New U2: Atomic City

Video: U2 – “Atomic City”

Single out now.

U2 is a band. Four people. The same four guys for over forty years. We all give them a lot of shit — and they deserve most of it — but their longevity is remarkable.

You know what else is pretty cool? This song. Forget the flashy video, forget Bono’s purple glasses, forget all the hype you’ve been hearing about the giant LED sphere in Las Vegas. Just listen. How great is Edge’s riff? Sounds a little like early Smiths, a little like classic Blondie. It’s good!

The lyrics, despite being interpreted as just an ad for their Las Vegas residency (“I’m front row in Las Vegas / And there’s a big one on tonight”), contain some of the funniest lines Bono’s written in years.

Come quick, come soon, comme ci comme ça
Let me dive into your eyes and blah blah blah.

I was happy to see Larry Mullen behind the drums after essentially sidelining himself since covid. But then I found out that while he played on the recording and he’s obviously in the video, he won’t be playing live with the band in 2023. He’s still recovering from surgery to mitigate injuries sustained from 40+ years of being a drummer.

Adam Clayton told the Irish Star that Mullen “is taking his health very responsibly and he wants to come back, he wants to be able to have a long career and continue his drumming. So, he is taking care of those injuries.”

I hope so. U2 is one of the only major bands I’d like to see live that I never have. But without Larry Mullen, I wouldn’t bother. We’ve asked this question lots of times on this site over the years regarding the Who and Steely Dan and the Rolling Stones, et cetera, ad infinitum, but without those four guys is it even really U2?

I enjoyed that thing with David Letterman that Bono and the Edge did on Disney+. It was cool to see those two reinterpreting their songs and hanging out in pubs and goofing with Dave. But it wasn’t U2.

Replacement drummer Bram Vandenberg can surely play the parts. And I’m sure they’ll put on a good show. But unless Mullen gets better and comes back, I’m afraid I might have missed my chance to see U2.

New Boygenius: Cool About It

Video: boygenius – “Cool About It”

Directed by Lauren Tsai. From the record, out now on Interscope.

This demonstrates exactly what makes boygenius so awesome. Each band member takes a verse and they come together on the chorus. Most boygenius songs sound like they could be solo songs with the other two adding harmonies, which is still great because they sound so good together, but when it sounds more collaborative it’s even better, showcasing their distinct voice, phrasing, and perspective in one song.

“Cool About It” is a post-breakup get-together song and it’s the opposite of Olivia Rodrigo’s “bad idea right?” Instead of “accidentally” falling back into their ex’s bed, the boygenius narrators just feel shitty about seeing them and having to pretend everything is fine. It’s a perfect short story.

Bridgers told Rolling Stone her verse about taking someone’s medication is true: “I was seeing somebody who was on an antidepressant. It was a low point for me because there’s a part of myself that’s very impulsive, that scares me, where it feels like there’s no thoughts between having the idea to do it and action. It just feels like I have the idea and I do it. And that was one of those moments for me. It was cool to bring light to it in that song because I think it’s actually kind of funny. My verse just becomes immediately so dark, it slows down.”

The video by Lauren Tsai is a haunting animated story about a dog and a chew toy from the perspective of the stuffy. Or maybe it’s about a girl and her boyfriend. Or a girl and her dog and a stuffy it finds on a park bench. Or all of the above. It’s impressionistic and sad. The moral seems to be that it’s hard to keep it together. There are no happy endings.

boygenius: web, bandcamp, amazon, apple, spotify, wiki.

The Importance of Objects

Given the increasingly sorry state of the planet there is a an increasing importance to the actions encompassed in the phrase “reduce, recycle, reuse.” Less stuff is arguably better.

A Google search of “minimalism” comes up with “about 873,000,000 results”—ironically maximalist, I think—with the characteristics of the 3Rs foremost, not the works of Philip Glass, Steve Reich, La Monte Young, or Terry Riley.

