Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Lovely Regina Spektor

Regina Spektor is an artist that is rapidly ascending towards the top of my list of artists that I need to see on Day 2. At this point, I would probably put her at #3, behind only the New Pornographers and RHCP.

This puts Regina Spektor ahead of both Blonde Redhead and Arcade Fire. I actually like both of those other bands more than Spektor, but I've seen them live before, and I've never seen Spektor in concert. Furthermore, from what I've gathered by listening to her albums, I think that she will be an entertaining act to see live, since her energy really bursts through the recordings. I almost put her ahead of RHCP, but then I remembered how amazing John Frusciante is on guitar, so I had to put her behind them.

I've been listening to Spektor's new album, 'Begin to Hope', today. My first experience with this album was actually over a month ago, when I visited my parents. Much to my surprise, my mother had bought 'Begin to Hope', after seeing Regina Spektor performing one of her songs on television. I didn't know what to make of that at the time. Spektor's previous album, 'Soviet Kitsch', didn't exactly seem like the type of thing that would appeal to my 60 year old mom. It had a fair amount of teen angst in it, as well as one song where the phrase 'Mary Anne's a bitch' was repeated ad nauseum -- not exactly what I picture my mom listening to.

However, after giving 'Begin to Hope' a couple spins, I can see that her songwriting has matured quite a bit in the years since 'Soviet Kitsch', and not in a bad, middle-of-the-road kind of way. To the contrary, Spektor's songs are still delightful pop nuggets, hopelessly quirky and catchy when she's at her best. The first two songs on this album ('Fidelity' and 'Better') are worth the price of admission alone. 'Fidelity' is a sparse but lively song, and Spektor's vocals during the chorus are so lovely that they will be stuck in your head for days, guaranteed -- even after only one listen. 'Better' is another gem, and more full featured than 'Fidelity', with a complete rhythm section accompanying her. Again, the chorus is a thing of beauty, though not quite as inspiring as 'Fidelity'.

'Begin to Hope' is a long album, 19 tracks long in fact. I can't say that I've gotten a feeling for the entire album yet-- it simply has too many songs to keep track of after only two listens. I can say, however, that there were quite a few songs (aside from the first two) where I would stop what I was doing, listen for a moment, and then think to myself, "Gee, I've got to see her at Coachella, she's great!"

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

North Carolina Driving Music

Ugh. I haven't made as many entries in this blog as I thought I would have by now. My latest excuse is that I went to North Carolina last week. Driving from New York to North Carolina takes quite a while, and that gave me a chance to listen to a lot of albums in the car. In all, I listened to 17 new albums from bands that will be at Coachella.

