One of the things I often comment on regarding an album is how many of the tracks I ripped to my iPod. So here’s a rarity for you today: an album from which I ripped 11 out of 11. Guster formed in 1991 and independently recorded and released their first two albums. Their second album was re-released after they signed with Sire Records. A year later, they got help in the studio from my favorite producer, Steve Lilywhite, and put out a brilliant album, “Lost and Gone Forever.”
Guster has an interesting sound. They were a 3-piece for years with 2 guitars (though both guitarists are multi-instrumentalists) and percussion played by Brian Rosenworcel with just his bare hands. In 2003, they added a 4th member so now the full complement of instruments they can play includes guitar, bass, keyboard, banjo, trumpet, piano, harmonica, ukulele, lap steel guitar, Appalachian dulcimer, and a host of percussion instruments. They’re great pop songwriters with clear voices and a good ear for harmony. Get them into the studio with a talented producer and it’s wall-to-wall gold.
- What You Wish For – A great track to kick off the album. A quiet intro explodes into pleasing harmony vocals and barehanded percussion. I like it when Ryan Miller and Adam Gardner sing different lyrics and even melodic lines at the same time.
- Barrel of a Gun – The guitars attack but can’t overpower the appealing pop melody of the vocals. Pay attention to Lilywhite’s production. There are neat little flourishes tucked in the corners of this song.
- Either Way – This is a ballad to a deeply troubled relationship. It is both moving and disturbing.
- Fa Fa – I tapped this one for my Friday mix of gibberish songs last week and it reminded me what a great album this is. I love the bass line counter-melody throughout the song. I also like the instruments they mix in, trumpet in the middle, flute at the end.
- I Spy – This evocative acoustic song might be my favorite on this album. I wish the whole thing was on YouTube, but here is a sample.
- Center of Attention – Perhaps the best lyrics on this album are in this song. The percussion is outstanding on this track as well.
- All the Way up to Heaven – The guys get help on this goofy little song from none other than Phish’s Page McConnel on theremin.
- Happier – Guster has a talent for writing pleasing vocal melodies. Happy music and pensive lyrics: always a winner.
- So Long – The sadness of this song about the end of a relationship is knocked sideways by the goofy amateur video someone posted to YouTube. It’s still a great song, though.
- Two Points for Honesty – A lot of Guster songs are indictments of friends, girlfriends, or parents. Here is another honest examination of a relationship.
- Rainy Day – They spend 3 ½ minutes making this song bigger and bigger until by the 4-minute mark it stomps around like giant thundering, “Fi fi fo fum.”
Guster is one of the few remaining bands I love that I have never gotten to see live. Here’s hoping they’ll come back to Bonnaroo one of these years.
The Flaming Lips have taken the long route to success. While that can mean spending a long time working your way up (in the Lips’ case nearly 20 years) it means you not only get to do what you want on the way up, but you also have the clout to keep your artistic integrity after you’ve made it. The band formed in 1983 and didn’t have their first critical and commercial success until “The Soft Bulletin” in 1999 and that’s the album I’m encouraging you to check out today.
The Flaming Lips have always written odd songs. Try titles like ‘One Million Billionth of a Millisecond on a Sunday Morning’ or ‘Hari-Krishna Stomp Wagon (Fuck Led Zeppelin).’ They have also experimented with a variety of techniques and effects. Some are as simple as in-studio looping. Others are more complex, like “Zaireeka.” This four-disc release is intended to be heard with 1, 2, 3, or all 4 discs being played simultaneously in different CD players. In short, they did whatever the hell they felt like and had just enough success to keep their record deal. A record company exec’s nightmare, I would think.
All that changed in 1999 with the release of “The Soft Bulletin.” The Lips had changed direction again and this time moved toward more accessible and mainstream music. They incorporated more synthesizers and layers of symphonic instruments. The album has been widely praised. It was included in many best of 1999 lists and was NME Magazine’s album of the year. I love this album and still spin it in my CD player from time to time. My favorites, though, are these 6.
- Race for the Prize – This sunny, synth-laced song about scientists searching for a cure for disease features a driving beat and Wayne Coyne’s signature warbling vocals.
- A Spoonful Weights a Ton – I’m not entirely sure what this one is about, though it sounds like a sci-fi song about a major physics experiment gone wrong or maybe some stellar catastrophe averted. That may be too literal a reading of the lyrics, though. Anyway, the strings and woodwinds are pretty during the verses and then the guitars and heavy synth hit us hard at the chorus.
