Who Will Save Your Soul?

September 30, 2009


I have long advocated for separating an artist from his work. I listen to Michael Jackson without the slightest twinge of guilt, and I watch Roman Polanksi’s movies without the slightest twinge of guilt.

But “separate” is key. Had Michael Jackson been convicted of child molestation, I would have supported his punishment. Being a talented artist should not give you a pass for repellent and criminal behavior.

The case of Roman Polanski is especially disturbing. His guilt is not in question. He gave a thirteen-year old girl alcohol and drugs, and then anally raped her. He knew her age. He also knew what the word “no” meant.

For normal people, the fact that it was a long time ago is irrelavant–Catholic priests are routinely prosecuted for decades-old crimes. However, the “arts community” seems to believe that their elite members deserve a pass for such trifles as sodomizing an unwilling minor. Sadly, the list of people rallying to the defense of this creepy rapist includes many whose works I admire.

So far as I know, there has been only one American artist of prominence who has stated the obvious. That is Jewel, who posted to her Twitter page:

Polanski-admitted raping a 13 yr old-whys every1 in the arts upset hes facing jail? cause hes a gifted director? what am i missing?

Thank you, Jewel, for bringing the common sense and decency that seem to elude so many of your fellow artists, causing them to support someone who drugged and anally raped a thirteen-year old girl.

Jewel asked in her first hit, “Who Will Save Your Soul?” Who indeed? Who will save Polanski’s soul? Who will save the souls of his defenders? I know this statement is contradictory: They better pray that there is no God.


New Music: “Last Dance” by the Raveonettes

September 30, 2009

The Raveonettes’ last album, Lust Lust Lust, was one of my favorites from last year. This number, from their upcoming record In and Out of Control, features a somewhat cleaner sound and an overwhelming amount of sweetness.

The album comes out next week.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Via Stereogum.

New Music: “There’s Too Much Love” by Sufjan Stevens

September 29, 2009

Via Pitchfork.

It’s been awhile since we’ve heard from Mr. Stevens. This live video has me looking forward to his next record.

Album Review: the Avett Brothers – I and Love and You

September 24, 2009

I’ve always told people that I wanted to start a band that mixed Bluegrass and Punk Rock.  Most people looked at me like I was crazy, but now one band has made sense out of the idea.

For those that haven’t heard the Avett Brothers, they combine bluegrass and country instrumentation with a punk-ethos to form their own style of music.  They have a simple live setup, consisting of four band members rotating through acoustic guitar, banjo, piano, a hodgepodge of drums, violin, and cello.  Overall, the music lands somewhere in between the Band, Old Crow Medicine Show, and early Ryan Adams.

Now, I’m not usually the type of person to buy in to hype.  I’ve even been known to drop a band once they “make it big”.  With the Avett Brothers, it’s a little bit different for me.  I only recently discovered them after an article in Paste magazine caught my attention.

The band’s story of small town roots, insanely devoted work ethic (and subsequently insanely devoted fans), and an indifference to major label success really hit home with me.  But then again, isn’t that every good band’s story?

So after a month or so, I stumbled across the single “I and Love and You and was immediately hooked.  I went out and got their 2007 release, Emotionalism and I’ve honestly not been able to keep the Avett’s out of my rotation since.  The songs are extremely well crafted, in terms of melody, lyrics, and musicianship… which is a deadly combination.  Mainly dealing with relationships, heartbreak, and “the road”, nearly every song on Emotionalism has the kind of lyrics you immediately relate to and a hook that you wake up singing.

But that was Emotionalism, and now comes their major label debut, I and Love and You.

Working with producer Rick Rubin, the Avett Brothers latched onto the emotional side of their hybrid bluegrass/ punk style and added a TON of instrumentation.  Relying heavily on the piano, songs like “Kick Drum Heart” are more indie-pop than country or bluegrass.  Still, other songs like “Ten Thousand Words” are hook-laden back road anthems.  The best track on the record (in my opinion), is the ballad “Laundry Room”, reminiscent of Wiskeytown’s Pneumonia, but somehow morphs into a hoedown.  Another part of the music that Rubin was able to bring out is the use of harmonies between brothers Seth and Scott Avett, as evident on the title track and first single.

So, long story short, I and Love and You is extremely addicting record, and probably won’t leave my playlist for a while.  I also broke down and bought an $85 single day pass to the Austin City Limits Festival next Friday just to see their set.

The album comes out next Tuesday, but you can stream it now at NPR: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=112973444

RIP , Mary Travers, Jim Carroll, and Patrick Swayze

September 17, 2009

The summer of 2009 has seen an unusual amount of high-profile celebrity deaths.

Mary Travers of Peter, Paul, and Mary passed away yesterday at 72 after a long battle with leukemia. 

Peter, Paul, and Mary – “Blowin’ in the Wind”

Jim Carroll, poet, musician, and author of The Basketball Diaries, passed away last Friday of a heart attack.  He was 59.

Jim Carroll Band – “People Who Died”

Actor, dancer, heartthrob, and occasional singer Patrick Swayze succumbed to pancreatic cancer at the age of 57.

