With the countdown to Dear Bo Jackson at mere days (out April 30th), it's time to celebrate The Weeks stopgap EP, Gutter Gaunt Gangster, that reintroduced the band in 2012, four years after their promising debut, Comeback Cadillac. We already proclaimed "The House That We Grew Up In" the song of the summer, but sadly that won't get a third go round on the new album. Nor will "Slave to The South", a mournful ballad that seems to celebrate a life that can only be embraced by leaving it behind.
I'd like to give Dear Bo Jackson Teenage Kicks highest rating... two ears open. It's out this Tuesday and you should buy it.
What happens when you wait 3 years to release a follow-up to a little heard gem of a power pop debut? You wind up # 16 on some doofus blog's year's best list. This is the skinny tie hearbeat perfected by the likes of 20/20, Richard X. Heyman and The Knack -with a jittery, Red Bull buzz upping the ante. Using the time honored trick of delivering bad news and bad breaks with a cotton candy coating, Leaving Atlanta is the missing link for anyone who pines for Poptopia and swallows Yellow Pills whole.
Yep - that was a quick 50 days (over 7 weeks, almost 2 months) between # 18 and # 17. As a treat for those still following (both of you), here's one of the songs from the Titus Andronicus Record Store Day release. When they played it in concert, they called it their "Free Energy song". It's lyrically slight, musically derivative ("Dyslexic Heart" anyone?) and sounds like a throwaway. And of course it's fantastic...
Instead of keeping us at arm's length with a cool reserve, The Walkmen invite us in for a warm embrace in their most personal, most commerical, most accomplished record yet. I think this is the album I'd hoped U2 might have made after The Joshua Tree.
I can't guarantee "Danny Boy", "The Parting
Glass" or "The Irish Rover", but tonight's intimate show in
Media will surely gain its share of converts to Ben Kyle's contemplative balladry.
Ben Kyle is an ex-Pat Irishman who now calls Minneapolis
home, although his Belfast roots shine
through his tightly constructed story songs sung with an evocative Gaelic lilt.
After three albums with his alt country band Romantica, plus an exquisite duets
album with Texas sweetheart
Carrie Rodriguez, Kyle struck out on last year's solo debut, Ben Kyle. The
album deals with the push and pull of creating a solid home life for his family
with the vagabond lifestyle that is the calling card of most touring musicians.
The result is spare and touching, with the bare minimum of accompaniment.
Tonight's shindig is a Sixth Street Concerts event, which
means it's a super cozy house concert in Media. Show starts at , will be over by and will still provide ample time to get your Irish on
in one (or more) the approximately 3,000 bars in DelawareCounty featuring Irish music
Back in 2006, I called Dog Problems by The Format the best
album of 2006... ahead of Boys and Girls in Americaby The Hold Steady. I might want a do-over on that one.
I still love Dog Problems, and now the decade-long gestating
overnight stardom of Nate Ruess (lead singer for both The Format and fun.) has
propelled fun. to superstardom on the back of their massive smash "We Are
Young", surely to be a generational touchstone once the aughts' hangover
recedes a decade from now.
I really like The Lumineers debut. I really do (take a look...
it's # 19!). But how the heck did they get so popular, so fast? Is it Mumford
mania pulling them along? Guess how many views the video for "Hey Ho"
has? If you guessed 24 million, you'd be half right. I say "God bless The
Lumineers", but keep it real kids, I don't want this to be your Cracked
If you ever wondered what would have happened if Brian
Wilson had produced The Shirelles, take a listen to The School. It's all bubbly
melodies, lovesick lyrics and kitchen sink production - guaranteed to make you
feel like you are listening to Hyski on WIBG or George Michael on WFIL. Groovy.
For those missLaurelCanyon songbirds like Linda
Ronstadt, Karla Bonoff and Joni Mitchell, may I present Nicki Bluhm, sweetheart
of the radio. Her second album, Driftwood, is a slow burn that features the
year's best duet, "Stick With Me" featuring her husband, Mother Hips
main man Tim Bluhm. And she was bringing back bangs way before Michelle.
