Friday, May 29, 2009

Hop on Pop: June Album Releases

Supergroups are a tricky thing.

The road to superstardom is littered with so many Blind Faiths and Traveling Wilburys.

Enter The Dead Weather, Jack White's latest side project with The Kills frontwoman Alison Mosshart, Queens of the Stone Age guitarist Dean Fertita and Raconteurs bassist Jack Lawrence.

The good news about White's side projects is they usually bring all the goods of a main act. From the looks of it, The Dead Weather is a beast unto itself.

That's White straddling the front in all of the press photos, but he'll be taking a step back on the records and hiding behind the drum kit.

This raises the question: If Jack White can play drums, should Meg White consider modeling full-time?

The Dead Weather isn't the only meal you'll get this June (UPDATE: The album has been delayed until July 14). There's plenty to go around.

Check out Lil Wayne's rock Rebirth (Update: Lil Wayne's latest is postponed until Aug. 18) and piano-pop queen Regina Spektor's return in Far. There's the Dave Matthews Band launching its comeback less than a year after the death of saxophonist LeRoi Moore, and former The Band drummer Levon Helm releasing his latest solo outing (the man's a marvel).

Also, feast your ears upon Wolf Parade offshoot Sunset Rubdown, virtuoso rapper/actor Mos Def, and, of course, Wilco's sort-of self-titled record.

June 1:
Patrick Wolf - The Bachelor

June 2:
Elvis Costello - Sweet, Profane & Sugarcane
Eels - Hombre Loco
Dave Matthews Band - Whiskey and the Groogrux King

June 9:
The Dead Weather - Horehound
Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca
Joan of Arc - Flowers
Mos Def - The Ecstatic
Sonic Youth - The Eternal

June 16:
Amanda Blank - I Love You
Twista - Category F5

June 23:
Dinosaur Jr. - Farm
Sunset Rubdown - Dragonslayer
Patterson Hood - Murdering Oscar (And Other Love Songs)
Regina Spektor- Far
Pete Yorn - Back And Forth

June 30:
Wilco - Wilco (The Album)
The Fiery Furnaces - I'm Going Away
Levon Helm - Electric Dirt

- SoR

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Review: Eminem - Relapse

Rating: 4.5
Released: May 19, 2009
Aftermath, Interscope, Shady

The cover of Eminem's vaunted comeback album has a photo illustration of Shady made out of pills and a fake prescription label in the lower corner.

That's all you need to know about the once great Slim Shady's latest self-flagellating, narcotic opus, subtly titled Relapse.

Em's appetite for pills has been well-documented in his decade-long career, thanks to his fiendishly virtuosic turn on 2000's The Marshall Mathers LP, a hip hop classic by all accounts.

Two years later, he set the bar for comeback singles when he dropped "Without Me," arguably one of the most devilishly produced call-to-arms you could get out of a non-political artist.

But he's dropped off the map in recent years, making more headlines for his perceived eating habits and drug problems than his rhymes.

Record buyers' taste in pop stars is notoriously fickle. Here today, gone tomorrow. If so, that doesn't bode well for Shady, who hasn't had an LP since 2004's limp-wristed Encore.

Nevermind that.

The American public's appetite for Em has apparently not waned, based on the 600,000 or so buyers gobbling up copies of Relapse in the first week, making it the fastest-selling album so far in 2009.

Truthfully, that's no major feat since he's among the first of the heavyweights to really clock in this year, but his success has to come as some sort of a surprise.

More surprising still might be his eagerness to get back to work.

Encore was, above all things, a tired effort from a tired artist. The put-downs sounded oddly manufactured, and the choruses, always Em's forte, were forgettable.

Flash forward five years and Shady hasn't improved that much, but he at least seems to be trying harder.

He's still making fun of mile-wide targets like Sarah Palin and Kim Kardashian, he still hates his mother, and he still wants us to believe that he'll say anything, anytime.

First single "We Made You" is dreadful in its nursery rhyme beat, produced under Dr. Dre's watchful eye, and its business-as-usual verses.

Does anyone really need to hear more jabs at Jessica Simpson? Really?

