Someone Saved My Life Tonight: Albums that got us through some heavy shit

Men don’t like to talk about it, but there are times in our lives where things are less awesome than usual, and by that we mean that life is complete and utter shit. Being men, we’re not supposed to show when we’re down, but as the poet laureate Geena Davis once said (using her pen name Charlie Baltimore), life is pain. Sometimes it’s hard to hide when we’ve been wounded by the loss of a girl, or a job, or a family member. And since talking about our feelings is not the first choice for most men, many of us find solace in music, where someone else is doing the talking and all we have to do is listen. In private. Remember, that whole ‘not supposed to show when we’re down’ thing.

This summer, a golden opportunity presented itself to tell one of the musicians who gave us the proverbial pat on the back about what they had done for us. The man: Glenn Tilbrook, front man for UK pop giants Squeeze. The album: Play, the band’s 1991 debut (and swan song) for Reprise, a literate and moving collection of songs about love, loss, and hope. Tilbrook’s reaction to the news that he helped us through a rough spot: “Wow.” Apparently, someone else had told him the exact same thing about Play‘s magical healing powers. He thought it a weird coincidence that two people would have such a strong reaction to the album…

…which is complete nonsense, if you ask us. A quick survey on Facebook revealed that several people had the same emotional bond to Play that we had, at which point some other staffers revealed they had their own tales of woe, and the albums that saw them through it. Behold, the albums that, while they didn’t literally save our lives, at the very least got us through some heavy shit.

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers: Let Me Up, I’ve Had Enough! (1987)

On the day after Christmas in 1986, mid-way through my junior year of high school, my family moved from North Carolina to central Pennsylvania, beginning a period of upheaval and ill will between me and my parents and siblings that took several years to address and heal. Music was my refuge, the thing that kept me on an even keel when all I wanted to do was either put my fist through something hard, or slip down into the fetal position and cry. What I really needed was some flat-out rock and roll, performed by a band that could play bee-you-tiff-lee or durrrrty, depending on what was called for.

In April of the the following year, Tom Petty and his merry band put out Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough), a record I connected with on levels both emotional and visceral. It had moments of sheer beauty (“Runaway Trains,” “It’ll All Work Out”), pure pop (“All Mixed Up,” “Ain’t Love Strange”), and rollicking good fun (“One of These Days,” “How Many More Days”). It also had, in the single “Jammin’ Me” and the title track, amped-up Stonesy rock that I would turn up loud in my bedroom, loud enough to piss off my family, enabling me, however briefly, to give my tormenters the auditory finger now and again.

It was a small modicum of revenge, but it meant a lot. The music also helped me feel that everything was going to be all right, which meant even more. -Rob Smith

To see more life-saving albums, click here.

  

Big Gigantic: A Place Behind the Moon

stars:
RIYL: Sound Tribe Sector 9, Pretty Lights, EOTO

This Colorado-based electronic duo has been honing their skills with heavy road work – including some touring with electronic rock masters and label mates Sound Tribe Sector 9 – and it shows here on their sophomore release. Saxophonist/synth man/producer Dominic Lalli and drummer Jeremy Salken bring their own organic skills to the electronic genre, and having real instruments involved always propels electronic-oriented music higher.

The album is a high-energy affair all the way, packed with slamming beats, psychedelic synths and big phat grooves that are guaranteed to get a dance party going. Tracks like “Sky High,” “Step Up,” “Shine” and “Cloud Nine” all crackle with a fresh sound that is often missing in electronic music that relies too heavily on drum machines. “Driftin” drops the tempo just a bit, which makes its tight groove stand out even more. “High and Rising” might be the top highlight with the way the track keeps ascending through a swirling succession of ecstatic peaks.

Lalli’s sax also adds a jazzy improv flavor throughout, especially on tunes like “Lucid Dreams,” “Breaking Point” and “Shine.” His synth skills are some of the best in the biz, mixing a variety of otherworldly sonic flavors to create unique soundscapes. Members of STS9 join in on the bonus title track for another highlight tune that recalls some of their seminal work like “Breathe” and their newer “Between 6th and 7th,” on which Lalli has collaborated with the band.

