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posted by Mike on September 18, 2009 6:56 AM in Music
Everything is better with some perspective. When I started my tenure as Music Editor for The Weekly Geek, it was 2006. Bird flu was still the most feared contagion, I had a steady job with a mortgage company (you can guess what happened to that in 2007), and Google had just purchased YouTube. Now we're nearing the close of the decade and I'm happy to say that many of my favorite picks are from the first half of it; namely, things I haven't had the chance to cover since coming on board here.
Much has happened in the audio realm and I'd like to culminate it with my Top 10 Albums of the 2000s.
I've tried to be judicious, definitive, and for the sake of my own sanity, not second guess myself (still, I'd have to expand the list to 25 to fit all my "honorable mentions"). And obviously, it wouldn't be fun if all these spots weren't up for vehement debate and thus, I welcome it.
List your choices, tear mine apart - take your pick. But make no mistake: the imprint this decade's music will leave on the world is rich and storied, undeniable in its merit and gravity.
posted by Mike on March 23, 2009 10:40 PM in Music
Sometimes a concept can be bigger than the people who convey it. Since signing to major label Capitol, The Decemberists have brought two fanciful (and highly conceptual) folk tales to life.
Frontman Colin Meloy - much maligned for purveying "thesaurus rock" and much beloved for making it tastefully palatable - could care less about the classifications, petty or otherwise. He's only concerned with the story. On The Hazards of Love, Colin and his swarthy, seasoned shipmates have recklessly run ashore, found some friends, and are colonizing the forests.
Much akin to their past works, but drastically cross-hatched, Hazards incorporates elements of "California One/Youth & Beauty Brigade", the pastiche prog themes from The Tain, and the solemnity of preceding Crane Wife. It's unmistakably Decemberists, and undeniably new. With this record, unlike past Meloy-led expeditions - which upon repeated listening leaves a campy residue - is a maturation of sorts; a culmination.
Opening number "Prelude" bleeds with organs into a crisp, revealing "Hazards of Love 1" where Colin's character shape-shifts from a fawn into a suitor for the angelic Margaret (voiced by Lavender Diamond's Becky Stark). Their courtship is contested by the searing Forest Queen (played by My Brightest Diamond's Shara Worden). Eventually, as in all their morbid tales, the couple succumbs; they're held captive by the angry river and they drown with a kiss. ("We Both Go Down Together" ring a bell?)
But the real glory is the insular drama of the centerpiece tracks in Hazards. Worden's Forest Queen reigns supreme with vocal strength such that her wrath is well remembered long after (see "The Wanting Comes in Waves/Repaid" and "The Queen's Rebuke/The Crossing"). A bitter widower kills his children to become a bachelor and the youngsters come back to haunt him in "Hazards of Love 3", recalling their own deaths like something out of an Edward Gorey illustration.
But the oak in the center of Hazard's woods is Margaret's "Won't Want for Love". It's the perfect example of what The Decemberists have become - Meloy and Chris Funk riffing like they're being measured against late-era Zeppelin, John Moen keeping an effectual, but even-tempered beat resembling Mick Fleetwood, and Jen Conlee hammering keys with a Pink Floyd-like precision.
It's ironic that with such a devoted fan base and such an unalienable, literary-obsessed style, that The Decemberists has arrived at what might be their career's magnum opus by loosening the resolutely-gripped reins on their sound and allowing guest performers to shape their destiny along with them.
Stark's recurring chorus "I may swoon from all this swaying/but I won't want for love" is the revelation here; you can't help but adore the strange path that The Decemberists have carved. And if Hazards of Love is but a landmark in their journey, the end point will be unimaginably grand.
Zach Condon has a vast imagination. Its taken him to the far reaches of the globe. From his humble Santa Fe domicile he's been to Eastern Europe, Paris, and now, Oaxaca. With a horn in tow and a hired translator he ventured to the home of the Aztecs.
Beirut is a gateway to world culture in a universal language. And as such, Condon's rag-tag Mexican funeral band for March of the Zapotec doesn't just steep his songs in tequila and bake them in the hot Baja sun, it takes us all with him for the journey.
"La Llorona" (the Spanish legend of the weeping lady) maintains the street-band feel of Beirut's past efforts with a tale of a man who tries to buy a stubborn lover's affection. "The Akara" - probably where Condon got the inspiration for his March title - sways with rattling drums and crying trumpets as a mistress who, tired of waiting for her lover, cuts her "kite strings" free. The lovely "On a Bayonet" bleeds right in to thematic closer "The Shrew" that erupts with cymbal crashes in a cacophony of Latin madness.
After the closing number, Condon's secondary moniker Realpeople make its debut (Holland) with five tunes; some of which pre-date his Beirut experiments. It's a neat addition to see how far he's come in such a short time. "My Night With a Prostitute from Marseille" and "Venice", in particular, come off sounding like what might happen if Dntel's Jimmy Tamborello made a second Postal Service record using Zach's vocal talents instead of Ben Gibbard's.
Bottom line though: this short, 6-song glimpse into Mexico's rich traditions is glorious. But the remarkable part is that Condon has kept the Beirut experience fresh by incorporating the sounds of each passport stamp (Gulag Orkestar, The Flying Club Cup) and twining it into his study current location. The ghosts of his Russian and Parisian trips are resurrected in March of the Zapotec for the gigantic splendor of Dia de los Muertos.
