Sunday, January 24, 2010

Heavy Fives - Week of January 17, 2010

This stuff was in fairly regular and heavy rotation over the last five days.

Spoon - Transference

Muse - The Resistance

Delphic - Acolyte

Inspiral Carpets - Revenge of The Goldfish

Miike Snow - Animal

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Ridiculous Brilliance of Muse

Muse are not for everyone. Neither were Queen and neither are Rush. Rabid fans of bands with this sort of over the top slant seem to have a hard time understanding why not everyone in the universe shares their same level of obsessive adoration. I understand, but that does not make any of those artists any less awesome.

I posted a bit recently about a Teenage Fanclub song that should never be able to get away with some of the musical tricks it achieves. The same could really be said with regard to Muse's fundamental raison d'etre. This band gets away with stuff that no other active band can pull off. The shameless aping of multiple over laid Queen vocal stylings ("United States of Eurasia"), the Iron Maiden-esque apocoloyptic riffing ("Knights of Cydonia"), the ease with which they can write a radio friendly Coldplay tinged hit when they feel like it ("Starlight"), and the rock solid technique and tightness of their ability that plays out both on album and live, not unlike a Canadian trio who needs no naming.

The point of the reference and influence string serves to confirm that Muse can channel any number of influences and styles shamelessly and yet there's not a single other active band that sounds anything like Muse. There also is not another act that so boldly has stuck to their value proposition regardless of what the current sound flavour might be in mainstream. Now, Muse are effectively a mainstream act, yet have not compromised a single thing since releasing Showbiz in 1999. The songs on their latest release, The Resiatance average around 5 minutes, and the last three are a Lord of The Rings type trilogy, ripe with textbook Muse pomp and circumstance. Their flair for spectacle, although just finally catching on in North America, is built for Wembley shows and Highlander style sword fights. I just bought a 200 pound sword today at SportChek and I plan on doing some be-heading before the hockey game on tv tonight.

When The Darkness hit the scene a few years back, part of the draw was trying to figure out how serious they were and how much of their schtick was tongue in cheek. With Muse there are no tongues and there are no cheeks. These guys bathe in the absurdity of their operatic vocals and symphonic scorings without reservation or apology. In that vein, what perhaps gets lost on some is how completely capable each player is musically, and how cohesive they are collectively. There also is not a single song recorded to ones and zeros that can't be replicated in a live setting. Neat trick for three guys, especially when the guitarist is the pianist. Sound familiar...okay, no more Rush plugging...I promise.

So if someone is not a Muse fan, I would suggest it is a tough sell ( Rush), regardless of how they continue to evolve (hand claps on "Uprising" - that's right - hand claps bitches). They even have a bunch of hook laden tracks that could coerce someone into their vortex, but on the whole it's just a bit too much for most folks. If someone has not heard Muse however, and has an appreciation for music with the subtlety of a Michael Bay film and the complexities of a Tolkien novel, then they will appreciate just how genuine and steadfast this band is in its mission to conquer the universe. As Brian May said, Muse "let their madness show through".

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to finish listening to The Resistance so I can go and pick a sword fight with an unsuspecting neighbour.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Pain That I'm Used to

It's amazing how as a discerning music listener you start to lighten up with age regarding the number of artists worth throwing stones at, but yet step up the calibre of your criticism for those that seem to have earned it.  There is almost a redundancy in taking shots at the obvious.  I've said it before.  A lot of artists who have their place and make a certain listening demographic quite happy, and fair game I say.

I don't understand the Mylie Cyrus thing, but I'm a 38 year old married man with no kids.  It would be ultra strange if I did get it.  Young kids, in absence of cool parents who are feeding them heavy doses of Talking Heads or XTC, probably should go through their Mylie Cyrus (I refuse to spell check her name) period.  Jonas Bros, Taylor Swift, that Beaver kid with the bad hair and teeth...leave them alone.  They're not really hurting anyone.

Music is kind of like fashion.  When done best there are not rules per se, but guidelines as to age appropriateness and point of career.  The artists however, should also have to make music that coincides with their age and presumed level of maturity.  Older artists, unlike the kids I've listed above, still making crappy music should know better.  So I've devised a system by which you can match up a physical pain event that is so excruciating it numbs the negative experience you get from the crappy music to the point of giving you inner peace and a feeling of release.

