The establishment

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Taj Mahal

This weekend Long Beach is hosting its annual Blues Festival. If you happen to be in the area, you can catch a Grammy-winning blues legend onstage in the flesh — Taj Mahal. It would be worth the crowds and the heat and all the sticky children screaming if you could take in a little of that action. (Unfortunately I will be dealing with my own sticky children at a family shindig. But what a chance for the rest of you!)

Mahal has been singing the blues for at least 50 years; his sound is a world-famous combo of American and West Indian jazz, r&b, straight-up blues, reggae, dixieland, gospel … ah heck, there’s too much in there to pick out the strings from the cloth. It’s establishment blues, and Mahal is actually putting out a new record this October (the first in five years) called “Maestro.” If anyone’s earned that title it’s him; he’s a living legend, and there aren’t that many of them left. You can preorder “Maestro” (digitally or physically) at his site and below I include one of my favorite Mahal songs.

Taj Mahal — Site | Myspace

Taj Mahal — Cakewalk Into Town

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Random stuff keeping me occupied:

[ed note: tracks removed. pls contact me for a copy.]

01. Immuzikation — Sweet Young Angel (Feist vs burial vs Jens Lekman)
      [Myspace — warning, this is the ugliest myspace ever]
02. Gangstagrass — On the Run
      [Site]
03. The Polyamorous Affair — Merry Go Round
      [Myspace]
04. Camera Obscura — Your Sister’s Social Agony
      [Underachievers Please Try Harder, 2004]
05. ABBA — Take A Chance On Me
      [The Album, 1977]

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Ndidi Onukwulu

Wow, I never thought I could get so sick of four unrelated words that started with Death and ended with Cutie. Talk about overload. Once again I turn to my inbox for solace, and it does not disappoint.

This one’s for James — a blues chanteuse who is Canadian and based out of scenic Toronto. She’s gorgeous and her voice is made for her genre. When I first heard her, I thought of Norah Jones, but better. Jones’s bland, inoffensive music sort of makes you nod your head and go, “that’s nice,” but when Onukwulu gets going, she layers brass on top of jazz drums or violin on top of guitar and adds her gorgeous voice and wham, you’re hooked.

Her new record, out June 17th, is called “The Contradictor.” I have duly listed the download-approved track, but it’s not the most stellar in my opinion; I prefer the sassier numbers, like “Forever SZ” and “Her House Is Empty KH,” which also features an awesome trumpet solo. Onukwulu’s voice is beautiful and rich enough to support “Move Together,” which is stitched together with a little guitar and handclaps but not much else. She can belt like Aretha or drop it down low for a country sound. I’m impressed.

Ndidi Onukwulu — Myspace | Site | Label (Jericho Beach)

[ed note — track removed.]

Ndidi Onukwulu — Final SK

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The Old 97s

…finally, finally. The first new stuff since 2004’s “Drag It Up,” excluding Miller’s solo album. If you like your country electric, if you like it with punch and verve and (usually) a happy ending, then you’re in the right place. I think over the years, Miller has kept his style fairly even-keeled; “Blame It On Gravity” has the ballads, the fight songs, the nicely crafted pieces that are a cut above his mournful solo work.

I’m loving just about everything, from the bluesy, amped-up “Early Morning” to the wistful “She Loves the Sunset” and points between. How do I know what the songs sound like? Hah, I don’t have people sending me awesome promo copies, but I do have a Rhapsody player, and if you do too, you can listen to the whole album at Rhapsody. Or you can watch Miller sex it up on Leno and shake his pretty pretty hair.

The Old 97s — Site | Myspace | Label (New West)

[ed. note — tracks removed]

The Old 97s — Dance With Me
The Old 97s — Just Like California (from “Too Far To Care”)

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REM — Accelerate

With ease, REM invokes gritty Georgian glory on “Accelerate,” fuzzing it up more like “Monster” than, say, my high school epiphany album (“Out of Time” — I’ll spare you the details). Though the album is not, I feel, 100% golden superbness, it does resonate with Stipe’s genuine artistry and the spirit that has kept REM going through so many years of good & bad albums (that was my obligatory statement, but it is true — one might pause to compare Stipe’s present pits and lines to the scruffyhaired boy-angel from the “Losing My Religion” video (and I know there are those out there (Ron) who are mocking me for not alluding to something earlier. But I’ll admit I don’t have the cred for it.)). The songs mix the trite and the true, ending up in arresting rephrases such as I am not your horse to water. I like that; it’s a stubborn declaration of freedom trapped in a cliché. (Less arresting, though perhaps more popular, might be phrases like everybody here comes from somewhere or living well’s the best revenge.)

