Known Johnson

July 24, 2007

Overlooked Alternatives: Trey Anastasio, Dave Douglas, Manic Street Preachers, Slayer

Filed under: Music,News,Overlooked Alternatives — Tom @ 12:04 pm

This is it, everyone, the last Overlooked Alternatives new releases piece I’ll be writing. No, I’m not going anywhere – it’s the last because I’m shelving it for a new piece called “The Breakdown,” premiering next week. The change is more in name only, as I’ll continue to talk about the same stuff I always have, but I’ve decided that the “Overlooked Alternatives” moniker wasn’t fitting anymore, and I felt a little limited by it and a bit self-conscious talking about decidedly unoverlooked and unalterative releases. Now I won’t have that problem. But that’s not what you’re here for, is it? On to the new releases . . .

Trey Anastasio – The Horseshoe Curve: After a couple of vocal albums that found the former Phish leader a bit lost in the pop-rock world, Anastasio releases another self-released album (the previous album, Bar 17, and its accompanying EP, Step 18, were also self-released.) This time around, however, he’s going all-instrumental, backed with horns, and exploring the Afro-Cuban material he’d been playing with prior to Shine.

For those who were lucky enough to know about it in time, pre-ordering from his site netted buyers a free copy of The Lucius Beebe EP, a five-song live EP with three songs from the new album and two from his “classical” release, Seis de Mayo. There’s still hope if you weren’t one of the pre-orderers: hop over to his Musictoday site and you can still pre-order the vinyl of the album with a CD copy and still get the EP as a free bonus.

Dave Douglas – Live at the Jazz Standard: You’ve got to hand it to Dave Douglas (Downbeat’s pick for best trumpet player 7 years in a row.) After his experience with a major label, he set out to find a way to release his music the way he wanted to, and so far it seems to be working – he’s released a number of studio albums this way over the past couple of years along with several live releases. But the big deal for him was recording and releasing an entire week’s worth of shows for download from his site – 79 performances in 12 one-hour sets of mp3 files. Unfortunately for many listeners, mp3 files just aren’t all that appealing – the file format has not translated well to jazz listeners who are often much more demanding of the quality of their recordings and mp3 just does not pass muster, not to mention the lack of the much-beloved liner notes and artwork. Douglas decided to pick the best performances of new material from the week and assemble a two-disc set, one disc for material he wrote before the recording of last year’s Meaning and Mystery, the other disc material written after that (and two bonus tracks.) It also comes with the requisite beautiful artwork and insightful liner notes, where Douglas ruminates on the state of music today and his impetus to go all-mp3 with the concert set. You can only buy it from Douglas’ site, so click on over and order it! The $16.98 price gets you not only the discs but also very quick shipping – I ordered mine and had it in my hands five days later. (Note: they seem to be linking to the wrong page right now, but clicking the price in the links below the text will add it to your cart.)

Live at the Jazz Standard

Manic Street Preachers – Send Away The Tigers: Deja vu, right? Yeah, I already talked about this a couple months back . . . when there was no hope in site of this coming out in the US. And, of course, as luck would have it, here it is, coming out in the US.

Dramatic and a bit vicious, this is the Manics the way fans have wanted to hear them – vital and raw, unlike the all-too-lush sound that has overtaken them over the past few albums. It’s hard rock for grown ups who want intelligent hard rock. It’s also one of the better albums of the year, and one of the Manics better albums.

Slayer – Christ Illusion Deluxe Edition: Man, even Slayer is getting in on this “deluxe edition” crap? This might be the most annoying trend in album releases since the invention of that stupid adhesive “theft prevention” strip that goes on the top of CD cases (which never come off in one piece and always leave residue behind. Seriously, what is the deal with that? Could they not come up with an adhesive that doesn’t detach itself from its original surface? I spend a good amount of time on each new CD pulling that crap off with the parts of the strip that still have adhesive on it. I have a theory that people download music not to steal but to avoid dealing with the hassle of these damned stickers. But I digress.)

