Monday, November 30, 2009
Albums We Missed, Because We Weren't Born Yet -- Stevie Wonder's Songs in the Key of Life (plus live download)
Last month I posted about Bob Dylan's Nashville Skyline (click here) -- highlighting a poem, of sorts, about Bob Dylan as written by Johnny Cash (who was also featured on the album). With that poem in mind, I tried to scan through my vinyls to discover other gems which you may have missed if you bought the album off itunes.
What I found was the opening passage to a 24-page lyric booklet for Stevie Wonder's Songs in the Key of Life. The album was listed as the 56th greatest album of all time by Rolling Stone, and I am convinced it is the greatest album name ever conceived. I have the collector's album from 1976, and I'm not sure if this opening passage was included in the standard release; but, since the standard album did not contain the lyric booklet, I'm guessing not.
If you didn't already know, Stevie Wonder's birth name was Stevland Hardaway Judkins (later changed to Morris), and this opening passage, written by Stevland, gives nice insight into his Stevie Wonder alter-ego.
Opening Remarks to Songs in the Key of Life (an excerpt):
"I've never considered myself an orator nor a politician, only a person who is fortunate enough, thanks to all of you, to become an artist given a change to express the way he feels and hopefully the feelings of may other people. It is to me a fact that Stevie Wonder is that temporary someone of myself even though we have come to know each other very well and realized because of who he is, the many doors that have been opened may have been closed to myself, Stevland Morris. It is important that you do note permanently in your mind that I do take not a second for granted. For I do believe it is that Stevie Wonder is the necessary vehicle on which Stevland Morris must be carried on his mission to spread love mentalism. In every album that I have and shall do, it is not my goal for that to be better than that and the next to succeed the others, but only that I do and give the best I can at the time of my doing and giving and that only happens because of the dis- or satisfaction that made me want to be a better someone..."
MP3: DOWNLOAD Stevie Wonder -- Live in London (1/31/1974) (click here).
This solid bootleg includes: Intro-Contusion, Higher Ground, Mary Wants to be a Superwoman, To Know You is to Love You, Signed Sealed and Delivered, Visions, Dont You Worry 'Bout a Thing, Living for the City, You are the Sunshine of my Life, Superstition, Encore Jam.
Friday, November 27, 2009
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
If you aren't a fan of mash-potatoes this Thanksgiving, try out these mashups instead -- brought to you courtesy of Super Mash Brothers. The duo, consisting of Nick Fenmore and Dick Fink, have dubbed themselves "Girl-Talk's Hot Cousin," -- and described their work as "taking all of your favorite hits from the 90's and combining them with todays chart topping rap hits in ways scientifically proven to make you shake your ass."
In my opinion, their albums are amateurish compared to Girl Talk -- utilizing far less creative sampling and far fewer songs. Still if you like Girl Talk and continuous track-style mashup albums, you'll definitely like these guys. As always, it's a surefire way to kick off any party.
MP3: Download their latest album, All About the Scrilion (click here).
MP3: Download their first album, Fuck Bitches. Get Euros. (click here).
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Sunday, November 22, 2009
Thursday, November 19, 2009
This, you could say, is a completely inadvertent mixtape. I was just skimming through my music and came to the realization that I have tons of covers by female artists. I tried to siphon out the covers that sound like they should be background for some bad romcom, instead chosing to to pick, what I think, are at least minimally interesting covers that put a unique spin on the songs. Some will probably enjoy it, others will not. I guess that's the nature of the beast ("the beast" being music).
Just in case you listen to this mixtape and feel like you have an increased sensitivity to the feelings of others and/or crave dark chocolate.... I have also posted a live version of Eric Prydz's "Call on Me" -- which should snap you out of it and bring you back to manhood.
Noisettes - When You Were Young (Killers cover)
Sky Ferreira - Animal (Miike Snow Cover)
Ellie Goulding – The Wolves (Act I and II) (Bon Iver Cover)
Bat For Lashes - Use Somebody (Kings of Leon cover)
Sara Lov - My Body Is A Cage (Arcade Fire cover)
Jonna Lee - The District Sleeps Alone Tonight (Postal Service Cover)
Run Toto Run - Sleepyhead (Passion Pit Cover)
Anya Marina - Whatever You Like (T.I. Cover)
Dirty Mittens - White Winter Hymnal (Fleet Foxes cover)
MP3: Download the full Female Covers Mixtape (click here).