Predictably darker second single "3 a.m." fares a little better, although Shady's mock Jamaican accent is troubling at best. More troubling? The embarassing off-kilter accent makes a victory lap in several Relapse tracks.

"It's 3 a.m. in the morning, put my key in the door/bodies laying all over the floor/ I don't remember how they got there but I guess I must of killed them," he spits on "3 a.m."

Ensuing rhymes about masturbating to Hannah Montana are sure to offend whoever it is that still gets offended by this guy.

The album tracks are stronger than the dud singles here, a switch from any previous Em album.

The slick, horn-driven beat of "My Mom" is a cure-all for the routine rhythms of "Hello" and "Medicine Ball."

"I know you're probably tired of hearing about my mom," he raps on the former, the closest you're going to get to an apology from Em for his redundant subject matter.

"Insane" employs a skittish, horror-movie soundtrack to make a chilling manifesto for Shady's loose screws, if you can bear accounts of anal rape.

Although c'mon, if you bought an Eminem album in the first place, that's probably not going to bother you too much.

Later tracks like "Crack A Bottle" bring the star power courtesty of 50 Cent and Dre himself, but by then, it's too late for the Shady one.

The verdict? Relapse is a step up, but it's still a throwaway from a once indispensable artist.

- SoR

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Jay Bennett: 1963-2009

As you've probably heard by now, former Wilco multi-instrumentalist Jay Bennett died Sunday in his sleep.

The 45-year-old performer was found in his Urbana, Ill. home. Cause of death has not been released.

The news comes just weeks after Bennett filed a lawsuit against his former Wilco bandmate Jeff Tweddy over royalties and his part in the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot documentary "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart."

A lot of things have been said about Bennett, even on this blog.

But his contributions to Wilco albums, including their masterpiece YHF, are undeniable.

He's remembered as a gifted arranger and all-around musician, but his public film battles with Tweedy added another dose of drama to Wilco's tortuous history.

Bennett was weeks away from hip surgery and his latest solo record. Seems a terrible shame. R.I.P. Jay.

Tweedy posted the following comment on Wilco's Web site:

"We are all deeply saddened by this tragedy. We will miss Jay as we remember him -- as a truly unique and gifted human being and one who made welcome and significant contributions to the band's songs and evolution. Our thoughts go out to his family and friends in this very difficult time."

- SoR

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Review: White Rabbits - It's Frightening

Rating: 7.5
Released: May 19, 2009
TBD Records

Yes, this is another indie band named after an animal.

Yes, they have two drummers.

Yes, it sounds like Spoon, thanks in no small part to silvery-sheen production from Spoon frontman Britt Daniel.

Yes, it's one of the best rock albums of the year so far.

No, Grace Slick is nowhere to be seen.

Brooklyn-based White Rabbits, touted for their sharp hooks and minimalist approach, deliver on their sophomore record.

Their debut, 2007's Fort Nightly, was that rare debut that sounded like it was made by decades-old rock vets. It was polished, the tunes were dramatic and they lent themselves to singalongs.

All the keys were there for a big splash.

The big splash never really came, but It's Frightening finds the Rabbits playing to their strengths, which is seamless pop songs driven by the left end of the piano.

Like Spoon, the Rabbits recording approach likely requires hours of trimwork. The best songs sound shaved to their most basic elements - eerie vocals, chugging keys, and amped up drums and bass.

The rhythm section, much like in Spoon's 2002 opus Kill the Moonlight, is the star. It's true that Daniels has a formula, but it works.

Frontmen Greg Roberts and Stephen Patterson record menaced, harmonic vocals with the right amount of pretty to keep it pop.

"They done wrong/and we done wrong/ what makes you so certain all their fingerpointing's done," Roberts sings in paranoid album highlight "They Done Wrong/We Done Wrong."

A low-end piano riff keeps the track gassed until the shimmering, melodramatic coda straight out of a Sigur Ros cookbook.

Other songs like the aptly titled album opener "Percussion Gun," employ Spoon and Cold War Kids tricks - the dark guitars and soaring vocals - to make indie drama ripe for the radio. More power to ya.