Blogcritics’ Chris Beaumont has a good review that I would suggest you read if you’re interested in this set, but I’ll break it down here: This version of the album includes the track “Final Six,” which reportedly was supposed to be included on the original but wasn’t finished in time, plus a different mix of “Black Serenade,” and a DVD with a whopping 15 minutes of footage. WOW! Let me rant again for a moment: if you’re going to make a “deluxe edition,” make it deluxe. Don’t even bother with the DVD if you’re going to waste it on 15 measly minutes of footage. I realize that part of the DVD is a feature to pimp an upcoming concert DVD, but why not release some other live footage on the DVD that would be exclusive to this set? Make it something I have to have. As it stands, it’s merely something annoying for someone who purchased Christ Illusion the day it came out. A bit of a slap in the face from the label for early-adopters – as usual.

July 17, 2007

Overlooked Alternatives: Grant Lee Buffalo, Suzanne Vega

Filed under: Music,News,Overlooked Alternatives — Tom @ 11:18 am

I usually welcome these weeks that look quiet, but there’s the catch – it looks quiet for most but good music listeners will immediately find the nuggets hidden in the mid-summer release doldrums. For this week, Grant Lee Buffalo’s reissue of Fuzzy, an album that I’ve long wanted and, since it’s been out of print, I’ve never picked up, and Suzanne Vega’s new album Beauty And Crime fit the bill nicely. This is what it is to be a music addict. Gotta have my fix, man.

Grant Lee Buffalo – Fuzzy and Copperopolis: The band’s first and third Americana-pop albums, a band seemingly forgotten by all but fans, have been out of print for some time, but new label “Noble Rot” (Am I the only one to get a kick out of saying that name?) is bringing both back in new digipaks with new liner notes and, presumably, remastered sound. Unfortunately, there are no bonus tracks to be had on either. Let’s hope that it’s not just fans that are picking these one up. The band deserves better than that.

Suzanne Vega – Beauty And Crime: Most people seemed to tune out of Vega’s music after “Luka” and/or the various remixes of “Tom’s Diner” had their way with the airwaves, relegating her to that sad status as fluke hit-maker. Luckily for discerning listeners she paid them no attention and carried on creating strong albums that provoked and questioned what women in pop/folk could and should do. Six years after her last album, she’s back with her first release on Blue Note with an album that is being called one of her best.

July 11, 2007

Overlooked Alternatives: Crowded House, Foo Fighters, Smashing Pumpkins

Filed under: Music,News,Overlooked Alternatives — Tom @ 9:56 pm

Two bands reunite for new releases this week while another throws a handful of bonus tracks onto a now-classic album that is mercifully old enough that we might not feel so fleeced when buying this “deluxe edition.”

Crowded House – Time On Earth: Neil Finn originally set out to create another solo album, but with Crowded House drummer Paul Hester’s unfortunate suicide, he wound up getting back together with fellow Crowdies Mark Hart and Nick Seymour and the material steered back towards the band rather than his own project. That’s fine, since Neil Finn’s solo works aren’t drastically different than Crowded House anyway. And from the sounds of things, Time On Earth straddles the very fuzzy line between the two – being slightly darker in tone than Crowded House, but a little less serious than Finn solo. This is okay – we’re all 10 years older and it would be kind of unfortunate for the band to not display some signs of maturing in that time. Not that Crowded House was ever “immature,” but I’m all for the band presenting listeners something that doesn’t cater to their every expectation, and from all reviews I have seen, that’s what they’ve given us. An album from Crowded House that takes a little time to develop a relationship with the listener is a good thing. Let’s hope we don’t have to “dream it’s over” after this album and tour.

