Wednesday, June 06, 2007

My Month of Entertainment – May 2007

After the explosion that was April, this was a pretty slow month. And a single-faceted one.


None. I gots plenty to read already.


Muppet Show, Season 1 – Why? Why not! I’ve just not had enough Beaker and Dr. Bunsen Honeydew in my life lately.

This month’s Netflix rentals: none. That’s right, a combination of our being pretty busy and our being bored with our Netflix queue made us super lazy in the DVD department. We’re Netflix’s favorite customers now...paying our monthly fee and demanding nothing of them. Actually, I’m open to suggestion here...we’re going to retool our queue and try to actually find some movies we’re interested in...ideas? What’s a great movie you’ve rented/seen lately? We split this subscription with The Butterfly’s parents, and they prefer new releases...keep that in mind...


Friendly Fire Recordings Sampler
Independent Music Awards Winners Sampler

One good thing about eMusic is they put out lots of free samplers for download. One bad thing is, they always sucker me into downloading the free samplers, and 99% of them suck. For the most part, the Independent Music Awards Winners sampler was pretty sorry for two reasons: a) horrible sound quality of the downloads, and b) horrible song quality of the performers. There were a couple exceptions, but not just a ton to write home about. And who knows, maybe I'd have like some of the songs if they'd been better sound quality.

As for Friendly Fire Recordings...this was decent. I was unimpressed for the most part, but it did allow me to discover an artist I’d have otherwise overlooked: Elk City. For one thing, one of my high school’s main rival schools was the Elk City Elks (one of the few schools in the country with school colors of brown and white). I saw the name and got excited. Turns out this group is from New York, which was a bit of a buzzkill...but they’re good anyway. They’ve got a quirky, very indy sound, and their lead singer, Renee LoBue, is really really interesting. Downloading this sampler caused me to download Elk City’s latest album, New Believers, but that took place in June, so you’ll have to wait a month for that review, now won’t you? They’re impressive, though, and since the point of these samplers is to introduce you to music you wouldn’t have otherwise found, I call Friendly Fire a success and Indy Music Awards a failure.

Dinosaur Jr., Beyond

I’ve never been a big fan of J Mascis’ vocals--I don't need a powerhouse voice, but his voice is thin enough to get lost in the mix occasionally--and the vocals are the same on Beyond as they ever were, but this album is a success. “We're Not Alone” has the best guitar solo I’ve heard in a 2007. It's an unbelievable song, and while that’s not all the album has to offer ("Almost Ready", "Crumble", "Back to Your Heart", "I Got Lost" and others are solid), it’s definitely the biggest highlight. I love that bands like Dinosaur Jr. and Mission of Burma are finding their footing again.

Tinariwen, Aman Iman: Water is Life

My ongoing dabbling into African music—which had gone dormant for a couple years after my initial discovery of Orchestra Baobab, Baaba Ma’al, and Ali Farka Toure—continues to pick up steam in recent months. This was recommended to me by a friend, and it was worth it. Not as good as Hugh Masekela or the Afro-Rock collection, but solid.

Incredible Bongo Band, Bongo Rock

Not sure what possessed me to pick up this 30+ year old mostly-percussion album, but wow...what a revelation. First of all, just about every damn song on the album has been sampled in hip hop at some point, most notably “Apache”, which is the highlight of the album along with the remix of "Last Bongo in Belgium". I’ve mentioned many times on here that I’m basically a groove whore...I love good beats, and I will go to great lengths to find them...and wow, did I find a good selection of them on Bongo Rock.

Funkadelic, Live: Rochester, MI, 9-12-71
Funkadelic, Cosmic Slop

My embarassingly late discovery of Maggot Brain last month led to a couple more purchases this month. Not sure why the Rochester ’71 show was released as a live album since the band was breaking in a new rhythm section at the time, but it’s still a good show. I was worried about the sound quality, but it holds up. And songs like “Maggot Brain” and "All Your Goodies Are Gone (The Loser's Seat)" make it worth a few downloads.

As for Cosmic Slop...“You Can’t Miss What You Can’t Measure” is my favorite song of the month. Better than anything on Wilco’s album or anything else. It’s the perfect encapsulation of every single Funkadelic song into about 4 minutes. You can’t listen to that song without a smile on your face. The album as a whole is a bit weaker than Maggot Brain, but “You Can’t Miss...” is unbelievable.

Bright Eyes, Cassadega

I really appreciated what Conor Oberst was trying to accomplish in simultaneously releasing two very different albums—I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning and Digital Ash in a Digital Urn—in 2004. I was curious how his next release would incorporate the two disparate sounds—the acoustic folk/country of Wide Awake and the electronic noise of Digital Ash. Well...Cassadega’s decent. Good, even. Oberst really is as good a song-writer as there is today, but the subject matter here is a little less urgent than in the past. Oberst secured his reputation as a political songwriter by performing “When the President Talks to God” on Leno, but a majority of his songs are anything but political. Oberst’s main songwriting strength isn’t talking about struggle directly, but talking about life...of which struggle is a part.

The main problem with Cassadega is the lack of a true, unbelievable, standout track. "Soul Singer in a Session Band" is great, but it doesn't pack much emotional punch. "Lime Tree" is good and emotional, but...upon first listen at least (it'll grow on me, I'm sure), no song on Cassadega does for me what "Hit the Switch" or "Arc of Time (Time Code)" or "Train Under Water" or "Road to Joy" did on 2004's albums.

Ryan Adams, Heartbreaker
Wilco, Sky Blue Sky

The Heartbreaker download was a simple course correction...I realized I should have gotten this album years ago and never had, so I picked it up. It's long been known as probably Adams' most solid work, and I needed it. Plus, the country-rock feel got me in the mood for Wilco's new album. My favorite track: "To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High)".

As for Sky Blue Sky, I wrote a bit about it here, and I guess I'll expand a bit. I agree with part of Rolling Stone's review:

With guitar whiz [Nels] Cline on board, they seemed to be heading in a more rocking direction -- for many of us, the 2005 live album Kicking Television was their finest hour. Cline's presence is more low-key here, but so is everything else about the album. Sky Blue Sky (great title -- Allman Brothers via Laurie Anderson) is understated, erratic, often beautiful, disarmingly simple music; it really sounds like six guys playing in a room, and no doubt that's how they wanted it.
This is People's Exhibit Q for the fact that Wilco never ever ever ever does what's expected of them. That doesn't mean I didn't like Sky Blue Sky--not even close--but it once again caught me off-guard.

Finally, a question before I go: Do you see any new hip hop on this list? WHERE IN THE HELL IS THE NEW HIP HOP?? By my count there's officially been one good hip hop release in 2007...Brother Ali. Five months into the year, and that's it. That's awful. Along with Netlfix rental suggestions, somebody please point me toward some good new hip hop. This is depressing. The end.

UPDATE, 8:27pm: Upon further review, the guitar in Wilco's "Side With the Seeds" competes very well with that of Dinosaur Jr's "We're Not Alone", and "I Must Belong Somewhere" on Cassadega is as good as anything on one of Bright Eyes' other albums. So there you go.

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