Sunday, July 20, 2014

What Could Be Simpler?

Again trying to make up for my pathetic year-behindness (ie, rarely getting music from the current year), and patting myself on the back for my explorations of different genres, I quit while I’m ahead and come running back to some simple rock n roll.

And it's hard for it to get any simpler than this:

Parquet Courts.jpg

Most of the songs begin with the simplest of guitar riffs which is then wrapped up snugly with a perfectly complementary bass line and beat. The yelping is right out of early Meat Puppets.

My copy also includes their EP Tally All the Things That You Broke, and I’ve been too lazy to figure out where one ends and the other begins because it’s all of a piece. (Okay, the EP starts with "You've Got Me Wondering Now")

Rough and powerful, it’s the complete opposite of the Dandy Warhols - nothing smooth or commercial about it. They keep things moving, changing tempo just enough to keep you from getting bored. And I’m not! Not in the least.  You’re up to track 10 before even you know what hit you. A

When to Play it: After you’ve had your coffee.
When to Not Play It: When you’re around any adult whose respect you crave.

And By the Way, How’s the Year Going So Far, Jaybee You Ask?

Something like this:
1. Light Up Gold/Tally All the Things You Broke - Parquet Courts (2013)


P.S.

I feel I need to explain. 

In case anyone, God forbid, acts on a recommendation of mine.

I can understand why any upstanding citizen of similar age would question the quality of the Parquet Courts’ music, and why I'd choose it over the other records I've heard this year.  

Well, there are two reasons:
First, simple rock n’ roll will always be one of my favorite genres.
Second, the PCs pursue their admittedly limited goals as relentlessly and with a single-mindedness worthy of the early Ramones. And they unquestionably reach those goals.

Perhaps the Dandy Warhols are more ambitious. Lauryn Hill certainly is. But the first are more polished than I'd like and a bit too obvious about what they steal. And poor Lauryn - as talented as she is - just isn't as much fun to be around.

After all, when someone starts a song off with:

I was hanging round Ridgewood, Queens,
I was flipping through magazines,
I was so,
Drunk and starving

.… as they do on the slightly mis-named “Stoned and Starving”, well it just brings me back, although not to Ridgewood. (But then again, who knows?)

And there’s really no defending the first guitar solo here, except to note that, after all, they are drunk, etc...

I guess the point, is that mood trumps notes. Although the guitar duel at the end of this live version shows that some folks get drunker than others.  

And it’s really just as simple as that.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Right In the Back!

So, for once, country didn’t disappoint me. Emboldened, I took another chance.

Or to put it another way, a 2-CD set of well regarded but quite edgy music I nearly bought for $20 on last year’s record store day, suddenly became available as an mp3 on amazon for $5. I can get pretty adventurous at that price! Yeah, that’s me (in the corner). Livin in the fast lane…

The Knife.jpg

The Knife are a brother sister duo from Sweden, and I can just see you now imagining a young blonde couple smiling in their white turtleneck sweaters while perched atop a snowbank. A Swedish Donnie and Marie, if you will.

Or, at worst, two earnest young people with black turtlenecks, right out of an Ingmar Bergman movie (black and white, of course), looking off into a cold, desolate landscape, reading poetry and contemplating suicide.

You should be so lucky.  These two - who look almost as weird as their music sounds - make Daft Punk look like the Beverly Hillbillies.

See?

The-Knife.jpg

And...

The Knife 2.jpg

Frankly, I find the second one scarier.

I hate to sound so damned ignorant about their appearance, but I wanted to prepare you for the music.

Guaranteed to elicit a reaction of what the f*ck from your friends and neighbors, this is unabashedly weird music. Mixing trance/ambient/dance/electronica with wails, shouts and, well I just don’t know, it’s more “foreign” than any third world record I’ve ever gotten (although not the weirdest. Thank you Pere Ubu and Captain Beefheart!).