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Tied at one a piece entering Round 3 of USA v. World, I decided to finally showcase the match-up that got me started on this whole idea -- Elton John (UK) v. Billy Joel (USA). This is one seems particularly strange, considering that the two musicians are not only friends, but they have been longtime touring partners since 1994 -- creating, literally, the "most successful concert tandem in pop music history."
If we go straight by the numbers, there is no question that Elton John edges out Billy Joel. Even though both musicians kicked off their careers right around the same time (the early '70s), Elton John has sold over 200 million records worldwide -- nearly doubling Billy Joel's 100 million records sold. Both have picked up five Grammys, which I actually found to be surprisingly low; however, John has also picked up an Academy Award, a Tony, and a Golden Globe. Joel's thirty-three Top-40 hits are also a far-cry from John's impressive fifty-six.
While the numbers may be skewed, music is an art... not a science. Being such, quantifiable comparisons (such as records sold) perhaps pale in comparison to unquantifiable artistic accomplishment. Let's consider this single fact: all thirty-three of Billy Joel's top 40 hits were apparently written by him single-handedly. Compare this to Elton John, who has famously collaborated with Bernie Taupin for the past 40 years. In fact, Taupin helped John write lyrics for several (verging on most) of his biggest hits, such as Your Song, Candle in the Wind, Rocket Man, Tiny Dancer, I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues, Sad Songs (Say So Much)... among others. This is a big mark on Elton John's undeniably impressive resume -- because, last time I checked, lyrics, and the ability to form them, is one of the key components of songwriting. (scroll down past video to see winner)
Winner: Elton John. USA 1, World 2.
Monday, November 16, 2009
Sunday, November 15, 2009
Friday, November 13, 2009
Accessibility to good music has never been easier, but it's a shame that unreleased album downloads still require hoop-jumping and diligence (i.e. to ensure the album is accurately labeled, without viruses, etc). Hopefully our Unreleased Spotlight, which will feature both live shows and unreleased albums, will make this process a little easier.
Our first feature is Ray Lamontagne's Acre of Land. This album, recorded in 2001, is full of acoustic, stripped-down gems that you would expect from Ray Lamontagne. I can promise you that the songs are better than the album art.
Here's the tracklist:
1- Acre of Land - 3:14
2- Big Boned Woman - 3:22
3- Get Me A Buzz - 2:51
4- Hobo Blues - 4:12
5- Roadhouse Girl - 3:36
6- Skinny Dippin' -3:31
7- Thinkin' About You - 4:28
8- Back On The Mountain - 3:07
9- Change Your Mind - 2:06
10- Still Can't Feel The Gin - 5:43
11- My Weakness - 2:48
Download Acre of Land here.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
At first glance, when you buy an album and notice that it has bonus tracks, you probably think to yourself "niiice -- the record company and/or band has decided to give me free music! Instead of getting 10 songs for $9.99, I'm getting 12!" As you may remember from an earlier post this week, I love free music as much as the next guy. However, while some may argue that the JFK assassination, global warming, or even the moon landing is "The Great Deception," the existence of the bonus track, in my mind, is truly the greatest deception of all. Bonus tracks are evil creations. I hate them, and so should you. Here's why.
Bonus tracks, by their very nature, are not meant to reward fans. Instead, they are literally created to screw fans-- or at least the good ones. They are a marketing ploy, carried out in various ways, to entice casual fans and punish loyal fans. By loyal fans-- I mean loyal fans of any artist -- even pop-superstars like Lady Gaga or Rihanna.
For starters, if you happen to buy CDs or Vinyls, then you almost never get bonus tracks, even though you often shell out considerably more cash than the people buying the album on itunes. Sure, there are manufacturing costs-- but shouldn't we at least get the same album that someone would get on itunes (since we did, after all, pay the extra $5 bucks to cover those manufacturing costs... plus some)?