- SoR

Monday, May 18, 2009

Review: Steve Earle - Townes

Rating: 7.5
Released: May 12, 2009
New West

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and the long unheralded late Townes Van Zandt (photo right) is due for some flattery.

A brilliant folk and blues songwriter, Van Zandt's acolytes read like a laundry list of popular and influential modern artists: Conor Oberst, Neil Young, Jim James of My Morning Jacket, Norah Jones, Meat Puppets, Devendra Banhart, and, oh yeah, Bob Dylan.

His three-decade recording career yielded heaps of blues and country originals that injected Woody Guthrie's everyman poetry with Texas attitude and grit, including the Van Zandt-penned country smash "Pancho and Lefty."

It also produced equal heaps of financial disarray and addictions.

Yet his death in 1997 passed, much like his troubled life, under the radar.

It should come as no surprise that perhaps the most moving tribute so far for the "songwriter's songwriter" comes from his protege, Nashville roots icon Steve Earle (photo left).

Earle once called Van Zandt the best songwriter in the world. Still, he doesn't let his devotion get in the way of a good performance on Townes.

This 15-track collection cherrypicks Van Zandt's wandering catalogue of sparse folk and gritty blues over three decades, delivering faithful takes that, for the most part, steer clear of overly reverent canonizations.

The wry Van Zandt would probably have wanted it that way.

The hits, or as close as Van Zandt came to hits, are all here, including "Pancho and Lefty," Townes' legendary outlaw drama.

In the hands of Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, "Pancho and Lefty" was a chart-topping smash in 1983. Don't expect the same for Earle's lonely, acoustic interpretation.

But the highlights here are the overlooked numbers.

Earle delivers an apocalyptic take on "Lungs," spicing up Van Zandt's original with breathy vocals, Crazy Horse guitar distortion and an amped up rhythm section.

"Won't you lend your lungs to me/mine are collapsing," Earle sings like he wrote it.

Earle seems positively giddy to spin "Delta Momma Blues," Van Zandt's playful folk ode to lusty Mississippi stool pigeons, and his pub love letter "Loretta," which Earle turns into a Celtic ballad.

"My guitar sings, Loretta's fine/Long and lazy, blonde and free/I can have her any time," Earle drawls on the latter.

For an artist like Van Zandt, whose music is often packaged with the troubled, drug-addled story of his short life, it's refreshing to hear what pushed the blues troubador more than booze and narcotics: women.

All of it sounds like Earle, whose earned the right to sing the blues. The "hard-core troubador" has had his fair share of drug and legal problems.

As with most covers albums, most of the tunes end up sounding like the performer and not the icon, but the 15 songs here hew closely enough to Van Zandt's homespun pastiche to weave a fitting tribute.

If you're into Earle's ragged roots rock and churning grungy anthems, you'll dig it. If not, buy the originals for the real deal.

It may be too late to give Van Zandt's wallet a well-deserved fattening, but here's hoping he finds a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with a little help from his friends.

- SoR

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Wilco (The Album) - Get Some!

Good news if you're a Wilco fan, which you should be.

Wilco is streaming its entire new album, brilliantly titled Wilco (The Album), now on the band's Web site.

Listen to it here. (Update: Wilco has temporarily stopped the streaming, but they promise it will return).

The LP doesn't debut until June 30 on Nonesuch Records, but Rolling Stone is reporting the band is responding to its leak on the Internet.

This is nothing new for the band. They've streamed each of their last three albums free on the net.

First impressions? The Chicago band is retreating from the country-rock of 2007's Sky Blue Sky and embracing more of the spacey guitar heroics that made 2004's A Ghost Is Born so memorable.

The early highlight is "Bull Black Nova," an extended cut with haunting, staccato keys and chiming guitar rawk. This sounds like the first time fans will get to hear Wilco guitar superhero Nels Cline cut loose in the studio.

Listen and enjoy. Then buy in June.

- SoR

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Lil Wayne and Rock = Vietnamese Food?

Alright, I've kept my peace on this long enough.

What's it like to ascend to the very top of your genre, declare yourself the greatest in that respective genre, and then switch genres?

Few people can give you an answer on that, save for Lil Wayne.