Foo Fighters – The Colour And The Shape Deluxe Edition: Cool – one of the few times when a “deluxe” edition has come out sufficiently far enough in time from the original that I don’t feel like I’m being gouged buying it again. In addition to being remastered and new liner notes, this edition adds 6 non-album tracks:

“Requiem” (Killing Joke cover)
“Drive Me” Wild (single b-side)
“Down In The Street” (Gary Numan cover)
“Baker Street” (Gerry Rafferty cover)
“Dear Lover” (single b-side)
“The Colour And The Shape” (single b-side)

Smashing Pumpkins – Zeitgeist: “Smashing Pumpkins,” “Zwan,” “Billy Corgan,” whatever you want to call it – it’s all just him and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin and a couple of stand-ins for when they play live. I’m feeling mixed about this one after seeing their very lackluster performance at Live Earth this past weekend (not to mention Corgan’s very distasteful plug for the new album,) but not many of the performances there were particularly good, so I don’t want to allow that to color my perception of the new album. But it’s hard not to be a little jaded about this one when we’re being asked to swallow a ridiculous bonus track situation after the whole Machina II fiasco years ago, where Corgan gave the album out to fans, for free, to spread among everyone far and wide after the label gave him a hard time. It’s just harder to believe that he’d stand by this kind of stupidity after doing that. Regardless, here we are on release day and there are multiple versions of the album. In addition to a “deluxe” edition that consists of a 70-some-odd page book with the CD (but no additional music or video content? Strange . . .) there are multiple versions of the album:

Best Buy:
Adds “Death From Above” smack in the middle of the track listing, at #9.

Adds title-track “Zeitgeist” at the end of the album.

Adds “Stellar” at the end of the album.

There’s also a Ticketmaster tie-in where you get the album via Itunes plus 5 bonus tracks of other bands covering the Pumpkins.

Sigh. I’ll say it again, in case some industry big-wig checks in: we buyers HATE this. By doing things like this, you just encourage the piracy-by-download that you claim to be against.

I’ll buy it anyway – I have all the other Corgan-related albums, why not one more? Judging by the overwhelming negativity of people so far, just hours after it was available for sale, and probably before most of them have actually heard it, I’ll probably wind up liking it way more than anyone else. It worked that way with Zwan – I listen to Mary Star Of The Sea a lot more often than most Pumpkins albums, actually. I rarely fall for the hype – positive or negative.

July 3, 2007

Overlooked Alternatives: John Coltrane

Filed under: Music,News,Overlooked Alternatives — Tom @ 5:14 am

I found myself with one of those weeks where, inexplicably, it seemed like a quiet week for the new release radar – too quiet, as it turns out. I came home from work, checked my email, and lo and behold, there’s a strange little email from Amazon in there reading “Your order has shipped.” My what? Why don’t I remember anything being ordered for this week?

Upon opening it, I remembered placing my order for John Coltrane’s My Favorite Things: Coltrane at Newport a couple weeks ago. It was a curiosity-buy – Coltrane’s a safe-bet as long as whatever it is is a legitimate release, and I knew it was obviously one or some of the Newport concerts he’d played. Now, however, I know a bit more – it’s basically Newport ’63, minus the 1961 recording of “Chasin’ Another Trane” and with what appears to be three other tracks from New Thing At Newport in its place, if the track times match the way I think they do.

I think, based on all of the other live Coltrane releases that I have, that I’m pretty safe assuming this is going to be a rewarding release that I have a feeling many others who don’t have either Newport set are probably overlooking by accident.

June 25, 2007

Overlooked Alternatives: Ryan Adams, Pearl Jam, the Trio of Doom

Filed under: Music,News,Overlooked Alternatives — Tom @ 10:31 pm

Summer usually starts to be slim-pickin’s time by about now, but somehow the good stuff just keeps coming. It’s been quite a good year for music, actually. I’m not one to stumble into the grumbling about particular years being worse than others – every year has tons of great new stuff coming out, you just have to keep your eyes and, of course, more importantly, ears open. But, again, this year seems to be particularly strong. I think I might be looking forward to the relatively quiet week next week (big holidays have a tendency to cause those, you know.)

Ryan Adams – Easy Tiger: After what seems like an eternity in Adams-land – 18 months without a single new release – he’s back with what many critics are calling one of his best. I’ve already seen rumors of three releases for the year, not including a box set of rarities, so, if true, he’s going to try and make up for lost time, apparently. In the meantime, I’m really looking forward to hearing this one – Cold Roses and Jacksonville City Nights were a couple of the highlights of 2005.