What struck me most of all is when I was watching the Blogotheque take-away show and Vincent Moon filmed the band playing “Sing For the Submarine” inside a (says Vincent) “weird silo” on Stipe’s property. On the record it’s not one my favorite songs — it’s sort of rambly and I’m not sure what Stipe’s alluding to. But in the video, Stipe uses his whole body to augment the song; he whangs his elbow on the silo wall to create thunderous percussion — I knew (bang!) that you (bang!) could see (bang!) right through it. This music is still Stipe and Buck and Mills, still recognizably theirs within four bars by anyone with ears. It still comes out of the bottoms of Stipe’s feet and through his elbows and hands and heart and eyes. Sing sing sing, he says, shoulders ticking in time, sing sing sing.


REM — Sing For the Submarine

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Well, personal concerns have kept me away from the internet for awhile (gasp) but ye olde show must go on. Ryan from Burly Time sent me some bright, beautiful instrumental pieces by a Detroit guitarist named Nick Schillace. Very laid back, exceptional listening for the stressful time I have had the last couple weeks. Of course today I was listening again and my brain said, “‘1976’ … wait, isn’t there a song called ‘1974’?” Which of course caused a mad scramble through my CDs, and this post.

[ed note — tracks removed. contact me for a copy.]

01. Nick Schillace — 1976
02. Ryan Adams — 1974
03. Cake On Cake — 1981
04. Travis — 1922
05. Ox — 1913

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In honor of my slogging up La Cienega tonight to see the Mountain Goats, I present some songs that I wish he would play. I am still digesting Heretic Pride, although I like it very much (even more than Get Lonely, which I did not expect).

01. Going to Marrakesh (live) — Darnielle is the master of simile; he can’t even seem to help himself. This is my favorite Mountain Goats song and the similes are simply perfect. Chance of being played: 0.0000000000001%

02. Palmcorder Yajna — Love the image of the camera inside the television, with its aperture “yawning and blinking.”

03. Has Thou Considered the Tetrapod — the turn in this song is in the last two lines, and those lines are chock full of menace. I wouldn’t want to mess with that tetrapod either.

04. Collapsing Stars — “You can look but you won’t find / another love like ours” — sweet loving homicidal maniacs.

05. Tollund Man — Poor guy… singing his lament, making his sacrifice, only to be dug up and leered at hundreds of years later.

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I’m well aware that “Heretic Pride” could be purchased if one were to hop over to Amazon, and I’ll get around to it. At the moment I’m on NPR listening to Mozart’s opera “The Abduction From the Seraglio.” When I was a lassie I attended quite a few operas at the Bayrische Staatsoper, but I never appreciated them like I would now, when I have no opportunity to attend one. NPR is a great repository of … well, everything, but opera too, so see if there’s anything you like.

The Abduction is mostly the story of Belmonte, a Spanish nobleman who comes to the Pasha’s seraglio* to rescue his captured lady-love. I bet on the stage it’s totally opulent and full of gold hangings and veils and whatnot. The theme was very popular with Mozart’s audience, who were fascinated with all things Turkish / Oriental; the opera was received well enough for Mozart’s father to remark, “Even the Archbishop was gracious enough to say: ‘Really it wasn’t at all bad.'” [the Mozart Project]. Damned with faint praise! But 200+ years, here we are.

I don’t own anything from this particular opera, but here’s one from my favorite crazy Masonic opera, The Magic Flute: “Der Vogelfänger bin ich ja” (english: Yes, I’m a birdcatcher). Coincidentally, the ladies over at Speed of Dark also posted about Mozart yesterday, so if you want a couple non-operatic pieces, head on over.

*the seraglio would be the place where the Pasha stored all his women; i.e., his harem. Back in the day if a Pasha liked a girl’s looks he’d just snag her by force and take her back to the seraglio, which she could basically never leave, since it was heavily guarded. She’d remain there as a slave or concubine, depending on the Pasha’s whim. This became the stuff of many romance novels (and apparently operas too).

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Is there anyone out there who doesn’t know about Flogging Molly? If you don’t, well, it’s crazy smart punk Irish music, based out of LA and backed up by a plethora of instruments. Dave King, leader and awesome songwriter, can switch it up from stomping anthems to sweet love songs, and in March he and his bandmates will put out a new album, entitled “Float.” Starting this month, they also will be touring across the US and then heading to Europe. If you get a chance to see the show, it looks like the opener is The Rev. Payton’s Big Damn Band, which rocks!! Double exclamation point! What an awesome show; I’m jealous.

“Float” revisits the themes King has been touching on for years: love, politics, disillusionment, and (of course) drinking till you fall over. All classic Irish numbers, but given that special Flogging Molly touch — King’s enthusiasm and authenticity make the old new again. I’m always on the lookout for a new sea chanty, but sadly there wasn’t anything nautical; even the quasi-historical songs were few and far between (though there is a very interesting bit at the end of “Punch Drunk Grinning Love”). Still, fans will thrill to the familiar beats and sounds of “Paddy’s Lament” and “Man With No Country,” and ballads like “Float” with its gorgeous violin. Sláinte to Flogging Molly, and raise what’s left of the flag for me!