- The Spark that Bled (The Softest Bullet Ever Shot) – My daughter likes this song and so do I. It has several distinct movements: the quiet, brooding opening, a heavier, orchestrated bridge that makes me think of ELO for some reason, and an uplifting piano and guitar chorus.
- The Spiderbite Song – This is a sweet and pretty song. Though he sings about being glad a “spiderbite” didn’t destroy his friend, my understanding is that it was really an abscess resulting from heroin use that nearly cost Lips guitarist Steven Drozd his arm.
- Buggin’ – There is something almost Christmasy about this song, though the song is about bugs as a metaphor for love. It’s a joyful melody and the harmonies are great.
- Waitin’ for a Superman – It seems people are waiting for a hero. Coyne tells us he’s probably not coming or if he is, he may not be able to help. It’s a melancholy song, but heartening somehow just the same.
I was lucky enough to see them at Bonnaroo a few years back, though at the time I didn’t know who they were really and foolishly didn’t stay for much of the show. What can I say? They took the stage at midnight and I was already tired.
I’ve been a fan of Ozomatli for many years, since I first saw them opening for Ben Harper at the Nautica Stage in Cleveland. They are from L.A. and blend rock, hip-hop, and Latin music with remarkable facility and impressive talent at every position. “Fire Away” is their 5th studio album and it finds them moving away from hip-hop and closer to Latin rock and pop.
I loved the sound Ozomatli played when they had Cut Chemist on the turntable and Chali 2na rapping. My first time through “Fire Away,” I was expecting that hip-hop feel behind the songs, or perhaps the cosmopolitan blend of world music influences they incorporated into “Street Signs.” Most of that is gone from this album. Still, they have 7 remarkably talented guys laying it down. The songs are full of catchy melodies and the sound is still as big and tight as Steven Segal’s gi.
I ripped 7 of the CD’s 11 songs to my iPod and I think they’re all staying. Check these out:
- Are You Ready? – The percussion comes in like a carnival and the song maintains this feel through it’s various twists and turns. This is a high-energy, party song.
- 45 – If you played this bright pop melody for me, I would not have guessed this is Ozomatli. Of course, when you have 7 guys singing and playing a brace of instruments, even a simple melody can be decorated like a Christmas tree. Oh, and watch out for the funky break at the 2 minute mark.
- It’s Only Paper – Money doesn’t change people’s character, it reveals it. Jack Johnson helps them deliver this somber message at a slower tempo with a simple arrangement.
- Gay Vatos in Love – Ozomatli comes out in support of gay rights with the best gay love song I’ve ever heard. It sounds a little like early Los Lobos with the harmony vocals throughout the verses and baritone sax in the background. “Vato” is slang for a Hispanic youth. “If the world can’t understand, stand by your man.”
- Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah – The first time I heard this, I thought maybe they were trying too hard but it is growing on me with repeated listens. Ozomatli is going to be at Bonnaroo this year and I can’t wait for them to bust this out. It’ll be great live.
- Nadas for Free – He spends a lot of time getting kicked in the balls in this horn-laden song about how hard it is to get respect without money.
- Love Comes Down – After all that energy, bluster, and blare, they come in with a beautiful ballad. Delicate glockenspiel, plucked guitar, and sweet harmony vocals make this a successful effort.
I have written up British indie rockers Gomez before. I’ve been a fan for a long time and whenever they release a new album, I’m in line to get a copy. Somehow, I missed their release of “Five Men in a Hut (A’s, B’s and Rarities: 1998 – 2004)” in 2006. I was geeked when I saw it because it is a double disc with 36 tracks. Bound to be some good music on it.
As the title suggests, “Five Men…” is a collection of alternate takes and obscure songs that weren’t on their LP releases. Gomez has always been a band that likes to range around and experiment with different ideas musically, though they have a central sound that is unmistakable. On this collection, however, we get to hear them ranging ever farther afield, using instruments I have never heard them use before and stretching themselves, as they like to do. Some of the alternate takes are indistinguishable from the familiar released versions. But a lot of the new songs are so strong I was surprised they had never seen the light of day until now.
If you’ve never listened to Gomez, start with something else. If, however, you’re already a fan, I can recommend you pick this one up. I ripped 12 songs off this double disc, but I will recommend my favorite 8 here.