The mini-rapper extraordinaire's rock album, Rebirth, is still weeks away from a tentative June 23 release, but the piecemeal offerings that have trickled out from the LP in recent weeks all point to one thing.


Miss Limp Bizkit? Can't get enough Linkin Park and Kid Rock? Still waiting for a Faith No More reunion? Don't everybody jump up at once.

That's what Wayne's first single from the album, titled "Prom Queen," sounds like. If you were to drop several forks in a trash compactor and ask your 12-year-old brother to play his first guitar solo, you might have an idea.

You can understand my trepidation.

Rolling Stone is reporting that at least one of the tracks will shoot for an old-school Beastie Boys sound. The Beasties were one of the few groups that managed to pull off rap-rock. Let's hope that carries through the rest of Rebirth.

Just months ago, Wayne was topping the world with Tha Carter III, one of the most potent hip hop records from the last decade. The singles were unforgettable and the album tracks were brilliantly subversive.

No doubt it takes stones to switch it up when you're at the top of your game. Kudos to Weezy for the stones.

But that doesn't mean we have to like it, and according to Wayne's manager, "He don't care."

This isn't the first time a rap star believed he could fly. Check out Tupac in 1994's "Above the Rim" to see Tupac act like, well, Tupac.

Red Man and Method Man soon followed suit, while Kanye West released his soul record, 808s and Heartbreak, last year. Kanye sings and he sounds not unlike a drowning goat!!

Still, maybe Rebirth will be awesome.

If I ruled out everything based on the first taste, I never would have liked beer, wine, vodka or Vietnamese food. Let's cross our fingers and hope that Wayne's latest is like Vietnamese food.

- SoR

Monday, May 11, 2009

Art Brut - Art Brut vs. Satan

Rating: 4.0
Released: May 12, 2009

To quote Scottish rockers Franz Ferdinand, who so clearly influenced Art Brut, "You could have it so much better."

British pop act Art Brut made a name for itself in recent years making the kind of tongue-in-cheek disco rock that, in theory, would make Pulp proud.

Whether they've lived up to that expectation or not is another thing.

Frontman Eddie Argos shoots for the singspeak wit and presence of vet Jarvis Cocker, but on Art Brut's latest, Art Brut vs. Satan, he just sounds oddly tuneless.

The propulsive tracks and slashing angular guitars are, no surprise, like the heaviest tracks from an Artic Monkeys or Bloc Party album, but without the tight pop sensibility.

"Bring me tea/bring me coffee/I was up all night/I've been making mistakes/I'm hiding it well but I don't feel great," Argos sings on first single "Alcoholics Unanimous," which sounds like an anthem for unimaginative pub crawlers.

Other tracks like "DC Comics and Chocolate Milkshake" make you wonder if Art Brut is running out of things to say.

"DC Comics and chocolate milkshake/some things will always be great ... even though I'm 28," Argos rants on the grating chorus.

The song is funny, but it sticks like a song in an ad. Which is to say, it's annoying.

Some tunes fare better than others.

Pixies mastermind and producer Frank Black predictably brings the guitars and it works sometimes, like on slash and jab rocker "Demons Out!"

"The record buying public shouldn't be voting," Argos sings to the demon idiots in the room.

It's likely someone will find love in Argos' cockney jabbering, but his voice, which tends to make all Art Brut songs sound identical, could turn just as many people off.

"How am I supposed to sleep at night/when nobody likes the music I write," Argos bemoans during "Demons Out!"

Um, have you tried sleeping pills?


Friday, May 8, 2009

Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band - Outer South

Rating: 6.0
Released: May 5, 2009

Let's just say we're going to take this Dylan comparison seriously.

If so, 29-year-old Conor Oberst is in Dylan's late 60s, early 70s John Wesley Harding and New Morning period.

Perhaps tired of being asked to sit in as the voice of a generation, he just wants to wear matching jackets with his drinking buddies (it's like the Pink Ladies in Grease 2!), drive a motorcycle, wear Top Gun aviator glasses (woot homoerotic beach volleyball!), drive to Nogales and indulge his classic rock bone.