Her catalog has been about shooting the gap. Finding a perfect middle ground between a gloomy Tacoma past and a gleaming Nashville present. With Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, Neko Case found the right mixture; a merging of independent rock edge with dusty country ramblings.
After the excellent building-blocks Furnace Room Lullaby and Blacklisted, 2006's Fox Confessor was haunting, desolate, and it won my nod for Album of the Year. Though, with any artist, and with Case in particular - whose work solo and with The New Pornographers is superb - following greatness time after time becomes increasingly difficult.
And indeed Middle Cyclone, on first and second listens, seems like a group of average songs tethered together by fleeting moments of brilliance. Tracks like "Vengeance is Sleeping", "Magpie to the Morning", and "The Pharaohs" all suffer from a lumbering repetition musically that bogs down otherwise amazing vocal performances. "The Next Time You Say Forever" and "I'm An Animal" seem short and underdeveloped, but with glowingly awesome potential.
Fortunately, further dedication to Cyclone brings the realization that these brief little 15 to 30 second flashes are the true payoff. Like real twisters, they're here and gone in an instant, but the effects are permanent and dramatic. "This Tornado Loves You" describes the wreckage:
"My love, I am the speed of sound/ I left the motherless, fatherless/ their souls dangling inside-out from their mouths/ but it's never enough, I want you..."
Other golden grains are sifted out of the chaff. "Polar Nettles" ties descending piano lines and a rattling snare march to Case displaying the shocking new "Sistine Chapel painted with a Gatling gun." The title track has her humming a soft nocturne above a preciously off-kilter music box. Closing cut "Red Tide" brings smoky saxophones as Neko recalls the "smell here of gravel and cigarettes lit/ when the match made them sweet/ when the engine turned over and beat up our street." The bridge of first single "People Got a Lot of Nerve" pushes her voice to precise new heights with a lack of restraint that's refreshingly vulnerable.
On the album's promotional video, Case admitted that some of Middle Cyclone's audio takes had her balancing on the edge, knowing she was either on to something amazing or the whole thing could fall apart with a gust of wind in her Vermont-based barn/studio. Really, aside from the high expectations and any perceivable letdowns here, it's that she's walking (and reveling in) that fine line between failure and glory that makes this record great.
posted by Mike on February 24, 2009 8:34 PM in Music
More often than not, the compilation is an afterthought now. A group of people (usually a record label) pick a chic charity, gather a slap-dash bunch of artists willing to re-package their latest b-sides and voilà! A comp that not only sounds boring, but is.
If you will, re-imagine this lackluster institution, with me, as something else entirely. Start with a truly worthwhile cause (AIDS awareness), take two musicians (the Dessner brothers from The National) rallying their friends around that cause to commit new and interesting material to the project, and there you have it: Dark Was The Night.
From the get-go, this compilation is anything but ordinary; David Byrne joins The Dirty Projectors for the harmonious "Knotty Pine". Disc one also features performances coupling the sibling curators with other independent celebrities for fresh performances - Bryce with Antony Hegarty and Aaron with Justin Vernon. Other highlights include Ben Gibbard and Feist on a dreamy acoustic duet "Train Song", The National taping "So Far Around the Bend", Sufjan Stevens covering The Castanets' tune "You Are The Blood", and the best Decemberists song I've heard in a while, "Sleepless".
Disc two starts with a calculated effort from Spoon's Britt Daniel and the quality of Dark Was The Night never relents. Arcade Fire's "Lenin" recalls an warmer, fuzzier period in their early career. Dave Sitek from TV on the Radio makes an appearance for "With A Girl Like You". Even Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, who add some soul to the rock-laced album are completely on point. And Bright Eyes rehashing his own "Lua" seems fresh, as Gillian Welsh joins him to make it a duet.
The crowning point (for me, at least) on Dark Was The Night is The New Pornographers covering the Destroyer song "Hey, Snow White". It's solemn, clear, building, and triumphant; encapsulating the feel of the entire project, both from a musical and human standpoint.
I can't remember the last time a joint effort by this many artists sounded so well-meshed. If nothing else, Dark proves that a compilation, done right, is still a beautiful thing.
posted by Mike on February 3, 2009 8:51 PM in Music
My girlfriend favorite independent songstress, Neko Case, is done with her latest record. Due March 3 on Anti- Records, Middle Cyclone will play successor to my 2006 Album of the Year selection, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood.
This first single from Cyclone brings all of Case's typical charm to the table - that trademark strong vocal delivery over a bed of not-quite-country jangly guitars and shuffling drums. But the highlight here is a soaring falsetto bridge part.
Neko, as the lyrics suggest, really is a "man eater" - and Middle Cyclone's uber-awesome album art certainly supports that sentiment.
posted by Mike on October 17, 2008 9:03 AM in Music
"Everything that happens will happen today/nothing has changed and nothing's the same/every tomorrow will be yesterday/everything that happens will happen today."
Two travelers, lost in time - kindred souls separated for years by nothing but being busy.
A match made in heaven. David Byrne: innovative songwriter, front man of the defunct legends Talking Heads. Brian Eno: ambient mastermind, producer of more amazing records than some labels have even released.
And in their first collaboration in twenty five years, they meld their legacies into something entirely new and brilliant.
posted by Mike on September 26, 2008 9:07 AM in Music
Last Wednesday at the Showbox, I was treated to Austin, TX band Okkervil River - a group on the precipice of going beyond their cult following to full blown indie stardom.