The electronic genre has seen a lot of new contenders in the past few years, which can make it hard to stand out when so many acts are following a similar vision. But A Place Behind the Moon shows that Big Gigantic are in it to win it. The duo’s combination of jazzy melodies with pulsating beats and dazzling electronic undertones creates one of the tastiest flavors the evolving genre has seen in recent times.
(1320 Records 2010)

Big Gigantic MySpace page (Contains link to download A Place Behind the Moon for free)

  

Soulive: Rubber Soulive


RIYL: The Beatles, G Love & Special Sauce

There is a reason why so many artists have taken a whack at the Beatles’ catalog – it quite literally has something for everyone, which is why everyone from Aretha Franklin to Motley Crue have covered them. Curiously, despite the fact that they were a driving force behind a million pop acts, it’s the soul singers that have gotten the most mileage out of their material. This makes perfect sense, really; before Brian Wilson came along, Paul McCartney wanted to be Little Richard.

Enter New York jazz funk hounds Soulive, who have tackled songs from both ends of the Beatles spectrum (the soul singers tended to stick to the earlier material) for Rubber Soulive, finding the funk in even the more white-bread songs in the Fab Four’s catalog. One wonders if the band heard the Beastie Boys’ cover of the Jam’s “Start!,” because the goings here are very similar in nature, though Soulive clearly have musicianship on their side. Their version of “In My Life” is surprisingly soulful, and Eric Krasno does as good an impression of George Harrison (on guitar, that is) as you’re likely to hear. Sometimes the band seems to be trying harder than the song deserves (“Eleanor Rigby,” “Revolution”), and as nifty as their arrangements are, they don’t exactly make any of these songs their own, as a certain “American Idol” judge is fond of saying. Still, it’s a perfectly enjoyable trip through the finest catalog in music, and the kind of thing that will likely land as backing music in movies for years to come. (Royal Family Recordings 2010)

Soulive MySpace page
Click to buy Rubber Soulive from Amazon

  

Los Lobos: Tin Can Trust


RIYL: The Grateful Dead, Los Lonley Boys, bands that the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame hasn’t gotten the head out of their asses and enshrined yet

Los Lobos are back with another fine album, Tin Can Trust. Do these guys ever put out a weak effort? This new collection of songs by the venerable east L.A. band, an American institution, is a much looser affair than their last album of original recordings, 2006’s The Town and the City. It has the feel of some of their earliest LP’s, such as How Will the Wolf Survive, By the Light of the Moon, and their triumphant The Neighborhood. Each song on Tin Can Trust has feels immediate, recorded with minimum overdubs, delivering the optimum effect of hearing Los Lobos live in a concert hall or some out-of-the-way drinking hole.

“Burn It Down:” is the lead track and first single. It’s a solid, radio-friendly song that features the great Susan Tedeschi singing background vocals with lead singer David Hidalgo. The second song, “On Main Street,” while simple in execution and lyrical content, has the right mood of a hot summer afternoon in the neighborhood. Try listening to it and not imagining yourself cruising around with one of your buds, the windows down, the radio cranked.

Cesar Rosas keeps the band grounded to their Chicano heritage with two excellent Spanish sung songs: the upbeat, rocker “Yo Canto,” and the more traditional (more accordion-driven) “Mujer Ingrata.” The title track is another example of Los Lobos’ gift for constructing a song out of repetitive simple chords and basic beats, creating something wondrous. Meanwhile, “Do the Murray” is a fantastic “get your ass of out that seat and dance” rockabilly/blues/Deadhead instrumental from the band. Hell Yeah!

Speaking of the Grateful Dead, that band’s lyricist Robert Hunter supplies words for a couple of songs, including the powerfully done “All My Bridges Burning,” which finds Rosas digging deep for his vocals. The band also covers the Dead’s “West L.A. Fadeaway” to great effect.

