Thursday, May 29, 2008

Can't make this stuff up

Last week, a truck from a major shipping company parked in front of my house, and the driver got out to deliver a package. As he handed it to me, I noticed that it was addressed to the previous homeowner, who moved far away seven years ago. I explained, and the driver took the package back and was on his way.

Today, a postcard arrived. It was sent by the shipping company and addressed to the previous homeowner. It reads:

Dear Customer:

On 23 May 2008, we received a package(s) for you from: Shipper name [redacted by Teenage Kicks]

We are unable to complete delivery because: RECEIVER MOVED, NOT DELIVERED

Please pick up your package(s) at the above address (photo id is required) or call us at [phone number redacted].

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Springing Leaks

The Hold Steady’s much-anticipated fourth album, Stay Positive, which is set for a July 15 release, leaked to the internet last week, sparking a lively and sometimes angry debate on this message board, and a more civil and philosophical discussion between Trip, Mary Z and me.

During our conversation, I recounted a talk I had over the weekend with a kid who works behind the meat counter at my local grocer. I don’t really know him at all, but I do know that he’s a huge fan of music in general and Animal Collective in particular. As he handed me a couple of steaks on Saturday, I casually asked if he had picked up the band’s new EP, which was released a couple of weeks ago. “I got it when it leaked,” he said. I replied, half joking, “but you paid full price when it was released, right?” “Absolutely,” he said, fully earnest. He confided that this is his music buying routine. “For me,” he said, “the leak date is the release date.” If ever I needed evidence that we’re living in a whole different time, that was it.

After I told the story, Trip responded with the most astoundingly astute observation I’ve heard on the new wave of music distribution. “The genius of Radiohead was not their new distribution model, or the pay what you want schtick, it was that they got folks to pony up for the leak. That was genius.”

That was genius. And it had never occurred to me.

In recent years, the record industry’s prevailing strategy has been to deny reality. Radiohead, on the other hand, not only accepted reality, they exploited it. The music is going to leak no matter what you do, so instead of letting it sit on a shelf while the artwork gets printed and the discs get pressed, just put it online the moment it is finished, and give people the option of putting money in your pocket. And then, after the initial hysteria has worn off, release it again, in hard form, maybe even with bonus tracks not available the first time around.

Shouldn’t this be the model we all move toward? Am I obsessive enough to toss two or three bucks at The Hold Steady for the right to listen to the new album for the next two months while I wait to get my hands on a physical copy? You bet I am, as are 99.9% of the folks in that message board thread.

I left the meat counter with another thought. It’s just so easy now. A kid can amass a huge collection by investing a little time and hardly any money. My natural inclination is to want to rip the ethics of a generation of kids who go on line and take what they want without paying a penny to the people who created it. But then I stop and consider that they don’t remember, and can't begin to understand, the music biz’s old culture of commodification. Music is in the air. You hear it on the radio, you hear it at the supermarket, you hear it coming out of cars on the street, you hear it at your friends’ houses, and you hear it on the internet. They don’t understand why they should be held accountable for listening to what’s out there, and it’s hard not to see their point.

Part of me thinks that they’re missing something, but that’s probably just romantic revisionism. I remember when acquiring music was a quest. At a minimum, it involved a trip to the record store. For harder to find stuff, it required several trips. For out-of-print discs, it required sifting through cut-out bins or sending away to a mail-order shop. I spent years of my life and a small fortune constructing a collection that represents to me far more than randomly grabbed bytes of information. I still remember the moment, many years ago, when I came across a copy of Let’s Active’s then out-of-print Big Plans For Everybody. My heart fluttered. I had been looking everywhere for it, and finally I held it in my hands. Luckily for me, the kid behind the counter didn’t know that I would have paid ten times the clearance price to own it.

In the famed “Yada Yada” episode of Seinfeld, Jerry’s dentist Tim Whatley converts from Catholicism to Judaism, and immediately begins telling Jewish jokes while continuing to tell ones lampooning his former faith. Incensed, Jerry visits Whatley’s priest, and complains. “I have a suspicion that he's converted to Judaism just for the jokes,” he says. “And this offends you as a Jewish person?” the priest asks. “No,” says Seinfeld, “it offends me as a comedian.”

