Known Johnson

February 5, 2008

The Breakdown: Iron Maiden, Killing Joke

Filed under: Music,News,The Breakdown — Tom @ 1:17 pm

Iron Maiden – Live After Death (DVD): FINALLY! The moment Maiden fans have been waiting for – LAD on DVD years (almost “decades” now) after the video tape went out of print. I saw this in high school – nearly 20 years ago – and almost instantly regretted not buying a copy for myself. Held by many as the greatest live rock album of all time – me included – it seems ridiculous that it’s taken this long to officially be released on DVD. The band apparently really wanted to do this one right. Not only do we get the legendary concert full of giant mummified Eddies and such, we also get a second DVD filled with archival footage including the show that is said to rival the Live After Death show, Maiden’s 1985 Rock In Rio appearance (50 minutes), Behind the Iron Curtain (a 57 minute documentary shot in Poland and other eastern bloc countries,) the History of Iron Maiden, pt. 2 (50 minutes,) and a few other smaller things.

Killing Joke – Fire Dances, Night Time, Brighter Than A Thousand Suns, and Outside The Gate: There seems to be some confusion on which of these are coming out today, and which have actually already been released, so I’m throwing them all in at once. The Killing Joke remaster campaign has not been the most organized, but it has been one of the more respectful ones. Not only are they excellent quality remasters, the band has compiled intelligent and rewarding sets of bonus material for each album. In the case of Brighter, the album is almost entirely new – this version features the mixes the public never got to hear, which make it sound more like the traditional, ferocious Killing Joke and less like a synth-pop band. Also be on the lookout for a very limited edition of the band’s Extremities Dirt & Various Repressed Emotions which features a bonus disc of extras, greatly expanded book, and a disc-sized box to house it all in.

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January 30, 2008

The Final Breakdown: Favorites of 2007

Filed under: Best of 2007,Music,The Breakdown — Tom @ 5:48 am

What a strange year. Unlike most years, when I find myself all over the place musically, this year found me focused on a small collection of albums that repeatedly drifted into my ears. I’m not like this – I’m not one of those people that sits back and says, “What a crappy year for music this has been,” but when I look back on 2007 for truly notable music, I simply come back to a small handful of my very favorite releases where most years find me struggling to pick which ones were my favorites. Not so this year – it’s pretty cut and dried.

Are they artistically important? In some cases, yes, but does it really matter? What matters most to me, at least, is that the albums are ones that I’m going to be coming back to year after year. If they’re not groundbreaking, earth-shattering redefining examples of music, so be it. This list, in a way, is a prediction of sorts – I am attempting to predict the albums that are going to have staying power with me, at the very least. And, who knows, maybe in a few years we can look back and these albums will have withstood the test of time for many others. I’m pretty confident they will, in fact.

Rock/pop

Wilco – Sky Blue Sky: Opening with the gentle guitar of “Either Way,” a film begins to unreel in my mind. The black screen, the titles, and then Jeff Tweedy’s soft, scratchy voice crackles out “Maybe the sun will shine today” just as a scene of the open road is revealed. That’s what Sky Blue Sky is to me – road music, an escape, transportation away from the everyday nothingness that often drives us insane. And, more than any other piece of music, escape is exactly what I did with this album since it came out earlier this year.

Wilco may have taken a quiet and calming turn here, but there’s so much more going on. The music is subtle, revealing layers of intricate, thoughtful, and sometimes downright weird stuff going on underneath the top coating of amiable, easy-going tunes. Listen close and it’s impossible to ignore jazz guitarist Nels Cline’s contributions, or the unusual drumming that Glenn Kotche lays down behind the band. These elements take Sky Blue Sky from simply being a good album to being something that needs to be listened to again and again. It’s an instant modern classic rock album – a rarity these days.

Crowded House – Time On Earth: Sometimes you just can’t hear things right. Or maybe it’s just me. I don’t know – whatever the case, that happened here. Time On Earth eluded me for months after its release. As expected, given my love for Neil Finn’s songwriting, a few songs grabbed me quickly, and that’s exactly the problem with the album. Some of these songs were so good that they eclipsed all the others. In their brilliant light the album as a whole slipped away from me. I fell into a bad rut. I heard it in chunks – “this” little group of songs was great, “that” little group of songs was good, and others, well, I just didn’t care for. The whole didn’t jell – and this was unusual for me. I usually love an album or I don’t. Something was wrong here, and I began to think it wasn’t the music.

I found myself presented with a few opportunities where I couldn’t focus on the music like I normally do. When I opted to listen to a playlist I’d created that mixed things up just a tiny bit by throwing in two b-sides to mirror the tracklisting of the vinyl version of the album, I realized that all of the songs were powerful and beautiful. That little change created a new terrain out of the familiar, somehow, and I could hear the album anew. The clouds parted, as they say, the light shone down from above, and the haze cleared, illuminating what is a powerful collection of songs dealing with love, death, and the state of the world.

We can argue if we want about whether they’re truly Crowded House songs or “just” more Neil Finn songs. That’s what some are doing. But in the end, does it matter? I’ll take more of either.

Rush – Snakes & Arrows: While it may not quite be the wild and crazy effort that producer Nick Raskulinecz promised, it is a solid, enjoyable effort. If anything, it suffers mainly from the band’s attempts at covering so much ground. Where they had formerly been so focused on a “sound” for each album, this album is all over the place, picking bits and pieces from all over their catalog. It makes for a fun listen, but not an especially focused listen when you’re in a particular mood. What I respond to on this album, more than many other Rush albums, are drummer Neil Peart’s lyrics, which seem to be misunderstood by many as the words of a very bitter man about a very cold world rather than what I believe them to be, which is one man attemping to show that while there are terrible events of every kind taking place, there is beauty and belief and justice to be found if we would just trust in each other. A unified message of hope ties an album of loose ends together in a fantastic way.

