New Madi Diaz: Nervous

Video: Madi Diaz – “Nervous”

Madi Diaz - "Nervous"

Directed by Jordan Bellamy. Single out now on Anti-.

Cool song with a beefy guitar tone and conversational vocal delivery. That’s my jam.

The line “I have so many perspectives I’m losing perspective” reminds me of the old Steve Taylor lyric: “You’re so open-minded that your brain leaked out.” Sometimes I miss being a kid who is absolutely convinced that I know everything about everything. I made a crack the the other day about losing my critical faculties but I’m not sure it was a joke. It used to be so easy to dismiss stuff out of hand, without putting any real effort into it. All the stuff I hated so thoroughly as a 16 year old (e.g., Grateful Dead, Whitney Houston, NASCAR, tofu), I can appreciate now and some of it I even like.

When you can no longer bring yourself to hate things, how are you supposed to define what you actually like?

I don’t know if any of that has anything to do with what Madi Diaz is singing about.

Diaz says, “You know when you hold a mirror up to a mirror and you get an infinite amount of reflections from every angle? That’s what ‘Nervous’ is about. It’s when you’re in a loop of looking at yourself from every vantage point until you’re caught up in your own tangled web of bullshit. It’s about catching yourself acting out your crazy and you’re finally self aware enough to see it but you’re still out of your body enough and curious enough to watch yourself do it.”

“Nervous” is her third single for Anti-. No word yet on a full-length album.

I Can’t Dance

“Did you hear that Genesis is touring?”

A friend called and asked me that. He knew that I’d have little interest in that. But it was good to hear from him, as the pandemic has meant that we’ve not seen one another for many, many months. He is a fan of what he, and presumably Martha Quinn, affectionately refers to as the “Big 80s,” which I suppose is a bit of nostalgia that we could all benefit from nowadays. (Nostalgia for something, not necessarily the 80s.)

“I thought Phil Collins was near dead,” he continued, not making some sort of ageist comment but being completely serious about it.

That led me, later, to a search that took me to British tabloids. As a lede in the Mirror has it in a story published earlier this year: “The master drummer has been plagued by agonising health issues for a decade, starting when he injured a vertebrae in his upper neck while performing in 2009.”

The poor bastard has suffered from all sorts of health-related issues, perhaps the most troubling for a drummer, master of otherwise, is nerve damage to his foot, which was caused by the surgery to fix his neck. This condition is called “foot drop,” which, according to the Mayo Clinic: “If you have foot drop, the front of your foot might drag on the ground when you walk. Foot drop isn’t a disease. Rather, foot drop is a sign of an underlying neurological, muscular or anatomical problem.” Collins was to have performed at the Royal Albert Hall in 2016 yet had to cancel two dates because he had gotten up at night to go to the bathroom while staying in a hotel and took a header due to the foot drop, which led to a brief hospitalization. And you might have imagined that being a rock star is glamorous. Yes, those “agonizing health issues” did lead him to do some serious drinking, which evidently he now has under control.

So while the 70 year old walks with a cane and has had one of his kids fill in for him on drums, he is apparently not “near dead,” because I suspect the tabloids would have been making that point in massive headline type.

Still, it seems as though the man going out on tour is a definition of, dare I say (prepare to groan), “against all odds.” (When is it time to quit?, I wonder.)

Continue reading I Can’t Dance

New ME REX video: Heart of Garbage

Video: ME REX – “Heart of Garbage”

ME REX - Heart of Garbage (Radio Edit)

From the Triceratops/Stegosaurus EP, out now on Big Scary Monsters.

This is what we used to call “college rock” and it’s great. The lead guitar tone reminds me of my beloved Sinatras and the clever lyrics are delivered by Myles McCabe in a delightful South London accent.

And if you feel like I do maybe I can help you through this
Don’t be afraid, don’t be ashamed of what you need to keep you sane
Tell your head I said I hate the weight it gives to the mistakes we made.

How can you not love that? Come on.

Via fortherabbits.

New Kings Of Convenience: Rocky Trail

Video: Kings Of Convenience – “Rocky Trail”

Kings Of Convenience - Rocky Trail (Official Video)

From Peace Or Love, out June 18 on EMI.