And, as usual, there are bonus tracks. But this time, there are a LOT of options for the bonus-track seeker. Get ready because this is kind of stunning:

So let me run down your options – you can buy it at:

1. Ryan’s website, where you’ll get a bonus disc with the live, in-studio track “These Girls”
2. Best Buy is where you’ll get a bonus Lost Highway sampler, along with a download code for the Best Buy exclusive bonus track, “I’ll Keep the Change.”
3. Starbucks, who knows…supposedly an extra track and a video track (still waiting for specifics)
4. iTunes, where you’ll get an immediate download of “Two,” a bonus track, “What Sin Replaces Love (Live from ‘The Henry Rollins Show’ on IFC), the bonus video, “Two,” a digital booklet and access to preorder ticket sales through Ticketmaster.
5. Borders, additional online content.
6. CIMS stores, where you’ll get what I was talking about above (a three-song live DVD and lithograph).
7. Overseas, where you’ll get a UK/EU bonus track, “Nobody Listens to Silence,” and HMV, where you get a limited-edition cardboard (horray) slipcase.
8. Japan, where the UK bonus track has an additional friend in the track “Alice.” (Use Babelfish to translate if you like)
9. VINYL – I have been emailing all over trying to find out the specifics of this vinyl release and there are only a few things that I know for sure: the first pressing is on orange vinyl and comes with a poster. I do not know for sure whether there will be the UK bonus track (I think there will be – Ryan’s vinyl pressings in the past normally have the bonus track if time allows) nor do I know whether there will be a printing after the orange vinyl edition (though I also think there will be). Everything I read suggests that there are 2000 orange copies for the entire world, which leads me to believe that since they are being pressed in Nashville, there is only one pressing and it’s a US version. Specifics are very very hard to come by.

(Thanks for that go to Sixtywatt)

Pearl Jam – Live At The Gorge (7 CD Box Set): I’ll admit that I don’t listen to Pearl Jam like I used to, but I still enjoy hearing them from time to time, especially live material where their songs can really come alive in the right instances. This set should be pretty interesting – 100 songs spread out over three complete live shows recorded in 2005 and 2006, one of which opens with an acoustic set. Sure, you may have many of these on the official bootlegs, but these come in gorgeous packaging and at a great price – Circuit City is the store to beat this week as they’ve priced this one at $29.99.

The Trio Of Doom: A great name for this one-off outing of John McLaughlin on guitar, Jaco Pastorius on bass, and Tony Williams on drums. I can only tell you what I’ve read about ’em: the group came together to play at a festival in Havana, Cuba back in 1979. They wound up with only 25 minutes of stage-time, recorded it, and then found most of it unusable, so they re-recorded the songs in a studio with an overdub of crowd noise, and a few of the tracks eventually wound up on albums representing the festival. Until now, the entire set has not been released, and now we get both the live set and the untouched studio set (sans overdubbed crowd.)

June 19, 2007

Overlooked Alternatives: matt pond PA, Tomahawk

Filed under: Music,News,Overlooked Alternatives — Tom @ 9:06 am

As usual, I’m making sure that there are widely different releases to talk about. This is, after all, basically how my entire music collection looks and how my brain works. I’m just as likely to jump between bands like this as any other completely different types of music at any time. Playing them back to back is risky to your mental health, but you should be fine. You may not, however, be legally allowed to play two bands like this at the same time – it might result in warping the space-time continuum.

matt pond PA – If You Want Blood: An unusually aggressive title for this gentle chamber pop outfit, this EP precedes the upcoming full-length album, Last Light, due out in late September, and introduces new bassist Steve Jewett who replaces Daniel Mitha, who left the band last year. If you like dramatic, jangly pop-rock with liberal doses of cello and a singer whose voice sounds like old maple syrup, this might be just the band for you. Oh, and this EP is said to be “extremely limited” – something like a couple thousand copies.

