Monthly Archives: April 2010

Great Follow Ups to Debut Albums

I recently heard MGMT’s new album Congratulations and was unimpressed.  Oracular Spectacular was a fascinating debut filled with some great songs (“Kids” and “Time to Pretend”).  Sometimes it’s hard to follow up great debuts with another great record.  Here’s a list of some of my favorites.

Elvis Costello – This Year’s Model. Boosted by the Attractions on the follow-up to My Aim is True, the music finally matches Costello’s nastiness.

R.E.M. – Reckoning. Reckoning takes away the murkiness of Murmur resulting in an album full of Byrds fueled college rock.

The Band – The Band. Another terrific set songs on the follow-up to Music from Big Pink. Doesn’t contain the “big hit” (ie – “The Weight”) but “Rag Mama Rag” and “King Harvest Has Surely Come” are undisputed classics.

Ryan Adams – Gold.  Heartbreaker Ryan Adam tried to be a modern Gram Parsons.  (Emmylou Harris even guests on one of the tracks.)  On Gold he attempted to take on The Rolling Stones circa Exile, and despite his prolific tendency, he’s never bettered Gold.

The Pogues – Rum Sodomy & The Lash. Red Roses For Me is good rowdy fun, Rum Sodomy & The Lash proved the Pogues were more than just Irish folk music on speed.

What are your favorite follow-ups?

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Another Collaborative Album – Mermaid Avenue

Yesterday, I gave my praises to Elvis Costello and Allen Touissant’s The River in Reverse. It’s a rare breed of an album – a true collaboration whether neither artist is overshadowed by the other.  Here’s another of my favorite collaboration albums.  (Note: I know there a tons of jazz albums in this category, but unfortunately my jazz collection is somewhat lacking.

Billy Bragg & Wilco – Mermaid Avenue

This collaboration is in my top 10 albums of all time.  Taking unfinished Woody Guthrie lyrics as the starting point Billy Bragg and Wilco create gem of a record.  Both artists update Guthrie’s lyrics but still retain the spirit of his work.  The album begins with the hysterical “Walt Whitman’s Niece”  with its call and refrain. (Key lyric: “And as she read, I laid my head.  But I can’t tell which head.”)  Then there’s the gorgeous  “California Stars”.  If you never believed in just running off to get away from it all, this song might change your mind.  Of course not of all of it is fun – being an album full of Woody Guthrie lyrics.  “Eisler on the Go” is Guthrie’s response to Han Eisler being deported by the US Government during the Cold War.  If I can’t think of an album to listen to, I almost always pick up Mermaid Avenue and am never disappointed.

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Lou Reed – Metal Machine Music

Just saw this article earlier.  Lou Reed is apparently releasing the infamous Metal Machine Music album.  Lou Reed is one of my musical heroes, but I could never wrap my head around Metal Machine Music. Metal Machine Music like “Revolution Number 9”, “Self Portrait”  and even Sandinista! is the sound of hubris taking over.  Each of these individuals involved have created some of the best music ever to be made – and these musical projects reveal they can indeed make shit.  The worst part is – they try to pass it off as art.

I like feedback and noise.  I wouldn’t be a fan of The Velvet Underground, The Stooges of Sonic Youth if I weren’t.  But I also like songs – not just meandering noise for no other reasons than shock value.  “Sister Ray” is known for it’s excessive use of feedback and noise (and some deem it almost unlistenable) but it is still a song.  It pushes the limits of what could be called music for sure – distortion pedals pushed to the max, and John Cale on organ.  And the lyrics are even darker and subversive for 1968.

Says Lou Reed about the song: “Sister Ray’ was done as a joke—no, not as a joke—but it has eight characters in it and this guy gets killed and nobody does anything. It was built around this story that I wrote about this scene of total debauchery and decay. I like to think of ‘Sister Ray’ as a transvestite dealer. The situation is a bunch of drag  taking some sailors home with them, shooting up on smack and having this orgy when the police appear.”

Even at its most extreme music is supposed to elicit an emotion out of the listener.  I’m not sure what a person benefits from listening to Metal Machine Music other than to write to Lou Reed and ask for some time of life back.  And now he’s planning on rereleasing this thing?

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Elvis Costello and Allen Touissant

I recently read that Elvis Costello and both Allen Touissant will appear on HBO’s  new show Treme. Tremew  follows musicians in New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina.  (I haven’t seen it yet, but I’m sure it will be good – creator David Simon is the man behind The Wire.)  Touissant and Costello recorded The River in Reverse not too long after Katrina, and they will be featured in Treme recording it.

While many of the songs deal with the situation in New Orleans (“Broken Promise Land”, “Ascension Day”, the Costello-penned “The River in Reverse”) it’s not an album full of anger.  It’s an album made in the wake of tragedy but ends up becoming a celebration.  Its an album full of swinging jazz.  The horns blast loudly and the pianos bounce.  While it’s a well crafted record, there’s an air of improvisation on it as well.  And it also a true collaboration – Touissant sounds right at home, and Costello sings with authority and a wiseness that did not  exist in younger angst driven years.  It’s the sound of two legends making a remarkable album.

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I know as a designer, I’m supposed to like white-space.  But I’m not sure about the new  It’s not nearly as depressing as losing the original magazine size to a slimmer version, but I’m not a fan.  Your thoughts?

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Wolf Like Me

“Wolf Like Me” by Tv on the Radio is a song that I never get tired of hearing.  It’s been on my top played songs on Itunes ever since I got TV On The Radio’s Return to Cookie Mountain in 2007.  The song with its fuzz guitars and pounding drums lives up to its title – its a monster of song.  It’s also the most conventional song on Cookie Mountain (of course that’s not saying much.)

On the surface, it seems that the song is sung from the perspective on a were-wolf.  But really, the werewolf persona is just a guise for a man wanting to have sex.  At first, he considers going somewhere with the girl. “We jet in a stolen car,” lead singer Tunde Adebimpe suggests.    But then he quickly changes his mind.  “But I bet we wouldn’t get too far.”

The situation heats up literally and so does the music.  “Gonna teach you tricks that’ll blow your mongrel mind. “Adibempe snarls.  It’s clear that he doesn’t really have any respect for the girl, but he’s ready to show her who is in charge.  And he doesn’t care what type of girl she is either – “Baby doll I recognize that you’re a hideous thing inside.”   It has to be quick too in case there is any second thoughts: “We’ve got til noon, here comes the moon”.

The final verse reveals a bit of remorse.  Perhaps he does feel bad.  “Got a curse we cannot lift,” Adibempe admits finally.  Perhaps they are both monsters together.  “Tell your grandma and mama it’s true – we’re howling forever.”

Check out the performance from Letterman in 2007:

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John Coltrane Question

(John Coltrane is very deep in thought over which of his albums I should get.)

Should I get A Love Supreme or Live at Birdland?  Or any other suggestions?


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