All of the albums had at least some good moments, but some were definitely better than others. I was hearing all but one of the albums for the very first time. (The Arcade Fire's "Neon Bible" was the exception) Based upon my first listen, here is how I would rank the albums from my North Carolina trip:
  1. CSS - Cansai De Ser Sexy. This album is great. It's very fun and the songs are immediately catchy. Oftentimes I'll have to listen to an album a number of times before I start getting into it, but this album requires no "warm up listens" -- it's great right off the bat. The music is pretty funky, the melodies are catchy, the beats are big, and the female vocals are superb. The singer has a cute accent that reminds me a bit of Cibo Matto. Highly recommended, and this band is now one of my "must see" acts.
  2. The Arcade Fire - Neon Bible. I really like The Arcade Fire's first couple albums, so it's no surprise that I like this one as well. I can't say yet where it ranks in their catalog, but I wouldn't rule out putting it first, so that's a good sign.
  3. Amy Winehouse - Back to Black. I had never heard Amy Winehouse before, but I gather she is pretty popular. This albums sounds like it should be popular, if it's not already. Winehouse has an amazing voice, and most of the songs are highly enjoyable. Her sound is classic R&B, updated for the twenty-first century, by which I mean that the beats are bigger. Good stuff.
  4. Ozomatli - Don't Mess with the Dragon. I didn't have very high expectations for this band. I had heard they were some sort of Latino fusion of funk, pop, rock, and hip-hop. But right from the get-go, this album had me hooked. The songs are really bright, and you can't help but get happy when you listen to them. Fun.
  5. Blonde Redhead - 23. I'm a big fan of this band, and their new album did not disappoint. However, I can't say I got a great feeling for this album yet. The songs all sounded nice, but none of them stuck out. I'm sure I will like it more upon further listening.
  6. Kaiser Chiefs - Yours Truly, Angry Mob. Like their first album, there were a couple of great songs on here, but the rest were just good.
  7. Andrew Bird - Armchair Apocrypha. Like a lot of albums on the N.C. trip, I was pretty high on this album after I had listened to the first half of it, but by the end of it I wasn't so enthused any longer. "Heretics" is a nice song.
  8. Gillian Welch - Soul Journey. Country-esque singer-songwriter music. She has a great voice. Some of the songs are amazing, particularly "Look at Miss Ohio". I think I could really get into her with some more listening.
  9. Brazilian Girls - Talk to La Bomb. This album was a bit like CSS, but not as fun. The music and lyrics are more serious than CSS. But still very nice.
  10. Cocorosie - The Adventures of Ghosthorse and Stillborn. Weird band. One of the female singers reminds me of the singer from Portishead and also one of the singers in Squirrel Nut Zippers. I like her voice, but its definitely strange. She sounds like a 30 year old pretending to be a 10 year old. "Japan" is a good song.
  11. Jack's Mannequin - Everything In Transit. I would describe this band as 'emo plus piano'. The singer is pretty earnest, too much so if you ask me. I was digging it through track five or so, but then I got tired of his whining.
  12. Fountains of Wayne - Traffic and Weather. The first song is by far the best. They even mention Schenectady in that song. Other than that, I thought it was sort of blah. The lyrics are hit or miss.
  13. Placebo - Once More With Feeling. I remember this band vaguely from the late 90s, mostly "Pure Morning". That song is an alt-rock classic, no doubt about it. I liked a couple of the other songs ("36 Degrees", "Every You, Every Me"), but for the most part I didn't care too much for it.
  14. Sparklehorse - Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain. I liked the first song a lot. Nothing else stuck out too much.
  15. Crowded House - Recurring Dream: The Very Best of Crowded House. This band had a hit in the 80s: "Don't Dream It's Over". I only listened to the first half of this CD, and I thought it was okay. Nothing too memorable though.
  16. Anathallo - Floating World. I didn't get a good feel for this band. I don't think their music is very well suited for highway driving -- too quiet. I've heard them compared to Sufjan Stevens, but I don't think they are worthy of that comparison.
  17. The Feeling - Twelve Stops and Home. This band was pretty bad. I liked the song 'Helicopter', but everything else was forgettable.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Easter Weekend Driving Music

I had to do some driving this weekend, and I took the trip as an opportunity to listen to some bands that will be at Coachella this year. I was able to listen to six complete albums, which were, in the order I listened to them:

The Good, the Bad, and the Queen - The Good, the Bad, and the Queen
The Fratellis - Costello Music
LCD Soundsystem - LCD Soundsystem
Against Me! - Reinventing Axl Rose
The Jesus and Mary Chain - 21 Singles
Regina Spektor - Soviet Kitsch

The order that I enjoyed the albums is as follows:
1. Fratellis
2. Regina Spektor
3. Jesus and Mary Chain
4. LCD Soundsystem
5. Against Me!
6. The Good, the Bad, and the Queen

The only album that I had listened to previously was Regina Spektor. All of the other albums I was listening to for the very first time.

Fratellis - I could tell right off the bat that this was going to be my type of album. The first song, 'Henrietta', doesn't waste any possible rock time - it is immediately catchy and fun. After being mostly put to sleep by The Good, the Bad, and the Queen, the Fratellis were just what I needed in order to not get into a horrible car accident. This band has just shot up onto my list of must-see acts at Coachella. And if you need any further proof of their awesomeness, it is rumored that they are named after the bad guys from the movie 'The Goonies'.

Regina Spektor - I listened to her first album, Soviet Kitsch. She has a new album, 'Begin to Hope', that I've not heard yet. I've listened to Soviet Kitsch a few times before, and I think it's a quite good album, especially the first half of it. I tend to listen to the first halves of albums more than the second halves, because I usually start an album from the beginning, but then most times I won't get through the whole thing before I'm interrupted, so I always end up knowing the first half better than the second. I think the first half of Soviet Kitsch is knock-your-socks-off good. Regina Spektor's voice is amazing. The musical accompaniment is generally pretty bare, but it works well.

