Wednesday, August 31



Back in 1996, I had Nada Surf pegged as the prototypical one-hit wonder. The MTV standard "Popular" seemed such a slim, gimmicky song - with its spoken-word verses and "Creep"/"Smells Like Teen Spirit" choruses. And, until 2002, I seemed to be pretty much on target about these guys, what with their subsequent album coming and going without notice.

But 2002 saw the release of Let Go, a solid collection of catchy tunes that garnered a bit of radioplay and essentially served to resuscitate Nada Surf's career.

Their newest LP, The Weight is a Gift, will be released in the U.S. by Barsuk Records on September 13th. It was co-produced by Death Cab for Cutie's Chris Walla and can be pre-ordered from the always-worth-visiting Insound.

Buy it at Insound!

[MP3] [left-click] "What is Your Secret" [from the LP The Weight is a Gift, 2005]

[MP3] [left-click] "Happy Kid" [from the LP Let Go, 2002]

[MP3] [left-click] "Hi-Speed Soul" [from the LP Let Go, 2002]

[MP3] [left-click] "Popular" [from the LP High/Low, 1996]

[MP3] [left-click] "Where is My Mind?" [Pixies cover]

Tuesday, August 30


Well, I finally made my last 19 selections to close out my second free-membership to eMusic. And, as always, I am in a giving mood...

[MP3] [left-click] Jeff Hanson/"The End of Everything Known"

[MP3] [left-click] Neko Case/"The Tigers Have Spoken"

[MP3] [left-click] Matt Pond PA/"Measure 1"

[MP3] [left-click] Pedro the Lion/"A Simple Plan"

Friday, August 26


R.E.M. [1988-1994]

Back in June, I posted some songs from R.E.M.'s five records on the IRS label. Now, the time has come to take a look at their first four efforts for Warner Brothers.

To be sure, a lot of R.E.M. fans were screaming "Sell out!" when their boys made the jump to a major label in 1988 (though, truth be told, some had been screaming that ever since 1986's Lifes Rich Pageant). But screw them. 1988's Green was hardly a middle-of-the-road, mainstream effort, despite some added production glossiness and a song as absurdly poppy as "Stand." 1991's Out of Time was even more eclectic, marrying Beach Boys harmonies ("Near Wild Heaven"), pseudo-funk/rap ("Radio Song") and even MORE absurdly poppy singles ("Shiny Happy People"). 1992's Automatic for the People would turn out to be the band's masterpiece - a dark, acoustic rumination on life and death that spawned two of their most enduring tunes ("Man on the Moon" and "Everybody Hurts"). Finally, 1994's Monster arrived as a loud, semi-messy counterpoint to its subdued predecessor, as well as a direct reaction to the then still-pervasive grunge movement. And, though a lot of R.E.M. fans derided it at the time, one has to wonder if they've found some fondness for it now, seeing as what was to come in the post-Bill Berry era.

Bottom-line, the years 1988 to 1994 marked the period that R.E.M. broke from the college-radio underground and hit the mainstream. Three of the four records they released in that interval went multi-platinum, and they won Grammys and MTV Awards by the boatload. Never again would they be that popular. And perhaps never again will they be that creative. (Though miracles can and do happen in the music biz, and a comeback is always just one great album away.)

For our purposes today - and just to be crotchety and contrary - we will be passing over some of the more obvious song choices - singles, best-of tracks - for some nevertheless highly worthwhile album trax. Enjoy them or be damned.

[MP3] [left-click] "World Leader Pretend" [from the LP Green, 1988]

[MP3] [left-click] "Texarkana" [from the LP Out of Time, 1991]

[MP3] [left-click] "Belong" [from the LP Out of Time, 1991]

[MP3] [left-click] "Find the River" [from the LP Automatic for the People, 1992]

[MP3] [left-click] "Monty Got a Raw Deal" [from the LP Automatic for the People, 1992]

[MP3] [left-click] "Let Me In" (for Kurt Cobain) [from the LP Monster, 1994]

Thursday, August 25



Today's post is dedicated to some degree to Chris (the Swiss) over at Music of the Moment. He recently wrote that he didn't have much desire (or time, perhaps) to explore the Rilo Kiley catalogue beyond The Execution of All Things and More Adventurous. I certainly can't blame him for that; their best material, to be sure, appears on those two discs. BUT... here are three earlier songs that I think are worth giving a listen to...

