Archive for September, 2011

Wilco – The Whole Love

September 30th, 2011 No comments

3.5 out of 5

When I said I liked the new Wilco album, that means like with a small l. Lets make one thing clear is that if there is any band that has disappointed me more than R.E.M. it was Wilco.  The period between Being There and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is pure gold and I still look at that era as the golden age as well as the “Classic Lineup”, one that will obviously not return.

I think I am more disappointed because I thought that they had more potential. Jeff Tweedy had the power to be the 21st Century’s Bob Dylan with a knack for sonic exploration. We see this on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, one of the true innovative and classic albums of our era.  However, since the demise of Jay Bennett from the band, I have to admit to them being just alright to bad.

At times, their Dad Rock/Jam Band genre they are trying to invent is boring going on ridiculous. The Whole Love however, has a handful of tracks that make the grade as being the best since YHF.

‘Art of Almost’ is a great way to start off this album, and is definitely the best track that Wilco has released in nearly a decade.  It contains everything that I would have hoped this band could have turned itself into.  Lets face it, it is very difficult to get someone with music talent who at the same time has the potential to write eloquent lyrics.

The Whole Love is much more up-tempo than some of their previous efforts and I think this has afforded the band some better reviews due to critics not being lulled to sleep. ‘I Might’ is a drum-stomping track that exudes more Velvet Underground than Dad Rock.

Before we get too excited, Sunloathe hits our eardrums and all of a sudden we are reminded of ‘Sky Blue Sky’ and the fact that Wilco’s mellow days are behind them.

Off the top of my head without thinking some golden oldie Wilco mellowness

She’s a Jar

Via Chicago

Far Far Away

The Lonely 1

Pieholden Suite

Radio Cure

Ashes of American Flags

Now you take a song like ‘Sunloathe’ and to be honest I just do not get it.

Capital City sounds like a B-Side/Broadway Number and Rising Red Lung has mellow Wilco syndrome as well.

Still there are plenty of other positive moments. ‘Born Alone’  and ‘Standing O’ kick this album up a notch, bringing a little pleasure and less pain to their sound but also point to the fact there is more positive than negative on this album.

Finally, I can say is that ‘One Sunday Morning’ (Song for ‘Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend) would make me go postal.  If I saw Wilco live this would be the perfect time to check out the bathroom and get yourself a drink.  Part of the problem with a 12-minute track is that it needs to go somewhere instead Wilco decides to proceed on cruise control. At about the 4-minute mark it becomes annoying. The 6 minute mark you are getting twitches and there have been cases of music listeners going into full seizures by the 10 minute mark. So before you play this song in the Jukebox at your local watering hole, think of your friends and choose epic songs by Sufjan Stevens instead.

A Whole Love is a solid album but not a classic one. It reminds fans why they loved Wilco but it will also remind why they still annoy.  For many fans like myself they are in a difficult predicament not being the same band they were 10 years ago and they never can be. I don’t know, I always thought there was something rock and roll about Jay Bennett.

Over the past few weeks of listening to the new Wilco and Girls albums on top of the breakup of R.E.M. I focused much of my time on how some of those old Wilco albums had a lot more heart in them. You could say that ‘Being There’ is your classic 70’s double album that you would never see anymore. I found myself missing the old Wilco after listening to the new Girls album and wondered aloud while listening to the new album where did that band go?

But bands become more than the songs. We care about the parts making those songs. When parts are changed along the way can we move on with the spare parts or is the machine not as authentic?

The Tweedy/Bennett feud was never answered but swept under the rug and while a review might not be the place to talk about it, I am not sure where is a good place. Critics are not objective voices in the crowd but subjective listeners just like the rest of the population, we’ve been maimed by rock and roll as well.

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Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost

September 30th, 2011 No comments

4.5 out of 5

The story of Christopher Owens has been told in numerous stories about his Christian upbringing which limited the amount of ‘culture’ that he was able to absorb. The back story is great for Wikipedia and for the novice who has no idea of who ‘Girls’ are. And while I should not say that it is easy for a band to come out with a critically acclaimed debut album, it is more difficult to come out with a successful sophomore effort.

‘Father, Son, Holy Ghost’ does not invent rock and roll but remembers it. This album is every rock LP that you own from the 70s without being cliché. Whether you can hear elements of surf rock (Honey Bunny) or Pink Floyd (Vomit) the album succeeds by not replicating these sounds but still sounds organic in its own right.

