“A Toast….to Stereo MCs”

July 31, 2008

Stereo MC’s released an album on Tuesday, July 28th, 2008. Yes, they did.

Their Myspace page said so.

Rob Birch -  Stereo MCs

Rob Birch, DJ "Stereo MC's"

Long may you run, scary emaciated white UK guy.

Stereo MCs – “Connected” 1992


Album Review: Neil Diamond – Home Before Dark

July 31, 2008

Home Before Dark opens with a tour de force, “If I Don’t See You Again,” which can stand with the best songs of Neil Diamond’s long career. It’s seven minutes with a protagonist who seems to be rehearsing what he’s going to say to a lover. He begins by acknowledging how she’s changed his life for the better–“I hated sleeping around”–while assuring her that if she leaves, “it was a hell of a ride.” From there, he muses on how madly in love he really is:

Who am I kidding? I’m going nowhere.

I can’t even get through an hour without you.

By the end he’s considering leaving her:

It’s time for saying goodbye

‘Cause if I stayed for too long

You’d get to know me too well

And find that something was wrong

It’s a portrait of a man who has found something incredible and has absolutely no idea to how to handle it, and it’s magnificent.

“If I Don’t See You Again” overshadows an album that, while far from a classic, has its share of good moments. Good moments don’t always make for a good album, though, and Home Before Dark is not nearly as consistent or enjoyable as his Diamond’s comeback record, 2005’s 12 Songs.

On the good side? Certainly “Another Day (That Time Forgot),” a pretty piano-and-guitar duet with Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks, is a highlight, as is the single, “Pretty Amazing Grace.” The closer, “Home Before Dark,” is also worth a listen. There are others.

However, the album feels interminable, especially the second half, which is considerably weaker than the first. Contributing to this problem, five of the songs are six minutes or longer. Often the material is strong enough to support these lengths on a song-by-song basis, but the cumulative effect just wears the listener out after awhile. Worrisome: on some songs, Home Before Dark marks a partial return to Diamond’s cheesy side, the side that often causes to people to lump him in with Barry Manilow rather than crediting him for his significant songwriting achievements.

As a producer, Rick Rubin has done a pretty good job of making the music sound good. However, a strong producer is also an editor, and he has failed in that role. Cutting out four or five of these songs and sending Neil back to write another two good ones would have benefited Home Before Dark immensely.

12 Songs marked a creative rebirth for Neil Diamond. Let’s hope Home Before Dark is just a sophomore slump.

“If I Don’t See You Again”:

Kate Bush Turns 50

July 30, 2008

Today marks the 50th birthday of everyone’s favorite alt-rock goddess and the blueprint for other female rockers such as Tori Amos, PJ Harvey, KT Tunstall, Paula Cole, etc.  To mark the occasion, I present two videos: Kate Bush’s original “Hounds of Love,” followed by the Futureheads and their amazing barbershop punk cover of the same song from their 2004 debut album.  Happy Birthday, Kate!

Kate Bush – “Hounds of Love”

The Futureheads – “Hounds of Love”

Will Neil Young Screw Me Over?

July 30, 2008

There are many things I could post about in this incredibly interesting USA Today piece, and I will return to it, but I’ll start with this paragraph:

Neil Young recently announced that the first volume of his long-awaited archives project would arrive this fall on 10 Blu-ray Discs. The rocker, who has long decried the sound of CD and digital recording as brittle, says, “Previous technology required unacceptable quality compromises.” In addition to HD video, Blu-ray Disc players support the playback of high-resolution music beyond a CD’s dynamic range.

I am a huge Neil Young fan. I own about thirty Neil Young albums and hope to eventually have all of his studio records. This archives project was first announced in 1997 or 1998–I’ve been waiting for it that long. So when I started hearing buzz that this might come out in the near future, I was stoked.

Until this.

Neil has been bitching about CD sound pretty much since the format came out. He likes current popular digital formats even less. This is understandable, to an extent. MP3s don’t sound as good as CDs, even when ripped with care, and there are a lot of people out there who want something better (I’ll be posting on that soon). I can certainly understand an artist wanting his music to sound as good as it possibly can.

But this screws me over pretty good. I’m assuming the box set will cost, at a minimum, $200, and possibly much more. Add to that the cost of a Blu-ray player, which I don’t yet own as I don’t have an HDTV–much of my money has been going into absolutely necessary home renovations, so I’ve had to put off purchasing an HDTV until I recover from that large expense.

But even buying a Blu-ray player would restrict me to listening to it in my living room. I spend the majority of my time at home (when not asleep) in my study. So, in order to listen to it there, I also need to buy a Blu-ray drive for my computer, something I don’t have much use for other than listening to this particular box set, unless Blu-ray takes off as the next hot musical format, something I’ve seen no sign of.

