Tuesday, August 31, 2004
The Weakerthans: One Great City! (Go! Buy The Rekkid!)
I have a good friend who’s getting married on Saturday. “I” is the kind of woman to whom people are drawn, quietly. Her patience, and warmth; her ability to listen and to see the best in others leave me in awe and have for a long time. In deciding to blog a track for her and “C,” her husband to be, I’m left with the eternal gift-giver’s dilemma: Do you get them something you know they’ll love or do you take a risk, reaching outside the comfortable and (hopefully) opening their eyes to something they’d have loved earlier if only they knew it existed? “I” has always had a soft spot for airy, almost whispered, pop ballads. Back in the day, it was Crash Vegas, Julie Cruz and The Sundays. Today it’s Sarah Harmer, Kathleen Edwards and the Weakerthans (in addition to other stuff, I’m sure. I’ve lost track over the years as our visits have become less frequent). At the end of the day, when the safe bet is this great, why not make it? There seem to be people who haven’t yet heard the good news. They’re under the impression that the Weakerthans are just another pop-punk act, or, worse still, some kind of socialist bore-core out of the Canadian flat lands. In a word: wrong! Wrong, oh so very, very wrong. John K. Samson, the Weakerthan’s songwriter and lead vocalist, is arguably Canada’s greatest living songsmith (yes, I know Neil Young and Joni Mitchell are still breathing). He has an ability to write strident political songs that crack and tremble with heartfelt pathos, and love songs that ring out like man-the-barricades battle cries. The results are sometimes confusing, but in a good way. Take Pamphleteer, from 2000’s Left & Leaving. It has led to a “tastes great-less filling” debate (is it a love song in political agitator’s clothing or a political anthem with a love-story thrown in? At the end of the day, who cares if it’s this good?) Weakerthans records also have an undeniable sense of place. It’s a terroir that almost no other popular music I’ve heard can touch. When Sampson sings “I hate Winnipeg” it's more with tired resignation than smoldering anger. That’s because home towns are like family. You love them for their quirks and flaws as well as their strengths. They excite and disappoint and frustrate and enliven you in ways that are easy to predict, but difficult to change. John Samson understands this and has chosen to express it in song. I and C understand it, and have chosen each other. Nothing, not even perfect pop music, could make me happier. Visit The Weakerthans on the Internet. Buy The Weakerthans Reconstruction Site.
Tuesday, August 24, 2004
Yes, it's two keyboard songs in a row. Yes, it's a good thing. Yes, Ceasars are from Sweden (they toured with Soundtrack of Our Lives). Yes, I know, they're ALL from Sweden (except for Turbonegro. I thought they were from Sweden, but they're really from Norway). Yes, in order to avoid being out-bragged by the Hives, Ceasars called their album 39 Minutes of Bliss (In An Otherwise Meaningless World). Yes, yes, yes . . . I know! But don't hate, just listen to the tasty, tasty organ. Hear the great echo on the guitar (it sounds like its coming from the bottom of a cave. A cave where people are having fun. Drinking beer, perhaps from long neck bottles, or cans. They're wearing cool haircuts and they're wearing motorcycle jackets. The whole thing is, y'know, kinda swingin'.) Put it another way. Remember the Wayouts, from the Flinstones? The "creatures from way way out?" If they really existed, and if they played organ, they'd kinda sound like Ceasars. I was alerted to the existence of Ceasars by one of the good people on the Postcard Uncle Tupelo list. For the last two years we've been involved in this amazing rock n' roll cookie exchange. Y'see, it works like this. Thirty people sign up and are each assigned a single two-week window. During their two week window each person on the list is required to put together a mixed cd and mail it to the other 29 people on the list. (If you're me, you miss this window several times). The result is a new mix from some corner of the world lands on my doorstep every two weeks. It's like joining Columbia House without all the negative billing and Matchbox Twenty records. Good times. Visit Ceasars on the web. Buy 39 Minutes of Bliss (In An Otherwise Meaningless World)
Sunday, August 22, 2004
Fatcitizen’s Incontrovertible Laws of Rock Number 11: The Elton Johnny Rotten Principle: There are - generally speaking - two types of rock bands: “Guitar” and “keyboard.” Everything else being equal, the guitar ones are better. There are several fun things inherent in unilaterally writing your own laws without adhering to anything boring like scientific principles, or peer review. First, YOU GET TO WRITE YOUR OWN LAWS! (I mean, how cool is that?) Second, despite being completely non-democratic, the laws cause debate and can sometimes bend. For example, I’ve received a great deal of feedback from those who think the LASH principle can be proven wrong. If you remember, LASH argues, quite simply and elegantly, that rock n’ rollers record/write better songs when they are Lonely, Angry, Sad or Horny: No Exceptions. One of the best counter arguments given so far is Jackie Wilson. When he was happy Jackie recorded Your Love is Taking Me (Higher and Higher), one of the greatest songs of all time. When he was sad he came up with A Change is Gonna Come (or was