- Best in the Town – This heartfelt ballad features Ben Ottewell’s raspy, expressive voice, ringing acoustic guitar, and lush percussion.
- Tanglin’ – You don’t often hear Gomez flash steel guitar and harmonica, but they’ve got them both going on this catchy, up-tempo song.
- Champagne for Monkeys – The funky beat heavy verses give way to a spacey chorus. This is such a high-quality song I think it must be a new song made for this release rather than a previously unreleased track that never made the cut.
- Step Inside – Everybody plays way back on this track, giving it an oozy, relaxed feel. There’s even a little turntablism in the background. I like this track a lot.
- Air-Hostess Song – Something about the vocal work in this one sounds like it could have come out of the “Liquid Skin” sessions.
- Silhouettes – The melody is simple, but the background instruments – particularly the guitar – is strong and interesting.
- Chicken Bones – The flute in the intro makes you think of jazz, but the horns and percussion quicklygive this one a Mexican feel. I’ve never heard Gomez do a song like it.
- Pick Up the Pieces – This is a friendly little pop song until about 2 minutes in when it becomes this really intense psychedelic jam.
I’ve seen Gomez live a couple times and if you get the chance you should check out the show. They are tight and fearless live.
It comes to us all at some time in our lives. The end of a relationship you didn’t want to end. It’s a sick and helpless feeling and a sad time. Plus the older the relationship is, the harder and more complicated the process is. Still, there’s nothing to do but carry on. As Janeane Garofalo noted, “You can’t argue your way out of dumped.”
At times in my life when I have felt hurt and lonely, I have found sympathy, camaraderie, forgetfulness, and healing through music. Here are some songs that might help you through a tough breakup, if they don’t make you want to stick a fork in your neck.
- How Can You Mend a Broken Heart? – Al Green
When you’re mourning the end of a relationship, you don’t want bouncy, happy music. You want the reverend to tell you how it is.
- Love Is a Losing Game – Amy Winehouse (featuring Mos Def)
Winehouse is a woman who has had some love troubles and though you might not think Mos Def would fit in well with her sound, it’s an inspired pairing.
- Breakin’ Down – Ben Harper
There’s a certain joy to Harper’s music, even when the lyrics are as heartbreaking as these.
- Bad Luck City – R.L. Burnside
“It’s a problem when you love them womens and they don’t love you.” The great R.L. Burnside wails and moans, his guitar cries right along with him, and somehow you feel better.
- I Miss You – Blink 182
This is the only Blink 182 song I like. I don’t think it’s about a breakup, but it is about missing someone.
- Again and Again – Bob Mould
This is the sound of marriage breaking up. The song is heart wrenchingly honest and beautiful.
- Sideways – Citizen Cope
“Whenever you come around me these feelings won’t go away. They been knocking me sideways. I keep thinking in a moment that time will take them away. But these feelings won’t go away.” Well spoken, sir.
- Coast – Eliza Gilkyson
I believe Gilkyson wrote this song after the death of her father, but it’s about taking some time for yourself to figure out your feelings are and what is next.
- I Hope You’re Happy Now – Elvis Costello
If there’s anything harder than losing someone, it’s losing someone to someone else. The black humor with which Costello meets this makes it a little easier.
- Knowing Me Knowing You – The Lemonheads
Turns out this is a good song, but I didn’t realize it because I don’t like Abba. Dando and company do a good job with it, though.
- Let It Die – Foo Fighters
The Foos rock, so you can viscerally feel the anger behind the lyrics in this song.
- And the World Turned – Gabe Dixon
I have written up Gabe Dixon before. He is a gifted piano player and songwriter who respectfully declined an offer to tour in Paul McCartney’s band. This song is about turning the corner after a hard breakup.
- Find Another Girl – The Hives
This song is a bit goofy, but it’s somehow uplifting just the same.
- Guess I’m Doing Fine – Beck
Beck wrote this album in the aftermath of a breakup so it’s full of emotional songs of loss and recovery. He is a real craftsman, too, so it’s not the quirky fun of “Odelay.”
- Last Goodbye – Jeff Buckley
The lyrics to this song have it all: the knowledge of something special going away, the lingering desire, the sadness, the anger… and it’s a beautiful song to boot.
- Divorce Song – Liz Phair
Disentangling from an entrenched relationship is fraught with unexpected complications, like the ones Phair encounters in this song.