Radiohead – In Rainbows: Even after only a few months with this album, it’s hard for me not to look back on their catalog and think of the high points as OK Computer, Kid A, and In Rainbows. Somehow, after years of really doing their own thing, going their own way, which kind of means that they had a bit of a “Spinal Tap Jazz Odyssey for a new generation” thing going on for some, they veered back to territory closer to OK Computer and the prettier parts of Kid A and made a bunch of really beautiful songs. Sure, there are lots of bits of experimentation here and there, but where it used to take the front seat, it’s now more background, with melody upfront. Part of me wants more of the weird, angular, gritty stuff, because I loved that, but when they make music this compellingly lovely, it’s impossible to deny wanting more.

Blackfield – II: Guitarist and vocalist Steven Wilson seems to have split his pop sensibility off from his “other” band, Porcupine Tree, so they could focus more on delving into darker subjects with heavier music, using Blackfield, his project with Israeli singer Aviv Geffen, as an outlet for his more, um . . . “upbeat” material. I say upbeat in quotes because it’s hard to call it that, exactly, since the songs are still filled with tales of heartbreak and personal woe, but in comparison to the pure angst experienced in recent Porcupine Tree material, where societal ills are front and center, it does indeed feel lighter. Here is where Wilson and Geffen allow their catchiest, most beautiful harmonies to emerge, even while turning out some of the year’s best hard rock – if “Epidemic” is not one of the best straight-up rock songs of the year, something is wrong.

The Shins – Wincing the Night Away: Maybe it’s a “sophomore slump” of sorts to some – despite it being their third album – since their big break came with Garden State a few years back when Chutes Too Narrow was all the rage. Will they really change your life? I think a lot of people thought they would and are holding this album to that standard. This is not that album. In fact, it’s an album made for the people who scoff at such notions and wanted something beyond more of the same from the band. It’s mature pop, darker, weirder, a little off-putting – a decided step away from the candy-coated elixir of their first two albums that hooked so many, and it’s exactly the kind of move a band needs to make to stand the test of time. I, at least, hope to see many more Shins albums lining the shelves of my CD rack.

Ryan Adams – Easy Tiger: Adams has regained the focus he had with Heartbreaker and Gold and turned out one of the strongest sets of music in his career here. What came through after a few spins for me, what grabbed me, is that behind the usual country tinges was a little swagger found in soul and r&b that I hadn’t really noticed before. It’s not pronounced, but it’s there nonetheless.

Porcupine Tree – Fear of a Blank Planet: It might be easy to go on and on about the themes of isolation that waft through Blank Planet‘s lyrics, but for me, it’s all about one thing: the music. Honestly, sometimes the lyrics are a little pedestrian and it’s not like this isn’t a topic that hasn’t been covered a million times before. They’re simply excuses for Steven Wilson to lay down some of those gorgeous harmony choruses. But back to the music – Wilson cranks things up a bit here, and, as I said above, he seemingly has split off the pop-side of the band to Blackfield so Porcupine Tree can focus on the darker, heavier, grittier, weirder stuff. And we get it all – “Anesthetize” expands to nearly 18 minutes in basically two movements and features some of the heaviest, fastest playing the band has ever done, and then is followed by one of the prettiest songs they’ve ever done, “Sentimental” (which features the memorable riff from In Absentia‘s “Trains.”) The album is nothing if not an intense song-cycle of despair.

Pat Metheny and Brad Mehldau – Quartet: This is one of those pairings that could have gone either way. Two extremely strong, vibrant leaders in their own right getting together and turning out an album where they simply butt heads for an hour or so and nothing transcendent happens, or, simply put, magic. Luckily, it was the latter, and even more luckily for us, our hunches were true that there was a second offering coming with the full band backing the two.

David Torn – Prezens: I have used the word “alien” to describe David Torn’s guitar work so many times that I’m afraid to say it anymore. And yet I can find no other words that adequately convey the qualities in his sound and style without picking that one. His is an utterly alien sound. No one, I mean no one sounds like him. He manages to take things that sound like an amp dying and turn it into sheer beauty – and he purposely makes these sounds, mind you – and then he twists them just enough so that nothing about it sounds “pretty” but manages to sound right. He is one of few guitarists that I willingly label “genius” and it’s because he focuses so little on being a guitarist and rather intends to simply be a musician. There are no blazing solos or fretboard runs in his music – just searingly weird landscapes of tones and textures.

Mörglbl – Grötesk: Don’t even bother: it doesn’t mean anything. It’s just a weird band name they use because it sounds funny. And that, in itself, should tell you something about this band – they’re French and they have this kind of sense of humor. Add in the fact that guitarist Christophe Godin plays like the lovechild of a bizarre mating of Mike Keneally, Frank Zappa, and John McLaughlin and you’ve got some pretty weird territory. Zappa asked, “Does humor belong in music?” That question could be appended with the phrase “instrumental music.” They don’t descend into Keystone Kops-like moments, but it is clear that the intent of their music is serious fun, and there’s an element of humor. In fact, there are times when I laughed to myself at the often ingenious approaches the trio takes to music. Not necessarily “funny ha-ha” but “funny clever.”

Grant-Lee Phillips – Strangelet: Every time Phillips puts out an album this happens: it comes out, I love it, and then it just falls into my routine. Whatever it is about Grant-Lee Phillips, he somehow has the right gearing to mesh with the gearing of my life with nary a hitch. And therein lies the rub: he gets forgotten. Strangelet popped up earlier this year and slipped right into my listening for a while, becoming a quick fave, and then just became part of the background. When I began thinking about the year’s releases again, suddenly I realized that this album came out this year, not much longer ago even though it feels far more familiar than that. Phillips’ music is that tired cliche of comfortable old shoe – it fits perfectly and feels good, but goes neglected until you really think about it. Don’t neglect this album.

