (Josh singing/guitaring, Dave Grohl on drums, John Paul Jones from Led Zep on bass and other things - killer performance at Coachella 2010, which Homme declared to be his hometown), Josh is returning to his roots, as they say, by reissuing the Queens' 1998 self-titled (and also eponymous - why do rock critics love that word so much? oh, it makes them look cool and intelligent. right....) 1998 album entitled "Queens of the Stone Age", with 3 awesome bonus tracks, most notably "These Aren't the Droids You're Looking For" (from the Queens/Beaver EP, as is "The Bronze". The other bonus track "Spiders and Vinegaroons" from the Queens/Kyuss EP). I downloaded the reissue and gave it a new listen after not hearing the album for a while. It's muscular, dark force still resonates, over a dozen years later, and Homme ought to be considered one of the finest guitarists around (not to mention drumming for Eagles of Death Metal, producing Arctic Monkeys, and singing for Queens, Kyuss, The Desert Sessions, and Them Crooked Vultures).

On the current tour, Homme is playing the first album, along with the bonus tracks, and songs from later albums. Homme is the only original Queen left, although long-time cohort Dean Fertita (who also played with Jack White's Raconteurs and The Dead Weather) is along for the tour.

I'm going to enjoy listening to this powerful twisted music on my iPod and then in real life at the show in Oakland. You should too.


My gushing review of Homme from Coachella 2010:

Allow me to sing the praises of Josh homme. The queens of the stone age frontman, who also plays drums for the eagles of death metal, seems to be at the very center of some exciting new music I call Dark Psychedelia. Homme produced the arctic monkeys new album humbug, so some of that desert magic rubbed off on the lads from Sheffield who worked on the album at a desert studio near here. Some time queens of the stone age cohort dean f plays guitar and keys for Jack white's new band the dead weather - who also play coachella this year.

Eyebrows were surely raised when it was announced that homme would front a new supergroup - them crooked cultures featuring nirvana/foo fighters Dave grohl on drums and led zeppelin's john Paul jones on bass. On first blush, it would seem he lacked the gravitas to live up to the expectations having band members with such a legacy. Few people would mention queens of the stone age in the same breath as nirvana and led Zeppelin. In addition to singing and playing guitar with the new band, homme apparently wrote most of the songs on the vultures' debut album. Some critics complained the songs seemed tossed off and the album was done quickly but the songs hold up well live. I saw them in Oakland year and enjoyed it. I was curious so I gave a listen to the queens albums as well as the desert sessions. Driving through the desert these songs made sense.

The vultures took over the stage just before 8 pm. The evening cooled the desert as the crowd swelled. Homme introduced the band and when it came to himself he said "and you know me, I'm Joshua.... And this is my hometown!" and proceeded to give a performance that should serve to silence the critics and haters once and for all.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Now Playing...

Really like new The Dodos (feat. Neko Case) & Alex Turner's (Arctic Monkeys) new soundtrack for "Submarine"... also downloading Wiz Khalifa & Kanye West (I like "Monster" and felt I could no longer harsh on him without actually listening to his last CD....)