Despite the huge misstep of "Paul Newman vs. The
Demons", which was probably a natural defensive reaction to the scattered
"sellout" cries that greeted I And Love and You, the Avett Brothers
continue their hot streak with their death-obsessedThe Carpenter. Despite the mind boggling success
of americana sensations Mumford and
Sons and The Lumineers, the Avetts remain the realest deal.
Joe Pug is a self-effacing young singer songwriter who gives
away his music for free, tours like an old school troubadour and talks of his
debut album "escaping" rather than being leaked. There's a humanity
and forcefulness in his songwriting that sparks that rare combination of being
tender but not sappy. His second album, The Great Despiser", features 10
original songs and one killer cover, "Deep Dark Wells", that shines a
light on unknown Texan wordsmith, Harvey Thomas Young.
Philadelphia's Shark Tape self released 2 ep's and a digital
single (ten songs) that together combined to make the 24th best lp of 2012. You could look it up. Combining the early 80's
moody angst-ridden shimmer of Echo & The Bunnymen and The Teardrop Explodes
with a dash of Westerbergian flair, Shark Tape is angling for Next Big Thing
status in 2013. Check out this video for "Put Those Things Away"... the
only bummer is that it's not introduced by Martha Quinn.
American Aquarium lead singer P.J. Barham looks like the booze-bombed spawn of Tim Matheson and Ryan Adams, but luckily for us he evokes the gritty, lovable loser side of Ryan Adams that we fell in love with in early Whiskeytown. The protagonist in "Savannah Almost Killed Me" falls for a girl who was "A Bette Davis double / With diamonds on her knuckles / She knew every word to "Born to Run"". My kind of girl. My kind of guy.
My friend Sarah says that by the first week of January it is too late to post a best of 2012 list. I think she's right. But she is industrious and hard working and I am not, so therefore I bring you the top 25 albums of 2012 in the first week of March. Three titles battled it out for the top spot and ultimately a traditional, second generation artist took the crown. So without messing around, I'll start with # 25 and work my up (down?) to # 1.
There is not a single note in the magnificent Beatles
Stereo Vinyl Box Set that is new to me. I have long owned all of it -
every song they released during their life as a band - on CD. And I've owned it
all in the same configurations, this mixture of British, American and universal
releases that became codified as The Beatles Catalog when the music was first
issued on compact disc in 1987.
I could not possibly guess the number of hours I have spent
listening to these albums over the past quarter-century.
So when I opened the vinyl set on Christmas, even though I
knew if was coming, I could feel the same sort of swell I felt when I heard
Paul's band play the opening notes to "A Day in the Life."
This isn't an act of nostalgia for me. Though this music was
ever-present in my childhood, it wasn't the music of my childhood. I was born too late, between Magical Mystery Tour and the White Album. I gained musical
consciousness only after the Beatles split. I knew their songs, but never owned
their records. I had a few cassettes - 20
Greatest Hits, Abbey Road,
the American version of Revolver, or
as we Americans called it at the time, Revolver
- but never a bit of vinyl. Just little tapes in nondescript packages, album
covers no bigger than baseball cards.
But, oh my, the music. I listened to Revolver over and over, in my room, in the car, anywhere a cassette
player could be found or lugged. And I could not have believed that anything
was missing. I listened to "Eleanor Rigby" and "Here, There and
Everywhere" and could barely believe that music could be so beautiful. I
heard "She Said She Said" and "Tomorrow Never Knows" and
ruefully acknowledged that the awful stories about LSD were probably true.
And then one day I was watching the old Beatles cartoons on
MTV and this came on (jump ahead to 2:45 if you must).
It blew my mind in every way, combining power and melody
into the perfect rock and roll song. I had never heard it before. I never knew.
To my knowledge, no one ever knew.
Now, of course, everyone knows. Or at least everyone who
cares to know. I can't imagine what goes on in the mind of someone who doesn't
care to know.
Upon returning home after Christmas, I methodically,
chronologically worked my way through the collection. After listening to one
record, I unwrapped the next and listened to it, a ritual repeated through
fourteen albums, including two two-record sets. And each one revealed something
new to me, even after all this time. Here's how it went.
