Awesome Covers Corner: Who Wants to Cover The Pixies?

July 29, 2009

You may have heard recently that the Pixies are about to embark on another tour of Europe and North America commemorating the 20th anniversary of the release of alternative-Hall-of-Fame album Doolittle.  Unfortunately, they will be coming nowhere near Texas, so the likelihood that I will get to attend one of these shows is virtually nil.  Still, the opportunity to hear the Doolittle album performed live in its entirety sounds so incredibly awesome to this die hard fan that I would seriously consider dropping the cash to make it happen if I had such cash available.  Damn you, recession/depression!

The documentary of the Pixies’ reunion tour made it abundantly clear that the band members were not afraid to come together for purely financial reasons to capitalize on the belated respect and widespread acceptance that they had earned nearly 15 years after their dissolution, but media reports made it abundantly clear that the band members would not be coming together for a new record, reportedly due to the classic tension between Charles Thompson (aka Black Francis/Frank Black) and Kim Deal (aka Mrs. John Murphy).  But these plans for a new tour at least reveal that their old animosity has not completely deterred them from working together in the future.  So will we ever get another proper Pixies record?   I am optimistic.  History tells me I shouldn’t be, but dammit, I am!

So that long set up was to introduce two covers that I wasn’t even aware existed until very recently.  The first is done by maybe one of my favorite musicians of all time, Mr. David Bowie.  This cover comes from his 2002 release Heathen, and it is pretty great.  While the song does not come from Doolittle (it was on Surfer Rosa), “Cactus” was an early indicator of the sound that would come to shape the iconic 80’s alternative sound that the Pixies personified.  Bowie’s version is a surprisingly awesome, slightly industrial reinterpretation that still remains true to the original.

David Bowie – “Cactus”

Next up is a completely a capella version of “Mr. Grieves”, a song which actually does appear on Doolittle.  Really, this cover takes my breath away and leaves me speechless.  I will only say that is is an incredible reinterpretation that turns the manic original into an improbably yet completely successful doo-wop tune.  This version of the song both proves Charles Thompson’s ability to craft a great song and TV on the Radio’s unique musical sensibilities.

TV on the Radio – “Mr. Grieves”


Album Review: St. Vincent – Actor

July 28, 2009

I have had a rocky past with female rock and roll artists that, I believe, was a product of growing up in the 90’s.  I always had a seething hatred for female alternative bands like Hole, No Doubt, L7, Veruca Salt, etc.  That list could go on forever (although I did enjoy Garbage’s first record a lot).  I also had no love for the Lilith Fair crowd, as it always seemed to my underdeveloped teenage mind to be some sort of false granola “empowerment” thing for ladies in Birkenstocks.  In retrospect, however, I would gladly listen to Sarah McLachlan and Co. sing about their vaginas all day rather than have to endure the painfully shallow “Sex and the City” culture that exists today.  Lastly, we had the quirky weirdo chicks, like Bjork, Tori Amos, and Portishead.  Nothing in their music was particularly appealing to a teenage boy, and they were also kind of frightening.  Sure, it all looks a bit sexist when revisited from my current vantage point, but them’s the facts.  I remained for a long time fairly averse to female musicians of any kind, and I’m sure I missed a fair amount of solid music because of my youthful biases.

Well, here’s me, all growned up now with much more diverse tastes and a willingness to explore music from anybody, regardless of gender.  I suppose this grew out of my self-induced musical education, which involved listening to lots of great rock, pop, and r&b from previous decades.  The discovery of the great women of popular music’s past opened me up to accepting the new contributions that women continue to make to the musical landscape.  I’m glad that I’ve gotten over my unfair negative gender stereotype, because if I hadn’t, I never would have heard St. Vincent’s latest record, Actor.  And that would be a crime.  Against my ears.  Because they likey.

St. Vincent, a.k.a. Annie Clark, crafts slightly disjointed pop that can change on a dime mid-song, and she borrows from several interesting cultural and musical sources to create some extremely affecting pop music.  In my mind, Clark seems to be having a musical conversation with TV On The Radio, answering last year’s Dear Science with an argument of her own in Actor.  Both artists are indebted to David Bowie, with St. Vincent’s “Save Me From What I Want” echoing Bowie’s “Golden Years”, while several other songs work in minimalist elements from the Berlin Trinity.  Also on display is Clark’s affinity for world music, which she artfully peppers into songs like “The Strangers”, which features a lilting Parisian accordion, and “The Bed”, which rides a vaguely Asian melody.  Tying all of these elements together is Clark’s steady, soothing voice, like that of a schoolteacher, which serves as an excellent anchor through the sometimes jarring arrangements.

And, in almost every case, those arrangements are killer.  This is a purposefully disjointed record, and many of the elements play off of each other to make for unsteady and arresting moments.  Clark’s aforementioned voice always remains on an even keel, even when most of her lyrics feature women in some form of emotional distress.  The soft, lullaby melodies in many tracks, such as “The Strangers” and “The Neighbors”, are often interrupted by blaring horns and quick tempo shifts.  The beautiful flute driven melody of “Black Rainbow” is capped off by a key-shifting crescendo ending that abruptly drops out to end the song.  Clark obviously has a lot of ideas, but the songs never come off as overstuffed.  Instead, we get tight songs with unpredictable and sometimes messy structures, once again showcasing the record’s inherent contradictions.