Back in the Great Sellout Wars of the early 2000s, the Kings of Convenience were one of the bands I would bring up to demonstrate that a television commercial could indeed turn someone on to good music. Their song “Toxic Girl” was used in an ad for something or other where a young person was on a bus, longing for someone. That’s all I remember now. I just spent about five minutes trying to find the spot online but failed.

The way it worked back then was we would hear a cool song, search the internet for who it was, and then download a 128mbps MP3 via Napster or Audiogalaxy. Later, when we stumbled across the cd in the used bin, we’d buy it for six bucks, and if we really liked the whole thing, we’d be sure to pick up their next album on release day. If the band ever toured we’d go see them, and if they had cool merch we might even get a shirt.

It seems naïve now, but at the time we believed that filesharing would ultimately lead to more revenue for musicians. And maybe it did for a while there when people (like us) still bought physical media. Streaming obliterated this system. But that’s another story.

Back when Kings Of Convenience released their last album, 2009’s Declaration of Dependence, there was no streaming. “Album downloads” were still a big thing that was on the rise. It’s a different world now, but you wouldn’t know it from listening to their new single. It’s got that same breezy grooviness that first caught my ear when I saw the ad with the kid on the bus. It’s not really bossa nova but you can imagine a Getz/Gilberto cover of any of their songs, including this new one.

The video features a single, continuous shot of the duo and some friends hanging out in an extremely Scandinavian apartment. Totally on brand and wonderful. Made me realize how much I’ve missed these guys. Let’s say we give them one more time, one last chance to speak again…

Kings Of Convenience: web, insta, bandcamp, amazon, apple, spotify, wiki.

New Liz Phair: Spanish Doors

Video: Liz Phair – “Spanish Doors”

Liz Phair - Spanish Doors (Official Music Video)

From Soberish, due June 4 on Chrysalis.

It’s great that Liz Phair has reconnected with Brad Wood, who produced Exile, Whip-Smart, and a most of the best songs on whitechocolatespaceegg. In the liner notes for Girly Sound to Guyville, Phair talks about how unlike previous producers she had tried to work with, Wood “wanted to make a record the way I wanted to make a record. [Wood and engineer Casey Rice] didn’t want to tell me what to do.” Which is why the music they recorded together is so distinctive; the guys didn’t try to tell “the girl” that what she wanted to do was wrong.

I remember hearing that the reason her early songs sound so weird is that she didn’t know how to play guitar when she wrote them and was just making up chords on her own by putting her fingers wherever they sounded cool. If that’s true, it’s awesome.

The quirkiness of youthful experimentation doesn’t last forever, especially when you have major label honchos breathing down your neck, but that’s why after finally being “released” from Capitol Records, 2010’s Funstyle was such a welcome change of pace (even if half the songs were ridiculous).

But now she’s teamed back up with Brad Wood and the three songs we’ve heard so far from their collaboration are giving us a picture of what this new phase is like. It’s mature but not boring. There’s still a playfulness in the production. There are familiar “classic Liz Phair” guitar tones, but nobody’s trying to recreate Wicker Park in the 90s.

The best song on Exile, “Divorce Song” was written at least five years before Phair got married and this new song, dealing with a similar subject, is coming out twenty years after she got divorced.

Phair says, “I drew inspiration from a friend who was going through a divorce, but the actions in the lyrics are my own. I relate to hiding out in the bathroom when everyone around you is having a good time but your life just fell apart. You look at yourself in the mirror and wonder who you are now, shadows of doubt creeping into your eyes. Just a few moments ago you were a whole, confident person and now you wonder how you’ll ever get the magic back.”

I don’t know if it’s ever really possible to fully get the magic back. But if you can manage to keep on keeping on, and every once in a while grasp a little bit of the magic you once possessed, maybe that’s good enough.

We’re all grownups now. It’s probably greedy and unrealistic to expect to be able to rekindle whatever it was that seemed to come so easily when we were young. But it can be fun to try.