Tomahawk – Anonymous: Take one part Faith No More/Mr. Bungle, one part Jesus Lizard, and one part Helmet, and then let them tour through Indian reservations for a while. What you get is this new Tomahawk album of songs inspired by the sounds of Native Americans. Melvins bassist Kevin Rutmanis has left the band, but I’m sure Mike Patton has enough weird noises tucked in his throat to fill the void. What remains to be seen is exactly what this album is going to sound like – what little I’ve heard sounds an awful lot like Patton’s other project (one of many other projects), Fantomas, rather than Tomahawk. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing depends on how you feel about Fantomas . . .

June 11, 2007

Overlooked Alternatives: Queens of the Stone Age, the Traveling Wilburys

Filed under: Music,News,Overlooked Alternatives — Tom @ 10:32 pm

This is an easy week for me. Just a couple of essentials, one of which was an unexpected one following the band’s previously lackluster album.

Queens of the Stone Age – Era Vulgaris: Josh Homme’s band thankfully picks up where 2002’s exquisitely fun Songs For The Deaf left off, ignoring the dreadfully boring Lullabies To Paralyze that emerged in between the two. We’ll just count that one as growing pains from Homme kicking bassist Nick Oliveri out of the band following Songs.

Vulgaris, happily, indulges in the same goofy time-traveling sound that the band always has, borrowing riffs from their roots in Kyuss as well as dipping back to the 60s for vocal melodies straight out of Cream, backed by thick, heavy drumming. It’s a hell of a fun album.

And, as usual, watch which version you pick up: Best Buy will have a download of the band covering Billy Idol’s “White Wedding” (I can practically hear it) while the Itunes version contains “Running Joke” and indie stores will get the album bundled with till-now MIA Lullabies-era “The Fun Machine Took A Shit And Died.” Circuit City also gets something special, but I can’t locate any resources that indicate what that track is – my guess is that it’s the title track, featuring Trent Reznor, which was previously only available as a free download on a Queens-related website and also as a b-side to a promo-only single. Collectors will probably have their work cut out for them with this one. I would wager that we’ll be seeing a “deluxe” edition of this album in about, oh, say, 6 months, right before Christmas, with all 7 of the non-album tracks that I’ve seen mentioned.

The Traveling Wilburys: It’s about damned time. These have been out of print how long? And all of the band members are major artists? What was the deal with that? Regardless, I missed out on these the first time around because I really didn’t listen to any of these guys back then and now I do – strange how that happens when you grow up – so I’m very happy to see this release, with both albums bundled together, complete with documentary, videos, etc., on accompanying DVD.

The set comes in two flavors – standard digipak and special cloth-bound deal with 40-page book and stuff. I managed to get my order in at Amazon before they sold out on the latter (they had a killer price, to boot,) so this may truly be a limited edition – get it while you can.

June 5, 2007

Overlooked Alternatives: the Afghan Whigs, the Jesus Lizard, Paul McCartney, Tom Petty, the Police, Shellac, Tesla

Filed under: Music,News,Overlooked Alternatives — Tom @ 9:46 pm

Holy . . . fartness, what a week. Luckily I’m not buying everything here, or have some of it already, because this is one of those weeks to seriously break the budget if you were so inclined.

The Afghan Whigs – Unbreakable: A Retrospective 1990-2006: As the title suggests, it’s a best-of for this critically adored soul-punk act, and probably a good place for all of us to start. Myself, I have 1966 and like it a lot, but I’ve really fallen for lead Greg Dulli’s new band, The Twilight Singers, who sound a lot like the Whigs but seem to stretch the boundaries just a bit more than his original band did. If you’re easily offended, it should be noted, this is not the band for you. Dulli’s got a pretty twisted lyrical bent in his music, but the music is oh so good.

The Jesus Lizard – Live (DVD): I know next to nothing about this – it just appeared on the release list and I hit “buy” because I love me some Jesus Lizard. What I do know is this: 1994, Venus De Milo in Boston, bonus of 5 songs from CBGB’s 08/29/92. The rest is up to your imagination until this is in our hands, but I would guess that singer David Yow gets pretty freaky, and that should be pretty entertaining.