Michael Brook – BellCurve: After the disappointment I felt with 2005’s RockPaperScissors, I would never have expected this “remix” album of that material to not only stand on its own but be as strong as it is – nor be a favorite of the year. And yet . . . BellCurve takes the strongest elements of RockPaperScissors and re-molds them with very different, much more suitable backing music, and, except in the case of one song, does away with all of the vocals that, frankly, cluttered up what most people are tuning into Brooks for in the first place: his beautiful guitar work. The result is a far more pleasing album that ranks with his fantastic Live at the Aquarium and Cobalt Blue releases, rather than down with the confused murk, say, of Albino Alligator. (In an incredibly stupid and frustrating move, the CD is only available for sale at Barnes & Noble. The album may be downloaded from Itunes and Amazon, however, if files are your thing.)

In closing

I’d like to take this opportunity to offer my thanks to readers of Overlooked Alternatives and its offspring piece, The Breakdown. As has a tendency to happen, life has started to impinge upon my time to devote to writing this and keep up with reviewing music and, you know, having a life. While I enjoy getting to explore the new releases every week, I’d really rather put my time into actually reviewing recently released albums rather than simply speculating about them. The opportunity arose recently to join forces with Glen Boyd and Mark Saleski on Blogcritics’ weekly New CDs piece and I jumped at the chance. I won’t be a weekly presence on the list but I will contribute when the beacon of new music that needs a spotlight lights up the sky. Suffice it to say that I will be there more often than not. It’s not “goodbye,” it’s just, you know, “see you in a bit. I have to run out to the store for some bread. Do you need anything?”

January 23, 2008

The Breakdown: Super Furry Animals

Filed under: Music,News,The Breakdown — Tom @ 12:53 pm

Things are going to be a little different around here from now on. The Breakdown is no longer what it used to be. I’ve decided to not keep a full list going from week to week for various reasons, the biggest of which are that I simply don’t have time to follow the new releases like I used to, and I found more often than not that I wound up writing extensive pieces for albums that I would have liked to use for a full review later on. I also used a lot of my time for reviewing for this one piece – as I said, I don’t have a ton of time for writing on this site anymore, so when I do so, it needs to be focused, and this is just not my main focus anymore. However, all is not lost. I will be contributing shorter pieces to a larger collective new release list put together by Glen Boyd at Blogcritics.org, the first of which went up this week. Instead of three good lists of new releases happening there every week we now will have one great list (Mark Saleski is also retiring his Tuesday Morning Purchase piece.) When I contribute something, which probably won’t be every week, I will post my piece here as well within a day or two. As always, there will continue to be new music content going on here, but things are lessened because I’m focused on keeping KnownJohnson updated daily because of my involvement in Blog365. I’m really enjoying it and I hope you’re all heading over there to keep up to date on all the really exciting, you know, stuff of my life.

Here’s my first installment in the new New CDs list at Blogcritics, in complete, unedited form:

Super Furry Animals – Hey Venus!: Things fall through the cracks, whether it be a tiny band that many don’t notice or a major artist that many write off as a has-been. For whatever reason, the publicity machine churns is fueled by certain combinations of factors that few really understand, and so much good music goes unnoticed. Take Super Furry Animals, for example. They’re not that strange that the mainstream can’t get into them and yet . . . they’ve never really taken off, especially here in the US. But a rabid fanbase they do have, there’s no doubt about that. Perhaps that’s why they seem to have been part of an experiment of sorts.

Maybe as a sign of “things to come,” this album came out back in the early fall on vinyl and mp3, with the CD release held off for months – but only in the US. Obviously it was a marketing strategy – we’re seeing it all over the place in varying ways, mostly with live albums and their accompanying DVDs being separated by months to encourage buyers to pick up both rather than just one. This one, however, stings just a bit for those who fell for the mp3 side of things (the vinyl buyers get the whole “analog sound quality” thing to balance it out, however.)

Now that it’s coming out on CD, however – and here’s the “ha ha – burn!” – it’s coming with a second disc of extra songs, five to be exact (one is a video, however.) Ooohh – feel the sting. Are they worth the extra investment? Well, I don’t really recall finding any casual SFA fans – people either want it all or nothing when it comes to this band. Few aren’t going to want these, but, as these things go when it comes to die-hard fans, some may already have them as singles b-sides.

As has been the case with the previous Super Furry reissues, those “leftover tracks” found on singles are really just songs they couldn’t fit logically into the flow of the album – not necessarily throwaway songs. We fans seem to make out pretty well with this band, even if maybe Love Kraft didn’t quite meet the high expectations many had. Word is that Hey Venus! makes up for lost time.

November 27, 2007

The Breakdown: Dave Douglas

Filed under: Music,News,Reviews,The Breakdown — Tom @ 4:39 pm

Thanksgiving has come and gone, Black Friday has come and gone, the stupidly named “Cyber Monday” has come and gone . . . and now we’re left with those last few, dry weeks before Christmas where the labels don’t even feel like shoving out box-sets, best-ofs and live albums. No, what we’ll get now is stuff the big labels probably didn’t thing could sell any other time of the year, and things from small labels that realize that their audiences don’t pay attention to goofy things like the calendar. Take, for instance, this week’s one lone recommendation . . .

