Quick Hits

As I'm going to be making a more concerted effort to update this kickass music blog at least once a week I thought I'd start it out with a few quick, notable nuggets in order to catch up. First some news:

-The Verve Reunites

It seems to be a year for great bands of the 90s to get themselves back together in order to relive past glories (smashing pumpkins), so it should be no surprise that a fantastically talented band which produced two of the best albums of the 90s (A Northern Soul, Urban Hymns) and a song which is indelibly lodged in the soft tissue of the heads of most people (Bittersweet Symphony) was getting back together. Not only is this a surprise, however, it is a full on double take moment. The Verve's split was not a harmonious affair, and in fact, they split more than once. After 'A Northern Soul' the band, which had made an amazing transition out of the shoegazing netherworld into critical darlings, split up mainly due to guitarist Nick McCabe and front-man Richard Ashcroft butting heads. Ashcroft continued writing and managed to convince McCabe to come back and work on another album, an album which became 'Urban Hymns', a beauty of a record. Soon after the album was released and the band soared through the troposphere (read up on your atmospheric layers) McCabe and Ashcroft's bickering again split the band up as McCabe left to do absolutely nothing for 9 years except a remix or two.

Ashcroft went on to a semi-successful solo career and other members of The Verve showed up in various bands and projects, including Damon Albarn's "The Good, The Bad and The Queen", but the Verve faded from the collective consciousness and all we were left with were three albums of complex beauty and some of the most innovative guitar work in decades. The last anyone had heard McCabe was a recluse and he was not on speaking terms with Ashcroft who released his poorest solo album yet in 2006.

...and then an announcement on The Verve's defunct official website and on Ashcroft's solo website declaring a new album and mini-UK tour.

It will be interesting to see what a new album sounds like as even the previous Verve album was widely seen as mostly Richard Ashcroft's first solo album backed by his Verve band-mates, but regardless of what it ends up being, it will be interesting.

Link to review of The Verve's "A Northern Soul"... check it

-Coldplay's new album has an "Hispanic Theme"

Can someone explain this to me, because I'm really struggling to grasp the concept of this. Can anyone imagine Chris Martin with a mariachi band behind him singing in Spanish? Well I can, and it's fucking hilarious, almost as hilarious as the fact that Coldplay are giving their new album an "Hispanic Theme". Is Chris Martin going to sing bad love lyrics in Spanish now? Has anyone else noticed that he can't write lyrics anymore? Is this a lot of questions for one news item?

Read the whole story here

By the way, not too shabby of a composite for 5 minutes work, eh?

Now for a few mini-reviews:

Willy Mason - If the Ocean Gets Rough

For a guy who was called this generation's Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen in various articles after his first album was released when he was 19, Willy Mason has dropped quicker than a sack of bricks. Although I tend to think he was over-hyped by the critical press who were so quick to dub him with the 'genius songwriter' tag I really fell in love with his clever turns of phrase and the simplicity of his folk/indie sound. His first album "Where the Humans Eat" was a marvelous joining of rough and simple production which perfectly matched the tone of his often-times odd voice. Sounding more like a 55 year old drunk who spent 35 years on a production line than a 19 year old from Martha's Vineyard, Mason was able charm his audience and sing tongue-twisting line's such as:

You shouldn't read Dostoevsky at your age
That and nicotine will make you pale and lean
And twist your face like Mr. Gray's
Though it just manifests in paintings that you make
Or else your eyes will stay the same
Are you that hungry for a change?

But Mason apparently didn't realize why people loved his first album because "If the Ocean Gets Rough" is a failure in just about every way. He swaps the endearing simplicity of the first album for lavish production which only serves to call attention to the fact that his voice simply isn't very strong. It also doesn't help that he seems to also have bought into the fact that he is this generation's voice, writing songs which far exceed his young grasp. The issues he attempts to grapple with and shed 'revelations' on just don't harmonize with his music, voice, and demeanor. The result is an massively uneven album of songs which don't fit together in style, content, or quality.

Go grab Mason's first album and download the only two quality songs from the new one: 'The End of the Race', which is fantastic and the album's shining moment, and 'Save Myself', which although a bit melodramatic, is also quite strong.

Paul McCartney - Memory Almost Full

It's hard to believe that McCartney could still be relevant musically or thematically, but on "Memory Almost Full" Sir Paul not only releases his best solo album in decades, he releases one of his strongest albums ever. I was blown away by the level of his songwriting, production, and the massive number of new musical ideas he presents here, especially since for the last decade he's basically given into being a caricature of himself in which he writes semi-decent songs which seem newly old.

Excluding 'gratitude' the albums only disappointing moment, "Memory Almost Full" is full of absolutely incredible pop-rock songs. "Ever Present Past" is a quick moving indie track which, if released by any person not named Paul McCartney, would be praised as a genius moment for any indie pop act. "Only Mama Knows" begins with a dramatic string section but quickly turns into one of McCartney's most rocking tune's since "Helter Skelter" and "Mister Bellamy", "House of Wax", and "Vintage Clothes" are simply three of the most sonically interesting songs I've heard in the past year.