Opener Zykos, also from Austin, played 45 minutes of straightforward, yet pleasant rock; their success will depend largely on the strengthening of singer Mike Booher's raspy vocal delivery which, at its strongest, reminded me of Wilco's Jeff Tweedy.
Second band Sea Wolf was a real treat. Hailing from L.A., and having found their way into a few big television commercial spots, they played a nice variety of tunes. Half the jams were relentless - with an onslaught of crisp drums, well-strummed acoustic guitars and synthesizer/cello interplay (see "I'm a Wolf"). The other half were slower and heartfelt like the disarming mid-set highlight "Middle Distance Runner".
When Okkervil River finally took the stage, they showed how comfortable they are and how big their fan base has ballooned in the last few years.
With charming southern influenced ballads to hard rocking feedback fests, frontman Will Sheff has obviously surrounded himself with enough veterans and friends to accomplish anything.
Most impressive were Lauren Gurgiolo's guitar work and Justin Sherburn's exploits on keyboards. Both seemed effortless and capable of queuing dynamics through the whole night.
Yet singer and ringleader of the night Sheff was rightly the center of attention. His tortured wails and growls, especially on older tracks "The Latest Toughs" and "For Real" from Black Sheep Boy, were eaten up by the crowd.
I couldn't help but notice their newest songs from The Stand Ins haven't quite cemented in the minds of their audience yet.
Still, between Will's charisma and the band (for the most part) being on point, Okkervil River seems destined for great things. They remind me of fellow indie darlings The Decemberists a couple years ago - like they're one more exceptional record and a couple bigger shows away from being massive.
posted by Mike on September 18, 2008 7:57 PM in Music
Kevin Barnes has finally cracked. He's lobotomized himself and let his rainbow colored brain fluid flow out for everyone to see. It's ugly, beautiful, insane, logical - Skeletal Lamping is an extension of his work laid naked and unapologetic, for the critics to pick apart.
If there was one flaw to last year's Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? it's that it was too calculated, too choreographed. For all its exposure into his personal problems, Barnes didn't challenge the listener very much. Skeletal Lamping, however, is vibrantly dissonant, uncomfortably sexual, stripping away any security the audience might have.
As sore as my feet were from Saturday, I lived to fight another day at PAX. Walking around on Sunday was a bit like being in a survival horror game full of nerdy zombies - ready to crash (or possibly eat brains) from a weekend of energy drink fueled madness.
Anyhow, the crowds had thinned enough for me to get in and actually play a lot of the games the lines wouldn't permit on Saturday.
11:01 - Dragon Age Demo - BioWare are apparently "getting back to their roots" with a Baldur's Gate style game. The Mass Effect-like decision tree is nice, especially for a fantasy game, but the novelty is wearing off a little bit. The cut scene graphics are a tad underwhelming, especially when it's postponing action to tell me a generic medieval story. The gameplay itself is fantastic though - especially the huge area of effect magic spells and beautifully gory finishing moves. Combine that with a story that changes vastly based on your class and race choices, and we may just see this title winning over the Baldur's crowd.
11:39 - Fallout 3 Gameplay - Bethesda may have the best shooting game of the year on their hands. Incredible detail is present even in just the demo builds for the convention. The V.A.T paused targeting system adds a whole new dimension to the genre. I'm amazed by the amount of time investment and the level of detail in the menus; even if they are taking a page out of the Bioshock plasmid tutorial book, it's still the best move that Bethesda could make to build on the multi-console success of Oblivion.
12:25 - Animal Crossing: City Folk - *Squeeeeeeeeeee* So excited for more cuteness from the only Nintendo franchise I give a shit about anymore. New to this version: the ability to play over WiiConnect (as expected) and finally the ability to skin your animal with the Mii face of your choice - no longer will we have to accept the random animals they spit out at us. The graphics are a nice, neat little step up from the GameCube's Animal Crossing and at any time, you can emote with your cute little bundle of joy. Stomp in anger when you lose a fish or jump up and down when you pay off your damn mortgage to Tom Nook.
After I procrastinated with my registration last year, I made it to PAX 2008. It was both eventful and stuffed to the gills. Unlike all the gaming bloggers tapping away in the lines with their laptops, you aren't gonna get any news from me first. But hopefully, if you weren't able to make it, you'll be able to live it vicariously through my delayed, analog-transferred coverage.
9:52 - Is it bad that the first thing I notice about PAX is how the line smells like a used baby wipe?
10:28 - From everything I can tell, Rock Band 2 looks smoother and more polished. Almost like Rock Band was rushed to the market and that this is the game we were meant to get originally.
10:32 - Tales of Vesperia is every bit as gorgeous as Eternal Sonata. Let's just hope they made the battle system less repetitive.
10:46 - Gears of War 2 looks amazingly clean. Didn't think the graphics could improve that much. I was wrong.
10:52 - If Mirror's Edge wasn't visually stunning, I'd say it's just another FPS. I'm seeing really clunky shooting mechanics and glitches all over the place. Let's hope those are demo jitters.
11:02 - From appearances, Fable 2 has gone a decidedly Diablo-esque direction, facade-wise.
11:14 - Little Big Planet and Blu-Ray continue to be the only selling points on the PS3, for me at least.
11:25 - Fallout 3 officially wins best booth design at PAX. Happy family scene on one side, post-apocalyptic nightmare on the other. Well done, Bethesda!