But even those who are associated with a comfortable but minimalist lifestyle, like Marie Kondo, aren’t full-on 3R mavens. Kondo writes of her KonMari approach:

“One of the reasons the KonMari Method™ is associated with minimalism is because many people discover while tidying that they’ve been living with items they no longer love – or never did. And they suddenly feel empowered to let them go with gratitude.”

Objects are OK—as long as said objects provide the individual with what can be considered personal “joy.” And arguably, much music is associated with the joy—or even sorrow—in our lives.

Artifacts of a life are certainly not as important as family, friends and, certainly, life itself, but those objects are in many ways definitive of the person’s movement through time: Perhaps it is a collection of stubs from concerts seen (in a pre-scanning age) or the first Wilco LP bought when the comparative obscurity was in its own way important.

They may be things that haven’t been looked at or used for some years, but at the time of acquisition they were certainly notable and they carried that importance, although perhaps diminished over time, forward.

Another phrase that’s heard is “Get experiences, not things.” But things acquired during those experiences (e.g., a concert T-shirt or a Fillmore West postcard from a visit to San Francisco) can bring the memories back in a powerful way. (One could gloss the famous literary manifestation of this: the madeleine cake dipped in tea that gave rise to Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu: no physical cake, no memories evoked, or at least not to such an extent.)

Which is a roundabout way to get to the recent “RIAA Mid-Year 2023 Revenue Report,” which has it that first-half U.S. retail revenues hit $8.4 billion, the highest take in a six-month period.

Continue reading The Importance of Objects

New Mountain Goats: Murder at the 18th Street Garage

Video: the Mountain Goats – “Murder at the 18th Street Garage”

From Jenny from Thebes, out October 27 on Merge.

Oh yeah this is my jam. I love the frenetic Mountain Goats stuff.

JD says, “Rather than being coy about it let me tell you that somebody gets killed in this song, which is, at best, a short-term solution to Jenny’s problems, not that I’m saying she herself did anything. It’s her word against his now and he can’t talk anymore and she’s long gone by the time the EMTs get to 18th Street. Under oath, I will testify that she was with me because I am with her. I knew when I wrote this tune that Wurster-Hughes Inc. would eat it up like a big tasty snack, and guess what, they did. Lace up your dancing workboots but wear some inserts because this one’s a sprint.”

Darnielle plays the ghost in the video. You can tell he’s a ghost because he’s slightly translucent and he’s casting paranormal auras.

I’m a fan of concept albums and, from the three pre-release singles we’ve heard so far, Jenny from Thebes is going to be a good one. So far we know Jenny rents a house, gets a tattoo, and kills somebody in a garage. What’s going to happen next with our intrepid hero? Stay tuned to find out!

The Mountain Goats: web, bandcamp, amazon, apple, spotify, wiki.

Continue reading New Mountain Goats: Murder at the 18th Street Garage

New Johnny Marr: Somewhere

Video: Johnny Marr – “Somewhere”

From Spirit Power: The Best of Johnny Marr, out November 3 on BMG.

Johnny Marr is 59 and looks fantastic. What’s his secret? I don’t know but I’ll bet being a vegan and running marathons don’t hurt.

He’s released four solo albums since 2013 and now he apparently thinks he’s done enough to warrant a greatest hits collection. Throw in a couple non-album singles and a couple brand new tracks — including this one, “Somewhere” — and you’ve got yourself a double album.

Marr says, “For a song to work, it has to be a banger. I know it’s almost uncool to think in those terms, but I grew up in a house where my parents listened to Motown, where you couldn’t get a song released if it wasn’t full of hooks.”

I’m not sure if “Somewhere” is totally a banger but it’s definitely full of hooks!

Johnny Marr: web, bandcamp, amazon, apple, spotify, wiki.

New Wilco: Cousin

Video: Wilco – “Cousin”

From Cousin, out September 29 on dBpm.