Actor is a fine album, and I am continually impressed with a lot of the music that has been coming out in 2009.  I must also offer an apology to the ladies of rock for my ill-advised shunning of their efforts as a result of teenage ignorance.  Women have plenty to contribute to popular music, and if they keep producing music like St. Vincent’s Actor, I will keep on singing their praises.  I still hate Hole, though.

St. Vincent – “Actor Out of Work”


July 26, 2009

OK, I have no idea what to make of this. Maybe you can tell me.

“I’m an American, boys.”

July 25, 2009

What song is that line from? I know, but you likely don’t. Somehow, I don’t get the impression that you’re about to rush out and spend money on a twenty-year-old album that I like and recommend when you can’t even hear one song from it. I don’t blame you.

Warner Music: Do you seriously think your posture is helping your catalog sales?

Here’s something else written by the artist you are not allowed to listen to. Someone else sang it. It will probably be yanked, too, so enjoy while you can.

The Wrens – “Boys You Won’t Remember” live at Emo’s 7/21/2007, featuring ME onstage!!!

July 22, 2009

Holy crap! Just randomly found this on YouTube. This was from the Wrens’ last Meadowlands tour stop in July of ’07 at Emo’s in Austin, TX.  The song is Boys You Won’t Remember, and they pulled me and a bunch of other people up on stage.  For most of the video, you can see me in the very back banging on the rafters with a drumstick.  There’s a very brief close up on me at about 2:06, then another of me singing with Kevin at about 2:47.  In the screencap below, I am directly in the middle with my arm raised up.  I am an extreme fanboy, so this was a real thrill.  I only wish the video quality was better, but I’ll take what I can get! 

How often do you get to get onstage and sing with your favorite band in the world?  Best concert experience of my life by far!!!

Album Review: Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion

July 21, 2009

So, if you have read many of my past album reviews on this site, you will notice an obsession that I have with the notion of influence and how artists distinguish themselves from the sounds from which they take inspiration.  No matter how much I enjoy a new album, I tend to have a bit of a hard time getting fully behind artists that make an obvious homage to a specific musical movement that came before.  There is a fine line between inspiration and blatant copying, and it sometimes feels like I’m apologizing for a band sounding too much like their influences.  It’s an internal argument that I may never quite get past, but I have been able to suppress it enough to remain objective on a very basic level, meaning if it sounds good and the artist is bringing a new spin to the material, I’ll give him/her the benefit of the doubt.  Just when I feel I’m getting hopelessly bogged down in my own weird, sick thing, however, a group puts out an album that is wholly unique and original, granting me a much needed reprieve from sorting through who’s ripping off whom.

Such is the case with Animal Collective’s latest album, Merriweather Post Pavilion.  Released way back in January of this year, this is one of the albums that I have been sitting on as I wait to really digest all the minute details.  Granted, six months is a long time to wait for an album review, but I had other shit goin’ on.  Sue me.  As anyone who is familiar with Animal Collective’s earlier work, this is a group that can be notoriously difficult to “get”.  They are known for their dense soundscapes, loose song structures, thumping afro-beats, clicks, beeps, whoops, and hollers.  Not much has changed for Merriweather Post Pavilion, but many of their stranger tendencies have been reined in in a great way, making this the closest to mainstream pop that Animal Collective has come thus far.  However, with a few exceptions, it’s difficult to characterize this as pop music.  Even the most easily digestible songs on the record contain tweaked song structures, endlessly repetitive digital noises, and multi-layered vocalizations.  “My Girls” has several moments that resemble a formal verse/chorus/bridge structure, but it also recalls a kind of primal chant interwoven with tribal drums, beginning with a slow, zen-like drone before bursting into a joyous noise.  “Summertime Clothes” contains Animal Collective’s most catchy chorus, but it’s also surrounded by looped rave noises and drums. Other songs manage to work along the same lines, such as “Also Frightened”, the beautiful love song “Bluish”, West African-influenced album closer “Brother Sport”, and… okay, every song has something unique and different going for it.

One of the coolest tricks on this record, however, comes in the very first song.  “In The Flowers” begins and ends with much of the same droning, repetitive bass, digital clicks, piano, and various other looped noise.  Mid-song, however, after an intense blast of cacophonous loops, Avey Tare breaks in with a decidedly pop lyric (“Then we could be dancing, no more missing you while I’m gone”) that actually creates melody out of the noise, as if each sound comes together with the singer to create brief beauty out of aural chaos.  It reminds me of the familiar jazz instructional cliché: “You have to listen to the notes he’s not playing!”  Granted, this could just all be in my head, but I hear it every time I play the song, and it makes me smile every time.

Merriweather Post Pavilion has received astonishingly good marks from critics everywhere, but many die hard Animal Collective fans will not view this as their most daring and experimental work.  This may be correct, but as their first major dip into the pop music world, Animal Collective have used this record to change the game, creating an all digital album full of electronic noise that yet does not sound like modern techno, rock, pop, or anything else out there, for that matter.  Animal Collective has created an original and solid statement of the band’s vision of where popular music is headed, and I am confident that, in the future, this record will be regarded as far ahead of its time.

Animal Collective – “My Girls”

“Say Say Say” by Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson

July 18, 2009

I was reading something completely unrelated on another blog, and it almost randomly caused “Say Say Say” to pop into my head. Less than a minute later, I clicked over to my music-related RSS feed and found that someone on a different blog had written a brief post on…”Say Say Say.”

I don’t know exactly what that means, but it’s all the excuse I needed to post this excellent song and video. I’m willing to bet that a lot of MJ’s younger fans don’t know this song exists. Here’s hoping it’s on the eventual box set.