Known Johnson

December 5, 2007

Back in the arms of a good friend

Filed under: In the ears, on my mind,Music — Tom @ 3:05 pm

Man, I haven’t listened to Matthew Sweet’s Girlfriend in a long time – way too long – but it accompanied me to work this morning. I always tend to prefer the follow-up, Altered Beast, but the thing about Girlfriend that is so pleasing is that things seem a little looser. Robert Quine’s guitar work absolutely slays – more than anything, this is what keeps me coming back to this album. It has that ragged around the edges, playing loose with the rules feel that results in instant excitement. You get the feeling that he’s taking the curves a little too fast but somehow he manages to correct and keep everything on track. Fascinating. Altered Beast, on the other hand, is tighter and might have better songs, but it loses that wild, loose feeling.

Lately I get to work and want to listen to something on my Ipod but find it impossible. I’m not entirely sure why, but I’ve narrowed it down to a couple of things. One, listening seems to do exactly the opposite of what I hope, which is make the time pass quicker, because I become aware of how many songs I’ve listened to, which tells me how long I’ve been sitting at my desk. The other is that weird isolation that occurs when listening to music, especially with my in-ear Shures, which have some amazing outside sound-dampening properties. It’s kind of an eerie feeling to me and makes me feel a little paranoid because people can be standing right behind me, talking, and I won’t even hear them. It has happened many times. So more often than I like, I don’t listen to music at work. It depends on my mood and how deeply I need to get into something. It’s complex, I guess.

And there’s also the matter of what works at work. I have often found that jazz is simply something I can’t do at work. It requires more attention than I can afford, so I often save it for the drive home from work . . . which is a little weird given that you’d think I would need to concentrate more on driving than clicking a mouse. Different kinds of concentration.

One thing I find annoying about the Ipod is that when using playlists it simply displays all the songs. Why can’t it display the artists and albums just like it does in the normal views? Perhaps I just want a subset of music, say all of my 2007 albums, in one playlist so I can choose from only those, but don’t want them listed out by song? This is just a setting, a choice made by the Ipod designers, and I don’t understand why it can’t be a choice we users make. I suppose most users do the “a la carte” song thing and so this doesn’t mean anything, but surely I’m not among that small of a minority that having this ability goes overlooked, right?

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December 4, 2007

Saved by rock

Filed under: In the ears, on my mind,Music — Tom @ 10:36 pm

Some days just don’t ever seem to start going on their own, and today was one such day. Perhaps it wasn’t the best of ideas to listen to a “discreetly acquired” copy of disc 2 of Radiohead’s In Rainbows on the way to work, but I had to hear it. And . . . it’s not that great. Certainly not worth $80, and I’m a pretty big fan of the band.

To slow and sluggish, I then gave some David Byrne a listen, which helped, but frankly by then I was just not quite right, period. I also tried Drew Gress’ Spin & Drift, which was quite great, but still not quite the right vibe. Some days are just like that. It wasn’t for a couple hours that things would click, when I realized I needed something rude and noisy to kick me out of the funk I’d gotten into, and that thing was Adrian Belew’s Side Four (Live), which arrived yesterday bearing the signatures of all three members of the trio. The amount of noise that guy can create on one guitar, live, is simply astounding, and he’s backed by a very able rhythm section in the form of the brother-sister duo of Eric and Julie Slick on drums and bass, respectively. She is especially impressive, nailing not only Tony Levin’s bass parts but his tone – and all at all of 20 years old. She’s going to have quite a career ahead of her.

While reading a discussion of Zappa, who died 14 years ago today, I came across mentions of Danny Gatton and realized I’ve always heard of his legendary status but had absolutely no idea why. A quick trip to Amazon cleared that up right away: where have I been hiding all these years?! How have I ignored this guy? Rootsy, rockabilly blues with touches of jazz here and there . . . mixed in just the right way for me to get deeply involved in. I will have to rectify the empty spot in my collection where his stuff would fit.

Listening to Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop on the way home tonight, I was reminded why the opening track never ceases to amuse me. Not only is it a funky, weird guitar workout, there’s also a good dose of humor right in the middle where a voiceover announces some cheesy guitar-oriented hyperbole. For some reason, I seem to recall an interview with Beck where he stated that everything there was actually taken from real ads, not something they put together, and that just makes it all the more fun. It’s all so ridiculously over the top (“Groove tube,” “Balls deluxe!”) and, if real, takes on an extra embarrassing edge. Not only did someone actually write that stuff, someone actually thought that would sell equipment. A snapshot of a very different time, that’s for sure. A hell of a fun album – I didn’t quite “get” it way back when, and eventually sold it off, but re-bought it and sure enough, as time goes by, it digs a deeper and deeper hole into my heart. The best music always does, doesn’t it? I just wish I could learn my lesson the first time around . . .