At this point in their career, in which Los Lobos primarily tour to support themselves, there seems no reason for the band to continue putting out new albums. They have enough material from their storied career that they shouldn’t need additional music. Yet, as artists, they are driven to continue creating and finding ways to express themselves through their music. Tin Can Trust is indication that Los Lobos is still one of the best bands around. Let’s hope they continue putting out more records for years to come. ( Shout! Factory 2010)

Los Lobos MySpace page
Purchase Tin Can Trust through Amazon

  

Lollapalooza 2010, The Final Recap: The Opening Acts

In this final installment of our recap of Lollapalooza 2010, we cover the stars of tomorrow, or what is known in baseball circles as the Futures Game. Well, most of them are potential stars of tomorrow, anyway. One of them was a big time star of the past, and not even one with hipster cred like Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, or Roky Erickson. Easily the biggest blemish on the lineup as a whole. Going a bit overboard in bashing the band, you say? Ha. We’re just getting warmed up.

Foxy Shazam, Friday, Sony Bloggie Stage
Our man Eldred is into these wildly ambitious Cincinnati glam rockers a tad more (which is to say, about a million times more) than we are, but after reading Eldred’s amusing interview with Foxy lead singer Eric Sean Nally, where he swore they could win over any crowd, we knew a bet when we saw one. Sadly, we missed the majority of the set thanks to the new reworking of the grounds (enter at Roosevelt? Dude, that’s a mile from here), but once we arrived, we got their appeal, instantly. And if we didn’t, their closing number sealed the deal. Nally leapfrogged onto the guitarist’s shoulders, who didn’t miss a beat on his solo until Nally started kicking his guitar. The keyboardist is literally stomping on the keys, and not Jerry Lee Lewis-style – more like Dance Dance Revolution-style. Nally then took off one of the drummer’s cymbals and chucked it at the drums before walking off the stage. The crowd went absolutely fucking bonkers. Can’t say we blame them.

Foxy_Shazam_02
Photo by Ashley Garmon

Nally also had the best between-song banter of the weekend, where he spoke of how his father knew John Lennon, which we’re pretty sure is bollocks. Either way, this was the best first performance we’ve seen since Hard-Fi in 2005.

HEALTH, Sunday, adidas MEGA Stage
Our boy Eldred was most impressed with this band, claiming that the blew the bad weather away with pure noise. The former sounds nice, the blowing away the weather. The latter, well, it depends. Are we talking Pixies/My Bloody Valentine noise, or, you know, noise noise?

(*hits band’s MySpace page*)

Ooh, My Bloody Valentine noise. Damn. Sorry we missed this one.

Stars, Saturday, Budweiser Stage
As a means of eliminating accidental bias – hey, we’re human, it happens – we tend to listen to bands knowing as little about them as possible. There are drawbacks to this, of course, especially if you cling to your hipster credibility like an oxygen mask. For example, we had no idea until after we were writing up Stars’ performance that they were all members of the much-beloved Broken Social Scene, which has ties to every Canadian band from the last 30 years. If we had, then perhaps we would have felt an urge to find a better superlative to describe their set than ‘pleasant.’ Ah, but hipster credibility means absolutely nothing to us, so here it is: they were fine, and occasionally great. (Their song “We Don’t Want Your Body” is easily the best track on their new album The Five Ghosts.) But at 2:00 in the afternoon on a steamy Saturday, we were perfectly content to lounge in the wake zone between the northern stages and let the mind wander. Read into that what you will.

Stars_01
Photo by Dave Mead

Skybox, Saturday, BMI Stage
It warms our hearts to see a group of kids play the kind of pop that their parents would have listened to as kids. We can’t imagine that they stand much of a chance in terms of radio success, but they might become soundtrack darlings, and goodness knows that’s a more lucrative career path these days than banking on radio to sell your record. We’re not sure the songwriting is at peak level yet, but they have the right idea, that’s for sure.