that Sam Cooke?). Now, this is a difficult challenge to defend until you remember that Jackie Wilson is a soul singer and not a rock and roller and that Higher and Higher is a gospel song. Suffice it to say, advantage LASH. The second best challenge is Josh Rouse (Very Happy: Nothing Gives Me Pleasure vs. Very Sad: Come Back (Light Therapy)). This one is somewhat harder to defend so, um . . . LOOK OVER THERE, IT’S TOM WAITS!!! Advantage LASH, because I said so. Hi Lo Trons are another perfect example of why The Laws (even one that allows for wiggle room, like Rule 11) are made to be bent. Lead Tron Mike Dubue reminds us why we liked "vintage" keyboards back before they were vintage. He also plays them while standing up, which is cool, and adds David Byrne-ish vocals to the band's Cars meet Devo at a science-fiction convention vibe. The result? Fat City's skinny tie and Chuck Taylor’s set hasn’t had it so good since Howard Jones lived here as a kid. (As an aside, check out HoJo’s website. I mean, how many Greatest Hits records can one man release? Isn’t there some sort of statute of limitations on making money from No One is to Blame? Isn’t there? Ok, I’ll stop.) Visit Hi Lo Trons on the Web Hi Lo Trons’ self-titled debut album is only available by contacting the band
Friday, August 20, 2004
This says it all
This picture was taken by the lovely and talented Sabola. Not only has he got a way with the humourous can-con photographs he's also managed to record a tune called Kill the Day (unreleased) which accomplishes the impossible. It is both: A) Electronic music (Red alert! Red alert!) full of what, I guess, are Aphex-Twinny/Manatoba-y clicks and beeps; and, B) Ummm, well, good.
You know that old saying?: "Fool me once shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." Well, when it comes to the Black Keys and Ottawa concert goers you have to add "Fool me three times and I'll hoof you square in the marbles." The Keys, the best thing to come out of Akron Ohio since Lebron James, are the rust belt's other hard-rockin' two piece. The one without the candy-striper outfits, movie star girlfriends and penchant for kicking the crap outa Jason Von Bondie. They have also earned no small amount of enmity from Fat City rockophiles by welching out of two straight Ottawa Bluesfest bookings. Anyone who's met Birdman Sound/Bluesfest Birdman Stage commandant John Westhaver knows that's just not a good idea. The fine people at Babylon think the third time is the charm - I guess - and have booked Dan (Guitar/vox) and Patrick (traps) for a gig in September. If that show sounds like 10 a.m. Automatic - all juke joint holler, hammer and nail drum patterns and guitar sounds more stripped down than an episode of Monster Garage - it might well be worth the wait. Promotion of the Keys' new record, Rubber Factory, leaves you with the distinct impression that somebody thinks they might be able to "Von Bondie" Jack and Meg. The official website has been nicely tarted up, David Cross of Mr. Show fame has directed the - quite humourous - video for 10 a.m Automatic and Epitaph is "helping" with distribution (causing a little griping from the boys at Dan and Pat's I'd-bet-soon-to-be-ex-label Fat Possum) . At the end of the day, the positioning, marketing and record-label sniping don't matter unless the music rocks and The Black Keys do just that. They just better not behave like rock stars when they hit Eastern Ontario. Westhaver - and everyone else in Fat City - are already lacing their steel toed boots. Visit The Black Keys on the web. Buy The Rubber Factory
Fatcitizen's Incontrovertible Laws of Rock Number 5, The LASH principle: People write/record better songs when they are lonely, angry, sad or horny. No exceptions. Rock n' roll came from the blues. The blues are lonely, angry, sad and horny. Look at your record collection. The LASH songs always win over the in-love, content, happy, and sexually satisfied ones. Always. Sometimes it's a close race (Richard Thompson sorta happy: Feel So Good vs. Richard Thompson very sad: Vincent Black Lightning, 1952). Sometimes it's nearly a dead heat (Elvis in love: All Shook Up vs. Elvis lonely: Heartbreak Hotel) but the winner is always, always the LASH song. Think about it: Hendrix angry: Hey Joe Hendrix happy (ok, Hendrix stoned): Little Wing Billy Bragg lonely: The Saturday Boy Billy Bragg in love: Sugar Daddy The Clash angry: Straight to Hell or White Riot (or any of half of greatest songs ever recorded). The Clash happy: Ummmmm, anyone? Luckily for us, Steve Earle understands the Fifth Law of Rock. Luckier still, he's really, really pissed. His new record, The Revolution Starts Now drops Tuesday and, given what you can hear from the three tracks on his web site, it’s full of bile and tasty guitars. If there’s one criticism it’s that Revolution sounds like it could have been a b-side from 2002’s Jerusalem. The tone is the same – umm well, angry – and so are the arrangements. Don’t get me wrong, there’s no need to make a radical departure (Steve did that with The Mountain, a bluegrass album recorded with The Del McCoury Band in 1999, it wasn’t my cup of tea) but it’s sometimes interesting to hear a little experimentation (and no, the hand claps on this track don’t count). Then again, as long as he doesn’t do anything artistically suicidal like falling in love or something, there’ll always be hope. Visit Steve Earle on the web. Buy Steve Earle’s The Revolution Starts Now.