- Always See Your Face – Love
John Cusack turned me on to this gem about being unable to escape the memories of a loved one who is gone.
- Song for the Dumped – Ben Folds Five
Simply the best breakup song ever written. God bless Ben Folds.
Enjoy with 6 or 7 salty gin and tonics. Have a great weekend.
I’m posting the Friday mix a day early this week because I know I won’t get a chance to post tomorrow.
A little over a year ago, I wrote a post about music that I share with my daughter. I’ve had a couple comments lately from readers who appreciated the topic so I wanted to return to it today.
I have a mix on my iPod with my daughter’s name on it that has a few hundred songs. Sometimes when we get in the car or at home she asks if we can listen to her mix. It’s never a problem because there is none of the thin crap aimed directly at kids on it, or very little anyway.
As I encounter new music, I often notice a song that I think she might like and I throw it on her mix. She decides later whether it stays or goes. When we’re listening to any of my other mixes, she occasionally hears a song she likes and asks me to put it on her mix, which is great. She also comes to me sometimes with titles she has heard elsewhere and asks me to go find them to include in her collection, which is fantastic. I have actually found some cool music because of her.
She is developing her own tastes in music and as a parent I am compelled to brag that she has a pretty sophisticated ear. Here are some more songs that we both enjoy. I noticed after I picked these out today that there is a lot of classic rock in this mix. Well, it’s all new to her.
- Blue Sky – The Allman Brothers
“Don’t fly Mr. Bluebird, I’m just walking down the road.” Universal lyrics and joyful guitar.
- Hoodoo Voodoo – Billy Bragg & Wilco
Honky Tonk music provided by Wilco and Bragg with lyrics by Woody Guthrie. It’s as good as you think.
- More Than a Feeling – Boston
There’s a reason classic rock songs are classic.
- Everything’s Not Lost – Coldplay
You can never be too young to appreciate this truly beautiful song.
- Kooks – David Bowie
A parent invites his kid to stay in “our lover’s story” and gives her advice, promises, and a beautiful song.
- Lucky Man – Emerson Lake and Palmer
It’s a little sad, and the prog rock keyboard solo at the end is weird, but my kid seems to like this one as much as I did.
- Just Happy to Be Me – The Fugees
From the brilliant ‘Songs from the Street’ collection of performances on Sesame Street. “Now Snuffy and Big Bird are havin’ a good time. They’re walking and gawking, trying to talk to a mime. In the square where they just seen it all, but they never seen a yellow bird 7 feet tall.” Lauryn Hill is a genius.
- Carrie-Anne – The Hollies
My daughter likes a lot of old music, including simple poppy songs like this one from the 60’s.
- I’m Yours – Jason Mraz
I’m luke-warm on this one but I can tell you my daughter absolutely loves this track.
- Hey Hippopotamus – Justin Roberts
Roberts does music for very young kids. Not any older than kindergarten. Nevertheless, this isn’t just on my daughter’s mix, it’s in my main rotation as well. I love this song.
- Neopolitan Dreams – Lisa Mitchell
The glockenspiel is a perfect accompaniment to the simplicity of the playful melody.
- Blinded by the Light – Manfred Mann’s Earth Band
I was my daughter’s age when this song hit the radio and she likes it as much as I did.
- Nine in the Afternoon – Panic! At the Disco
They pound out a strong chord progression on the piano, the melody is pleasing, and the beats they occasionally drop keeps the song a little surprising.
- Solisbury Hill – Peter Gabriel
Does anyone NOT like this song?
- In Only Seven Days – Queen
My daughter has requested I put all my Queen on her mix, which I did (except for ‘Get Down Make Love’). She’s a big fan. This is a pretty but sad song about falling in love on vacation. The story is easy to follow and the emotions are accessible even to kids.
- The Only Living Boy in New York – Simon and Garfunkel
A beautiful song about loneliness. The harmonies between verses are gorgeous.
- Hodja – Todd Rundgren
In addition to being a fantastic song about a kid asking an old man to teach him a dance move, this song is completely a capella, which leads to a fun discussion. Amazon has this track mislabeled. It says ‘Pretending to Care,’ but the sample really is ‘Hodja.’
- Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now) – Van Halen
This was written in 1924, but I like Van Halen’s 1982 version with ripping clarinet and David Lee Roth doing his best Satchmo imitation.
Don’t give in to the marketing machine that wants to sell your kids cheaply produced, derivative crap. Feed them a healthy diet of quality music. Good for them. Good for you. Enjoy with some apple juice. That’s good for you too. Have a great weekend.
