Monday, December 29, 2008

Fresh Run DMC video

Folks, I apologize for the lack of postings in recent days. I am applying to graduate school, a time-consuming process. I will return with fresh fish rock after the start of the new year. In the meantime, here's my favorite dance video, a remix of Run DMC's "It's Like That." Enjoy.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Lights, Fluorescent- Neoteny EP

Rating: 8.5
Released: Jan. 19, 2008

Charlotte, of late, doesn't have a reputation as a hotbed of modern rock.

Perceptions can be, well, misleading.

Charlotte' s The Lights, Fluorescent (note the sneaky comma!) are getting some buzz, and deservedly so.

They stick out like a bent nail in Charlotte's retro scene, partly because they rock unapologetically, and because singer Erika Blatnik sounds like the second coming of PJ Harvey.

Blistering lead vocals, torrential guitars and a jackhammer rhythm section make for a winding listen.

The band fuses melodic and math rock for theatricality, employing complex time signatures, sudden stops and angular guitar lines.

A debut EP, Neoteny, has been out for almost a year, featuring at least one certified big winner in "So Sweet."

Halfway through the hard-charging track, members duet for a melodic interlude a la the Pixies.

The harmonizing guitars, courtesy of Andre Francois and Craig Friday, sound like Peter Gabriel-era Genesis and Queen with 'roid rage.

The band sounds best when Blatnik teams with Friday and limber bassist Robby Hartis for heavy AM gold.

Most startling might be that The Lights, Fluorescent only took two days to record this lightning bolt.

Blatnik started her ascension playing acoustic shows in Charlotte's NoDA arts district. Here's hoping she, and her fantastic band, find a niche and a record company.

The band's sound translates well live. Catch them at Charlotte's Tremont Music Hall Tuesday.

If you're looking for more hot Charlotte acts, check out Yardwork too.


Friday, December 12, 2008

Interview with Of Montreal's James Huggins - Part 3 of 3

SoR: What did you think of Skeletal Lamping when you first heard it?

JH: I really disliked it. Until I started deconstructing it, I didn't see how unique and multi-dimensional it was. At least for the first two or three listens, I felt like it was just really disjointed, frustrating, simple, sexual booty-pop or something and I just couldn't understand where he was going.
And then when he started sending these isolated keyboard parts and harmonies and stuff and I sort of detached myself from my personal interpretation of the lyrics just by knowing him and knowing his family and knowing his psyche, I tried to not consider that. And not consider any of the lyrics literally and pretend like it's some sort of alien voice that's just coming in and doing a little tap-dance and getting off on it. That's what he wanted.
And then I talked to him about it and said, 'God what's the point of this? Why did you end it like this?' And he was saying how it was his calculated intention to make it upsetting and jarring to listen to, and that all of those cut-in-half songs and quick starts and sharp endings were meant intentionally to kind of keep you on your toes. He wanted to make this sort-of difficult arrangement that wasn't like a standard, three-minute song, track by track for 14 songs.
So anyway, after a little bit of context and a little bit of time and then actually trying to piece it together myself and learn parts, then I got a deep respect for this album. I think it might be one of the best. But that defines any good record if you can listen to it five, eight, 10, 12 times and find something new out of it, that is definitely the case with this one.
I would recommend a minimum of 10 listens before making any sort of opinion. And, it's such a short record and it does change so often that you can stomach listening to it 10 times in as many days and it wouldn't be like some kind of chore. Just pop it in your car and ride for a half an hour and it's over.

SoR: I understand what you're saying. With each successive Of Montreal album, I think that I'm not going to like this one as much and than after 10 listens, it's my new favorite. I guess that's the mark of a good album and I guess that's what you guys are hoping for.

JH: The thing is, I think Kevin just disregards any of that when he's making them. For him, I really do think he's making it for himself.
It's really hard being an artist, and especially if you know that your voice is being heard. I can sit around and write stuff and I'll actually consider, 'Does this sound like it could be played on the radio?'
But Kevin doesn't give a shit what anybody thinks, obviously. So he's able to detach himself from any self-editing, and that's a big part of some of the creepier, sexual lyrics. He said he wasn't going to sit there and say, 'Oh I shouldn't say this,' or 'I shouldn't say condoms on my ice-cream cone.' Whatever he wanted to say he just said it, because it made him laugh and it made him smile in the moment of creation. And then he wouldn't go back and reconsider, 'Is this offensive?'
I have to respect that, not to suggest that just anything you fart out is gold. There's obviously some consideration there, and I don't think anybody wants to hear every random thought that an artist has. I do think that freeing up your ego a little bit can certainly yield interesting creative work and I think he's done that very successfully.

