Me, Myself, and iPod 6/30/10: Katy Perry’s giant breasts finally put to good use

esd ipod

With the long weekend ahead, we have an extra-long list of songs for you to play at your next party/intervention/funeral. Mostly party. And we start by shamelessly using the success of the biggest phony in pop music in order to drive some extra traffic to the site. Given the way she’s made us suffer, she owes us this, at the very least.

Katy Perry – California Gurls (Hyper Crush Remix)
I was willing to give Ms. Everybody Look at Me Why Isn’t Everyone Looking at Me Come On I Have Big Tits Please For God’s Sake Look at Me the benefit of the doubt when EW claimed this was the song of the summer, but I’m sorry, I’m still not convinced. She bends over backwards to be lyrically controversial because she knows that if she doesn’t, everyone will realize how utterly ordinary her songs really are. This one is no exception. Um, I mean, come on and download this killer remix of the summer’s best song by Hype Machine regulars Hyper Crush! Katy RULZ! \nn/

Ugh, that hurt.

The Henry Clay People – Your Famous Friends
It’s like Wilco, back when they used to have fun. Actually, I’m not sure Wilco ever made a record this fun.

Apples in Stereo – Hey Elevator
I’m loving the ELO renaissance that’s sprouting among the indie poppers. First this, and the Silver Seas give them a nice name check (with matching string riff) in their song “What’s the Drawback.” Any fan of Jeff Lynne should check out the Apples’ new one, Travellers in Space and Time. ‘sGood.

Violens – Acid Reign
This is a tune I’ve wanted to share for a while, but only recently got the green light to do so. This is right in my alt-rock-dance wheelhouse, with a driving rhythm section and vaguely Manchester-ish sound. There’s a bit too much swearing (nothing will turn you into a prude faster than having children), but it’s a damn good track. Looking forward to the full-length album Amoral, due in October.

Trances Arc – Boom City
You mean there are white people in Atlanta making music, too? Can’t say I’m crazy about their band name, but I like the Airborne Toxic Event-style slow build-and-explode that the song possesses, and minus the melodrama, to boot.

Steel Train – Bullets
Gotta say, this band is carving out quite a unique niche for themselves. Scarlett Johannson has covered them. They have an undeniable reach-for-the-rafters grandeur to them. And then sometimes, they want to be MGMT. Not on this song (that would be “Turnpike Ghost”), but still, for a band with such an unrevealing name, they’re quite versatile.

Jukebox the Ghost – Empire
Good to see this band back after their impressive debut a couple years ago. This song, from their upcoming album Everything Under the Sun, is a bit more mannered than their debut, but it’s no less catchy. Think Ben Folds, back when he allowed himself to have fun.

Halsted – Walking Shoes
Their name matches a Chicago street I used to live near, so I was predetermined to like these guys before I heard them. But then when I discovered that they play smoothed out guitar pop, well, that’s when they had me.

Isaac Russell – Lighthouse
The love child of Jakob Dylan and Jason Mraz? Sure, that’ll work.

Carl Broemel – Heaven Knows
Taking time from his day job in My Morning Jacket to do a solo record, Broemel gets downright rootsy, at least on this song. Haven’t heard the rest to know if it’s like this or MMJ.

The Undertones Reissues

RIYL: The Jam, The Clash, The Stranglers

For most Americans, there are two main points of entry for the oft-overlooked Irish punk pop band the Undertones. The true punkers found the band through “Teenage Kicks,” the band’s debut single and one of the most heralded punk songs of all time. Those who were weaned on early MTV, however, know a competely different version of the Undertones, which played the bouncy, horn-drenched “It’s Going to Happen!” When we caught word that the band’s first four albums would be digitally reissued along with a new singles compilation, Bullz-Eye’s music editor (he was one of the early MTV watchers, for those keeping score at home) was eager to find out what he had been missing. Did anyone on the staff want to join him on this mission? Yes, they did.

The Undertones

The Undertones’ debut album is one of the finest collisions of power-pop and new wave that the world has ever seen. It nearly out-Buzzcocks’ the Buzzcocks in terms of intelligent songwriting, infectious riffs and powerful melodies. A must-own for pretty much everyone…but which version is a must-own? This most current re-issue is an exact reproduction of the first edition of the album. And we’re all for historical accuracy, but the last re-issue of the album that came out in the UK had 23 tracks and a music video. This has a paltry 14. And it doesn’t even have “Teenage Kicks,” which was added to the album just months after its original release. This new edition may be the only one in the American iTunes store, but you can pick up the expanded import for less than 15 bucks at some sites. Choose wisely. -James Eldred

Hypnotised

The band reappeared in 1980 with Hypnotised, sounding even sharper as a unit, with lead singer Feargal Sharkey’s warble even more pronounced. It’s an album full of great songs that balances expected edginess with distinctive nods toward classic pop. The title track is a cracking example of the former, with its knifing guitars and breathless pace. In the same fashion, “Boys Will Be Boys” blasts through in 90 seconds, and “My Perfect Cousin” (a UK hit) adds some healthy sneer to its story. Conversely, the gorgeous “Wednesday Week,” “See That Girl,” and a cover of “Under the Boardwalk” show off the band’s romantic streak. Really, though, Hypnotised is all about girls, the kind that contribute to sleepless nights and drive boys to rock and roll bands as a means of expression. Gawd blessum. -Rob Smith