Maybe the new age of illegal downloading doesn’t offend me as a law-abiding citizen. Maybe it offends me as a record collector.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Anti-War, Pro Soldier

Memorial Day 2008 is almost over for most of us, but for many it's just beginning. I wanted to write something that could convey my support for the troops while making it clear we need to end this war as soon as possible. And then I discovered my brother had already done a much better job of doing just that than I could ever hope to, so please read THIS.

I'll just leave you with some anti-war songs of recent vintage. And if you only listen to one, make it "Day After Tomorrow" by Linda Thompson, a breathtaking version of Tom Waits and Katheleen Brennan's stunner from 2004's Real Gone.

Godspeed Jimmy... and bring 'em home.

Linda Thompson - Day After Tomorrow

Ike Reilly Assassination - Broken Parakeet Blues

Jason Isbell - Dress Blues

Josh Ritter - Girl in The War

A.A. Bondy - American Hearts

Lucero - Joining The Army

Friday, May 23, 2008

Rock me out to the ballgame

Scott McCaughey. Steve Wynn. Peter Buck. Linda Pitmon. Sounds like an indie rock supergroup, and it is, of sorts. Meet The Baseball Project, a band assembled to record rocking original tunes by Wynn and McCaughey, all devoted to the national pastime and its great and colorful characters, like Satchel Paige, Ted Williams, Curt Flood and Fernando Valenzuela. The album, Volume 1: Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails, will be out on July 8. You can listen for free here. Make sure to check out "The Death of Big Ed Delahanty," the greatest garage rock song ever dedicated to a 19th Century major league power hitter.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Single Going Steady

They’re back and they’re sequestered.

The Hold Steady is set to release its fourth album, Stay Positive, on July 15. Can it live up to the impossibly high standards of the band’s first three discs? If the newly released single “Sequestered in Memphis” is any indication, the answer is an emphatic “yes.” Hear it here. Buy it at iTunes.

Sometimes I talk to Tad Kubler, the band’s lead guitar player. Not in real life; that would be weird. Instead, I carry on these conversations in my head, little fake interviews. And one of my questions always goes like this: “Koob, tell me straight, sometimes when you’re in the studio with Craig, do you just bust out laughing your ass off at how ridiculously awesome that dude can be?” According to this blog post from John Agnello, who produced the new album (and the last one), that’s exactly what happens:

Craig had been messing around with lyrics at rehearsal, adding certain ones, dropping some, changing vocal inflections and entrances. We all knew that basis of the song, but it wasn’t until Craig actually started the lead vocal for the song, that I got to hear the entire story. On his second take of the song, after I had checked the vocal sound, me and Tad, who had stopped in to be on call, were laughing our asses off about how good it was! Whenever I hear the song, I can see Craig singing it!

The Hold Steady: Comedy, tragedy and debauchery, coming to a city near you.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Heavy Metal

Ever since I found myself blessed with children, trips to the cinema have been rare. Being a refined intellectual, I suppose I should try to see the finest in art house fare during those odd evenings out. Screw that. If I make it to the movies just once or twice a year, I want to see some shit get blown up.

So I saw Iron Man over the weekend. And I hereby declare that it’s the greatest comic book movie ever made. By a mile.

Many (if not most) superhero stories suffer in translation to the big screen. When I was a kid, the X-Men was – far and away – my favorite comic book series. But the movies, while entertaining in their own slight way, try to cram too many ideas into too little time, and their premises (the guy was born with laser beams shooting out of his eyes? Really?) seem more plausible on pulp than celluloid.

Iron Man, on the other hand, was a minor player in my childhood (the box in the basement suggests that I owned only three issues – numbers 87, 88 and 161), but he’s perfect for film. A genius weapons manufacturer designs a sophisticated battle suit? That could happen.

The set-up, though, is just half of it. Director Jon Favreau engages in some expert, nuanced storytelling. And this film is perfectly cast. Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges and Terrence Howard are terrific, but Robert Downey comes on like a force of nature in the title role. The film is fast, funny and phenomenally entertaining.

