Sunday, March 29, 2009

Morrissey--Carnegie Hall, New York City

Tonight I completed my two leg tour of aging solo superstars who used to front great bands at historic venues. The first was David Byrne at Radio City. Tonight was Morrissey at the very fancy Carnegie Hall. Because it was my first time at Carnegie hall, as it was my first time at Radio City weeks ago, I got there early to look around. Turns out there's not all that much to look at, so I found my way to my seat pretty quickly. My seat was great--I was in a box in the first row of the first balcony and felt a little like Newland Archer crossed with the King of England. It was a little strange at first being in a box with eight strangers, but when the music started it was completely normal. The opening band, the unfortunately named Courteeners, were a solid and very predictable British five-piece. The kind of band you know is from Manchester before they tell you they're from Manchester. The audience seemed to dig them--their lead singer has a nice voice and they had some good songs. I didn't like them enough for any follow-up listening, but I could see fans of bands like Coldplay and Travis checking them out.

Morrissey and the Tormentors came on stage shortly after the Courteeners finished up. Morrissey was dressed, hysterically, in a tux, I assume because the venue was so fancy, while the Tormentors looked like the Hives circa 2005 in black shirts with white ties. The band played a little intro and then broke right into "This Charming Man," which was spectacular. As I found that the music at a Morrissey show is kind of secondary to the event, I'm not going to spend much time on the actual tunes. Moz played through most of his new album Years of Refusal, which I love, and, I believe, a lot of songs from his more recent solo albums. I'm not too familiar with his solo catalog beyond Vauxhall (off of which he played nothing) and the new one, so there was a lot of stuff I didn't recognize. At my count, he played four Smiths songs, all of them great: "This Charming Man," "Ask," "Death of a Disco Dancer," and "How Soon is Now." He seemed to be in good spirits throughout the show as he danced with his microphone cord and worked the stage. His band, especially the drummer, did an excellent job.

He did a little interacting with the audience as well. At one point, he held the mic down to the front row and asked people to say something intelligent. One lady told him that she loved him, another asked him what we should do about the economic crisis (he didn't know), and another explained that he once broke his neck at a Morrissey show. Thanks, Professor Buzzkill! Morrissey also shook hands with a bunch of people in the front row of the crowd throughout the night. One in every twenty or so fans refused to let go, prompting security to pry their hands apart. A couple fans tried to rush the stage causing one security guy, whose eyes were peeled like Mike Singletary for the entire two hours, to intervene. Two sweaty shirts were thrown into the crowd causing small scale riots in the first few rows before, I assume, they were torn to shreds Ayatollah death shroud style. Immediately after he threw the first shirt into the crowd, he brought Sebastian, the baby on the cover of Years of Refusal, on stage to say hello. Then he threw Sebastian into the crowd to be torn to shreds as well.* Perhaps the funniest part of my night was when a lady sitting next to me offered me her binoculars to "see up close how sweaty" Morrissey was. She seemed surprised when I declined.

While the setlist was far from perfect for my taste, the show was great. I can't imagine seeing Morrissey perform in a more apt venue. The man's voice still sounds wonderful and deep after all these years and, despite lyrics to the contrary, he seemed happy.

*Or maybe he didn't throw the baby to the crowd. He definitely brought him on stage though.

--Jim Powers

Thursday, March 26, 2009

NQL's Top 50 Deserted Island Albums, Part 3: Just When You Think You're Out, We Pull You Back In!

Ladies and gentlemen, Part 3 of NQL's Top 50 Deserted Island Albums. The first week six of us chose five albums that we would like to bring along to a deserted island. The second week we all chose five more. This week each of us gets to eliminate two albums chosen by our idiot brethren that we want no part of. Each choice had to be defended, which, as you will see, could constitute a one-word response from Mr. Powers, or a rant from Audrey that tells us she probably won't be hanging out with Holly, Charlemagne, and Gideon anytime soon. In the comments section, we will each vote for two outcasts that we wish to remain on the island, but each contributor is forbidden from voting for any of their own albums that were shunned. The two albums that receive the most votes will be allowed to stay, and we'll be left with 50. Those will be posted next week. But alas, the fun starts now.

Alex Crisafulli
Bob Marley - Babylon By Bus (chosen by Scott): Since we're looking at a 5:1 ratio of guys to girls on this island, it would probably be best to refrain from any music that might promote some sort of Rastafarian lifestyle.

Wire - Pink Flag (chosen by Brian): I like Wire, sort of. But two albums from Wire is excessive. In choosing between Pink Flag and Chairs Missing (Jim's pick), the first thing that came to mind was "I am the Fly" from Chairs Missing. I've always liked that song. Therefore, Pink Flag gets the heave-ho. Sorry, Brian.

Brian Herrmann
The Beatles - The White Album (chosen by Scott): If the consensus seems to be one album per band, I'll take Abbey Road's cohesion over The White Album's bombast any day.

Beethoven - Symphonies 3, 5, & 9 (chosen by Scott): There's no room for classical music on my island. Also, I feel like picking on Scott.

Travis Newman
Ween - Chocolate & Cheese (chosen by Scott): I appreciate Ween's ability on this album (or is it their entire schtick? I'm not sure) to successfully mimic many different genres. However, I never want to hear that creepy spinal meningitis song EVER again in my life, let alone have it be one of the approximately 500 or so songs we would have to listen to on our island.