Positive Touch

They were only two years removed from their debut, but the shift in the musical climate between 1979 and 1981 is one of the biggest sea changes the music industry has ever seen. Combine that with the band’s desire to expand their sound – plus some dissatisfaction with how their label was promoting them outside of the UK – and it’s no surprise that Positive Touch bears little resemblance to the band’s racous debut or its follow-up. The band still employs a minimalist approach to the songwriting, but the arrangements are much grander, featuring horns (“It’s Going to Happen!”), barroom piano (“Sigh and Explode”), and shimmering jangle-pop guitar (“Julie Ocean,” which would be fleshed out from its 107-second run time here for the single). Sharkey’s vocals are considerably stronger this time around, and the band seems both comfortable and happy with the change in direction. Pity it wouldn’t last. -David Medsker

The Sin of Pride

The Sin of Pride is to the Undertones what Heart is to Heart: it’s the same band, but it’s not the same band. Had it been made by anyone else, perhaps it would have been better received – and to its credit, it beats that whole Blow Monkeys/Simply Red blue-eyed UK soul movement by a good three years – but it’s not someone else’s album; it’s an Undertones album, and as such it stands as the weakest of the band’s efforts by far. The marginalization of guitarist John O’Neill’s songwriting contributions no doubt played a role, but the production, handled by the normally reliable Mike Hedges, is also a touch too slick. “Chain of Love,” for one, is a dead ringer for “Karma Chameleon,” which is the last thing anyone ever wanted or expected from the Undertones. If there is a positive takeaway from The Sin of Pride, it’s that it serves as a rather fitting stepping stone to Sharkey’s eventual solo career. “Got to Have You Back” and “You Little Thief” would make a nifty mash-up in the right hands. -David Medsker

Best of the Undertones

Best of the Undertones is a perfect place to begin if you’re unfamiliar with the original incarnation Irish punk band. The 11 songs on this spirited compilation capture all of the band’s charting singles between 1978 and 1982. The raw energy of “Teenage Kicks” and “Get Over You,” which punch you in the face as the first two songs, quickly give way to the more pop oriented side of the band. Once “Jimmy, Jimmy” begins, you can hear the Undertones’ sound starting to get a little more polished. However, the band’s punk pop sound remains intact throughout out most of these singles. It’s not until the final three tracks, “Julie Ocean,” “Beautiful Friend,” which are moodier, more atmospheric, and the soul-influenced “The Love Parade,” that you hear how the band starting to explore new directions in their songwriting. Unfortunately, they broke up in 1983 and the love parade came to a crashing halt. -Scott Malchus

Robert Randolph and the Family Band: We Walk This Road


RIYL: Ben Harper, The Derek Trucks Band, Jimi Hendrix

Pedal steel guitar maestro Robert Randolph has been known more for his hot live shows than his albums, which comes with the territory when you have such instrumental talent and fit in with the jam crowd. But this album may finally help Randolph break through to a wider audience. T Bone Burnett is the producer, and he’s had a magic touch lately. Randolph says he and Burnett sat down and really examined some music history, which has served to maximize Randolph’s authentically bluesy vibe, as well as leading to some choice covers.

Opener “Traveling Shoes” is taken from an old field recording from the 1920s and finds Randolph and his sister Lenesha testifying over some gospel-tinged roots. The song sets a tone for an album that blends blues, gospel and rock in expert fashion. “Shot of Love” offers a cover of the title track from Bob Dylan’s 1981 Christian-tinged album. It’s well done, though it certainly doesn’t approach Jimi Hendrix’s iconic version of “All Along the Watchtower,” something Randolph says he was thinking about as far as trying to get into Jimi’s head on the process of covering Dylan. But Randolph strikes gold on a vibrant rendition of Prince’s “Walk Don’t Walk” that takes the funky song to a truly higher level. The empowering, feel-good jam featuring more harmony assistance from Lenesha is almost certain to become a new live favorite. There’s also a deep cover of John Lennon’s “I Don’t Wanna Be a Soldier Mama,” a well-timed bluesy lament in 2010 as the ridiculous war in Afghanistan surpasses the Vietnam War for Uncle Sam’s longest military engagement.

Another highlight comes with “If I Had My Way,” a modern version of an old Blind Willie Johnson blues that features Ben Harper guesting on guitar and vocals. It’s got an old-timey Delta blues vibe that has Randolph and Harper squaring off with great results. “Dry Bones” also builds off an old blues, which gets pumped up for a tasty workout. “I Still Belong to Jesus” has Randolph playing off his gospel roots, with his liquid steel work shining once more. “I’m Not Listening” delivers some modern blues, with Randolph calling out a century of lies for comeuppance. “Salvation” closes the album with a soulful gospel ballad, featuring piano from Leon Russell and some of Randolph’s tastiest licks.