Please Please Me: Pick it up. Look at the full-sized cover for
the first time. Notice that (unlike the CD) the word "stereo" appears
on the top right corner in that stylized sixties font, a feature consistent on
the first six albums. Look closer. It's impossible not to notice how young they
look, Paul and George especially, virtually schoolboys. Peel the plastic. Pull
out the plain white sleeve. Only a transparent circle revealing the label suggests
anything momentous. Long Playing *
Parlophone * Stereo it says in grandiloquent script. Put the record on the
turntable and drop the needle. It starts with a "1-2-3-4!" Just an ordinary count-in, but
to hear it now, knowing what we know, with the hard emphasis on the "4," it sounds like a declaration.
We four, forever. The first song features Paul singing "I Saw Her Standing
There." The last features John shredding "Twist and Shout." You
don't have to know much history to understand that a revolution has just begun.
With the Beatles: The iconic cover, faces in shadow against a
black backdrop. In just eight months since the first album, the cherubs somehow
achieved gravitas. A half-century
later, project yourself into the mindset of the time. It must have seemed
audacious, almost aggressive. Long-haired bubblegum punks, purveyors of
"yeah-yeah-yeah" poetics, demanding to be taken seriously. If the
cover doesn't convince you, drop the arm on side one, feel the stomp of
"It Won't Be Long." That must have sounded like heavy metal in 1963.
A Hard Day's Night: After thinking about this stuff for thirty years,
I start to have some realizations. First off, this is a great album. I always knew that, of course, but I mean it more
profoundly. The talk of great Beatles albums
usually starts with Rubber Soul and
marches forward chronologically. Before 1965, the single was the great artistic
and commercial expression, with the album a way to express a little more cash
from the consumer's pocket. But this one is so consistent, cohesive and
propulsive that it deserves consideration along with its brethren. And this
notion strikes me most forcefully when I flip to side two. For the past
quarter-century, this had been a single album to me. Now it's two sides. And
side two is what seals the deal. Side one has the more famous songs ("A
Hard Day's Night," "Can't Buy Me Love"), but side two is a
barrage of lesser-known gems that makes the entire record essential listening.
We've long heard about the rifle-shot snare that vaults Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited through the speaker
and into your mind, but Ringo's blast that kicks off side two preceded it by a
year. And in that song, "Any Time at All," the genius of John's
singing is reaffirmed. He does for the voice what electrification did for the
guitar, imprinting it with the gritty distorted sound that differentiated this
generation's music from all that came before. The whole second side (really,
the whole album) belongs to John, with "When I Get Home" and
"You Can't Do That" hitting with the same power as "Any Time at
All," and "I'll Be Back" ending the affair on a wistful note,
sounding like a real album closer.
When contemplating the cohesiveness of A Hard Day's Night, it strikes me that this is the band's first
great leap forward. Between 1963 and 1964, Lennon and McCartney found their
voice as songwriters. There are great songs on the first two albums, no doubt,
but considerably less maturity. Another thought strikes me: While I knew before
that this is the first Beatles album to consist solely of original songs, I suddenly
realize that this is the only album
in the entire catalog to consist entirely of Lennon and McCartney tunes (no
George or Ringo here). I'm sure I'm not the first person to note that, but it
helps explain the record's seamless, unified perfection.
Beatles for Sale: The fourth album by the four is the first to
feature a gatefold cover, and it includes four photos of the full band (front
cover, back cover, front inside cover, back inside cover). Have at it,
numerologists. Compared to A Hard Day's
Night, the record seems disjointed, with six cover songs among its fourteen
tracks. "Eight Days a Week" is the album's most famous track, but
"What You're Doing" is the most interesting, a McCartney original
with a soaring vocal in which he combines melody and power like never before,
while the band crafts a guitar sound that the Byrds will make a career of. The
primacy that John owned within the band on the previous record is gone, never
Above the second of the four photos, the liner notes manage
to sound audacious while still somehow underestimating the band. Derek Taylor,
the band's PR man, writes:
There's priceless history between these
covers. . . . When, in a generation or so, a radio-active, cigar-smoking child,
picnicking on Saturn, asks you what the Beatle affair was all about - 'Did you
actually know them?' -don't try to
explain all about the long hair and the screams! Just play the child a few
tracks from this album and he'll probably understand what it was all about. The
kids of AD 2000 will draw from the music much the same sense of well being and
warmth as we do today.
