RIP, Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse

March 7, 2010

Mark Linkous, prolific recording artist and main force behind the band Sparklehorse, has died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at the age of 47.  Details can be found here.

Here’s “Please Don’t Take My Sunshine Away” from Sparklehorse’s great 2006 album Dreamt For Light Years In The Belly Of A Mountain.

Sparklehorse – “Please Don’t Take My Sunshine Away”


Album Review: Surfer Blood – Astro Coast

February 25, 2010

The debut album of Florida band Surfer Blood absolutely rocks my shit.  There, it’s been said.  If you don’t wanna hang around for the rest of this review, that’s probably for the best, and unless you suffer from poor reading comprehension skills, that first sentence tells you that you should have immediately abandoned this review after reading said sentence, knocking over your crusty computer chair in a mad dash to grab your car keys and fly to your nearest record store to purchase Astro Coast.  Barring that, if you are one of them digital-type persons, you should have at least furiously aggravated your carpal tunnel in the rush to download this album from your nearest legal purveyor of digital music.  Seriously, are you still reading this?  Go on, you can come back later to have your feelings validated about how kick ass of a record this is.  Don’t worry, I’ll be here.

Oh, back so soon?  Well, at this point, you may have given this record one or two spins, and maybe you’re thinking, “That Jason guy from the computer is wack!  This album has yet to change my life in any profound manner.  What a dick!”  Well, stick with it, friend.  I myself had to give this record several spins before I realized what a jewel I had on my hands, and it took me even longer to realize just what Surfer Blood had created:  a perfect pastiche of all of the good things that have happened in indie rock since the late 80’s.

With every spin of Astro Coast, I hear a new glorious influence from some titan of indie rock.  Here’s a list of influences that I have spotted so far:  Pavement, Dinosaur Jr., Built To Spill, the Shins, early Weezer, the Pixies, Vampire Weekend (although Surfer Blood derives their influence from the Tropicalia sound moreso than West African rhythms), Modest Mouse, Sonic Youth, Secaucus-era Wrens, Fugazi, etc.  Oh yeah, and throw a little Beach Boys in there, too.  If that list looks as awesome to you as it does to me, then please purchase this record.  Personally, it almost seems to me like someone interviewed me about what my favorite indie rock bands were, and then they proceeded to make an album based on those suggestions.

In addition to the bands mentioned above, Surfer Blood shares a lot sonically with now defunct Austin band Sound Team.  But while Sound Team were criticized (most notably by Pitchfork) for being pretentious, there is not an ounce of pretension to be found on Astro Coast.  This is guitar pop, pure and simple, and there is a simple little lead guitar run at the end of late album track “Anchorage” that summarizes everything I love about this album and good indie rock in general.  Put it on, nod your head, and have a blast with this great new album.

Surfer Blood – “Twin Peaks”

Surfer Blood – “Swim”

RIP Jimmy Lee Lindsey Jr., aka Jay Reatard (May 1, 1980 – January 13, 2010)

January 13, 2010

News came down today that Jay Reatard has passed away at the tender age of 29.  Reatard was a controversial figure in rock, not just because of his name, but also his on and offstage antics, which involved picking fights with his audiences and firing his whole band at will, among others.  However, Jay was a truly prolific artist who released tons of material, whether as a solo artist or member of tons of other bands.  And it all just kept getting better and better.  The man was surely in the prime of his artistic life, releasing killer song after song (many later released as singles compilations) and two brilliant solo albums (2006’s Blood Visions and 2009’s Watch Me Fall).  It’s a shame to lose such a promising talent so young, and many rock fans will be left to wonder what greatness they have missed out on with his passing.

I only dedicated one short blog post to Jay Reatard back in 2008, but I aim to correct that soon.  Watch this space for posthumous reviews of each of his solo albums as well as his singles compilations.  RIP, Jay.  To quote one of your song titles, “Oh, it’s such a shame.”