It’s also long - 100 minutes worth of music - in that let’s get really lost kind of way, with a 19 minute trance number plopped down right in the middle of it, just in case you were having too good a time. It's a beat-y equivalent of Sonic Youth’s A Thousand Leaves. In other words, something strange with big wide open spaces and sudden jarring changes.

The first time I heard this Mrs. Jaybee and I were stuck in the house on a cold Saturday in January. We would have been looking out onto the desolate landscape but we had chores. So I put this on and it fit our mood perfectly.  

Which gave me high hopes that I would come to love this. And I may still. But the vocals remind me too much of Ruth Buzzi. It's hard to contemplate suicide when you're giggling. 

But it’s just so freaking DAUNTING that I keep coming back to it.

This is very apt for those times when you're feeling disconnected from the outside world. As an experiment I tried it again in the Spring when I was in the backyard potting some plants. I guess I wanted to annoy the neighbors and scare their children. But by then I had gotten used to it. It was no longer weird enough.

In any case, it’s pretty enjoyable if you’re up for a 100 minute trip to god knows where, but maybe not striking enough to really impress (or scar) you.  B+

When to play it: January 15th
When to not play it: At the beach.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

My Country ‘Tis of She

After the good genre exercise and the successful retreat to rock, with the encouragement of Nutboy I scurried out again to another genre and hit paydirt, of something close enough to it.

Kacey Musgrove.jpg

This is the best country album I’ve heard in many years. (Even Mrs. Jaybee - NOT a lover of country music - likes it!) It’s not like I get a lot of country records. It’s just that what I’ve gotten lately has been underwhelming.

Kacey Musgraves is a little realer than the earnest but generic country-rock of Brad Paisley, a little sharper lyrically, and a little sweeter vocally, than Miranda Lambert, more melodic than Steve Earle and more modestly produced than the admittedly excellent Jimmie Dale Gilmore.

I’ve never been comfortable with rock and roll singers who were, well, good singers. Excellent technical ability seems to miss the point in most rock and roll. So when I check out another genre one of the added bonuses is that, whatever that genre is, people can sing!  And KM doesn’t disappoint. Her voice is in that mid-range sweet spot - very pretty, but not saccharine.

And instead of the “new country” scam of adding a bunch of electric guitars to rock it up in the most commercial/lame way possible, KM has some different ideas - she deploys actual melodies.

And the words - another country specialty but oftentimes for all the wrong reasons - are about real things - divorce, infidelity, creeping economic desperation - and are right on the money. So when things get a bit happy/dopey, it’s bearable.

There’s only one moment on the whole record that I regret. When the pedal steel guy gets all weepy on the last song. In other words, when it goes all country on me. Thank god the lyrics are a cold splash of water.

I’m not saying KM’s a greater talent than the abovementioned artists. She didn’t write all these songs herself. But when you’re putting a record together it’s good to know your own limits and when to call in the reinforcements. Sometimes it’s better to avoid making the Unique Personal Statement, and just concentrate on making a good record.

In doing so, Kacey Musgraves has renewed my faith in country music. Something that hasn’t been the case since, oh, Gram Parsons?  A-




Saturday, June 21, 2014

Talent vs. Genius, Round One, or, Just Dandy

As adventurous as I’d like to pretend to be about music, whenever I do dip my toes into a genre experiment I can usually be counted upon to come running back to that old reliable - rock n’ roll. And it doesn’t hurt a bit if it’s tuneful and bright rather than harsh and bitter. I can supply that on my own.

Dancy Warhols.jpg

And boy is this tuneful and bright!  

The Dandy Warhols first came to my attention on the radio, where they could be counted upon to do something that was catchy but that still had some ooomf to it.

So, I decided to see the movie “DIG!”, which pits the Dandys against the Brian Jonestown Massacre. They start out as pals - if anything with the Dandys being in awe of the BJM - but it eventually turns into rivalry and mutual hatred. 