Belle & Sebastian - Tigermilk (chosen by Audrey): I'm sorry, I just don't like Belle & Sebastian. Maybe it's because they always remind me of that shitty cartoon from which they take their name? However, it's more likely because I cannot stand their music.

My tribe has spoken.

Jim Powers
The Walkmen - Bows + Arrows (chosen by Audrey): I love the Walkmen and this is a good album. But if we're only taking 50 albums, two from this band seems a little excessive and I'd rather have You & Me. This doesn't mean that I have a problem with taking two albums from any artist though. Also, I might have to smuggle a copy of "The Rat" to the island somehow if this one gets cut.

Gillian Welch - Time (the Revelator) (chosen by Scott): Eh.

Scott Rudolph
Don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out...

The Smiths – Louder Than Bombs (chosen by Travis): I was thinking that one of the good things about being stranded on a desert(ed) island would be not having to ever hear Morrissey's pouty, pretentious little whine ever again.

Okkervil River – Down the River of Golden Dreams (chosen by Audrey): One Okkervil River album will suffice, I think. And if we must pick one to stay, let us choose the one to with fancy strings and the like (Black Sheep Boy).

Audrey Wen
The Hold Steady – Boys and Girls in America (chosen by Alex): Can't stand them. I have given them quite a bit of play time, trying to understand their appeal and I just don't get it. I dislike the way Craig Finn talks/sings, pumps his fists, rolls up his blazer sleeve and dress shirt. I don't like Boys and Girls in America, save "Southtown Girls." I also hate that they use the article "the" in their name. It reminds me of "The Brigham and Women's Hospital," like they are the greatest things on earth. Also, isn't it grammatically incorrect? An article before a command? Maybe I'm slamming the band more than the album, but these guys just don't do it for me, if that's not already abundantly clear. I'd gladly give up any of my ten albums to never hear this band again.

Michael Jackson – Off the Wall (chosen by Audrey): I pick my own album, Michael Jackson's Off the Wall to emphasize my point about the Hold Steady.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Feelin' Half Right: Why Do I Listen to What I Listen to in the Morning?

I woke up this morning and knew I was in the mood for Ted Leo. I opened my iTunes, found “Me and Mia” from Shake the Sheets, and utilized the Genius button. While making coffee, the second track Genius delivered was “16 Military Wives” by the Decemberists. I wasn’t feeling it. I wanted to hear Ted Leo, so I went back and just started Shake the Sheets from the beginning (which of course meant listening to “Me and Mia” all over again, but that’s okay.)

What I find interesting is that I wasn’t thinking about Ted Leo when I went to sleep the night before. (I guess that would be kind of weird if I was.) But upon waking up, I knew almost instantly what I wanted hear. This happens to me quite often. I never go to bed thinking “I know exactly who I am going to listen to tomorrow morning,” but in the morning, I just know. Now, I don’t know what subconsciously happens over the span of six to seven hours of sleep I usually get, but nevertheless, 90% of the time I wake up ready to rock, and know which specific artist is going to deliver the goods. (The other 10% of the time, I go with “Shuffle.” )

Sometimes it will be a new album that is currently whetting my appetite. Lately that would be Middle Cyclone by Neko Case, which means I’m using the phrase “ready to rock” a bit liberally. I’ve found it can be connected to literature. I’m reading Chuck Klosterman’s Fargo Rock City right now, usually before I fall asleep. I would be a fool to think that my neighbors shouldn’t have blamed Klosterman when they were awakened at 7 a.m. this past Monday to Van Halen’s 1984 emanating from my place at a volume that completely violated any standards of human decency. (I have 1984 on vinyl, and while I am by no means a vinyl snob, it just seems that records always have to be played loud. Also, 1984 is badass. That helps.) Another time I remember having a dream about someone I knew awhile ago, when I awoke I was reminded of a band, and that band was played.

But that’s pretty rare, I usually don’t remember dreams, and if I do, they don’t serve as a catalyst for an early morning soundtrack. The other examples are a bit more valid but also seldom. Usually this phenomenon (is this a phenomenon, or am I being way too analytical about what I feel like listening to while I brush my teeth?) is completely unexplainable, which is why I find it so perplexing.

This could all have something to do with my chemical mood. I am a morning person by nature. That’s when I do my best work, and usually when I’m in my best mood. Someone once asked me why I am so happy in the morning and I explained it like this: When I wake up, I’m always under the impression that there is potential for greatness, but usually around 11 a.m. I realize “Nope, just another day,” and then it’s a slow slim slide into monotony until I go back to sleep. But never mind that, point is, I wake up with a purpose. I’m ready to get the day started, above Neko Case example notwithstanding, this means I usually need something loud and borderline abrasive. In other words, get out of my way Joanna Newsom and make room for Silkworm and the Sex Pistols. The day has begun! (There’s a good chance I have never listened to the Sex Pistols after I’ve had lunch.)

Other rules I seem to adhere to: It has to be music I know, but I can’t know it too well. So this eliminates any record I’d be listening to for the first time, or for the thousandth time. It can’t be too depressing like the Magnetic Fields’ 69 Love Songs, or something overtly happy, like the Magnetic Fields’ 69 Love Songs. The loud stuff mentioned above like Silkworm and the Sex Pistols, along with acts like the Jesus Lizard, are all fine right when I wake up, but when I leave my place and head for the Metro, things seem to shift and I need something a bit more subdued. I’ve found Rogue Wave’s Asleep at Heaven’s Gate to fill this slot nicely. It’s gentle and refreshing, but not morose.