But you probably already know this. I just wanted to gush.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

She & Him for You

Hopefully by now you've all bought the disc/legally downloaded/stolen Volume One, the debut by She and Him, featuring wide-eyed indie ingenue Zooey Deschanel (you know her from Elf) and hipster guitarist and man-about-town M Ward. It's a wonderful throwback to 3 minute, slick girl group pop with just enough fuzziness to keep it rooted in 2008. Deschanel's voice has an earthy, wobbly charm as she channels Jenny Lewis channeling Laura Nyro.

Here's one cut from Volume One, four live tracks from a KCRW session earlier this year (including "Magic Trick", an M Ward cut from Post-War), a perfectly sweet live take of "Bring It On Home to Me" and a cover of Richard Thompson's "When I Get to The Border" recorded for a soundtrack for The Go Getter.

Why Do You Let Me Stay Here (from Volume One)

Sentimental Heart (KCRW)

You Really Got A Hold On Me (KCRW)

Change is Hard (KCRW)

Magic Trick (KCRW)

Bring It On Home to Me (Acoustic)

When I Get to The Border (from the film The Go Getter)

Sunday, May 11, 2008

OMIGOD... It's Tokio Hotel!

Saturday about 250 teens and tweens showed up at Main Street Music in Manayunk to shriek at budding German pop stars Tokio Hotel. Who? Exactly my thoughts a week ago when my buddy Pat told me this band was slated for an in-store appearance to sign cds (no performance) at his cd store. I was sure he was mistaken and meant up-and-coming Canadian indie-popsters Tokyo Police Club. But nope, it was Tokio Hotel and they are coming to America to steal the hearts (and pocketbooks) of your daughters.
In the age of myspace, facebook and Youtube, these Teutonic heartthrobs generated this kind of madness with just a brief blurb last week on their myspace page and a couple of Tokio Hotel blog mentions. I'm not sure who their handlers are, but apparently they've figured out the correct formula to create a massive buzz... who says the music industry is dead?

Think Jonas Brothers mixed with Bon Jovi in a glam rock stew... and after hearing thier first English language disc, Scream (albeit accompanied by a couple of hundred off-key, decked out, made up Hannah Montan wannabes), it's not too bad. "Ready Set Go" sounds like a hit and reminds me of Head Automtica, who impressed with 2006's Popaganda, a quirky jumble of beats, guitars and hooks, heavy on the hooks.
Fans line Main Street for a glimpse of Tokio Hotel

The first of the rabid fans arrived at 4 am and they came from all over - Reading, Allentown, South Jersey, North Jersey, Warminster, NE Philly, South Philly, Connecticutt... there was even a rumor of a Maine mom rewarding her 8 year old's straight A's with a trip to Philly to see Tokio Hotel. At about 3:30, the autograph signing began, and hyper-ventilating, followed by the glazed eyes of witnessing greatness led to sobs of raging teenage hormonal joy. Not one little girl seemed even a tiny disappointed with their 15 seconds gawking at potentially the next huge pubescent phenoms. By 4:20, the boys were back in the van being whisked away to screams of delight and terror. By 4:25, anything that remained at Main Street Music featuring the name or visage of Tokio Hotel had been ripped away and carried out by still delirious, wide-eyed fans.
Gustav, Bill, Tom, Teenage Kicks, Music Enthusiast, Georg
I'm not sure, but I believe each girl uttered the same three words as they left their fleeting meeting with their bedroom posters come to life:

"Oh. My. God."

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Pleading Guilty

Ten Songs that Should Not be in My iPod

I love some atrocious music. At least that’s how it would be judged by this community’s standards. But I prefer to think of it as unconventionally brilliant, bits of flotsam that bring the glory of stone classics and revolutionary obscurities into sharper relief.

Jim McGuinn started me thinking about these songs by playing a set of guilty pleasures on WXPN a couple of weeks ago. But I don’t feel guilty about any of it. You love what you love, and shouldn’t let anyone tell you that you’re wrong. So you can keep your Sufjan Stevens, indie hipsters. Give me Daddy Dewdrop.