SoR: There's an image that people seem to have of you guys. I keep hearing the word 'superfreak' thrown out there to describe the personality that you have on stage. Is that really how you guys are or are you actually just sitting around drinking hot tea and relaxing?

JH: I think it's a very real and natural part of all of our personalities, but that's a misconception. When we're on stage, we are trying to put our best foot forward to put on a show for people to have a great hour and a half.
It's not like it's difficult for us to do that or that we're forcing some other personality on ourselves because each one of us has that in us.
But then, we all have a depressed, sitting in the back of the bus side. We all have a groggy, bitchy in the morning side. We all have a crazy, loud eccentric side.
I guess the thing that bugs me mostly when people say stuff like that is that a) we are insane, or most frustratingly, we are on drugs.
We eat well, aside from maybe drinking a little too much. Nobody even smokes pot at all, not ever. Everyone just assumes that to be inventive you have to be abusing substances and that drives all of us nuts.
Why can't we not have decided to put on this performance with a gigantic, rotating room and a man in a centaur outfit and not have it come from a night of smoking bongs?
It's like, no, we had a production meeting where we sat around and came up with that. To us, it's not that insane. It's just entertaining.
That's the thing that gets lost. It's trying to be entertaining and definitely comical. Some people feel like maybe they shouldn't laugh because this is serious art. Well yeah, it is art and we're serious about it but it doesn't have to be uptight and it can be very playful and comical.

SoR: Is this a band you hope is going to be around in 30 or 40 years?

JH: Well, the goal is not longevity for the sake of a good story. It's like, as long as there's good material and we're healthy enough to jump around, and if Kevin still wants us to work in this sort of arrangement. But yeah, I would definitely see it five or 10 years from now. I don't think we're slowing down.
I was talking with (Kevin) about that yesterday, that it's funny to me that young kids are discovering us that now we're approaching this sort of territory like Sonic Youth. Because right now, we're definitely over the decade hump. After five or six more years, and then suddenly 15 or 20 years, you think, 'God we've been doing it for 20 years.'
I could see that definitely. I'm not going to make any predictions but I will say I don't think we'll be stopping anytime soon.

SoR: I have to ask, based on the band's influences. Beach Boys: Pet Sounds or Smile?

JH: I'm always going to go with Smile because it represents everything that I love about recording, but then Pet Sounds is also fantastic. It's just two different things. It's like when people ask me the Beatles or the Stones. I think it's a ridiculous question because I love them both for so many different reasons.

SoR: I think that's the best answer you could have had.

JH: Anyway, for the sake of whatever, Smile.

SoR: Prince: Purple Rain or Sign 'o the Times?

JH: I would have to say Purple Rain personally. I was always a sucker for the hits and that one has a bunch of them.

SoR: I appreciate you taking the time to chat with me.

Interview with Of Montreal's James Huggins - Part 2 of 3

SoR: Can you walk me through the recording process? I know Kevin Barnes records most of the parts and then you guys learn it and perform it live. Is that generally how it all works?

JH: The last couple of records, that's exactly how it works. So if we're talking current events, yeah. But it's a weird thing because we've had lineup changes with people coming in and out of the band.
Dottie and I have almost exclusively been working with the band for almost 11 years, and there was a lot more time where we were living in a house with Kevin, writing all of our parts, singing all of our own parts on the record, and actually writing entire songs for the record. So that was like a whole other era.
To me, it feels like two different bands, and they just kept the name.

SoR: Does it feel odd to make that change?

