A cool new song about riding trolleys with his dad. This is from Robyn Hitchcock’s upcoming self-titled album, due April 21 on Yep Roc.
Part of the problem when a band like Gang of Four releases a record as life changing as 1979’s Entertainment! is that everything that follows in its wake runs a greater risk of disappointment.
Keeping that in mind, it’s not hard to balance the time and distance between a new Gang of Four record and that acknowledged classic. In the three decades since, we’ve seen the band fall out of fashion somewhat, while giving birth to a few, easily identifiable youngsters who replace communist Cliffs Notes ideals with tailored suits and Xbox deals.
MP3: Autumn Defense – “Back of My Mind” from Once Around, due November 2 on Yep Roc.
Autumn Defense is the puss-pop (“70s AM gold”) side project of Wilco’s John Stirratt and Pat Sansone, and this is their fourth album. You know what you’re getting yourself into when the press release calls it “the thinking man’s easy listening.” The craziest thing about this band is that they tackle the genre without irony. It’s like a summer breeze…blowing through the jasmine in your mind…
The big news with Paul Weller‘s tenth solo album is that it finds him working with bassist Bruce Foxton on two new songs, and as any real Jam fan will admit, this is probably as close to a Jam reunion as we’ll ever see.
The story behind 2/3’s of the Jam collaboration is, unfortunately, based in tragedy: Weller recently lost his father and Foxton his wife. The good news is that loss has not only prompted Weller to rekindle with former bandmates, but to reconnect with the sounds of his past to create an audio scrapbook that has him creatively moving forwards.
“My faith has been sure inspired / I’m schooled in the textile time,” Weller declares right out of the gate, hinting at the fire under his ass as of late and the impressiveness of his wardrobe collection.
Good old Robbie Fulks offers up a ten-step guide on how to be miserable as a professional musician. A couple of my favorites:
4. Treat the grubby menial/muscle aspects of the profession — driving and repairing vans, hauling gear, arguing with promoters, delivering grinning Gene-Kelly-like performances under punishing or humiliating conditions — as the province of someone else, someone less creative and fragile than yourself. […]
9. Take no time to reflect on who you are, what you do well, and how best to present this to strangers — just do whatever comes to you, which is by definition art, seeing as you are an artist and all.
If you haven’t had the chance to see Fulks in concert, you really should. He puts on one of the best shows you’ll ever see. And he’s recently released a collection of 50 MP3s for $35 or $1 each. I hadn’t heard about it until just now, but I’ll be checking it out. It seems to be an experiment in whether or not “you can sell home-recorded music independently, from a laptop, and make money.” Let’s hope he makes enough to keep recording and touring, because he’s awesome.
I took some heat a while ago for saying that Sloan‘s quest to sound like the Beatles was bordering on parody. Never Hear the End of It had some totally cool songs, but I still think that too many Fab elements leave you sounding more like the Rutles than the Beatles.
So, did the Canadians take my advice and dial back the Liverpudlian a bit? Not really, but for some reason it works this time. Maybe it’s that the songs are better, or maybe it’s because I am in deep into another of my frequent Beatle deep dives. I don’t know, but I like this album MUCH better than the last.
Album opener “Believe in Me” kicks off with some tasty guitar strums that are what Class A amps were made to create. Backed up with some Marc Bolan-like drums, “Believe” delivers three minutes and eighteen seconds of boogie and a healthy dose of snark. It’s the best opening track for Sloan since One Chord to Another’s “Good in Everyone” and that’s saying something!
When I first heard Marah‘s music, I was surprised I had never heard of the band anywhere. But after spending some time with it, I’ve come to the conclusion that it was perfectly fitting. In fact, I could picture them as a traveling bar band in the days before big media, working the towns from saloon to saloon, performing their original material to the bone on the lonely road, and killing it, and getting some peripheral appreciation for it, but still mostly hearing the echos of the drunkards dancing, who just want them to play their particular roots take on the days’ greatest hits. They’re a red-headed stepchild, but worthy of whatever level of cult status they enjoy.
Part of the problem is that their popular/supported era of musical identification has passed them by. They more easily identify with forebearers like the Boss or Seger than anyone else; those who are woefully out of fashion by most indie-identifying music-heads, despite the best efforts of the Arcade Fires and Hold Steadys to make that kind of rootsy, personal-narrative-based music relevant again.
Yes, it’s certainly unfortunate that those who enjoy heartfelt, visceral rock like Marah’s do not control the radio stations or blogs of the nation’s corporate cultural elite, but don’t let their brand of eclectic brilliance pass you by without giving it a listen. I’ve never failed to be impressed on many levels with their songwriting, impeccable production, and ear for wrapping the past into the present with such easy looseness.
When you think about it, Nick Lowe deserves the holy title that he bestowed himself on Jesus Of Cool. Christ uttered “Forgive them, Father” as he hung upon the cross while Lowe merely shrugged “So it goes” as he spun his wheels in the pub circuit for half a dozen years with no real commercial success to show for it. Both men are fine examples of patience and grace and both men have prompted more than a few disciples.
It wouldn’t be enough for Nick to lay down a few tirades about his experience. Instead, he channels his bitterness and his well-honed chops into a timeless solo debut that’s been thankfully re-issued and wonderfully expanded, paving the way for another generation of power-pop Gideons.
At 68 years old, the very notion that Ian Hunter is still making rock records is pretty impressive in itself. Shrunken Heads demonstrates that not only is Hunter making rock records, he’s making some very good rock records too.
Good humored, honest, and still musically spry, Hunter will probably never receive the respect that’s due him, which becomes even more unfortunate once you hear how impressive Shrunken Heads actually is. Masterfully alternating between up and mid-tempo rockers along with a few of Hunter’s notoriously well conceived ballads, Shrunken Heads is the epitome of what constitutes a late-career highpoint. It rivals the revered records that his most obvious peer (Bob Dylan) has been doing on his last three releases. And to that point, I think Shrunken Heads is way better than Modern Times.
It all started with the Soft Boys. Somebody made me a copy of their odds ‘n sods collection Invisible Hits, an assortment of leftovers so good that other bands would be proud to call them the main course. My Maxell cassette of that album got so many spins that I nearly wept when it eventually got destroyed in the car stereo of a friend. This was before Robyn got a major label deal with A&M Records, you understand, so Invisible Hits was totally out of print and the friend that made the copy, well, like your pot dealer in college, he was long gone.
Add to this, a chick that I really thought I had a connection with, a music hipster no less, mentioned that she really liked that album after I played it. So like a schmuck, I found a tremendously priced import copy of the album and, are you sitting down, gave it to her as a Christmas gift, an action that haunts me to this day, especially considering the emotional guillotine that is falling in love with someone more than they actually love you.
I stitched my head back on when I found another copy for myself and christened myself a Robyn Hitchcock disciple. He sang songs to me that sounded great stoned and they sounded just as good sober, although the words became a tad more warped.