The Dandys were the savvy ambitious band, while BJM was the brilliant but self destructive (getting into fights on stage, etc.) ones. By the end of the movie the Dandys have moved on to fame and fortune (relatively speaking) while the BJM can never quite stop shooting themselves in the foot (or the arm, as it were).

This excellent movie whetted my appetite, so I decided to investigate and eventually choose sides. I’m the type who's more likely to root for the self-destructive genius against the ambitiously talented.

But I have to admit that this is as good a commercial rock record as I can imagine. Oh, and believe me, I can imagine because I’ve heard some pretty horrific ones. (They’re the ones that sell so many copies.)  

And as is usually the case when I hear a record as listenable as this one, I wonder why it didn’t sell a million, too. Any of this would have sounded great on the radio.

Okay, it may be a bit superficial, and there are some parts I could swear I’ve heard before on Beatles and Stones records. And at the end of it, you’re reminded of what Steve Martin said to his wife-with-a-shady-past after sex in “The Man with Two Brains”: “Thanks, that was so…professional!”

But if you don't like it, you're displaying either obstinacy, or maybe integrity, depending upon whether you've seen “DIG! or not. An early contender for album of the year.

Okay Brian Jonestown Massacre, let's see what you got! A-

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Senior Alert

Here we are in June, and I haven’t said word one yet about new (to me) music this year. Leave it to me to blather about outmoded technology link for weeks on end. http://jburns831.blogspot.com/2014/03/blood-on-8-tracks-track-one-limbo.html


I started the year with my Amazon.com shopping cart brimming with mp3s, so there was a chance I’d  drown in music if I wasn’t careful. It’s happened before. I’d get ten records, focus on maybe three and the other seven would sit around lonely. I’d get to them, but not for weeks or even months. Did I need all ten at the time? Obviously not. The problem is it’s hard to know which three I’ll end up loving right away.
Or I could just do my “research”, an activity too nerdy to go into here (but not, apparently, here).
Or go wandering around the web.
For reasons I'd rather not say (the “World History Project” post I haven't written yet) I was considering 16th century classical music. Or Iggy and the Stooges, I couldn’t decide.
But as these thoughts were going through my mind, Mrs. Jaybee got the jump on me with Vampire Weekend, , as did my son Michael, with Oasis.
So if I didn’t get my ass in gear, this year’s theme would turn out to be Rehearsals for Retirement.
Spoiler: It will actually turn out worse than this, of course, as my wanderings will be prove to be less explicable - but eerily similar - to that of an elderly gentleman suffering from dementia riding the subway and being found in the oddest parts of town.
So where did they find me first?
Lauryn Hill.jpg

Lauryn Hill - The Miseducation of… (1998)


This record has shown up on so many “Best of” lists I’d be negligent if I didn’t get to it at some point. And as is usual when I use that rationale, I have to prepare myself to be underwhelmed. I tend to hear what everybody is raving about. It's just not what I'd rave about.


So let’s start with what I don’t like about it and get that out of the way:

It’s a Grammy-aiming-crossover record, which is something I typically despise. But because it’s not in a genre I genuinely love, it doesn’t feel watered down. (It probably is. but I wouldn’t notice.)


And Ms. Hill’s self-absorption doesn’t help. When she was with the Fugees at least she was singing about people who are oppressed. Here, it seems she’s the only one being oppressed. 

And likening oneself to Christ (“Forgive Them Father”) doesn’t do anything for me, either. Nor does her complete  absence of a sense of humor.


On the plus side, the songs are pretty tuneful. She sings very well and brings a lot of passion, as she should since it’s all about her anyway. And for something that runs nearly eighty minutes, I’m with her most of the way.
So when I get past all the annoyances, I have to admit it somebody's Album of the Year. Just not mine.

But sometimes it's perfectly lovely, and putting it on again isn’t a chore at all. B+

"Tell Him"

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Blood on the 8-Tracks, Track Eight: To Make a Long Story Short...Too Late!