To prove my lack of shame, I now share with you ten songs that honest-to-goodness reside on my iPod.

1. The Osmonds, “Down By the Lazy River.” The first song I ever loved, it was my gateway drug to rock and roll. To my tender ears in 1972, this was as edgy and dangerous as the Rolling Stones. But it wasn’t even the pinnacle of the boys’ edgy rockin’ danger. Warning: Unless you want your mind blown by some sheer Utah psychedelic audacity, please – I beg of you – don’t click this link.

2. Aldo Nova, “Fantasy.” He had me at guitars-shooting-lasers. But the addition of a skin-tight cheetah-print suit, cowboy boots, a bubblicious pop metal riff, and a vaguely unplaceable accent (French-Italian-Canadian?) pushes this one into the guilt-rock stratosphere.

3. Abba, “Knowing Me Knowing You.” You see the story pop up from time to time: Rage-fueled crusading homophobe shows up in photos at a Days Inn with a well-oiled gigolo and a couple of vials of crank, exemplifying the thing he professes to hate. Abba is gay prostitutes to rock snobs, the band they fiercely deride in public while privately cherishing their copy of Gold. The canon is full of choice tunes, but this one takes top honors. And, for me, Anna-Frida will always be Mary Anne to Agnetha’s Ginger.

4. The Babys, “Isn’t It Time.” I remember seeing the Babys on The Midnight Special or some such show in 1978 and thinking that John Waite was one of the prettiest girls I’d ever seen. I’ve always had a soft spot for the band’s bubbleglam music that was so awkwardly out of step with the brilliant punk rock and new wave that was happening at the time. This song – which some American Idol hopeful should appropriate the way this Belgian dude did – with its shameless, guileless and unapologetic romanticism, is tailor-made for my list.

5. The Partridge Family, “I Think I Love You.” As a kid, I didn’t know that The Cowsills were the true antecedent to this fictional family; I thought Shirley, David and company were simply the perfect pastiche of the Osmonds and The Brady Bunch, and little could be better than that. I’ll fight anyone who wants to slag this slice of pop perfection. “I think I love you/So what am I so afraid of/I’m afraid that I’m not sure of/A love there is no cure for/I think I love you/And that’s what life is made of/Though it worries me to say/I’ve never felt this way.” Shakespeare wishes he had written that.

6. Haircut 100, “Love Plus One.” There’s nothing wrong with loving this song, which is the pure embodiment of summer for me. It’s the intensity with which I adore it that should be called into question. What does the “100” in the band’s name represent? Just that it’s one of my one hundred favorite tunes of all-time, that’s what.

7. Kiss, “Shout It Out Loud.” When I was a kid, three of the things I loved best were rock and roll, superheroes and professional wrestling. And then came a band that seemed to synthesize all three! Don’t let ‘em tell you that there’s too much noise. They’re too old to really understand.

8. Hall and Oates, “Private Eyes.” I know that you can dig “Sara Smile” or Abandoned Luncheonette and still maintain some semblance of hipster cred. Screw the cred. Give me trench coats, fedoras and an endless bounty of pop hooks.

9. Justin Timberlake, “SexyBack.” I know what you’re thinking. This song is misleading inasmuch as my partner Trip – and not young JT – brought sexy back. And you’d have a point. And you may also be thinking that Justin is all that’s wrong with contemporary pop music. That’s where you couldn’t be more wrong. The kid is so right it hurts, injecting all the traditional verities of rhythm, melody and sex into a four-and-a-half minute jam that’s irresistible even to middle-aged men like me.

10. Rick Springfield, “Jessie’s Girl.” What exactly should I feel guilty about? Is the song too catchy? Is the riff too irresistible? Is the lyric too note-perfect in its portrayal of best friend’s girl jealousy? Or maybe I’m not supposed to dig this because the guy used to be on a soap opera. Leave that line of reasoning for Jack Wagner’s string of hits, ‘cause I’m gonna love The Rick till my dying day.