Dave Douglas – Moonshine: I really admire trumpeter Dave Douglas. Not only is he world-renowned as one of jazz’s best, he has taken the high and difficult road by setting out to create his own little sanctuary for musicians, a label, Greenleaf Music, where they get treated fairly and where listeners can feel the same. My dealings with them have always been nothing less than wonderful – great products and quick shipping, what more can you ask for . . . other than “more”?

Well, today we get a little more – Douglas called together his Keystone band (Marcus Strickland: saxophone; Gene Lake: drums; Brad Jones: bass; Adam Benjamin – Fender Rhodes; DJ Olive – turntables and electronics) for another album based around, like Keystone, a silent film, this time the unfinished Buster Keaton/Fatty Arbuckle project, Moonshine, from 1917.

Where the first project worked as a soundtrack to the accompanying DVD, which included Arbuckle’s “Fatty and Mabel Adrift” and a shorter video of footage compiled from “Fatty’s Tin-Type Tangle,” Moonshine is meant to stand on its own, simply using the film as inspiration, a jumping off point. And, just like the first project, you don’t really need to know the films to enjoy this – Douglas’ band is a powerhouse that will have listeners riveted with or without a concept. The result is much like the music of Keystone – gritty and urban, but filled with exactly the twists and turns one would expect from Douglas. Rooting itself in several genres and eras at once, DJ Olive keeps things firmly in the world of today with his electronic explorations while the horns display a distinctly European flair and Adam Benjamin’s Rhodes work reflects a bit of 70s fusion. Gene Lake’s drumming spans it all, tying everything together – much of the time he’s deep in a groove with bassist Brad Jones but often he’s coloring the air with little percussive fills that, you know, “really tie the room together.”

Dare I say that it’s among the best jazz of the year? It’s certainly the very last best thing to emerge this year – which is no backhanded compliment. It’s very hard to find a truly disappointing Douglas release, especially in the past few years when he seems to especially have been on his game, and that’s no different here. What’s unfortunate is that the album is out so late this year, when it will surely go ignored by many, and only available through his site until sometime in the spring when it will get wider release. Perhaps it’s a small Christmas gift from the man and the band to the fans – we get to enjoy it early. What’s more, we get to enjoy it even earlier – when placing an order, you’ll gain access to downloads of high quality mp3s of the album tracks in about a day. Not only that, but included in that is one non-album track download in the form of “Photosynthesis.” Like I said, Douglas and Greenleaf Music have been good to their supporters. Why not find out for yourself?

Samples (full-length tracks):

Dog Star (5:01)
Moonshine (7:30)

November 20, 2007

The Breakdown: Genesis, Led Zeppelin, Nine Inch Nails, Opeth, U2

Filed under: Music,News,The Breakdown — Tom @ 8:11 pm

One last big blast of what the labels hope are massive, can’t-miss releases before the shopping season begins – it’s pretty obvious looking at the list this week. It’s all greatest hits and weird repackagings the likes of which we would never see any other time of the year. However, it’s also the day that brings two of the biggest re-releases of the entire year, the ones that will likely not end up under many music freaks Christmas trees – they’ll have already bought these themselves.

Genesis – Live Over Europe and 1983-1998 (Box and Individual releases): Given the fact that I’ve seen absolutely no talk about Live Over Europe, I’m going to assume that few really care about this live album that documents the reunion tour from this past summer. It looks almost to be buried by the label with no warning whatsoever of its impending release – it’s just here with no fanfare, and given the lukewarm responses to the shows, that’s no surprise.

On the other hand, the second installation in the remix/remaster campaign curiously focuses on the band’s least appealing period, from the self-titled 1983 album through the final, Phil Collins-less Calling All Stations in 1997. It’s as if the label actually wants to show you that they’re really not tuned in at all. This box of material that few fans are dying to get is readied for the hot Christmas season while the box that all the fans are eager to wrap their ears around, the Gabriel years set, lingers in limbo . . . ?

As it is, the material on these albums has been remixed from the masters to update their sound, so they won’t sound exactly how you remember them, and each album has a DVD with surround-sound versions of the album tracks. If you opt to buy the box, you get not only the requisite book but also a disc of bonus tracks (and the surround DVD of those as well.)

Led Zeppelin – The Song Remains the SameCD and DVD: I remember one of the fundamental disappointments when getting into Led Zeppelin was, sadly, this live album. It was just a mess. Sprawling, rambling, incoherent, it just didn’t jell, and there was good reason: it had been chopped up to fit on two pieces of vinyl and was never readjusted for CD. We could go on and on about the video version of it, the fantasy segments of which were a complete surprise when my friends and I rented it one night as teens just getting into the band. Confused is about the only word that comes to mind. “What is going on here? Why are his eyes glowing? Why is he sword fighting? Why are we watching cars?” Now, having seen it via VH-1 Classic a few times, those fantasy segments merely look quaint and a bit charmingly self-absorbed.

Now we finally get the CDs the way they should have been – all 15 songs represented in the setlist played on the nights at Madison Square Garden in 1973, remastered for sound quality and reflecting the actual concert represented in the film. The DVD, unfortunately, does not represent the concert alone – it is still the movie as it was back then, due to legal reasons that I don’t understand that prevented Page and engineer Kevin Shirley from re-editing it back to just the music, but now it’s in Dolby 5.1, and includes a second disc with the four missing songs, some interviews, coverage by Tampa news crews of the band’s arrival there, and a few other small things.

The DVD set can also be had in a special edition with a shirt bearing the album cover, lobby cards, tour schedule, and other stuff.