That’s a pretty hefty price tag, even for something I’ve been lusting after for ten years.

And there’s still no portability! If I want to listen to this in my car, I can’t. My head unit certainly doesn’t play Blu-ray, and I’m sure as hell not playing something that costs this much in my car anyway–too much risk of damage. The only way I could hear this in my car or anywhere else is to rip it to MP3 and stick it on my iPod–I know Neil would disapprove, but what else am I supposed to do? But wait! Can you even rip MP3s from Blu-ray? I have no idea. Would I have to buy software and spend even more money?

The consequence of this decision is that, for the most part, only rich people will be able to buy this set, and even they will only be able to listen to it while chained to a Blu-ray player. Is this what you want, Neil? The best sound quality in the world doesn’t mean a thing if no one will ever hear it.

The solution is simple, although Neil won’t like it.

I hit the vinyl section at Waterloo Records to pick up the Mudcrutch LP (with CD) and noticed that some vinyl releases now include vouchers, so that you can download MP3s of the album–that way you get higher sound quality when you’re at home, but you can still take it on the road with you. It’s an eminently sensible arrangement, as it doesn’t punish consumers who prefer vinyl to CD when the option is available. (In case you were curious, the new Madonna album was the one that was offering this.)

The Neil Young archives box set should include this option. It should also allow you to download lossless files for listening to on your computer and for portability at some time in the future when our iPods will be a jillion gigs and play lossless formats.

This would be a compromise, but life is about compromises. We don’t live in a perfect world. Please, Neil, do the right thing.

Album Review: The Tallest Man On Earth – Shallow Graves

July 29, 2008

I challenge you to find one review of Swedish folk singer Kristian Matsson’s debut album under the moniker The Tallest Man On Earth that doesn’t make a comparison to Bob Dylan.  They may be out there, but I doubt it.  I personally have not read any reviews of the record so as to keep from tainting my own opinion, but the Dylan resemblance is inescapable. 

“The Blizzard’s Never Seen the Desert Sands” boldly poses as a tune straight from the mouth of a young Dylan.  Accompanied by nothing but a banjo, Matsson sings his dense, vaguely religious lyrics in a voice so familiar that the effect is almost eerie.  In “The Gardener,” Matsson expands his vocal range somewhat, staying mostly in the previously established Dylan-esque mode, but also sounding at times like Spencer Krug of Wolf Parade or Win Butler of Arcade Fire.

Once your ear becomes accustomed to the Dylan thing (have I mentioned that he sounds like Bob Dylan?), the subtleties of Matsson’s voice begin to come out, and before you know it, you begin to realize that Matsson is doing more actual singing than the young Dylan ever did.  His voice was made for this music, and on my second listen to opening track “I Won’t Be Found,” I forgot about the Dylan comparisons completely.  Besides, Matsson can’t be criticized too heavily for ripping off Dylan, since Dylan himself has stated that he set out to rip off Woody Guthrie. 

After getting through the album a few times, I realized what a great songwriter Matsson is.  Sure, he pays homage to Dylan, but he has many other little tricks to show us.  And what he shows us is an accomplished folk artist who is able to overcome the inevitable comparisons to a musical icon and craft his own simple, beautiful, and lyrically challenging folk music.

If Bob Dylan were alive today, I think he would be proud.

P.S. Yes, I know Dylan is alive.  It was a joke.

P.P.S. Looks like you can stream samples of songs from the album on his website.  Listen to “The Blizzard’s Never Seen the Desert Sands” first to really get where I’m coming from with the whole Bob Dylan thing.

New Releases of Note: 7/30/08

July 29, 2008

Via AMG.

You could call it a slow week for new music, or you could call it a good week for your wallet. AMG is highlighting new albums by Alice Cooper and Rick Springfield, which means either they are respectable comeback attempts, or this week is really slow.

Steve Cropper & Felix Cavaliere – Nudge It Up a Notch

Alice Cooper – Along Came a Spider

Sugarland – Love on the Inside

Rick Springfield – Venus in Overdrive

Various Artists – Rock the Net: Musicians for Network Neutrality

Full list here.

The New Art of the Mixtape

July 29, 2008

As I’m sure most of you have noticed, there’s a new trend in hip-hop/rap music, and that is the “Free Mixtape”.  Everyone from Lil Wayne, Kayne, the Game… they’re all doing it.  And it seems like a good idea to me.  Artists can release a lot of music without having to pay for all the production/packaging/marketing involved in a real album.

I found this great site that aggregates and rates all these mixtapes: DatPiff.com

These mixtapes are also a great way for new artists to get their name out there and pick up a few fans.  One such artist that is gaining popularity in the blogosphere is Kid CUDI who’s mixtape, entitled “A Kid Named Cudi” is available for download HERE.

Here’s a song off the mixtape that sampes Band of Horses’ “Funeral”.