Go buy it, you'll be incredibly surprised by its newness.

- Luke


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Live: The National - The Basement - 6.16.2007

Didn't anybody tell you how to gracefully disappear in a room? Well, luckily the message never made it to National lead man, Matt Beringer, either. Standing at over six feet tall, Matt is a giant (literally) walking throughout the small world that is indie rock, and growing evermore (figuratively) as his band skips across the country, winning over post-college 20-somethings everywhere with his "this is your life on the way down" lyrics delivered in one of the few baritones making waves in the genre.

Standing outside the Basement waiting for the show to start, I had no idea what to expect from the venue, and a pretty good idea of what to expect from the band. I could hear the soundcheck through the heavy door, and the band sounded tight even on abbreviated renditions of their better known tracks, so I was excited to see what would happen when 350 sweaty "neo-adults" were mixed into the equation. Little did I know that the venue was literally the size of a small bar. When I walked into the Basement, I was looking around for a stairway that would lead down to where the band would be playing (a bigger room). However, I quickly saw the stage setup (no way it could have been any larger than the kitchen at either of my college houses), and realized I was in for a treat. Furthermore, there was a bar literally 20 feet from the stage, at which I set-up shop. As people started filing into the venue, I saw a mix of mostly 25-35 year olds, that I assumed were going through the same things I am going through ("Wow, so this is what the real world is like?"), and appropriately the same things Beringer likes to sing about. I also soon realized that even though I was only twenty feet from the center of the stage, it may be difficult seeing the band from my bar stool.

Nevertheless, I sat through the opening bands (Talk Demonic and Shapes & Sizes) which were entertaining enough, but really not in the same vein as the main act (not that many bands out there are....that good). When the National took the stage, I soon transferred my seat from the bar stool to the bar top, which allowed me to perfectly see the top half of the entire band (more than I usually can see at a non-balcony, general admission show), and was completely encouraged by the venue personnel. The band opened this show, like many others on this tour, with "Start A War". While this is not my favorite track on the band's new album Boxer, I think it set the tone of the entire show. The National do what they do by setting the mood. That is not to say that they cannot rock your socks off (cough*Mr. November*cough), but it wouldn't be their style to take it to the house that early in the night. The band is one of the best out there at writing songs that can come off as "mellow" on a first listen, but turn into epics once you grow into them. The term, "brooding", has never been more appropriate. "Start A War" is a microcosm of this treatment, showing the band's teeth, but only for a moment, and just about when you think the song is going to blow up, the band holds back, and takes it back down a few notches. These acts of restraint are what set the National apart from the imitators. It is somewhat similar to the friend/family member that rarely cusses. You know that even when they say "shit" they are super pissed off, and if they drop the word "fuck" you know they mean business. The National rarely takes their act above a high simmer, but when they do, it seems like a boiling cauldron about to fall off its support.

After the opener, the band went into a steady mix of songs from their last two albums (Boxer and Alligator for those keeping score at home), never even touching anything that came out before the Cherry Tree EP. As a huge fan of all three of those releases, I was completely pleased with the song selection for the show. A mid-set "Squalor Victoria" was a pleasant surprise, which in the live setting extended into an rocking conclusion, as opposed to a studio version which felt unfinished. Right after "Squalor Victoria" the band hit their stride with a rousing version of "Baby, We'll Be Fine", whose apologetic chorus never felt more poignant than in the live setting. The band continued to thrill the crowd by playing two standout Alligator tracks, "The Geese of Beverly Road" and "Daughters of the Soho Riots". Two songs which on their own would make the National worthy of one's attention. Following an ardent version of Boxer opening track, "Fake Empire", the band launched into "Mr. November", which was easily the evening's climax. As Beringer screamed the song's chorus, everyone in the bar, including the people who barely knew the song (the cute girl sitting to my right) were singing along. Hearing 350 pre-middle aged "kids" screaming "I won't fuck us over, I'm Mr. November, I'm Mr. November, I won't fuck us over" in unison with such sentiment, honestly brought me to chills, and still does as I am typing this and listening to the song.

Obviously, the band had to depart the stage after that moment of fury, and came back out to finish the show with a very mellow encore which included Boxer closing track, "Gospel" and Cherry Tree EP standout track, "About Today". Both tracks have a feeling of closure to them, so although they are on the lighter side, they felt incredibly appropriate for the moment.

I must say that a band like the National is not for everyone. In fact, I wouldn't even recommend them to a lot of people I know just because I think they are an acquired taste not to be wasted on those not willing to invest themselves in the music. Never have I felt lyrics hit me so close to the heart. Don't get me wrong, the simmering sonic palette and rhythm section of the band are not forces to be ignored, but Beringer brings it all together with his lyrics of growing up in a world that expects us to go from age 22 to 40 in the turning of one season. It is not a realistic expectation, and Beringer brings this feeling to the forefront, making post-college students everywhere feel a little more normal. See it isn't the sad-bastard aspect that we love. It's just the idea that we aren't the only sad-bastards out there that brings us some solace. Is a little condolence too much to ask for generation Y? After all, we are the heirs to this glimmering world.


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