JH: Obviously, that's a tough transition, but after a couple of albums and seeing how dramatically it's shifted the whole audience and seeing what that's done for him to to get these records out of his brain uninterrupted by compromise, it's good for him and fun for us to see what he comes up with.
Now, we feel much more like musicians. We're all still songwriters and do our own thing, but in this band it's much more about the performance now. I always say that we feel much more like actors, like we're given a juicy script but it's our job to interpret it. And we do that kind of in our own style with each thing and it's never as strictly regimented as a lot of people assume. We usually take what he's done and create a part that represents some kind of essence of what it was and then play them live.
Because a lot of the songs are really impossible to play verbatim. Most of them have four or five or as many as eight bass lines. No one person can play that, so we'll listen to it and find the major points of what pops out the most and then try and construct one single part from that. And it's the same with all the vocals. Most of the songs have at least 10 vocal harmonies and there's only four of us that are singing.
It's like interpreting it, and that's another reason why the performances have gotten so outrageous because the rest of us in the band need to do something creative if we're not writing the material. All that shit we do. Very, very little of the stage design has anything at all to do with Kevin, or people also seem to think that it has some literal translation of the lyrics. That's not always true.
It's like the band and his brother, and we just get together and come up with these ridiculous ideas and go shopping and we build all the stuff ourselves. All the video content we shoot ourselves. So it's very much a group effort that a hundred ideas are sort-of in a pot and we'll come out with 10 good ones.

SoR: You've recorded under the James Husband name.

JH: That's been an ongoing recording project for me for years that I haven't really ever made much of an effort. I've done shows, I've even done whole opening tours for Of Montreal. But it's mostly just a bedroom recording project that I make mostly for just my friends and to distribute to a few. It's a real small-time project for now.

SoR: Are you still working on coming out with another album?

JH: I'm desperately trying to get into a situation where I feel like I can release something with a label that's going to do it the way that I want to. I've been really reticent to put out like a small release of a single album because I've seen it happen so many times where you put all your eggs in one basket and then it doesn't get any kind of attention. Then the songs are dead and you gotta start over again. ... I want to make a multiple disc release that is not just like 10 songs, 12 songs. At this point, I've amassed so much material that I'm trying to find someone whose willing to put out like a four-disc thing, almost like a posthumous-type thing, like a collection of an entire decade. I think that I will eventually be able to do it and I'm talking with Polyvinyl about trying to convince them to do it.

SoR: Are they giving you an impression that they'd be willing to do it?

JH: We haven't even gotten that far in the discussion. It's more about them agreeing to do something and then we'll have to figure it out at a meeting. But yeah, I would absolutely love to do that, and if I have to make them myself, which is what I've been doing, and sell them at shows, then I'll do that. That's a whole other ball of wax. But to be honest, I'm not sure what's going to happen.

SoR: I figured you had to be working on your own material as well, if Kevin is putting all the albums together.

JH: Yeah, it's actually pretty interesting. We did go into a real studio and we attempted to do this album "Skeletal Lamping" live, as like a live feed. And we did, we went in for like a week. We did about six or seven songs. We thought it sounded great, we were really enjoying being in the studio.
And we were working with this producer who I think Kevin felt uncomfortable with. And then I think he just kind of napped on like the sixth or seventh day and just decided that he didn't feel comfortable and explained to us that it wasn't about our playing or his recording, but that he was really dying for the privacy, the personal experience of staying up all night and recording whatever he wanted in his pajamas.
That's how he works, he usually recorded way late in the night, starting around 9 or 10 until like 7 or 8 in the morning. So he ended up using a lot of that stuff on the album. There's a couple of tracks where it is all of us playing and he's gone back and sprinkled all his crazy electronics and falsetto vocals over it and taken that as a blueprint and gone with it.
So it's frustrating to us because, of course, we think we could do a great live album, and that we're considered, I hope, to be really musical beyond theatrics. It's frustrating to never get a real chance to show that in a recording. But at the same time, we have to allow him that because when he did get full control he came back with something that really surprised us and was actually fun for us to listen to as fans.
It's like a weird kind of give and take sort of thing, but I think we're all at a point where it's not about egos or feeling like we're not getting some sort of opportunity to do this or that. It's more like just releasing all that crap and allowing him to have his voice and we just help him.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Welcome Wagon- Welcome To The Welcome Wagon

Rating: 6.5
Released: Dec. 9, 2008, Asthmatic Kitty.

My generation isn't known for being plain-spoken.

Irony is our most devastating weapon, and indie-bands employ it to wax eloquent on our society and its pitfalls.

Rest assured; there is no irony intended with the Welcome Wagon, talented Michigan folker Sufjan Stevens' latest brainchild.

The album comes with a hokey cover designed like a 1950s LP you'd find stuffed in a ratty, old box in your grandmother's attic. The collection is purported to offer "pastor and wife join(ing) voices in sacred folk songs."