Flogging Molly — Site | Myspace | Label (SideOneDummy)

Flogging Molly — Float

Floggin Molly — Requiem For A Dying Song

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Slump city

This time of year, I’m not really into Ye New Music. I’m gearing up for “Heretic Pride,” but mostly I’m just noodling around the internets finding fun stuff to listen to. Daddy Yankee … the Ronettes … crazy mashups from A+D … Sinead O’Connor … I’ll take it all.

01. Can You See the Sunset …, in between ministering to his poor sick daughter, has posted a bunch of 90s flashbacks, the latest including Salt N Pepa’s “Whatta Man,” which I used to listen to a lot in high school. Lately I’ve been realizing that high school was kind of a long time ago. :P Now I sit around ministering to my own sick kids.

02. The fabulous Alison Goldfrapp is putting out “Seventh Tree” at the end of Feb. I’m sure it will be as interesting and layered as all her music is. Offhand I did not hear any standouts like “Ooh La La” or “Strict Machine,” but I’m sure the clubs will live without her and we can all enjoy it anyway.

Goldfrapp — Site | Myspace |

03. Although I’m not the biggest fan of Scandinavian music, I’m liking the Interpol-esque sounds of The Bell. These Swedish guys have a bangin’ sound and really great videos (they put me in mind of a lot of time spent in front of MTV watching Peter Gabriel. I wanna be! Your sledgehamma!). Anyway, look them up — their album is called “Make Some Quiet.”

The Bell — Site | Myspace | the Sledgehammer video. You’re thinking of that dancing turkey anyway. (And Digging In the Dirt, which I must have watched a thousand times. Don’t talk back! Just drive the car!)

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Cake

When John McCrea recorded “Rock & Roll Lifestyle” in 1994, he wasn’t wrong. Even though CD collections have gone the way of vinyl and magnetic tape, the lifestyle is in full effect: “And how much did you pay for your rock and roll t-shirt that proves you were there, that you heard of them first?” But it’s inverted now; it’s more like, how much didn’t you pay for your rock & roll lifestyle? Or did you put your money into the wrong place?

In an interview with Tom Tomorrow of “This Modern World,”* there’s a section that really made me feel for the band. McCrea is talking about touring and how he gets motion sickness, so he sleeps in his little coffin-bed as the bus drives on and wakes up feeling sick, and he does it day after day, while still needing (or wanting) to produce quality shows. As a fellow person with motion sickness, I cringed. Then McCrea came out with this statement, in response to Tom’s witty rejoinder that “the easy sex and drugs make up for [feeling sick], right?”:

I think that’s what it may have been like in the seventies, I think it was really exciting in the seventies but now it’s more like a travelling salesman who happens to sell music. I’m sure there’s a lot of that for other bands. (laughs) But increasingly I’m not sure that it’s that way for even the sexiest of bands these days. It’s a leaner business. In terms of how long we have to stay out on tour, that’s just being turned up and up and up by the fact that our recorded music is now, for all intents and purposes, worthless to the people that listen to music. Generally people under thirty tend to think you’re a chump if you pay for music. The value has been transferred over to the shiny and valuable iPod player and away from the music itself. It’s increasingly necessary for us to play more and more shows in order to pay our bills and accountants and managers, et cetera. Despite a lot of hype about Myspace, t’s [sic] getting harder, not easier, for bands to make ends meet, and I know that that’s not a popular statement, but it’s the truth. I’d like to see some sort of solution to it.

There are two things in that statement that REALLY resound:

1) That a musician might feel like a disposable traveling salesman, who comes and sells you a set of interchangeable parts. If a new traveling salesman comes to you the next day, you accept him with equanimity. It doesn’t matter to you, as a consumer; if the salesman quits and refuses to peddle his product to you, you have a million other salespersons to turn to. [Though an artist often has a label to handle the distasteful money side of the arrangement, this is still a sad commentary on art itself; that it’s a business. But that’s a whole nother discussion.]

2) That people waste more money on their music-holding devices than the music that they put on it. The shiny iPod becomes what you pay $600 for, while all the music you put on it, you’ve jacked from somewhere. Reader, that’s really screwed up.

What? you say. Zara, didn’t you notice that you’re an mp3 blog? Why, you hypocrite. And by the way, record companies couldn’t care less about their consumer either. They’re just soulless machines that suck all the money and rights away from artists. And artists? C’mon, what are you talking about? They write some music and they’re supposed to get all these privileges? I work hard for my money!

That’s all true. But this isn’t an album sharing blog for a reason (besides all the legal ones). Reader, you are receiving a remarkable commodity for pennies on the dollar. Remember how I talked about you paying what you feel is the value of the item? Perhaps you should rethink how much music is worth to you. Cake has a new album coming out, a collection of b-sides and rarities packaged and sold by the band’s own label, and in a bid to get your business, they are making the CDs scratch-&-sniff. I get migraines from smells, and so I will wait for the non-olfactory version to come out on iTunes, but Reader, I urge you to reconsider how you might putting all your money into the wrong place.