Nine Inch Nails – Y34RZ3R0R3MIX3D: 133t!11!! H4x0rd! w00t! LOL WTF?! OK! Pandering title aside, the concept is pretty cool – the usual NIN remix album that follows in the footsteps of a regular album, but this time it’s accompanied by a DVD containing all of the multitracks for the songs so you can do whatever you feel like with them, then upload them to nin.com for Trent Reznor’s amusement (and, presumably, other fans, too.) This is not entirely as unique as Trent and Interscope want you to think it is – Duncan Sheik’s 2006 album, White Limousine, also came with a DVD with audio tracks, but I believe the NIN DVD has them broken completely down where Sheik’s had them broken down into simple categories – one track of already multitracked vocals, another of multitracked guitars, etc. Regardless, it’s a cool idea, and for $11.99, it’s kind of hard to pass up the opportunity to play. (The disc also includes a demo of Ableton Live so you can get playing immediately, but they will work in other audio programs.)

Opeth – The Roundhouse Tapes (Live): While the Lamentations DVD represented Opeth following the low-key, but amazing Damnation (that is to say, quiet and contemplative – not to mention all singing, no growling,) this live set is more representative of a normal Opeth concert, which presents the band in all their glory, touring for Ghost Reveries. Speed, heaviness, and those vocals are in full effect, mixed in, as usual, with Mikael Åkerfeldt’s surprisingly beautiful singing voice. Be forewarned: a DVD is likely coming sometime early next year, so if you crave watching and not just listening, you might want to wait.

U2 – The Joshua Tree Magical Ultra Super Special Deluxe! Edition: 20 years ago, all I wanted was for people to just stop talking about U2. Oh my God, they were everywhere. My best friend, he’d been brainwashed, plastering his room with posters and hand-drawn replicas of their albums. The song he and his girlfriend called “theirs” was “With or Without You.” I couldn’t bring myself to tell them it wasn’t really all that happy of a song, kind of like how people dedicate the Police’s “Every Breath You Take” to loved ones not realizing it’s actually about an obsessive stalker. People don’t want to hear that, they have to learn some things on their own. But I digress.

20 years ago, all I wanted to do was ignore U2. I let the band click with Achtung Baby and it’s been a slow climb ever since then. I’m thoroughly in the “fan” category now, and I fully acknowledge that The Joshua Tree absolutely is one of the best albums of the 80s, if not the best. I’m obviously not alone, hence this special edition. Two CDs – the remastered album on one, non-album tracks on the other – and one DVD with a full concert, a documentary, and a couple videos, packaged in a very elaborate box with a 56-page hardback book. If you don’t buy this version, you’re really kind of wasting your time – you’re really missing out on something special.

Oh, and my friend? He married that girl – and their song changed to Tracy Chapman’s “The Promise.” Much better choice.

November 6, 2007

The Breakdown: The Beatles, Blackfield, The Who

Filed under: Music,News,The Breakdown — Tom @ 6:01 pm

No CDs. That’s right – a first – absolutely no CDs are highlighted this week. It’s all about music DVDs this time around.

The Beatles – Help! DVD: The Fab Four’s follow-up to A Hard Day’s Night doesn’t come easy for fans this time. Where Night simply came in one format – two-disc DVD – Help! is out in two versions that are wildly different in price, and the motivation to purchase the more expensive one comes in how dedicated you are and whether you need to see the film in the original aspect ratio. The “deluxe” packaging is questionably “deluxier” than the standard edition. Sure, you get a 60-page book of photos, a copy of the script, a poster, and some postcards, but aside from that, there is little else. The sole difference in the actual film is that the standard edition comes in 1:33 (fullscreen) ratio while the deluxe comes with the original 1:75 aspect ratio. The decision to make this the only signficant difference between the two was probably based on one thing alone: greed. Most die-hards want to see the original film, not the chopped-down fullscreen version, and charging the jaw-dropping MSRP of $135 for it is simply disgusting. There’s only one reason why they didn’t offer this in the standard edition, and that’s because they know that the deluxe simply won’t sell otherwise.

Blackfield – Live in NYC DVD: It’s not enough that we got not only the amazing Blackfield II album, and one great album and an equally great EP from Steven Wilson’s main band, Porcupine Tree (Fear of a Blank Planet and Nil Recurring, respectively) this year, now we get this live DVD to sate the desires of fans clamoring for more – because we always are. Wilson and bandmate Aviv Geffen, along with longtime band director/artist Lasse Hoile, filmed this show in New York earlier this year (you know, hence the name,) and from all reports it lives up to last year’s Porcupine Tree DVD, Arriving Somewhere, in all respects. Get your hands on one soon if you want it – it appears to be disappearing quickly, for some reason. Amazon is already sold out.

The Who – Amazing Journey: The Story of the Who: It might be easy to look at the title of this and dismiss this as yet another of those “unauthorized biographies” that seem to flood the market around Christmas, the kind of thing that small labels hope desperate, unwitting buyers will pick up at the last minute for loved ones they know love the bands. And looking at the cover doesn’t help – nearly generic, with that RAF logo that the band was known for in the early days (it’s really a photo of Keith, but that’s beside the point.) It doesn’t look legit but it is, and in some ways it’s kind of the flip-side of The Kids Are Alright, which presented the band from the perspective of video clips from their career. Now we get the band from their own perspective, via new interviews with Pete and Roger along with family and friends and archival footage (as well as some celebrity interjections about the band.)

The big deal with this one, why you want to get out and pick one up now, is, you guessed it, a Best Buy exclusive, and it’s pretty big – like the one for Tom Petty’s Runnin’ Down a Dream big. Only at Best Buy can you get a third DVD, which is a 90 minute concert from Chicago, 1979. It’s been edited down a bit from the original show, which was well over two hours long, but what’s reportedly here is actually great – Quadrophenia material, “My Wife,” “The Real Me,” etc. Who fans really don’t want to miss this.