Wednesday, August 18, 2004
I love math rock. John Darnielle + a cheap ghetto blaster = The Mountain Goats The Mountain Goats + Your ears = All-world-gold-medal-song-writing goodness Jason Molina = Songs:Ohia (or Magnolia Electric Company, or Pyramid Electric Company or whatever the hell he/they are calling him/themselves these days) Songs:Ohia + Your ears = Dark, even mystically sexy, sadness. (Eminem - mainstream media Elvis references) + (jumpy garage beats + e) / (bitches * birds) = Mike Skinner Mike Skinner = The Streets The Streets + Your ears = Can't quite tell you why it's likable, likableness. Ok, I know. None of those acts are math rock (if for no other reason than they're all good, which is more than I can say for The Jesus Lizard). They are, however, examples of Post-Millennial Trend Fatcitizen Does Not Understand #7645: "Guys - so far it's all guys - who, for some reason, have decided to record using a 'band' name when they're really solo artists." Anyway, this leads us to the real equation of the day which is: Sam Beam = Iron & Wine Iron & Wine + Your ears = Happiness Is there anything being recorded today that sounds so warm? So comforting? So goddamn sepia-toned as an Iron and Wine record? The Creek Drank the Cradle sounds like a memory written down and found again. It's brittle and dusty, like something you'd find in a trunk in an attic. Sam Beam has engraved this record like an intricate old-south woodcut; one of a hazy, screened-in back porch, or a dragonfly. It's lustrous and full and yet so delicate, tangible and human that it makes you want to tell the people you love what they mean to you, or that you're sorry. It's a four-track, basement-tape love note. I like it . . . a lot Buy Iron & Wine's The Creek Drank the Cradle Visit Iron & Wine on the web
Tuesday, August 17, 2004
Westy's new track
Paul Westerberg's new record is nearly ready to drop. Here's the first taste. It's not Left of the Dial or Kids Don't Follow . . . but hey!
Carl Perkins' Cadillac "Rock 'n' roll means well, but it can't help tellin' young boys lies."- Mike Cooley Now we're only going to say this once so listen up. Lynyrd Skynyrd did not suck, ok? No, now wait! You with the lighter screaming "Freebird" and holding a Coors King Can, please take a seat. While you're at it, think about trimming that mullet. We aint kin. Patterson Hood and the DBTs are responsible for opening my eyes to (as they put it on their amazing double album, Southern Rock Opera) "the whole Skynyrd thing and its misunderstood glory." They did it by baptizing me into the power of their own "southern thang": solid, three (three!) guitar rock that owes as much to Neil Young and Johnny Cash as it does to anything you'd drape in a rebel flag or call out ironically to a weak opening act. Listening to Carl Perkins' Cadillac (from their new release, the Dirty South) gives you a good taste of what makes the Truckers special. They understand what's made rock-and-roll great sonically, socially and historically and they use that energy to do more than slam a hollow-bodied Washburn in your ass. Truckers' tunes often express what its like to just old enough to remember George Wallace but young enough to think that people should be judged for who they are rather than their accent. Lyrically, that means they've often been accused of having a chip on their collective shoulder (you can often hear Hood and co-writers Mike Cooley and Jason Isbell daring you to call them hicks) but tension is good for music, remember? If they were prettier, if they lived in L.A. and threw more Velvet Underground in the mix, they'd probably be a buzz band like Kings Of Leon. In the real world, The Dirty South will be released August 24 on New West (Universal imprint Lost Highway dropped them after last year's excellent Decoration Day). This makes it a little harder to find in Canada, but no less worth the hunt. Buy The Drive By Truckers' The Dirty South Visit The Drive By Truckers' on the web
Monday, August 16, 2004
The Dismemberment Plan
