I’m still a pretty young guy, but I’m at least old enough that I’m starting to notice the trends of age. It’s going to take me a long time, but one of these days I’ll learn that cleverness is just okay.
Thanks to a lucky find on Craigslist and an even luckier set of circumstances, I was able to pick up a ticket to see Nick Lowe perform last year at the Old Town School of Folk Music. It was my last in a string of excellent concerts that Fall; I had already seen Buke & Gass, School of Seven Bells, Tallest Man On Earth, Field Music and Teenage Fanclub in the span of maybe three weeks. The joke for me at the time was that I kept progressing further and further towards “dad rock,” seeing bands that kept getting older or more mature as I went on. Don’t get me wrong; I wasn’t interested in making fun of anyone, but I had to chuckle at myself when, at 26, I seemed to be the youngest person in the crowd who wasn’t brought along by their grandparents.
But goddamn, if I had grand-kids I would have brought them to this show, bolted them to their chairs and told them to shut up until they thank me when they’re older for taking them to see such a talented musician. It isn’t surprising that a someone can turn out an excellent performance 45 years into their career, but I was struck by how much Nick Lowe seemed to still enjoy playing music. His rapport with the band and crowd was so friendly, his playing was so casual. If a younger musician were able to breeze through songs like this their style would be called “effortless,” but you don’t get that feeling when you see a mature musician doing what they’ve done all their life. Watching Nick Lowe play with such ease, it was clear these songs were the product of countless hours of effort.
Late into the set, Nick drew probably the biggest cheers from the crowd (any myself) after playing a song off of his first (and most popular) album, “Jesus of Cool.” He laughed as the applause died down. “You really like the pop stuff, don’t you?”
I suddenly felt a bit guilty. Yes, I do like the pop stuff. I love it. I love it so much that, at the time, I really hadn’t given much attention to anything Nick Lowe had recorded since. Even though he’s been active and successful for decades, recording music in all sorts of styles, “Jesus of Cool” is the album that made Nick Lowe one of the fathers of New Wave in the late 70′s. It remains his most acclaimed and recognizable work today, so naturally it’s what people (including myself) came to hear. I thought about the songs he’d played during the show that I wasn’t familiar with. He probably cared about them just as much when he wrote them as he did when he wrote “Heart of the City,” how does he feel knowing people mostly want to hear songs he wrote when he was young?
Rock and Roll is a pretty youth-centric culture, and there’s a very real energy behind youth that’s driven some of the best performances in pop music’s history, but it doesn’t end there. I think that there’s something people overlook in musicians who’ve pressed past that phase of their career where they’re exciting and influential and into a sort of rock canon retirement, where they can really just relax and play. There’s a sturdiness to their songwriting that even the best young musicians can’t match.
Nick Lowe – Homewrecker
I finally started making a proper effort to listen to the rest of Nick Lowe’s catalog, and I just couldn’t get past “Homewrecker” when I first heard it. Part Southern lullaby, part hushed gospel ballad, you’d never guess that this was a song recorded by a man who’s carried the nickname “Basher.” Lowe is still writing about heartbreak, but his songs have become more emotionally complex with time; Nick Lowe in 1978 was probably more concerned with busting up hotel rooms than breaking up a home life.
The greatest thing about this song, though, is that it keeps the volume down. Any young songwriter would give in to their emotion a few minutes into this song, letting a heavier beat, a big note, a distraught guitar burst through the tension. Nick Lowe keeps it tight. His voice rarely rises above a quiver and the guitars just sort of tremble in the background, rarely interfering with the quietly humming organ. It’s a beautiful arrangement that, at its age, doesn’t care to yell to grab your attention; It’s simply happy to play.
I have so many thoughts in my head, Dear Readers. All of these Fountains of Wayne songs aren’t going to talk about themselves, after all. I’m working diligently as Your Blogger to bust those stories wide open, but in the meantime it’s good to remind myself that there’s a bigger world out there.
Nothing in art is original, and blogs have it even harder. I’m just gonna be up front, then, and say I am taking a cue from this Sean Rose guy and asking for folks (like you!) to request albums they would like to see reviewed at Popcraft.
Sean Rose is all hung up on rules, but not me. As long as it’s an album or EP (preferably by a mainstream artist, I suppose) I’ll give it a shot. No rules are no rules, though; I reserve the right to love or hate your recommended album. I may barely talk about it at all. Who knows.