2:27 - Monster Lab actually appears to be a well done mini-game collection quest extravaganza for the Wii.
3:42 - Love living downtown; taking a break from PAX to walk my dog.
5:07 - It's proving nearly impossible to get in panels without camping for an hour. Could PAX have outgrown this place too?
Stay tuned for more PAX coverage from the The Weekly Geek! At some point, I'll distill my thoughts on one of the most interesting panels Saturday, where several gaming minds broke down the "Casual vs. Hardcore" argument.
posted by Mike on August 25, 2008 8:22 PM in Music
Anybody who knows me can verify my unswerving dedication to a Chicago band accused most recently (on Sky Blue Sky) of making dad rock. I was a tad critical of that record last year, a release that has since grown on me quite a bit. Here's why: Wilco has always made dad rock - and they're damn good at it.
They've taken the bands our fathers grew up on and fulfilled their promise to a new and more demanding generation with the help of some technology, and just some sheer grit. I've had their earlier albums Being There and Summerteeth on a loop this past week and I just found out why. Wilco is everything I wish the Rolling Stones would've become. Crunchy guitars, swagger, and some crazy keyboard work to glue it all together.
posted by Mike on August 19, 2008 8:14 AM in Music
Since I got my iPod Touch, I've been obsessively looking for ways to utilize the small bits of WiFi bandwidth I'm able to siphon away from the great city of Seattle.
So when I can manage to pry myself away from Social Networking and Gaming, I turn to my first love: Music. There are several iPhone and iPod options available to supplement the meager music collection you are limited to hold with an 8gb to 32gb device.
The two obvious choices are Pandora and Last.fm, and both are great in their own ways.
After years of strong production from funky, white-boy word twister Beck, The Information given to us in 2006 felt like maybe he was losing a bit of steam. An effort pushed along at times by Nigel Godrich's production, it was lacking in that constant rhythmic propulsion usually found in Beck's work.
And now, for the second release in a row, Modern Guilt feels more like a vehicle for its producer, Danger Mouse, than it does for Mr. Hansen.
Guided By Voices was a band surrounded by some nontarnishable legend of repute. No matter how many times I heard the name, even along side bands I admired, I ignored them. The years passed, and now they're gone, and I'm just getting into them.
Known for their insanely rigorous live act, Guided By Voices had a swagger that was unnatural for the Indie bands of the time. The studio albums in the latter part of their career were more or less attempted documentations of the group's live sound - their second to last record, Earthquake Glue, being no exception.
Lead-off track "My Kind of Soldier" shows clips of the band playing with their famed drunken front man Robert Pollard serving as curator to both the crunching guitars of his cohorts and the story of "Beatle Bob." All the while, Pollard's melodies are as effortless as the wind that will carry his music on to generations of listeners to come.
I've been beaten to the punch on this by just about every music enthusiast with a blog, but I won't let that stop me.
Girl Talk, stage name for master mash bandit Gregg Gillis, just released Feed the Animals (some of which was featured in the last podcast) online. Plainly stated, it's art by juxtaposition. Effortlessly he blends samples from a 3+ decade, genre-hopping selection. With little to no reverence, but with an uncanny rhythmic intuition, artists like Busta Rhymes & The Police merge with dramatically awesome results.
This video delves into Gillis' creative process (however glancingly), and shows him butchering Elvis Costello to bits and using him as a small tile in a larger mosaic.
The most telling quote Gillis makes is the last; perhaps letting on that mashing isn't as simple as this short YouTube clip makes it seem: "If you spend a few hours or years doing that you can kinda go places with it."
I remember hearing My Brightest Diamond for the first time. My collection isn't exactly chock full of bands that I've discovered live. So it was remarkable that she, as an opening act for Sufjan Stevens, was able to capture my attention so immediately.
Let's settle one thing: Shara Worden is probably the most captivating live performer on the indie rock circuit - spellbinding voice, flowing sets with well-chosen cover songs - she's incredible.
Naturally, the studio tends to kill the focus and (more surprisingly) the dynamic of her songs, but the freshness of her debut Bring Me the Workhorse was able to overcome that dampening.
Now, on her second studio attempt, it's becoming painfully clear that she's at home on the road. And more frighteningly, her creativity is starting to suffer as a result.
Age hasn't often been an obstacle for burgeoning music acts, but artists in their late 20s to early 30s tend to make their most fully-fleshed, fully-mature creations. But 21 year-old Robin Pecknold has the perfectly weathered voice of someone double his years, and the honed story-telling capacities of somebody triple his years. Combine those rare talents with Pecknold's youthful vigor and it makes for some magical moments.
Another in a long line of fantastic Sub Pop releases, Fleet Foxes, the band's first full-length, builds and expands on the promise of their first two rousing EPs - including the overwhelmingly great Sun Giant EP.
Wolf Parade's debut LP, Apologies to the Queen Mary, from a few years ago was a raw, unhinged explosion of guitars and keyboards - a work that evoked post-punk anger as much as it did peppy bounce. As genius a first album as it was, with Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner's trade-off songwriting, the group was slightly overshadowed by the barrage of good music being exported from Canada at the time - Arcade Fire, The New Pornographers, and the like.
After successful side project excursions for both Krug (Sunset Rubdown) and Boeckner (Handsome Furs), the duo reunites with a renewed formidableness. At Mount Zoomer is refreshingly different. They've kept the angularity and intensity, but Wolf Parade adds a welcome dose of subtlety and complexity in this succinct 9-song set.