Paul McCartney – Memory Almost Full: I had almost no hopes for this album upon hearing first single “Ever Present Past.” It sounded like a very retro throwaway from Paul’s 80s period, an era of his that I don’t particularly feel like revisiting. But then I (ahem) stumbled upon a generous offering of a “preview” (of sorts (ahem)) of the album and gave the whole thing a chance. Surprise, surprise – I really enjoyed it. And, being a good sport, I didn’t listen again so I could listen to the album with fresh ears when I finally get my hands on the real deal – the deluxe edition with three extra songs, of course.

Tom Petty – Highway Companion Deluxe Edition: Speaking of “deluxe editions” . . . Oh, Tom, there was a time when you threw a fit at the record label wanting to make 1981’s Hard Promises the first record to be priced at a new, higher price point (of $9.98 – can you imagine?) and so you threatened to re-title your album “The $8.98 Album.” And now, here we are in 2007, less than a year after Highway Companion was first issued and there’s a “deluxe edition” being sent to stores with four extra songs and some “special” packaging . . . for about double the price of the original version. Couldn’t we just have gotten an EP instead? This trend sucks and I think it sucks that Petty gave in to it.

The Police (2 CD Anthology): It’s about time something like this came out. Not one of those half-assed best-ofs that doesn’t make full use of the full-length of the CD, nor that stupid collection that mixes both Sting’s solo material and the Police material, but a true anthology of the band that actually makes some damned sense. Just click over to Amazon and take a look at the track list – that’s a seriously great set of songs. If I didn’t own the Message In A Box set I’d own this. If you don’t own either, you should.

Shellac – Excellent Italian Greyhound: Steve Albini’s band is back after a long absence to abuse us once again with their heavy-as-hell music and warped humor. I doubt they can top “Squirrel Song,” but I’m willing to let them give it a shot.

Tesla – Real to Reel: Oh, now, give me a break. I can too listen to Shellac and Tesla. Tesla came first for me, probably obviously, but we drifted apart over the years since high school, but this album of covers has piqued my curiosity. A quick listen to clips on Amazon reveals that this is another one of those surprises – like Def Leppard’s covers-album from 2006, Yeah!, it digs a bit deeper than most artists do and in doing so gives listeners more meat to chew on while allowing the band to play around a little more. Among the artists getting the Tesla treatment are Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, the Eagles, the Beatles, Eric Clapton, Traffic, the Rolling Stones, and, well, a bunch more.

Just like a couple of the above with those deluxe editions, however, there is a catch if you want everything. Nothing is ever simple anymore, is it? Tesla recorded two discs worth of covers, only one of which is available in stores right now. To get the second disc, you have to go to one of their concerts. That’s right – buy a ticket and get the second disc included with the price of admission. That’s pretty clever. That’s all fine if you’re going to a concert, but if you’re not, you’re kind of screwed, aren’t you? I think we can make the assumption that once the short tour is over, the second disc will be sold on their website.

But wait! There’s more – there’s always more because, of course, Best Buy is involved! Pick up the disc at Best Buy and you get a four-song bonus disc with some material that previews their upcoming boxset. Personally, I think all of this is a little too complicated, but it seems to be getting them some notice, at least – they played on our local morning news show (and sounded great, too) and that’s more than I can say I’ve seen of them in a long time. So here’s to your second-wind of success, guys.

May 21, 2007

Overlooked Alternatives: Battles, Killing Joke

Filed under: Music,News,Overlooked Alternatives — Tom @ 8:58 pm

Whew – the past few weeks have felt like a barrage of too much stuff, so a couple of quiet weeks were in order, and we’re going to be getting that this and next week. That’s not to say that nothing’s coming out, but the schedule’s just not as jam-packed as it had been. Rest assured that most music geeks, me included, will find plenty of ways to occupy ourselves in the quiet times.

