Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Brandi Carlile - Live at the Oregon Zoo - 2008-08-22

Apologies to anyone paying attention for the long delay in posting this review. In addition to only recently having heard much of Brandi and therefore not having the setlist to this show for a while, I'm a lazy git.

So how many concerts have you been to where you can walk across a field to your seat on the lawn with a newly-purchased bottle of wine in your hand? Seventeen? Ok, good on you, I should have seen that coming. But now, how many of those had a gated area where you could have a peek at some Asian elephants, one of which was preparing to give birth that night? [If you're answer was anything other than "golly gee Jay, never ever!", then I tip my safari hat to you).

I'm not going to feign familiarity with Ms. Carlile's catalog of songs here, but I will let you in on this secret -- she and her band could burn the paint off a pistol with their take on CCR's 'Fortunate Son' (and they ain't too shabby on 'Folsom Prison Blues', either). As for her own material, I think even Brandi was surprised at how the audience beat her to the punch and started singing the harmonies for 'Turpentine' before she even had a chance to assign the vocal parts to sections of the crowd. She had commented earlier about how she dreamed of headlining this venue on her home turf after having opened for Chris Isaak here before, and nowhere was her pure joy of this performance more clear than at this moment.

She closed the show with two solo songs that paired well together: an emotionally-charged, unreleased song called 'That Year' which was written about her response to a friend's suicide in high school (and might have been a last minute addition to the setlist, based on her countdown of how many more songs she had left to do), followed a cover of Leonard Cohen's ubiquitous 'Hallelujah'. Now that was a fine exit.


What Can I Say
Have You Ever
Fall Apart Again
Late Morning Lullaby
My Song
Fortunate Son
Love Songs
The Story
Folsom Prison Blues
Pride & Joy

That Year

Friday, August 22, 2008

Radiohead -- Live at the White River Ampitheater, Auburn, WA 2008-08-21

With the inconstant rain dredging up vivid flashbacks of the 2001 fiasco in Washington D.C. where I was *supposed* to see Radiohead on the Amnesiac tour, but instead was treated to the watery wrath of an angry god that flooded the entire area, Sabre and I made our way up the White River Ampitheater in Auburn. Fortunately, all precipitation-related crises were averted. *

The band opened with "15 Steps" and a stage show that would be the envy of any Pink Floyd laser light extravaganza. About 100 or so LED lighting columns were suspended from the stage scaffolding and used to amazing effect, ranging from full-motion, 3D-like graphics reminiscent of media player visualizations, to scrolling words and song lyrics. Even more impressive, the cables were thin enough to provide a lot of visual pop without obstructing the view of the band members onstage, but they also had cameras mounted on them that projected live images on a five-panelled film screen behind the band. This was undoubtedly the best stage set-up I've ever seen in terms of balancing spectacle with subtlety.

All of which leads us to the music. For two hours, the band cherry-picked from the best of their back catalog while playing every song from In Rainbows, minus 'House of Cards.' They even pulled out 'In Limbo', the first time they've played that since 2003 (which was ironically also at White River). I got a little chuckle out of the "it should be raining line" in 'The Gloaming', considering it was raining on those poor folks out on the lawn, and the acoustic guitar duet between Thom and Jonny also pulled a laugh out of the crowd when Thom flubbed his part and Phil (the drummer) came out onstage and threw a dollar into the buskers' virtual hat anyway. Favorite moments of mine included a spectacularly strange 'Climbing Up The Walls,' which took on a low-budget, science-fiction movie vibe with the sound effects Jonny was wringing out of the synthesizers, a gorgeous take on 'All I Need' featuring a full-size piano, and a nod to The Bends with 'Talk Show Host', a favorite of Sabre's that she was hoping to hear so she could visualize the scene in Baz Luhrmann's Romeo and Juliet that used the song to such great effect.

Thom didn't say much throughout the show, but he did dedicate 'You and Whose Army?' to the protestors of the WTO convention in Seattle in 1999, denouncing the WTO as still being corrupt. They followed this song with 'No Surprises,' perhaps as a not-so-subtle continued commentary on the present state of political affairs; it's a shame that such observations have been relevent for far too long.