Buy more music. Put your money where your mouth is; if you say “I love music,” then love it enough to help it out with your dollars (or equivalent national currency). Now if you’ll excuse me, I just bought some old Cake tunes and I’m gonna groove out to my favorite Cake song ever, “Ruby Sees All.”

Cake: Site | Myspace | Label (Upbeat)

(Long) clips of the new records are available at the site. I won’t include any old tracks; if you’re worth your salt you have some hanging around already. Go listen to ’em!

*Note: I do not endorse “This Modern World.” In fact, I loathe and despise it. But you take your good interviews where you can get ’em.

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[Before I start, make sure you check out this post from Largehearted Boy, which details all the full length albums you can stream at Spinner this week. I love LHB! I love Spinner less, but dude, I’ll compromise my principles for the fabulous charms of Alex Church.]

Today is a great day, for it is the release date of the New Amsterdams’ new album, “At the Foot Of My Rival.” I am a huge, huge fan of the New Ams. I was not too enthused about their last release, “Story Like A Scar,” but the band has been through many changes. The first time I saw them, there were some Get Up Kids (and someone from Reggie and the Full Effect, I seem to recall) playing behind Matt Pryor, but mostly he played everything — keyboard, guitar, harmonica — and sang too, while I stared up adoringly at his tattoos musical talents.

Then the Get Up Kids broke up, and Pryor left Vagrant records, and the band got a new lineup (featuring Gretchen the bass) and got jazzed. There is a certain nostalgic quality when I listen to “Para Toda Vida” now, or “Never You Mind” — many times there it’s just Pryor and his guitar and his passion. But I really like the new lineup, and I think that now they’ve been together awhile, they’ve turned out a nice collection of songs. The lyrics are more mysterious than usual, not as easy to unravel as the old songs like “Idaho” or my favorite, “Drama Queen.” But the passion is still there, and Pryor’s voice only gets better on each album.

So give their Myspace a gander; for not only is it set up beautifully and cleanly, you can even — I LOVE THIS, SERIOUSLY — buy the tracks off them, right there, and you can use Paypal. That’s the free market at work, folks. And at $9.99 for 14 tracks, you absolutely cannot do better.

The New Amsterdams – Myspace | Label (Curb Appeal)

[ed note – tracks removed. please contact me for a copy (or buy them from the myspace)]

The New Amsterdams — Hughes

The New Amsterdams — Wait

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Kosheen

I’m sure some of you out there remember the glorious, gluttonous days of Napster-that-was. Back then Napster was all sticking it to the Man, and I mostly used it for searching for Tori outtakes and bootlegs. Man, I found some good stuff back then (yes, and the “Gladiator” soundtrack too, all right, maybe I had a little thing for Russell Crowe). Australian hunks aside, three of my favorite finds were Kosheen’s only three available tracks at the time — “Catch,” “Hide U,” and “Slip & Slide (Suicide).” Drums & bass were way out of my whitebread world, but I could definitely groove to the wham-wham ka wham-wham heartbeat of “Hide U,” coupled with Sian Evans’s smooth vox.

Well, I could never find much after that, lost interest, and didn’t notice that they’ve released two albums since 2001 … but I still treasure those three tracks. I’m delighted to hear the new songs on Kosheen’s Myspace for their new album “Damage,” released apparently in the UK (*shakes fist*) but still unavailable here on the other side of the pond. “Overkill” sounds just as beautifully produced as those long ago days when I glued my earphones to my head and danced around in my office chair. Take a listen at their Myspace or enjoy these tracks from my past:

Kosheen – Site | Myspace | Label (Moksha)

[ed note – tracks removed. contact me for a copy.]

Kosheen — Hide U

Kosheen — Catch (Corsten Ferry remix)

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If you follow the Afropop scene even nominally, you’ve probably heard of “Djin Djin,” Angelique Kidjo’s new release. Kidjo is African music’s it girl in the States — her new album is dripping with famous guest vocals — Peter Gabriel, Branford Marsalis, Ziggy Marley, Amadou et Mariam, and Senegalese artist Youssou N’Dour.

I can’t address the content of the vocals, because I don’t speak French or Yoruba, but Kidjo has a smooth, beautiful voice in any language, complementing any musical style and any language; she is talented enough, even at 46, to hold spellbound our youth-and-newness-obsessed country (if it stops to listen). The standout track for me is “Lonlon,” a vocal reinvention of Ravel’s “Bolero”; other songs are fun or danceable or introspective but always aesthetically pleasing. Djin Djin is worth every listening minute, so don’t let it sit in the World Music bin with all the other gems that get ignored in favor of most of the worthless crud that gets on the charts just because it’s from the US.