It's nothing new for Stevens, who packaged a Christmas set like an old caroling book last year, complete with new classics penned by the whimsical singer and multi-instrumentalist. He has also recorded a dynamite Christian allegory, 2004's Seven Swans.

You never could tell if Stevens was completely serious about the old-time religion. Wonder no more, he's not kidding.

His latest project, producing a 13-song set of non-secular shuffles from a New York minister and his wife, looks and smells like Stevens, minus the humor.

The fussy arrangements, delicate melodies and layers upon layers of music are all here (just as Stevens perfected his trademarks with 2005's Illinois), but Stevens is bringing the Rev. Thomas Auito and his wife Monique to the forefront.

It's a pleasurable listen. Songs like "Up On A Mountain" and "Sold! to the Nice Rich Man" breeze by, peppered with banjos, harmonicas, glockenspiels and Stevens' typically ornate horn arrangements.

The guitars sometimes encroach, uncomfortably, on well-tilled muzak soil, but the Auitos plain-spoken (there's that word again) performance is not tongue-in-cheek. As the reverend and his wife said, they just want to make their own hymns.

Religion and indie-pop rarely mix. Hymns haven't been hip since Johnny Cash and June Carter duetted over traditionals four decades ago.

But the Welcome Wagon and Stevens have created something unique in this oft-snarky music scene: a sincere, unpatronizing reflection on God.

Most of the lyrics avoid directly Christian lyrics, save for the Christ memoir "He Never Said A Mumblin' Word." There's no condemnation of society and its sin, as many have come to expect from religious mouthpieces, just warm songs.

"But For You Who Fear My Name" is pure fun, thanks to an infectious, singalong chorus (with an impromptu indie choir), unadorned banjo and hand-claps. It sounds ready-made for a youth group camping trip.

Stevens, like Bowie's 70s projects with Iggy Pop and Lou Reed, often does little more than make his proteges sound like, well, Stevens. The results can be, at times, grating, especially if the songs aren't up to the quality of Illinois masterpieces like "The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades."

Yet the Welcome Wagon's debut is hip hope for the warm-hearted spiritual folks out there. No kidding.


Tomorrow: A new EP from talented Charlotte band The Lights, Fluorescent.

Interview with Of Montreal's James Huggins - Part 1 of 3

I had the chance to chat with Of Montreal multi-instrumentalist James Huggins this weekend. The Athens band is wrapping up the U.S. leg of its Skeletal Lamping tour these days.

If you haven't seen the band live yet, I'd recommend it, if you want to see and hear mock hangings, ninja action sequences, centaurs and brilliant musicianship.

Skeletal Lamping was one of my favorite albums this year, a fantastic mix of psychedelic rock and indie-funk that should pass the test of time.

Huggins has been in the band for more than a decade, and now the collective finally appears ready to make a splash on the charts, thanks to ever-imaginative frontman Kevin Barnes. Catch the group performing live on the "Late Show with David Letterman" Thursday, Dec. 18.

Barnes recorded most of Skeletal Lamping in his home studio, and his big band fills in the gaps on tour.

Huggins, a gifted songwriter in his own right, is responsible for a solo album under the name James Husband.

He called me from a Tampa beach this weekend and talked about his time with the band and Barnes, what it's like to finally hit the "big time," and his plans for an upcoming solo project.

I will post the half-hour interview in three chunks over the next three days. Enjoy!

SoR: How's the tour going?

JH: This is the very bottom of the tail end of the last straw of this tour. We feel like the whole tour was over essentially right before Thanksgiving and then these Florida shows were added on at the last minute. They're all a little bit lower profiles, so we're just kind of doing them just for like a bonus.

SoR: It's obviously the most elaborate show the band has done, with ninjas and costumes and action sequences. Is this your ideal view of what a concert should be?

JH: This time we were more motivated. The time before it was a little bit less. The scary thing is trying to top this now because there's an expectation when you do something really big and theatrical that then, each time, I feel like there's some expectation that we have to impress and improve. So at some point it's going to have to hit a plateau and go back to something minimal.

SoR: You can't really top mock hangings I guess?

JH: Yeah, but that's exactly how we wanted to do it. And for us the only real limitation on this whole tour was venue size, like stage size, and then, of course, money. But we found some very creative ways around the money thing. As far as the size of the venues, we could just adapt our set to accommodate most places.
Like in Atlanta, that was the ideal setup where we had all five video screens and our little drum towers and all that. But a lot of times, like in Nashville, I remember it was really small. We had to strike the risers all together and only use one video screen. I don't know, all those things we have to work around every night. It's sort of a new setup but the show is essentially the same.