The band ended the show fittingly enough with 'Everything In Its Right Place', and then they were gone. When your only criticism of a performance is that you didn't get a little more, that's when you can be sure you've just witnessed a great show.

* Unfortunately, The Liars made us feel like we were being musically waterboarded. The forty minutes of inanity that this band put us through seemed to be a calculated effort to guarantee that Radiohead sounded like the BEST BAND EVER, if only by comparison to the travesty of their opening act. I cannot believe that such a sub-par band managed to wrangle the opening slot. I'm guessing that there is some nepotism afoot.


01. 15 Step
02. Reckoner
03. Optimistic
04. There There
05. All I Need
06. Pyramid Song
07. Talk Show Host
08. The National Anthem
09. The Gloaming
10. Videotape
11. Lucky
12. Faust Arp
13. Jigsaw Falling Into Place
14. Climbing Up The Walls
15. Dollars and Cents
16. Nude
17. Bodysnatchers

18. How to Disappear Completely
19. Arpeggi/Weird Fishes
20. Idioteque
21. In Limbo
22. Street Spirit

23. You And Whose Army?
24. No Surprises
25. Everything In Its Right Place

Sunday, August 10, 2008

2008-08-09 Joseph Arthur and the Lonely Astronauts, KEXP BBQ (Seattle)

After his acclaimed performance in the KEXP studios last month, the radio station asked Joe to play at their 6th Annual summer BBQ, and not only did he agree but he brought his band with him. He might have also brought fortunate weather as well, since the rainstorm that pelted us all during Common Ground's set (and threatened during Helio Sequence's) finally cleared and rewarded us with a beautiful double rainbow of happiness that Joe in particular seemed to appreciate. Sometimes it's the little things which have the greatest effect, but coincidence or not, the band went on to perform magnificently.

This was the first time in several months that the Lonely Astronauts had played out, and although Jen Turner was unable to make the show due to a prior commitment, Kraig Jarrett Johnson handled both his and her guitar parts admirably well, and he clearly relished what he was doing. Everyone else on-stage were in equally high spirits, with Sybil Buck literally bouncing up and down and around several times. Maybe they got high off the fumes from Greg 'G-Wiz' Wieczorek's birthday candles earlier (or our in-concert sing-a-long of 'Happy Birthday'), I dunno. But it was an exciting, energetic set that started off with the excellent new song, 'Temporary People' and alternated mostly between tracks from "Nuclear Daydream" and the soon-to-be released, "Temporary People", with one nod to "Let's Just Be" coming in the form of 'Spacemen'.

The band were supple but sharp. Sybil had some hesitation during a bridge breakdown during 'Turn You On,' as she switched to playing slower single notes and looked to Kraig for direction, but she covered herself well and made it back to the verse just fine. This song in particular seems to have undergone some changes, with the (re-?)introduction of a new bridge section that wasn't there during Joe's solo performances of the song.

This was the first time I'd heard (or even heard of) 'Say Goodbye', and it was powerful in it's elegance. Joe dedicated this one to the late Bernie Mac, although I'm sure Isaac Hayes (or at least "Chef") would have been included as well, if only we'd known.

A fiery version of 'Spacemen' closed out the show at full tilt, with one of G-Wiz's sticks flying away from him, Joe jumping up on the kick drum and launching himself off, Sybil positively aglow doing backup vocals, and Kraig channeling the spirit of two guitars through his lone instrument. That, my friends, is a rock and roll show.

And if I was in danger of forgetting it, there were a handful of fake fans fighting their way to the front to remind me, several of them screaming about how much they love Joe, while then proceeding to scream/talk at their friends during the entire song. Joe fans are generally less vapid than that, and I'd almost forgotten what true festival ambience was like when the starpower (and beer) goes to their heads and people are desperate to make themselves part of the experience. Ah, the madding crowd!