Jesus and Mary Chain - I liked this band more than I thought I might. The first few songs on 21 Singles are crazy - there is so much noise going on that you can barely make out the pop songs hidden underneath it all. The best way I could describe it is that it's sort of like the Stone Roses playing at your high school shop class, when all the saws are being used. At first I was turned off by all the noise, but then I started to like it. But once you get to track 4, the noise pretty much goes away and you're left with more standard sounding songs. I still like 'Head On' the most, probably cause I've heard the Pixies version so many times. 'Just Like Honey' is another really good song.

LCD Soundsystem - This album had some tracks I liked, but overall I think I'm just not that into electronic music. I used to listen to electronic music more back in the late 90s - some of my favorites were Orbital, Prodigy, Chemical Brothers, and The Orb. But I pretty much stopped listening to electronic music around the turn of the century, at which time I switched over mostly to pop/rock. Nowadays I find electronic music a bit too repetitive, and generally not catchy enough for me. I have never seen electronic music performed live. It seems like it would be awfully boring. What does the audience do, are they all dancing? Cause I don't dance.

Against Me! - I was hoping to like this album more, since I've heard a lot of good things about this band. Furthermore, I got this album from my friend Carrie, and she's got good taste, so I know this album must be good. But upon first listen, there were no tracks that stood out to me. It was a nice change of pace for the car ride, since this was the only album that was punk-ish, but I'll have to listen to it more to determine whether I like it or not.

Good, Bad, and the Queen - I had high expectations for this album. This band is a project of Damon Albarn, who was the vocalist for Blur, and also the Gorillaz. I always favored Blur over Oasis (as soon as I heard the song 'Girls and Boys', that settled the debate for me), and I think the Gorillaz are good too. But upon first listen to this album, I was just waiting for it to be over. I thought the first and last tracks were the most interesting, but only mildly so. I'm not sure what genre you would classify this as - I don't think it's pop, since there's really nothing catchy about it. And it certainly doesn't rock. I'll have to give it some more listening time, and hope there's something redeeming about it.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Lily Allen - Coachella, Day 3

Lily Allen is performing at Coachella on Day 3. After taking a listen to her album, 'Alright, Still', I've decided that I will most likely try to catch her performance. The album is pretty good. I would describe the album as "British Future Lounge-Hop", or maybe "Alterna bubblegum hip-pop". Yes, that's right, hip-pop. Has that term been coined yet? I think I might have just invented a new musical genre. What I'm trying to say is that this would be good music for a party for circus folk. No, scratch that. This album would be perfect background music for a brothel. Not a creepy brothel, though. I'm thinking more of a happy, carefree brothel, where no one ever gets an STD, and the girls are always happy to see you, and everybody knows your name.

I had heard exactly one Lily Allen song prior to listening to the album - 'Smile'. It gets some radio play around here, and I also saw her perform it on SNL. It's a nice song, with a good beat, and the lyrics deal with Lily being happy that her boyfriend is sad, because I think he dumped her and now he wants her back. There is a remix of Smile on the album, and I think I might actually prefer the remix to the regular version. The remix is more up-tempo, the beat almost feels motown-ish to me. Both versions are pretty hot.

My favorite song on the album by far is 'Ldn'. That song is so good it will make you want to dance, but not in front of other people. I would describe 'Ldn' as 'Ring of Fire' (Johnny Cash song) on speed, in reverse, with a killer beat, minus the Johnny Cash gravel-pit voice, plus a sweet British little girl voice, and happier. Actually, all of that is bullshit, the only thing it has in common with 'Ring of Fire' is that there are horns in the chorus. But you get the drift.

Another song I liked is 'Everythings Just Wonderful', which I would describe as hip bowling alley music. I feel confident that if that song came on while I was bowling, I would roll a 200. That would be a big deal for me, because I am a terrible bowler.

'Shame For You' is a good song too. I think it would be a good song for the soundtrack of the Swingers sequel, but only if they decide to set the Swingers sequel in the year 2190, and the movie is about a heartbroken cyberpunk that is trying to get back into the seedy cyberpunk dating scene.

One other thing I should mention about Lily Allen is that she swears...a lot. She pretty much has a potty mouth. The thing about it, though, is that her voice is so pretty, and she's got the whole British accent going on, that she ends up sounding sweet anyway. The funniest non-swear is on the song Friday Night, which features the lyrics '...get to the front, ... girl is dressed like a ____'. She was obviously going to say 'cunt', but instead she doesn't say it and there is the sound of a turntable scratching. Who does she think she is, the Fat Boys?