Her site is very flash-intensive and even my quick connection had trouble loading it, so stick with the Myspace if you’re low-bandwidth.

Angelique Kidjo – Site | Myspace | Label (Razor & Tie)

[ed. note — tracks removed. Contact me for a copy.]

Angelique Kidjo – Ae Ae

Angelique Kidjo – Sedjedo (ft. Ziggy Marley)

Download “Papa” from AOL Spinner

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Here are some bands or albums I have had a chance to listen to. Most of them, I haven’t liked. Some of them, I’m pretty lukewarm on. And some, I did like. As always, you can make up your own mind.

[Note: All tracks removed. Contact me for a copy.]

Tori Amos – American Girl Posse.

Amos has transformed herself from naughty maiden to mother, and I’m not all that fond of the move. “Yo George” is ridiculous and “Big Wheel” is … well, we all know someone that’s old trying to be cool and using terminology that just tries too hard. I’m old and uncool, but even I know that “MILF” is practically antique, in slang years. And then there are all the new “girls.” These personalities of hers were weird but bearable on “Strange Little Girls,” but now they’re just overwrought. I know Amos has multiple personalities, and that’s cool and artistic, but I don’t want to be exposed to their blogs and their stockings over the shower door, so to speak.

I long for the days of “Pele,” when the songs were jagged and you cut yourself on them. Now they’re smooth and “Scarlet’s Walk”ish, but without the cohesion and interest that Scarlet’s journey across America engendered. There are some chipper numbers like “Secret Spell” and “Code Red,” and a couple returns to the early days, most interestingly in the short but pithy “Fat Slut.” I can see the girl from “Icicle,” finally driven to a point, yelling all the epithets she can at the people that hurt her. I don’t wish Tori would return to the grrrl-feminist days of yore, but this song, as well as the sly “Programmable Soda,” reminded me for a few short minutes why I used to idolize Tori.

Tori Amos
Tori Amos – Secret Spell
Tori Amos – Programmable Soda

Rufus Wainwright, Release the Stars.

In spite of the ravishing beauty of “Going To A Town” (and you should see the video, my friends, because it is Hot with a capital Haw), the songs on “Release” all blend into themselves sort of blandly. There’s only one other standout number (see below), unlike “Poses,” which was full of ’em. The weirdest thing to me is the song “Tiergarten” — Wainwright’s conceit is that he pronounces it like “tear garden,” and uses it that way, but I haven’t forgotten all my German, and a Tiergarten is, well, a zoo. So it just doesn’t work when he invites his beloved to “walk [him] through the Tiergarten.” Unless they’re going to be looking at some zebras or something.

Notable exception to this is “Between My Legs,” which is as risqué as it sounds, but is also a commentary (as I read it) of the narrator’s willingness to take a chance on love even when he knows it will probably blow up in his face. I love the piano backup too, mixed with the odd spoken word guy at the end, and even a little showtunes in the form of … well, you’ll see if you listen to it. It’s rather wonderful.

Rufus Wainwright
Rufus Wainwright – Between My Legs

The Antlers, In the Attic of the Universe.

The very cool thing about this album is that you can download and listen to it for free, so you have absolutely nothing to lose. This is another album that I felt like I was supposed to like, but didn’t. In retrospect it seems completely passionless. I think in a genre where you aren’t even supposed to move at a concert, just sort of stand there and look dopey, it’s easy to make passionless music (or damp your passion to where the listener is barely aware of it). But it doesn’t appeal to me much.

The Antlers (site and download)

Young Galaxy, Young Galaxy

This one I go back and forth on. In spite of the strong start of “Swing Your Heartache,” I just didn’t like this album as much as I thought I would. If you like other Arts&Crafts type music, of course you will probably love this. And I do love some songs, like the sibilant, sweetly sung “The Alchemy Between Us” and the semi-gospel “Embers”. But inbetween there are clunkers like “Lazy Religion,” which is weird and goes on forever (or maybe there was some kind of timewarp, I don’t know). What do you think, oh faithful reader? Should I give them some more chances or what?

Young Galaxy
Young Galaxy – The Alchemy Between Us (video)
Young Galaxy – Embers

The Detroit Cobras, Tied and True.

Oh man, is this ever gonna be an awesome album. It continues the fantastic faux-motown-punk tradition of “Baby,” and though I have not heard all of it, it promises to be just as good. If you like Nagy’s wailing remixes of r&b classics, then please go to Bloodshot Records site and pre-order the tunes! You can download “As Long As I Have You,” a Garnet Mimms cover, while you’re at it. Or holler along to the Beatles’ “Leave My Kitten Alone.” Meow!

