The Heat is On

So it’s 80 degrees here in Detroit, which means a lot of things. Like, summer is here, and the time is right for… listening to bad bar bands covering Jimmy Buffet on the deck at some cheesy restaurant? Please, not that.

Summer should mean that it’s time to head up to Pine Knob or Val du for some great outdoor rock and roll. But alas, that ritual seems to have died with the lp. (Or it died when I got that reckless driving ticket in Mears?) Or perhaps, more accurately, I’ve just gotten old enough that the only sort of music that really gets my rocks off happens in a bar. When I’m drunk. When they’re drunk. It costs about $5 plus whatever it takes to get my head in the right mood. (Editor’s note: Tickets to see, ahem, Chicago this summer are over $40, not including parking.)

Problem is, going to a bar in the summer to see a band, if not one of the aforementioned parrots, is often the equivalent to “making weight.” Sure I want to lose about 20 pounds, but not in one night and not by sweating. A guy the other day in a local band and gave me further motivation to skip the bar band scene for the next few months: “Most good bands don’t tour in the summer because it’s too damn hot.”

I do have high hopes for the Detroit Electronic Music Festival (I may even have a hotel party), but other than that, the soundtrack to my Summer in the City is going to have to come from my record collection. There’s much to do in the summer and I’m glad it’s here, but I’m going to miss the action and the ears ringing in the morning.

How many years?

There’s a silly article on Slate.com about how rock and roll flourishes every 12 years. According to the author 1967, 1979, and 1991 were abnormally good years for music, and therefore, we can expect another high point in a couple of years.

Looking casually at my Desert Island discs (which I’m already completely unsatisfied with, by the way), I noticed that none of my picks were released or recorded on any of those years. I’m too lazy to go through everybody else’s picks and determine when the good years were, but if someone else wants to do it, feel free.

I think the overall flaw with Geoff Shandler’s theory is that great music has been written and performed and recorded and released every single year. And a lot of it. Sometimes (often) the great records don’t sell a ton and they don’t make it to the charts or to the radio, but they’re out there. It may be hard to find them, but they’re around. The current state of music is pretty great. I’ve picked up some great albums recently. The fact that the radio stations play a bunch of crap and MTV doesn’t show videos anymore only means that we have to work harder to find the good stuff.

The web can help. Along with legally dubious means such as Napster and good old-fashioned FTP, there are tons of legitimate sites that have songs available to stream and/or download for free. I like Listen.com and it’s always my first stop when I hear about a band I want to check out. If they don’t have anything there, I resort to CDNOW for audio samples or to Napster to see if anything’s out there.

And don’t forget about your local, independent record stores. As long as the guys behind the counter aren’t snotty punks, they will usually have a few current releases to recommend. And they should even let you listen to it before you buy it. Get to know them. Let them get to know you, and I guarantee their recommendations will be more suited to your taste than anything a computer database can come up with.

Good music is available now, and it’s always been available. Go out there and find it. I just picked up the new Me First and the Gimme Gimmes record and it’s a hoot. Non-stop fun. All covers of 60’s songs. Maybe not for everyone, but I smile every time I listen to them roaring through Cat Stevens’ “Wild World.”

New Pornographers: Cat-Scratch-Ewan

Given that the ol’ Spring Fever has spread so far through our lives here in Chicago that I got supremely soused at my man Phil Wise’s house last Sunday and had to leave work early the following day due to “exhaustion” (hey, if it’s a good enough excuse for Matthew Perry…), I have been listening almost exclusively to power-pop opuses since my late-Monday recovery. (Aside to Mrs DeEtta Kambick, my grade school librarian: Sorry about the run-on sentence.)

And my record of choice? Mass Romantic by The New Pornographers.