You can leave requests in the comments of this post, but I’d prefer that you email them to me directly with a bit more detail. Let me know what you’d like me to review, why you’re interested in hearing someone else’s opinion on it, if you like it or not, whatever.
So have at it! This is your blog, Dear Readers.
Every Tuesday I’ll be sharing a music video and talking about why I like it or not. Here’s one that I like: PJ Harvey’s “This Is Love.”
Holy cow, this is one of the sexiest videos I’ve ever seen. I could sit here and watch PJ Harvey raise her eyebrows all day, that’s all I need. Performance music videos tend to be boring, usually consisting of static shots of a band in a warehouse or something, singing their song to nobody and then maybe the lights in the warehouse flicker or whatever to let you know that the song’s over. When they’re done right, though, you get something like “This Is Love.” Ms. Polly Jean has enough swagger to carry a video by herself for four minutes, even when she’s somewhere off camera. It’s my favorite kind of video; Something that shows you a bit about the artist without interfering with your interpretation of the song.
And thank goodness I didn’t watch this sexy, sexy video until I was an adult. “This Is Love” is a particularly memorable song for me because it is the first time I really had to grapple with weird, too-blunt sexual innuendo. Though I didn’t listen to PJ Harvey when “This Is Love” was released, I would ritually read CMJ Monthly and listen to the excellent sampler discs (remember when sampler discs in magazines were a thing?) every morning on the bus ride to high school until I had the next month’s issue.
“This Is Love” was featured one issue and I played it right into the ground. It was gritty in a way I hadn’t really experienced yet, and the hook is just so killer. As I became more familiar with the song, though, one lyric in particular stood out to me:
“Does it have to be a life full of dread? / I wanna’ chase you round the table, I wanna’ touch your head”
I was like 15 at the time. It was entirely plausible to me that PJ Harvey would chase me around a table simply because she wanted to ruffle my hair. More than that, the thought that she might want to touch something else held dire consequences. The entire song is about sex, and I knew at least that much at the time, but I still just wasn’t sure what “head” was referring to. The first lyric is about wanting to “just sit here and watch you undress,” could it be a clue??
I eventually cracked PJ Harvey’s head code, and soon after realized that practically every pop song ever written is about fucking.
In the process of getting this blog back on its feet, so in the meantime here is an album cover to look at
I tossed and turned all night. Every 20 minutes I’d awake from the most vivid nightmare and the as soon I would close my eyes it started over.
To my horror, that nightmare came true.
Oh hello! It’s me, Richard. I haven’t written lately, but don’t worry; I have been listening to an awful lot of tunes. Here’s one now,
isn’t it neat?
David Byrne is possibly the only musician I can think of who is just as – if not more – interesting today than he was in his prime, and that’s a thought I’ll be exploring a bit this week as I get back into a regular update schedule. So enjoy this song now before I start complaining about it tomorrow.
I’d hate to ruin my habit of never posting blog updates
about music sales, but I thought I’d go ahead today. Head on over to Amazon MP3 and further toward their sale section where you will be treated to a wide variety of albums on sale for $5. From this long list of many albums, there are a handful of albums that I would consider essential. They are as follows:
Band of Horses – Everything All The Time. Also known as “Their Good Album” in most circles. It’s kind of a lot of genre’s all mixed into one with a delicious reverb glaze. This is a band who has grown beards and wears flannel.
Phoenix – It’s Never Been Like That. This is the Phoenix album that I like. Recently they made another one that was pretty good, but “It’s Never Been Like That” proves their mastery of pop sensibility. It’s subtle, sharp, and fun.
Deerhoof – Half Bird. Okay, so unlike those other recommendations, there’s a chance you might find this album to be totally grating and annoying. Don’t worry, you won’t break my heart. San Francisco’s own Deerhoof are the vanguards of noise pop and this is one of their stronger albums. If you’re going to like any Deerhoof, it will probably be this Deerhoof.
R.E.M. – Document. It’s important to understand that R.E.M.’s best albums all happened during the Reagan Administration.
Dr. Dog – We All Belong. I will never shut up about Dr. Dog so you may as well give up and start listening now.
Dead Kennedys – Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death. Jerry Brown might become governor of California again. Prepare yourself by memorizing the lyrics to California Uber Alles, the song Jello Biafra wrote the last time that happened.
The Ruby Suns – Sea Lion. Indie pop with a dreamy, surfer bent. Abstract and completely appealing.