I hesitate to even call it an "album" because bonus tracks also distort the ancient principle that an album is a completed, well-deliberated piece of artistic work. Take Weezer's The Red Album for example. The Red Album technically has 10 tracks... but wait! Depending if you bought it in the US, UK, or Japan (and depending if you got the "Deluxe Edition") you might get a staggering 4-5 bonus tracks. If you bought it off itunes, you would get 2 completely different bonus tracks. Fan A, B, and C are all listening to albums with not only different flow, but also different substantive content. Again, there is a reason for this. Companies want to add bonus tracks to releases in foreign countries so fans there will buy from their distributors instead of cheaper western distributors. Of course, this means that even the most casual Australian fan will be listening to songs that the most die-hard American fan didn't even know existed.
By far the worst scenario is when a band releases an album... only to re-release it weeks or months later with bonus tracks. This is a direct slap in the face to all the fans who bought the album as soon as it came out. Not only do they not have the new songs-- but they often have to chose between repurchasing the entire album for a few more tracks or never hearing those tracks at all. I can't even think of any other reason to justify this one-- as I don't believe that creates wider appeal. For example, I don't believe some casual fan, who happened to buy an album 11 months after its release, was really that enticed by a bonus track for a band they were indifferent to anyways.
To alleviate this problem, bands should just release the same album for everyone. That way, no one is punished for buying a specific medium, living in a particular country, or buying it at a certain time. More importantly, the album would keep its artistic integrity. If bands have 1 or 2 tracks that didn't make the cut, they should just give it away on their website. If they have more, they can always release some form of b-sider album or EP (free or otherwise). Bands do this all the time anyways -- e.g. Ryan Adams' Demolition or The Format's B-Sides and Rarities.
Under this practice, the loyalty of fans would directly correlate with the music they get. Everyone, die-hard and casual, would get the same basic album. If there are free tracks on the website, the more die-hard fans will find it and get it (casual fans might also). If the band decides to cut a whole new album with b-siders, then the die-hard fan will gladly pay for it (since it is all new material), while the casual fan won't.
This makes a lot more sense to me at least.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Fanfarlo released their debut album, Reservoir, earlier this year; and, if this album is an even remotely accurate portrayal of their musicianship, then we will be hearing about them for quite some time. The 5 person, multi-instrument band (which even features a Melodica... that can be yours for a mere $33.00) recorded Reservoir in Connecticut late last year.
The band will undoubtedly be compared to Arcade Fire, since the first couple tracks -- especially the intro to its opening track, I'm a Pilot -- sound reminiscent of Arcade Fire's Neon Bible. Alternative Track even ran a review that stated "the album runs out of steam toward the end, but the first few tracks are gold." I couldn't disagree more.
The opening tracks are quality, without question, but it's the last couple tracks that subtly moved this debut album from "above-average" to "exceptional" in my mind. The final track, Good Morning Midnight, is a simple instrumental song that embodies the album's magnetism. It is unpretentious, unassuming, but powerful. Likewise, the second to last track, Finish Line, is probably my favorite song which, like Good Morning Midnight, will be a staple on your ipod-- even though it will likely never be one on the radio.
There are no bells and whistles for Fanfarlo. There aren't any looping samples, autotune vocals, or any other signs of overproduction (in fact, Reservoir was produced by Peter Katis who has worked with The National). This is just good music, plain and simple. You're definitely going to want to buy this album.
Fanfarlo's Reservoir: A
I'm assuming you can't get enough, so here are a few more of songs, including a video, which you should check out.
Monday, November 9, 2009
Most bands will rant and rave about how great their fans are, but in my opinion nothing quite says "thank you" like giving the fans the one thing they love (their music) for the right price (free).
Earlier this year, Coldplay showed their appreciation by releasing Left Right Left Right Left. Just under 4 million people downloaded it in its first week. The Pixies have also recently released a free EP to show gratitude to their fans. Coldplay's album takes live performances from its Viva La Vida tour, and The Pixies' EP contains live songs from their Doolittle tour.