A press release claims this song “is, musically and lyrically, a fight with a relative. Rather, a refusal to fight: the narrator holds their familial opponent in a de-escalatory bear hug, while admitting, ‘My cousin / I’m you.'”

Are you getting any of that from the lyrics? Or from the music for that matter? Because I’m not hearing it. But that’s fine. It sounds cool.

I like that they’re working with an outside producer (Cate Le Bon) for this album, bringing some new sounds and ideas into the mix. You can tell it was still recorded at the Loft though, especially the vocals. Le Bon must not have been able to convince Tweedy to use a different microphone or whatever. They know what they like and it works but it would be fun to hear what might happen if Wilco re-worked their sound even more. Maybe next time!

New Sufjan Stevens: Will Anybody Ever Love Me?

Video: Sufjan Stevens – “Will Anybody Ever Love Me?”

Directed by Stephen Halker. From Javelin, out October 6 on Asthmatic Kitty.

Be careful what you wish for. This new song sounds like the kind of Sufjan Stevens music I love. My favorite albums are Illinois and Carrie & Lowell and it “Will Anybody Ever Love Me?” would fit right into that sonic space. Lyrically it find Stevens desperately yearning for love. But it feels clinical, like an exercise in writing an emotional song. How can that be? It’s got everything I could ask for, including a banjo-like lute introduction. Maybe it’s the lack of specificity in the verses. When he asks to be ritually buried at sea and burned at the stake, is he asking to be punished and cut loose or is it a weird metaphor for wanting a hunka hunka burning love?

Or am I missing the point? I’ve noticed that sometimes my initial impressions of Sufjan Stevens songs are totally different from how I ultimately respond to them. That’s a rare thing and either an indication of complex artist or I’m a simpleton. Could be either. Or both. I’m open to that. I’ll let you know if I change my mind on this one.

Sufjan Stevens: web, bandcamp, amazon, apple, spotify, wiki.

Camrys, Cornflakes and Superfans

Back in the days of yore—or 2017—the music industry revenues, according to investment firm Goldman Sachs—were pie-sliced like this:

  • $26 billion live
  • $30 billion recorded
  • $6 billion publishing (which it defines as “Revenue collected by music publishing companies, which act as agents for songwriters and composers, collecting and distributing royalties on their behalf.” So when you read about musicians selling their catalogs, it means that those royalties no longer are funneled their way, and the big organizations that consequently own those rights probably invest via firms like, well, Goldman Sachs.)

The people at Goldman Sachs are seemingly bullish on the sorts of returns that can be garnered in the years to come, as this it what they project for 2030:

  • $38 billion live
  • $80 billion recorded
  • $12.5 billion publishing

As you can see, the increase in live performance is the least gain, 46%. Of course, these reckonings were made prior to Taylor Swift’s tour. Publishing is a 108% increase. And recorded music rises 167%. Of course, “recorded music” doesn’t mean just physical media. Clearly, that’s merely a fraction of the total take, which is clearly dominated by streaming, which, Goldman Sachs says has grown 2.5 times since 2017, from 950 billion on-demand streams to 3,359 billion streams.

But those involved in this space aren’t necessarily busting out the champagne because (1) the revenue per steam is down 20% over this period and (2) the average revenue per user is down 40%.

But these billions of dollars certainly aren’t chump change.

Continue reading Camrys, Cornflakes and Superfans

Riot Fest 2023: We’re All Alright

Don’t know about you, but I’m feeling 52. I was a little nervous about attending a three-day music fest this year. Would I have the stamina? Could my feet survive standing up all day long all weekend? Would I still have fun? We missed Riot Fest last year because of fucking covid, so I knew my fest game would be rusty. Nevertheless, I persisted.