And you see, this is a time where I need to be calculating, but not belligerent. Calm, but not sluggish. I view the morning commute as a battlefield, and everyone else, with the exception of perhaps a random cute girl, is my enemy. (If a random cute girl commits an unpardonable sin of the early morning commute, such as standing on the left side of the Metro escalator, she will be bumped into the “enemy” category. This will be done with ease.) These people are enemies only because they are merely obstacles of my initial goal at hand, which is to get to work. That might sound strange to some people, but I like my job. However, I have been the same way for jobs I have had in the past that I didn’t enjoy. I don't know if never being late for places I don’t even want to be at in the first place is a good quality or not. I'm sure there are very reasonable arguments on both sides, but that’s for another day.

In fact, all of this “commute” nonsense is for another day. The purpose of this post was to try and figure out why out of the approximately 10,000 songs in my iTunes, I usually know precisely what I want to listen to the very instant I wake up. If others experience this, I would love to hear about it. Maybe the ultimate answer to this quandary is in the paragraph above, but I would like to think there is something unknown and metaphoric at play. In all likelihood, there isn’t. But tomorrow when I wake up, there will still be a band that is mysteriously playing in my brain, and probably not a minute will pass before they are playing on my stereo. Yep, just another day.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

NQL's Top 50 Deserted Island Albums, Part 2: The New Batch

This is Part 2 of our journey to the Top 50 NQL Deserted Island Albums. The ground rules were laid out in Part 1, but just to recap, six NQL contributors are now laying down ten of their essential albums that they would like to have along if they were stranded on a desert(ed) island. Last week we each presented our first five. This week, the next five. Stay tuned for next week (or perhaps the week after that since Audrey is at SXSW and not checking her NQL Blackberry as she was told) where we each vote two undesirables off the island. That's when things will get messy and fun. But until then, here is our second round of deserted island albums:

Alex Crisafulli
Beggars Banquet – The Rolling Stones
Clouds Taste Metallic – The Flaming Lips
Highway 61 Revisited – Bob Dylan
The Midnight Organ Fight – Frightened Rabbit
Tim – The Replacements

Brian Herrmann
Electric Ladyland – The Jimi Hendrix Experience
The Low End Theory – A Tribe Called Quest
Kill the Moonlight – Spoon
Pink Flag – Wire
Stop Making Sense (expanded edition) – Talking Heads

Travis Newman
Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain – Pavement
Lonesome Crowded West – Modest Mouse
Mclusky Do Dallas – Mclusky
Tago Mago* – Can
You & Me – The Walkmen

Jim Powers
Chairs Missing – Wire
Chutes Too Narrow – The Shins
Closer – Joy Division
Kid A – Radiohead
Sung Tongs – Animal Collective

Scott Rudolph
Babylon By Bus – Bob Marley & the Wailers
Maggot Brain – Funkadelic
Swordfishtrombones – Tom Waits
Symphonies 3, 5, & 9 – Ludwin van Beethoven
Rabbit Songs - Hem

Audrey Wen
Bows + Arrows – The Walkmen
Down the River of Golden Dreams – Okkervil River
Furnace Room Lullaby – Neko Case and Her Boyfriends
Heartbreaker – Ryan Adams
Weezer (the blue album) - Weezer

*This album was chosen when it was collectively decided that Use Your Illusion I & Use Your Illusion II by Guns N' Roses could not count as one album.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Bonnie "Prince" Billy--Buskirk-Chumley Theater, Bloomington, Indiana

I went and saw me some Bonnie "Prince" Billy last Thursday. It went like this:

Azita, a piano/vox solo artist, a Fiona Apple type except shitty, opened and underwhelmed. Her songs were just OK, employing some decent turns of phrase, but my mind wandered during her set. Only her penultimate song stuck out and I don't remember its name. I got the feeling like she really wanted to belt, just let loose and sing to the back of the room, but she couldn't. Ah, well. Sometimes you eat the bar, and, well, sometimes you have to listen to Azita for 30 minutes. Lady sure could pound a beer, though, and that's alright.

Begushkin, the "eastern influenced" second act led by Something Smith, were quite enjoyable after the borefest that was Azita. And I suppose they were kind of vaguely eastern influenced, if "eastern influenced" means "fingerpicked guitar." Regardless, Begushkin were very good--interesting songs and song structures/arrangements, evocative lyrics, a three-guitar attack: picked, strummed, slide. Also, the drummer was excellent and the slide guitarist had an outstanding beard and looked like Levon Helm. Their stage presence was a bit off-putting, though. It didn't feel as though they were enjoying themselves--particularly frontman Smith. They weren't engaging performers--no chatter, no banter, no thank yous, nothing until Tightshirt Giantscarf Smith said "thankyouverymuch" right before they left. Perplexing.