Photo courtesy of: the intrawebs (thank you intrawebs!)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Joseph Arthur - Live at The Triple Door, Seattle, WA 2008/07/22

Joe's performance at The Triple Door last night was brilliant, although that much is a gimme due to the dozens of tiny lights twinkling behind him. The Triple Door is an unusual venue, not just for it's star-like backdrop, but for the dinner theater vibe, complete with candle-lit tables and waitstaff whisking appetizers, entrees, and expensive wine to patrons (formerly known as "the crowd"). Joe even addresses this later in his set: "“It’s really nice here. I don’t even mind you all eatin’.”

Joe's on-stage arrival was not as intense and focused as it was in Portland yesterday, as he had to stop a few seconds into 'Chicago' to fix a self-inflicted sound glitch, but he went on to do an amazing set of songs for the sold out crowd of 300. Aside from my secret wish for the quiet euthenization of a couple of irritating geezers up front who laughed loudly in all the wrong places (such as during "Invisible Hands", when Joe sings that he needs Jesus to come back and die for him again), it would be hard to ask for a better crowd; I don't think I heard one person beg for either "In The Sun" or "Honey And The Moon", and that's saying more than you might know.

As he did the night before in Portland, Joe offered to take requests, and he was immediately greeted by a cacophony of sounds. “You all gotta calm down," he replied with a grin. "All I hear is 'WHAAA-AAA'! I don’t got a song called 'WHAAA-AAA!’”

Highlights included the delicate "A Smile That Explodes," frenzied energy on "I Donated Myself To The Mexican Army", and an encore that included worthy crowd participation on the sing-along "One By One".

By the end of the show, Joe had pronounced this his favorite gig of the tour. “Hey, don’t tell New York I said this, but Seattle is the best.”

Photo: Eric

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Joseph Arthur - Live at the Doug Fir Lounge, Portland, OR 2008/07/21

Last night's one-man show at the Doug Fir was excellent, relieving my concerns about hearing that Joe was leaving the JamMan loops at home for this tour. It was exciting to see him open with an intense version of the soon-to-be-released 'Temporary People' and kick over the music stand holding the binder full of cheat sheets for new songs. Initial reviews of the tour characterized his setlist and performances as being a bit rigid, so perhaps he was making an intentional effort to loosen up a bit. Having a room full of longtime friends and devoted fans undoubtedly help him do just that, and he was soon bantering back and forth with the crowd about spiked water bottles and the Portland art scene (separately, of course), as well as jokingly thanking us for coming "to the dress rehearsal" while the club sorted out some sound problems with the monitor speaker.

The 80-minute set was full of new and obscure songs, the finest of the bunch probably being 'Turn You On' (which will be on the forthcoming Lonely Astronauts cd in September). Against expectations, he then actually opened the floor to requests this time out. Closet classics like 'Favorite Girl' and 'Ashes Everywhere' were quick to be called out, as well as requisite fair-weather fan favorites like 'Honey in the Moon' and 'In The Sun'. Joe wended his way through them all, and by the encore he had recovered and brushed off his notebook to do the forthcoming 'All the Old Heroes,' a wordy, Dylan-esque folk ramble that is clearly near and dear to him. I've got a feeling this one might drop out of the setlist (or be radically reformed) once the Lonely Astronauts join him for the next leg of touring.

Check out a few video clips from this show (courtesy of bombers66 and Woody):

Slide Away
Turn You On
Electrical Storm
Favorite Girl

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Foreign Girls and beyond

Or "Underwater", as it seemed to be code-named on when the actual title could not be located for a week. Either way, this is the fourth (and last) of the ambitious ep series that Joseph Arthur embarked on this year, and it's a worthwhile spin despite being the most uneven of the bunch. There are some gems that sparkle here, the two brightest of which are 'The Killer' and 'New Satisfaction'. This pair of retro-rock-flavored cuts (hint: the last track's title is a knowing reference) build up an exciting momentum, but then leave you at the end of the disc wanting for more.

A simple reordering of the tracks would have helped a bit, but no matter how you shuffle the deck, 'Foreign Girls' would be a bit uneven, with weaker songs like the dopey title track and the innocuous but forgettable 'Stay' siphoning the ep's energy. The lo-fi but lovely track 'Candy & Cars' is wedged in between these, but dig it out -- it's a sleeper.

