Monday, June 30, 2008

I Am Iron Man

I've had many nicknames - some good (The Kid, T Kid, Teek), some bad ("jackass"... thanks Feeney, "sink man") some both ("music enthusiast", "chief"), but none that I've held onto more dearly (at least for the last 60 hours) than "Iron Man", if only because a) it doesn't fit and b) it was fueled solely by my cheery intake of several Oliver Ironman Pale Ales during a time honored version of let's give everyone a nickname at dinner game. It's a game I like to play all the time so if I've tagged you (Reeber, Doctor, T Mahn, Jooooooey P, Pinhead, J Johnny Mezz, The Most Intense Man in America, Nooseball, Zeke, Baby, Jackass... again), I'm sorry.

This particular game took place at The Wharf Rat, a pleasant little beer and sandwich joint a few blocks away from Camden Yards and more importantly this night, several blocks from Ram's Head Live, a good sized rock club set down in the Inner Harbor's outdoor version of a suburban mall. The event - The Hold Steady returns to the stage either a) following the release of their latest masterpiece Stay Positive or b) preceding the release of their latest masterpiece Stay Positive. In 2008, release dates are fluid and this crowd most definitely has chosen a), as either the unofficial internet leak or the official itunes leak ($9.99 for files... PT Barnum lives!) has imbedded the new songs directly in the bloodstream and it's evident this crowd believes that "The sing-along songs will be our scriptures"... and sings/shouts/scream the lyrics to every song.

I won't beat you over the head with another Hold Steady valentine, but suffice it to say that any show that starts with these four songs ("Constructive Summer", "You Can Make Him Like You", "Your Little Hoodrat Friend" and "Banging Camp") immediately vaults itself into consideration for show of the year. Yes, they're that good and they're coming soon to a mid-sized bar near you. Go forth and be saved.

From the last strain of "Killer Parties", it's minutes before we head back up 95 in the "no roadies" car (ed. note: Rigby deserves a medal) as my two compatriots are probably carrying on an enlightening conversation about either architectural landscaping or bone biology. Me, I'm doing what I do best in a moving vehicle... sleeping (sorry about that, guys). Home at 2:30 and up at 6:45 (thank you beer pee!) to get Zeke home (nice move with the house alarm, by the way). My god - people actually have lives where they arise before 7:00 on the weekends and do things. I find that appalling.
So in quick order there's a short nap, two hours of tennis in 90+ heat, a trip to the pool, a nice dinner, a quick thought of another Hold Steady show in Philly that night (family member to me - "DAD... you're going out AGAIN! I thought we were gonna watch a movie."), a viewing of 10,000 B.C. (possibly the worst movie of the 21st century with the added insult of not being hilariously awful), followed by a show at The Khyber with local kids The Writers Club, A.A. Bondy and The Delta Spirit, who I will gush about in a soon to be written future post. Not now, though, it's bedtime. (But if you like a soulful mix of The Black Crowes, Ryan Adams and Oasis with some anthemic gang-style choruses, stay tuned.)

But to bring this story full circle, after another grueling two hours of tennis Sunday morning, I took my son and a couple of his buddies to see Iron Man, a perfect mix of smashing and exploding stuff, middle east paranoia and a supremely confident, star making (again) turn from Robert Downey, Jr. where, in the movie's final seconds (warning - spoiler alert!!), utters the four words that define the weekend...

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Here Comes the Flood

Lately, I’ve treated this space with the sort of neglect normally reserved for my children. But with forthcoming releases from The Hold Steady, Sloan, Alejandro Escovedo and Ron Sexsmith (among others) likely to dominate my summer listening, I thought it best to share thoughts on the music that has been crushing me over the past couple of months.

Santogold, Santogold. A wild and wicked collage of new wave, soul and dance music with rhythms that sit in the pocket and stay there. The comparisons with M.I.A. are inevitable and on the money, but the Brooklyn-via-Philly artist is less audacious, more accessible. My clubhouse leader for album of the year. Recommended if you like: M.I.A., Massive Attack, Res.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! Nick Cave is on fire, in the midst of a historic run that began with the cinematic sweep of 2004’s Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus double disc and continuing with the sensational sleaze rock of last year’s Grinderman. Now comes Lazarus, another hyper-literate exploration of religion, sex and soul, featuring one of the hottest bands on the planet. This, pardon my French, is the shit. Recommended if you like: Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, The Hold Steady.

The Ting Tings, We Started Nothing. British minimalist dance rock duo make the party album of the summer, all flash and sass in 4/4 time. Irresistible. Recommended if you like: Blondie, Lily Allen, the first B-52’s record.

