Saturday, July 26, 2008

Artist Profile: Love

There are a few bands that for whatever reason do not get the acclaim they deserve from anyone but music critics. Love is one of those bands.

Arthur Lee started the band after being inspired by the Byrds in the sixties. What resulted was an aggressive, r 'n' b based version of the Byrds. Their first, self-titled record resulted with a minor hit "My Little Red Book."



Never confused with being the world's greatest singer. Lee, nonetheless, had a unique voice that would have made him a terrible soul singer, but a great garage rock one. However, on songs such as "Signed D.C.," which also foreshadows the drug problems that would tear the band apart years later, is a hauntingly beautiful, minimal track.

About half a year later the band returned with Da Capo. The Byrds influence is mostly gone while jazz and classical influences take over...at least on those tracks where the band is not deciding to invent punk. And by that I mean the ubiquitous song covered by many (including the Ramones), "Seven & Seven Is."



Most of the songs on the record incorporate different instruments and foreshadow what they would do on the next one. Many of these songs were very pretty and soft.



And now we get into the problem of there not being many good videos of Love performing. Lee did not like to tour outside of his comfort zone and they only left the California area a few times which definitely hampered their sales and limited their popularity.

The Forever Changes album is consistently ranked among the best of all time. The group had already shown they could play with different styles and create interesting pieces of music, but Forever Changes pushed it to another level in 1967. And, looking back, it probably should have never happened. The sessions were set to be produced by Neil Young, but he ended up backing out (other than working on one song). Other members of the band except Lee and guitarist/songwriter Bryan MacLean were deemed unable to perform and replaced with session musicians. While this would seem to be a terrible way to start work on a record, the rest of the band came back re-energized and finished work on the record. That Forever Changes became an amazingly brilliant record is a testament to the genius of Lee and MacLean who were at the top of their game at the time.



Relying on mostly acoustic instruments, Forever Changes captures the reality of "the Summer of Love," 1967, better than the glossy pictures portrayed on television today. At some points hopeful, desperate, depressed, in awe, beautiful and overwhelmed, Love matches and surpasses most of the records of the time (including Sgt. Pepper's).



Then everyone left the band but Lee. He recruited new members and recorded Four Sail with a decidedly different sound. Still retaining the mellow sound of the previous album, the electric arrangements and production create a less intimate album overall. Plus the songs are not as good, not terrible, but not as good. There is even some funk thrown in with songs like "Good Times," which could have been included on a blaxsploitation soundtrack. And "Always See Your Face" could fit in with any of Love's previous efforts (and it was included on the great High Fidelity soundtrack).

Finally, Love finished off with a couple of albums, Out Here and False Start, both of which are heavier than anything they had done before. The songs again are not as good as they had been, but Lee expanded the genres the records would explore and created interesting songs.

Love continued to perform as mostly Lee with various musicians (and sometimes MacLean) into the 21st century. Toward the end of his life the band and Lee gained popularity (possibly due to the internet) despite not releasing a record.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

More Music Acts on Colbert Report


The Daily Show has had musical performances from the White Stripes and (ewwwwww) Coldplay. The Colbert Report has had REM, John Mellencamp, Willie Nelson, Neil Young, Peter Frampton, Carole King, John Legend and Tony Bennett perform. But later this month the Colbert Report will add some more artists to the list.




Here's the rundown (from AP courtesy of NPR):
July 16 - Rush
July 23 - Nas
July 28 - Toby Keith
July 30 - Crosby, Stills and Nash

Rush has apparently not been on t.v. in the US since 1975. They made some pretty cool records. But, of course, prog rock always edged toward the self-important ("Hey, isn't this genius?") aesthetic which left behind rock 'n' roll and indulged in the least engaging aspects of the end of the psychedelic era (which is why punk was so needed in the seventies). Still, Rush did create some good records and they are really good musicians. I look forward to seeing them on the Colbert Report.

Meanwhile, Nas has a new record out, "Untitled." His political stance is more apparent than ever and, despite some inconsistent reviews and my having given up on hip-hop about five years ago, I own a few of his records and will probably end up picking it up somewhere. Plus, a person who can make a reporter cringe is always great. Here's a video of him and his oh-so-beautiful wife, Kelis (who quotes a John Lennon song), on CNN:

Also, this was before he changed the name of his record.