And then came Bonnie "Prince" Billy to play a set shot through with God and bodily things, harmony and humor. He started with four-odd songs from the forthcoming Beware, which were pretty great, possessing a happy/satisfied vibe. From the sound of things, Beware picks up mood-wise where Lie Down in the Light left off. Then came my favorite part: "the grimly humorous portion of our set," i.e., the established, known songs, which included an astonishing "Strange Form of Life", "Love Comes to Me", a couple cuts from Ease Down the Road (an album I am not familiar with), and a clutch of songs from Lie Down: the title track, "(Keep Eye on) Others Gain" (what a great tune--complex thematically, simple musically), "You Remind Me of Something (The Glory Goes)", "Easy Does It" (to open the encore), "I'll Be Glad" (the dopest), and "For Every Field There's a Mole". My absolute favorite moments of the show came toward the end, when Oldham and violinist/vocalist Cheyenne Mize duetted/genderfucked on what I think was a cover whose refrain was along the lines of "the girl in me/the man in me." What made it great fun was the gender switcheroo (Mize sang the "boy" parts, Oldham the "girl" parts), and the tacit acknowledgment that even the burliest dudes have some frill about them. Plus Oldham and Mize had a nice Gram/Emmylou thing happening.

Some notes about Oldham's backing band. In addition to Mize's adept fiddling and harmonizing, the group is filled with intuitive musicians: Emmett Kelly on guitar (tight), Josh Abrams on upright bass, and, a special treat, Jim White on drums. It was really cool to watch/hear White drum. He is as animated as anyone I've seen behind a kit, and his loose, improvisational style is something special--and worked fantastically with Oldham's later material, particularly that from The Letting Go and Lie Down in the Light. White doesn't seem like a drummer as much as he seems like the impression of a drummer, and his work brought a spectral quality to the set that was oddly anchoring. I just blew your minds.

Then on Friday morning the Bonnie Prince played an in-store at Landlocked, so I dipped out of work with my office mate and partook. The six-or-so songs included "There Is No-one What Will Take Care of You" (interpolating the first verse of "Jack and Diane" just for us Hoosiers), and a smattering of others, and that was it, despite a request that he "do, like, a ten-song medley." In all, the in-store was rad because it was free, impromptu, relaxed, and generous. Among the 50-ish attendees were some old people and a couple strollers. Will Oldham: Kid friendly since 2009.

--Brian Herrmann

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Album Review: Neko Case - Middle Cyclone

Neko Case
Middle Cyclone
Rating: It will go far in the tournament.

The nomadic, ginger-haired songbird moved to a dilapidated Vermont farmhouse to record Middle Cyclone and enlisted the help of some heavy hitters, including fellow Pornographer Carl Newman, M. Ward, and Calexico’s Joey Burns. This is an album that creatively does not venture far from her classic, moody, dark tones, but will haunt you down to your inner core nonetheless. Additional unique contributors to the album included Vermont crickets in “Marais La Nuit” and six lovely, old, unwanted pianos salvaged from Craigslist, rehabbed and brought back to life in the Harry Nilsson cover, “Don’t Forget Me.”

She throws it all on the table in the opening track, “This Tornado Loves You.” With lyrics like “Carved your name across three counties/Smashed every transformer with every trailer/So I pick them up and crash them down/Cuz I miss how you'd sigh yourself to sleep,” you know she’s ready to let it wail, she’s not going to apologize or take it back. She writes with such intense imagery - of swirling cyclones bearing tender love, of vultures lulling you to a safe but dark sleep. It’s simultaneously unsettling and charming. It’s that dangerous seduction of loneliness, an apocalyptic collision between beauty and absolute bone-crushing destruction.

The poppy “People Got a Lotta Nerve” scrapes what’s left of us off the floor as she embraces the inner man-eater by delighting in an unsuspecting man. In the liner notes for this song there is a cartoon of a killer whale sucking down a can of beer in hunting gear. This is the most lighthearted track of the album, albeit one large cannibalistic metaphor.

The title track gets a nice snug spot in the middle of the album. “Middle Cyclone” is a stripped-down, tender, confessional of a proud lover being undone composed of a simple trio of voice, music box, and a guitar. It is followed by the wobbly, atonal “Fever” which makes novel use of a Hawaiian guitar and then my personal runaway hit of the album, “Magpie to the Morning.” It’s a dark lullaby, a cautionary tale told by a magpie of a deceptive vulture and mockingbird. In this song, the vulture scoffs at your noble cause: “Run an airtight mission, a Cousteau expedition / To find a diamond at the bottom of the drain.” I heard bits of this track months ago in a story about the album before it was released and its tantalizing opening measures whetted my appetite for this album like a bell rung for Pavlov’s dog. I would have bought the album for this song alone without hesitation.

The final tracks of the album allude to submission and resolve. In “Pharoahs” she aches for something that never happened which ultimately results in concession with “I want the pharaohs, but there’s only men” (I hear you, sister). But rather than concluding in some clarity or forging a new direction, she finishes in a lateral move. She resolves in “Red Tide” to keep on truckin’ as if to declare that she has traversed every emotion, laid them out from track one to thirteen and now she’s packing it all up and moving on. While maybe not exactly redeeming, it reflects the overriding tone of the album. It’s not heroic. Instead it’s bitter and rough. But there’s a palpable beauty in that, and when it’s all over, she takes stock in what remains and is not ashamed of her scars.