Even the back of the box tells us that this game is trying too hard to be something its not - a third-person shooter with profundity. The Club, Sega's latest foray into attempted gaming relevancy, is a title that has some potential. It could be a fast-paced, run and gun arcade-style extravaganza. Instead, it's a frustrating, self-absorbed traipse of a time-trial through a world that shouldn't exist, not even in a game programmer's imagination.
Some music we associate with a certain nostalgic era in our lives, and for the longest time, I thought The Get Up Kids would fall in that category for me. Most music I reminisce about blankly after 5 years is unceremoniously banished from my music collection never to be seen again. But On A Wire, the 2002 record from the aforementioned post-punk group has endured quiet nicely.
"Overdue" with its sincerity and mellow, bittersweet chorus harmonies opens the album with a certain gravity that's hard to deny a place in your heart. Along with the odd video that accompanies it, The Get Up Kids have ridden the angry wave of my fickle memories and come out on the other side almost better than they looked going in.
Listening now, I believe James Mercer must've heard this record quite a few times while writing the calmer cuts on The Shins' albums - even if he'll never admit it to anyone.
Probably the most depressing break-up in the 90s occurred when Portishead fell off the face of the earth. In their prime they were robbed from us. Beth Gibbons went off to work in the garden, Geoff Barrow reallocated his production talents, and Adrian Utley wept softly into his beer in the dark corner of a pub.
Then, as if a divine musical presence summoned them from their inactive decade, they return to us with Third. Lazily named, but meticulously scripted, this album is the materialization of thousands of hushed rumors spread since Gibbons appeared to sing "Wandering Star" with her band mates at a small club in Bristol back in February 2007.
They didn't have anything to prove, but Portishead delivers a bone-chilling paramount to their existing catalog.
Every now and again a band comes along that feels like the first summer wind after a long winter - you know, the kind that gives you the warm fuzzy feeling inside. Bands that can easily give you the goosebumps whether you want them to or not. Fleet Foxes definitely fall under that category.
A call back to the pastoral pop of Brian Wilson and Simon & Garfunkel, while in keeping with contemporaries like Midlake and Grizzly Bear, Fleet Foxes have an amazingly timeless sound and the tools to deliver it flawlessly. Their harmonies are the obvious draw, and after watching several live videos where boisterous club crowds are silenced in awe of their talents, I have to believe these guys will be sticking around for quite a while in independent music circles.
posted by Mike on March 17, 2008 11:05 AM in Music
You could say that for half this decade Trent Reznor has been lost. After writing probably the most fitting funeral piece for the dying 90s - The Fragile - he has struggled to stay relevant. The music of the young century has caught up with and surpassed the industrial sounds he popularized in the late 80s. Perhaps more unnerving for Nine Inch Nails fans, Reznor's lyrics have hardly grown past the angst-ridden, teen-aimed themes he preferred when he was younger.
But something strange happened with Year Zero last April. Almost as if he was taking the title literally, the album signaled a personal and musical revolution for Reznor. Nothing was particularly innovative about the record's content, but the way it was marketed and distributed gave Nine Inch Nails fans a reason to clamor. Now, less than a year later, Ghosts purposely rids the lengthy pre-production that plagued his early releases. And more significantly, the lyrics that shackled his past work to an immature audience have vanished too.
posted by Mike on March 11, 2008 10:05 AM in Music
I'll admit: I was a late-comer to The National's acclaimed 2007 record Boxer. When I did discover it, I was almost instantly enamored. There's a depth to their calm, collected charisma that doesn't let you glean enough from the first listen - and that's a good thing. It forces you to try again harder to get their message fully.
"Fake Empire", Boxer's opening track, is a great example of said depth. There's a lot of urgency in rock music these days and not a lot of mystery, and The National are nothing if not mysterious. This live version on Letterman gives a great glimpse into the shadowy glow of this band. Anybody who gives it time will see why they're one of my current favorites.
posted by Mike on February 22, 2008 1:38 PM in Games
Before my take is completely washed over by an assault of white noise from the echo chamber (I can feel my inner ear giving way already), I wanted to post my first impressions on the recent XNA demo launches. The select few that I played gave me faith in the little guys. Small game developers often have the most glorious ideas because, for the most part, they're like us. They want to have fun playing games. The money is irrelevant when you're coding out of hobbyist fervor - so, instead of stale franchises sucking the life out of our collective gamer soul, you get interesting, novel games.
Hit the jump for short blurbs on the first three game demos I played and my assessment as to whether you should waste your hard-earned Microsoft Points on them if/when they hit the actual XBLA stage.
posted by Mike on February 12, 2008 12:32 PM in Music
Presently riding a wave of alt-rock radio stardom for their single "Time to Pretend", Brooklyn's MGMT have suckered large audiences deep into the rest of their wonderfully complicated full-length Oracular Spectacular. "Electric Feel", which I can only imagine is slated to be their second radio single (if record executives have any clue what they're doing still), is a fluid tribute to Barry Gibb's effeminate disco-sensuality. A cut this good definitely has me banging my head into a wall for missing the most amazing double bill to grace Seattle last year when MGMT opened for Of Montreal's 2007 tour.
