Friday, February 29, 2008

The Kids are Alright

When I was a kid, I assumed that everything in my world was pretty normal. After all, what could I compare it to? I had a mom and a dad, and they seemed like what moms and dads were supposed to be like. I had my own room with a giant poster of Dick Butkus, and he seemed like what middle linebackers were supposed to be like. We had a television, to which I was granted intermittent access, and the characters seemed like what television characters were supposed to be like. It is only 35 years later that I am fully beginning to grasp that the arbiters of early 70s kid culture might have been residing in some parallel normalcy.

The least controversial show to be beamed into my psyche was The Brady Bunch. Despite its tinkering with traditional notions on the construction of the nuclear family, the Brady clan represented the Platonic ideal of domestic life, and each thirty-minute tale delivered a well-conceived and indisputable moral, like if you plead your case directly to him, Davy Jones will accompany you to your junior high dance, or that if you kiss an adolescent girl, you might see skyrockets, but you might also get mumps. Looking back at those episodes now, they seem exactly as they did then.

Some other shows, it appears, slid some things past me on the sly. For instance, it’s now clear that George Jetson possessed a grotesquely ironic chauvinism that I was not meant to emulate (sorry ladies), and that Shaggy was smoking a ridiculous amount of weed in the Mystery Machine. Such revelations only serve to allow me to enjoy these shows on a level unavailable to me in my youth.

Other shows, however, reveal that it was not the characters who were smoking copious cannabis. It was the creators. While plumbing the depths of YouTube recently, it struck me that a show that I had previously viewed as an unmatched example of magical merriment, was in fact the result of manic munching of magic mushrooms. How else can you explain this?:

A boy. In a cowboy outfit. Playing a magic flute. In the mountains. Takes a solo ride on a psychedelic boat. That belongs to a witch. Who chases him across the water. Where he’s saved by a happy troll. And the kid isn’t freaked out in the least.

Now it’s obvious that even the name of the show was a psychotropic joke slipped past credulous censors. Sid and Marty Krofft, quite obviously, were puffin’ stuff. How did my generation survive this? How did we avoid a mass contact high?

That’s the beauty of youth. So oblivious to corrupting influences that they pass on by without leaving a mark.

At least The Banana Splits were on the up and up. Right?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Freedy - Perfect in So Many Ways

The all covers record was possibly a great concept 50 years ago, but in the rock era there are few that reward repeated listening (feel free to list any that do). Generally seen as a stopgap during a creative lull, a timekiller between labels or a last ditch effort for a long past their prime artist to get back on the radio (see Stewart, Rod as exhibit A), the "covers album" inspires initial curiousity followed by the inevitable "what were they thinking?"

Well, Freedy Johnston hasn't released a studio record since 2001, I doubt he's still signed to Elektra and maybe this record will get him back on AAA radio. But he's got a new covers record out soon (currently available directly here) called My Favorite Waste of Time and, surprise, it doesn't suck. Substitute a Jimmy Webb song and a Paul Simon for the two dud McCartney choices ("Listen To What The Man Said" and " ugh... "Let 'em In") and you might have one of the better cover albums of recent vintage.
Anyone that tackles Marshall Crenshaw, Matthew Sweet, The Hollies, Tom Petty and NRBQ and doesn't get their ass kicked is doing OK. And his cover The Eagles "The Sad Cafe" trumps the original, but that's probably a back-handed compliment. But overall the album's simplicity, pop jangle, muted horns and obvious affection for its source material make it worth checking out. And after all, who doesn't love Freedy?
Check these out:
Remember, if you like these tunes, support independent music and buy the dang thing.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The More Things Change . . .

In 1978, Nick Lowe released his epic debut album Jesus of Cool, featuring first-ballot hall of fame songs like "Shake and Pop" and "Marie Provost." The title, however, was deemed a tad provocative for American consumption, and so the platter was re-named Pure Pop for Now People on this side of the pond. The album has just experienced a special and expanded 30th anniversary reissue, with the original title restored.

It appears, though, that no one told the good folks at Apple. I just popped the disc into iTunes, only to see it come up as Pure Pop for Now People.

So it goes.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Now Hear Us

In case you missed it (or in case you want to hear it again) here's our moment of glory on the World Cafe:

Teenage Kicks on The World Cafe

Get Ready for Some Positive Jams

You know how we talked about the vitality of 21st Century rock and roll on the radio? Well, friends, here comes a double-barrelled blast from The Hold Steady. The World's Greatest Only Rock and Roll Band That Matters is set to return some time this year with their fourth full-length effort in five years, tentatively titled Stay Positive. Color me giddy as a schoolgirl.