Some Boring Facts:

Well, I finally found out why they’re called 8-tracks instead of 4-track.

I would have known this a lot sooner, but now I just don’t have the time to read things like this:

And if that’s not enough for you, there are sites out there like the aforementioned 8-Track Heaven and the 8-Track Museum.

In case it’s not obvious to you, these people have serious problems.

Well, I’ve already lost interest. How about you?


Some Worthless Opinions:

So let’s cut to the chase. So what did 8-tracks offer? Well, the old ads showed a young guy and a gal in a car, so I guess the main draw was that you could just leave it playing in the background and it would keep going while you were done doing...whatever you did in the back of a car.

Maybe cassettes didn’t automatically play side two or have a repeat setting at first. But once they did, the bigger, bulkier 8-tracks made less and less sense.

But just to put it in perspective, here were some things that sucked about 8 tracks:

1. The SOUND kind of sucked, actually. Tape just didn’t sound as good as vinyl and if it wasn’t lined up just right, you’d hear the ghost of songs on the other tracks while trying to listen to track that was actually playing.

2. No Fast Forward or Rewind!
Unless you had a high end player. So if you missed something, you had to wait until the track finished and got to the same spot again.  I’ll get into THAT at another time...

3. Sometimes they would even leave off songs. You heard right. Go look at that track listing on your 8-track version of Tommy.  That’s right!  “Christmas” is missing! How come they don’t talk about that on Fox News?!

4. Forget about liner notes. Maybe 8-tracks were made for people who had better things to do (like that couple in the car) than sit around like a nerd reading liner notes.

5. The packaging was crap and usually fell apart within a week or two. I have album covers that are still pristine. And those bozos want me to buy a piece of cardboard folded in four parts?


More Worthless Opinions, or CDs (and mp3s) Kind of Suck, Too:

On the other hand, CDs weren’t flawless, either. Although some records began to sound better after CDs came out, I doubt that 99% of us noticed the difference.

CDs were smaller, too, and thus, supposedly more convenient. And I guess it was true to a point. Now I'm a lazy man, and I value the idea of not having to flip over a record every twenty minutes.  Try that when you're painting a room and see what happens to your productivity.

As an aside, I should add that my first CD player only played one disc. Like an idiot, I fancied myself a music connoisseur, and thought that being able to play more than one album at a time somehow cheapened the music. Tell that to your party guests as you climb over them to get to the stereo.

And the size of the CD could actually be a pain in the ass, especially if you’re a nerd who likes the liner notes (me), which were now in a 6 point font. Any hope of learning the lyrics, or finding out who the drummer was went out the window.

And although shorter, the CD jewel cases were actually thicker than LPs and thus very inefficient to store. It wasn’t until the new cottage industry in CD shelving addressed the havoc these little discs caused on our record shelves.

And although they held more music, there were a few double albums that didn’t quite fit on a single CD and the record company would to drop a song. (The older release of Prince’s 1999 didn’t have “DMSR”. Someone tell me if I’m missing anything, okay?.)

There were also some double albums (Tommy) that would have fit perfectly well on a single disc, but that record companies wanted to charge more for, and so put them on two discs instead, thus defeating the purpose.

Oh, and indestructible? Please. You could fling a CD you hated against the wall and shatter it quite easily. How do I know this? Don't ask.

So CDs were not nearly all they were cracked up to be.

And don’t get Neil Young started on mp3s!


Waiting Around for the Next Shiny Toy:

I spent the 80’s watching my favorite record stores devote more and more space to CDs at the expense of vinyl.

I wasn’t a vinyl holdout, exactly. I held off getting a CD player because I kept hearing about how yet another new technology - Digital Audio Tape - was superior to CDs, and would eventually replace them. Remember that? No? Okay, let me help you.