If the song wasn't enough, this video also contains gameplay footage from an odd interactive music video they had on their website a while back. Enjoy:
posted by Mike on January 23, 2008 10:35 AM in Music
In what may be the greatest idea ever, Nigel Godrich - famed producer of Radiohead, Beck, and Paul McCartney - is bringing his totally eargasmic show to select TV networks in the states. Starting February 22nd, you'll be able to catch live in-studio candids from the likes of The Shins, PJ Harvey, Sonic Youth, and Thom Yorke.
The show, titled From the Basement, is really a more relaxed version of Jools Holland's variety music stanzas. Other artists featured on the show are Jarvis Cocker (of Pulp fame), The White Stripes, and Damien Rice.
At times, I've been critical of his production value, but Godrich has some key ins with a choice group of musicians and compiling them all in this bullshit-free platform is really what music television has needed for a long, long time. So if you're one of the five lucky bastards who gets the Rave HD channel, tune in to this show if you have any sense whatsoever.
posted by Mike on January 16, 2008 8:44 AM in Music
After obsessing over acts like Justice and Hot Chip recently, I decided to go straight to the source of the fountain from which this current wellspring of new electronica groups flow: The almighty, Daft Punk.
Coming straight from their mythically surreal pyramid fortress, we have their most notable hit "One More Time" and it's easy to see why (long after they started in the 90s) they're still infectious in all the ways a gimmicky dance duo should be.
posted by Mike on January 10, 2008 12:32 PM in Music
Thumping like something off a Fatboy Slim record, but with the feeling of Junior Boys, Hot Chip are masters at crafting aurally pleasing, never overbearing electronica. “I Was A Boy From School” has a standard groove to it, yet as it progresses, small xylophones and tingling dulcimers come out of the woodwork. It’s perfect for trudging along in a grayed-over day.
posted by Mike on January 7, 2008 2:12 PM in Music
It’s an odd formula, but somehow it works. Three talented musicians meet each other at the Rhode Island School of Design and they decide to recruit the weirdest looking, craziest guy, who would become one of the most famed singers in Indie Rock. Tim Harrington, whose stage antics have become a thing of legend, is taking up the post as the Iggy Pop of our generation.
Here, on “The Sweat Descends” he’s almost the Buddha of post-punk angst. The crowd just eats up his crazy vocal delivery and ridiculous appearance. Though, his banter after the song displays the greatest characteristic of Harrington’s act – he has an abundant sense of humor and an unpretentiousness that’s refreshing in a genre that normally takes itself way too seriously.
posted by Mike on January 7, 2008 9:33 AM in Music
2007 was a crazy-hectic year for music releases in particular. Couple that with the ridiculous game schedule and the landscape of the entertainment industry was pretty treacherous for the consumer who just wanted to weed through the mess and find a couple of cool things to buy. In an attempt to try and wrangle this issue, we're bringing you a new feature at the beginning of every month. A condensed look at Independent and Pop releases, the In Music vidcast will concisely rundown the highlight records of January.
For those who will cry foul, I will say that I wanted to cover Mars Volta's upcoming release The Bedlam in Goliath, but I didn't have the patience to solve the flash puzzle to unlock their new single. Definitely check that out too though. And please feel free to post any other important releases that I missed in the comments!
posted by Mike on January 4, 2008 2:36 PM in Music
Historically, I’ve always been more of a Beatles guy than a Stones guy. That said, ever since appreciating “Gimmie Shelter” through Rock Band, I’ve been delving into (and enjoying) the Rolling Stones’ catalog during the 60s – you know, before Keith Richards became an animated corpse, before Charlie Watts needed to be propped up on the stage Weekend at Bernie’s style, and before Mick Jagger’s bluesy howl became an indeterminable bark.
Here’s a video of the ass-whooping “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”, coming out of a decade when people were generally too lost in their psychedelic drug trips to flat-out rock.
Fire Emblem, Japan's darling 17 year old RPG/RTS series (finally sailing to North America on the GBA in 2003), has stepped into the next-gen with an appearance on the Wii: Fire Emblem - Radiant Dawn. My first 10 minutes with this title were impressive - a gorgeously designed menu system lead me into the first chapter of the story - an incredible cut-scene offering some of the best visuals I've seen on the Wii. I was introduced to the game's central character, Micaiah, "the silver-haired maiden" and her pet bird. But before you go thinking I fell in love with an RTS that isn't Age of Empires or Final Fantasy Tactics, hit the jump.
posted by Mike on December 13, 2007 8:05 AM in Music
Geriatric or not, the living members of arguably the second greatest band of all time (if I have to tell you who the first is, then you don't have a soul) reunited for a one-off show in London two nights ago. Led Zeppelin, consisting now of Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, and the late John Bonham's son Jason rocked one of my favorite Zep tunes to a pretty damn good level Monday night. This rendition of "Kashmir" - performed in front of 18,000 lucky fans - reiterates the band's status as living legends.
posted by Mike on December 12, 2007 9:03 AM in Music
The Gorillaz are beyond groundbreaking in both genre and presentation. This "virtual band" started by Britpop band Blur's frontman Damon Alcorn and comic artist Jamie Hewlett is a defiance of everything we've previously known a music act to be. Yet, the mainstream radio success and subsequent tour failure (video projectors being out of sync, hologram projection tour being cancelled, etc.) has some saying Alcorn is abandoning the project to kick start Blur again.