Toby Keith is a drag, but for some reason Stephen Colbert loves him and will have him on again. Blah!

And Crosby, Stills and Nash should be pretty good. I imagine Colbert will end up singing with them (as he is so apt to do).

Finally, this is from an earlier performance by Robert Schneider of the Apples in Stereo with a great song about Colbert himself:


For more information on the Colbert Report (like just about anything you could ever want to know), you should head on over to No Fact Zone.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Artist Profile: The Pretty Things

Have you ever heard of the Rolling Stones? I'm going to assume for the sake of brevity that you indeed have. When I first started to listen to rock music again during high school I downloaded a whole bunch of music from the big time names in music (Beatles, Rolling Stones, Kinks, Who, Black Sabbath, etc.) thinking that was all the best stuff. I still feel that way about most of those bands, but one I have gotten over and have since decided is overrated is the Rolling Stones. The reason I feel that way now? The Pretty Things. (And the Rolling Stones did some disco songs. Disco!)

I first heard the Pretty Things on Nuggets, Vol. 2: Original Artyfacts From the British Empire & Beyond. They have three songs on the compilation. Two of them, "Rosalyn" and Midnight to Six Man" completely dismantled any notion that the Rolling Stones were the best rock 'n' roll band from the 60's.



Their song "Walking Through My Dreams" could not be a more perfect example of psychedelia. Things are going all over the place. Guitars play backwards. Colorful lyrics float on a cloud of harmonies, piano and drums. The whole thing just swirls around and around amazingly. So I find out it was the single from a record called S.F. Sorrow.

After initially being a R 'n' B based band doing Bo Diddley covers, the later 60's brought with it changes in music and the Pretty Things added their own touch. First came movie soundtrack work, much of which is hard to find. Then they began working with Beatles' engineer Norman Smith as producer (his first producing job) at Abbey Road, S.F. Sorrow became the first rock opera. It is now my second favorite record (behing the Beatles' Revolver). Elsewhere on this site, I have described it as a bizarro Sgt. Pepper's. Like Sgt. Pepper's the record incorporates different instruments and recording techniques to create an interesting sound. However, where Pepper is generally a happy, light-hearted record, S.F. Sorrow is depressing and heavy. I would write a bunch more, but over at Chris Goes Rock you can get a great overview of the record and a preview (complete with bonus tracks). And there are not really any good videos of songs from the record. Here is a decent one a fan made way after the fact.

Another single, "Deflecting Grey," shows what stylistic differences they have with other bands of the same era.


Their next record, Parachute, followed along the same lines. Also produced at Abbey Road, it does the whole tracks-run-together like on the B-side of the Beatles' Abbey Road. Although not as good as S.F. Sorrow, Parachute holds its own and is vastly underrated.

But my favorite Pretty Things song remains "L.S.D." Not really because I'm into drugs (like, at all, really). It is just that the song has some real power! And this cool video to boot!


Good Records to Check Out
The Pretty Things:
Preview
Buy

Get the Picture?:
Preview
Buy

Emotions:
Preview
Buy

S.F. Sorrow:
Buy

Parachute:
Preview
Buy

Friday, July 4, 2008

Last.FM and Pandora





Music on the radio is dead. At least it is to me. Most radio stations play the same thing over and over because they have a very limited playlist. But I don't want this to turn into a negative post. What I really want to write about is the greatness that is the internet in helping me discover new music.

As you may know, the internet is a series of tubes that information is shoved through and into our homes, schools, libraries and places of employment. If you didn't already know about two of the best things on the internet since sliced bread (they have sliced bread on the internet, right?), let me explain to you what they are.

Pandora
How do you describe music? There are many determining factors, but much is hard to describe. The people at the Music Genome Project set out to break down music into tangible terms. With Pandora, a user is able to type in the name of a song or artist and have the player come up with similar music.

I have learned about a whole bunch of new bands this way. You can make different stations and add onto the stations with other "seeds". It's fun to play around with and make themed stations. I imagine it would also be great for a party. Just put on a station and let it dictate the mood you want, There are some problems though. The biggest one is which songs play. You can "thumb down" songs so the station does not play that kind of music anymore, but I sometimes have a hard time getting the station to sound the way I want it to. I have been trying to make Psychedelic Pop and Neo-Psychedelic station for a long time and can not seem to get either even close.