[MP3] [left-click] "Always" [from the LP Take Offs and Landings, 2001]

[MP3] [left-click] "The Frug" [from the EP The Initial Friend, 2001]

[MP3] [left-click] "85" [from the EP The Initial Friend, 2001]

Tuesday, August 23



Calla is a New York City-by-way-of-Texas trio that specializes in dark, cinematic soundscapes. In truth, though, they gradually seem to be shifting toward more traditional songwriting - verse/chorus/verse, etc. But, thankfully, their dark edges remain evident and decadent, so I don't think there's much danger of these guys ever going full-on, shiny-happy "pop."

As for what they sound like... hell, I don't know. Perhaps a bit like Starflyer 59 with their more recent stuff; perhaps a bit like Calexico with their earlier material. But that doesn't tell the whole story, so please feel free to listen for yourself.

Their new LP, Collisions, will be released in the U.S. on September 27th.

[MP3] [left-click] "Swagger" [from the LP Collisions, 2005]

[MP3] [left-click] "It Dawned on Me" [from the LP Collisions, 2005]

[MP3] [left-click] "Monument" [from the LP Televise, 2003]

[MP3] [left-click] "Fear of Fireflies" [from the LP Scavengers, 2001]

Sunday, August 21



In which I share a handful of my favorite tunes from the month of July. If you don't like them, there's obviously something wrong with you (or me). [I already posted the Robert Post song in the month aforementioned, but I like it so much I'm posting it again. It's my party and I'll cry if I want to.]

[MP3] [left-click] Robert Post/"Got None"

[MP3] [left-click] Eisley/"Telescope Eyes" [from the LP Room Noises, 2005]

[MP3] [left-click] Jem/"They" [from the LP Finally Woken, 2004]

[MP3] [left-click] Dexter's Moon/"(Fucked Up) Love Song" [from the LP Come Rain, 2005]

[MP3] [left-click] Orenda Fink/"Bloodline" [from the LP Invisible Ones, August 23, 2005]

[MP3] [left-click] Helen Love/"Debbie Loves Joey" [from the EP The Bubblegum Killers, 2005]

Saturday, August 20



I'm not overly familiar with the Death Cab for Cutie ouvre - just a few random songs here and there that I've inserted into some of my mix CDs. Rolling Stone just gave their new LP, Plans, a fair-to-middling review (three stars is hardly high praise for them), and I'm sure some of the die-hards are disappointed/disgusted that their once indie-to-the-hilt heroes have signed with a major label (Atlantic).

Well, so be it, I say. I'm finding myself liking at least half the tracks on the record, and that ain't a bad percentage in this song-centric era. I'm not sure that Death Cab has ever been quite this "poppy" before (again, one can all-but-see the die-hards hocking loogies of disdain from their scuffed-up skateboards). And this is the first time that I found myself fixating on how much lead singer Ben Gibbard sounds like the Fountain of Wayne's Chris Collingwood. To me, that's just fine. But die-hards: hock your loogies.

My favorite song from the new album is "Soul Meets Body," which isn't surprising, as I've already seen it tagged as "R.E.M.-esque" in multiple reviews. To my ears, though, it also has a New Order streak running through it, and somehow that combination works for me. Alas, I've also already seen multiple MP3s of the song circulating in cyberspace, so I'm going to post the very simple and satisfying "Someday You Will Be Loved" instead.

Plans will be released in the U.S. on August 30th.

Buy it at Insound!

[MP3] [left-click] "Someday You Will Be Loved" [from the LP Plans, 2005]

[MP3] [left-click] "Title and Registration" [from the LP Transatlanticism, 2003]

[MP3] [left-click] "We Looked Like Giants" [from the LP Transatlanticism, 2003]

[MP3] [left-click] "Photobooth" [from the EP Forbidden Love, 2000]

Wednesday, August 17



Yesterday's post on Neil Hannon and the Divine Comedy sets up today's variation-on-a-theme mini-post. How fitting, after all, that Hannon and his creative father-figure, Scott Walker, both perform on the same song (sort of). Actually, while all four of today's tunes share the same title (almost), they are, in fact, entirely different songs. So go ahead and download them.

You won't regret it.

[MP3] [left-click] "No Regrets"/Robbie Williams [w/Neil Hannon & the Pet Shop Boys]

[MP3] [left-click] "No Regrets"/The Walker Brothers

[MP3] [left-click] "No Regrets"/Snow and Voices

[MP3] [left-click] "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien"/Edith Piaf

Tuesday, August 16



The Divine Comedy is one of those acts that I wish more people knew about. Today, this "band" is really just a cover for Irish singer/songwriter Neil Hannon. In the beginning (the late '80s), he was part of a larger group that played R.E.M.-styled jangle-pop. But with the subsequent success of Britpop, generally, and Pulp, specifically, the band's sound began to change. Scott Walker suddenly seemed to become Hannon's muse. The music became increasingly baroque; lush; melodramatic. And the lyrics turned smarter; sharper; tongue-in-cheekier.