(Hat tip to our buddy Lou)

While you wait, watch Craig dance:

Friday, February 22, 2008

Hello, World Cafe listeners!

We see you lurking. Welcome to those visiting for the first time. Hello, Dover, New Hampshire. Hello, Plano, Texas. Hello, Rochester, New York. Sit a spell, and come back any time.

For those who didn't hear, after some snappy repartee with David Dye, our set sounded like this:

"Teenage Kicks," The Undertones
"When Irish Eyes Are Burning," Ike Reilly Assassination
"Daft Punk Is Playing At My House," LCD Soundsystem
"The Laws Have Changed," The New Pornographers
"Your Little Hoodrat Friend," The Hold Steady

It was 20% shameless self-promotion, and 80% tribute to the continuing vitality of the rock and roll song in the 21st Century.

Many thanks to David Dye, one of the great people in radio and on earth. It was fun.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Glitter in the Gutter

Greg Dulli (formerly of Afghan Whigs) and Mark Lanegan (late of Screaming Trees), two of the darkest and most dynamic singers to emerge from the alt-rock of the late 1980s and early 90s, have joined forces as The Gutter Twins. Their album, Saturnalia, is due the first week in March. While you wait, you can check out five songs on their Myspace page. Go straight to "Idle Hands" - it's a scorcher worthy of their considerable legacies.

Ten for a Thursday: Radio Songs

As part of the build-up for our soon-to-be-legendary appearance on The World Café (sales for fancy receiving sets will skyrocket), here are ten tunes appropriate for the occasion:

1. “Radio, Radio” – Elvis Costello and the Attractions
2. “We Want the Airwaves” – The Ramones listen
3. “Left of the Dial” – The Replacements
4. “On the Radio” – Donna Summer
5. “Around the Dial” – The Kinks
6. “DJ” – David Bowie
7. “Transmission” – Joy Division
8. “Wolfman Jack” – Todd Rundgren
9. “I Can’t Live Without My Radio” – LL Cool J
10. “Most People are DJs” – The Hold Steady

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Teenage Kicks on The World Café!

We want the airwaves! This Friday, February 22, the boys from Teenage Kicks will be on the world-renowned, nationally-syndicated World Café with David Dye, where we’ll chat a bit and play a few songs as part of the weekly Top Five segment. Check listings here. We’ll be on during the show’s second hour. If your local station doesn’t carry both hours (mine in Kansas City doesn’t), you can listen over the web on WXPN’s live stream, where we should be on just after 3:30 Eastern time.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Today's news that influential alternative country (whatever that is) magazine No Depression will cease publication with its May-June 2008 issue will generally be greeted by a massive shrug. Ask the guy sitting next to you what he thinks about No Depression - my guess is you're getting a blank stare. And that's a shame. Because thirteen years ago, it was going to be different.

By the end of 1994, Uncle Tupelo, a blistering great three piece from Belleville, IL, had seen its mixture of American punk rock and classic country music scale impressive artistic heights with each of its four cds. Their final cd, Anodyne, stands as a landmark alt country touchstone, and I recommend anyone reading this to purchase all four Uncle Tupelo albums if you don't already have them. NOW! I'll wait...

Before cd leaks and impossibly easy mp3 proliferation and distribution, there was the more difficult medium (at least to copy and spread around) of early album releases on cassette. On a balmy May night in 1995 a ridiculously good (and ridiculously loud) Bottle Rockets show (Brian Henneman take a bow) at a perfectly seedy dive in suburban Philadelphia (Rex's in West Chester - I belive only recently shuttered and the site of a just as ridiculously good Lucero show in April 2006) was the the perfect scene for Son Volt mach 1. A friend passed me a tape of three songs from Son Volt's upcoming debut disc, Trace. To tell you I played that tape 200 times would not be an exaggeration.

And today I want you to hear those three songs - as good as any three songs on any album in the last 15 years - "Windfall", "Tear Stained Eye" and "Route" - and revel in any music that makes you hit rewind (now repeat) 20 times in a row, drive 200 miles to see a concert, spend hours debating the merits of Son Volt v. Wilco or compels you to comb your hair in a thousand ways.

Because if any of the above makes sense to you, then you should miss No Depression. They championed Son Volt, Wilco, the Jayhawks, Blue Mountain, Drive By Truckers, Alejandro Escovedo, Dave Alvin, Kelly Willis, Whiskeytown, Freakwater, Peter Case, Ryan Bingham, Lucero, Rilo Kiley, Josh Ritter and hundreds of others.

They believed.