Patrick Swayze – “She’s Like the Wind”

Album Review: fun. – Aim and Ignite

September 13, 2009

New York-based band fun. have released their debut record, Aim and Ignite, and I am an unabashed fan (thanks, Kirsten, for the heads up!).  Formed by Nate Ruess, previously the lead singer of The Format, fun. shares some of the unabashed pop sensibilities of that band.  However, as opposed to the straight up guitar power pop of The Format, fun. takes things in an outlandish direction of magnified sugar and, well, fun.  Pulling out all the stops, Ruess channels Freddie Mercury at almost every turn, and the arrangements of the songs at times veer from A Night at the Opera on speed to Caribbean-tinged bounce to sweet, symphonic strings liberally garnished with Sgt. Pepper-style horns.  The most obvious comparison that will inevitably be made here is with The Darkness, as fun. shares the same tongue in cheek throwback style, but none of it really ever comes off as an act like The Darkness often did for me. 

Opening track “Be Calm” is anything but what the title suggests, and it’s one of the better lead-off tracks I’ve heard on an album in quite some time.  The song begins with a quite beautiful string and accordion intro before Ruess breaks in with his faux-classical vocals.  What follows is a wild four minute ride of shifting tempos and some pretty incredible vocal turns from Ruess, as well as the aforementioned horn.  When the electric guitar kicks in, the song really takes flight, taking the listener on a manic ride as Ruess sings about paranoia (The beggars near bodegas grin at me/I think they want something/I close my eyes, I tell myself to breathe).   “All The Pretty Girls” is the most straight forward rock song here, and the Queen comparisons here are apt (in no way is that meant as a negative; I love Queen!).  The heavily overdubbed backing vocals are reminiscent of “Killer Queen” and “Bohemian Rhapsody”, but the melody itself is also reminiscent of the underrated early 90’s band Jellyfish.  Another obvious standout is “At Least I’m Not As Sad (As I Used To Be)”, an incredibly catchy and childlike song that copies the melody of a playground taunt as Ruess sings about abandoning friends and lovers in his relentless pursuit of the rock (I don’t keep friends,I keep acquainted).

I can absolutely see fun. as a love them or hate them kind of band, just as The Darkness were before them.  It’s difficult for a band to make such unapologetically bombastic pop songs without experiencing at least some measure of backlash.  However, there is a depth to fun.’s songs, a sincerity and underlying emotion in their lyrics, that belies a band with more than just a gimmick behind their sound.  This is further demonstrated on some of Aim and Ignite‘s quieter tracks, such as “The Gambler” and “Light A Roman Candle With Me.”  These tracks are driven by not much more than Ruess’s vocals and a piano, and they manage to convey both playfulness and maturity at the same moment, indicating that there just might be more to fun. than their band name implies.

**UPDATE** Apparently Roger Joseph Manning, Jr., the former keyboardist for Jellyfish, is responsible for the arrangements on Aim and Ignite, so I guess my Jellyfish comparison was apt.  The Jellyfish influence can be heard throughout the album.

fun. – “Be Calm”

fun. – “At Least I’m Not As Sad (As I Used To Be)”

Album Review: hyperstory – hyperstory

September 10, 2009

hyperstory-coverhyperstory is the moniker adopted by L.A. musician C. Scott Blevins for his self-titled debut album.  The album was recorded over two years in multiple locations and includes guest performances by many musicians.  Blevins himself performs guitar on the album and is responsible for the arrangements and sampling work.

The album has a promising beginning, with the too brief instrumental intro “Prelude” adopting a dusty western theme with a lonesome whistler and a hazy desert vibe.   Unfortunately, this Calexico-like track only lasts for less than a minute and is not fully explored.  The first proper song on the record is the single “A Happening,” an engaging and fairly simple pop tune with a few nice ideas, such as the childlike “la la la la” call and response midway through.  It has a kind of Fastball/Spoon feel that is always appealing to this Austinite.  The major misstep in this song occurs when Blevins appends a repetitive, almost two minute coda that stretches what should be a three minute pop song past the five minute mark.  The same problem is repeated later on “”Will It Ever Change”, but this track stumbles even further with its verse melody that almost outright copies “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.”  Only two other tracks on the album, “Something Good” and”A Reckoning”, contain vocals, and none match up to the catchiness of “A Happening”, although “A Reckoning” does have an admittedly hooky chorus. 

At first, I felt that this release would perhaps have worked better as an EP, since only four of the nine songs contain vocals, but since Blevins isn’t a singer, I had to re-examine it as a release from a musician.  Even from this standpoint, I feel the same way since the instrumental tracks add nothing to the record.  “Ascension” is basically a throwback theme to a 70’s cop show without any hint of an updated take on the material.  The instrumentation and arrangement are fine, but what is it doing on this album?  The same goes for the closing track, the appropriately titled “End Story”, which is an ambient whistling chillout that at least seems less out of place than “Ascension”, but still doesn’t add any value to the album as a whole.  There are also two inexplicable tracks that contain no music at all.  One is a rant from an apparent street preacher, and the other is literally a person walking up a flight of stairs, then unlocking and opening an apartment door.  So upon further review, even without removing the instrumentals, there are only six full tracks.  Should have been an EP.

hyperstory will be released on November 10, 2009.

hyperstory – “A Happening”