December 3, 2007

Two for one

Filed under: In the ears, on my mind,Music — Tom @ 8:39 am

I got a bit of a late start this morning, but it seemed like it was going to be a good morning. As soon as I plugged my Ipod in, I knew I needed to hear some XTC – and you don’t go listening to XTC when you’re not in a particularly good mood. I could hear the bright opening strums of “The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead” in my head, so that got me going, but as Nonsuch played, I realized what I really wanted to hear was Apple Venus, Vol. 1.

Man, what a beautiful album. Seven years on and it still works its magic on me in precisely the same ways it did in 1999. It’s kind of a follow-up of sorts, in my mind, to Skylarking – the flip-side to the story maybe I alone hear in the album of a couple that gets married and starts a family, and here in Apple Venus we see the tattered shreds of the marriage reflected in songs that recollecting their past love, followed by the eventual dissolution (with a gloriously beautiful statement at the end of the acidly bitter “Your Dictionary.”) That all of this is surrounded with such stately and grand orchestration (courtesy of the London Session Orchestra) makes it all that much more powerful.

And there are always little things that give me a thrill. Colin Moulding, for one. He’s simply an awesome, overlooked bassist, playing some of the prettiest bass figures you’ll hear – if you listen close enough. Or how in “Easter Theater,” when they sing “stage left” the voices emerge from the right speaker and vice versa for “stage right.” Ear candy, I guess – not necessary, but it adds to the fun. Every time I listen, it makes me happy that someone takes the time for things like that. The album is full of little details like that – most of it in the orchestration, and I simply lack the vocabulary to make any sense of it.

My drive was so long and arduous this morning that I heard all of Apple Venus and had to choose something else, so I opted for one of this year’s more ignored releases, Grant-Lee Phillips’ Strangelet. Why I have forgotten about this, I don’t know, but I gave this a spin last week after months gathering dust and remembered how much I loved it when I reviewed it way back in late March. I’m going to highly recommend this to REM fans – this has a real nice, loose, satisfying jangle to it that I think they would really identify with (drumming is handled by REM’s replacement drummer Bill Rieflin and Peter Buck drops in some really guitar and really tasty ukelele work.)

December 2, 2007

The news that’s fit to print

Filed under: In the ears, on my mind,Music — Tom @ 11:05 pm

I was pretty excited to find a $5.00 Borders Bucks thing in my email – I also had found a 30% off coupon. Paired together, that’s some serious savings, and I knew just what I wanted: David Byrne’s The Knee Plays, a newly expanded remaster of music he created for little segments in between larger movements in Robert Wilson’s opera, the CIVIL warS. Off to Borders I went, and $8 or so later, it was in my CD player, entertaining and amazing me. How had I ignored this? Easy – it had never been on CD before! I’ve ignored Byrne’s solo career far too long. Why, I’m not sure exactly – it’s complicated, but it involves having one vision of the band and then the solo music throws a whole new viewpoint on things before I’m quite ready for it. Now I’m ready.

Given the number of computer and hard drive issues I’ve been having this week, I’m just holding off ripping CDs. I’ve got a little stack sitting here, too, just itching to be ripped. I got my package of new stuff from Greenleaf Music (Dave Douglas’ label) so I have the new Drew Gress, The Irrational Numbers (a stunner!) to rip along with his earlier Spin & Drift (haven’t listened yet – don’t expect a let down, however,) both of which were bought with 7 Black Butterflies for a steal at $25. $8.33 each? Do it – while you can!

Not only that, I also have the new Joe Henry, Civilians, which features Bill Frisell and Greg Leisz on every song and appearances by Van Dyke Parks and Loudon Wainwright III. How have I been missing this guy? I only knew him as a producer, but when I saw this listed as one of the year’s best, I had to give it a listen. About 10 seconds into the first clip, I thought, “Hey, that sounds an awful lot like Bill Frisell.” I didn’t buy it for Frisell – I’m not that dedicated – but his contributions sure are nice. Joe Henry – wow. Really good, gritty, dark singer-songwriter stuff, exactly the way I like it. Despite my late exposure to it, it’s entirely possible this could sneak on my best o’ 2007 list . . .

If you’re looking for music geeks geeking out about music, you can’t really find a much better podcast than The B-Sides Concept Album – at least based on one airing so far. That one show was primarily on Springsteen, of whom I’m not particularly a fan (though I’ve issued the dare – convince me I’m wrong!) I found this show highly entertaining because host Josh (of official Friend of Lookout for Hope, Confessions of a Fanboy) just has that radio personality going – he hooks you and you have to listen to hear what he’s going to say next. Trust me, if I sat and listened to these guys talk about obscure Springsteen album tracks and b-sides for an hour, it has to be good. Give it a shot.

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