Friday, August 25, 2006

Weekend Sports Update and Preview

Today we'll try to give a broad update on the latest and greatest in the various spheres of interest c/s usually covers.

In sports...
The 2006-07 Champions League draw took place yesterday. Chelsea, who missed out on a seeding due to faulty seeding system, were drawn into Group A with Barcelona. The teams will meet yet again, after offering hotly contested knockout round matchups each of the past two years. Ronaldinho professed Barca lucky to meet the English champs so early in the tourney. Other good looking matchups include Manchester United and Glasgow Celtic, Inter Milan and Bayern Munich, and Real Madrid and Lyon.

Swedish international and former Celtic and Barca star Henrik Larsson has been suspended two games for punching an opponent.

The UEFA Cup, Europe's second tier club competition, had its first round draw today as well. Holders Sevilla face Greek club Atromitos in the first round. Games kick off September 14.

After dropping five of five at home to the Yankees this weekend, the Red Sox look to miss out on the playoffs this season. The Twins and White Sox are essentially tied for the AL wild card lead, after each team enjoyed a blowout last night. Unfortunately, it looks like the Yanks have done enough to get in, despite A-Rod's attempts at sabotage.

In the NL, the Reds continue to hang around in the Central, now only 1/2 a game behind St. Louis. They're currently on a ten game road swing and finish the season with six road games, but with the third best road record in the NL, they may just sneak into the postseason. A clutch win last night in San Fran certainly helped their chances.

Also in the NL, there's still hope for our local boys, the Nationals. No, not for the playoffs, not this year at least, but for Alfonso Soriano. Currently sitting on 41 homers and 30 stolen bases, he's got a real chance at becoming only the fourth 40/40 man in MLB history. He's been to 30/30 three times, matched only by Bobby and Barry Bonds' (when he used to be fast enough to sprint between bases) four times each. If you needed another excuse, you can now get into a Nats game for 3 dollars. That would buy you 3 adult movie tickets pretty much everywhere in town. They're next home against Philly Tuesday-Thursday (29-31).

Finally, DC United advanced to the semifinals of the US Open Cup this week with a 3-1 home win against Red Bull New York. They're back to league play at home on Saturday against defending MLS champions LA Galaxy. 7:30 pm, RFK Stadium, cheap seats $16.

Friday, August 18, 2006

New Hold Steady - "Chips Ahoy!"

Great news...
Pitchfork just put up a new track from the Hold Steady's upcoming LP, Boys and Girls in America. The 'Fork has made it perfectly clear that they have a copy there on hand and listen to it all the time and its awesome, which, for me, is borderline cruel and unusual punishment. But whatever, I still have a beer coozie signed by Craig Finn and Tad Kubler.

The new album is out October 3rd, and will be the band's first release on Vagrant.
Here's the new tune. Sounds similar to older stuff, but with a little more nuance. I hope to write more later, but wanted to make sure and get this out as soon as possible. Check it out, let me know what you think:

The Hold Steady - "Chips Ahoy!"

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Weeding out yer weekends: Golden Smog, Premier League Soccer, and more

Golden Smog -- the rootsy, midwestern, indie take on the Wilburys -- just put out their first album in 7 years, Another Fine Day, which has been met with near-universal mild appreciation. Now that the buzz has dissipated from soft to "huh?", I've finally gotten around to posting something.

Golden Smog - "Corvette". Inane lyrics be damned, this is the best true power-pop song to come out in quite some time. Using the Beatlesque trick of going chorus first, you get a couple minutes in and it hardly seems the song even took time to have verses. They're there, sort of. The guitars are a little more Blink than Blur -- doctored up, but not quite overmedicated. Where great power-pop thrives on subtle touches, they're few and far between here, as the band can barely be bothered to break it's driving rhythm and heavy-handed (but sweet, if that's possible) vocal harmonies for something a little more nuanced. This may be straight out of the Raspberries' School of Power Pop, but the Smoggers aren't exactly newbies on the subject. Which is still to say, there ain't much to it, but according to my iTunes, I'm up to 22 listens so far.

In the "real" news...
With the ceasefire taking shape in Lebanon, news has broken of the US blocking missile shipments from Iran to Hezbollah. The broad details of how they pulled it off is really fascinating, and Turkey's cooperation is a testament to the importance of having some buddies in the neighborhood.

In the world of sports...
The English Premier League soccer season kicks off Saturday, with a full slate of games this weekend. The season's opening match pits Liverpool -- fresh off a 2-1 Charity Shield victory over defending champs Chelsea -- against newly promoted Sheffield United. Sunday's Tottenham v. Bolton matchup looks like the best on paper, but it really doesn't matter: the season's early start should be a quick fix for anyone feeling a little undernourished by MLS games for the past month.