The Detroit Cobras
The Detroit Cobras – Leave My Kitten Alone

Amadou et Mariam, Dimanche A Bamako

Racing faster and further than the rest of the African pop pack, this Malian dynamic duo make music that you cannot, I mean cannot, stop listening to. I received “Sénégal Fast Food” on a mixtape from a stranger, but I wish I could find her and bake her some brownies. “Dimanche A Bamako,” released in 2005, is danceable and fun, and if you speak French you might even be able to know what they’re talking about. Of course that might spoil it, because it might be all serious and stuff underneath (like I suspect “M’bifé Blues” and “Politic Amagni” might be). I prefer just to chair-dance to it — I get crappy political songs stuffed in my ears all day. Let me have some fun, okay? And I pass the sparkly happy fun baton to you — please. Enjoy.

Amadou et Mariam
Amadou et Mariam РS̩n̩gal Fast Food
Amadou et Mariam РLa Realit̩

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This blog is a fan of Bright Eyes. This blog doesn’t care what you say, because if you talk bad about Conor, it means you’re just jealous. Go kick a puppy or something, haters! That said, I’m going to say a couple semi-mean things but end on a high note. Yep.

The Four Winds EP is interesting. It’s not exactly what I would have expected from the experimental, raw author of “Lifted.” It’s a lot more country than rock (which could be bad for some folks, but not for me). It’s a lot more polished and put-together than “Lifted,” which is basically the bar that Conor has to raise, in my opinion. I liked “I’m Wide Awake,” and I liked it a lot, but “Lifted” blew my head off. “Four Winds,” eh. The passion is there but the songs are not his best; it may be even the fault of the countryesque music, because country can be very slow if you don’t know how to jab your spurs in. (Heh.)

I am also not a huge fan of two Bright Eyes staples: one, the semi-veiled political commentary (yawn), and two, the conceit of setting up two opposites. He does it too often on Four Winds, and sometimes it works (from “Tourist Trap,” Or on the way to Cassadega to commune with the dead / (they said, “You better look alive”)) — and most of the time it’s just annoying (from “Cartoon Blues,” Why do I envy the ending right from the start? / Just get it together to take it apart.) It starts to blur together like a Nora Roberts romance novel cover — “Genuine Lies” or “Brazen Virtue.” Yes, yes, we get it.

That said, I’m looking forward to “Cassadega”! The beautiful, seductive “We Are Nowhere and It’s Now” came up on my ipod today and I remembered how it felt to hear, for the first time, a song that grabs your heart and squeezes till you can’t breathe.

Bright Eyes – Site at Saddle Creek | Myspace

Bright Eyes – Tourist Trap (from Saddle Creek site)

Bright Eyes – Cartoon Blues

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Me First & the Gimme Gimmes

Speaking of fusions … well … what do you call the new Me First album? Ten-gallon punk? Whatever you want to call it, it melds country and punk with a nice sprinkling of satire. I’ve loved Me First for a long time, so I’m happy as [insert country-themed simile here] for more material. The new album, released Oct. 17th, is called “Love Their Country.”

The country standards are there: “Jolene,” “Desperado,” and the lately very trendy “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” (which they irreverently add bagpipes to … hee hee). They also take on Garth Brooks’s underrated and quintessential “Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)” and top it off with a sexy version of “Goodbye Earl,” a very good choice for an album with a double-entendred title. It’s the same good stuff you love about them — the usual feeling of happy nostalgia, even when they switch the words on “Annie’s Song” to make it, well, a little creepy. But “Annie’s Song” was creepy to begin with, when you think about it.

Me First & the Gimme Gimmes – Site | Label (Fat Wreck Chords)

(Ezarchive is down, but you can download two songs at Fat Wreck Chords: Ghost Riders In the Sky and Goodbye, Earl)

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Reader J sent me an email regarding a free Beastie Boys concert on 21 October in Lake Forest, CA. If you’re in the area, I’m sure the Beastie Boys would be a good time. Info as follows (there were tickets on sale the 10th and 11th, but I have deleted that info):

LAKE FOREST, CA

There’s a free Beastie Boys show on 21 October right after the Etnies Goofy vs. Regular Skate Contest in Lake Forest, CA. The only way to get tickets to this one is to show up at one of the following retail locations during the times listed below. Tickets are pretty limited so you should get in quickly if you don’t want to miss out…

MONDAY 10/16, 4PM-6PM
ACTIVE RIDE SHOP in SANTA MONICA (1460 4th Street, Santa Monica, CA 90401 – (310)857-1360)

VAL SURF in VALLEY VILLAGE (4810 Whitsett Ave. Valley Village, CA 91607 – (818) 769-6977)

TUESDAY 10/17, 4PM-6PM

ACTIVE RIDE SHOP in CHINO (5491-C Philadelphia St., Chino, CA 91710 – (909) 465-1600)

VAL SURF in PASADENA (169 West Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, CA 91105 – (626) 796-0668)

So there you go.