Taken as a set, the 2008 eps have seen Joe widen his range of styles to include the electronic elements that were first (absurdly) hinted at on "Puppets" from 'Our Shadows Will Remain', and have even seen him skirting territory that was trail-blazed by Prince. Combined with the many unreleased tracks that he has posted on Bag Is Hot, as well as the full-length disc with The Lonely Astronauts that drops next month, there's no denying that the man is as amazingly prolific as ever. The fact that he hasn't become a household name and ended up being played ad nauseum on radio stations everywhere is an act of criminal negligence, but I suppose America has worse to answer for these days.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Third Time Charm

For fans of circa-Y2K Joe, the new Vagabond Skies ep will be a welcome addition to the catalog as soon as they press 'Play.' 'Slow Me Down' is easily the most accessible song here on the disc, and is particularly appropriate at the halfway point of this current series of releases given that the chorus stresses that the singer refuses to be slowed down by anyone. The easy-going acoustic guitar strum of 'Even When Yer Blue' lightens the mood a bit, but attests that while everyone hurts, everyone is also on their own to some degree in this world, recalling another Joseph's (Conrad) observation that, "we live as we dream - alone."

Of course, it's difficult for Joseph not to rail against such an isolationist mentality and return to the concept of a happily-shared misery, which is precisely what he does on 'Pretty Good Company'. He even manages to shake off the unhappiness for 'She Paints Me Gold', a languid, dreamy song full of echoey, falsetto voices swirling above a simple guitar, piano, and drum arrangement; it isn't until an overdriven guitar line cries out and takes over the song that we realize the euphoria won't last.

The manic dichotomy of 'Second Sight' follows, it's distorted backing vocals and layered keyboard lines kicking the choruses into a faux-spooky realm with it's repeated "run aways", before pulling back to the non-threatening strings and drum machine beats of the verses. The Twilight...-era Twilight Singers vibe of 'It's Too Late' circles back to the abandonment mentioned in 'Slow Me Down,' only this time the singer is leaving not because anyone is slowing him down, but because his muse didn't slow down enough to share any moments of true connection: "Every time I try to tell you how I feel/ By the time you listen none of it is still real," he sings, with plaintive choruses of "it's too late" filling in between the verses. He is still the one who has walked away under the vagabond skies, but ultimately it's him who has been left wandering.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

VHS Or Beta - Live at the Doug Fir Lounge, Portland, OR 2008/05/02

The new-wave nostalgiacs known as VHS Or Beta seem to have a soft spot for Portland and heavy logs. Last night's show was their third at the Doug Fir Lounge in the past nine months, and after having missed them the first two times they swung through the Rose City, I managed to shake off my SAD and throw some dance-rock mojo on the local kids.

I could break out my fakebook and internet search machines to fool you into thinking I have an intimate knowledge of the band's catalog, but listen here, Mulder: the truth is I like to get tipsy and swirl my girl around to VHSoB, and I don't really keep track of the song titles (though the Night On Fire album is my personal favorite for being my introduction to the band). What I can tell you is that whether they were being being mid-tempo romantic with "Bring On The Comets", blazing through "Night On Fire", or introducing the instrumental "Le Funk" (?) as a mid-90s disco song that was at odds with everything they were hearing on the radio at the time, the local crowd was starry-eyed for it. There might even have been a little fist-pumping along with the sing-along for the lyrics to "Burn It All Down", but I'll deny it if you call me out.

The group saved "“Can’t Believe a Single Word” for the encore, but it hardly made a dent on the enthusiasm level because it was already in the stratosphere. Kudos to VHS Or Beta for breaking through the stereotypical alt-indie vibe that Portland is known for and making some much needed headway in getting the Northwest to both rock out AND shake it's ass at the same time. When frontman Craig Pfunder knowingly proclaimed, "Portland on a f**king Friday night!", it was almost as if this WAS a typical evening for the 503.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

MGMT - Live at the Doug Fir Lounge, Portland, OR 2008/04/22

MGMT are an electronic rock band out of Brooklyn, NY, who dropped one of this year's most versatile and exciting albums with their debut disc, Oracular Spectacular. If you judge a group by their album covers (there are no less than two for this one), there's both a neo-hippie, Burning Man-flavored tribalism at the heart of the group, as well as a warmly nostalgic, yet updated nod to 70's prog, rock and glam. When you listen to the record itself, all of these aesthetics are exhibited in sound, from the chorused falsettos on the very dancy "Electric Feel", to the sarcastic, Prozac-driven rock star narration of the album's opener, "Time To Pretend".