So anyway, I guess I would say that this album gave me a lot of crazy thoughts, all of which I have tried to relay to you. Most albums don't give me as many randomly awesome ideas as this one does, so for that alone I have to give it a thumbs up.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Preliminary Band List

I like to have a plan when I go to a big music festival. I like to figure out what bands I'm interested in in advance, and rank them. This comes in handy if there are any conflicts, which does tend to happen (unfortunately), since there are 4 or 5 stages with performances going on all the time.

So, I thought it might be interesting to give my band list now, and then I'll give another one at the end of the month (right before the festival), at which point hopefully I will have listened to a lot of the other bands and my lists will have changed. So, without further ado, here are the bands I am most interested in seeing at Coachella this year:

Day 1:
1. Interpol - I really like both their albums and have never seen them live
2. Bjork - She's pretty much a legend. I can't say I listen to her that much, but she does have some songs that I absolutely love - 'Hyperballad' for one.
3. Jarvis Cocker - I liked Pulp very much. I really loved their album 'Different Class', though I didn't listen to it until way after the fact (2003). I have no idea what his solo stuff sounds like though. Hopefully it's like Pulp.
4. Jesus and Mary Chain - My first introduction to this band was through the Pixies, cause they covered the song 'Head On' on Trompe Le Monde. I love the Pixies, and if the Pixies covered the J&MC, then they must be good, right?
5. Arctic Monkeys - Um, I like that song about the dance floor that they play on the radio.

Day 2:
1. New Pornographers - Oh my god, I love this band! They play pretty much my favorite type of music, indie power pop rock. Their songs are so friggin catchy its ridiculous. Plus they are Canadian, and you know I LOVE everything Canadian. Most anticipated band of Coachella!
2. Blonde Redhead - Another one of my favorites. I've seen them live twice before, and they are awesome. Can't wait to see them again. I've got to check out their new album, is it out yet?
3. RHCP - I saw the Chili Peppers for the first time last fall, and they were great. I really love John Frusciante, he's probably my favorite guitarist these days. I've been meaning to check out his solo work but haven't gotten around to it. The rest of the band is good too (Flea especially has a lot of energy), but Frusciante is the draw for me.
4. Arcade Fire - Saw them at Coachella '05 and they were a pretty exciting band to see live. They have so many people running around onstage that it can get chaotic. I like their albums very much too. My favorite song is probably 'Headlights Look Like Diamonds'.
5. Decembrists - This band has an interesting style. Sometimes they seem like they're trying to be too smart though. I guess I like dumb hooks. I got one of their albums once and I really liked a couple songs off it, but never got into the album as a whole. I bet they're interesting live.
6. The Good, the Bad, and the Queen - Damon Albarn from Blur is in this super group, and I did love Blur, so they're probably worth checking out. But I haven't listened to their album at all yet.
7. Regina Spektor - I first heard of her through a commercial for the Microsoft Zune MP3 player (and no, I don't own one of those things). The song in the commercial was 'Us', and it's great. She's sort of cute and definitely Russian, so that's a plus. I haven't heard her new album yet.
8. The Rapture - These guys were at Coachella '04 or '05, and I bought their album back then. I didn't really like their album that much, but for whatever reason I listened to it A LOT. I think it was the only cd I had in my car for a month or something. So if there's nothing else going on, I'll probably check them out.

Day 3:
1. The Kooks - This is a pretty new British rock band. They've got some catchy songs. Nothing too original, but I dig them. See my review from yesterday.
2. Explosions in the Sky - These guys are interesting. I think their music is totally instrumental. I haven't listened to them very much, but I like what I've heard.
3. Kaiser Chiefs - Another nice British band.
4. Lily Allen - Nice voice, fun songs. I bet her performance will be pleasant.
5. Jose Gonzalez - I've heard this guy from listening to a local radio show, 'Hello Pretty City', on WRPI. I love that show, though I don't listen to it as much as I should. Anyway, the host of that show plays Jose Gonazalez a lot.
6. Willie Nelson - Now here is a legend. I can't say I'm too familiar with his work, but I hear he likes marijuana a lot.