Just for kicks (pun intended), I thought I'd also throw in a link for The Kicks' album, entitled The Rise of King Richie. One of my buddy's sent this along, and to be honest, I haven't given it a full listen yet... but what the heck? It's free.
Download away, and enjoy.
To download The Kicks' The Rise of King Richie (click here).
To download Coldplay's Left Right Left Right Left (click here).
Sunday, November 8, 2009
In case you weren't aware, Bon Iver's Justin Vernon teamed up with Collections of Colonies of Bees to form a new gig known as Volcano Choir. Volcano Choir released its debut album, Unmap, only a few weeks ago... and, with a such a strange/experimental sound, I tried to postpone this review several days just to make sure I could fully absorb it.
After listening to the album in full several times, and in pieces, I can't bring myself to giving this album a favorable review (even though I really do want to). Vernon's falsetto vocals are the same -- always unusual and mostly brilliant; however, Unmap lacks the warmth which made Bon Iver's For Emma, Forever Ago ("Emma") one of the best albums of the past couple years. Bon Iver's follow-up EP, Blood Bank, showed a natural progression in Vernon's songwriting. The track Blood Bank showed good maturation and remains his best stand-alone song (in my opinon) -- with cleaner form and more developed lyrics than most of the tracks on Emma.
Unfortunately, Unmap is one step forward and ten steps back.
The main problem I have with Unmap is that it feels like it was intentionally created to be experimental, hard to digest, and unappreciated by the masses but revered by a select few. Emma, on the hand, felt completely genuine -- which added to its charm. Obviously, I don't know the actual motivation behind these albums, but I can tell you this. Unmap can be a frustrating listen -- even for the most opened-minded fans.
Where Emma created a free-flowing album that often sounded as if it was one track (think Van Morrison's Astral Weeks or Marvin Gaye's What's Going On); this album is brutally disjointed at parts. This album has received good reviews-- so some people clearly like it. I will admit that there are good songs, such as Still -- which takes Bon Iver's a capella track, Woods, and fills it out with percussion and musical undertones. Other tracks, however, such as Mbira in the Morass (posted-below), ruins any flow that starts to accumulate and, honestly, makes me want to throw the entire album out the window (it really is that bad).
Volcano Choir Unmap: C+
Click here to buy Unmap... but you were warned.
Saturday, November 7, 2009
I just bought a vinyl this week, and it contained an insert that said "Long Live Physical Media!" -- which got me thinking. As a way to incorporate physical media into this other-wise mp3/video-laden website, I thought I'd occasionally write about some old vinyls of mine which have cool characteristics that people who bought the album on itunes may not know.
This week's selection is Bob Dylan's 1969 masterpiece, Nashville Skyline. The album features Johnny Cash, on what I consider to be the album's best song, Girl From the North Country. What you might not know if you bought this album off itunes, however, is that the back of album has some kind words (really a poem) about Bob Dylan -- written by Johnny Cash. People just don't write like this anymore.
"Of Bob Dylan" (an excerpt)
This man can rhyme the tick of time
The edge of pain, the what of sane
And comprehend the good in men, the bad in men
Can feel the hate of fight, the love of right
And the creep of blight at the speed of light
The pain of dawn, the gone of gone
The end of friend, the end of end
By math of trend
What grip to hold what he is told
How long to hold, how strong to hold
How much to hold of what is told.
The yield of rend; the break of bend
The scar of mend
I'm proud to say that I know it,
Here-in is a hell of a poet.
And lots of other things
And lots of other things.
-- Johnny Cash
Friday, November 6, 2009
I've got to admit the movie basically sounds like a rip-off of Pearl Harbor. I'm hoping that isn't the case. And, in the movie's defense, the preview looks like the movie takes the situation much more seriously. But it definitely could be. The movie is also directed by Jim Sheridan. For those who have never heard of the director, his older work is relatively decent (In the Name of the Father, In America, The Boxer), but his latest efforts have been far less impressive. Anyone see 50 Cents' Get Rich or Die Tryin'? That was Sheridan. When you put it all together, I really don't have high hopes for this one. But I'll probably go see it anyway solely because of Natalie Portman.