"Switching it over to AM
Searching for a truer sound
Can't recall the call letters
Steel guitar and settle down
Catching an all-night station somewhere in Louisiana
It sounds like 1963,
But for now it sounds like heaven"

Ten for a Tuesday

If you're reading this (you are reading this, right?) odds are good that you have no recollection of pre-Castro Cuba beyond what you saw in The Godfather, Part II. So today, we bring you a list of ten songs inspired by the news that the man is stepping down after a half-century of iron-fisted control.

1. "Sister Havana," Urge Overkill
2. "Have a Cigar," Pink Floyd
3. "Hit the Road, Jack," Ray Charles
4. "(I Live for) Cars and Girls," The Dictators
5. "Cuban Slide," The Pretenders
6. "Havana Moon," Chuck Berry
7. "Revolution Rock," The Clash
8. "(Sittin' on the) Dock of the Bay (of Pigs)," Otis Redding
9. "Guerrilla Radio," Rage Against the Machine
10. "Fidelity," Todd Rundgren

Got more? Leave a comment.

Because the night was made for pizza

FOTK (Friend of Teenage Kicks) Mary Zajac, foodwriter extraordinaire, has managed to combine mankind's three greatest creations - Friday nights, pizza, and rock and roll music - into one thoroughly enjoyable whole. I approve wholeheartedly of the Sauvignon Blanc, though Trip will have a Yuengling.

So good, it's Fab

While perusing Andy Whitman's blog, I was alerted to the existence of Fabchannel, a repository of recent vintage concert videos. Teenage Kicks faves Joe Henry and Okkervil River are represented, as are scads of up-and-comers that we (and maybe you) have never heard of. Word of warning: Venture over there only if you have some time to kill. It's easy to get sucked in to watching show after show after show.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Addition by Division

I remember feeling heartbroken that day back in 1994 when I heard the news that Uncle Tupelo, my favorite band since the demise of the Replacements, had called it quits. After three indie albums that demonstrated the ferocity, purity, beauty and, ultimately, maturity of their music, they moved to the majors and released Anodyne, an landmark, the truest synthesis of their punk and country sensibilities, and the best balance of the established talent of Jay Farrar and the emerging vision of Jeff Tweedy. Sadly, it proved to be not just a milestone, but a tombstone, an epitaph for a great and important band.

My sorrow, it turns out, was unwarranted. Within a year or so of Uncle Tupelo’s demise, Farrar formed Son Volt and released Trace, a masterpiece that defines the movement more than any other record, and Tweedy formed Wilco, and, well, you know that story. The two made more great music apart than they ever could have made together. Divided, they conquered.

Drive-By Truckers have never been as important to me as Uncle Tupelo was, but I still was curious about their future after word broke that singer/songwriter/guitarist Jason Isbell had left the fold (though, to be fair, DBT – led by founders Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley – was a formidable band before Isbell ever joined). Now, after hearing the products of their separation, I proclaim this breakup a success.

Isbell acted first, releasing last year’s Sirens of the Ditch, a fine (if uneven) effort, that contained a trio of songs – “Brand New Kind of Actress,” “Chicago Promenade” and “Dress Blues”- as instantly memorable as anything to come down the pike in recent years. The real triumph, though, is the Truckers’ Brighter Than Creation’s Dark, a tour de force of Southern American music, rich in detail and relentless in execution, and the best new album I’ve heard so far in 2008.

It’s nineteen songs of classic DBT, alternating between thunderous rock (Cooley constructs a filthy Stones groove on “3 Dimes Down” and Hood matches it on “The Righteous Path”) and pristine country (“Lisa’s Birthday” exists at the intersection of Willie and Merle). There are also songs like “The Opening Act” that combine Hood’s gift for the journalistic, cinematic and atmospheric. Some of the most welcome contributions, though, come from bassist Shonna Tucker, who experienced a less metaphorical divorce from Isbell. Here, she steps out of her ex-husband’s shadow and supplies three songs and some husky Shelby Lynne vocals that cut through the band’s decidedly masculine ethic.

Everything about the album conveys depth – deep South, deep blues, a deep connection to the people who inhabit these songs. Despite its charms, though, the album is also deeply flawed, marred by Cooley’s “Bob,” a character study about a rural loner who prefers the company of his dogs to that of men or women. It’s an unexceptional song notable solely for a regrettable couplet: “Bob ain’t light in the loafers/He might kneel but he never bends over.” It’s a slice of sophomoric homophobia that ought to be beneath a band – and an album – this good.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Cover of the Day

Hero takes on the Beatles.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Sarah Borges Will Be At SXSW...

and so will I.