Speaking of MLS, DC United return home (finally) to take on the Colorado Rapids at 4 pm, this Saturday at RFK. Their play has slipped up lately, stumbling to a 2-1 loss at Real Salt Lake and disappointing in ties against the Chicago Fire (1-1) and Red Bull New York (0-0). Hopefully the friendly confines of Southeast DC will be enough to steer Jaime Moreno and co. to victory.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Wrinkle Neck Mules and the Walkmen

A number of months ago my girlfiend joined some friends from Richmond, VA at the Iota Club in Arlington to catch a set by Wrinkle Neck Mules, a Richmond favorite starting to make a little national noise. I heard good things about the set -- the words "you would definitely like them" were used -- and today Popmatters has a review of their new LP, Pull the Brake. The album actually came out in March, but they've been on a long Midwest/South tour this summer, with more to follow this fall (including another Iota gig on September 5).

Wrinkle Neck Mules - "Liza" . If the Drive-By Truckers hadn't written "My Sweet Annette", more folks might be hailing these guys as the future of that unnamed genre that slides in somewhere between southern rock and country. But they did, and so the Mules come off here as a somewhat derivative take on an already derivative song. But isn't that the point? Country's few, relatively mild permutations (country-rock, countrypolitan) were initially met with such strong opposition proves it's a music of tradition. Given that, maybe it's better to see the Mules as rootsier -- they trade the trademark Athens jangle of "Annette" for banjos and mandolins -- take on a timeless genre song. Either way, it sure ain't bad, even if the lead singer's voice sounds a little like Jay Farrar on a bad night. It's tale of tragic love and demise is as central to the genre as the trademark shuffle, but (in this reviewer's opinion) the anguish seems a little forced. But that sort of raw emotion and melancholy comes with a little time.

New from the Walkmen...
Some may have read previously about the Walkmen's full album cover of Harry Nilsson's Pussy Cats LP, done with John Lennon during their infamous "lost weekend" where many a Brandy Alexander (Lennon called them "milkshakes") was consumed. The good news is that I found a cut from unreleased album over on Stereogum. It's actually a version of Jimmy Cliff's "Many Rivers to Cross", known best for being part of the seminal soundtrack to the film The Harder They Come .

The Walkmen - "Many Rivers to Cross"

*Editor's Note: A young Harry Nilsson bears a strange resemblance to Walkmen lead singer Hamilton Leithauser.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

I'm From Barcelona

Man, folks are going crazy these days for the 29-piece (!) indie pop collective I'm from Barcelona, who are actually from Sweden. If you ask me, the whole thing reeks of an Architecture in Helsinki rip-off (they're actually from Australia): lots of funny, childish instruments like kazoos and glockenspiels, lots of group choruses. Pitchfork seemed to enjoy their album, Let Me Introduce My Friends, and initial listens to "Treehouse" are promising (less so supposed standout track "We're from Barcelona").

Right now, my inner cynic has to be reminded how much I actually enjoyed the Polyphonic Spree the first few times, and how oddly affecting a happy-go-lucky group like the aforementioned Architecture can be. At any rate, we're about to be hit with a tidal wave of I'm from Barcelona press/hype, so you may as well go for a little dip before it's too late.

Check out the tunes on their myspace here.

Monday, August 07, 2006

The Clientele w/ Great Lakes @ Iota Club

I ventured down to the Iota Club in Arlington -- a short walk from my then-residence in Rosslyn -- for the second time to catch the Clientele on the second stop of their US tour. This trip to the club was considerably more satisfying (the last time ended with us being shut out of the sold-out Minus 5 show, leaving c/s to blast the club for it's ticket policy), and I now consider this one of the better joints in the DC area to catch a show. Good sound system, reasonably priced Shiner on tap, easy to meet the band afterwards, Metro-accessible.

But to the show at hand: we got there with four songs left in the Great Lakes set, walking in to find the crowd packed tightly into the room but oddly still six feet from the stage. Why the first few people didn't decide to move up front I'm not sure, but after that mob mentality takes over and no one's willing to step forward. The first few Lakes -- an "associate" member of the Elephant 6 collective -- cuts we heard were mid-tempo rockers, country-tinged in a way similar to Dylan's longer, loping stuff from Blonde on Blonde. Pretty enjoyable and a fine opening act, but the band kicked into another gear for the last two songs, both psych-country-rockers, not unlike something from the Beachwood Sparks. I actually got pretty into it, what with the Neil Young feel on the solos and the Patrick Berkery/Ric Menck-style drumming.

