Steal This Song: Destroyer, “Chinatown”

For the last five years, there has never been any question that when it came to the songwriting powers that be behind the New Pornographers, I am a Carl Newman guy. It’s not that I disliked Dan Bejar’s stuff – “Jackie, Dressed in Cobras” is still my fave – but his songs never scaled the dizzy heights of pure pop tunes like “Sing Me Spanish Techno,” “The Bleeding Heart Show,” “Stacked Crooked” and “These Are the Fables.”

You’ll notice that I only listed songs from the New Pornographers’ 2005 album Twin Cinema. That’s because I’ve been largely underwhelmed by the band’s work since then. And it appears that Bejar is ready to take advantage of my wavering loyalties.

Armed with yet another album under his day job Destroyer (his tenth in 15 years), the band’s new album Kaputt, set for release in January, might surprise some people. Bejar forsakes his usual disjointed pop for something more casual, like he’s been listening to a lot of ’80s-era Bryan Ferry (which he cops to in the press release), and perhaps even Al Stewart. It seems an odd match on paper, but his voice is actually well suited for the genre, and the tunes he came up with are gorgeous. We’ve been given permission to share the album’s opening track, “Chinatown,” and it’s a must for anyone who digs the Blue Nile, China Crisis, and their ilk. Dig in.

Destroyer – Chinatown

  

Me, Myself, and iPod 7/7/10: Nelly Furtado is hot. And fun

esd ipod

Ah, the post-holiday edition. It’s admittedly small this week. The publicists have been unusually quiet so far, which is fine because I need to put questions together for an interview with former MMi subjects Hey Champ. They’re awesome, by the way.

N.E.R.D. featuring Nelly Furtado – Hot n’ Fun (Yeasayer Remix)
With the album mysteriously bumped to the fall, this lead single from the Pharrell & Co.’s new album Nothing serves as one tasty teaser for the full-length. This remix is a bit too busy for its own good, but I bet it sounds great in a club.

Bishop Morocco – Last Year’s Disco Guitars
It’s as if this Toronto duo saw that James Mercer was off doing the Broken Bells thing, so they decided to make a Shins record…you know, if they were into the Jesus and Mary Chain and the Joy Division rather than the Beach Boys. They even got Martin Hannett to produce. How’s that for authenticity?

Deluka – Nevada
We were big fans of “Cascade,” the lead single from the band’s EP, but were less excited with the rest of that set. If “Nevada” is any indication, they’re saving up the really good stuff for the full-length, which is due in October.

Kathryn Calder – Arrow
The second song released from the New Pornographers keyboardist’s upcoming solo album Are You My Mother?, and it’s another gem. So why is it that she’s not being invited to the songwriting table for her day job, again?

Robert Pollard – Moses on a Snail
If it’s Tuesday, it must be another solo album from Robert Pollard, who’s put out, no joke, ten solo albums since breaking up Guided by Voices in 2004. This is the title track, and it does something almost no Pollard song has ever done: crosses the five-minute mark.

  

Me, Myself, and iPod 5/26/10: Legendary Scottish band, ahoy!

esd ipod

The Trashcan Sinatras – People
I love the Trashcan Sinatras. I’m not sure when they went from the Trash Can Sinatras to the Trashcan Sinatras, but oh well, but I’m guessing someone at SPINart fucked it up when putting the artwork for Weightlifting together. Anyway, they’re a fabulous bunch of guys, and God love them for sticking with it after all these years of relative obscurity. This is the first single from their new album In the Music, and it’s another smoove slice of literate jangle pop. If you like this, you should know that the rest of the album is even better.

Kathryn Calder – Slip Away
The newest member of the New Pornographers (she’s lead singer Carl Newman’s niece, and she joined during the sessions for Twin Cinema), Calder is picking a curious time to release a solo album, since she’s tied up with touring with the New Porns for the summer. But one listen to this track from the album Are You My Mother?, due out in August, shows that perhaps Carl and Dan should bring her to the writing table, because I’ll take this over anything on the last New Pornographers album any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

Donn T – Look At
Two words: Female Kenna. If that doesn’t immediate ring a couple bells, then I have one word for you: Kenna.

See Green – I Can Change
Well, that didn’t take long. Courtenay Green, who’s fast becoming a regular in these parts, covered “I Can Change” from LCD Soundsystem’s new album This Is Happening. Man, is James Murphy the new Neil Young, where his songs sound infinitely better when covered by other people?

La Roux – Bulletproof (Hyper Crush remix)
Armed with a bass line that will set off car alarms, this mix of La Roux’s “Bulletproof” is totally ADD madness, but it’s cool. And I still haven’t grown tired of that Macintosh voice program.

Clubfeet – Teenage Suicide
If you’re anything like me, you saw that title and immediately sang the words ‘Don’t do it’ in your head, since that was the name of the hit song the DJ played in the movie “Heathers.” Well sure enough, immediately after the breathy male lead sings “Teenage suicide,” two girls shout, “Don’t do it!” Bonus points for reading my mind.

Shadow Shadow – Is This Tempest in the Shape of a Bell
Gotta give some love to the guitar pop set. Man, this would have been huge in 1975.

