Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Indie Rock 25

Entertainment Weekly loves them some lists :-) Pop culture lists are mostly meant to be conversation starters…”you thought THAT was good???” or “how in the heck could you leave (fill-in-the-blank) off???”…and their latest is a good example of that.

In a special insert in their latest issue, EW presents “The Indie Rock 25”, a sure argument sparker for indie rock fans. In order to impose some kind of order on the compilation of the list they imposed some very aribitrary rules: each of the past 25 years could only be represented by one album each, the albums selected had to be released on independent labels (disqualifying, for example, Nirvana’s Nevermind), and, for reasons unexplained, only bands could make the list (so bye-bye Cat Power, Sufjan Stevens, etc., etc.) Also, apparently each band was limited to one entry.

The resulting list was, almost as a matter of course, put together after a series of arguments, compromises, and reluctant omissions; it is, all of that taken into consideration, an interesting list just the same (certainly a good conversation starter anyway :-)

It goes back to 1984’s Let it Be by the Replacements and comes all the way up to 2008 with Radiohead’s In Rainbows (which was actually released for download in ’07 but I guess they gave it a pass because the physical CD was released on the first day of ’08.) Some of these I own and cherish, some I’ve never heard.

The rest of the list (samples and/or full tracks at the links [where available]):

1985: The Smiths’ Meat is Murder
1986: R.E.M.’s Lifes Rich Pageant
1987: Dinosaur Jr.’s You’re Living All Over Me
1988: Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation
1989: The Pixies’ Doolittle
1990: Fugazi’s Repeater
1991: My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless
1992: Pavement’s Slanted and Enchanted
1993: Built to Spill’s Ultimate Alternative
1994: Guided by Voices’ Bee Thousand
1995: Archers of Loaf’s Vee Vee
1996: Belle & Sebastian’s If You’re Feeling Sinister
1997: Modest Mouse’s Lonesome Crowded West
1998: Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
1999: Sleater-Kinney’s The Hot Rock
2000: Yo La Tengo’s And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out
2001: The Shins’ Oh, Inverted World

2002: Interpol’s Turn on the Bright Lights
2003: The White Stripes’ Elephant
Arcade Fire’s Funeral
2005: Bright Eyes’ I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning
2006: The Hold Steady’s Boys and Girls in America
2007: Spoon’s Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

Discuss :-)

(Video of Radiohead's "Jigsaw Falling into Place" below.)

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Orchard

There are always adjectives ready to try to capture the essence of anything…and there are adjectives aplenty to describe his sumptuous (see?) CD from the utterly remarkable Lizz Wright: luminous, sultry, soulful, beguiling, enchanting, utterly engaging. The Orchard is all of these things and yet the words don’t do Ms. Wright and the new addition to her splendid body of work proper justice.

But words are all I have here and thus they will have to suffice.

This wonderful collection is compromised of eight fine original tunes (all co-written by Wright) and four deftly chosen, surprising covers.

The originals include the cool, sprightly and irresistibly percussive “My Heart” and “This Is”, the quiet but stately “Speak Your Heart”, and the wistful, bittersweet “When I Fall”.

The covers include a bluesy stroll through Ike Turner’s “I Idolize You”, the righteous R&B of Sweet Honey in the Rock’s “Hey Mann”, a dreamy waltz with Patsy Cline’s “Strange”, and a compelling version of Led Zeppelin’s “Thank You”.

Wright is an incredibly expressive singer who brings honest passion to her music without ever feeling the need to give in to excessive vocal gymnastics (she got the chops to wail with the best of them but if it doesn’t stand in service to the song she has no space for it…and that’s so thrillingly refreshing that you wish this was a better world where she was a bigger star than she currently is.)

The music…given wing by acoustic guitars, bass, and keyboards…is able and powerful support to the wondrous vocals under the sure-handed direction of producer Craig Street.

The Orchard is a bountiful harvest of jazz, blues, pop, and R&B that gets more tasty…more delightful and fulfilling…with each listening.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Paul McCartney - Birthday say it's your birthday, it's my birthday too, yeah!...

So come on and dance with Paul (and me) on my birthday...:-)

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

American Idol Top 12

This year’s American Idol top 12 have met the Lennon-McCartney songbook and they have, for the most part, lived to tell the tale (actually most of these songs are so well-written that any halfway decent singer would have to really go out of their way to screw them up…though, that said, Kristy Lee Cook, David Hernandez, and David Archuletta all managed to do exactly that.)