Randolph and band have been honing their act for an entire decade now and We Walk This Road is their best work yet, as it has a strong flow to it and there’s no desire to skip over tracks. Randolph has evolved from young gun to seasoned master. (Warner Brothers 2010)

Robert Randolph MySpace page

Indigo Girls: Staring Down the Brilliant Dream


RIYL: Brandi Carlisle, Shawn Colvin, Patty Griffin

Throughout their 20-plus-year career, the Indigo Girls have maintained not only their integrity as songwriters, but they have managed to consistently produce music that pierces the hearts of their listeners. While the music industry may have forgotten about Emily Sailers and Amy Ray, their loyal fans have stuck with them as they’ve branched out from an indie folk act to incorporate blues, Americana and straight-up rock and roll into their sound. While the sound may have changed, one thing that has remained intact after all of these years is the Girls’ immaculate harmonies. They still sound pitch perfect and as beautiful as they did the first time we all heard “Closer to Fine” back in 1989.

On Staring Down the Brilliant Dream, the group’s new double-CD live album, those famous harmonies are front and center. Recorded during their 2006-2009 tours, there are 31 songs on this album, each hand-selected by the Grammy-winning duo. Those of you thinking that you could never sit through two CDs of the Indigo Girls, their acoustic guitars, and a concert hall full of their adoring fans, fear not; the Indigo Girls are accompanied by their killer band, with the band members filtering in as needed. Full band arrangements of “Shame on you” and “Fill It Up Again” are lovely examples of Ray and Sailers acting as expert bandleaders, while “Fly Away” and “Watershed” show that the Indigo Girls can still captivate a crowd with just two instruments.

Highlights on Disc One include the haunting “Ozilline,” a rousing cover of Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, “ featuring guest vocals by Brandi Carlisle, and a superb rendition of “Kid Fears,” with Three5Human lead singer, Trina Meade, taking the Michael Stipe solo. This version of the song from their debut album rivals the original recording in it power. Disc Two highlights are the rollicking “Rock and Roll Heaven’s Gate,” the breathtaking “Fugitive,” and the great ‘fuck off’ song, “Become You.” Sound quality on Staring Down the Brilliant Dream is outstanding. The clarity of the vocals and the separation between the instruments gives you the full effect of being at the venue and hearing the Indigo Girls live.

Fans of the Indigo Girls are going to buy this album regardless of this review, but for those of you who’ve never experienced one of the Girls’ concerts, or for those of you who stopped listening to the group after their early ’90s heyday, Staring Down the Brilliant Dream is a fine way to become (re)acquainted with the band. (IG Recordings/Vanguard Records, 2010)

Official Indigo Girls website
Click to buy Staring Down the Brilliant Dream at Amazon


Scissor Sisters: Night Work


RIYL: The Bee Gees, Hercules and Love Affair, Giorgio Moroder

The Scissor Sisters were putting the finishing touches on their third album when a funny thing happened – they realized they hated it. So they scrapped it and started from scratch. The Beatles did this once; the end result was Abbey Road. Then again, Duran Duran did this too, and the end result was Red Carpet Massacre. Results, as you can see, may vary.

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Thankfully, this is no massacre. Night Work contains all of the band’s trademarks – the discotastic bass lines, the finest falsetto work since the “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack – but it comes with an extra dose of sleaze. This is easily the randiest album the Sisters have made to date (“Take me in front of my parents,” singer Ana Matronic begs at one point), yet strangely it also contains some of their most conservative songs. It’s as if the band has recognized that they will not achieve the superstar status in the States that they enjoy in the UK and Australia and decided to let their freak flag fly – for all the advancements we’ve made as a society in terms of gay rights, the Hot 100 is downright hostile to openly gay acts, certain American Idol winners excepted – but still gave it one last shot by writing a couple songs that sounded “less gay.” It should surprise no one that those are the album’s weakest moments.

That’s right, anthemic Killers wannabe “Fire with Fire,” we’re looking in your direction. Besides containing one of the laziest choruses singer Jake Shears has ever written (it basically repeats ‘fire’ and ‘desire’ over again), the song is like a rented tux, with the band getting dressed up for an event they’d rather not attend. Even odder is the title track, which sounds like a standard Scissor Sisters song but tries a little too hard to sound like a standard Scissor Sisters song. With those two songs out of the way by track three, the album takes off from there, from the ultra-funky “Any Which Way” to the Kraftwerk-riffing “Something Like This.” Shears even does a remarkably effective Chris Difford impression on the rockin’ “Harder You Get,” but the album’s final two tracks are its finest. “Nightlife” is fast but moody and sports the album’s best chorus, while “Invisible Light,” which features a spoken-word interlude from Sir Ian McKellen, builds into a dizzying, Trevor Horn-style climax like a next-gen “Welcome to the Pleasuredome.”

Night Work is a lean, mean dancing machine of an album, eschewing the theatrical element from their earlier work in favor of full-on disco bliss. All bands should be required by law to nearly implode if it results in more albums like this. (Downtown 2010)

Scissor Sisters MySpace page
Click to buy Night Work from Amazon

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