SoR: Do you sense that you guys have turned the corner and maybe moved out of the smaller rock band status and into one of those larger acts?

JH: Well, definitely, that's undeniable. For us, it's kind of like a funny thing that we're talking like we're so old and we've been doing it so long. So we have the same excitement that you see in a younger band that's put out their first or second record.
I feel like we've been trained for disappointment because we sort of expected it to do this six or eight or 10 years ago. And with each record and each tour, we feel like we've just been waiting for the audience. Now 10 years later, to have some of those things start to happen, I think we're all a little bit distrustful of the whole situation.
Because it's like it's great that we can be able to put on the shows we want from larger audiences and have respect from other groups and press that wouldn't give us the time of day two years ago. It's definitely a very interesting transition but I think we're all just slightly confused and maybe wary of the success.

SoR: What would be the optimal topping out point? Do you guys want to sell out Madison Square Garden?

JH: Sure, that would be great!

SoR: I understand that the music scene is splintered today with the larger record companies struggling to make a lot of profit. Now there seems to be a lot of the smaller bands that hit the medium status and never get to that Britney Spears-type status. Would your goal be to sell out the big stadiums?

JH: Well that's the thing. I don't think there is an ideal. It's just different things. We love putting on big, funny things and playing in small clothes. I guess it just depends on what it calls for. We had an offer to do a show at the Hollywood Bowl, which I think the maximum there is like 15,000 people.
I don't know if we'd get anywhere close to that. I guess the last show we did in L.A. was like 4,000 people in a single room, and this was like an outdoor room. So we would have the opportunity to have like an orchestra or something crazy. But that would be something we'd do once, and then the next time we might play at the small, little rock club and put on a special show.
Last time we played in London in a big theater and put on the first, real U.K. big performance. But then we're going back in a few weeks and we're playing this show with Franz Ferdinand in a little club that only holds like 600 people.
I think that it's really just keeping it interesting by doing a variety of different kinds of shows and different kinds of environments for different kinds of audiences. I think rotating it gives you perspective.
Because if you just start doing detached, large arena kind of shit, I can see how that would kind of kill the personality of the performance. I've gotten a glimpse of that a couple of times. I've heard of a couple of other bands that say that they can't stand playing really large, arena-type venues because they don't feel any connection. I can see that too, but I don't think we're in any immediate danger of having to do that.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Ears Of My Peers

I give you my good friend Nate's top 25 albums of 2008. He's a good authority.
This guy is a house party waiting to happen.
Send me your faves, I'm curious to hear what everybody thinks.

1. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes
2. Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago
3. TV On The Radio – Dear Science
4. MGMT – Oracular Spectacular
5. The Walkmen – You & Me
6. Blitzen Trapper – Furr
7. Frightened Rabbit – Midnight Organ Fight
8. The Dodos – The Visiter
9. Sigur Ros – Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust
10. Lil' Wayne – Tha Carter III
11. Fuck Buttons – Street Horrrsing
12. Beach House – Devotion
13. Wolf Parade – At Mount Zoomer
14. Mountain Goats – Heretic Pride
15. The Hold Steady – Stay Positive
16. Of Montreal – Skeletal Lamping
17. Portishead – Third
18. The Black Keys – Attack & Release
19. My Morning Jacket – Evil Urges
20. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend
21. Langhorne Slim – Langhorne Slim
22. Girl Talk – Feed the Animals
23. Deerhunter – Microcastle
24. Okkervil River – The Stand-Ins
25. Hot Chip – Made in the Dark

Neil Young- Sugar Mountain Live at Canterbury House 1968

Rating: 8.0
Released: Dec. 2, 2008, Reprise.

Neil Young has always liked to have it both ways.

One minute he's a folk troubadour. The next he's recording garage-rock bliss.

This 1968 set, culled from an intimate Michigan performance just days before his 23rd birthday, finds Young firmly entrenched in the former position.

It's weeks after he released his self-titled solo album, and years before he would release a string of 1970s masterpieces, including After the Gold Rush, Tonight's the Night and Rust Never Sleeps, that would establish him as one of the most important and versatile artists of the decade.