After a short break, the Clientele came on. Their Britishness was on display from the beginning, with lead singer Alasdair Maclean adding "Thank you very much indeed" after each tune. The material was new and unfamiliar, but didn't differ terribly from the Byrdsian jangle (Maclean also copped the intro to the Byrds' "Eight Miles High" of previous work. Some songs were certainly better than others-- one called something "and Victoria" was particularly nice, though the band readily admitted they needed practice before heading to Nashville to record at the end of the tour. Assuming they were not, and the band quietly went about their business trying out the new tunes, augmented by new member Mel Draisey on violin. While it was apparent the band was still beginning to gel (Draisey seemed to be unsure of what to do on a few songs), Draisey's addition was a nice bit of polish on the live show.

The high point was undoubtedly single "Since K Got Over Me" -- Maclean quipped that was their "hit", "at 450 copies sold" -- with the wonderful Kinks-inspired bassline and that almost-inside-joke of a hook in chorus, taken directly from the Crystals' "And Then He Kissed Me". They played it near the end of the set, before coming back to accept requests for the encore and closing with a wonderful new song whose name now escapes me. All in all, not what you'd call a mind-blowing show, but certainly a pleasant one from a good band feeling their way through some strong material.

Magnolia Electric Company: Life on the road

If you're anything like me, you're interested in the dirty details of what life is really like for a touring independent band. Somehow -- and it's there on the blog if you're really curious -- MarathonPacks corralled Jason Groth of Magnolia Electric Company (playing at the Black Cat this fall) into doing a tour diary on his blog.

It takes place during the group's recent West Coast tour and, while only scratching the surface of the shows, is a great take on life on the road: sleeping in vans, days upon days spent driving, meals at IHOP, what's playing on the band's car stereo, run-ins with Macbook-toting hippie grovelers in the Northwest, etc. Pretty much all you ever wanted to know about touring, as far as you could get from riotous backstage parties you always hear about. Regardless of whether it's glamorous or not (it's not), Groth is a pretty good writer, making it hard as hell not to have admiration for these guys.

For me, there's a lesson here: if the band you just paid 10-20 bucks to see is grumpy, tired, plays a slightly abbreviated set, doesn't appear amused by your shouted requests, etc...chances are it's because three of their last six meals were purchased in gas stations and they're trying to play you a great, energetic show on 3 hours of sleep on the bench seat of a cargo van.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Whole Wide World: Couple

Usually Whole Wide World segments feature a profile of a foreign country, but we decided to make exception this time around:

Whole Wide World...
This band comes to you by way of Absolute PowerPop, an excellent source for very under-the-radar power pop bands and artists. Were an actual power pop radar to exist, it would probably be located within earshot of either Chapel Hill, Athens, or New York City, and chances are, wouldn't even come close to picking up Couple, an excellent power pop quartet from Malaysia. They're pretty straightforward with their influences and very friendly -- after adding them as a myspace friend, I got an immediate reply and started a brief conversation about power pop, etc. They take Weezer's penchant for crunchy guitars and whoo-hoo choruses and marry it to lo-fi production and your standard issue lovelorn power pop lyrics.

Either way, it's excellent stuff, and good to know that the power pop torch burns bright well across the globe. They've also paid tribute to Arthur Lee on their page as well. Check them out here.

More stuff...
A good, brief Arthur Lee tribute here, even if he does quote the song I decided not to quote (see below).

Those of you thinking of seeing Talladega Nights, refer to this promising take from Slate. Might have to check it out myself.

The Black Cat has recently updated its upcoming fall schedule, which is absolutely loaded with c/s approved acts (The Wrens, Band of Horses, Magnolia Electric Company, Rogue Wave, etc).

Arthur Lee passes away, age 61

It's with a truly heavy heart that I report that Arthur Lee, leader and co-founder of the seminal psych band Love, passed away yesterday at the age of 61. He had been diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and several benefits had been held to help defray his medical costs. He died in Methodist Hospital in Memphis with his wife, Diane, at his side (You can read more here).

For me, Lee was a gateway to a different side of music as primary author of Forever Changes -- the much-heralded, but still very weird album that, as a pretty young guy, my dad first played for me. I got some of it then -- the catchy melodies, quirky lyrics, blending of musical styles, but the album's a grower if there ever was one, and it's lived quite a life in the musical history (so to speak) of my family. "Maybe the People Would Be The Times, or Between Clark and Hilldale" was my instant favorite, and I specifically recall my dad asking why I liked it, maybe the first remembered occasion of stopping to consider what made a song great.

