December 31, 2007
December 30, 2007
December 22, 2007
December 16, 2007
Wilco is one of our very favorite bands and they will be playing Nashville's historic Ryman Auditorium on Sunday, March 2, 2008. Lovely Lizzy managed to score tickets (good seats!) at the box office yesterday morning! Alright!
December 8, 2007
Robert Pollard: Coast to Coast Carpet of Love (Merge CD/LP)
Robert Pollard: Standard Gargoyle Decisions (Merge CD/LP)
I’ve lived with these records for a little over month or so now, and I’ve come to some conclusions regarding Robert Pollard’s post-Guided By Voices oeuvre:
1. Producer/multi-instrumentalist Todd Tobias is an as madly eclectic and prolific a musical genius as Robert Pollard himself. Thus, a perfect partnership is formed and a great many records are made under a variety of monikers. Fans and record collectors rejoice! Yet, I occasionally miss the sense of a band in a room rocking out and I get a nagging suspicion that Pollard is sometimes merely “phoning in” his performances.
2. As a songwriter, Robert Pollard continues to explore new expressive possibilities in the two-minute pop/rock song. Allusive, asymmetrical, and often lacking a typical verse/chorus structure, these songs are subtle and not immediately graspable, despite their brevity. These records require repeated listenings to reveal their elusive charms.
3. Perhaps for these very reasons, neither of these records is likely to win many new converts to the Pollard bandwagon. And that’s OK. Acquired taste and all that. . .
Even though Coast to Coast Carpet of Love is billed as the creamy pop record and Standard Gargoyle Decisions is supposed to be the edgy, art-damaged record, I actually find SGD to be the more immediately appealing listen. Go figure.
I also find CtCCoL’s cover to be kind of, um, embarrassing. Maybe it’s just a bit too uncomfortable for me to contemplate. That album cover begs the question: Is it utterly ridiculous for a fifty-year-old-guy to seriously rock out? I hope not, I guess. I dunno. As my forties race by, I really don’t want to think about it, you know? Please, Bob, more collages, less poses.
If you’re already a fan, you already own these records and love them to death. If not, I don’t think they are necessarily the place to start. Personally, I’m more excited by the latest Circus Devils than either of these two records, to tell you the truth. But, maybe I simply haven’t lived with them long enough yet.
Fortunately, the limited edition LPs are beautifully pressed by RTI on 200g platters of virgin vinyl and my copies are perfectly flat, centered, and quiet. They sound really good. Please note, however, that CtCCoL’s labels are reversed with side B being actually side A. Oops. As usual, Pollard’s music works better for me on LP, so it’s definitely nice to have these two on audiophile quality vinyl. Oh, and the LPs come with a coupon for a free mp3 download of the entire album, for the iPod-enabled. Nice job, Merge!
The Happy Jack Rock Records singles series continues apace, with No. 7 due on December 22nd. The b-sides released so far range from the sci-fi sound collage of “Battle for Mankind” to the creamy pop/rock of “Met Her at a Séance” and “Be in the Wild Place.” The song “Coast to Coast Carpet of Love” is perversely left off of the album of the same name but appears here as the b-side of a SGD song (“Pill Gone Girl”). That’s too bad, as this is a powerfully direct song that should not have been exiled to an obscure 7” single. So it goes with Pollard’s profligacy. November’s b-side features the epic and orchestral “Sixland” sung, not by Pollard, but by former GbV producer, John Shough. Uh, OK. The Happy Jack Rock Records singles series continues for another six months. For more information, get thee to Rockathon.
December 4, 2007
November 24, 2007
Produced by John Agnello
Recorded at Bisquiteen, Amherst, MA, Springtime
This is a pleasant surprise. Sure, Thurston has made a whole bunch of records over the years outside of Sonic Youth, but they are, for better or worse, mostly of the avant/noise/improv variety. I love that stuff, but it is, admittedly, not for everyone. Trees Outside The Academy, on the other hand, is Thurston’s first collection of actual songs since 1995’s Psychic Hearts (Geffen). Interestingly, this particular collection songs is (mostly) built around Thurston’s acoustic guitar strumming, accompanied by Steve Shelley’s drums, and Samara Lubelski’s ghostly counterpoint on violin and background vocals; the electric guitar heroics, where necessary, are reserved for Dinosaur, Jr.’s J. Mascis, at whose home studio Trees Outside the Academy was recorded.