Young came to prominence leading 60's rock pioneers Buffalo Springfield, and he leans heavily on that output here, recording stripped-down, acoustic versions of classics like "Mr. Soul" and "Broken Arrow."

The still-fresh solo work feels remarkably lived in, and Young relies on his bittersweet lyrics and pinched voice to make the tunes. There's no studio trickery here. Young allows the songs to speak for themselves.

For those who think Young can't sing, listen to his hushed rendition of "The Old Laughing Lady." It's clear he knows something about atmosphere.

The Ann Arbor venue allows for maximum interaction between Young and his enamored audience, with Young filling the set with disarming chatter. He's funny, frank and clearly heading for bigger things.

If you're looking for pre-punk rockers and distorted guitars, don't look here. Search out Young's recently released 1970 performance at the Fillmore East with Crazy Horse.

But if you want Young working his storyteller mojo, check out this outstanding CD and DVD set.

On a side note, Young is currently touring with gifted followers like Wilco. Raise your hand if you want to hear Young and Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy exercise a guitar-stomp duet on "Southern Man."

If you didn't raise your hand, I find it hard to relate to you.

Tomorrow: Sufjan Stevens' latest project Welcome Wagon.


Friday, December 5, 2008

Rivers Cuomo- Alone II: The Home Recordings

Rating: 6.0
Released: Nov. 25, 2008, Geffen.

Admit it. The first time you heard Weezer singing "Buddy Holly," you figured this band was one and done.

The tune was incredibly catchy and simple. It sounded like a MTV-distillation of Pavement. These guys were living on borrowed time, right?


More than a decade later, Weezer remains a favorite for fans who would listen to the ever-prolific Rivers Cuomo belch the ABCs if he did it on tape. Those people, and more, are going to eat this one up.

Cuomo has always been more than a Pavement-imitating, pop-punk songwriter. He was emo before that was a slur, blending 1960's singalongs with big, harmonizing guitars.

The uncompromising fragility of his lyrics and plaintive voice were utterly unpretentious, reaching their peak on 1996's Pinkerton.

Alone II: The Home Recordings
is the second lo-fi album of rarities Cuomo's released in recent years.

Like its predecessor, some of the tracks are genuine keepers, revealing Cuomo's talent for sincere alternative songs bundled with joyful choruses and joyless lyrics. See "The Prettiest Girl in the Whole Wide World" and "I'll Think About You" for examples.

Others, less so. Some are documents of Cuomo's oft-fried voice. It's hard to enjoy his off-key cover of the Beach Boys' "Don't Worry Baby" after hearing the original.

Still, Cuomo and Weezer will prosper, no matter how many dreadful Good Charlotte bands squeeze the aesthetic for a few more bucks.

Unreleased material finally packaged can fall into two camps: music that probably shouldn't have been heard by anyone other than the artist's dog and mother, and tunes that shed light on a gifted songwriter's creative process.

Cuomo's latest falls in the latter category.


Thursday, December 4, 2008

Mice and Men

The best-laid plans...

Of Montreal's Jamey Huggins was stuck in a long sound check today, and we had to postpone the interview until tonight or Friday.

I plan to post the entire interview once I've wrapped it up. Sorry for the delay.


Common- Universal Mind Control

Rating: 5.5
Released: Dec. 9, 2008, Geffen.

What's a nice-guy rapper to do?

Chicago rapper Common ascended to rap stardom in the past decade breaking the mold. While his peers might have talked gunplay, Common led the soul pack of MCs, recording a retro-infused batch of songs that sounded like latter-day, street-preacher Nas without the rampant narcissism.

Common made his living by standing out from other hip hop stars, but his latest does little to set him apart, and with mixed results.

In a time when hip hop's leading star Kanye West is recording melodramatic break-up albums that sound like Fiona Apple, Common is indicating he just wants to party, and he's asked Converse-loving Pharrell and the Neptunes to come along for the ride.

He kicks off his latest LP, Universal Mind Control, with a title track that sounds like standard club fodder, sporting a glitchy techno beat that's crying for Usher to body up on somebody.

"This is that automatic/I stay fresh like I'm wrapped in plastic," Common raps, moments before he starts talking about "booties droppin'."

On the next track, he partners with Mr. West himself (who phones it in for a monotonous chorus) for "Punch Drunk Love," a weirdly unappealing song with one too many sex jokes.

"Check my dictionary, that ass is so defined," Common spits. "It's slippery when wet, I can read the signs."