Mass Romantic by the New PornographersIt’s not like they’ve been at it as long as The Knack. NP was assembled, Justice League style, out of a hodgepodge of Vancouver scenesters whose day jobs include the bands Zumpano, Destroyer, and Limblifter. Bloodshot Records stalwart and owner of huge voice Neko Case is even along for the ride on 2 or 3 numbers. Mass Romantic (Mint) has only come to fruition after years of thinking about it, and only then between the other projects of its members (shit, Neko Case lives in Chicago. And that’s nowhere near Vancouver!). Chris Newman is NP’s main cheerleader. While his work in Zumpano has always been a more, ahem, baroque approach to pop, the music here is pure, uncut pop/rock demon weed (can you smell it?). You’ve got your rolling drum fills dropping down into power chords, no less than five-part harmonies, and plenty of snappy songwriting that moves the album along on its fuzzy, sugary tip. Think The Tremeloes fucking around with Weezer’s guitars.

Ballads? New Pornographers aren’t having it. You’re not going to find the sequel to “Heaven” on Mass Romantic, even if Bryan Adams is from their hometown. The straightforward rock of “Letter From An Occupant” or “My Slow Descent Into Alcoholism” plays like music made without pretense, and without the intervention of a greasy A & R dude who “doesn’t hear a single.” After all, NP is compiled of artists who release their records on labels like Mint and Bloodshot. The freewheeling individuality that independent labels offer their artists is soaked into Mass Romantic’s pure pop fiber; it gives the album’s vocals that smiling sound that can only come out of musicians doing what they totally dig.

One of the best things about the set is that it’s Canadian. I’ve never been a huge fan of our Northern neighbors’ musical output. It’s always one step away from Christian rock. The aforementioned Adams, Barenaked Ladies, Our Lady Peace? If they have mullets in Canada, you’ll surely find them at these bands’ shows. (What would a Canadian mullet be called? The Northwest Territory? A Canadian Mounty? Yukon Do It? Ah, Never mind…) All of which makes the absurdly catchy pop/rock of Vancouver’s New Pornographers that much more exciting to hear. Who knows, it’s probably just a one-off album, given the bandmembers’ other projects. But this Spring, Mass Romantic is my album to play frisbie to, and somehow it makes my Pabst taste better.

Maybe I should be drinking a Moosehead?…..Nah. PBR me, ASAP.

JTL

Here on Gilligan’s Island

Sure, it’s old and it’s sort of lame, but the idea of compiling your “Desert Island Discs” really makes you think about how you feel about music. This is particularly difficult for music freaks, the kind of people who cherish items as extravagant as the Complete Hank Williams Recordings box set. Still though, it’s an interesting exercise, so I asked the Glorious Noise posse to come up with their Desert Island Discs. Click here to see what kind of hut-buddies we’d be.

And if you want to show us your own list of Desert Island Discs, we created a new topic on the Board. Interact!

Continue reading Here on Gilligan’s Island

Gabba gabba hey, Grey Lady

The “Week in Review” section of the Sunday New York Times is not a straight-up chronicle of what happened during the preceding week; rather, it is a section where some of the key events of the week are essayed. So, for example, the April 22 edition examines the situations in the Middle East and in China; slavery in Sudan and the possible consequences of child care on the development of kids. This is generally serious stuff in the Newspaper of Record.

But there, just below the fold on page 3 of the section, is a photo of Joey Ramone. He died the previous Sunday, April 15. Age: 49. And with the shot is a piece by Jon Pareles, who examines what Joey , Johnny, Dee Dee, and Tommy did to punk in particular and music in general.

The last sentence of the piece is worth pondering:

“If the Ramones had been, at first glance, a joke, they turned out to be the joke the conquered the world.”

And a joke that got serious run in the Times. Back in ’76, it is hard to imagine such a thing happening. Play hard.

BATTLE OF THE BLANDS

It’s an international power-trio showdown! From Wales, the young men in Stereophonics bring to the table their new album, Just Enough Education to Perform (V2). The challenger? Three dopes from southern California who call themselves Blink-182. You may have seen them running around naked on MTV. Who’s the better band? Let’s find out…

The three young Welshmen in Stereophonics have been around since the late 90s, and have found their brand of Manic Street Preachers-style arena rock to be very palatable to UK ears. Frontman Kelly Jones sounds like Rod the Mod at 2 in the morning after a pack of Dunhills; the music is capable midtempo rawk, crashing riffs sharing space with quiet moments. Throughout their 3-album career, they have been a singles machine, cranking out fist-pumping, pal-hugging numbers with the efficiency of The Army Corps of Engineers. Just Enough Education to Perform (V2), their latest album, is a misstep on the level of Howard The Duck.