And you know what? I had nothing to worry about. And by the looks of some of the people in the crowd, I’ve still got a lot of years left in me. Looking strictly at age demographics, Riot Fest is surprisingly diverse. I was definitely not the oldest person there. And despite its punk and punk-adjacent lineup, they draw a lot of young people too. Turns out plenty of kids still like guitar music. Thank goodness. They’ll be able to push me around in my wheelchair when my feet finally give out on me.

As always happens at fests, there were a couple of bands I wanted to see first thing on Friday. And as always happens, I missed them. I would’ve loved to have seen Olivia Jean and the Bobby Lees. But nope. At least we made it in for Quasi, who were everything I was hoping they would be. After the 2019 car accident that broke her collar bone and her tibia, all fans of rock and roll drumming were scared that we might never get to see Janet Weiss behind the kit again, so it was wonderful to see her back at full strength and as powerful and explosive and musical as ever. And Sam Coomes is a great frontman…or sideman or whatever you call the singer in a two-piece that place their instruments facing each other on the stage.

It’s been thirty years since I’ve seen any incarnation of P-Funk. Back in the 90s, George Clinton would come out on stage in dreads made out of yarn and wearing a Smurfs bed sheet. These days Clinton wears a bejeweled captain’s hat and a custom Cosmic Slop hockey jersey and he’s like DJ Khaled up there, where nobody really knows if he’s contributing anything to the music. He’s the host of the party, making sure everybody’s having a funky good time. And then he goes back to sitting on the drum riser until the party needs another boost. Whenever a survey asks about the greatest American rock band, I always immediately say Funkadelic. George Clinton has had more of an influence on today’s music than just about anybody and he deserves our eternal respect. “Cosmic Slop” is one of the greatest songs of all time, but you wouldn’t be able to tell that from this performance. He’s been on a farewell tour since 2019 and I’m glad I got the chance to see him one more time. But I won’t be sad if he retires for real now.

Continue reading Riot Fest 2023: We’re All Alright

New Micky Dolenz: Shiny Happy People

Video: Micky Dolenz – “Shiny Happy People”

Directed by Micky Dolenz and Andrew Sandoval. From the Dolenz Sings R.E.M. EP, out November 3 on 7A.

Well at least it’s not “Everybody Hurts.” And actually, Dolenz’s cover of REM’s second-worst song is considerably less annoying than the original. The arrangement (by Mike Nesmith’s son Christian) isn’t as cloying and saccharine. It’s still a dumb song, but that’s alright; some of the best songs in rock and roll are dumb (e.g., “Louie Louie,” “Surfin’ Bird,” etc.). It works!

The other three songs on the upcoming EP are “Radio Free Europe,” “Man on the Moon,” and somewhat unexpectedly “Leaving New York,” a 2004 single that failed to chart on the Hot 100. Dolenz says, “Once again, this EP reaffirms my long-held conviction that a solid recording always begins with solid material. You don’t get much more solid than R.E.M. What a joy to sing these classics and honor a team of outstanding writers.”

Michael Stipe says, “Micky Dolenz covering R.E.M. Monkees style, I have died and gone to heaven. This is really something. Shiny Happy People sounds INCREDIBLE (never thought you or I would hear me say that!!!).” Peter Buck adds, “I’ve been listening to Micky’s singing since I was nine years old. It’s unreal to hear that very voice, adding new depth to songs we’ve written ourselves, and inhabiting them so completely.”

The video compiles footage pulled from Micky’s personal archives, which Monkee guru Andrew Sandoval has been excavating for a new book: I’m Told I Had A Good Time: The Micky Dolenz Archives, Vol. 1, available for pre-order now. It’s 500 pages of “photography, artwork, handwritten lyrics, scripts and assorted ephemera” from Dolenz’s collection, spanning 1945-1978 and containing more than 1200 images. Sounds incredible. I own The Monkees: The Day-By-Day Story from the same publisher and it’s worth every penny.

Micky Dolenz: web, bandcamp, amazon, apple, spotify, wiki.

Rock and roll can change your life.