I have another library find for you today: The Transplants release, “Haunted Cities” (great album name). It was difficult to tell from the cover what it was going to be. Didn’t quite look like metal. Maybe hardcore urban rap. I wasn’t sure.
Turns out it is based in hip hop, but it pulls influences from a variety of genres. The Transplants are comprised of some guys who have already made it in the music business: Tim Armstrong and Rob Aston (roadie) of Rancid and Travis Barker of Blink-182. It’s party music all the way. In fact, the feel you get from listening to the music is that these guys are the worst kind of slacker, pot smoking hoods. But you get these guys in a sound room and you can hear why their talent allows them to continue living this lifestyle. They have a gift for crafting fun melodies and their rapping is honest, funny, and even moving occasionally.
“Haunted Cities” has some low points, but 3 of the tracks really caught me and I ripped them to my iPod.
- Gangsters and Thugs – “Some of my friends sell records. Some of my friends sell drugs.” Just a guy celebrating his friends. It’s a simple melody with a fast moving beat, vamping guitar, and Hammond organ flourishes.
- Doomsday – Bouncing horns and romping, stomping percussion accent the rapping to an appealing hook.
- What I Can’t Describe – “They say money can’t buy me love and that’s true, but money CAN buy me drugs so that’s cool.” Ha! Such a great, almost Motown groove with a sing-along chorus and superior flow during the verses. I really like this song.
I can’t tell from the album if the shows would be a blast or something to be avoided. If anyone reading this has by any chance seen them, let me know whether I should be on the lookout for them.
Several times over the last few weeks, I have found some great music by artists who already had other albums out. I promised to look into their catalog and get back to you. Today, I’m going to do just that.
The first is Bleeding Heart Narrative. I reviewed “Tongue Tangled Hair” for AltSounds and was really impressed by the mature, experimental production wrapped around solid pop songsmithing. I saw that the artist, Oliver Barret, had another disc out called “Lung Mangled Bear” so I wanted to check out the music. I wasn’t sure what the naming convention portended, but I should have guessed that the two projects were closely related. “Lung Mangled Bear” contains some alternate takes on some songs from “Tongue Tangled Hair” and some of what appear to be toddling versions of song that were still under development. It’s also loaded with some more experimental stuff that would be right at home in the new age or electronica section of your local record store.
You can download the entire album free here, straight from the label’s website. If you do so, make sure you check out these tracks.
- A Dialogue (Brassica’s Dark Side of the Live Aid remix) – A solid beat and ethereal backing vocals carry this song through the first minute and a half before the actual pop tune begins.
- At The End Of It All (DJ Floorclearer remix) – This is chillout music. Not danceable at all, but very soothing and interesting.
- Tongue Tangled Hair (The Exploits of Elaine remix) – Muddy percussion stomps on backwards tracked vocals and ringing synthesizers. I can’t articulate why I like this weird track.
When I put together a mix of Incubus two weeks ago, I confessed I didn’t have their first two albums, but that I had ordered them. I got them and spun them and the result were mixed. It turns out in their early days, Incubus sounded like a cross between The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Faith No More, with maybe a dash of Soul Coughing thrown in, but not as good as that combination sounds. I listened to “Fungus Amongus” and must sadly report that I didn’t rip a single track. I’m sure it would have been a great live show, but the energy loses something the way it was recorded. On the other hand, “S.C.I.E.N.C.E.” was worth a spin. They had nearly finished metamorphosing into the band I love by this time. I ripped these 4 tracks
- Redefine – A raucous punk/metal tune with slapped bass, crazy turntablism, and melodic wailing vocals.
- Idiot Box – This one has some anger in the lyrics and a hammering chorus but it isn’t as chaotic as ‘Redefine.’
- Favorite Things – “The things that make you mad are my favorite things.” Nice to know you. Goodbye, right? The band plays their asses off behind another of Boyd’s songs about a bad relationship.
- Summer Romance (Anti-Gravity Love Song) – Compared with the rest of this album, the band really lays back on this song, but the scratchy mix, clean electric guitar, and flute make a perfect backdrop for this love song.
I absolutely flipped for The Decembrists’ album, “The Hazards of Love” and vowed to check out the rest of their catalog. 2 down, 2 to go. I’ll do a full write up on them once I’ve gotten the other two.