Nneka, Sunday, Parkways Foundation Stage
Eldred’s last five words made us glad we skipped her, especially considering she played in the middle of a rain shower with gale-force winds: “Too quiet for a festival.” This same thing plagued Neko Case last year, and we would listen to Neko sing the ingredients to a can of soup. Gorgeous voice, but sometimes the music just can’t measure up to the atmosphere. Props to Perry for trying to inject a little variety (read: color) into the lineup, but he’d be wise to take energy into consideration, especially on a Sunday when everyone is already wiped out.

Ancient Astronauts, Friday, Perry’s
The new Perry’s stage, and the space in front of it, is twice the size of last year’s location, and that’s good because it got really tight there last year, especially when Perry himself made an appearance. We dug the last Ancient Astronauts record, a strange blend of New York hip hop and French sensibility, but what we saw of their DJ set was pretty flat. Aside from a fun mash-up involving “Blitzkrieg Bop,” they seemed trapped in a reggae fugue. We lasted 15 minutes.

Astronauts_01
Photo by Matthew Taplinger

See that hat he’s wearing? They were inescapable all weekend, and every time we saw one – which was a lot – we thought, “Tool.” Just sayin’. If you own one, put it in the closet. Or better yet, throw it away.

The Soft Pack, Saturday, Budweiser Stage
It’s hard to stand apart from the guitar alt-rock crowd these days, and granted, these guys didn’t do a great job of standing apart themselves, but there was something in their sound that caught our ear. A similarity to Catherine Wheel, perhaps, or perhaps we were just relieved that someone was coming out of the gate bringing the energy, because Lollapalooza isn’t a music festival so much as a grueling three-day death march of music (if you’re over 30, that is). Bands like the Soft Pack at noon on Saturday are the equivalent of a shot of adrenaline to the heart. Once they were finished, we felt kind of bad for them once we saw that they’d be followed by the decidedly softer Wild Beasts. Don’t let the name fool you, they are anything but.

Blues Traveler, Saturday, Parkways Foundation Stage
Blues Traveler has played every even-numbered Chicago Lolla. The only thing we can’t figure out is why.

Modern rock radio hasn’t touched them since 1995. They never played any of the touring Lollas, receiving their first invite in 2006. Granted, much of that was due to the fact that John Popper & Co. were tied up with the traveling jam band H.O.R.D.E. tours until 1998, but doesn’t that alone demonstrate just how much one of these things is not like the others? Yes, there is some crossover between the festivals in terms of artists, but they largely involved the bands that were exceptions to the H.O.R.D.E. philosophy, not the other way around. And since they’ve been playing the festival every other year in the last five years, they haven’t been gone long enough for people to miss them now. For us, Blues Traveler at Lolla is like Homer Simpson reading a Far Side calendar: “I don’t get. I don’t get it. I….don’t get it.”

All right, rant over. Truth be told, we only heard their first two songs, “Runaround” (leading with the hit? Unheard of) and…wait for it…a cover of Sublime’s “What I Got.” Knowing wink, or calculated attempt to wring nostalgia from a moment that doesn’t call for it? You be the judge. We’ve judged enough as it is.

Raphael Saadiq, Friday, Parkways Foundation Stage
This is admittedly another ‘one of these things is not like the other’ situation, but as big fans of Saadiq’s 2008 album The Way I See It, we were thrilled that he brought his pitch-perfect Motown groove to Lolla. (Why they decided to have Mavis Staples play at the same time on the north side, however, was a head-scratcher.) Armed with a crack band – our friend Tim, a drummer, was most impressed with Saadiq’s drummer – Saadiq played a slightly sped-up version of his catalog, and threw everyone for a loop when his all-black band laid down the hardest guitar riff that anyone played all day. Smart move, given the crowd they were playing to were pretty damn white (hey, they were on the stage that Lady Gaga would grace six hours later). We even caught a guy so caught up in the groove that he danced like he didn’t have a care in the world. While our buddy Tim said, “Man, I’m so glad that’s not you,” we were actually moved by his lack of self-awareness. He was completely caught up in the moment; that’s what it’s all about in the end, right?

  

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