They saved this track for later at last night's show at the Doug Fir Lounge, opening instead with the album's second song, "Weekend Wars". On the record it sounds like an outtake from Ziggy Stardust meshed with Led Zeppelin's "Thank You" and filtered through Prince's Paisley Park studios. In the audience at the Fir, it sounded like a wave of distortion. Once the sound person inhaled a little of the reefer madness going around and got a handle on the equipment, things improved noticeably with "The Youth", another dreamy, mild-mannered psychedelic pop song. This is more Lenny Kravitz' 70's than it is Hawkwind's, so things never get too spaced out here, but that's a compliment to MGMT. "Of Moons, Birds & Monsters" was similarly done in tasteful fashion, conjuring up an alternate reality where Neil Young performs vocals on a driving electronic rock record. (Ok, that actually occurred in our own reality, but let's not revisit Trans right now).

"Kids" had a tasty little groove that had shoulders rocking back and forth, and I was surprised to find several people in the crowd actually singing along with "Pieces Of What", which last night sounded less like a somber Dream Syndicate song and a little more like "Another Girl, Another Planet". But it was "Electric Feel", which starts out with a cutesy synth line reminscent of the keyboard hook in Men At Work's "Down Under" before steering into the "Emotional Rescue"-like vocals, that was the most anticipated song of the night, judging by the number of people I heard calling for it in between songs. The pent-up enthusiasm of gel-haired clubbers and earth-huggers alike was unleashed, and the band kept it at full throttle by then launching into "Time To Pretend". Amazingly enough, the club didn't immediately empty out afterward, in spite of the fact that MGMT carried on with some psychedelia that was far less accessible and clearly indicative that the Mothership was fast approaching.

All of which will likely give you the impression that Peace, Love, Unity, and Rock Respect ruled the night, but in fact there was an unsettling emptiness about the whole affair onstage. I spent half the show trying to figure out what it was, and then it suddently struck me -- Ben Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden hadn't looked at each other the entire time. Not once. Not even by accident to bare their fangs and spit at each other. For a band which conveys such a spirit of community on record to have it's two principle players refuse to acknowledge each other's existence onstage is downright unsettling. Hopefully it's a just a temporary bout of irritability and not a sign of deep unrest between the pair, and things will end like a Harold and Kumar film, with the two guys going on some wacky, wild adventures that ultimately end with their friendship becoming even stronger. After a lot of weed, of course.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Joseph Arthur - The Second Coming

The second installment of Joseph Arthur's quartet of eps for 2008 hit the shelves on tax day (that's April 15th for those of you either outside of the US or simply evading The Law), and it was a quirky little piece of electro-flavored love. While last month's Could We Survive was somewhat ephemeral and quick to fade into the background, this new disc features several visceral tracks that refuse to be marginalized.

"Killer's Knife" is the opener and it grabs your head immediately with a sharp acoustic strum and a thick, rubbery bass sound. Sixty seconds in, and you know this is the most exciting song Joe has released this year, trumping anything on the last month's offering. You're ready for more of the same, but then the ep spins you into in unexpected place with the next cut. It's a Prince-flavored piece of rocktronica appropriately titled with a numeric as "Nothing 2 Hide", and features a slightly funky bassline with vocal parts done both in falsetto and in a helium-buzz reminiscent of the Purple one's late-80s foray into his alter-ego, 'Camille'. Greg Dulli dropped by to lend his voice to this one as well, and with so many vocal stylings darting in and out of the mix it makes you wonder if the song title was tongue-in-cheek.