At that time, music recording was still in its relative
infancy, and the notion that a piece of popular music would continue to
resonate four decades into the future must have seemed preposterous (not many
folks in the 1960s were listening to recordings from the 1920s). But here we
are, well past AD 2000, and we're still
listening to it, studying it, and (in some cases) worshipping it. My kids were
both born after AD 2000, and they love these songs. My daughter plays them on
the piano. And if these kids and their friends carry this music with them
throughout their lives (and there's no reason to think that they won't), these
three-minute pop artifacts will endure into a second century. Mull that over
for a minute.
Help!: The fifth album, the fifth consecutive one to include a back-cover
pitch for Emitex record cleaner (I use Discwasher, thanks), and the last to
include songs authored outside the band. The final original song on the record
is among the most celebrated of all time. It's easy to gloss over the majesty
of "Yesterday" having heard it so many times, but listen for a minute
and focus on the simplicity. "Yesterday" and "Suddenly" are
the only two words in the song longer than two syllables. Only nine others - troubles, away, believe, shadow, hanging,
over, wouldn't, something, easy - are longer than one. It's just a wisp of
a song, but as insistent a piece of popular music as there has ever been. These
are the things you think about as you watch a record spin.
Rubber Soul: Hints that this is the great transitional album
are right on the cover. The moptops are wild, exaggerated, representing not
style but freedom. Inside, there's no era-defining hit, just fourteen songs
that explore new territory ("Norwegian Wood," "In My Life")
and hold together like a unit.
The first note about sound: I'm not one who will proselytize
about the virtues of vinyl and how it sounds so much better than a compact disc. But goodlord does this
record sound great. The depth, richness, warmth and roundness are spectacular.
Paul's bass bounces and thrums, and there's a perceptible sense of space. I've
always thought this was a great-sounding album, but it's a spectacular-sounding
Revolver: The most radical piece of pop-art I know (Highway 61 Revisited is the only other
contender), and a brave one, too, as the world's most popular entertainers
defiantly lay waste to their audience's expectations. Sonically, I don't hear
anything new on the vinyl (except, perhaps, for a greater focus on McCartney's
jaw-dropping bass playing on "Taxman"), just the blueprint for all that
comes after, with Paul's genius for formalism, John's revolutionary gift for
rock and roll abstraction, and George's growing confidence and consciousness
(his first raga!) colliding and showering sparks that no other band could hope
It's when I flip over to the back cover, which I had never
before seen, that I have a revelation. I already knew that the template for
Oasis's music could be found in the album's grooves. Now I see that the
template for the band's visual aesthetic can be found on the back.
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band: A CD booklet, no matter
how lovingly executed, can never match the grandeur of a record sleeve. This
one opens up to reveal the boys in their moustaches and their silks, and the
front cover reveals details I'd missed before. I had never noticed that the
figure of Shirley Temple on the right edge is dressed in a Rolling Stones
sweater, for instance. And it comes with the original cutouts (moustache,
badge, etc.) that no right-minded person would ever actually cut out. There's
Sonny Liston on the front, and Bob Dylan and Lewis Carroll and on and on. The
record, unfortunately, is less impressive. The spindle hole on my copy is
drilled slightly off-center, which makes for some unpleasant distortion the
deeper you get into each side. It's the only dud disc in the box. I'll be
ordering a replacement.
Magical Mystery Tour: A nice touch. Because this is the
American version, the label says Capitol
instead of Parlophone. If you don't
already know the reason, you almost certainly don't care, but the short version
is that the original British release was a six-song double EP that featured
only songs from the film, while the American version added non-LP singles. On
CD, the thing has never quite held up as an album, but on vinyl, side two is a
juggernaut, one of the greatest compilation records ever released.