Audio Adventures

Although the Amboy Dukes were originally organized in Chicago—which is a bit of an exaggeration because people in Chicago don’t consider Arlington Heights to be Chicago any more than they do Schaumberg—the band is better known as being from Detroit, one of the groups that had its heyday in the late 1960s along with a raft of others, including the MC5, SRC, Frost, Up, and the Bob Seger System (although purists would put “the Last Heard” in place of “System”). The first-named continues to resonate given that it had profound effects on bands that made it to a far greater extent than it ever did; the last-named has become known in relation to the Silver Bullet Band (good for him; bad for music; arguably “East Side Story,” “Heavy Music” and “2 + 2 = ?” are cuts that people should still go to school on; the later stuff: it works well in movie soundtracks).

(A digression: although it began in earnest in the early 1960s, Motown had a more lasting effect on Detroit—and music—than the aforementioned bands. It is incredible to think that out of a studio on West Grand Boulevard in Detroit (now a museum) music from the Supremes, Temptations, Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Martha and the Vandellas, the Miracles, and others was produced. One might argue that from 1961 to 1971 there was a true musical Renaissance in Detroit, the likes of which has never been bettered.)

The Amboy Dukes had one hit, “Journey to the Center of the Mind,” which was released in 1968 and was the Midwest version of a genre that came to be known as “Psychedelic Rock,” something that should have been left to the likes of Moby Grape.

The most notable sound on “Journey” was the lead guitar playing by Ted Nugent.

It would have probably been better for everyone (with the exception of the Nugent family members) had he decided to hang it up after that searing 3:11 single.

But he is still here.

Continue reading Audio Adventures

It’s All About the Ecosystem [Money]

Because once you get in, it is ever so hard to escape

Apple Music recently released a statement about how it pays artists for streams, which positions the company as being more, um, generous than, say Spotify.

There’s this: “While other services pay some independent labels a substantially lower rate than they pay major labels, we pay the same headline rate to all labels.” Let’s face it, there are plenty of artists whose music you’re interested in that aren’t on the majors (a statement I can make with some confidence given that you’re on this site), so why should they get any less attention because of the company that their music happens to be distributed by?

This one is the kicker: “While royalties from streaming services are calculated on a stream share basis, a play still has a value. This value varies by subscription plan and country but averaged $0.01 for Apple Music individual paid plans in 2020. This includes label and publisher royalties.” Admittedly, you have to have one ginormous number of streams in order to have enough money to order a beer at your local bar.

But when there are other companies that are paying money at rates that are so complicated to work out that you might as well spend your time calculating a variant proof for Fermat’s Theorem, a penny is something that can be readily understood.

This gets into the tricky category: “Apple Music paid out royalties for more than 5 million recording artists around the world in 2020, over 1 million more than in 2019. The number of recording artists whose catalogs generated recording and publishing royalties over $1 million per year increased over 120% since 2017, while the number of recording artists whose catalogs generated over $50,000 per year has more than doubled.”

If we break it down it says there were four million artists on Apple Music in 2019, and now there are 20% more. But the part that is a bit obfuscatorial is the fact that while there is a large percentage increase in the number of musicians who have earned over a million dollars since 2017, not knowing how many made a million in 2017 makes that increase a mystery. That is, if there were 100 in 2017, the 120% increase isn’t a whole lot, which is the same case for the doubling of the $50,000 earners.

Continue reading It’s All About the Ecosystem [Money]

New Lou Barlow video: Over You

Video: Lou Barlow – “Over You”

Lou Barlow - Over You (Official Video)

Video by Lou & Adelle. From Reason to Live, out May 28 on Joyful Noise.

Sure, there’s a new Dinosaur Jr album out today, and everything we’ve heard from it so far is awesome, but hey, Lou Barlow’s got a new solo album on the way as well, so check out the new song. (And they called us the slacker generation!)

Barlow says the leadoff single “came from the general longing of my teenage years” and it’s “based on one melody and lyric fragment I captured on cassette back in 1982 or so. In 2019, I decided to resurrect and expand this nugget for my ‘Artist Enabler Series’ for Joyful Noise. I used some of the original lyrics: ‘I knew everything about you. I knew nothing about you’ and built on that feeling, the phrase ‘over you’ became the chorus. I recorded the basic tracks for the new version onto cassette in an attempt to mimic the atmosphere of the original.”