At first Middle Cyclone didn’t grab me and get that “holyf*ckingsh*t this is awesome” response that I got with Furnace Room Lullaby and Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. At best it seemed like a middle of the pack record. But as I give it more play time, I realize that this is vintage Neko Case, circa a time that we all recognize, when we foolishly sabotaged our own opportunities or when we were too proud. She just makes our vices sound so cool because she likens them to tornadoes and sings in a voice with the most haunting richness I’ve ever heard in my lifetime. Miss Case has brought down yet another fine kill, and it deserves to be given a whirl in an audio player in a living room near you.

--Audrey Wen

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Interview: Edward Nolan Reyes of The Little Ones

As we reported a week or two back, California band The Little Ones is currently on tour supporting their splendid album Morning Tide. Even after one our contributors was an unwelcomed intruder in their green room at Park West, lead singer and guitarist Edward Nolan Reyes was still nice enough to answer a few questions via email about Morning Tide, and what might be next for the band.

NQL: How much of Morning Tide was written when you realized you were being dropped by Astralwerks? And how worried were you about the state of the band, and music business, in general?

Edward Nolan Reyes: Morning Tide was already completed and already had a release date on Astralwerks. So it was a bit of a shock to find out that we were being released from the label. It was unfortunate since we really enjoyed working with all the people at Astralwerks. I think we were all a bit concerned about what was going to happen next. As everyone knows, the music industry is in a state of flux and you just don't know what's going to happen next. Luckily, Chop Shop Records came along and were very excited to release Morning Tide.

NQL: Morning Tide to my ears is a pretty great summer record. Especially the title track. Summer is festival season. Therefore, it makes sense to me that you guys should be playing a few festivals this coming summer. Shall this be the case?

ENR: Unfortunately, we have no summer festival appearances this year. We did a bunch last year here in the U.S. and in Europe. It would be nice to perform in the summer. It's our favorite time of year.

NQL: The Little Ones went from touring with the Walkmen to playing shows with Brett Dennen. That’s a bit of a musical shift. What was the main difference between the two tours?

ENR: I think the obvious difference is the type of music. The Walkmen are the ultimate indie rock band and a bit esoteric. Brett Dennen is probably a bit more accessible for the normal concert going audience. I think you have to prove yourself a bit more when you are playing in front of the Walkmen's audience. Brett Dennen's audience's welcome you right off the bat. Both were great experiences and both band's were great.

NQL: At your somewhat recent Chicago show, a contributor for NQL snuck into the green room and pretended to belong and chatted you up a bit. After telling you guys that he enjoyed your set, he said he felt genuine appreciation for the comment. Is that a product of still being somewhat blown away by the fact that you’re touring the country in a rock band, and making albums? Is the level of success you’re currently experiencing something that was envisioned when the band formed a few years back? (He also wanted to know if Red Stripe was the requested beer or if that was just standard green room beer.)

ENR: So he wasn't supposed to be there? Where's security when you need them? Just kidding. Every show and every opportunity is a blessing for us as a band. Most bands don't even get a chance to play outside their city so when you get a chance you must cherish every moment. Everything that has happened to us so far is way beyond what we envisioned. We are just grateful to be in the position we are in. Red Stripe is not normally on the rider so it was a pleasant surprise that night in Chicago.

NQL: Have you seen this cat? Thoughts?

ENR: That is the most creepiest thing I have ever seen. Is that for real? Did someone do something to that cat? That's just not right.

NQL: The standard comparisons for the Little Ones seem to be the Kinks and the Shins. Nothing wrong with that. But who are your actual influences? And are there any particular bands you’d like to tour with?

ENR: The Kinks are definite influence on us. We are deeply influenced by the music of the Motown era, Tropicalia music, and music from The Band. I think the common thread is that we are fans of pop music as an art form. If you look at these genres or band you'll notice that a great deal of attention was spent on song structure, melody, and rhythm. This is what excites us when we listen to the bands that influence us. We'd love to tour with the Flaming Lips. I think that would be the ultimate tour for us.

NQL: Another standard comment about the Little Ones is that your music is overtly happy, especially Morning Tide. Is this all just a ruse before you guys pen the greatest and most depressing break-up record since Blood on the Tracks?

ENR: Who knows? We didn't consciously set out to write a overtly happy record. It might just be in our blood since we are all from Southern California. We don't really know what the next record will sound like. I guess it will be whatever we are feeling at the time. As long as it is very honest and real.

NQL: Speaking of that, the last track “Farm Song” slows Morning Tide down just a bit. Was this strategic planning, kind of a nice rest after the party that just unfolded?

ENR: We wanted to end the record with something a bit more slow and subdued. That's why we opted for that version of Farm Song. The original version is more upbeat and used our traditional band set-up.

NQL: Any big plans for the band in 2009?

ENR: I think our main goal is to start writing and recording a new record. I think we'll be off the road for a while so we'll just hunker down in our rehearsal space and see what happens. We want to make something special and hopefully we can accomplish that.


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

NQL's Top 50 Deserted Island Albums, Part 1

If you ever listen to Sound Opinions on Chicago Public Radio, you know that at the end of each episode either Greg Kot or Jim DeRogatis pick one song to be added to the "desert island jukebox." (When we were discussing this post, Jim Powers actually came up with a strong point in that the correct term should probably be "deserted" and not "desert," but whatever.) Basically, one of them picks a song that every music fan would not, or should not, want to live without.

