Friday Afternoon Music: Kate Nash’s “Do-Wah-Doo”
April 23, 2010

This is what solid, upbeat pop looks like:

-Production that tries harder than the average generic oomp-tsk oomp-tsk synth and bass, and actually incorporates analog instrumentation.

-A singer who writes her own songs and plays some of her own instruments.

-Also a singer who isn’t afraid to show a little vulnerability and expand her lyrical palette beyond “I’m at the club, I’m awesome” territory.

-And in general, music that is the point of the music video, rather than ancillary to the opportunity to show off a bunch of wacky, skimpy costumes and reinforce the singer’s brand.

Thus concludes today’s cranky old man rant.

Heaven is Whenever
April 22, 2010

It pains me to say it, but The Hold Steady is in a slump. Stay Positive was alright, but nowhere near on par with either of the two prior albums. Keyboardist Franz Nicolay departed after that album, and while I was sad to go, I was cautiously hopeful that the personnel change would shake up the band’s formula a little bit and make them try something fresh.

No such luck. In their new album, Heaven is Whenever, it’s the same band minus one guy, both for better and worse. A couple of the songs are serious rockers (see “Rock Problems” above), but mostly the old formula is starting to show serious signs of strain. On Stay Positive, Tad Kubler’s guitar solos were absolutely majestic (re: “Lord, I’m Discouraged”), but here it seems like he’s painted himself into a stylistic corner that echoes the band’s larger woes.

At least Craig Finn is taking his lyrics in new directions. There’s been a definite progression from Lifter Puller to early Hold Steady to current Hold Steady, with Finn’s persona going from panicked burnout to wiser older brother telling you a story about his more messed up days, to cool uncle giving you some friendly advice. Nowhere is this more obvious than on “Soft in the Center” (“You gotta get yourself right, kid”) and “Hurricane J” (“I don’t want you to settle/ I want you to grow.”).

Telling, a big chunk of the album–including the aforementioned “Rock Problems,” and the subpar “The Smidge”–is about ennui. “Now we never going dancing / ’cause we’re not really moving,” Finn sings on the latter song, and I have to say, I know the feeling. The heart-pounding, fist-pumping exuberance is just mostly absent this time around, although god knows the guys are trying. And every once and a while, like on the penultimate song, “Our Whole Lives,” something special breaks through. These guys are still the best meat-and-potatoes rock band going, but they need to get themselves right.

Friday Afternoon Music: Point Blank’s “Uncle Ned”
April 16, 2010

If, at some point in my life, I can arrange things so that Point Blank’s “That’s the Law,” off their self-titled album, starts blasting whenever I walk into a crowded room, I’ll know that I’ve made it.

Sadly, I couldn’t find a YouTube video of that one (although I encourage you to acquire the album). So I’m using the not quite as badass and perhaps a bit too on the nose “Uncle Ned” as placeholder theme music.

Disclaimer: I am not, in fact, a war hero in my time.

Friday Afternoon Music: Sleater-Kinney’s “Entertain”
April 9, 2010

Carrie Brownstein, my heart aches for you.

Friday Afternoon Music: Lifter Puller’s “To Live and Die in LBI”
April 2, 2010

When I was guestblogging at Attackerman last week, a few commenters–based on the incessant Hold Steady blogging from both Dara and myself–recommended Craig Finn’s prior band, Lifter Puller. I had their last album, Fiestas and Fiascoes, but I hadn’t dug much further into the archives, and those comments reminded me why I should. So here’s one from their middle album, which is, indeed, awesome.

Friday Afternoon Music: Tom Waits’ “Get Behind the Mule”
March 19, 2010

Vacation’s over, and on Monday all of NYU will be back to the grind. Above: my personal favorite back to the grind song.

Frightened Rabbit are Still Scotland’s #1 Sadness Pornographers
March 14, 2010

Remember a couple days ago when I was defending the album? (Evidently this blog is now mostly given over to providing aggressive pushback against claims regarding the irrelevance of various artistic mediums. Tomorrow: wood etchings!) Well Frightened Rabbit’s latest, The Winter of Mixed Drinks, is a perfect example of how albums can be even more than the sum of their parts. This is from an interview with the band:

It’s about an escape and maybe even a slight breakdown. I have to say, it’s semi-fictional. There’s a protagonist who is possibly male but it doesn’t really describe my life because if I did that it wouldn’t make for an interesting album this time around as I’ve been quite solid and content, thankfully.

I feel like we’ve been seeing a lot more of this lately; not concept albums in the strict, storytelling, Hazards of Love sense (although we’ve gotten a few great examples of those recently, most notably The Hazards of Love) but more like something you could call the theme album. I’m liking this trend.

Friday Afternoon Music: Pink Mountaintops’ “Holiday”
March 12, 2010

From the gloriously drugged-out album Outside Love. This band’s better-known sibling is the equally drugged-out Black Mountain, although I sort of prefer this lesser-known variation. This isn’t one of my favorite tracks from the album, but it is one of the better songs I’ve heard from the “let’s-go-on-a-holiday” subgenre of music; and since I’m about to go on my last college spring break, it seemed appropriate.

In Defense of the Album
March 11, 2010

I’m a week late on Alyssa’s comments on the potential decline of the album, but I’ve spent that week listening to the Hold Steady’s Separation Sunday (which the above song opens) on loop. There was a time when I was a fierce defender of the claim that Boys and Girls in America was their strongest overall album, and it’s true that the latter still dominates when it comes to perfectly crafted singles–but when it comes to sprawling, epic rock, Sunday is pretty much peerless.

And it also pretty well demonstrates, I think, why it would be a sad thing to lose the album altogether. I’ll freely admit that the economics of releasing tracks individually make a lot of sense for artists just starting out, and that a sizable majority of the LPs that get released these days–even by really good artists–have their fair share of filler. But I also think that an album, as an artistic statement, is still a big deal. A single song doesn’t convey the same message an album does, which is: this is us. This is our sound. This is where we are at this point in time.
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Friday Afternoon Music: Lucero’s “The Devil and Maggie Chascarillo”
March 5, 2010

The album this song’s from–1372 Overton Park–was one of the happiest finds of 2010 so far for me. I’m a sucker for old-fashioned hard-rockin’ ballads, and Lucero is one of those rare bands that can play on the old classic rock clich├ęs completely earnestly and sound awesome doing it. A lot of that can be attributed, I think, to the lead singer’s voice. This guy was born to front a rock band; I mean, he sounds like a goddamn mountain lion. As a result, I’m pretty much willing to believe anything he says as long as it’s backed up by three power chords.

Overton Park is the band’s major label debut, and while I’ve tried dipping my toe into some of their earlier stuff, it just doesn’t hit me in the same way. Sometimes I wonder if it would have if I had listened to that stuff first; I mean, I’m all onboard with combining punk and E-Street Band influences (re: my love for The Gaslight Anthem), but Lucero’s earlier sound–consisting of the standard drums-bass-guitar set up–can’t compare to the much fuller sound of Overton Park.

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