Stereophonics are kind of like the UK Blink-182: Three good-lookin’ kids who bash out anthems just serviceable enough to justify their garrulous tour riders. But while Blink has stuck to the same sophomoric pop-punk formula since the band’s inception, Stereophonics – most notably principal songwriter Jones – have decided to become ah-tists, mate. Maybe that’s why their new album stinks like blue cheese.

Blink-182 has never apologized for their utter lack of originality. Their mantra seems to be, “if it ain’t broke, copy it.” “What’s My Age Again?,” the head-rush lead single from 1999’s Enema of the State, is like hearing Tommy Tutone on speed. Who can blame them? “867-5309” was a great song. Blink-182 have since released a string of well-received, completely serviceable rockers that retain the band’s So-Cal, skate punk sense of humor while still selling millions of records. It’s Joke-Punk for the masses, and those boys’re getting away with murder.

Since their appearance on the pop culture radar screen, Blink-182 have gone on to rekease a live album chronicling their recent world tour. I’m sure it’s very nice. Most likely, when a new studio album surfaces, it’ll be more of the same sugar-punk that the trio has become rich playing. And if there’s a “We Didn’t Start The Fire”-esque history ballad in the bunch, I’ll wear a barrel. After all, these are the guys who rhymed “would never make it” with “can’t drive naked.” But Stereophonics? Well, let’s just say Kelly Jones might have been spending some time towing the line on the Downeaster Alexis.

J.E.E.P.‘s “Have A Nice Day” is the kind of decade-per-verse historical rock crapola that no one besides Don McLean has any right to perform. Here, as Jones yaps about Kennedy and The Moon and whatever else, he and his band end up sounding like a Jesus Jones cover band doing their modern rock take on “Right Here, Right Now.” Unfortunately, “Have A Nice Day” typifies what’s wrong with Stereophonics’ new material. With his lyrics, Jones is trying way too hard to be lyrical, man, and you know, make people think about shit, you know? And I really don’t think that’s a good avenue for three young guys from Wales to travel down. The group’s Performance & Cocktails (V2) LP from 1999 struck a balance between boozing, cigarette-smoking rave-ups (“Roll Up And Shine”) and Brit-pop ballads (“Just Looking”). There was no pretense. Songs were about girls, drinking, and drinking with girls, with plenty of influence from Faces and AC/DC. Unfortunately, the bland rock of J.E.E.P. keeps putting shitty Mike & The Mechanics songs in my head. “Can you hear me? Can you hear me runnin’…?”

The band’s new material is probably just up to snuff enough to sell a few tickets to their gigs on the annual UK festival circuit. Even though J.E.E.P’s mediocrity will stink up the joint, “classics” like “Thousand Trees” or “Local Boy In The Photograph” (both from 1997’s Word Gets Around) can carry a crowd. Even when Canadian-Rock-sounding tripe is spilling out of his mouth, Jones’ roughshod voice is still cool, and very Rock and Roll. So that’s something. But he and his mates should really take a page from Mark, Tom and Travis of Blink-182: Less cock, more rock! Crank up the amps, order a round of pints for the lads, and leave the proselytizing and message songs to Billy fucking Joel.

JTL

Fortune & Maltese Leave No Stoned Unturned

Check out the brilliant video for garage rock legends, Fortune & Maltese’s song, “Leave No Stoned Unturned,” directed by Hollywood heartthrob Martijn Veltman. After you watch it, you can rank it from 1 to 10. This one’s an 11.

Video: Fortune and Maltese – “Leave No Stone Unturned”

Leave No Stone Unturned – Fortune and Maltese

[Video embedded 2010. -ed.]