Like Dylan, he's going to take his knocks for not making the album everyone wants to hear. For Dylan, it was Highway 61 Revisited or Freewheelin' Bob Dylan. For Oberst, it's his landmark 2005 folk opus I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning.

But if you like your artists subversive and willful, it goes with the territory. So hush up! Outer South isn't that bad.

It isn't that good either.

You can't talk about what this album is without saying what it isn't. It's not a Bright Eyes album or even a Conor Oberst solo record, like last year's even-keeled, self-titled travelogue. It's more like a jam around a campfire. With electric guitars.

Oberst writes 10 of the 16 tracks here, ceding some songwriting and vocal duties to bandmates Nik Freitas, Taylor Hollingsworth and Jason Boesel.

The non-Obersts are pleasant. They're not the least talented guys in the room, but The Band they ain't.

Their amicable folk and power-pop numbers pass by without making a fuss, which is to say they're forgettable.

No surprise, the strongest songs here belong to Oberst. The good news is if you trim those six Mystic Valley tunes, you still have an album's worth of new Oberst.

"To All The Lights in the Windows" sounds like Wilbury-era Tom Petty, and "I Got The Reason" is patient folk rock with some Crazy Horse spice for good measure. It knows where it's going so there's no need to rush.

Meantime, "White Shoes" and "Roosevelt Room" is as close as you're going to get to old Bright Eyes material. "Just tell me what you want to do/anything you want to do," Oberst sings over spare acoustic guitar in the former.

It's a haunting reminder of just how good a songwriter Oberst can be. His strength has always been his lyrics, which have grown increasingly cryptic.

In "Roosevelt Room," he's still raging against the political establishment.

"You want me to pay my taxes/ So you can propagate your lies/While there's barefoot dudes down in New Orleans
Looking like they're gonna die," he sings.

Somebody go find Bush, it's time to stick it to him again.

Others like "Slowly (Oh So Slowly)" and "Nikorette" are regrettably generic songs, especially from an artist whose blunt histrionics and trembling baritone made him one of the most distinct singer-songwriters in the whole pack.

Chances are this material breathes well on the road; much of it sounds like it was recorded there anyway.

In the end, that's one of the biggest differences between Dylan and Oberst, at least for now.

In the early 1970s, Dylan found happiness living a remote, homely life with his love. Oberst seems to have found his love too, and it's the road.

- SoR

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Hop On Pop: May Album Releases

Yes, in honor of Eminem's comeback this month, I have posted a picture of him looking 14 and wearing a pink Alf T-shirt.

Something about this picture just screams, "Beware the coming onslaught of homophobia!!!"

Otherwise, it looks like a pretty slow month for music, aside from Steve Earle's tribute to his late mentor Townes Van Zandt and Grizzly Bear's well-timed return.

We also have an hour-long punk-pop opera from Green Day to look forward to. What has two thumbs and is highly skeptical? This guy!!

The Field is an excellent electronic artist and Iron and Wine can make seductive modern folk. Check it out.

May 12:
Art Brut - Art Brut vs. Satan
The Crystal Method - Divided By Night
Steve Earle - Townes
Roman Candle- Oh Tall Tree In The Ear

May 15:
Green Day - 21st Century Breakdown

May 19:
Eminem - Relapse
The Field - Yesterday and Today
Iron and Wine - Around the Well
Jarvis Cocker - Further Complications
John Vanderslice - Romanian Names
Iggy Pop - Preliminaires
White Rabbits - It's Frightening

May 26:
Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest
Lindstrom & Prins Thomas - II

- SoR

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Tweedy Returns Fire

One day after the Chicago Tribune reported that former Wilco member Jay Bennett is suing frontman Jeff Tweedy, Tweedy is speaking out.

Bennett is seeking royalties and claiming Tweedy didn't have permission to include him in the 2002 Wilco documentary I Am Trying To Break Your Heart.

Here's the text of Tweedy's statement, posted Tuesday by Paste magazine:

"I know exactly as much as everyone else does. I've read the news and I honestly have no idea what these claims are based on. It was such a long time ago. Aside from everything else, I'm being sued for not paying someone for appearing in a movie I didn't produce. Go figure. I am truly sad it has come to this. I am equally convinced, however, that I have done nothing wrong and that this will be handled fairly and swiftly."