  

21st Century Breakdown: Jim Washington’s Best Albums of the 2000s

As I compiled my list of the best music of the decade (a much, much longer list than you see here) one inescapable conclusion reared its shaggy head: the last 10 years pretty much belonged to Jack White.

How many other artists produced five stellar albums in the aughts, not to mention a couple of killer side projects and (that old rock critic standby) incendiary live shows?

No one, that’s who.

So, the best album of the decade really came down to which White Stripes album did you like more, White Blood Cells or Elephant.

Thankfully there’s no wrong answer. I first became enamored of “Fell in Love With a Girl,” totally fell for “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground,” became quite close to “We Are Going to Be Friends” and spent a lot of time in “Hotel Yorba” and “Little Room.”

On the other hand, Elephant had “Seven Nation Army.”

“Seven Nation Army,” motherfuckers. How could a song released in 2003 sound like it invented the bass line? Not just that bass line, but the whole concept of bass lines.

So as we recap our favorites of the decade, rock lives on into the new century in various forms, from low down and dirty to high and arty to pulsating and poppy, while what was once the cutting-edge hip-hop has devolved into auto-tuned disco synth. No doubt something new will emerge in the next decade to take our minds off it.

1. The White Stripes: White Blood Cells (or Elephant)
2. Wilco: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
3. Outkast: Stankonia (or Speakerboxx/The Love Below)
4. Green Day: American Idiot
5. The New Pornographers: Electric Version (or maybe Mass Romantic)
6. The Flaming Lips: Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
7. LCD SoundsystemL Sounds of Silver
8. TV on the Radio: Return to Cookie Mountain
9. Jay-Z: The Blueprint
10. The Strokes: Is This It?

Just a few of the runner-ups:

Queens of the Stone Age: Songs for the Deaf, Rated R
Belle & Sebastian: Dear Catastrophe Waitress
Drive By Truckers: Southern Rock Opera, Dirty South
Sufjan Stevens: Come On Feel the Illinoise
Arcade Fire: Funeral
Franz Ferdinand: Franz Ferdinand
Decemberists: Picaresque, Crane Wife
Radiohead: In Rainbows
Ben Folds: Rockin’ the Suburbs
Missy Elliott: Miss E…So Addictive
The Roots: Phrenology

  

21st Century Breakdown: David Medsker’s Top 10 Albums of the Decade

There has been much speculation about the real reason for the dramatic decline in record sales. I am here to give you the answer.

It’s my fault.

The first rumblings that all was not well in Musicland began right as my wife and I were planning our big move from Chicago (Rock Records, R.I.P.) to Columbus. I was traveling a lot, either to Ohio to look for houses or for the last few media boondoggles that my wife was invited to. (The trip to Orlando to meet the Atlanta Braves and take BP in the batting cages was the best.) Then I took a consulting gig, flying to Baltimore and back every week. Long story short, this cut greatly into my record shopping time.

In the spring, after we had settled into a house, I walked away from the world of finance and took the Bullz-Eye job. Pretty soon, I didn’t have to buy anything anymore. I was awash in a sea of free music. My first act as senior editor was to bring in Will Harris, one of only two people I knew who bought more music than I did. So then he stopped buying music, too.

And that, my friends, is when the shit hit the proverbial fan. My bad.

All kidding aside, I’m having a hard time trying to put the decade in music into words. The ’90s were so easy by comparison. There was 1990, one of the worst years for music EVER. (Hammer, Vanilla Ice, Wilson Phillips. End of story.) Then there was grunge, and then industrial (or, if you were an Anglophile like me, this is when you got into Brit pop), and then ska (or Big Beat), and then teen pop. It was pretty easy, really.

The ’00s, by comparison, were a complete clustercuss of styles. Punk pop and nu metal ruled the early years. The pop landscape turned into a hip hop free-for-all (and still is to this day). Modern rock suffered a bit of an identity crisis, as stations had to decide between the Evanescence/Linkin Park branch of the tree and the Franz Ferdinand/Yeah Yeah Yeahs branch. Classic rock artists were renamed “heritage” acts – a word that got one hell of a response from Lindsey Buckingham when the aforementioned Will Harris interviewed him – and pop songwriting became as faceless and boring as it has ever been. I personally blame Rob Thomas for that last one.

MySpace was huge in getting music into people’s hands and promoting up and coming talent. And almost as quickly, people devised ways to register fake hits on their site in order to make them seem more popular than they really were. Recording equipment got really cheap, and believe it or not, that actually made things worse; suddenly everyone was an artist, and the already crowded market was now three times more crowded. Band names, meanwhile, went to complete and utter shit.

And somehow, some way, after sorting through the wreckage – which led me to completely give up on popular music made by anyone not named Madonna – I found some damn fine albums. Some were by old friends, others from newcomers. Most of them, as is my tendency, were British. Here are my ten favorite albums of the decade, the second in our series of our writers’ recaps of the wacky aughts. Let’s hear your faves of the year in the comment section.