I have a complicated relationship with two bands: Queen and The Knack. I’ve always been able to “respect” Queen, which means that when I say “I sort of hate Queen” and people react with shock, I politely say “maybe they’re just not my thing” and leave it at that. I’ve always been able to “respect” The Knack, which means that whenever I listen to “My Sharona” I turn it off right before the terrible, super-long, drive-it-into-the-ground guitar solo and pretend that the song just ends there. It’s hard to live like this; Queen are thought of as rock Gods, and “My Sharona” is thought of as one of the best power pop singles of all time. These things may be true, but they irritate the living hell out of me all the same.
Here’s the complicated part: I almost always love when artists draw significant influence from these bands’ worst qualities. Hello, Jellyfish!
This isn’t a music video, but after looking at that album cover I think you’ll agree that the less frames of video this band produces, the better.
Jellyfish was a band of unfortunate souls in the early 90′s trying to hold dear to their gaudy 80′s rock cassettes in a world being swallowed whole by Nirvana. “Fan Club” perfectly shows off everything they were doing wrong with so much adorable enthusiasm you just want to pat them on the head and say “you guys.” It takes guts to mug such a painfully forced Freddie Mercury impression, and the terrible, long-ass guitar solo ripped straight from my recurring “My Sharona” nightmare is so bad that I can only conclude Jellyfish love playing every second of it.
But still, I am charmed. I have listened to this song countless times. Jellyfish are the only people having fun in “Fan Club,” and good for them. I listen to this and wish I could have led a life that involved sending more envelopes to bands, long before the idea of “snail mail” even existed. You just can’t fill a bathtub with youtubes and mp3s.
15) Peter Bjorn and John – Living Thing
14) Asobi Seksu – Hush
13) I Was a King – I Was a King
12) The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
11) Felix – You Are the One I Pick
10) La Roux – La Roux
09) Passion Pit – Manners
08) Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca
07) Annie – Don’t Stop
06) Japandroids – Post-Nothing
5) The xx – xx
The xx were The band to talk about in 2009, if you liked to talk about everything in music that does not actually matter. There is something about sleepy looking early 20′s art school students with hip, easy-to-connect musical influences that just drive bloggers crazy, and next thing you know you have to decide if the girl singer reminds you of Margo Timmins or not and what you think will happen now that the band is falling apart and who they remind you of besides Young Marble Giants and Chris Issak. Who cares? Me, I guess, because I have talked about all of these things, and even cared about my answers. But that’s stupid.
For real: I have seen it as a talking point, multiple times!, that “everyone” has a different favorite song on xx. It is insane to me that anyone finds this interesting at all. I can’t think of a single album where everyone is expected to agree on one song as the “best,” much less an album where it is impressive that people like different songs over others.
So why do The xx make everyone act like idiots? Because they’re really cool. That may not sound very convincing, so let me explain: The xx are practically a walking field recording of cool detachment in the urban wild. They’ve instantly perfected a minimal pop sound that’s postured and deliberate, but smart and almost completely effortless. It’d be aggravatingly hip, except it’s so accessible and enjoyable from the outset that, just for a little bit, it makes you feel like you’re part of the club, a little cooler. Until you start acting like an impressed critic because people like different songs than you.
(The best song, though, is Basic Space)
4) Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest
At one point, right after I realized how much I liked The Beach Boys, I decided I liked “precise” music. I don’t think I knew exactly what I meant by that, but it sounded specific and correct in a way that made me feel proud that my taste had “developed.” I think I was trying to say that I liked tight harmonies and clean production and nothing else, which was true at the time, because that is what happens for a little while when you fall in love with Pet Sounds.
But my definition of “precise” was all messed up. I thought it meant I was seeking the most sweetly crafted music, void of imperfections, which meant I listened to a lot of boring Beach Boys knockoffs. I had a hard time with any sort of fuzz, distortion or dissonance getting between me and my chords. I just wanted something that sounded warm and smooth. I wanted to pick music like little flowers and then smell the flowers and cast them toward the sun and then lie down in the petals. I was awful.