This isn't your mother's Common.

The rapper's experiments fall flat when he tries to sound like a thug, save for the head-banging "Gladiator," where he raps over a trilling trumpet and pounding beat.

"Don't violate or you get violated/some of you model bitches are so overrated," he brags. Who put the chip on this guy's shoulder?

The warmer, fuzzier Common makes a guest appearance on "Changes." The end of the song, which features an excerpt from President-elect Barack Obama's victory speech, might explain why Common feels so much like getting down.

"We see change in the wind/ it's a new day and I gotta take it in/ see a black man run, we need him to win," he raps.

"Changes," along with the Cee-Lo winner "Make My Day," are refreshing listens on a largely innocuous album. Perhaps Common shouldn't have picked overexposed producers like Pharrell and the Neptunes as pilots.


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Decemberists- Always The Bridesmaid EP

Rating: 6.8
Released: Dec. 2, 2008, Capitol Records

The Decemberists have carved themselves quite a niche. They've pumped out highly arranged folk rock for years now, marrying artsy prog songs and serious pop instincts.

The band can sound big and it can sound small, a fitting background for frontman Colin Meloy's warbly singing voice.

It's caught the attention of scores of brainy hipsters and others who long to hear words like fontanelle in their rock songs.

2006's The Crane Wife was a marvel of songcraft and artistic commitment, a major step above 2005's excellent Picaresque. Few major bands would base an entire album on a Japanese folk story and succeed for it.

If the rumors are true, then the band's forthcoming LP, slated for a Marsh 2009 release, should be another leap, supposedly combining lots of guitars in a modern rock opera. Sounds appealing, if only because The Decemberists pull off geeky pop in a way that is sometimes triumphant (see the last two songs on The Crane Wife).

That said, the recently released Always the Bridesmaid EP can be a little underwhelming, possibly because it's a collection of singles.

The six tracks here retreat to the melodic, disarming rock that made Picaresque fun, although they're not quite as engaging, at least for the moment (The Decemberists are a grower).

"Valerie Plame" is a great start. It's probably one of the most infectious songs this band has written, thanks to terrific melody, Chicago-like horns and swirling accordion.

The Beatles outro is a reminder that the band really just wants a good singalong.

"O New England" and "I'm Sticking With You" are a little more forgettable, but not for lack of trying. The latter track is funny and cute, tossing out such nuggets as "I'm sticking with you/cause I'm made out of glue," but I'm not sure that the song really sticks in a good way.

"Record Year" and "Raincoat Song" close the EP on a strong, bittersweet note.

You're left with a feeling that these songs are toss-offs, a way to clear out the attic before the new album arrives. Still, toss-offs from a great band make for good listening.

Interview tomorrow with Of Montreal's Jamey Huggins

I've scored a tentative interview with Of Montreal's multi-instrumentalist James Husband, aka Jamey Huggins, Thursday.

Huggins is a longtime member of the fantastic Athens band, which at the moment appears to be headed for the spotlight. It's about time.

Of Montreal is what you would get if the Beatles turned into superfreaks. Their ultra-catchy songs can be thrilling, beautiful, hilarious and poignant.

Check out their new LP Skeletal Lamping to hear what Brian Wilson might have sounded like if he had moral support from the rest of the Beach Boys.

Huggins recorded a solo album several years ago under the Husband monicker, and filled it with more of the harmony-laden, electro-pop Of Montreal is known for, indicating frontman Kevin Barnes isn't the only big brain in this band.

Check back in tomorrow for a transcript of the interview.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Early Bird Gets The Worm

Just in time for Obama's inauguration.

Pitchfork is reporting Andrew Bird is pushing up the release date of his Noble Beast album, with the first pressings featuring a bonus disc of instrumentals. The new North American release date is Jan. 20, up from Jan. 27.

This is good news.

If you haven't listened to Bird yet, you should. The Illinois folker is good at writing brooding ruminations on fiery crashes and other such morbid things. The songs stick in your head. Check out Bird's Armchair Apocrypha to hear Bird cut loose on the electric guitar and the violin.

Little Joy- Little Joy

Rating: 7.2
Released: Nov. 4, 2008, Rough Trade

The Strokes are, after all, a great band. Their contribution to modern rock cannot be understated, paving the way for hordes of indie, throwback bands to rock the hipster dens and the stadiums alike, combining The Kinks rave-ups with post-punk fury.