Well, NQL is going to spend the next few weeks doing something of similar vein. Only we're going to focus on albums. Here's how it's going to work:

  • For this week, six of our contributors each picked five albums they would want to bring to the island. We posted the albums in a thread on Gmail on a first come, first served basis. Therefore, if one person had already picked an album, it could not be chosen by anyone else.
  • Next week, we're all going to once again choose five albums. That will bring the number to 60 albums.
  • The third week, each contributor is going to vote two albums selected by others off the island. They will have to add a brief sentence or two to show cause as to why they could not handle the idea of being on the same island as such-and-such album. At this point, personal insults involving the album, the band that is responsible for said album, and the contributor who thought to bring along the album will not only be tolerated but strongly encouraged. After this is done and friendships are destroyed, the albums will have been whittled down to 48. Now, in the comment section of this particular post, each contributor will select two albums that were banished that they wish to remain on the island. Contributors will not be able to vote for any of their own albums that were told to piss off. The top two vote-getting banished albums will be allowed to stay. That will bring the number of albums to a nice, even 50.
  • The fourth week we will post the official NQL Top 50 Deserted Island Albums.

So as you see, we're basically ripping off Sound Opinions, only with a little bit of Lost, Lord of the Flies, and a few episodes of the old television show Benson mixed in as well. We have no idea why we were sent to this island, nor why we all had the foresight to pack our favorite albums. Nevertheless, we're hoping at least one of them will help fight off scurvy. And now that the rules have been explained, here is our first round of deserted island albums:

Alex Crisafulli
Astral Weeks by Van Morrison
Black Sheep Boy by Okkervil River
Boys and Girls in America by The Hold Steady
On Fire by Galaxie 500
Siamese Dream by Smashing Pumpkins

Brian Herrmann
Double Nickels on the Dime by Minutemen
I See a Darkness by Bonnie "Prince" Billy
In the Aeroplane Over the Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel
Laughing Stock by Talk Talk
Stankonia by Outkast

Travis Newman
Ænima by Tool
Here Come the Warm Jets by Brian Eno
London Calling by The Clash
Louder Than Bombs by The Smiths
The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust by David Bowie

Jim Powers
Abbey Road by The Beatles
Aqualung by Jethro Tull
The Futureheads by The Futureheads
OK Computer by Radiohead
Perfect From Now On by Built to Spill

Scott Rudolph
Chocolate and Cheese by Ween
Doolittle by Pixies
Songs in the Key of Life by Stevie Wonder
Time (The Revelator) by Gillian Welch
The White Album by The Beatles

Audrey Wen
At Dawn by My Morning Jacket
Off the Wall by Michael Jackson
Tidal by Fiona Apple
Tigermilk by Belle & Sebastian
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot by Wilco

Sunday, March 8, 2009

David Byrne--Radio City Music Hall, New York City

Last week marked two firsts for me. It was my first time seeing a show at Radio City Music Hall, and my first time seeing an older artist play solo without his once-great band (I will see my second such show, Morrissey, in a few weeks). I got there right when the doors opened so I could explore the place a little bit and enjoy a nine-dollar Heineken. The historic art deco building is just what I expected - it probably used to be very grand and beautiful, but is now only kind of grand and beautiful due to years of use, but still with loads of character. About three dollars worth of my nine-dollar Heineken was frozen.

I made way to my seat, which was pretty far stage right but almost front row, about 10 minutes before the show was supposed to start. The crowd seemed to be a mix of people in their mid to late 40s and people like me, which makes sense due to the Talking Heads' '80s popularity and '00s resurgence. It was a little strange being at an assigned-seat concert alone. I generally prefer going to concerts solo, but at a GA venue, you can kind of walk around and be a little more inconspicuously by yourself. At an assigned-seat show, it’s pretty obvious to those around you that you’ve gone stag. I wasn't sure how to act: whether to stand up, whether it was kosher to walk around, etc. I figured I'd take cues from the rest of the room.

David Byrne appeared on stage sans opener at about 8:30 in a white suit matching his shock of hair. The smaller-than-I-thought-it-would-be backing band (two percussionists, three singers, bassist, keyboardist, three interpretive dancers - not kidding) was similarly dressed. With the exception of a few songs when the dancers broke out some distracting props, the stage arrangement was simple and effective: people, instruments, and a riser for some of the band, forcing the focus sharply on the performers and the music. Byrne gave a little opening speech saying that he was going to perform mostly songs that he made with Brian Eno, that he hoped no one was disappointed by this, and that people could take pictures if they wanted. Then he began the set with "Strange Overtones."

While the first four songs were solid, the show didn't turn spectacular until Byrne played "Houses in Motion" from Remain in Light (produced by Eno). At the end of that song, the crowd offered up about a full minute standing ovation that seemed to humble and surprise Byrne. I'm not sure if that ovation affected the set list at all, but after "Houses in Motion," Byrne switched from playing mostly Eno/Byrne songs to about a 50/50 split between Eno/Byrne and Talking Heads songs. The highlight of the night was "Born Under Punches," my favorite Heads song and the one I most hoped he would play. "Burning Down the House" was also, of course, awesome and featured Byrne and the band in tutus surrounded by about 20 ballerinas who broke out the Rockettes' kick-dance in honor of the venue.