Veckatimest is named after Veckatimest Island, a very small, uninhabited island off the coast of Massachusetts, where the flowers remain mostly undisturbed by overbearing nineteen year olds like my precision-loving younger self. “Massachusetts” sort of takes away from the romanticism, but Grizzly Bear aren’t worried about being romantic. They’re more concerned with being precise. The mistake I originally made in identifying “precise” music was that I was looking for something finely polished, sharpened. I didn’t understand that something truly meticulous starts at its construction, like growth occurring in nature. Veckatimest is lush and thorny in a way that I might not have fully appreciated at the time. It sounds like it had been playing for a hundred years before I had stumbled upon it, and is still blooming. I guess I am still a dweeb for flowery music after all.
3) The Flaming Lips – Embryonic
The Flaming Lips entered the decade coming off of the brilliant The Soft Bulletin, and from there they kept pumping more color and drug-induced funny faces into their music until they became a sort of sad cartoon band. They weren’t making bad music, but they started to sound tired and forced. I went from loving the rush of songs like “Fight Test” to wondering if Wayne Coyne ever gets too hot in that animal costume when he’s rolling around in confetti.
Embryonic is no less animated or richly colored than The Lips’ previous few albums, but it’s a whole new palette. Our cartoon heroes have traveled from a candy palace to a terrifying witche castle, and the resulting music is sort of (very) unnerving. This album is actually physically taxing to listen to. Once, while high, I said The Soft Bulletin is like “jamming pop rocks into your eyes, and then your eyes become your ears.” I don’t know if I would ever want to listen to Embryonic on drugs. It’s like setting a reel of Hanna Barbara cartoons on fire, and then that fire becomes your brain.
2) Girls – Album
It’s like Elvis Costello in board shorts! It’s like Jesus and Mary Chain open a hot dog cart! It’s like I’ve never walked on anything besides warm sand in my entire life!
Girls recall sickeningly perfect days of youth that couldn’t possibly have existed in my life, even if I wanted them to. To listen to Album is to remember hanging out with your beautiful, photogenic friends on the beach every day, surfing until you want to go get fucked up and and lay down in your friend’s basement, feeling heartache so heavy you can’t possibly believe it’s just a fleeting part of being a teenager. Growing up in a polite Midwestern suburb, I never had a single day like this. So why do I feel like Girls are directly connected to all the best parts of life before legal drinking age?
When I shared the music video, I said that the song “Hellhole Ratrace” “makes me want to hug every friend I’ve ever gotten drunk and told a secret to,” and I’m pretty satisfied with that.
Okay, time to make way for #1:
Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
The difficult thing about the previous decade was that no one really knew how to classify anything. In the struggle to leave a mark against their predecessors, musicians started to blend genres in ways that were fresh and interesting, but tiresome to describe. Suddenly we had to start wondering what terms like “freak folk” and “math rock” meant, and that got frustrating for some people. You couldn’t tell somebody about a band you liked without needing to associate them with three other bands, The Beach Boys and a dead 80′s genre. The worst thing that could happen to pop music was happening; it was beginning to seem inaccessible to people who just wanted to listen to good songs and didn’t want to bother with terminology and history.
Meanwhile, Phoenix spent the decade mastering the art of the single. Every album came with the promise of more catchy, Summer-defining pop songs and a focused direction for the band’s next sound. With this in mind, it shouldn’t be too surprising that Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix is a polished juggernaut of hooks that sounded as good on car commercials as it did on mixtapes for your girlfriend.
It’s not that Phoenix are less concerned with the past than their peers; I’m sure the primary influences at work on Wolfgang Amadeus Phoneix are clearly visible to those who want to trace them. What makes it so great is that there’s simply no need to do that. The album sounds like the product of a decade, a composite sketch of every pop song we’ve loved over the past ten years shaded so smoothly that you’re doing it a disservice to break it down into parts. Phoenix have managed to create fresh, truly pure pop music at a time when genre purity is usually reserved for novelty and nostalgia.
If a band’s credibility among their independent music peers was assessed by the sparsity of their Wikipedia page, then hopefully someone will catch you listening to The Brother Kite ’cause oh my god. The Brother Kite, both little known and well regarded, have yet to follow up their spectacular 2006 release Waiting For the Time to Be Right, but not for lack of trying. The band has just sent word around their newsletter list that they are currently a free-agent. Says they, “for the first time in the band’s history, we’re without a label contract.” They’re seeking a new home for two new releases (LP & EP). In the meantime, they’ve announced new tour dates and released some new tracks for you to listen to.
The Brother Kite – Isolation
The Brother Kite – The Scene Is Changing
The Brother Kite – Eye To Eye