Every time I hear the opening bars of “The Day We Met”, the sparkling kick-off to one of 2007’s overlooked gems, Sarah Borges’ Diamonds in the Dark, it reminds me of Dwight Yoakam’s Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc. Etc. I can think of no higher praise. Sarah Borges and her band, The Broken Singles, seem to be channeling a freewheeling mix of early Dwight Yoakam, Lone Justice, Lucinda Williams with an almost punk-like spirit that seems missing from most of today’s female Americana artists. Neko Case, Patty Griffin, Jenny Lewis and Kelly Willis are still flying the flag and making good records, but for the most part they seem stuck in moodier, mid-tempo grooves.

It’s been a long time since a female fronted alt country record showed the spunk and had the balls of Diamonds in the Dark, and if you’ve felt the likes of Maria McKee, Lucinda Williams, Kasey Chambers, Kim Richey and Iris DeMent have let you down in recent years, do yourself a favor and check out Sarah Borges. Standout tracks are the opener “The Day We Met”, the bar-room stomp of “Stop and Think It Over”, the pseudo title track “Come Back to Me”, a cover of X’s heartbreaking elegy of a life lost and a life soldiering on, plus a faithful reading of Dolly Parton’s “False Eyelashes”, with its “a record played in my home town is my only claim to fame” hook a sad refrain that all those “still looking for that big break” artists will resignedly recognize. Did I even mention that the Borges-penned “Lord Only Knows” deserves to be a hit?

Unfortunately I missed her recent Philly appearance (the Saturday before Christmas? Don’t you people have kids and Christmas parties to tend to?) but will rectify that soon by catching her at the indie music schmoozefest/mecca, Austin’s SXSW. To tide you (and me) over, here’s her “Stop and Think It Over” video (where Borges radiates like a dream mix of Marisa Tomei and Sarah Silverman) plus two tracks – “The Day We Met” and “Lord Only Knows” – both recorded live at The Iron Horse in Northampton,MA on 9/22/07.

Valentine's Day 2008

So there were three options for Valentine's Day night 2008 - pick-up basketball with Mezz and my cousin (good cardio, burn off calories, almost full support from wife), a New York Dolls concert with my brother (new venue, my brother and I love David Jo, medium support from wife) or a nice seafood pasta dinner (my favorite!) with my wife and son followed by a family viewing of Father of The Bride (warmth and dessert, a couple of yuks, 100% support from wife).

So what did I choose?
God damn I hate Martin Short... was that guy ever funny?

Saturday, February 09, 2008

It's a Box Social!!

Do we really need to hear another group of smart-ass college kids making buzz bin indie rock with arena-sized guitars? Judging by the debut full length disc by Wisconsin's Box Social, Get Going, I'd answer affirmatively. Mixing the pop smarts of Fountains of Wayne with some Green Day snot, these ripped jean, pasty faced kids give po-faced alt-rock a jolt of radio-ready, good old fashioned songcraft. Singer/songwriter Nick Junkunc's vocals strike the perfect balance between eternally annoyed and prematurely jaded. And tell me - what's wrong with big guitars, massive hooks and teenage angst? Not a god damn thing.

Check these out from Get Going.

Find out more at their MySpace page.

Order Box Social's Get Going here.

Animation is the best medicine

I've spent the past few days steamrolled by the flu, and though I'm still a few days away from recovery, I've found something to bring me a little cheer. Rock journo Michaelangelo Matos is in the process of collecting links for all of the Oscar winners for best animated short (or at least as many as he can find), going back to the award's inception in 1932. Lots of great stuff to wade through, though nothing quite so surreal as Donald Duck taking on Hitler:

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Simple Twist of Fate for The Format

Teenage Kicks orch-pop crush-worthy faves The Format have decided to go out on top. Announcing yesterday that they "will not be making a new Format album", that will leave Dog Problems, their ridiculously tuneful 2006 release (# 1 with a bullet here), as their final collaborative salvo. Their myspace statement states:

We have just put out word that we will not be making a new Format album. Please understand this was a tough decision and we're both upset about it. While we accept there will be false speculation as to why, understand that Sam and I remain extremely close and in fact are still passing the twin peaks box set back and forth in an attempt to figure out who REALLY killed laurapalmer. We also want to thank everyone with and within the Format,particularly Mike, Don, and Marko, whom without, none of this would haveever even been fully realized. We both suggest you support their musicaltalents and whatever they decide to do. And lastly we want to thank thefans who made this the best 5 years of our lives.

Singer Nate Ruess is already at work on his first non-Format album, scheduled for release by the end of the year.

Here's a few Format rarities to ease your troubled mind - and remember, it wasn't you, it was them.

Apeman mp3 (Kinks cover)

Tune Out mp3 (acoustic version)

Simple Twist of Fate mp3 (Dylan cover)