Let me once again state for the record that is not, as the host and the judges (and the producers) keep trying to convince us, the best group of AI finalists “ever”. They’re a talented enough bunch but, as a group, they’re certainly not head and shoulders over the standard set by the previous groups of finalists: season 1 (Kelly Clarkson, Tamyra Gray, Justin Guarini, Nikki McKibbin, Ryan Starr, Christina Christian), season 2 (Ruben Studdard, Clay Aiken, Kimberley Locke, Josh Gracin, Kimberly Caldwell, Trenyce), season 3 (Fantasia, Diana DeGarmo, Jennifer Hudson, LaToya London, Jasmine Trias, George Huff, John Stevens), season 4 (Carrie Underwood, Bo Bice, Vonzell Solomon, Nadia Turner, Anthony Federov, Constantine Maroulis), season 5 (Chris Daughtry, Taylor Hicks, Katherine McPhee, Elliott Yamin, Paris Bennett, Mandisa, Kellie Pickler, Ace Young), and season 6 (Jordin Sparks, Blake Lewis, Melinda Doolittle, LaKisha, Chris Richardson, Phil Stacey, Chris Sligh).

That said, the first performance night on the big stage (the new set is too busy and kind of ugly actually) showed some of the current cast stepping into contention while others kind of belly flopped.

Personally, I’ve got a fondness for the laid back Jason Castro (his take on “If I Fell” was charming)…I have no idea if he can go the distance but I like him.

Young front runner David Archuletta was a disaster on “We Can Work it Out” but he is still a strong contender with his lovely voice and his “aw shucks” demeanor. Kristy Lee Cook’s ghastly hyperactive country hoedown version of “Eight Days a Week” (I loved how Paula Abdul told her that the contestants shouldn’t take the judges’ suggestions so literally) and David Hernandez’s lounge-tastic stumble through “I Saw Her Standing There” dropped their long-term prospects while Syesha Mercado hit the triple whammy by having to go first, being off-key, and dropping a totally unmemorable version of Earth, Wind, & Fire’s arrangement of “Got to Get You into my Life”.

I think that Carly Smithson over-sings everything (she bludgeoned “Come Together” into submission last night) but she has a strong voice and good stage presence and she should go far in the competition.

I like the bluesy/growly rock chick thing that Amanda Overmyer does but I’m not sure if it will serve her well in some of the theme shows that AI throws at the singers (a disco night would be hell for her as will, I suspect, the week when Mariah Carey is the mentor.)

The judges seem to like David Cook but I don’t get it myself (like Smithson, he over-sings everything and doesn’t really connect with the lyrics he’s singing…”Eleanor Rigby” was a case in point) and Brooke White has a nice voice and an earnest charm….both of them seem likely to stick around for a while.

Who’s going to be the first of the finalists to be serenaded off by “Celebrate Me Home” (as sung by season 2 champ Ruben Studdard)? I don’t know…my guess would be Syesha but we shall see (and we shall update this entry after the results show.)

* * * * *

So it was David Hernandez...this year's "controversial" contestant...who got the boot. I was a bit surprised but I guess I shouldn't have been.

And next week, according to Seacrest, more Lennon-McCartney songs. I can't remember them using the same theme two weeks running but I guess that John and Paul's songs are more than worthy of that distinction.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008


I don’t subscribe to Showtime so my previous exposure to Dexter…the macabre but surprisingly engaging crime drama starring Michael C. Hall…was from watching the pilot when it was posted on Showtime’s website just before the show debuted on the network. I enjoyed the pilot…featuring the titular character, a forensics expert for the Miami police department who is himself a serial killer who kills only other serial killers…and I looked forward to when the show was inevitably collected on DVD.

CBS is broadcasting an edited version of Dexter on Sunday nights (a happenstance created by the writer’s strike and the need to fill programming hours.) The edits were largely due to language (a couple of the supporting characters swear like sailors sometimes), for time, and for some of the more grisly bits (though, that said, the murders on the show are not always especially graphic…some of the stuff is no worse than what you might see on any given episode of CSI) but I was interested to see the difference.

Luckily I had received the season 1 DVD set of Dexter for Christmas and I took the occasion to finally sit down and watch all 12 episodes. Dexter is a stylish, black comic little gem of a series and Hall (late of the darkly comic Six Feet Under) is excellent as the titular character, a sociopath (though perhaps not as disconnected from his feelings as he so often claims to be) whose murderous impulses have been channeled into a “good” outlet by his late adoptive father, a policeman who recognized his son for what he was and taught Dexter a code that keeps him from killing the innocent.

Everyone in and around Dexter is damaged in their own ways…this includes his sister Deb (a police officer), his girlfriend (a skittish victim of spousal abuse), his nakedly ambitious boss, and an affable cop…and no one (save for one perpetually angry cop) seems to notice that there is something off about him. The series veers toward soap opera off and on but they pull back from that particular precipice almost every time.

Season 1’s overarching plot includes the hunt for Dexter’s opposite number, a macabre serial murdered who is dubbed the “Ice Truck Killer”, and while the identity of the killer is telegraphed fairly early on the eventual resolution of the conflict is ultimately satisfying. Dexter is probably not everyone’s cup of tea…the “hero” is a serial killer after all…but I found it oddly compelling and I look forward to season 2.