October 23, 2007

The Breakdown: Ryan Adams, Fripp/Eno, Tony Levin, Plant/Krauss, Ween

Filed under: Music,News,The Breakdown — Tom @ 1:19 pm

Ryan Adams & the Cardinals – Follow the Lights: While reports are that Adams appears to be slipping back into the bad behavior that has marred his live performances before going into rehab, he at least turned out a fantastic album earlier this year with Easy Tiger. Follow the Lights follows that up as a seven song EP with two brand new songs (which will be featured in the ABC show October Road,) the rest being live-in-studio alternate versions of previously recorded songs, aside from his cover of Alice In Chains’ “Down In A Hole,” which has been a concert staple on this recent tour – and it’s a must-hear. Essential? Probably not, but it’s $5-6, and Adams appears to be on a role – and you really do need to hear “Down In A Hole” if you like Adams. So it’s close to essential.

Robert Fripp and Brian Eno – Beyond Even (1992-2006): 2004’s Equatorial Stars seemed like a reunion after 12 years apart for these two ambient giants. After all, the last we’d heard from them was on Eno’s 1992 album Nerve Net, but little did we know that they’d been working together the entire time. This album pulls together the strongest bits of those sessions and, if you were a DGM Live follower, you may have seen this on the site a year ago under the name Cotswold Gnomes. It’s been edited a bit to flow better, from what I read, and early buyers get the album in a two-disc edition where one disc features tracks that segue and the other has individual tracks, which makes it so much easier to add your favorites to a mix for your next party.

This one’s going to be easier to get directly from Fripp’s label, DGM.

Tony Levin – Stick Man: Bassist Levin has made an incredible career for himself backing some of the finest musicians in the world, but his most notable contributions have been with Peter Gabriel and the 80s and 90s incarnations of King Crimson (he has also recently returned to the band after Trey Gunn departed for his own solo career.) In between, Levin has turned out a few impressive, if a bit geeky prog-oriented solo albums, and from all I see, this one is no different – but luckily quite a bit different than his last album, Resonator, which features vocals on the majority of the album, which was just not a good idea. Here, he sings on only three, letting his strong melodic sense guide his bass and Chapman Stick playing (“Stick” Man – get it?) which has been the driving force behind his other, more successfully satisfying albums.

This one had a release date sometime this month, but finding it is more than a bit difficult – just order it from the man himself until it finds its way into regular stores.

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss – Raising Sand: This is one of those pairings that could go either way. Plant was inarguably one of rock’s absolute vocal gods, and Krauss, who I hear is one of bluegrass/country’s strongest vocalists, and here he takes a step out onto her territory – not that bluegrass-tinged flavors are any stranger to the Led Zeppelin vet since the band often dipped into the genre. The odd thing here is that, while Plant’s legendary voice has changed and thinned through the years, it actually seems suited to the needs of this project even more. Expectations are running high for this one, but early reviews are saying that it actually meets them.

Ween – La Cucaracha: It’s been four long years since Ween graced us with a new album of weirdness. In that time, they did slip out the fantastic Shinola Vol. 1, a collection of odds and ends that includes their Pizza Hut jingle that apparently didn’t go over so well with the company (“Where’d the Cheese Go?”) and a few months back released a 5-song EP as a teaser for the new album. Questions remained, however – where would Ween be going with this new album? Their previous couple of albums, Quebec and White Pepper, had headed into slightly more serious territory (and this is relative, remember,) so there were some fears that perhaps Ween might have lost their edge. Worry not – Ween is as Ween-y as ever and, in fact, it appears that La Cucaracha hearkens back to Chocolate and Cheese and Pure Guava at least in terms of spirit, if not sound. The band is as eclectic as ever – there’s a gay anthem in “Friends” (found in an alternate version on the aforementioned EP,) metal (“My Own Bare Hands,”) jazzy latin-rock in “Fiesta,” and a complete surprise is in store for pretty much everyone in “Your Party” when David Sanborn, of all people, shows up to add sax – he’s a big fan of the band, believe it or not. Why? Because they’re awesome – they are weird and goofy but do so in entirely musical ways. Nothing ever feels like a joke – they’re serious about making everything they do fun.

October 17, 2007

The Breakdown: Jimi Hendrix, Keith Jarrett, Tom Petty, REM

Filed under: Music,News,The Breakdown — Tom @ 9:51 am

Not a huge week here, but that’s kind of a relief, isn’t it? And yet, still enough to sap your wallet of quite a bit of dough anyway. That’s the life of a music addict.

Keith Jarrett – My Foolish Heart: Live at Montreux: I think there’s an annual requirement that Keith Jarrett must issue some kind of musical good. There are only a handful of years in his career that have not resulted in some kind of album under his name – 1969, 1970, 1978, 1982, 1984, 1997, and 2002. The kicker is that in the many years he did release music, he often released multiple titles. That’s just remarkable. Equally remarkable is that this release is in the year of the 25th anniversary of the trio featured here – pianist Jarrett with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette.

This two disc set covers the jazz standards the group is known for – songs you probably know, but, as always, given a fresh and probably greatly extended reading by this powerful trio.

On a side note, I know I read a contingent of “fans” have vowed to never again give money to Jarrett after he erupted at camera-wielding festival attendees:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BB9mMABRM0c”>music, right?

Jimi Hendrix – Live at Monterey CD/DVD: Speaking of cameras . . . a bunch followed Hendrix around the festival in question, the debut of the band in the US, filming not only his performance but also a documentary about the man himself and the festival. The DVD includes all of this, plus some previously unreleased interviews with Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding, and two songs (“Stone Free” and “Like A Rolling Stone”) from an earlier performance in England. However, the CD includes one song not on the DVD, “Can You See Me,” as, somehow, that did not get filmed. But, the CD lacks the extra two songs the DVD has. See how they get you here? If you’re a Hendrix nut, you kinda gotta buy both, and at a mere 42 minutes for the CD, there’s really no excuse for this – those extra songs should have been on the CD, or “Can You See Me” on the DVD in some form.