While reading Stereogum yesterday, because I can’t get enough of that Stereogum goodness, I came across a link to Ryan Adams’s new project —Cardinal Radio, “You Are the Audience…” — 36 new tracks thrown out there for us to chew on. Mr. Adams is supposed to have seven new records coming out in 2007, and maybe this is a taste of what is to come.

I used to say, foolishly, that I would listen to anything that Mr. Adams cared to put out. This was in the flush days of “Gold,” when he could do no wrong. His spare, poetic style hit its apex in “Gold” and “Demolition,” sank slightly during “Rock N Roll,” perked up very well for “Love Is Hell,” and then whirled down the drain in a rush of dirty water. Everything since 2003, including “29” and the very forgettable “Cold Roses,” which I bitterly regret buying (anyone want my copy?), has been utter drivel (I did not buy & can therefore not comment on “Jacksonville City Nights”).

What are the factors that could drive someone with such talent into the crapper? Pretty simple, as I see it. Let me say first of all that I have no connection to Mr. Adams, and I could not therefore presume to judge him in any way. All I can judge is his output. So:

1. Use of illegal substances in unhealthy quantities. You know what I’m talking about. In Mr. Adams’s early years as an artist, he was working, as I delicately put it, in a state of high-functioning addiction. In the grand tradition of country music, his substance abuse probably even helped his sound. But in my opinion, the days of high-function are over, and the music has suffered. Ever since, perhaps, the song on “Rock N Roll” entitled “The Drugs Not Working.” No indeed, not anymore.

2. Too much rein. Of course as Mr. Adams became more famous, he got leave from the record company to do whatever he wanted. He is an extremely prolific artist; but most of it is not fit to be heard. Whoever is in charge of his contract should rein him in and make sure only his best work is released — but for some reason he gets to vomit out seven records next year. The label may be thinking that it will make them money; and it will, in the short run, because fans will buy it. But how much crap will people buy before they give up entirely and Mr. Adams then has to make money busking on a street-corner? I know my limit was reached yesterday.

Which brings us to Cardinal Radio. It’s thirty-six tracks and every single one sounds exactly the same; shouted lyrics over Xeroxed guitar tracks. Not only that, but Mr. Adams is trying for punk — but it’s like, 90s punk. In a can. The Dead Milkmen did better punk in 1985 than Mr. Adams’s garbled tracks about — of all things — unicorns for sale (track 13). It’s pathetic. Punk used to mean something. It didn’t just mean that you screamed crap into a microphone while someone pretended to play guitar behind you.

I don’t care if someone wants to try recording another type of music — if Mr. Adams wants to go punk or hiphop, let him give it a go. If he wants to break out of the alt-country mold, then great. I’m not saying he has to wail into the mike and play harmonica like Dylan. The mark of a good artist is change. But it doesn’t feel like he’s changing, or breaking out. It feels like he’s desperate. The tracks are neither quality nor interesting, and there is nothing standout about them. I’m disappointed; and more than that, I’m sad about it. “Gold” and “Love Is Hell” are truly transcendent experiences; I encourage anyone to listen to (and buy) them. But don’t waste your time on Cardinal Radio.

Ryan Adams – Site | Label (Universal Music Group)

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Gosh, I didn’t think enough people visited this place to max out a yousendit d/l, but I was wrong, so here, by popular demand, is the Decemberists – The Culling of the Fold [eta: as of 4.17.07, you need to contact me if you want a copy].

Sparklehorse is already an acclaimed band, and so I don’t have to talk them up, which is kind of nice. “They” are Mark Linkous and any collaborator that happens by, which is very cool, because Linkous knows some great people and one time he collaborated with Thom Yorke to produce my favorite cover ever, the transcendent rendition of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here.”

The new album is called “Dreamt For Lightyears In the Belly Of A Mountain,” and it retains much of the lo-fiety that Linkous is famous for. The lyrics are truly “words after the smoke,” as Linkous sounds like he’s singing through a fire-mask while your house burns down.

For me, the standout track is “Mountains,” which has a beautiful guitar to back up Linkous’s sweet lyrics (at least, my impression is that they’re sweet) as well as some electronic beepy stuff added in at the end. It’s not a super-original sound, anymore, unless you consider that Linkous was making it before the new kids. “Dreamt For Light Years…” makes for great listening, even though I’m doing a bad job at describing it. Very very bad job. Just listen.

Sparklehorse – Site | Myspace | Label (Capitol)

[These tracks have been removed. You can contact me if you’d like a copy.]

Sparklehorse – Mountains

Sparklehorse – Ghost In the Sky

Sparklehorse – Don’t Take My Sunshine Away

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[ed. note – lateness of the post is due to friggin’ ezarchive.]

Some of you dour indie folks may say there’s no room for humorous music anymore, and that BNL are all played out, but Bon Ton is a staunch fan of Barenaked Ladies. And they have a new album out! It’s called, “Barenaked Ladies Are Me.” Which is technically true (at least in the shower).