Together, the five-piece Brooklyn band has done a lot for our ears, starting with 2001's Is This It.
It would seem to be asking a lot for the band's solo members to make their mark too.

Enter Strokes drummer Fabrizio Moretti, who has teamed with girlfriend Binki Shapiro and Brazilian singer Rodrigo Amarante to make the aptly-titled Little Joy.

The record is remarkably pleasing, stuffed with lilting acoustic ballads, gentle tropical shuffles and, occasionally, a Strokes-style rock-out.

Like Panda Bear's 2007 masterpiece Person Pitch, this is a summer record arriving just in time for winter. Employing ukulele, crystal-clear guitars and Amarante's sleepy croon, this is perfect music for a nap in a hammock, if it wasn't too frigid outside.

This isn't the first indie band to use world music to make a record that will appeal to American sensibilities. Look no further than New Mexico-wonderkid Beirut if you want proof.

"Brand New Start" sounds like a 60's Drifters standard, carried by reggae-lite horns and an infectious, blissful chorus. "There ain't no lover like the one I got/she and I and a brand new start/ got to give all my love," Amarante confesses. It's not often that hipsters admit to being happy.

Other tracks, like "Don't Watch Me Dancing," are immediately accessible, coupling what could be two songs about a wallflower into one Velvet Underground meets Yo La Tengo tune.

"Keep Me In Mind" is the closest you'll get to a Strokes song here. "Evaporar" closes out the album with Amarante singing in Portugese, a fitting reminder that we owe Brazil more than we owe Brooklyn for this album. It sounds ripe for the plucking in Wes Anderson's next film.


Monday, December 1, 2008

TV On The Radio - Dear Science

Rating: 9.0.
Released: Sept. 23, 2008, Interscope

Perhaps the best record I've heard this year.

This five-member New York art-rock collective is recording some of the most thrilling music today.

It's heavy, melodic and dense. The band records progressive, dramatic songs that flirt with multiple genres, often in the same song.

This is their most accessible album yet, which, oddly enough, is also their best. TV On The Radio proves the best bands are both challenging and accessible.

There's the Joy Division stomp of "Halfway Home," the brainy funk of "Crying," the spacey pop of "Golden Age," and the cinematic swell of "Family Tree." The latter song is a marvel of minimalism, building on a ringing piano and strings that crescendo like Radiohead's "The Bends."

Singer Tunde Adebimpe uses his Arthur Lee voice with equal parts grace and, at times, ferocity, pairing with musical partner Kyp Malone. Malone often sings the tenor to Adebimpe's bass, injecting even the most sorrowful of songs, "Love Dog" for example, with a sprightly foil.

The pop comes with a message.

"Hey jackboot, fuck your war/ cause I'm fat and in love and no bombs are fallin' on me for sure," Malone sings on "Red Dress," a horn-heavy romp that bridges the album's first-half dance epics to the moody histrionics bookending the collection.

Best of all might be "Shout Me Out," a pounding call-to-action that starts with a muted bass, majestic horns and an irresistible melody, before pounding out the kinks with a double-time electronic coda and distorted guitars.

"Lord if you've got lungs/ c'mon and shout me out," Adebimpe sings. It could be a birthday shout-out or a furious break-out song, depending on your point of view.

Welcome to the Salmon of Rock

Hi, my name is Billy.

I am kicking off my new blog, Salmon of Rock, which I hope will get me started as a music writer.
The format is simple. I like an album. Maybe you'll like the same album. Or not. Either way, there's so much great music to be had these days, it needs to be documented.
If you know me, you know that I think this is a golden age for music. Let me know if there are any great albums you'd like for me to check out. The more music, the better.

First, a little about myself. I'm a 26-year-old reporter from Charlotte who spends his evenings moonlighting as a music writer. I've written for numerous publications, including the Charlotte Observer and Street & Smith's.

Music is my passion. Indie, electronic, soul, hip-hop, trip-hop, white-hot rawk, blues, progressive: Anything that has a soul and shows creativity.

I've come to think I had to be doing this. My evening with Of Montreal's Kevin Barnes made that abundantly clear.

I hope to post a review of a new album each day, grading it on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being Nickelback and 10 being somebody really really good. I also plan to integrate breaking news at some point and interviews with the innovators of our time.

Again, comments will be fantastic. Let me know what you want to see or hear. Enjoy.