The somber, Neil Young meets Beck in Downtown NYC via leafy Northampton vibe is immediately and comfortably evocative. The whole package is chock full of charming, archival photos of Thurston as a teenager and young rock star and gives off more than a whiff of wistfulness and nostalgic looking back. You know, maybe they should change their name to Sonic Coots. (Ha. Ha.)
Well, that’s OK, I’m an old coot myself.
Fortunately, the songs are good – I find myself putting this on playback machine again and again. The final track, “Thurston @13,” is exactly what it says: a thirteen-year-old Thurston, alone in his bedroom in Bethel, Connecticut, creating audio theater with only his voice, various household items (an aerosol can, coins, etc.), and a cassette deck. “There” he intones after each hyper-banal, yet heroically immortalized “event.” At one point, Thurston ponders, “what am I going to do next for your ears to taste.” Precociously arresting yet profoundly silly, this little snippet of tape is the primordial ooze from which Sonic Youth’s whole aesthetic would be founded: words + noise = drama.
Yet, with all the apparent irony and pretension combined with large doses outright goofiness, the question surrounding Sonic Youth has always been: just how sincere is any of it? Personally, I’ve always tended to give them the benefit of the doubt – and I’ve been a fan since 1985. I don’t believe Sonic Youth could have survived for so long with their basic integrity still intact without at least being somewhat sincere, at least where it counts. The goofiness just lets you know they that, thank god, they don't take themselves too seriously. Trees Outside The Academy sounds to me like a mature statement, personal and heartfelt.
John Agnello’s production gives the whole thing a unifying sound despite the ragtag, ad hoc recordings and, at barely 40 minutes, this would make a really nice-sounding LP. Unfortunately, only a limited edition picture-disc is available. Uh…I might have to pass on that one, what with the notoriously poor sound quality of picture-discs.
In any event, this is a really good CD.
Thurston is playing a brief tour with a band consisting of Steve Shelley, Samara Lubelski, Chris Brokaw, and Matt Heyner. Check ‘em out if they come to your town. Sadly, no dates here in Nashville…
November 22, 2007
November 18, 2007
November 11, 2007
I've been told that this stretch of Second Avenue North from the courthouse to Broadway is the longest contiguous section of pre-Civil War architecture in the South. (After all, Sherman burned cities to the ground during his long march.) I have been unable to verify this factoid, however.
I had to run an errand in East Nashville and took a couple of snaps along the way:
November 3, 2007
After twelve years, the eighth and final Miles Davis on Columbia box set, The Complete On The Corner Sessions (Sony/Legacy) has at last been released in all of its lavishly garish, embossed-metal glory:
This 6-CD box set goes a long way towards rationalizing an important, but critically neglected period in Miles Davis’s career. For example, the unedited tracks from 1972 that would become On the Corner are a revelation: inspired by the magnetic tape compositions of Karlheinz Stockhausen and musique concrete, the original LP was full of startling jump-cuts and electronic processing, while the unedited tracks are beatifically extended, trance-inducing jams.
After the tabla and sitar experiments of On The Corner, Miles’s working band from 1973-1975 featured electric guitarist Pete Cosey - jazz, funk, and coruscating heavy metal converged, as demonstrated on the legendary live albums Dark Magus, Agharta, and Pangaea. It’s nice to have all of the studio sessions together in one place since this material had been haphazardly scattered across disparate releases. Plus, hours of unreleased tracks shed further light on what had always been a murky discographical era.
As the liner notes intimate, this was, in fact, a particularly dark time in Miles Davis’s life, full of drug abuse, catastrophic health problems, and domestic turmoil and that kind of heaviness certainly pervades most of these tracks. Accusations that Miles was somehow “selling out” with this music never made any sense to me; this stuff is intense!
By the end of 1975, Miles had retired from music altogether. That is, until his “comeback” in 1981. . .but it was never quite the same.