WHO’S AFRAID OF ELENI MANDELL?

Eleni Mandell

Martyr’s, 4/17

WHO’S AFRAID OF ELENI MANDELL?

Me.

Imagine the punk rock offspring of Tea Leoni and Corin Tucker, raised in LA on a diet of PJ Harvey, Tom Waits, and Nina Simone and you’re getting close to what Los Angeles-based singer Eleni Mandell brings to the table. Oh, and did I mention she’s like a lion tamer, whipping her charges with cat-and-nine-tails barbs as hot as the Mojave sun and just as sexy as a desert sunset?

Tuesday night at Martyr’s, Mandell owned the crowd, and only with the power of her voice, solitary acoustic guitar, and sheer presence. With her dark eyes like rubies peering out into the club, Mandell brought to life her dusty, musky tales of love, lust, and the 2K1 human condition.

Her smoky delivery and she-devil lyrics bring to mind the sultry-like-a-fox erotica of a PJ Harvey, but Eleni Mandell is not simply the American version. There isn’t the same rage in her sound. “Too Bad About You” brings together a pretty Lulu/ Brenda Lee vocal with summers-day plucking and a sidelong, knowing glare that keeps the guys guessing. “My Bradbury dreams won’t keep me from seeing the truth,” she sings. “You should have come with me. Too bad about you.” It’s Sci Fi, LA, and lovelorn cock-tease wrapped up in a fish taco package too tough and too dusty for even the shady-eyed fool at the end of the bar who thinks, “Yeah, she digs me.” Watch out boy, she’ll chew you up.

On Thrill (Zedtone), her second album, “Too Bad About You” is followed by “1970 Red Chevelle,” which lets you know that this girl sees right through the big engine posturing of the lost souls driving through the LA night. On Thrill (as well as Wishbone , her self-released 1999 debut), Mandell fleshes out her song stories w/ touches of marimba, percussion, and bass. But the albums retain her live set’s dusky feel, like a mirage shimmering off a desert highway on an all-night drive to Los Angeles and all the potential (for love and loss) that that city harbors beneath its smog.

At times on Tuesday, the vibe was almost cabaret-like, as Mandell’s offhanded sashaying behind her worn acoustic guitar melded with beautiful vocal key changes. Quiet to loud to throaty to sexy all in one measure. The crowd stood silent, enraptured. (Whispered to the barkeep) “I’ll take a Miller High Life, please…” Something needs to cool this room down.

Mandell’s vocals remind me a lot of Paula Frazer, another west coast chanteuse with the ability to move between notes with sultry fluidity. Frazer’s work with her band Tarnation always seemed to be drenched in the light of a distant fire. Both women’s voices conjure plenty of imagery: speakeasy flappers; backroom deals; Americana murder ballads; and the Moulin Rouge on a more wild night. The fact that Eleni Mandell can bring all of this out with only her voice and a guitar proves the ability that left her audience’s collective jaw scraping the floor Tuesday night at Martyr’s.

JTL

Some will never get it

Check this out, the latest idiocy from a company long known for such: “Buick is introducing a new divisional tag line in upcoming television work that breaks this week for the Century. The line ‘It’s All Good’ closes the new spot and begins to appear in print advertising for all Buick brands.”

Yep, you read that right, the new Buick slogan is “It’s all good.” As Pat asked: What’s the dillyo? Was “It’s the shiznit” already taken? Do we get to look forward to cupholders sized just right for a 40? (Eazy, may his soul rest in peace, would be happy— no longer would he be freezin’ his balls.) But really, are we supposed to think that Buick and its HNIC Tiger (the whitest Black man on the planet) are down with the Hip Hop Nation? Will we see the new Buick “G” replace the venerable moniker “GS”?

Is this not the ultimate example of a corporation copping street ‘tude to hawk crap that has nothing to do with the true spirit of that which its marketing usurps? How could it get worse?

At least the fools who fall for Volkswagen’s mixes and are tooling around in new Jettas are driving decent cars.

Rock and roll can change your life.