It’s Lou’s specialty to pack a lifetime of emotion into a two-minute pop song. The longing, the regret, that feeling of being haunted by memories. People tell you to “get over it” but there are things it’s impossible to get over; some memories are just an intrinsic part of your being.

“When considering the video I talked to my wife, Adelle, about things in our lives that we’ve never been ‘over.’ We moved from California six years ago, a place that we both loved. We started compiling home videos from our times living there (17 years in my case) and scenes from some 80’s movies that were filmed in LA. When we combined the footage it seemed to work with the song.”

It works!

New Lucy Dacus: Hot and Heavy

Video: Lucy Dacus – “Hot & Heavy”

Lucy Dacus - "Hot & Heavy" (Official Music Video)

Directed by Lucy Dacus and Marin Leong. From Home Video, out June 25 on Matador.

A powerful new song by the great Lucy Dacus with a video featuring adorable old home movies. Home Video, not coincidentally, is the title of her upcoming album.

“I thought I was writing ‘Hot & Heavy’ about an old friend, but I realized along the way that it was just about me outgrowing past versions of myself,” explains Dacus. “So much of life is submitting to change and saying goodbye even if you don’t want to. Now whenever I go to places that used to be significant to me, it feels like trespassing the past. I know that the teen version of me wouldn’t approve of me now, and that’s embarrassing and a little bit heartbreaking, even if I know intellectually that I like my life and who I am.”

“I knew I wanted to include some of the home video footage that my dad took of me while I was growing up. I wanted to visualize the moment when you first reflect on your childhood, which I think can also be the moment that childhood is over. For me, I feel like there was a hard switch when I started releasing music, when my identity went from being a personal project to something publicly observed and reflected. I asked my family (shoutout to my grandma) and some of my closest friends to be extras because they’re the people that knew me before that switch. I may have dropped out of film school, but I still love making movies and had a really fun time directing this one.”

Continue reading New Lucy Dacus: Hot and Heavy

New Bill Callahan video: Cowboy

Video: Bill Callahan – “Cowboy”

Bill Callahan "Cowboy" (Official Music Video)

Directed by Anthony Gasparro and Mikey Kampmann. From Gold Record, out now on Drag City.

Callahan is one of those artists where I’ve liked every song I’ve heard by them but I don’t own any of their albums because their discography is so large and I don’t know where to start. You’d think that the ease of streaming would solve this conundrum but for dingdongs like me, having immediate access to everything only compounds the issue.

Back in the day, I would stumble across a CD in the used bin for $6 and just pick it up and start there. Allow synchronicity and kismet to set the path.

But it’s been a while since I’ve been to the record store, and besides, the knowledge that I could just go home and stream anything puts up a mental barrier that stops me from pulling the trigger. So instead I just end up buying another copy of one of those Rolling Stones ABKCO SACDs that I pick up whenever I see them. It’s a problem.

So here’s another great song from another Bill Callahan album I don’t own. Maybe I’ll start with this one and work backwards. That’s a good idea. That’s a plan!

Callahan told Apple Music that “Cowboy” is “kind of nostalgic for the way TV used to be. There would be a later movie, and then later there was a late, late movie. If you were staying up to watch that, it would usually be after The Tonight Show. That meant something. It meant you’re up pretty late, for whatever reason. You might be being irresponsible, or you might just be indulging yourself. Now that TV is on demand, I don’t think anyone really watches late-night shows at night anymore—they just watch the highlights the next day. So on one level, it’s about that loss of sense of place that TV used to give you, because it was a much more fixed thing. And that kind of correlates to watching a Western, because that’s about a time that is also gone. I was just thinking about that, the time of your life when you can just watch a movie at two in the morning.”

Trying to fit it all in
Before the test pattern and the anthem
And off to bed you go, and off to sleep
And off to dream that trail you ride.

Ride along, little doggies. Ride along.

Bill Callahan: web, twitter, bandcamp, amazon, apple, spotify, wiki.

Rock and roll can change your life.