Truly, a monumental body of work, the now completed series does look suitably impressive on the shelf:
October 29, 2007
This morning's walk took me up 2nd Avenue to the courhouse. The recently completed renovation of Public Square is quite nice, with the fountains and greenspace.
Downtown Nashville has some beautiful old buildings amidst everything else.
Here's another one (from my afternoon walk, 3rd Avenue):
Late afternoon light:
More tomorrow perhaps.
October 26, 2007
What has the mailperson left for me on the front porch?
Yippee! After a two-month delay, the new Circus Devils record has finally arrived in a super-limited, super-deluxe, 2-LP, heavy-duty gatefold edition. It is a thing of beauty.
First, a quick once-over on the Nitty-Gritty record cleaning machine.
Yes, I vacuum-clean even brand new records. Why? Because even a brand new LP has all kinds of dust, bits of paper, and mold-release compounds all over it which will be permanently ground into the delicate surface by the stylus if they are not immediately removed. In addition, the Nitty-Gritty will eliminate any static-electricity that has built up in the manufacturing and shrink-wrapping processes (which is substantial). Of course, I will not return the freshly cleaned LP into its original, contaminated inner-sleeve. No, it will live from now on in a Mobile Fidelity anti-static, quasi-rice paper sleeve. Yes, I am obsessed.
Now, let's have a listen:
I've been really digging the CD edition (available on Ipecac) for a while now and have come to the conclusion that this is perhaps one of the best records Robert Pollard has ever made (certainly since the demise of Guided By Voices, anyway). I also believe that Pollard's albums are best experienced on vinyl. This is especially true with a sprawling, 32-track epic like Sgt. Disco. Pollard is especially gifted at sequencing an album; each side has a real beginning, middle, and end and this effect is utterly obliterated by the CD's relentless continuity. I also think the LP sounds better - even though I know it was mastered from the same digital source as the CD. Chalk it up to euphonic distortion, I don't care. This record rocks.
Only 470 of these things are available. Get yours before they're gone forever only from Rockathon.
October 25, 2007
Since I quit smoking, I have to make myself take a break from work. When I smoked cigarettes, it was so convenient to just "step out for a smoke" and get little breaks throughout the day (not to mention a little lift from the nicotine infusion). Now, I take 5-15 minute walks around downtown (weather permitting).
Lately, I've decided to take the little Nikon along and maybe document what I see.
Today, I decided to take a walk down by the Cumberland River.
Just across the river is LP Field (formerly Adelphia Stadium), home of the Tennessee Titans (formerly the Houston Oilers). Not caring too much about football, I've never been inside. The funny thing is that I spent my first seven years in Houston, and did go see the Oilers play at the Astrodome at least once. Anyway, "Nashville Stadium" (as I like to call it) might have been a cool venue for a Grateful Dead Concert, but I guess we'll never know.
Looking East...what is that over there?
Alice Aycock's "Ghost Ballet for the East Bank Machineworks" has generated some heated controversy here in Nashville. This was my first view of it up close. I'm not sure I love it, but I don't hate it. I applaud any and all efforts towards public funding of artistic and cultural expression, even if I don't personally love each and every such work of art. In the present case, I am willing to reserve judgment and continue to encourage the further development of the riverfront park concept.
OK, back to work.
October 21, 2007
October 20, 2007
Who is A.R. Remis? Is that his/her name? This painting/collage appeared in the alley between 2nd and 3rd Avenues recently. Or did I just notice it? In any event, I have grown quite fond of it.
Nearby, arachnids build homes in every crevice.
Looking towards 3rd Avenue.
October 14, 2007
Sorry about the poor quality of the pictures. I'm still getting used to this new-fangled digital camera doohickey.
It was a beautiful wedding and a very fun night. It was so nice to see so many people I rarely get to see, since we all live in different parts of the country. At least we have the Internet...
Next: Back to San Francisco
The father of the bride, who speaks very little English, composed a toast "with the help of the dictionary" that was as eloquent and moving as any native speaker's. Truly astounding!
Welcome to the family, Michiko!
Next: A Lovely Reception