They’re on tour as well (including Wash DC, Salt Lake City, and LA, so stops for everyone). Come on, don’t be a hater like the guy in this video for “Lovers In A Dangerous Time,” who dials up a TV show so he can call the guys “repulsive.” I mean sure, if he’d directed it towards Ed’s hair, I would have concurred. But BNL are so sweet and innocuous, you’d have to have a nonexistent sense of humor to actively hate them.

I haven’t heard all of the new album, but the tunes I purchased from Emusic are classic BNL. You’ve just got to love a song like “Bank Job,” where a bank robber berates his partner for having a crisis of conscience — I appreciate music that, hours later, can make me grin just thinking about it. (“What are you smiling about?” asks my husband. “Oh,” I say, “just a song about a botched robbery in a bank full of nuns.”)

Barenaked Ladies – Site | Myspace

[These tracks have been removed. You can contact me if you’d like a copy.]

Barenaked Ladies – Bank Job
Barenaked Ladies – Adrift
Barenaked Ladies – Lovers In A Dangerous Time

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Osaka Popstar and the American Legends of Punk

And now, as they say, for something completely different.

Almost an understatement, this band’s name. It’s made up of punk veterans from the Ramones, Misfits, and Black Flag, which is awesomely cool in itself, but then it goes and makes crazy anime-flavored music, which amps the coolness up about twenty notches. I mean, I don’t watch Sailor Moon, so her punk theme song is kind of lost on me, but I am helpless before the power of a song called “Shaolin Monkeys.” That’s right, you heard me. Because any song about monkeys is an instant winner.

But Osaka Popstar isn’t just a novelty act. When listening to “Insects,” please note the skittering strings that start it out and the Black Sabbath-esque creepiness in the lyrics. And when they cover “Man of Constant Sorrow,” note the fantastic harmonies and the way they modernize this country classic, making it stand up and mosh. It’s good old-fashioned punk: pop-flavored, American made, and as fun to listen to as it likely was to record.

Osaka Popstar and the American Legends of Punk – Site | Myspace | Label (Misfits)

[These tracks have been removed. You can contact me if you’d like a copy.]

Osaka Popstar and the American Legends of Punk – Shaolin Monkeys
Osaka Popstar and the American Legends of Punk – Insects
Osaka Popstar and the American Legends of Punk – Man of Constant Sorrow

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Bettie Serveert

Ten years ago, I was very fond of Bettie Serveert, but they fell off my radar, so it’s nice to reconnect with an old friend. Minty Fresh will be releasing their new album “Bare Stripped Naked” on Sept. 12th, and you can preview tracks at their site.

I’ve always liked the contrast between Carol van Dijk’s sweet voice and the actual subjects of the songs. Back in the day my favorite song was “Something So Wild,” which warned a guy that he wasn’t gonna get away with treating her friend so harshly, that one day she’d bite back. Boy, when I was eighteen, how I used to sing along to that one. (I wish I still had a copy of that song! But the only copy I have is on a cassette. It’s the first time iTunes and emusic have both failed me.) Their new song packs just as much punch — it’s called “Hell = Other People,” and how true that is. To hell with other people!

Bettie Serveert: Site | Label (Minty Fresh)

[These tracks have been removed. You can contact me if you’d like a copy.]

Bettie Serveert – Hell = Other People
Bettie Serveert – You’ve Changed

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Lambchop

It’s a bittersweet moment when you find a new band, only to discover they’ve been around forever and you’re the idiot who just didn’t know. Bands like this provoke a crisis in the listener: if you’ve been missing a band this good for about twenty years, then who else is out there? What other great bands are making music like the proverbial tree in the forest? Will you ever be as Indie as you think you are? (I call this the Indie Existential Crisis.)

Enter Lambchop. In 1986 when they formed, I was twelve and had heard of a Lambchop, but she was a little sheep puppet who sang songs and stuff. She definitely didn’t sound like alt-country’s answer to The Good Life. Reading Merge’s bio, I see that Lambchop has between five and seventeen band members, which means seeing them live must be an awfully good time. Like a big party where most people are playing the music, but one person’s back there playing Super Mario, but it still seems to mesh with the music.

Lambchop’s newest album, “Damaged,” requires your attention. It doesn’t do the expected, and it isn’t smooth, and it isn’t happy. “I would Have Waited Here All Day” is a theme song for defeat, and “The Decline Of Country And Western Civilization” sounds desperate, like a man singing in a burning house. But like Frou Frou says, there’s beauty in the breakdown.

Lambchop – Site | Myspace | Label (Merge)

[These tracks have been removed. You can contact me if you’d like a copy.]

Lambchop – I Would Have Waited Here All Day
Lambchop – The Rise & Fall of the Letter P
Lambchop – The Decline Of Country And Western Civilization

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