So I spent about five years waiting for that to happen while my vinyl choices dwindled. I finally gave up and got the CD player in 1989. But by then we had a young child, and my opportunities for even playing music were limited. And it wouldn’t be until that other shiny new invention - the internet - would provide me with a wealth of musical information that would allow me to dive back in head first.

And we’ve come full circle now, as I see more and more record store (remember them?) space taken up by vinyl. Because, you know, the sound quality is better.

It’s kind of like living in Brooklyn, or wearing old clothes. If you wait long enough it’s back in style.

Every decade seems to offer us something newer and shinier, and we - music lovers that we are, and thus blind to any faults in the object of our affections - fall for it every time.
But I’m not likely to start buying vinyl again. My turntable’s in the basement and the stairs are murder on my knees.

So were we idiots for being taken in by a shiny new technology (and really bad clothes) back in the 70s? Nah. And even with the Beatles breaking up and all, I’m still fond of that underrated decade.

If you ask me, the 80s had a lot more to answer for than that. But that’s for another time.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Blood on the 8-Tracks, Track Seven: You Can’t Go Home Again:

So, what to do with all of these old 8-tracks? Do I try to enjoy them again by re-buying them? Do I let sleeping dogs lie? (And, as you’ll see below, there were some real dogs.)


And if I do buy them again, do I get them in CD format? mp3? VINYL?!


As I said in the first of at least seven too many posts link about this, when deciding whether to re-buy an album, it pays to remember that I may have already played it out. In other words, no matter how good the record is, is it worthwhile replacing it if I’m just going to listen to it once and just file it away? Like plutonium, but in a good way, every record has its own half life.


And my tastes have changed, too. I don’t always know if a record that seemed great to Jaybee-the- pimply-fifteen-year-old will still seem so to Jaybe-the-grumpy-old-man-who-scares-the-four-year-olds-who-pass-by-his-house?


I have to keep this all in mind when considering which 8-tracks to replace. (You’d think I’d give World Peace this much thought.)


So how’m I doin?


Replaced So Far:


Alone Together 8 TRack.jpg



When the odd song played on the radio, it epitomised the obscure-yet-classic-sounding solo albums of the early seventies. Actually sitting down to listen to such albums can prove disappointing. Not here, though. While the songs don’t convey a strong personal identity (a common flaw of many such “classic” solo albums) they are tuneful and well produced. This version of “Only You Know and I Know” beats the hell out of the Delaney and Bonnie version. A vinyl copy basically fell into my lap, and my life is better for it. A-


And this is what the original vinyl looks like. Pretty cool, huh? (Things that look like vomit are cool, right?)


Alone Together Vinyl.jpg


Manassas.jpg




This double album showcasing Stephen Stills temporarily salvaging his career avoids sequencing hell, dividing it’s four sides neatly over the four tracks. And it fits on a single CD! It would be all downhill from here for poor Stephen, though. A-


Songs for Beginners.jpg



There are more good songs here than Nash ever wrote for CSNY, so you wouldn’t blame me for thinking he didn’t have it in him. So it was a very pleasant surprise, that I finally got a chance to replace last year. Good then, excellent with the sequencing fixed. A-



St Dominick's Preview.jpg



Not as brilliant as Astral Weeks or Moondance, but a little sharper than either Tupelo Honey or His Band and Street Choir, this one suffers only from a bit of schizophrenia by mixing radio friendly short ones, with long slow ones, but Van brings it all together nicely in the title cut. But I do miss how “Independence Day” would bleed into the other tracks on the 8 track, making everything sound like it was recorded on a boat on a foggy ocean in the middle of the night.  A-


Let it Bleed.jpg



A true Roommate Mike garage-sale special. For the Stones, it’s actually a bit uneven. “Gimme Shelter” and “You Can’t Always Get WHat You Want” are amongst the greatest rock n roll songs ever, but that causes some of the rest to lag behind. Hidden Gem: “You Got the Silver”  A



The Redundant:


Live Cream.jpg



I loved this record and considered it to represent some of Clapton’s greatest work. It’s reviled by those critics who preferred rock n roll to be shorter and tighter. I understand, but my gut is still in agreement with fifteen year old Jaybee. So I just swallowed the Cream oeuvre whole with the box-set of Those Were the Days. But I just couldn’t win - my favorite track - “NSU” was in a different version.  Whatever. This is still a guilty pleasure.  A-


Stage.jpg



Superior to the really crappy “David Live”, it’s a good representation of Bowie’s best 70s work. But I've got all these songs already in their original studio versions, so why bother? But if you don’t already have Low, Heroes or Station to Station, it’s highly recommended. A-

Contenders:


Satanic Magesty.jpg



This one’s not bad at all. Just not quite on the level of many other early Stones records. I’ve had less reason to get it since getting the Singles Collection. But someday. Another Mike Special! B+


10cc.jpg


Remember these guys? This is their first and it’s really good. It’s got the Beach Boy vocals, the Graham Gouldman melodies and that British sarcasm. C’mon Amazon! I’m waiting! A-.

On the Fence:


These are the ones that may may suffer from either half-life or taste change considerations, in order of my increasing hesitation:


Poco.jpg



Although I loved this record when it came out, and have had a couple of chances to replace it, I haven’t. I’m afraid to. Something tells me that Ritchie Furay doesn’t translate well to other decades. Maybe it’s me.



Crosby Nash.jpg


Talk about not transcending a decade! This has got to be the quintessential half-assed supergroup albums of that time, and yet I’ve got fond memories of it.  If you thrust it into my hands I wouldn’t throw it back at you.



Marrying Maiden.jpg


I do recall it being real pretty, but with song titles like “Essence of Now” and “The Dolphins” you know it’s going to be like talking to a hippie. Pleasant enough but when it’s done, it’s DONE. By the way, the guy actually sings too well. Are you seeing a theme here? I’d replace it but I’m afraid that it’s REALLY going to suck.


Bonnie Raitt.jpg

Bonnie Raitt’s first album. I don't even remember. The sound quality was pretty poor.  And I think it got lost before I got to hear it more than once. Where the hell did it go, anyway?


His Band and Street Choir.jpg


This one was always a bit lightweight for me. I’m more of an Astral Weeks fan. It certainly wasn’t bad, and “Domino” is great, but that’s the only one.



The Real Dogs:


Then there’s the question of quality, ahem, quality:
Loathe as I am to admit it, not every record I’ve ever gotten is deserving of additional plays. Sometimes there’s a reason why something is in the bargain bin. Sometimes you get what you pay for.


Sheherazade.jpg


One of Mike’s. (I never said he batted 1.000.) And if I gave it the time, it might prove to be okay. But prog-rock has not worn well for me and these guys come across way too serious.



Overnite Sensation.jpg


This one’s all mine. I got thru it once but have no interest in trying again.


Quicksilver.jpg


I think Mike got this one, but I can understand it. After all, it’s a Best Of. It’s got to have some good songs, right? Well, I gave it a single listen, hated the guy’s voice, and decided that life was too short. I was 22 at the time.



I realize that I’m being terribly unfair here, and could come to enjoy, or at least appreciate these albums if I gave them the time. But sometimes a record just gives off the aroma of “too much work to enjoy”, and these three really stank.



So What Does It All Mean?:


When it comes to music, I pride myself on not looking back. Given a choice between the known and unknown, I’ll almost always choose the latter.  


But it’s only human to want to occasionally relive old memories, even when you know they’re as likely to disappoint as they are to satisfy. Aside from the occasional loser (Thank’s a lot, ELP!)
I did okay.


I guess it’s all a matter of focus and commitment, and what you can achieve when you’re willing to devote your life to something important.


Some people (Ghandi) free a nation from the yoke of colonial rule. Some people (Jonas Salk) find a cure for the scourge of polio. 

And some people (me) move their old 8-tracks to CDs.