10. The Feeling: Twelve Stops and Home
Never in a million years did I think a group like this would appear after the power pop bubble burst in 1997, never mind sell millions of records (in England, anyway). “Sewn” and “Never Be Lonely” are the finest songs Supertramp never wrote. And just when you least expect it, they will completely rock out. Will wrote me before the album even came out in the States and simply said, “You need to hear this right now.” Man, how right he was.

9. The Silver Seas: High Society
Props to staff writer Mike Farley for hipping me to these guys. Many artists received accolades for their AM radio-inspired pop, but for my money, no one did it better than the Silver Seas. I’d bet dollars to donuts that Brian Wilson is trying to buy the rights to “Miss November” right now, the song is such a dead ringer for his glory days with the Beach Boys. The only bad thing I can say about them is that one of our writers did some graphic work for the band, and was never paid for it. It’s never too late to make amends, guys.

8. Attic Lights: Friday Night Lights
The tale of how I found this band is pure serendipity. I wrote a piece about Teenage Fanclub, and I get an email from a UK publicist, who says, “Hey, if you like Teenage Fanclub, check out this band that’s managed by TFC member Francis MacDonald.” Every publicist compares their client to a band that they couldn’t hope of duplicating on their best day, so I was understandably skeptical. Watched their video “Wendy,” couldn’t get the song (or video) out of my head. He sent me the record. And here it is. Gorgeous guitar pop, with a healthy dose of alt.country when the guitarist sings lead. It’s a travesty that this album didn’t sell better.

7. Green Day: American Idiot
Quite possibly the last Event Record. This album sent shockwaves through the industry, outselling all of the bands other albums at a time when punk pop was considered passe and, considering the lackluster performance of the band’s previous album, 2000’s Warning (which I quite like, for the record), Green Day was very much in a make-or-break scenario. They made, and then they broke. Two monster song suites, a song that Cheap Trick would kill for, and that title track, a surefire candidate for Single of the Decade.

6. Kirsty MacColl: Tropical Brainstorm
I still get misty thinking about the fact that Kirsty’s gone (killed in a boating accident in 2000, right in front of her children), and right after she made one of her best albums. This blend of bone-dry British wit and Cuban rhythms is irresistibly good, not to mention funny. Who else would sing about stalking one of her fans, or having online chats with a guy that works in a porno shop? I still put the one-two punch of “Alegria” and “Us Amazonians” on mix discs to this day.

5. Kaiser Chiefs: Employment
Man, would I like to have a do-over on this review. This fast became one of the most-played albums around the house, and their live performances at Lollapalooza in 2005 and 2009, well, ask anyone lucky enough to have seen them, and they will tell you that they were awesome with a zillion exclamation points. It is not a coincidence that they are my two-year-old son’s favorite band. “This is ‘I Predict a Riot’!” Damn right it is.

4. Muse: Black Holes and Revelations
It would have been very easy for Muse to play it safe on this album, after achieving some breakthrough success with 2003’s Absolution. Instead, they let it all hang out, ramping up the rock choruses – “No one’s gonna taaaaaaake meeeeee aliiiiiiiiive!” – and dabbling in electronic stylings, funk, and Pink Floyd-esque grandeur. This is a hard album to top, and those of you who bought their 2009 album The Resistance know exactly what I mean.

3. Daft Punk: Discovery
I remember seeing the five-star review for this in Q Magazine and thinking, “They’re nuts.” Sure, “Da Funk” was a badass track, but were they really capable of making a five-star album? Hell yes, they were. It served as both a flawless dance album and a great pop record at the same time, and even included prog-esque keytar elements. My single biggest regret of the decade was deciding to go home early the first night of Lolla in 2007 when Daft Punk were the headliners, and missing what people would later tell me was the single greatest live performance they’ve ever seen in their lives.

2. Jon Brion: Meaningless
Despite the fact that he’s scored a dozen major motion pictures and produced a dozen major label artists (Aimee Mann, Rufus Wainwright, Fiona Apple, Keane, even the Crystal Method), Jon Brion remains one of the best kept secrets in music. This is all sorts of wrong. Dude’s a pop genius, and this album, which was supposed to be released by Atlantic in 1997 but never saw the light of day until Brion released it himself in 2001, is the proof. The drum track to “I Believe She’s Lying,” recorded at half speed like the piano solo to “In My Life,” is brilliantly low-tech studio wizardry, while “Ruin My Day” explained my feelings for an ex-girlfriend better than I could explain them myself. Jon, you’re welcome to record a follow-up album any time now.

1. New Pornographers: Twin Cinema
It doesn’t hurt that they have one of those singers that can make the phone book sound like the sweetest, sexiest thing ever said. (Neko Case, *swoon*) But what separates Twin Cinema from the rest of the New Pornographers’ outstanding body of work is both its incredible depth of style – Zulu chants, surf drums, wordless choruses, songs modeled after Charles Manson tunes – and the quality of each and every song. Fans of the band are not unlike “Twilight” followers; odds are, you’re in Team Carl or Team Dan. Twin Cinema was the one album where Carl Newman and Dan Bejar met in the middle, and in the process created their most focused, consistent album to date.

  

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