The "Naked Gun"-like chug of "I Wanna Get You Alone" follows, and is the first of three tracks featuring fellow Astronaut Jen Turner on vocals; here, she takes a turn as a Lolita-like lay remarking how it's past her bedtime, while Joe's insistent call of "I wanna get you alone" repeats like the determined mantra of a desperate man.

Delightful schizophrenia follows throughout the rest of this disc. Faint echoes of Johnny Thunders' "You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory" come through on "Radio Euphoria"; "Low"-era Bowie sound effects open up "I Come Down", and a reference to the 'world's forgotten sons' superimposes the personas of Iggy Pop and Jesus Christ onto Joe's to form his own version of the Trinity. This collage of imagery fits in well on a song so heavily-laden with religious metaphors and drug references.

Then, just as you begin to wonder if he has lost himself in the crowd, Joe brings it all back around with "Hunter", the ep's languid closing track which is ultimately a self-referential nod to earlier sounds of his own. Conjuring up the ghosts of Junkyard Hearts (another quartet of eps that he recorded several years ago), it is also reminiscent of the last track on Our Shadows Will Remain, with it's preoccupation over suicide and yet another lost rock and roll soul. That time it was a dirge for Ian Curtis, but the lament seems more personal here. Nevertheless, we'll have to wait until next month's ep to find out in what manner Joseph Arthur will choose to be reborn.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Musical Independence

Today was Independent Music Store Day, but I sincerely hope you've been supporting your local shop more than once this year. Music doesn't exist in an electronic vacuum: it's as much about what you bring to it as what it brings to you. Obtaining music only through one medium-quality downloaded song at a time devalues the work and neuters the creative process, in that it fosters the thinking that art is an unimportant, disposable commodity. It also cheapens our individual lives by isolating us from the world at large. Good music should be as much about communication with each other as it is about instant gratification for your ears. Music is the language of life: how can songs about love, fear, drugs, God and politics mean anything to you if you avoid interacting with the world around you?

So get out there to your shop. Give a spin to something new on the listening station. Find someone looking for a disc in the section of a band you're familiar with and recommend something to them (to the guy I recommended The Cure's "Head On The Door" 2-disc reissue to -- I hope you love it!). Ask an employee what their favorite record is and try it out; maybe even consider breaking out of your comfortable bubble of familiarity and get them to recommend something in a genre you're interested in but know nothing about. (I'll be giving Lee "Scratch" Perry a whirl for the first time this week, myself, courtesy of Portland's own Music Millennium).

Talk to people about which music excites you, and why, then have them share their own picks. You might be pleasantly surprised at what you find out about yourself and others if you only take the time to truly listen. Besides, it's not as if you can't be selective in who you talk to; if you decide not to chat up the strangeling doing the pee-pee dance at the front counter and asking when the next New Kids On The Block cd is coming out, no one will hold it against you.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Smoke Gets In Your Ears

Oldest recorded voices sing again

An "ethereal" 10 second clip of a woman singing a French folk song has been played for the first time in 150 years.

The recording of "Au Clair de la Lune", recorded in 1860, is thought to be the oldest known recorded human voice.
A phonograph of Thomas Edison singing a children's song in 1877 was previously thought to be the oldest record.
The new "phonautograph", created by etching soot-covered paper, has now been played by US scientists using a "virtual stylus" to read the lines.

"When I first heard the recording as you hear it ... it was magical, so ethereal," audio historian David Giovannoni, who found the recording, told AP.
"The fact is it's recorded in smoke. The voice is coming out from behind this screen of aural smoke."

The short song was captured on April 9, 1860 by a phonautograph, a device created by a Parisian inventor, Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville.
The device etched representations of sound waves into paper covered in soot from a burning oil lamp.
Lines were scratched into the soot by a needle moved by a diaphragm that responded to sound. The recordings were never intended to be played.
It was retrieved from Paris by Mr Giovanni, working with First Sounds, a group of audio historians, recording engineers and sound archivists who aim to make mankind's earliest sound recordings available to all.