So let's start with a grouping.  I'm not saying your group sucks if it starts with "3" or "Three", but the odds are not in your favour.


To withstand this level of musical foolishness you need to have your ass kicked by no less than three (or 3) old school Star Trek actors at once.

The rules are a little different with Nickelback.  Apparently it's a reverse play where you can actually throw rocks at them.  Doesn't seem right does it?

This James Blunt song makes me want to tie raw pork chops to my whole naked body and run with complete abandonment straight  into a pack of starving wild dogs.  Way less painful than that song.

Finally, these guys (apparently my new favourite whipping band), in addition to being perhaps the most over the top trite nonsense I've heard since The Verve Pipe, seem old enough to know better than to sing words that shouldn't be coming form guys their age, designed for girls half their age.

I get to about the 1:10 off center close-up in that video and pray something like this will make the hurt stop.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Heavy Fives - Week of January 4, 2010

By Divine Right - Mutant Message

Lake Heartbeat - Trust In Numbers

Built To Spill - There Is No Enemy

Miike Snow - Miike Snow

A Sunny Day In Glasgow - Ashes Grammar


Friday, January 1, 2010

Final Thoughts for 2009

It felt like 2009 was a year where a music nerd could cast the net pretty wide and catch lots of interesting tuneage.  Upon reflection though, even with arbitrary rankings, there really weren't that many absolutely amazing albums this year.  Albums so many of us raved about, like Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix or Begone Dull Care were tactfully minimized by some as being just average.  On the other spectrum side, some would say that Merriweather Post Pavilion was that great album.  If I was more than a casual Animal Collective fan I might agree, but I'm still mostly sitting on that fence.

What did occur to me in 2009 was how many older artists are still completely capable of not only producing quality and relevant music, but also how many can still outplay the young hot shots we prop up as fresh and exciting. 

For instance, I have a fairly specifically narrow hip-hop appreciation, but for my money three of the best albums in that genre came form Jay-Z, Raekwon, and Rakim in 2009.  You could even throw in Mos Def's return to form if you wanted.  All solid outings with a reminder that flow and skill still count for something, and bold proclamations of how much better you are on the mic than another MC is still at the root of the best rap, irregardless of who's pulling the most cash.  Jay-Z just so happens to be able to lay claim to both titles.

One of my favourite things that happened this year was a number of British 80's alternative artists reminded us that they not only have made arguably some of the best music of all time, but they still can.  The album from Bad Lieutenant shows Bernard Sumner can still write amazing pop hooks without...ahem...Peter Hook.  Morrissey continued his streak of quality albums with Years of Refusal.  The Echo & The Bunnymen album wasn't quite as strong as Siberia, from a few years back, but still reminds us that Interpol don't just sound a bit like Joy Division.  Conversely, Sounds of The Universe by Depeche Mode not only matches the familiar signature sound that Playing the Angel brought back for the band, but expands on the depth of production a bit for a really rich and vibrant album.  Lastly, are the Pet Shop Boys, who even with a bit of filler still sound rejuvenated on Yes.

Finally in that classic guitar based alternative space, with lots of cool feedback, string bending, quirky timings, and well articulated indifference there were a handful of solid releases as well.  And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead put out perhaps their most focused album since Source.  Bob Mould made perhaps his best album since the work he did with Sugar.  Jeremy Enigk produced perhaps his most honest work since being in Sunny Day Real Estate.  Polvo returned and reminded us that whatever the hell math rock is, it's not as good as Polvo and they can still make clever and delicious noise.  Then there's Dinosaur Jr.  Sadly I cannot lay claim to being a long time major fan.  A track here and there and a genuine appreciation for where they fit and the influence they've had.  Much respect.  That said, I'm now almost working backward from this year's Farm to catch up on why these guys are so brilliant.  The distortion is in your face yet so inviting.  The solos are...ahem..."beyond" what most stripped down indie bands can muster, crossing Neil Young simplicity with 80's hair band technique and capability.  The songs are as long or short as they need to be and the melodies are rewarding for those that can jump into the sludge and learn to tread.