Timebomb Sometimes when bands break up, great things happen (think Uncle Tupelo spinning into Wilco and Son Volt. Not necessarily improvements, but excellent substitutes). Sometimes fans are left hoping musicians who've outgrown each other would just suck it up and stick together to ensure the whole stays better than the sum of its parts. Take Washington D.C.'s The Dismemberment Plan. In their day, they thrashed out one of the tightest live shows in indie rock. Tempo changes, requests from the floor, blazingly fast book-of-list songs like The Dismemberment Plan Gets Rich (take REM's It's The End of The World as We Know It, remove the sing-alongy chorus, crank up the BPM and add a basketful of effects lifted from Pac Man and Missile Command); the Plan were a punk-funk-guitar-shakin'-cheap-keyboard-stompin' force. Their live show made you want to get out of your sickbed and dance. (Which I did once. No lie. Fever of 120.) Their recorded output was at times brilliant and always interesting (except for 2003's People's History of The Dismemberment Plan a re-mix album which - I will not debate this - did not happen). 1999's Emergency and I was two tracks short of a desert island album, The Ice of Boston – originally released on 1997's The Dismemberment Plan is Terrified – is emo's answer to Midnight Train to Georgia (all the way down to the shout out Gladys Knight receives in the song's final verse). Timebomb, from 2001's Change, is wonderful: at times manacing and jangly, at times a screetchy pop-rock assault. Think wind chimes made of SkilSaw blades . . . with super-tight high hat. The Dismemberment Plan broke up last year and though what's left isn't Wings, Freely's Comet or Methods of Mayhem it's short of the old magic. Pro-war indie rocker (say WHAT?) Travis Morrison has moved on to record Travistan (Barsuk). If it sounds is like the demos published on his website - which, aside from the kickASS Ludacris cover, keep the Plan's jump and stutter while losing their gut-level kick - I'll be kinda sad. Meanwhile, Plan bass player Eric Axelson, one of the nicer guys in rock, has formed Maritime with two members of The Promise Ring. The first result (Glass Floor on Desotto) is the friendly (inoffensive?) pop music you'd expect from the one of the nicest guys in rock getting together with members of The Promise Ring. Sigh. Maybe in ten years scads of posthumous critical acclaim (and mortgage payments) will propel Travis, Eric and the boys to filling arenas on a reunion tour like the Pixies. Until then, I fear I'll be left thinking of what might have been. Buy The Dismemberment Plan's Change Visit The Dismemberment Plan on the web Buy Maritime's Glass Floor Visit Maritime on the web Visit Travis Morrison on the web
Sunday, August 15, 2004
Satellite Longing, to my ears, never sounded so good. When Jim sings "I'm not necessarily very smart" while Ian Lefeuvre slowly wails away on his Fender this track just glistens and sighs. Though much of Jim's work on The Occassionals (his first of two solo LPs and the source of this track) bears comparison to the warm, country sounds Hollywood Townhall era Jayhawks and Wilco's Being There, much of his live show is rooted in the sounds of late-eighties Minneapolis (he's been playing The Replacement's Swinging Party and Grant Hart's 2541 as encores for several years now, much to the delight of aging punk rockers everywhere). Buy Jim Bryson's: The Occasionals Visit Jim Bryson on the web.
Saturday, August 14, 2004
Rock and roll can change your life
There's this thing people, mostly men I'm told, have with lists. One I've been working on as recently as today is "Songs where the lead vocalist encourages a side man - usually the lead guitar player - to take a solo." Think James Brown screamin' "Cummon Drummer." in Cold Sweat or Bono telling the Edge to "Play the Blues," or, if you must, C.C. Deville "Pick(in) up that guitar and talk(in) to me," for Poison. Others that come to mind include: Wooly bully by Sam the Sham and the Pharos ("Go man go!") Elvis's Blue Suede Shoes ("Rock it!") Monkey Gone to heaven by the Pixies ("Rock me, Joe") Lovin' Every Minute of It by Loverboy ("Cummon!") even, arguably, the "Shah!" leading into the guitar/bagpipes solo in Big Country's "In a big country" This blog will include MP3s you haven't heard, that I think you might like . . . wherever you are. Playing while I type: Outcast: Nathaniel and Elbow: Independant Woman