It was an amazing show. Byrne still has that great voice and seemed to really enjoy himself. My only complaint is that the sound mix was a little off - it was too quiet and you could hardly hear Byrne's guitar. But that complaint is minor relative to the quality of the rest of the concert. I went in hoping to enjoy the Eno/Byrne songs that I was not familiar with and to be treated with a couple Talking Heads hits. I ended up enjoying the Eno/Byrne songs very much and got 5/9 of Remain in Light and "Burning Down the House." I could have used "Psycho Killer," but that would have been asking too much. After the show, almost everyone had a smile on their face as they left the building, myself included.

--Jim Powers

Photos by Jim Powers

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Neko Case to Fans, Indie Stores: F*** You

Do NOT buy the new Neko Case record. At least, don't buy it at Best Buy. I was at one of the few independent record stores in DC looking to buy Ms. Case's latest, Middle Cyclone. They didn't have it. The reason? Her label, ANTI-, struck up a deal with the IKEA of consumer electronics to buy and distribute the album in mass volume. Best Buy is now selling the album for $7.99. This sale will be going on for two weeks. This would be fine if it wasn't for one thing. In those two weeks you probably won't see Middle Cyclone at most decent record stores because right now ANTI- is offering to sell it to independent record stores for $11.99. Therefore, if they wanted to compete with Best Buy, they'd only have to lose $4 a pop. Not bad, huh? Some people are going to laugh this off as not a big deal, something that happens all the time. Well, let me just say, it's usually not this extreme ($7.99?!), it doesn't happen all the time, and it's a growing trend amongst labels and artists that want the "cred" of being under the "indie" umbrella, but don't want to act the part. Given their past, I was surprised Pitchfork and some of the other outlets haven't reported on this, but then I remembered they tend to protect the artists they like. So shame on you, ANTI-. And shame on you, Neko Case. Rest assured, we'll have more on this soon. But I wanted to get an emergency red-faced rant in first. Now that I have, let me leave you with this quote from the queen pornographer herself:

"I hope I can comfort people a bit—maybe show people that making music is fun and accessible to them as well. I'm not out to become Faith Hill, I never want to play an arena, and I never want to be on the MTV Video Music Awards, much less make a video with me in it. I would like to reach a larger audience and see the state of music change in favor of musicians and music fans in my lifetime. I care very much about that."



Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Album Review: Studio 1 - Studio 1

Studio 1
Studio 1
Rating: An ameliorative for slackers.

My life is out of order. Working too much, drinking too much, keeping odd hours, not sleeping or exercising enough, not eating right, beard down to my chest. In short, I have lost focus. One of my goals this year is to get my shit together and halt The Great Thickening of 2008. And I have found a soundtrack in Studio 1, a collection of 12" records by Studio 1, aka techno luminary Wolfgang Voigt, co-founder of Cologne's venerable Kompakt label.

The collection, out of print since the late 90s/early 00s, exudes formalism, rigidity, and discipline through repetition and 4/4 beats, making it ideal for early mornings on the stepmill or evenings in front of the computer. Which is not to say Studio 1 is boring. Quite the opposite: It's hooky and engaging (even tense), it pushes the bounds of minimalism, and subtle shifts layer upon one another so that over time, creases unfold and variance reveals itself.

One of Voigt's preferred modes of expression on Studio 1 is addition by subtraction. On "Red"**, for instance, a little synth bloop (that's the best I got) that at first scans as nothing more than a time-keeping mechanism eventually is subsumed by the rest of the song. You forget it's even there until it's removed entirely, leaving only bass, snare, and hi-hat. When Voigt reintroduces the bloop (you come up with something better) about a minute later, the effect is stunning, focusing your attention like a laser during the last third of the song. "Blue" employs similar methods, but from the opposite direction: drum fills and basslines you hadn't noticed before appear from the ether (check the drum break around 5:00), and effects pop up and repeat in one stereo channel or the other. Elsewhere, the deep bass, the shifts in pitch, and the clicks/glitches of "Rose" congeal into a razor-sharp whole; and the positive bounce of "Silver", with its various permutations of the hi-hat, is the liveliest cut on the album.

The overall effect of Studio 1 is to keep the listener in suspense, waiting for a big payoff that never really happens. Don't confuse "lack of a payoff" with "unrewarding," though. This album's rewards are plentiful given time and patience, or even passivity. In many ways the album can be perceived as ambient in that it "accommodate[s] many levels of listening attention" and is "as ignorable as it is interesting." Your attention ebbs and flows, but never dissipates. Insistent without being demanding, Studio 1 is the rare techno album that's suitable to any imaginable context. Except maybe sleeping.

**Note about due diligence: I'm using the song titles (e.g., "Red", "Yellow") as they appear in my iTunes. However, research indicates some discrepancy with respect to the track listing. The original Studio 1 12" releases were untitled and differentiated by colored vinyl. Kompakt lists six tracks comprising the original Studio 1 pressings and this reissue. The album in my possession, though, includes ten tracks, four of which were previously unreleased. Resident Advisor clarifies things . . . kind of. My decision to use the "colored" song titles, while perhaps not entirely accurate, reflects my experience with this music.