I really hope that doesn't happen. This is a group I could see being one of the most novel live attractions, maybe ever. And with the music being a strong as it is, I'd love to see a full-length album companion DVD with the awesome animated cast.
posted by Mike on December 5, 2007 8:23 AM in Music
So apparently, I don't write for the site anymore. The last time I did anything was November 19th. I guess maybe I quit, or got fired, I don't remember. Oh, I think I recall now - I was conserving energy for the year-end music podcast. That's it.
I don't know if I've ever covered Afghan Whigs on the blog and it's high time I did. Arguably one of the 90s drunkest bands, but for the Whigs, that's a compliment. Their endearing quality is vocalist Greg Dulli's cigarette-filtered, whiskey-inspired swagger. Black Love, their 1996 masterpiece is definitely among my top 25 albums ever and "Honky's Ladder", the song below, was my introduction to the band.
This bizarre video blurs your standard band performance shots with random images straight out of somebody's heroin trip. You may want to turn up your volume for this one though, as the recording was obviously dubbed over from a road-weary VHS tape. Also, I know it's a foreign concept, but don't pass out when you see the MTV logo on the screen. They actually used to play some music once upon a time and 120 Minutes was a stand-out show on the network for quite a while.
YPS is a semi-daily feature showcasing music that gets stuck in our heads, forming a kind of personal soundtrack.
BioWare, arguably Canada's premier studio - riding on the back of popular PC titles like Baldur's Gate and Neverwinter Nights - has become something of a dividing force in the gaming industry. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, their entrance into the console arena, was a mixed bag. Some praised its dialog and character development features. Others grew tired of the repetitive, passive battle system. The much heralded Mass Effect, I believe, will unify the rival parties under the banner of a complete science fiction, role-playing experience. Hit the jump to find out why.
posted by Mike on November 15, 2007 7:38 PM in Music
Listening to Doolittle today, I full realized the importance of The Pixies' influence on modern rock - to call them the most influential rock band of the late 80s isn't far from the truth. Think hard about it. Who would you put up against them? R.E.M? The Smiths? Maybe. But then you see a live clip like this one below and you realize that absolutely nobody sounded like them in the 80s, and a truckload of people sounded like them afterward. So be absorbed in Kim Deal's bass lines, Joey Santiago's screaming guitar, David Lovering's relentless drumming, and Black Francis' tortured, howling vocals on "Hey".
posted by Mike on November 13, 2007 8:58 AM in Music
Composer, Friend to Animals, Superhero - just a few of the things Sufjan Stevens embodies to many. Last year, if you remember, Stevens launched a massive Christmas Box Set into the cosmos comprised of songs he had written mainly for family members as Christmas presents. This year he has an even more outrageous idea - he's pawning his music off in some sort of crazy White Elephant exchange that actually rocks. Here's the skinny from Asthmatic Kitty, his label:
Just like a gift exchange, Sufjan's song becomes your song. You can hoard it for yourself, sell it to a major soft drink corporation, use it in your daughter's first Christmas video, or share it for free on your website. No one except Sufjan and you will hear his song, unless you decide otherwise. You get the song and all legal rights to it. We get the same rights to your song.
By submitting your song, you also give us permission to stream it online.
Being something of a songwriter myself, I think this is the perfect time to debut my previously shelved soon-to-be Christmas Music Sensation: "Jesus and Santa Roast The Devil Like A Chestnut Over An Open Fire*".
*Not an actual song. Title chosen to pander to Sufjan's love for Christianity and long song names.
posted by Mike on November 9, 2007 12:23 PM in Movies
I may be the only person on the planet never to hear of this, but I guess there's a Korean anime called Doggy Poo. The premise, according to the movie's website, is as follows:
Once upon a time, a little doggy poo lived on the side of a road. He felt all alone in the world. He believed that nobody needed him for anything, and that he had no purpose in life. If only Doggy Poo had a reason for being, then he wouldn't give up on his dream to be useful to the world.
One day, Doggy Poo meets a lovely dandelion sprout. Will she explain his purpose in life? Will she help make his dream come true?
I guess this is labeled a "cult classic" by Netflix.com, where you can watch it on demand. If any of you have heard of this before and haven't told me, I owe you a swift punch in the gut for withholding this amazing piece of art from me. I haven't laughed this hard at a website in a while. I'll part with my favorite character description from the site. Thanks for the tip, Madam L.!
Mother Hen: The hen meets and rejects Doggy Poo as a suitable meal for her baby chicks.
posted by Mike on November 8, 2007 5:11 PM in Music
After years of listening to moody Icelanders Sigur Rós, I've come to a very pointed conclusion about them. Their gimmick (if you can call it a gimmick after this many records) is that their singer, Jónsi Birgisson, sings in a gibberish language called "Hopelandic". It's beautiful to listen to, but frustrating after repeated listens - you feel almost cheated of the substance that lyrics in a real language would yield. Jónsi's argument is that the substance is in the feeling rather than the content. Still, Birgisson having the ability to speak Icelandic and English, I've always wished Sigur Rós would change their vocalization. My conclusion however, is that as bothered as I am about that aspect, Sigur Rós' sound vibe makes their music impregnable to my criticism. Which is why Ágætis Byrjun and ( ), or "the parentheses album", remain two of my favorite records to this day.
Hvarf-Heim, after 2005's relatively disappointing Takk..., is my reason to climb on board the Sigur Rós bandwagon after a brief hiatus. The Hvarf half of the double-disc set is a rarities set spanning their career, and the Heim half is a very intriguing acoustic live set that pulls my from some of my favorite Sigur Rós moments.
posted by Mike on November 1, 2007 12:41 PM in Music
There's been a serious album drought this Fall. Besides Radiohead's latest release, I'm struggling to think of anything I should've covered in the last few months. I mean, do you really want to hear what I think of the new Bruce Springsteen record? That would be painful for everyone involved.