Tom Petty – Running Down a Dream DVD: Boy, has Best Buy got the deal here. Seriously, you’d be pretty foolish to pass this up, regardless of your stance on exclusives or big-box stores. While other stores will be getting a two-disc, four-hour version of director Peter Bogdanovich’s documentary on Petty and the Heartbreakers, Best Buy will get their own special version with four discs. The third disc is a DVD of the 30th anniversary date in the band’s hometown of Gainesville, Florida, and the fourth is a 9-track CD of rarities, and all with a price of $24.99. Can you seriously say no to that? I didn’t think so.

REM – Live: You can’t get much more explanatory than that title, huh? Two CDs and a DVD of the same material from a February, 2006 pair of shows in support of the band’s lowest moment, Around the Sun, Blogcritics’ (and official Friend of Lookout For Hope) Josh Hathaway has a great review that pretty much sums up my every issue with this release. This is one I’ll have to wait on until I feel a great need for some new R.E.M. material, since they apparently have opted to take a really, really long time to release the remasters that looked to be imminent when the IRS years best-of, And I Feel Fine, came out last year. Maybe next year . . . ?

October 9, 2007

The Breakdown: ELP, Jesu, Bob Mould, Robert Pollard, Robert Wyatt

Filed under: Music,News,The Breakdown — Tom @ 6:23 am

It’s a week of Bobs, apparently. Roberts Mould, Pollard, and Wyatt all have new releases (in one case, two) along with a mixed bag of genres that should keep most well-settled heads spinning.

Emerson, Lake, and Palmer – Brain Salad Surgery Deluxe/Remaster: The music of this prog-rock classic is legendary and seemingly timeless. Who doesn’t know “Karn Evil 9”? I will fight them that claim not to know it! The artwork has always been a favorite of music fans – me included – and this remaster puts it back in a format that duplicates, in smaller form, of course, the intricate and beautiful design of the original vinyl release. HR Giger’s stunning, weird artwork is featured in a diecut, folding package with a mini-poster inside, along with an extensive 24 page book with rare photos and an essay. But that’s not all – for the first time ever, instrumental outtakes of “Jerusalem” and the full “Karn Evil 9” suite are appended to the album. Pretty cool deal even for casual fans.

Jesu – Lifeline EP: Where Godflesh drifted only minimally, or maybe laterally within their little niche of grinding, pounding metal, Justin Broadrick seems to have seen Jesu as a vehicle for ascending through other genres, release by release. With the release earlier this year of Conqueror, Jesu successfully mixed his roots in Godflesh with his love of shoegaze with an unexpectedly beautiful and mature result. The four song Lifeline EP will probably be another step forward, if maybe less dramatic than Conqueror and its predecessor, the Silver EP.

Also of note for Broadrick fans is Pale Sketches, 46 minutes of unreleased Jesu material from the past 7 years. It will be limited to 2000 copies and once it’s gone, it’s gone, so get yourself over to Avalanche, the only place to buy one, and order a copy right now.

Bob Mould – Circle of Friends – Live at 9:30: Bob Mould turns out a very cool looking lineup of songs on this, his first live DVD, backed by a band featuring Brendan Canty on drums, and showcasing a great selection of songs from throughout his entire solo career, Sugar, and a few Hüsker Dü songs as well.

Robert Pollard – Coast to Coast Carpet of Love and Standard Gargoyle Decisions: Oh, uncle Bob. I’m beginning to fear burnout, honestly. Even though I’m a relatively new fan, I love your music as if it’s been a part of my life since high school. Guided By Voices’ odd penchant for beautiful, but warped melodies are forever stamped upon my brain. I will never look at spam without thinking “Could this make for a great song title or what?” But I do feel like maybe releasing so much music, so often is kind of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, some of your greatest twists of phrase and riffs come out of those quickly tossed-together ditties. On the other hand, there are so many that it’s hard to keep up. Last year you put out seven albums and EPs. This year it’s going to be a little lighter – “only” five after today (the others are the Silverfish Trivia EP (under his own name,) The Takeovers’ Bad Football, and Circus Devils’ Sgt. Disco.) And that’s not counting a mail-order 7″ vinyl club-thing you’ve started, which has album tracks paired with one non-album each – one a month for a year. And what’s more, I know, all of your fans know, that there are tons more songs where those come from. As you famously said, and I paraphrase, “I go take a shit and think of five new songs. And three of them are good.” And that’s the thing – there are tons of great songs in this vast catalog of Guided By Voices, Robert Pollard, and a bunch of other pseudonyms, but there are SO many of them. And you keep adding to them! How do I find the time to sort through them? And here comes two more albums, Gargoyle being the slightly pricklier of the two, Coast to Coast having more shades of Guided By Voices, from the reports. I suppose I’ll quickly be making time on my shelf, if not necessarily time in my life to fully digest, these two albums.

Robert Wyatt – Comicopera: There’s a kind of absurdist, dream-like beauty to 1997’s Shleep that I fell in love with, which I don’t find so much of in 2003’s complex, jazz-inflected Cuckooland. Looking deeper, past the unusual instrumentation and song structure, not to mention Wyatt’s wavering, jovial voice, and there are startling revelations being made within the lyrics – statements many artists make, about the world today, about relationships between man and wife, and how confusing it all can be when we have to deal with it all at the same time, but Wyatt delivers it with a kind of subversive flair few others can manage – his view of the world is filled equally with razor-sharp wit as it is with wide-eyed wonder. Wyatt, and all his usual elements return with an album that fulfills the title’s promise – it is a three-act opera which appears to steer, subject matter-wise, toward Cuckooland, while employing the slightly more conventional stylings of Shleep and earlier material. Wyatt’s take on events of the past four years should be quite intriguing.

