J's Indie/Rock Mayhem

Playlists, podcasts and music from WQFS Greensboro's J's Indie/Rock Mayhem

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Notes From Underground - #32

And now what I was supposed to do last week: another Randomocity. I'm ditching the mp3 player for the time being and going with the more complete library the harddrive of my computer features, so no numbers except for the order of play. Should be exciting.

A reminder - Click on the 'Play It' link at the end of each commentary and you can listen along with me. Sort of.

Here are the rules: 1) can't spend any more time typing than the track is long; 2) have to type based on my own knowledge - no consulting the internets for confirmation, so if I put my foot in my mouth, so be it; 3) no skipping tracks - even if artists/albums repeat, no skipping.

Let's go.

# 1 - Bill Hicks - "Non-Smokers" : From the wonderful Rant in E-Minor, easily (along with Arizon Bay) the masterwork of Hicks' recorded works during his lifetime. Hicks' rants about non-smokers were a standard part of his act and though after you've heard his shtick on it once, you've heard it a million times, each different performance brings a different level of vitriol to his words. We've gotten to the point, it seems, where people don't revere him so uncritically anymore. Which is good. - Play It!

# 2 - Son Volt - "Left a Slide" : From the vastly underrated Straightaways, the sophomore LP. It always takes a lot of slack, largely because it wasn't the quantum leap in creativity from Trace that people might've been expecting given the ungodly shift in Wilco's work from A.M. to Being There. It's unfair and inevitable that Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy would, even to this day, be compared and paired against one another. A band like Uncle Tupelo, that inspired such fevered critical devotion, that had people wondering about the sheer genius of its two main writers, would inevitably inspire that kind of criticism. Anytime a band with more than one decent writer splinters off, you'll have the comparisons. At this point, comparing Farrar and Tweedy is an exercise in futility, and truly, once Tweedy found his own, unique voice outside of Uncle Tupelo, there was no point in doing it anymore. People look at Farrar as a less adventurous writer, but I he will always be my favorite of the two. I've always found more for me in his writing than Tweedy's. We all have our preferences. - Play It!

# 3 - Bill Hicks - "What Could Be Worse" : From the Revelations live CD. I think Windows Media Player is a little less discerning when it comes to actually shuffling the plays around. I had this problem last time. We'll see how it goes, but as much as it keeps repeating artists, I may have to change players. This is a lower-quality recording, by the way, obviously. - Play It!

# 4 - Del Amitri - "Funny Way to Win" : From Some Other Sucker's Parade, my favorite Del Amitri album. It's one of the most flat out rocking of their albums and would be their last one to see a release in the U.S. Their final album (so far) as a band, Can You Do Me Good?, only got a release over in the U.K. Justin Currie is a remarkable songwriter - though he has his highs and lows. Sometimes the songs are groan inducing in their predictability and sometimes his turns of phrase are so brilliantly self-deprecating and melancholic and gorgeous that it's unbelievable. This isn't close to being the best track on this album, but it's got a pretty memorable chorus and some great guitar work. Scots are good at this music thing, you know. - Play It!

# 5 - Jason Isbell - "Brand New Kind of Actress" : From Sirens of the Ditch. Let me use this space to talk about what I think Isbell's weaknesses are as a songwriter. This song is the first track on his debut solo record and it, along with the two songs that immediately follow, are, after a few listens, almost always worth skipping when listening to the album. As much as I enjoy Isbell (and the Drive-by Truckers, for that matter) when he goes off on blazing guitar exercises live, those songs don't always transpose over to the recorded album so well. While this song isn't quite the 'guitar workout' song that either "Try" or "Down in a Hole" are, it goes on way too long for what it packs. It would've been a much more effective opening song at three and a half, maybe four minutes in length. Actually, four minutes and six seconds, to be precise. That's where the song should've ended. Live, the extended bit at the end would be a welcome and fun bit. On CD, it just clutters up a song whose ideas only go so far. It can be tough to self-edit, I know. I have a tendency to write rambling reviews for this blog, same with interviews, but I know that for the sake of clarity and such, they have to trim down. - Play It!