The White Album:
After listening on CD for all these years, it strikes me that I don't know
where the breaks are on this double album. In my mind, I hear "Martha My
Dear" right after "Happiness is a Warm Gun," but on vinyl, you
have to flip the record in between them. Which is good, because nothing should
have to follow that song.
Yellow Submarine: This is how great the Beatles were. You don't
want to own this album, but you have to. Because if you don't own it, you don't
have the complete catalog, and if you don't have the complete catalog you're a
casual fan, and who can be casual about this stuff? I mean, you already have
"Yellow Submarine" on Revolver
and "All You Need is Love" on Magical
Mystery Tour, and side two doesn't
contain a single note of Beatles music, but still you have to have it
because if you don't, you don't have "Only a Northern Song" and
"It's All Too Much" (which are kind of dreary) or "All Together
Now" (which is kind of slight), or "Hey Bulldog" (which is all
kinds of brilliant). And the best thing about the LP is the back of the sleeve,
in which they implicitly acknowledge the weightlessness of the project by
running Derek Taylor's review of . . . The White Album.
Abbey Road: The downside to the pristine sound is the
"shoot me" that John repeatedly whispers before each verse is
wince-producing in light of what happened eleven years after the album's
release. The upside is that, instead of the second half of the CD, side two of Abbey Road is side two of Abbey Road, the most spectacular and
emotionally-cathartic twenty-three minutes in pop music.
Let it Be: "This is a new phase BEATLES album" the
back cover declares, and I suppose the end of the band is technically a new
phase, but, crikey, what a bummer. Phil Spector has taken his share of crap for
the goop he glopped all over "The Long and Winding Road," but my main
takeaway is how direct and immediate the record sounds. He made no effort to
create a wall of sound. Instead, on the likes of "I've Got a
Feeling," the fourth wall is obliterated, and you're right there with the
Past Masters: The end of the story starts at the beginning,
with "Love Me Do" (in sparkling mono), then progresses through every
officially-released A-side, B-side, and bit of ephemera that don't show up on
the albums. As stunning as any of the lovingly-crafted albums, it moves
forward, gathers momentum, tells a story, blows the mind, "She Loves
You" to "Hey Jude" in twenty-one easy steps. But for all the
titanic songs here ("I Want to Hold Your Hand," "Paperback
Writer," "Revolution") it's fittingly subversive that a set that
includes the entire output of the band ruled the world should end with
"You Know My Name (Look Up My Number)," the one time they rolled tape
with the sole purpose of amusing themselves. Play us out, boys.
Signed to Kings of Leon's imprint, Serpents and Snakes, The
Weeks reek of the same good-time southern booze-soaked grime the Kings took to
the bank, but don't let that deter you. The Weeks follow their own path, mixing
Mississippi hillbilly soul with
Nirvana's loud/quiet/loud explosions (check out "Buttons" on their
debut, Comeback Cadillac). Lead singer Cyle Barnes, loping around the stage like
a Rebel Jeff Spicoli, looks like the bastard love child of Matt Dillon and
Slapshot's Hanson brothers and sings in a carefree emo-acid drawl.
Their show this past Saturday at Philadelphia's
Milkboy was a revelation, as it far surpassed their ramshackle early recordings
(major props to my nephew T, who's been singing this band's praises for 4 years
and was the catalyst for this show). The Weeks are getting better by the second, as
you'll see by the different versions of "The House We Grew Up In",
the latter version from Gutter, Gaunt Gangster EP that came out last year. I am
guessing this will also be on their upcoming album, the wondrously titled Dear
Bo Jackson, out April 30. It's a bar band anthem crawling in the hazy morass of
touring tedium and shenanigans, buffed to a bright sheen with a big, bouncy chorus - absolutely perfect for
whatever still constitutes rock radio. Is it too early to call it the song of
the summer? Nah, it's never too early to call for anything summer when the wind
chill hovers in the single digits. They can't stop them.