To retrieve the sounds scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) in California made very high-resolution digital scans of the paper and used a "virtual stylus" to read the scrawls.
However, because the phonautograph recordings were made using a hand-cranked device, the speed varied throughout, changing the pitch.
"If someone's singing at middle C and the crank speeds up and slows down, the waves change shape and are shifting, Earl Cornell, a scientist at LBNL, told AP.
"We had a tuning fork side by side with the recording, so you can correct the sound and speed variations."

Previously, the oldest known recorded voice was thought to be Thomas Edison's recording of Mary had a little lamb. The inventor of the light bulb recorded the stanza to test another of his inventions - the phonograph - in 1877.
"It doesn't take anything away from Thomas Edison, in my opinion," Mr Giovannoni told Reuters.
"But actually, the truth is he was the first person to have recorded [sound] and played it back."

The new recording will be presented on 28 March at a conference of the Association for Recorded Sound Collections at Stanford University in California.

This Reuters article is courtesy of BBC News.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Joseph Arthur - One In Five

Joseph Arthur often operates beneath the radar both of what is fashionable and what is friendly, but not strictly by choice. In spite of the many accolades afforded to him by critics, including "Number One Album of the Year" in Newsday and Entertainment Weekly's "#1 Record of the Year," (both in 2000), the dark overtones on even his most accessible songs have left him room for very little commercial success. Not even flattery in the form of covers by contemporary artists such as Michael Stipe (R.E.M.), Chris Martin (Coldplay) and Peter Gabriel has been enough to get Joe's name mentioned among their own. He seems eternally destined to be "the guy who wrote that 'In The Sun' song."

A glass-half-full kind of fan revels in the idea that this best kept secret remains hidden after all this time and that it's never hard to get a ticket to one of Joe's shows. But in truth, his relative obscurity is a great poverty to fans of modern music, considering that Joseph Arthur has consistently been the finest singer-songwriter in rock for the past ten years or so. He broke his string of clever, quirky solo releases with 2007's "Let's Just Be," an uneven but worthy collection of raw and unfiltered rock tracks recorded with his new band, The Lonely Astronauts, and I can't help but wonder if he himself is starting to tire of his underground status. If nothing else, the disc proved that his singular talent translates well even into a group collective, but that the man is better focused as a solo artist.

Which makes his calendar for 2008 such a tantalizing affair. He has a new ep slated to be released at the rate of one per month from now through June, with a new Lonely Astronauts following in August. Could We Survive is the first of the bunch and hits the shelves and mail-stream today. It boasts Jen Turner (Natalie Merchant, Lonely Astronauts) on guitar, but flagship track "Walk Away" hints at a return to the textured, acoustic vibrancy that worked so well on Redemption's Son.

Crazy Rain is the next ep and it's slated for an April 15th release, so save some of that tax refund, and keep an eye out for a future post where I'll review all four eps together.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Gutter Twins - Cross Your Fingers And Make Amends

After years of singing about self-destructive habits, illicit sex, and setting things on fire, it's difficult to imagine Greg Dulli as having any Catholic guilt left to spend, but you don't even have to listen to the songs on Saturnalia to see where the album finds its center. Song titles such as "Idle Hands," "God's Children," and "The Stations," (as in, the stations of the cross) reveal a great deal about what is on Dulli's mind these days. If it's difficult to tell whether he's reveling in, or simply revealing his own dark, personal experiences with these high-minded concepts, that's likely because the former altar boy isn't quite sure himself.

But this is hardly a one-man show. The Gutter Twins is a project born out of the cigarette ashes of The Twilight Singers, with whom Mark Lanegan (former Screaming Trees singer) was an occasional guest, and he is in full form here. While the gravelly and grave-like vocalizations of this co-conspirator might at first seem at odds with Dulli's plaintive wails, experiencing the album in full reads like some impressionistic life-study set in Dante's Inferno, with our plucky pair of anti-heroes shooting for the first circle but pretty much having run of the whole joint. Lanegan's own lethargic menacing might imply that he's more comfortable with the idea of reigning in Hell rather than serving in Heaven, but it's worth remembering that the album is named after the Roman holiday of Saturnalia, in which the servants and the masters reverse their roles for a brief moment in time. Just for the laugh, of course.