Father, Son, Holy Ghost digs through a plethora of the 60’s and 70s sounds without being pigeonholed into one distinct genre. Christopher Owen’s nasally “Elvis Costello” vocals  on their debut seemed to have disappeared on this album

The surf rock ‘Honey Bunny’ is that open letter to the woman of his dreams that loves him for all his shortcomings and sets the tone for this album.

Thematically, we are still stuck on the love theme and while critics might look to this and say that love is such a broad topic to discuss in music, it gets a bit overdone at times.

What rock and roll is still great at is creating self-loathing which seems to be a male-dominated pastime.  Even I can admit that there was part of me raising my hand when Owens claims about girls: “they don’t love my bony body”. You would think that the rock star gets all the girls but why is it that most of the shows that I go to have a greater guy to girl ratio? The girl that Owens is looking for is fictitious and the guys that go to rock shows listening to bands such as this and buying this crap, boy it would nice for someone to just accept me for who I am.

I had read somewhere that the last song on the album ‘Janie Marie’ is the Randy Newman-tune, at which case Owens and company need to sign a contract with Disney.  Going back to the title of this album, we speak to the father, son and holy ghost most often when there is a moment to confess on Janie Marie, it’s his prior actions.

Lastly, the iconic ‘Vomit’ brings us to one of the great rock and roll tunes in the last year. In it’s 70’s glory, ‘Vomit’ is that sloppy love letter written at three in the morning. It’s not eloquent. Its written on spiral paper ripped out of the notebook in three different colors of ink with scratches and doodles along the way. It’s the centerpiece of this amazing album bringing so much of the 70s together without sounding recycled. That is hard because it’s an impossible task to sound authentic and at the same time borrow something. Often times, when you borrow something you end up looking like Molly Ringwald’s prom dress in Pretty in Pink. Here, Owens salutes his idols but gives himself a stage to stand on.

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R.E.M.: They Set the Pace

September 23rd, 2011 2 comments

Part of the passion of music is that it doesn’t die, and often in our most vulnerable moments is when it pops its ugly head. You know you are afflicted if you can play a song over and over again in an endless loop and the song to speaks to you. Then sometimes it becomes more than just one song but several.

The madness started with Seven Chinese Bros. The opening guitar intro was the hook and well the lyrics kept me coming for more. From there it just went downhill.

For me, the last quarter century has been situated around a band by the name of R.E.M.  and for me they became the band that mattered. I have questioned whether or not I would be the music fan that I am if there was never that moment of discovery. Would another band have taken its place? Before this point, I heard music but it never resonated with me. R.E.M. provided the colors.  Their songs became a personal experience. There was never a moment of loneliness with an R.E.M. album in hand. It would fill the void and talk to you in a manner that a person could never share. There was a reason that fans of the band were sometimes referred to as destiples.

I think that every fan has his or her own story to say regarding R.E.M. Our murals are all a bit different but they have been on our collective conscience for some time that their mentioning of breaking up feels slightly like abandonment. We could still count on a release. Speaking to a friend a couple months ago he remarked that a new R.E.M. album is still a new R.E.M. album. Well outside of what we can expect to see various retrospectives of their careers over the next several years, there will not be any new albums to speak of. No tours, singles, promos. That time has moved on.

R.E.M. wove a tapestry of Kudzu in our brains exploring the nuances of what defined us. They were a thinking mans band that required the upmost attention. Fans have created numerous conspiracy theories about their music, the albums and their packaging.

It was never about being the biggest band. They did not flaunt like U2 did but rather launched one of the quietest revolutions in the history of Rock and Roll.

In their early days, they were not an overly talented bunch. Peter Buck could barely play guitar, Michael Stipe was always off key, Bill Berry didn’t always keep a constant beat but they knew what they wanted, they had a bit of luck coming their way and they reached heights nobody expected them to reach.

Ego? This is a band that would go into a studio and try to make their parts quieter than their band mates. Their songs are co-written by all band members sharing equally. They handled their music and their careers democratically.  They broke rules. Their videos were odd and unlike anything you saw on MTV at the time.

They not only helped put Athens, Georgia on the map but also kept America as being relevant during a time when British Music was invading the airwaves.   They carried the torch for bands like the Replacements, Husker Du and the Minutemen helping to promote rock’s image in the states and create a grassroots groudwork for other bands to follow. R.E.M.’s success was a major turning point for the industry realizing that smart rock and roll sold.