I've always been a music-first/lyrics-second sort of guy. But Neil Hannon deserves his place alongside Jarvis Cocker, Morrissey, and Neil Tennant in the mordant-wit pantheon of songwriters. And, like those guys, he is quite capable of coupling a cute-yet-cutting couplet with a killer riff or a can't-get-it-out-of-my-head melody.

Today's offerings, then - though open to all - are especially intended for those who can appreciate smart, sophisticated, accessible pop. Now... go to town.

[MP3] [left-click] "Absent Friends" [from the LP Absent Friends, 2004]

[MP3] [left-click] "Gin Soaked Boy" [from the collection A Secret History: Best of the Divine Comedy, 1999]

[MP3] [left-click] "Generation Sex" [from the LP Fin de Siecle, 1998]

[MP3] [left-click] "Sunrise" [from the LP Fin de Siecle, 1998]

[MP3] [left-click] "Everybody Knows (Except You)" [from the LP A Short Album About Love, 1997]

[MP3] [left-click] "Songs of Love" [from the LP Casanova, 1996]

[MP3] [left-click] "Tonight We Fly" [from the LP Promenade, 1994]

Friday, August 12



Today was to be a day of indignation. I was all ready to open this post: "Today, patience finally fails me, as the same crap-quality MP3 of the Wrens song "Everyone Chooses Sides" makes its usual-suspect circuit."

Well, having just downloaded the song from eMusic, I find that I am a fool. There is, in fact, nothing "crap-quality" about it; it's SUPPOSED to sound that way. I have no idea why my old copy of the song sounds different. Is it a remix? Who the hell knows.

But I know that it lacks the full-on digital crackle-and-hiss of the official version, and I know that it cuts off rather unceremoniously at the 4:41 mark. All of this is to draw attention to a terrific song from a pretty terrific record that deserves to be heard in all its incarnations.

[I am augmenting this post with some other songs that - along with the Wrens tune - made my best-of for the first four months of 2004. So this makes for some nice nostalgia for me. And maybe it'll make for some nice new discoveries for you. Who the hell knows.]

[MP3] [left-click] The Wrens/"Everyone Chooses Sides" (alternative mix?) [from the LP The Meadowlands, 2003]

[MP3] [left-click] The Stills/"Changes Are No Good" [from the LP Logic Will Break Your Heart, 2003]

[MP3] [left-click] Shea Seger/"Clutch" [from the LP May Street Project, 2001]

[MP3] [left-click] Okkervil River/"The War Criminal Rises and Speaks" [from the LP Down the River of Golden Dreams, 2003]

[MP3] [left-click] John Vanderslice/"Promising Actress" [from the LP Cellar Door, 2004]

Wednesday, August 10



A couple days ago, I posted Boy Omega's rather swell cover of the Magnetic Fields song "Papa Was a Rodeo." Today, I post two Boy Omega originals, as well as another cover. This guy could be Sweden's answer to Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst.

[MP3] [left-click] "The Best Time of the Year"

[MP3] [left-click] "By Midnight We'll Give It a Go"

[MP3] [left-click] "A Sucker's Evening" [Will Oldham cover]

Monday, August 8



I first heard "Hallelujah" by way of Jeff Buckley's still-definitive rendition. The fact that this version made a prominent appearance in a particularly memorable episode of The West Wing when that show was still going great guns (and later became an anthem of sorts in the wake of 9/11) does not diminish its emotional impact in any way. In fact, it is the divine commingling of Buckley's angelic voice and Leonard Cohen's religious-tinged imagery that makes this performance all-but-impervious to the usual pitfalls of overexposure.

Apparently, though, it was John Cale's take on the song (with slightly rejiggered lyrics) that inspired Buckley to record HIS version. So Cale certainly deserves his due in contributing to the life-cycle of this song.

And while it is Cale who is heard singing in the DreamWorks movie Shrek, it's DreamWorks artist Rufus Wainwright who performs the song on the soundtrack. Hmmm... wonder how that happened...?

And, of course, what goes around comes around... so it seems entirely appropriate to let Mr. Cohen weigh in on his own subject.

[MP3] [left-click] "Hallelujah"/Jeff Buckley [from the LP Grace, 1994]
[MP3] [left-click] "Hallelujah"/John Cale [from the Leonard Cohen tribute I'm Your Fan: The Songs of Leonard Cohen, 1991]
[MP3] [left-click] "Hallelujah"/Rufus Wainwright [from the soundtrack to Shrek, 2001]
[MP3] [left-click] "Hallelujah" [live]/Leonard Cohen [from the collection More Best of Leonard Cohen, 1997]

Boy Omega is a Swedish artist who had the great good sense to cover Stephin Merritt on what has to rank as one of my favorite Magnetic Fields tracks. More on Mr. Omega in a day or two....