# 6 - M. Ward - "Fool Says" : From The Transfiguration of Vincent, the album that introduced me to M. Ward. It's a pretty gorgeous and sad album and if you like the latest M. Ward albums (Post-War or Transistor Radio) then you'll like this one as well. It's more simple, instrument wise, than his later, more adventurous (and well funded) works, but that is to its benefit, most assuredly. Plus there's that really wonderful cover of "Let's Dance" on this album, too. M. Ward is one of a kind. - Play It!

# 7 - Howe Gelb - "The Farm" : From 'Sno Angel Like You. I've always been fascinated by Howe Gelb, the sort of mythological musician, than I have ever been by his music. Which is unfortunate because I like everything I've ever really heard by him, but not tremendously. Now, I haven't explored Giant Sand's back catalogue very much, and god knows I love Calexico. So should I go digging? Anyone a big Giant Sand fan and can make some recommendations? This is from his solo record where he enlisted the help of that Canadian choir. This song is especially good, though, even as I sit here and rant about not liking him as much as I think I should. He did show up and played with John Wesley Harding one time when I was seeing him in Chicago at Schuba's. Josh Ritter was opening for Harding that night and it was a wonderful show. Harding is someone I ought to explore more as well for that matter. - Play It!

# 8 - Matthew Sweet - "Thunderstorm" : Apparently the computer wants to keep me here for awhile. This is from In Reverse, one of Sweet's overlooked (and rather brilliant) late period albums. I comment about time because this song is an epic nine and a half minutes in length. Which is epic if you're talking about one of the masters of brilliant pop music. In Reverse was a kind of an exploration of the Beach Boys/Phil Spector methods of production anyway - Sweet even enlisted Carol Kaye to play on the album. But this song has movements, fer cryin' out loud. First, the bouncy bit, then the soft, acoustic, harmonized section, then a vaguely psychedelic dark section. All this within the first three and a half minutes. These are the kind of songs I like to play on my summer-time Sunday night show. Long pieces that have interesting parts to them despite their over-the-top efforts. Oh, man, here comes the harpsichord. Wicked. I love harpsichords. They really are under-used for purposes of rock and roll. For good reason, really, but still. Nice to hear them. Now this has turned into a live-blogging of this song, which I apologize for, but hey, you should be listening along anyway. I get it, Matthew. The song is set up in movements to mimic the structure of an actual thunderstorm. If you like this, I'd imagine you'd enjoy the whole album really and his collaboration with Susanna Hoffs, Under the Covers. - Play It!

# 9 - Richard Hell and the Voidoids - "Down at the Rock and Roll Club [alternate version]" : From Blank Generation. Richard Hell is an odd cat in that he's very famous for being member of bands that recorded their masterworks without him (Television, the Heartbreakers) and then recorded one certifiable masterpiece himself, this album. As a front man he is pretty incomparable, but the guitar work really shines so much in the Voidoids - thank you, the wonderful, the late Robert Quine. So my question is, if this is the 'alternate version' where is the original? I have a pretty standard issue of the CD version of the album that I bought back in the late 90s, so I don't know if they've done any big re-issues of it since. I often meant to hunt down the Voidoids' second album, but I've heard it's a bit scattershot. Plus hadn't Quine left the band? Or something along those lines. I'm losing focus. - Play It!

# 10 - Tool - "Intolerance" : From Undertow. I love Tool. That being said, I bought 10,000 Days, but thought it was boring. And maybe Tool is as good a road-map as any for measuring my musical taste evolution. I got into Tool through this album, then Aenima came out in high school and that cemented my love. Lateralus came out when I was a sophomore in college and I enjoyed it quite a bit as well. Flash forward to being several years out of college and they finally release 10,000 Days and I just don't care for it. I listened to it once, maybe twice. Do I still go back and listen to Undertow? Absolutely. While I appreciate (and even really enjoy) the proggier direction the band went following this album, it's the clarity and focus of this album that brings me back again and again. I like the production on the album a lot more than I do the later records also. I would honestly put it up (over Aenima) as one of the best hard rock records of the 90s. There really isn't a bad song on the album. - Play It!



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