Luckily, I do have a long list of bands I "haven't gotten around to yet". I hear of a group from reputable or non-reputable sources that, supposedly, I should love and for whatever reason I just don't check them out. Grandaddy definitely fits that description. I've been hearing about them for half a decade it seems and have never really given them the time of day. But I've gone back to their catalog of three releases (they're no longer together, sadly) and I'm really enjoying them.
People say Butch Vig's production value yielded the heaviest guitar sounds ever - like his work with Smashing Pumpkins on Siamese Dream - but Grandaddy's stringed assault at least rivals, if not surpasses those tones. With very simple melodies and very satisfying vocal harmonies, Grandaddy is a band who, on recording, are sonically and aurally pleasing in every way. Pair that with extremely adept lyrical hooks and you've got an act worth obsessing over. Here's an animated video for the song "Jeez Lousie" from their final album, Just Like the Fambly Cat. I think it might be a fan video, but really the music is the important part.
posted by Mike on October 28, 2007 2:25 PM in Music
You're out on a cruise or a transatlantic flight, on or over the ocean - it doesn't matter. But disaster strikes, people start screaming, and you're marooned at sea. After days of unintentionally gargling salt water and fighting off sharks, you make sweet, sweet landfall. And there in your pocket, you had almost forgotten about it: your top 5 albums are on your new iPod Shuffle. It's rigged to magically run on coconut juice, so you start listening to the only music you'll have to comfort you until exhaustion or a wild boar claims your life.
No this is not a bad episode of Survivor, it's one of the great queries of human kind. Hit the jump for the Weekly Geek's Top 5 Desert Island Albums. And feel free to post yours in the comments.
Whether you love or hate Halo 3, one thing is sure: the "Believe" ad campaign was (widely considered) fantastic in all the ways the game was not - moving and emotional. It's really sad that Halo is responsible for rekindling my love for classical music, but the piece they used in their ad is easily one of the finest piano compositions ever written, Frederic Chopin's Op. 28, Prelude No. 15, often called "Raindrops". (The bit heard in the :60 Halo TV Spot starts at the 2:38 mark.)
Enjoy it here as accurately interpreted by pianist DongMin Lim in 2005's Chopin Competition. I defy you not to get goosebumps during this song. The commercial, if you haven't seen it, is after the jump.
posted by Mike on October 24, 2007 10:10 PM in Music
Much like their compatriots Air and Phoenix, French DJ-Band Justice, are merging styles familiar to us Americans, and waxing them to a new fantastic glaze. Their debut album † (your eyes aren't broken, they named their album after a crucifix-symbol) reminisces the cut-up electronica of Daft Punk at the top of their game and smashes it headlong into grooves that Jamiroquai only dreamed of when he was laying down "Canned Heat".
I invite you to join in the catchy phenomenon with me, cool animated t-shirt video included free of charge, and do the D.A.N.C.E.
posted by Mike on October 18, 2007 3:42 PM in Music
A few weeks ago I mentioned Amazon's download service. With their high quality files and drm-free, affordable albums, they should rival iTunes if they can expand their selection. Well, now you can support Amazon and give us up to a 20% kickback when you buy music there. We'll be making a widget every now and then with our musical suggestions from recent reviews: it's a great way to check out some new grooves and support the podcast you love.
posted by Mike on October 18, 2007 11:03 AM in Games
This just in: The Weekly Geek is proud to announce - well maybe just me, I'm proud to announce - that I will be the (self-proclaimed) Official News Correspondent for Mass Effect leading up to and perhaps as long as a year after its release. I feel I'm qualified for this position having lovingly traversed Knights of the Old Republic 1 & 2 with a fervor like that of a starving cheetah hunting down a tasty gazelle dinner.
Anyway, the real news is that BioWare (apparently one of Canada's Top 10 places to work) dropped a press release naming a star-studded voice acting roster, including Seth Green of Robot Chicken and Family Guy fame. He isn't the only presence worth noting, other Sci-Fi veterans Marina Sirtis and Lance Henriksen are also on board. Keith David from Pitch Black and Crash will play the central role of David Anderson (which I'll explain later in my upcoming review of the Mass Effect prequel book).
posted by Mike on October 11, 2007 6:13 PM in Music
There's gold at the end of the rainbow for Radiohead. In Rainbows marks the seminal genre-benders' first effort following a long run with Parlophone (in the UK) & Capitol (in the US) Records - a 10 year, 6 album relationship resulting in 5 platinum records. Indeed, Radiohead's lucrative past presents them with an interesting set of circumstances. Their early successes afforded them plenty of artistic breathing room from their major-label overseers, but never have they had an opportunity to market their music as they saw fit. Now, Thom Yorke and pals are free to do as they please, and their first showing as an independent act sounds like liberation. Add that to a daring name-your-own-price download format and you have a winner from the start.
posted by Mike on October 3, 2007 7:28 PM in Music
This, my friends, is comedy gold: Jemaine from Flight of the Conchords impersonating Ziggy Stardust-era David Bowie. It might just be me listening to Diamond Dogs today that triggered this post, but I couldn't get this episode out of my head if I had a brutal lobotomy.
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