Seriously? Tweedy didn't produce that movie.

- SoR

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Hop on Pop: Live Acts to Catch

Here's a new addition for the Salmon.

I'd like to point out fantastic live music to see in the coming days.

Obviously, this list focuses on Charlotte, Asheville and the Triangle region of North Carolina because that's where I live.

This isn't comprehensive. It focuses on major or up-and-coming acts, but it might leave out what you're looking for, especially if you're into jam bands. Send me any suggestions if you've got any.

So many venues, so little time. Seek tickets from the respective sellers.


May 6: India Arie, Amos' Southend, Charlotte
May 9: The Lights Fluorescent, Local 506, Chapel Hill
May 12: Richard Shindell, The Evening Muse, Charlotte
May 13: Mastodon, Cat's Cradle, Chapel Hill
May 13: Snoop Dogg, Lincoln Theatre, Raleigh
May 14: Snoop Dogg, Amos' Southend, Charlotte
May 22: Roman Candle, The Evening Muse, Charlotte
May 27: The National, Tabernacle, Atlanta
May 28: The National, Lincoln Theatre, Raleigh
May 30: Josh Ritter, Cat's Cradle, Chapel Hill
May 30: The Lights Fluorescent, Milestone, Charlotte
May 31: Little Feat, Amos' Southend, Charlotte
June 3: The Decemberists, Tabernacle, Atlanta
June 4: The Decemberists, Memorial Auditorium, Raleigh
June 6: Gaelic Storm, The Neighborhood Theatre, Charlotte
June 6: Rusted Root & The Rosebuds, Lincoln Theatre, Raleigh
June 9: Phish, Thomas Wolfe Auditorium, Asheville
June 10: Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, The Neighborhood Theatre, Charlotte
June 11: Grizzly Bear, Cat's Cradle, Chapel Hill
June 11: TV On The Radio, Amos' Southend, Charlotte
June 12: Jenny Lewis, Cat's Cradle, Chapel Hill
June 12: Yardwork, Milestone, Charlotte
June 13: TV On The Radio, Tabernacle, Atlanta
June 15: Sunset Rubdown, Local 506, Chapel Hill
June 16: Band of Horses, The Orange Peel, Asheville
June 16: Peaches, Cat's Cradle, Chapel Hill
June 17: Band of Horses, The Neighborhood Theatre, Charlotte
June 20: Camera Obscura, Cat's Cradle, Chapel Hill
July 13: Handsome Furs, Local 506, Chapel Hill

- SoR

Ex-Wilco guitarist Jay Bennett returns! Mwa ha ha!

It's like night of the living ex-band members over here.

Jay Bennett, former Wilco multi-instrumentalist, is suing frontman Jeff Tweedy for royalties and his part in the 2002 Wilco film I Am Trying to Break Your Heart.

Check out the story in the Chicago Tribune.

If you can't remember Bennett, he was the sort-of dreadlocked white guy grousing during the making of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. It's a good thing he was there to grouse. That album totally sucked!! On opposite day!!

Bennett says he wasn't compensated for his part in the film and that Tweedy didn't obtain the releases he needed for Bennett to appear in the movie. It's an odd claim because it's unclear if Tweedy had any production role in the movie.

For his part, Bennett probably has a point. Every good movie needs a villain, a well-paid villain, and Bennett certainly appeared to play the part, fair or not. He left the band shortly before the album and the movie made a splash.

In other Wilco news, the band has a new album coming out in June titled Wilco (The Album). There's a song on it called Wilco (The Song). Hmmm, hope this isn't like a Bad Company thing. Naming songs and albums after the band doesn't always make for record gold.

- SoR

Don't Call It A Comeback, I've Been Here For Years

I'm making a comeback, and hopefully I'll fare a little better than Britney.

Apologies for the silence radiating like waves from the Salmon of late. Work and grad school applications have kept me away, but there's much to talk about.

There's good music to be had, and good shows to talk about. If you're still reading, thanks.

- SoR