But that is a small problem because the vast majority of the time my stations come out rather well. There are also very little ads (very unobtrusive ones) and it is free.

Last.FM
Meanwhile, over the pond, the good folks at Last.FM have created a site centered around music that is one of the best. The purpose is to keep track of the music you listen to. All you have to do is sign up for free, download a program for free (you can also subscribe and get a few more features) and viola, instantly you get to know what you listen to. Okay, maybe you already know, but that is only the beginning.

After gathering some stats about your listening habits, Last.FM begins suggesting music to you. And earlier this year they unveiled the ability for anyone to listen to any track for free through the website (as opposed to Pandora where you can not specifically pick a song). Not every song is available, but most of what I want to listen to is there...except the Beatles, who still have a problem with the internet apparently (although not with Pandora). Most major label music and a great deal of indie and underground music is available as well. I have discovered a whole bunch of music just by wandering around and checking things out.

To cap, we should all be cool and expand our music tastes (I am trying. See: here and here). And the radio just won't cut it anymore.


Wednesday, July 2, 2008

My Ten Favorite Contemporary Bands of the Moment

I know I have posted mostly about music from the sixties, but my tastes do actually go beyond that decade. So I think I will put up a purely subjective, constantly rotating list of my favorite bands from today. Maybe you will like one of them! I do have good tastes...after...all...

1) The Coral: Pretty much unable to gain much of a footing in the US, these guys are doing well elsewhere. However, one of their songs "Dreaming of You" has been popular because of it's use on Scrubs a few years ago. Their latest album, Roots & Echoes, is more mellow and pretty than their previous efforts, but retains the nice, retro sound.
Latest Album: Roots & Echoes
Best Album: Roots & Echoes




2) The Apples in Stereo: Over the years there have been various bands who have tried to recreate the magic and wonder of sixties psych-pop bands like the Beach Boys and the Beatles. The Apples in Stereo have come the closest. Plus, they (in the form of singer/guitarist Robert Schneider) were featured on the Peabody Award-winning Colbert Report. A most prestigious of gigs, indeed.
Latest Album: New Magnetic Wonder
Best Album: The Discovery of a World Inside the Moone




3) The Black Hollies: I saw them at SXSW earlier this year and they were my favorite act. I already wrote about their new record, which is very good.
Latest Album: Casting Shadows
Best Album: Casting Shadows




4) Mathematicians: THE BEST LIVE BAND TODAY. I do not even know how to describe them. Some parts synth-punk, post punk, hip hop and nerdiness. Like an aggressive Devo on acid and steroids. And they are really nice guys. You can not really hear what they are saying in the video, but I wanted you to see what a live Mathematicians show is like.
Latest Album: Level Two
Best Album: Level One


5) The White Stripes: Even though Jack White is busy running around with the Raconteurs, the White Stripes remain one of my favorite bands. Who knows if they are going to make another record? What I do know is bands from Detroit are awesome. And there were a lot of people who did not like their last record (though I did).
Latest Album: Icky Thump
Best Album: White Blood Cells



6) The Chesterfield Kings: I know they started in the 80's, but these days the Chesterfield Kings are making music that is way beyond what they used to do. Instead of just a garage rock revival sound, they now have incorporated better production and a psychedelic sound.
Latest Album: Psychedelic Sunrise
Best Album: The Mindbending Sounds of The Chesterfield Kings




7) Ween: An immensely strange band that makes music that is all over the place. If the Beatles "White Album" was in itself a band today, they would be Ween.
Latest Album: La Cucaracha
Best Album: The Mollusk




8) The Kills: Another band I saw at SXSW and was impressed with. And another two person, minimalistic garage band. Kind of dirty, but in a cool way.
Latest Album: Midnight Boom
Best Album: Midnight Boom




9) Len Price 3: Not only do they sound like the second coming of the Kinks and early Who, but how about awesome music videos as part of the package? That is what you get with these guys, fun records and good videos. Also, there is nobody named Len Price in the band.
Latest Record: Rentacrowd
Best Record: Rentacrowd




10) Outrageous Cherry: With a name as cool as Outrageous Cherry, how could they be anything but cool? Well, they are. But the biggest question should be: Why do I keep putting an "i" in "outrageous" as I'm typing? I do not know the reason. Anyway, power pop, psych-pop, it's all good.
Latest Album: Stay Happy
Best Album: Supernatural Equinox