Friday, April 13, 2007

What You Been Listening To? #3

Dear Reader,
Okay, here's another post from the slack one. Yes, it contains excerpts of half-assed reviews, current faves and as always it's chock full of glib interpretations of other people's musical abilities and what not.

But you will read it and like it. So here's a short list of what I'm geeking on these last few weeks...

Digital Underground- Sex Packets
Remember these guys? Holy shit, I do. I had slept on these guys until I recently got into a conversation about 2Pac's importance. Rather, my assertion was his un-importance to hip-hop, which is a huge malfeasance in this here Bay Area. I underestimated that Pac's followers are large and vocal here in Berkeley, especially to the under-21 crowd. He's something of a god 'round here. Whatev. Anyway, someone not directly involved in the argument had brought up his early work, and I said, "Yeah, he was a member of Digital Underground before his career lifted off and he was important enough to do movies and such..." Then I remembered being in 9th grade and wearing out my cassette tape of DU's Sex Packets, one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time. You may remember The Humpty Dance and Doowutchyalike, the two monster jams from that jawn. But what this album really was, besides an homage to Parliament and Funkadelic, (not to mention mining riffs from Jimi Hendrix, Sly & The Family Stone, Herbie Hancock, Prince and The Meters) it was a hip-hopera about these "sex packets", which caused the user to hallucinate that they were having a sexual encounter, sort of like a virtual-reality sexcapade. It's witty, inventive and groundbreaking- all for a debut album. It seems that DU blew their collective load at the beginning of their career, however, because they only had one or two more hits after that and fell away into relative obscurity by the end of the 90s. But Sex Packets sits up there with Ice-T's The Iceberg and most Public Enemy albums as examples of old-school hip-hop concept albums. It seems every "underground" act nowadays (Aesop Rock, MF Doom, Jedi Mind Tricks, Subtle, etc.) uses this formula almost exclusively on their albums.

The Seaworthies
Just a little pop band from a little town up in Washington. Think twee, not unlike Mates Of State, Rilo Kiley, Mirah and Belle & Sebastian. Are they brother and sister or husband and wife? I don't know anymore- you can thank Jack and Meg White for blurring that line...

Bright Eyes- Cassadaga
(Apology preceding review:) Yes, I know I've often maligned Conor Oberst, most of the time undeservedly. Yes, I'm familiar with all of his work. I kvetched at his Fevers And Mirrors, wondered if it was healthy for someone to be such a whiny little bitch, but he was only 20 when he did that album. (I'm making excuses for him now?) And there's a few tracks from Lifted... that I kinda like, and the same for I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning. But overall, too much yelping and crying over folky/faux-country tunes for me to really like him as a serious artist. Maybe he's too serious for me to take him serious. But Cassadaga, the latest from Bright Eyes, has me eating my words- rather, redefining my stance. I'm not going to concede that those earlier records are great or awesome, but I can say that Cassadaga may just be the best of his career, and one of the best albums of the year. Excellent production values, lushly orchestrated string sections, more adult themes here- the growing up album that everyone in music has to make eventually. Maybe all that hanging with Bruce Springsteen and Michael Stipe forced Oberst to grow up quicker. Anyway, three tracks have grabbed my by my throat and forced me to pay attention- namely: Four Winds, Soul Singer In A Session Band and Coat Check Dream Song. Whoever told Conor to drop his "whine" and actually sing songs in man's voice gets mad props from me. Look for this to be near the top of my year-end list.
Overall rating: 91

Bishop Allen- Charm School

Think really hummable, stripped-down, basic pop music from Brooklyn's hipster set. It seems as if Brooklyn is the east coast's Portland, battling for bragging rights to which city is America's indie rock proving grounds. I'm thinking I'll do an expose soon on Portland bands vs. Brooklyn bands. But Bishop Allen brings it- check these guys out.

The pop music scene in Sweden is approaching levels of Canadian intensity. Some name dropping here: Peter Bjorn and John, Jens Lekman, The Knife, Jose Gonzalez, I'm From Barcelona, Loney, Dear, and whoever's coming up next week. A rich pop history with its roots firmly grounded in soil of ABBA, and late 80s one-hit wonders Roxette, 90s crap-pop stalwarts Ace Of Base, cutesy-poppers The Cardigans, and other recent almost-goods Soundtrack To Our Lives, The Hives, and The Sounds. It's not just death metal in Scandanavia anymore.

Laura Veirs- Saltbreakers
Introducing the new Laura Veirs and her new band, The Saltbreakers. On her last two albums, she did almost everything herself, as she does live with the help of state-of-the-art looping equipment, she recalls a lo-fi, indie-folk-pop version of Keller Williams (without all the stinky hippies). Showcasing her excellent lyrics (to hide her, er, "weird" voice? Maybe weird is too harsh a word, it's just, uh, "unconventional". Yeah...), excellent production and a real live, full on band to help her work out these nice little guitar ditties. Being featured as the female lead voice on The Decemberists' Yankee Bayonet leaves her in good company and probably helped catapult her to headline her own tour this spring. It'll be interesting to see her on stage with real people behind her this time. I'm excited. As for the album, Saltbreakers is a term for ocean waves, but I also think (upon listening to the heartfelt emotive good-byes on here) that it's a classic break-up album. Pain = creativity. Hmmm, nice formula, Miss Veirs.
Overall rating: 87

Modest Mouse- We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank
Again, a band that I can say I don't really like all that much. But I like this album very, very much only after a few listens. Maybe it's the new guitar player, a Johnny-something from some band that was big a few years back. Actually, Mr. Marr is one of my guitar heroes and when I saw all the hoopla surrounding his addition to MM, I guffawed it to high heaven. But upon my first listen, I was like, "Whoa- do I have to say I like this now? Because I really don't want to like this, but..." Again, for the second time this week, I have to apologize about my preconceptions regarding a band's music- but in my defense, really: I must be excused- adding Johnny Freaking Marr to your band a) changes your band into a completely different band and b) it's Johnny Freaking Marr- he wrote the music to EVERY SMITHS SONG. That alone should make me just shut up and like Modest Mouse's new album, but I'm Irish and I'm a drunk. So that means: I have a great deal of contempt for things prior to investigating all the major points and facts. If jumping to conclusions was a sport, I'd medal every Olympics. Making a coherent concept album, which seems to be MM's modus operandi, is a tough task. But they tackle competently the ills and woes of modern living, from war to global warming to checkered pasts- we Americans love our heroes to have checkered pasts. So what if lead singer Isaac Brock has an annoying voice? He writes great (if not obtuse) lyrics, and his checkered past also makes for a great side story. And Johnny Freaking Marr is in your band! I wonder what Moz says about Marr's new endeavor? Maybe I'll ask him when I see him (at Oakland's Paramount Theater on May 1st...)
Overall rating: 89

So, that's it for this week. Be sure to check back next week for so real reviews- unless you like the capsule-sized reviews. Let me know what you think...

Possible forthcoming reviews:
Andrew Bird, !!! and Do Make Say Think (yeah, right...)

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