Battles – Mirrored: Three years after a single and two EPs, it was about time Battles finally put out their debut album. And, from the sound of things, the wait was more than worth it. Where the EPs hinted at what was to come, they suffered a bit from a band struggling to define themselves. Mirrored proves that Battles has discovered who they are: the bastard children of Animal Collective and Don Caballero. With guitarist/vocalist Tyondia Braxton (son of avant gard sax great Anthony Braxton) and drummer John Stanier (ex-Helmet, current-Tomahawk) on board, it’s easy to see why such a sound would emerge – it’s just not so easy to imagine when listening back to those EPs, which sounded more like a lost Tortoise. Believe it or not, this could be the surprise indie breakout of the summer. First single “Atlas,” with its nonsensical, pitch-shifted vocals, glitchy synth, and driving, pounding drums, is the kind of freak-out, weirdo song that leaves listeners divided, for sure, but it sure makes an impression, and those that like it, love it. Serious fun. Watch this one – it will likely end up placing high on year-end lists.

Killing Joke – Bootleg Vinyl Archives 1 & 2: For Killing Joke fans, the past month has been pretty cool. First their was Inside Extremities which offered a previously unreleased 1991 concert, and now there are these two releases: two three-disc sets (at a very low price-point) of live material from the band’s career throughout the 80s and early 90s. From what I read, the sound quality varies, but the name should warn you – “bootleg” is a pretty apt title, and just like back in the old days, you never knew quite what you were going to get. The price helps make this more fun than it used to be – I remember regularly plunking down $25 for a single-disc bootleg only to find out it sounded like it had been recorded in some guy’s armpit. It’s not all perfect sounding, but for the most part, you fair much better here – especially with regards to your financial investment. Essential? Probably not. Fun? For fans, yes. For anyone else, I’d suggest sticking to the studio material.

May 14, 2007

Overlooked Alternatives: Genesis, Guided By Voices, Manic Street Preachers, Rufus Wainwright, Wilco

Filed under: Music,News,Overlooked Alternatives — Tom @ 9:06 pm

Huge week here. Huuuuuuge week. This is a real good one for the music freaks. This is one of those weeks where you just have to weigh your options and choose wisely, because unless you work two well-paying jobs, there’s just no way you can afford it all.

Genesis – 1976-1982 Remixed and Remastered (all 5 albums): My favorite period of Genesis’ history – the years just after the iconic Peter Gabriel had left the group, when the band shouldn’t have been able to be a success, but drummer Phil Collins stepped up the mic and brought his own brand of iconic, if short, stature to the front of the stage, and somehow made it work. Many, of course, will be quick to point out that the band was simply a hit factory, but most of those who do so aren’t even aware of the material recorded in the latter half of the 70s, when Genesis was still heavily focused on progressive rock instead of the pop charts.

The albums here, A Trick Of The Tail, Wind And Wuthering, And Then There Were Three, Duke, and Abacab, have been remixed by producer Nick Davies for both CD and surround-sound 5.1 DVD, the former a move that has been greeted by many with derision and upset, the latter scrutinized for a lack of sound quality. I’ll leave that up to individual listeners – if you have complaints, remember, you don’t have to buy these as you’ll always have your originals to listen to. The DVDs include newly filmed interviews about the albums in question along with archival footage – some of which include lengthy concert performances (Trick includes a show with temporary drummer Bill Bruford.) For those with some extra cash, be sure and pick up the box set of all five discs which includes, of course, a box plus a book and an additional CD/DVD of b-sides from the era that have also been similarly remixed.

This, sadly, is one of the things I have had to pass on this week – I’d rather hear some new stuff that really excites me than things I know by heart, but I will get around to these sometime soon.

Guided By Voices – Live From Austin, Texas CD and DVD: As a Guided By Voices fan, I’m pretty excited by this. Of course, I watched the Austin City Limits episode when it aired, but knew it couldn’t be a full show – GBV always puts on epic length shows and there was no way they simply played the nine songs that aired. As it turns out, I was right – but that’s no big surprise as nearly every ACL release has had a few extra performances. In this case, however, there are TWENTY ONE extra songs, forcing this onto two CDs. As far as I know, this is the first double-CD Austin City Limits release. But, being Guided By Voices, you kind of have to see them to fully understand the experience, so I highly suggest getting the DVD – or both. Personally, I’m pretty excited to see the footage that didn’t make it to the show, such as drunken vocalist Robert Pollard’s rumored mis-introduction of Pete Yorn as “Thom Yorn.”