October 2, 2007

The Breakdown: Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, PJ Harvey, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, Megadeth, Prong

Filed under: Music,News,The Breakdown — Tom @ 9:16 am

You’ve got a whole week before that new Radiohead album, In Rainbows, is available to either shell out next to nothing (you decide!) or splurge on the $82 “disc box” of the latter which has two 12″ records of the music, a CD of the album-proper, and an additional CD of extra music – in addition to the box and artwork, of course. What are you going to do in the meantime? Here are some suggestions:

Miles Davis – The Complete On The Corner Sessions Box Set: Fingers crossed – come on, cross ’em – this should be out this week. Or maybe not – given how things went with the Cellar Door Sessions box, which was delayed and delayed and delayed (due to a conflict between the Davis estate and Columbia,) there’s really no telling when these sets will actually hit store shelves. And it always seems to come right down to release day, somehow. Given the fact that review copies are out (Pico’s fantastic review attests to that,) it should seem imminent that these could be in our hands – but, again, there’s no telling, as those review copies went out long before the final box was completed (it was, of course, complete in audio terms.)

Regardless, when it finally sneaks through, be it this week or whenever, this set’s six discs will be chock full of the studio material Davis recorded from 1972 to 1975, meaning it encompasses the tracks that made it not only to On the Corner but also to Big Fun and Get Up With It. That music is not for the faint of heart – this is not straight-up jazz but a further exploration of the elements that Davis employed during the making of Bitches Brew, and this era of Miles’ music set in motion changes in jazz that couldn’t be stopped, for better or for worse. If you hate all jazz-fusion on principle, you can lay much of the blame on Miles. If, however, you find there to be a sense of daring and excitement, again, Miles is the central figure.

On a side note, what is with the pricing on this set? $125?! It’s six discs! I realize that the packaging is the usual amazing quality that the other sets have had, but this is getting a bit ridiculous, isn’t it?

Bob Dylan – Dylan (Multiple formats): It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas – they’ve covered just about all the bases they could with this one, a gift-idea for many a music fan if I ever saw one. There’s a single disc for those who aren’t really sure if they can handle that much Dylan, but likely want at least something of the legend’s in their collection (and can’t commit to actual albums,) then there’s the three-disc, 48-track career-spanning compilation, and finally the deluxe version of the same three-disc, 48-track career-spanning compilation in a very pretty package – all red-cloth covered and hinged, with 40 page book. Content depends on your point of view – it might make for a nice, extensive best-of, or it might just be yet another quick cash-grab by the label
. Me, I’m in between – I can see that maybe Biograph is a little too esoteric for some listeners, what with all the previously unreleased non-album material, but I also see that there’s absolutely nothing of interest here other than packaging for the long time Dylan fan. It’s obviously been carefully positioned so as to take advantage of the coming Dylan renaissance due to the weirdly intriguing bio-film I’m Not There, but beyond that, whether it offers something of long-time reward is up to the buyers themselves.

PJ Harvey – White Chalk: Harvey’s material has never been particularly sunny, but this album is seriously dark. AllMusic uses the word “eerie” in their review and I have to agree – this is haunting, chilling music, all stripped down to bare bones: piano, a few other instruments, and the atmosphere churned up by her voice. This is not easy listening, but it is intriguing as hell.

Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings – 100 Days, 100 Nights: The Dap Kings are going to be a household name one of these days. You likely already know them – they backed new soul diva Amy Winehouse on her tremendously successful “Rehab” from her “way better than just ‘Rehab'” Back to Black. Like Motown’s Funk Brothers, who backed pretty much everyone on the label in the 60s, the Dap Kings are setting themselves up to be the backing band everyone in 00s soul wants behind them, at least on Daptone records, that is – for now. What we get with Jones is more of what Winehouse had to offer, but without the paparazzi. This is the real deal – be the first on your block to be dropping Jones’ and the Dap Kings names.

Megadeth – Warchest Box Set: And now for something completely different . . . As with the boxes mentioned above, long time fans are going to have the hard decision of deciding whether they need the non-album material that is included. Luckily, in this case, there is quite a bit of it in the form of demos, live tracks, and stuff that never found a home on any of the albums even in their “remixed, remastered, expanded” editions. The live material is the big draw here – one CD (of four) is dedicated to a concert from 1990’s Rust in Peace tour, arguably their artistic peak, and an additional DVD adds a show at their popular peak, on tour for 1992’s Countdown to Extinction. Chris Beaumont has a detailed rundown. While you save up your cash for that, be sure and splurge a little and grab this year’s United Abominations – it’s Megadeth at their best in a decade.

Prong – Power of the Damager: That’s a really unwieldy title right there, but it doesn’t seem to be indicative of the music contained within. Prong, whose chunky executions predated the fall of hard rock, but seemed to predict the format metal would take throughout the decade, failed to follow through on what could have been a fairly successful career. After a few albums, the band started to disintegrate, and while lead guitarist/vocalist Tommy Victor picked some worthy successors, what was lost was the very spark that made them so unique in the first place. The band went on hiatus, then reformed for an album that received mixed reviews – 2003’s Scorpio Rising. The jury’s still out on Power to the Damager, but clips on the band’s requisite myspace page are promising – if not a return to the glories of Beg to Differ and Prove You Wrong, it might be along the lines of Cleansing, which was still a pretty damned solid album. We’ll see.

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