[MP3] [left-click] "Papa Was a Rodeo"/Boy Omega [from the "independent project/compilation" Our Love is Meaningless]
[MP3] [left-click] "Papa Was a Rodeo"/The Magnetic Fields [from the LP 69 Love Songs, 1999]

Sunday, August 7



It has come to my attention that there is an American television network currently airing a show in which contestants compete to become the new lead singer of INXS. Christ almighty. Somebody shoot me.

Of course, even the most egregious examples of boob-tube poop can occasionally pay unexpected dividends. In this case, I was reminded that I had put together an 80-minute INXS compilation a couple years ago (and not bothered to listen to it since). So out of the vault it came.

Alas, as much as I'd like to say that this music of my youth has aged like fine wine, the more apt culinary comparison would be "cheap cheese." There is something undeniably dated and '80s about the band's sound, even as they dragged their tattered reputation into a new decade (ending ignominiously with 1997's double-whammy of unlistenable LP Elegantly Wasted and Michael Hutchence's suicide at age 37). Listening again after all these years, it's really no wonder that INXS - unlike their capital letter-centric brethren U2 and R.E.M. - were unable to weather the coming of grunge and neo-punk. Beyond Hutchence's legitimately "rock star" voice, there just wasn't a whole hell of a lot to build a comeback on (which makes the aforementioned lead-singer reality show all the more absurd).

All of that said, Kick remains a solid document of 1987, and I can wholeheartedly recommend another six-pack of songs (at least) from their other long-form efforts, including the absolute classic, "Don't Change."

[MP3] [left-click] "Don't Change" [from the LP Shabooh Shoobah, 1982]
[MP3] [left-click] "The One Thing" [from the LP Shabooh Shoobah, 1982]
[MP3] [left-click] "Original Sin" [from the LP The Swing, 1984]
[MP3] [left-click] "This Time" [from the LP Listen Like Thieves, 1985]
[MP3] [left-click] "Mystify" [from the LP Kick, 1987]
[MP3] [left-click] "Never Tear Us Apart" [from the LP Kick, 1987]
[MP3] [left-click] "By My Side" [from the LP X, 1990]
[MP3] [left-click] "Heaven Sent" [from the LP Welcome to Wherever You Are, 1992]

Friday, August 5



New York-based Nellie McKay was barely out of her teens when she recorded her ambitious debut LP Get Away from Me. Over 18 tracks, she touched on everything from hip-hop to cabaret; straight-ahead pop to electro-folk. Her lyrics, too, ran the gamut - mixing issues of politics, relationships, gender identity, and random pop references in one messy blender. Overall, while the girl could certainly be accused of over-reaching, her talent was undeniable, and Get Away from Me, at its best, had a sprightly effervescence and energy that promised even better things to come.

We shall soon find out if McKay lives up to that promise, with the October release of her second record, Pretty Little Head. This one, apparently, will feature duets with k.d. lang and Cyndi Lauper(!). Color me intrigued.

In the meantime, here are a few highlights from 2004's Get Away from Me...

[MP3] [left-click] "Ding Dong"

[MP3] [left-click] "Waiter"

[MP3] [left-click] "David"

Wednesday, August 3



I love female singers with deep, rich voices. Of course, such voices can come naturally or with the passage of time. Marianne Faithfull, it seems safe to say, came by hers through the latter method. And probably with the assistance of a few thousand cigarettes. And liters upon liters of liquor. And perhaps some heaping helpings of heartbreak. (I find myself frequently flanking her on mix CDs with Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits, but that's just me.)

It is highly informative to listen to Ms. Faithfull's "girl" voice on "As Tears Go By" in the mid-'60s (released before the Rolling Stones' version) and her full-on "woman" version of some two decades later. Certainly, in general, I prefer the later voice and the later songs, though her albums throughout her career are consistently inconsistent. Still, when it comes to the songs, she's a stylist worthy of notice (and a post on this blog).

[MP3] [left-click] "As Tears Go By" [1965] [from her self-titled LP]

[MP3] [left-click] "Song for Nico" [from the LP Kissin' Time, 2002]

[MP3] [left-click] "For Wanting You" [from the LP Vagabond Ways, 2000]

[MP3] [left-click] "There is a Ghost" [from the LP Before the Poison, 2005]

[MP3] [left-click] "Yesterday" [from the LP Love in a Mist, 1967]

[MP3] [left-click] "As Tears Go By" [1987] [from the LP Strange Weather]