Manic Street Preachers – Send Away The Tigers: Now, this may technically be out in other countries, but here in the US, it’s not even coming out, so Amazon lists May 15 as their own release date, so I’m going with that. Regardless, it’s unfortunate that the Manics have been so ignored in the states – they’re one of the more intelligent straight-up rock bands out there, but I suppose that’s probably what keeps them from success, ultimately. They don’t cater to simple-music formulas, instead writing condemnations of societal ills that aren’t easily glamorized (take, for instance, “Kevin Carter,” which briefly addresses the photographer’s expose’ of a horrific South African tradition of public execution by “necklacing,” his successes, and his ultimate suicide. Not typical subject matter by any means – but typical of their material.)

Vocalist/guitarist James Dean Bradfield has one of my favorite rock voices of late – sort of a gutsy Dennis DeYoung – backed by rock that swings from anthemic to near punk. It’s infectious stuff, almost from an era that doesn’t exist anymore, yet touched by modern structures and flourishes that makes it impossible to exist at any other time. And yet they’ve gone ignored by at least those in the US, so they go without a label here. Sometimes music is so good it’s worth paying extra to get the expensive imports. Manic Street Preachers are that good.

Rufus Wainwright – Release The Stars: I am convinced that Wainwright is this generation’s finest melodist. I can’t think of a single young artist who so beautifully crafts vocals in such a way that it simply doesn’t matter what he’s singing about – you just want to hear the melody he’s singing. And there is a lot of Broadway in his vocal style, but he uses it for good, not evil, turning out stunning performances in material that would normally have a nasal-voiced singer like him kicked out of every open audition he tried out for. Wainwright’s vocals simply stretch beyond the normal – there’s power and emotion that so few honestly display in modern rock. He’s got me hooked and I’ll be back for more.

Wilco – Sky Blue Sky: So much about this album has already been said – Wilco’s been offering streams of the album on their site to stem the flow of mp3s on the internet for over a month now, and it’s probably a double-edge sword. Everyone has an opinion. On the upside, they seem to have fairly well thwarted the file-sharing demon, as most people simply went and listened to the album on their site. On the downside, they’re going to get a lot of negative commentary about the style of this album. I’ve seen a good many comments mention words like “lazy,” “plodding,” and “boring,” and the oh-so-chic Pitchforkmedia deemed Sky Blue Sky a 5.2 (out of 10, and basically reiterating the comments I just mentioned), but, as a rule, I think most people should discount these naysayers. I’m not saying that Wilco can do no wrong, but I am saying that Wilco has turned out album after album of good music, much of it the kind of music that has proven itself worthy after many repeat listens. This album is no different.

Or maybe it is – in a way, Sky Blue Sky is the kind of laid-back music we don’t really hear much anymore, hearkening back to the 70s, to the kind of music you sit and relax while listening to. Do people really do that anymore? I think that’s the problem. Most people are “on the go people” who want “on the go music,” and Wilco just isn’t that kind of band, but especially not on this album. So I’m saying this: if you liked Wilco in the past, especially if you liked Wilco’s quieter moments, buy this album. But don’t listen to it if you’re expecting Summerteeth or Being There or really even anything in particular. Just wait for the right moment when you’re relaxed and then put it on. I think, if you’re already a fan of their general sound, you’re going to find something beautiful is going on with Sky Blue Sky that is far too easy to overlook when you’re rushing about. In time, I think Sky Blue Sky will be viewed as a special Wilco album, a turning point of sorts, even. Don’t miss out.

(And check out the formats the album is available in: CD, CD/DVD (includes live studio performances of most of the album), and vinyl (which includes the CD, but not DVD.)

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