Either way, Forever Changes was a far cry from Love's self-titled debut, featuring a blistering cover of Burt Bacharach's "Little Red Book" that once featured prominently on a mix I made for my girlfriend in high school, more proto-punk with a tinge of jangle than anything else. They're perhaps most familiar for their inclusion on the Nuggets compilation with the song "7 and 7 is", which includes the memorably goofy chorus "Oop-ip-ip, Oop-ip-ip, yeah!" set to more emphatic proto-punk. This, of course, was in 1966.
A dynamic band, but not hard to see why they never really made a commercial breakthrough.

A classic argument against Lee is that his work hasn't aged well. The spoken word bits, the late Sixties paranoia, the weird psychedelia...none of it seems as appropriate now. I'll grant that to an extent, but for me, Arthur Lee and Love are one of the bands that altered my musical landscape a little. Forever Changes closes with it's best song, "You Set the Scene", looks death in the face with a sly smile and wink. A lyric quote about life and death would be appropriate, but I'd rather not be so heavy-handed here. Instead, scour your local used record store for a cheap version, download it from the iTunes store, borrow it from your pop's record collection. If Lee's insistent fadeout "This is the time and this is the time, and it is time, time, time, time, time, time, time, time..." isn't a poignant farewell, then I'm not sure I know what is.

Love - Your Mind and We Belong Together (Demo)

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Hipsters and the Light bulb

Saw a good joke -- actually told by Bill Doss of Olivia Tremor Control during a guest appearance with Apples in Stereo in my hometown of Lexington, KY -- that definitely merits reprinting:

Q: How many indie rockers does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: I have that on vinyl.


Jingle-Jangle All the Way to the Bank...
Popmatters published an interview with Roger McGuinn which really isn't very good or interesting at all. One of the founders of the Byrds, McGuinn stuck with the group to the bitter end, eventually trotting out different lineup variations that, while not quite on par with late period Chicago, were not particularly good and seemed to work against the band's legacy. While McGuinn's twelve-string Rickenbacker "jingle-jangle" was what marked the band's early, landmark work, that fellow Byrds David Crosby, Chris Hillman, Gene Clark, and Gram Parsons all went on to stronger solo careers says something. Of course, I say all this with the reservation that it makes me sound like something of a jaded hipster, criticizing one of the most influential musicians in rock history. But I've never been a fan of keeping a great band on life support after most of the founding members are gone, and of this charge, McGuinn is surely guilty.

But speaking of guilty, the article's author Michael Franco displays an astonishing lack of historical context when talking about the Byrds (for an extensive history with actual perspective, go here). I personally like his naive assertion that "the Byrds created Americana." This, unfortunately, follows the more accurate statement that their seminal album -- the creation of which McGuinn strongly resisted -- Sweetheart of the Rodeo is "often credited with starting country-rock and its offspring, alt.country". I'd direct anyone who cares about this sort of thing to read up on the history of actual country, which was a little quicker to absorb rock n roll elements than the other way around. For quick reference, check out the Bakersfield Sound page on allmusic.

Beatlesque...
Also, to keep with the classic rock theme, marathonpacks has a killer little thing on his favorite Beatles' moments of genius. He's dissected his favorite moments, even going so far as to offer the moments as mp3's, often separated into particular channels or tracks. A must-visit for any fan. For Ringo-haters out there, listen to his separation of Ringo's drums from "Strawberry Fields Forever". Maybe not the most complicated thing out there, but infectious, menacing, and powerful it surely is.

New tracks...
M. Ward - "Requiem". Another from his upcoming August 22 release, Post-War, this track lacks the immediacy and punch of previously posted Daniel Johnston cover "To Go Home". It's a decent song, one that would sound at home on either of his past two albums, but fails to build the climax it's Creedence-channelling intro suggests. Ward's voice rescues most of his more pedestrian songs (though the resignation at the end of "he's a good man and now he's gone" may be typical of Ward but by no means is it pedestrian), and this one's no different. But despite all that, the most interesting piece of the song is the effects-laden solo --which, depending on your perspective, may or may not be influenced by the Brothers Ween -- which on a personal level has me wondering what the hell this new album is going to sound like.

Band of Horses - "The Great Salt Lake". Most bloggers hit on these guys a few months ago; by now, anyone with any cred has probably already absorbed their b-sides and live bootlegs and stuff. To hell with them, I can't be rushed like that, nor am I willing to get caught up in hype. My Morning Jacket comparisons seem apt once more on this solid offering from a band that -- mark my words -- will feature on a major sitcom or dramedy at some point next season. I don't love it really -- the vocals fall a little flat on the title phrase where MMJ's would've either soared or drowned in reverb or both -- but like most of their stuff, it's a grower.