--Brian Herrmann

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Brett Dennen, The Little Ones--Park West, Chicago, Illinois

The Magic Ticket Fairy sent me some tickets for the Brett Dennen show with The Little Ones at Park West. (Thank you, Ticket Fairy.) First, I must say that Park West is an unbelievable venue. Classy, casual, intimate, good viewing, hardwood floors. If you get there early, you could score a good seat in Vegas style booths set up all around the room. If you get there late, you can stand in the front. It seemed like the type of place VH-1 might tape some sort of Rod Stewart – The Stories of the Music, the Hair, Sexual Escapades, and an Absurdly Unlikely Success special. Like the kind of place that you could put a bunch of candles on the table and have An Evening of Music with Seal with Chuck Mangione.

We (my wife and I) went down and sat on the floor in the front and soon The Little Ones came out and started their set. Everyone on the floor remained seated, because it was not that crowded yet, and I think people liked the summer camp feel of sitting on the floor in front of the stage. After two songs, lead singer Edward Nolan Reyes asked the crowd if we would be so kind as to stand up. It was posed as a favor to him, but I think he knew that this was good advice for us as well as it would better suit the consumption of the music. He was correct. After the request, the crowd immediately went from watching a band to having fun with a band.

Before getting tickets to the show, I had heard of but not yet heard The Little Ones. After listening to their first full length album, Morning Tide, on Heavenly Recordings, I was quite excited to hear the band live. The CD is tightly crafted, with a loose, washed, well produced guitar pop that makes you want to be driving down the road with a blinding sun shining in the distance, a blue sky, reflecting on the goodness of that particular moment. After seeing them live, it is refreshing to see that the happy-vibe which is the backbone of the album is legitimate. It is not a sonic shirt that they put on to look good for a crowd or because it is the sound they seek to put on an album. These guys are smiling, having a good time playing, and I got the sense that the blissful mood they produce is organically created from their experience.

During Brett Dennen’s set, I was coming back from a trip to the men’s room and realized that the door to the greenroom was just off the hallway. I decided to test the age old theory of “If you look like you know what you are doing, people will not question you.” Amazingly, it worked. I walked in the door and directly towards a chair at the table as if it was already mine. The Little Ones were enjoying some beers and the company of friends. While finishing my beer, compliments of being in the greenroom, I mentioned to frontman Edward Reyes that I really enjoyed their set, not really intending to start a conversation, but simply wanting to share this small but genuine sentiment. He was excited to hear so, and we chatted a bit about the tour. Before this tour, they played with The Walkmen, so this has provided a different context for their music, one a little less ready to rock (that’s right, I said “ready to rock”) from the outset. I think you can tell a lot about where a band is and what they are doing by the way in which they respond to the comment, “I really enjoyed your set.” Here it was a conversation starter, because the band is still really connected to the music, the experience, and the opportunity to play live. This came through in their music and performance of it.

I look forward to their next album as the current one is the kind that gets pleasantly lodged in the brain. You find yourself singing one hook here, then another hook there. Then you realize that they are from the same song. Theirs is generous, well done pop that doesn’t rely on one moment in a song to make it special. Definitely the type of music that gets better around the third listen as the textures of production and music come alive after the pleasantness of the vocals reluctantly steps aside to reveal the other things happening. I have no doubts that these guys will continue to enjoy playing every night of the tour and that if the crowd is willing to stand up, they will enjoy it with them.

Brett Dennen is touring in support of his new album Hope for the Hopeless with Dualtone Music Group. It has a much fuller sound and is a departure from the more spacious tracks of his first two albums that relied purely on Dennen’s song craft. But this is they way of the progression of the singer songwriter. Sooner or later, they are gonna get a backing band and gonna get a bigger sound. Dare I say that after many listens, the tail end of the record tapers off into what I can only describe as boring rather than compelling. But it is a high quality boring. And perhaps only is so in comparison to its own highly set bar. But he still has his emotive intimacy that gushes from his tender tenored chords and slyly original writing.

Alongside The Little Ones, Dennen also knows how to have fun on stage and get the crowd going, but his strategy is a little more conventional. Where the Little Ones used their own enthusiasm for the moment and we were excited vicariously, Dennen worked the crowd with cute little dances that make the girls fall in love, synchronized arm waves, and sing-alongs that make the people feel a part of the moment. None of it felt campy. Dennen succeeded in bringing the joyous feeling of his music into the concert experience.

While I was back stage with The Little Ones, apparently Dennen went to great length to reprimand my inattentivness while I took leave of his show for a moment. During my absence, he played the song “The One Who Loves You the Most,” and then asked the crowd if they had ever been in love and asked “who loves you the most?” Dennen and the crowd had a big, fat lovefest and celebration of love. My wife, instead of sharing this nice moment with me, shared it with a room full of strangers. I will get you, Brett Dennen. I can only assume you took my absence as a personal affront to your set. You are a clever and vengeful man.

When I came back though, the crowd was electric. He had moved into a new, loud, light, and happy part of the evening. He is hard not to like. He is honest, his songs have swing, catchiness, and cleverness. Authenticity, relevance, and timelessness. He is obviously doing what he loves and inviting us into it to. He is the kind of guy you root for. I had this feeling when I first heard him on World Café back in 2004. He will be around for awhile and I am anxious to see where his music takes him. His music has stepped more into the sounds of world music and it has served him well, be it teaming up with Femi Kuti, or co-writing a song with The Wailers. While I still enjoy the stripped down Dennen better, he is growing as an artist and pushing into new directions and provided us a great night of music that showcased both his sounds.

--Scott Rudolph

Photos, even the ultra-hip blurry one, by Scott Rudolph
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