Phew, so there you have it. I think Day 2 is shaping up to be my favorite by a long shot.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

The Kooks - Coachella, Day Three

Of the three days at Coachella, day three is definitely the the day that I am least looking forward to. First of all, the headliner that day is Rage Against the Machine, a band that I couldn't really care less about. I know some people who thought they were awesome, but I never really got into them. Too much rage for me, and not enough melody I guess.

Of the other 35 or so artists performing that day, I'd only previously listened to a handful of them: Willie Nelson, Kaiser Chiefs, Placebo, and Air. And I can't say I'm too crazy about any of those four artists either. To be fair, I did listen to the Kaiser Chiefs first album a bit, and I think 'You Can Have It All' is a great song.

So, day three is a perfect candidate for my Coachella 2007 listening project. One of the first artists that I started listening to is The Kooks, a band from Brighton, UK, that's been together for just a couple of years. In addition to being young and British, the boys from the Kooks also enjoy sitting on large sets of stairs, acting casually cool and waiting for photographers to come by. But then again, who doesn't enjoy that?

The Kooks first album, 'Inside In / Inside Out', came out last October. I've been listening to that album here and there for maybe a week, and I think it's pretty good. The Kooks remind me a bit of another current band I like, The Futureheads, who are also from the UK. Both bands have a nice energetic and melodic sound. The main difference between the two is that the Futureheads singer sounds like the guy from the Proclaimers, whereas the singer from The Kooks sounds more like a yelping dog with a thick British accent, and I mean that in the best possible way. To be fair, there are only a handful of songs where the yelping comes to the forefront, not coincidentally those are the most energetic songs on the album.

My favorite song on the album has got to be 'Sofa Song'. I immediately loved that song and put it on repeat on my iPod. I must admit that I wore that song out before I even started listening to the rest of the album. I hoped that there might be another song or two on the album that I would like as much as 'Sofa Song', but unfortunately that has not been the case. Not that there aren't other good songs on the album, though - there are. There just aren't any others that are as catchy and agressive as 'Sofa Song'.

Some of the other songs that are worth a listen are: "Naive", "You Don't Love Me", and "She Moves In Her Own Way". Apparently "Naive" made it to #5 on the UK charts and was the Kooks first top 20 single in their homeland. It's a very nice song, but there could be more yelping in it if you ask me.

Being as this is my first ever music "review" (if you want to call it that), I'm questioning whether I've listened to this album enough to write about it. I wonder how much listening is appropriate before I write something about the album. How long does Chuck Klosterman listen to an album before he reviews it? I bet two hours, tops. He's a busy guy. I guess my worry is that I might like this album more if I listen to it more, but it seems unreasonable to listen to every album for weeks. How will I ever churn out the articles if I do that? Oh well, let's not worry about that.

So, to sum up, the Kooks are definitely a band that I will be checking out at Coachella. In fact, they are at this point probably the band I'm most excited about seeing on day three, which admittedly isn't saying much. I would recommend checking them out, especially 'Sofa Song'.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Coachella is Coming

Welcome to the very first ever post of Pop Fiasco. I have high hopes for this blog, meaning that I hope to have not abandoned it within a week. So let me tell you a little about myself. My name is Jeff and I like music. Sometimes I read the SPIN magazine, and I think, "Geez, how do those writers write music reviews? They must be the coolest people ever". I don't even know how to begin to describe music. But I figure it's worth a shot. Maybe it will turn out that I'm remarkably insightful? So aside from music, I also have a cat named Belle. I blog about her too, so you should check that out.

All right, enough introduction, let's get on to the meat of this post. I'm going to Coachella at the end of this month. This will be my third time. I went there in 2004 and 2005. Last year I went to Bonnaroo instead, and boy was that a mistake. Too much jam band nonsense for my palette. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

But really, Coachella is where it's at, if your primary genre of musical interest is good old indie pop/rock. Plus the shower trailers are pretty nice (and free!), whereas at Bonnaroo they are costly. I don't think I took a single shower at Bonnaroo last year. So that was awesome.

So right, Coachella is coming up fast. I still haven't listened to like two thirds of the bands that are going to be there. I guess for the next month, the primary purpose of this blog will be to listen to the bands appearing at Coachella, and give my impressions of their music. So that should be good. I have a mission. Your mission is to read this blog as if your life depends on it.