Jay Reatard – “Always Wanting More”

That Ain’t Country: “Sara Smile” by Jimmy Wayne

January 11, 2010

The sad state of what is now considered to be popular country music is a topic of much ire for me, a subject which I have touched upon a few times on this blog, most notably here.  The girlfriend/fiancee mentioned in that particular post and others is now my wife, and she still holds the same baffling predilection for country radio.  Therefore I hear modern country radio on a daily basis, whether I like it or not (definitely not).  There have been a few gems encountered amongst the soul-crushing crap, such as this still respected song by the Randy Rogers Band, but for the most part, it’s all hideous pop masquerading as country music (I’m looking at you, Taylor Swift/Lady Antebellum!).  Dress up any old pop tune with a  drop of fiddle here, a pinch of mandolin there, maybe a dash of banjo, and you now have the recipe for what passes as country music.

So I was sitting at the breakfast table a few weeks back, trying as hard as possible to block out the stream of Country Top 40 crap blaring out at me at way too early in the morning for such things, when I noticed that what I was listening to at that particular moment was even less country than usual!  In fact, it almost sounded like… R&B?  “Wait,” I thought to myself, “Why in the hell are they playing Hall and Oates on a country station?”  I would soon come to find out that I was not in fact listening to Hall and Oates (although they apparently assisted with this version), but instead to a “country” artist named Jimmy Wayne.

Now, I have been somewhat shocked to hear in recent years that Hall and Oates somehow have the respect and admiration of the current hipster community.  Not the most expected fanbase for them, I would think, but what do I know?  I myself have never been much of a fan of any of their music outside of “She’s Gone,” which admittedly is a great tune. Some of their other 70’s material is listenable, and their 80’s material is downright lame, but “Sara Smile” has always been such a non-entity of a song to me.  It’s got a similar blue-eyed Philly soul template to “She’s Gone,”  but it has always seemed to have such a watered down flavor, lacking in that authenticity that “She’s Gone” captures so well.  No shocker that it was the song that put the group on the map.  Watered-down-whiteboy-AM-soul music in the 70’s?  “Yes, please!” screamed audiences.

“Sara Smile” by Hall and Oates

Then there’s this cover by Jimmy Wayne.  What is added to this cover?  What distinguishes it from the original?  The smattering of banjo and fiddle is just barely even there, just enough to give someone the opportunity to justify its place on country radio.  Admittedly, Jimmy Wayne sings this song well, perhaps even better than Daryl Hall, but who cares?  This song bores the crap out of me, and the cover is even more unecessary than the original.

“Sara Smile” by Jimmy Wayne (featuring Daryl Hall and John Oates)

If you have never heard Mr. Wayne’s cover of this song before and this is your first listen, please explain to me how this song fits on modern country radio?  It’s not as insipid or blatantly ridiculous as Taylor Swift’s Avril-Lavigne-with-a-fiddle act, but do we really want our country stations to move in the AM Gold direction after already losing the country airwaves to tweener pop?  I guess at this point, it doesn’t matter.  Country and pop have become one, and there’s no stopping it, especially since this stuff is vastly outselling the other musical genres.

However, in regards to this Jimmy Wayne song, I will paraphrase David Allen Coe and say, “If that’s country, I’ll kiss your ass.”

Jeff Mangum (Neutral Milk Hotel) live clips

November 20, 2009

Merge Records has unearthed and posted a couple of video clips to Youtube of reclusive Neutral Milk Hotel frontman Jeff Mangum performing a couple of songs in NYC in 1998, presumably before he reportedly had a mental breakdown and (more or less) completely withdrew from the music world.  He looks a little crazy in the videos, especially the one for “Two-Headed Boy,” but they are both great performances. 

If you happen to have never heard their 1998 album In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, do yourself a favor and find it.   It’s one of those records that was so incredibly ahead of its time that it still sounds surprising and incredibly fresh today.  I’ve had it for years, and I still notice new things practically every time I listen.  Cheers!

“Two-Headed Boy”

“April 8th”

Free Live Pixies EP in Honor of The 20th Anniversary of Doolittle!

November 9, 2009

The Pixies have a link on their website where, if you enter a valid email address, you will be sent a link to download a free live four song EP of the Pixies performing cuts from Doolittle in honor of that album’s 20th anniversary.  The recording quality is actually pretty excellent.  The songs included are “Dancing The Manta Ray”, “Monkey Gone To Heaven”, “Crackity Jones”, and “Gouge Away.”  Click the link below and then click “DOWNLOAD FREE LIVE EP” if interested.

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”