Thursday, November 5, 2009
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
November is here, as is the total 6 o'clock darkness that comes along with it. If you aren't feeling like pumpkin bread and hot cider just yet, then give Pictures and Sound a listen.
Pictures and Sound is fronted by Luke Reynolds -- who has dabbled in a little of everything. Even though you might not recognize his name, he was the lead singer for the Nashville based-group Blue Merle, has collaborated with artists such as Bela Fleck, and even got a Grammy nomination for his work on the movie August Rush (talk about random).
The band is rounded out by Pete McNeal on Drums and Dave Wilder on bass (who apparently played with Macy Gray?). As the title of this post suggests, their self-titled debut album (2008) is replete with warm-weather guitar riffs and summer soundscapes.
If, on the other hand, you're actually in the fall mood -- then I recommend brewing some tea and watching August Rush. Either way, Luke Reynolds has your back.
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Since MTV doesn't play them anymore, I figured I'd post a couple noteworthy music videos every so often. Today's selections are Frightened Rabbit's Swim Until You Can't See Land and Bat for Lashes' Daniel (no, it's not a cover of Elton John's 1973 hit). Both are cool videos, with Frightened Rabbit taking a minimalistic approach, primarily showcasing the band surrounded by fans with flashlights, and Bat for Lashes' taking a more artistic (and kind of creepy) approach. Still-- both fit well for their respective songs.
Swim Until You Can't See Land is a 7' single to hold us over until the band's 3rd studio effort, The Winter of Mixed Drinks hits stores in March 2010. Daniel was nominated for MTVs Best Breakthrough Video this year, and is featured on Bat for Lashes' Two Suns.
Check em out.
Monday, November 2, 2009
Last week, Regina Spektor edged out Kate Nash in Round 1 of bip-bip.'s USA v. World competition. This week's competition is between TV on the Radio (Brooklyn, NY) and Bloc Party (UK) (seen above); and just as last week was a close call, this week is likely to engender an ever greater split of opinion. In fact, I'm guessing most people might disagree with me on this one.
For starters, I decided to compare these bands because both, I think, are raw-sounding indie-bands that have garnered widespread, and mostly deserved, critical acclaim for their best albums. Sure, TV on the Radio is slightly more experimental -- but I think both bands often sound like they are forging similar musical paths (just take a listen to the two songs posted -- TV on the Radio's Wolf Like Me and Bloc Party's Like Eating Glass).
In my opinion, Bloc Party's best album to date was their 2005 debut album, Silent Alarm. The album was named NME Album of the Year, which is an obviously huge accomplishment in the U.K. It also won the PLUG Awards' Indie Rock Album of the Year (2006). Likewise, TV on the Radio's best album, I think, was their 2006 album entitled Return to Cookie Mountain. It was named Album of the Year by SPIN, along with numerous other accolades such as being named 4th Best Album of the Year by Rolling Stone.
WINNER: Bloc Party. US - 1. World - 1.
As I said, this was a close call. I love both bands, but the game-breaker for me was the reception of some of their follow-up albums. Bloc Party's latest release Intimacy was a solid album, that generally got solid reviews. TV on the Radio's latest album Dear Science was also a great album, but it seemed like everyone gave it a free pass. The fact that it won Best Album of 2008 by Rolling Stone, SPIN, MTV, The Guardian, Entertainment Weekly, and Pitchfork's Reader's Poll literally baffles me. I thought 2008 was one of the strongest musical years we've had in a while, with new (really good) albums from: Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes, Ryan Adams, Vampire Weekend, Blitzen Trapper, Of Montreal, Ra Ra Riot, The Black Keys, Girl Talk... and that doesn't even include more popular acts like Coldplay and Kings of Leon.
I'm not saying the album isn't good-- but with that many great albums... it shouldn't have been so dominant. You might argue that their critical success in no way supports TV on the Radio from being ranked worse than Bloc Party. You might be right-- but I'm still a little bitter about Bon Iver not picking up a few more awards.