The Futureheads, This Is Not the World. British retro-wavers party like it’s 1979 on their third full-length effort, which doesn’t quite equal (but doesn’t pale next to) their near-classic debut. Jagged and skittish but wickedly propulsive. Play it in your car with the windows down and the volume up. Recommended if you like: Arctic Monkeys, 1990s, Gang of Four.

Elbow, The Seldom Seen Kid. Another Brit collective (a theme seems to be emerging), but one not rushing to the chorus. A guitar band that values space over speed, warmth over noise, honey over sugar. Recommended if you like: Early Radiohead, late Blur, low-key Pink Floyd.

The Republic Tigers, Keep Color. Kansas City boys make good with lush, densely-layered, melancholy guitar pop drenched in harmonies. Evocative and elusive, pristine but not prissy. A stellar debut. Recommended if you like: The Shins, Travis, Death Cab for Cutie.

Various artists, Nigeria Special: Modern Highlife, Afro-Sounds & Nigerian Blues. Some of the best music to be released in the States this year was recorded more than three decades ago in Nigeria. A sprawling two-disc set that spotlights little-known acts and spans a vast musical terrain, it features the laid-back lyricism of juju, the hard pulse of Afrobeat, and many styles in between, including the influence of Latin music that comes from living on Africa's west coast. Remarkable, shimmering stuff. Recommended if you like: King Sunny Ade, Fela Kuti, Thomas Mapfumo.

Fleet Foxes, Fleet Foxes. This is a new acquisition that I’m slowly wrapping my head around, but it definitely has gravity, the kind of disc I expect to suck me in and reveal itself over time. The whole thing has a warm, analog feel, as if made in another time for our time. Recommended if you like: My Morning Jacket, M. Ward, Band of Horses.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Crush... Thy Name is Zooey

A friend of mine sent me this picture today and I needed an excuse to post it. Here are three tracks (the whole show!) from their charming, if somewhat shaky, daytime performance at SXSW on 3/14/08 - broadcast live on The Current. Why only three songs? They had some sound boinks and the SXSW machine doesn't coddle tuning-up artists. Plus, are you gonna tell Billy Bragg he's gotta wait?

She & Him - This Is Not a Test (live @ SXSW)

She & Him - Black Hole (live @ SXSW)

She & Him - Change Is Hard (live @ SXSW)

Bonus Crush Cut

The Clash - 1-2 Crush on You

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Teenage Kicks Playlist # 1 (for Mezz and Mannix)

I have a feeling my summer will be dominated by Stay Positive, the staggeringly good new disc by The Hold Steady that sees the official light of day on July 15. The lead single, "sequestered in Memphis" hit their myspace page a couple of weeks ago and it may even convert you non-believers (I'm looking right atcha and you know who you are).

But there's more to life (and rock and roll) than just The Hold Steady ("Hey jackass, you wouldn't know it by this blog"), and we are here to help spread the word. My only criteria is a great hook or melody and generally a manageable song length. My partner Michael is much more open minded.

So please, feel free to check these out, support the artists if you find anything you like, and drop me a line if you hear any crush-worthy pop songs.

The Hold Steady - Sequestered in Memphis - "In barlight, she looked all right/ In daylight, she looked desperate"... is there a better live band right now? (I will come to your house and give you a purple nurple if you say Radiohead). The song of the summer.

The Explorers Club - Do You Love Me? - Beach Boys inspired kids from Charleston, SC deliver a 1966/2008 mashup.

Fleet Foxes - Tiger Mountain Peasant Song - Think Jim James fronting the Mamas and Papas, but without The Mamas.

Los Campesinos! - You! Me! Dancing! - Breathtaking blur of spasmodic new wave zazz - deserving of each and every one of those exclamtion points!!!! (Note to J. Johnny Mezz - song kicks in at 1:42... stay with it)

You Me And Iowa - Dress The Stage - LA power poppers do the Death Cab/Shins/Big Star great 3 1/2 minute pop song thing... I can't get this one out of my head.

Mates of State - Get Better - Husband/wife electro-pop get high gloss sheen with fantastic results. (This has Mannix written all over it).

Amy Lennard - I Wish It Were Mine - Lyrically almost too naked (she wants her girlfriend's life), the evocative performance stays with you... a budding americana sweetheart? I'd like to hear more.

Helio Sequence - No Regrets - Indie pop duo with a blues gospel stomper that sounds like a lost nugget from Harry Smith's collection. Sounds like nothing else on their new record, but I love it. (Bonus points for clocking in under 2:00).

Monday, June 02, 2008