They became godfathers to their successors, bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Radiohead coming to the aid of these bands when stardom waved their ugly finger at them. Although unsuccessful, Stipe tried to save Kurt Cobain and was directly responsible for Thom Yorke writing “How To Disappear Completely”.

They cared about their predecessors listing the likes of Velvet Underground, Patti Smith, New York Dolls, Television, The Feelies, just to start. Peter Buck was a rock and roll encyclopedia that if he was not in a rock band would have been selling records and making snide remarks about them.

They stood up for causes they believed in, treating the rock and roll concert as an event not just of entertainment but education. It was commonplace to see R.E.M. on a benefit release or having them announce during a show to visit a local charity organization that had a table set up at the venue.  They continue to support causes publicly and privately both globally and locally.

Every indie rock performer can thank R.E.M. for creating the blueprint for their careers.  There was talent and some luck but plenty of hard work. They toured incessantly in the early years playing at pizza joints and wherever else would have them with every audience member converted into a fan before they left.  They

They relied more on their fans to campaign on their behalf.  Even in the 80s it was common to see fans traveling up and down the east coast to check out multiple shows. They treated their fans with respect and admiration at times letting them travel with them in their early days. Their fanclub has always been receptive and I believe in existence for close to 27 years if I am not mistaken.  Over that time they have never changed their membership price (being 10 dollars a year).

There have been many remarks that R.E.M. should have broken up {Insert Number of Years} ago, and to that response I would offer some thoughts. Yes, it is true that R.E.M. is not the same band that it was but how many bands can you name that have shown the highese level of quality over 31 years? I do not think there is a band on the planet that can make that same claim.  Personally, their string of albums from Chronic Town to Up is unmatched. While their last 4 albums (Reveal, Around the Sun, Accelerate and Collapse into Now) have not matched their predecessors, part of their problem is they were going up against a legacy that was unattainable.

The IRS years (Chronic Town through Document) is a starting point for anyone wanting to discover the college rock scene back then. The first half of their Warner’s Contract showed a band that was in the mainstream still making music that made you think. They came out with two acoustic-driven albums in Out of Time and Automatic for the People and then created a Monster that was more Iggy Pop, T-Rex and Bowie than grunge.  New Adventures is still a solid effort and for the record I play Up just as much as any of their prior works.

But for 2 decades they were as strong as any band out there and I am not sure how their legacy should be tarnished. They have bowed out the way that they should have and while I am shocked and slightly saddened to see them go, I am also happy for them to be able to reflect on their careers and start the next part of their life.

My personal opinion has been that this has been in the works for some time. I believe that Collapse into Now was intended to be the last album and that the band had fully intended to break up unless something drastically changed. There was never a need for a farewell tour; they are not the Eagles.

The band’s last album, however, ‘Collapse Into Now” does deserve another listen. I think there is no doubt this was written as a final group of swan songs and taken in that context it creates a nice conclusion to the story of R.E.M.

For me, this has been one of the more bittersweet posts to write. I do not think you can encapsulate a eulogy in a couple paragraphs for something that has been so important in my life for 31 years.  I have to be honest there have been moments where I was afraid I was going to lose it. Thinking of a certain lyric or listening to a song and yes, the eyes begin to water up.

One of the first songs that R.E.M. wrote was a little ditty called ‘Just a Touch’. While the song never made it onto a proper release until their 4th album, the song is about the day that Elvis died.

I remember heading down to Athens several years back to check out an early video of R.E.M. that surfaced from 1980. We sat in the auditorium and watched as a very young R.E.M. was performing Just a Touch.  I remember someone in the audience had thought that Stipe’s performance was very “Elvis-like” which shocked me because this was an event of the Athens Historical Society and not hardcore rock fans. Part of the gift of being a band for 31 years is that there are plenty of songs for fans to choose from. I figure that this song is that moment for me.

You set the pace of what was to come
I have to carry on now that you’re gone
A day in the life well nobody laughed
Look to the days how long can this last

In closing, I want to thank R.E.M. for the last 31 years.  For most of that time I have been thinking of your music trying to figure it all out and your decision to call it quits will not stop that. It’s easy to say that you have been the most influential band over this period of time and you will be missed.

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