Sunday, February 26, 2006

And Eye am funky.


Eye am hereby taking it upon myself 2 declare this week Prince Week at TGM.

Because Eye’m awesome, Eye’m Cing Prince at midnight this Wednesday at the Electric Factory (capacity about 1,200, 4 U non-Philadelphians). He’s playing with his new protégé Ta’mar, and in honor of the event, Eye encourage all 2 post their Prince thoughts, musings, lists, memories, etc. We’re talkin’ an all-out wintertime Prince beach party.

2 kick things off, my top 5 Prince covers:

-Cyndi Lauper, “When U Were Mine”
-Sinéad O’Connor, “Nothing Compares 2 U”
-Ani DiFranco, “When Doves Cry”
-Steve Poltz, “Little Red Corvette”
-Hefner, “Controversy”

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Friday, February 17, 2006

Pandora Roulette

Benthoven here with the music trivia game for kids of all ages. Long time Mongrel listeners are no doubt familiar with all of the great selections in our disc changer. Of all of these, my personal favorite remains Pandora, the Music Genome Project's attempt to make our listening lives more interesting by providing a steady stream of stylistically similar tracks to damn near any artist you might care to imagine.

If, for example, you enjoy Boston (the band, not the city), you type it into Pandora and the site will start streaming tracks by Boston and other groups featuring a similar use of vocal harmony, mixed acoustic and electric instrumentation, and major key tonality. Sometimes the bands that spring up from the database are well known. Sometimes they aren't. When I tried Boston just now, the next five tracks that popped up were as follows:

1. "Cold Sweat" by Warrant
2. "Wanderlust" by Delays
3. "Let the Light (Shine on Me") by Triumph
4. "Faithless" by Injected
5. "Undivided" by Bon Jovi

Playing with Pandora has inspired the following musical challenge.
Below I have compiled 3 playlists of 5 tracks a piece. Your job? Figure out the band that I originally provided to Pandora as the common stylistic root. So if I gave the list above, your answer would be Boston.
Make sense?

Ok then, here we go! First person to guess the source bands that serve as the basis for these playlists gets to read the credits in a style of their choice. :

Playlist 1
1. "Nothing You Can Do" by Average White Band
2. "Feel" by Big Star
3. "(You Caught Me) Smilin' " by Sly and the Family Stone
4. "Summer Breeze" by the Isley Brothers
5. "I Can Dream About You" by Dan Hartman

Playlist 2
1. "Superstar" by Styx
2. "Sound Track" by Be Bop Deluxe
3. "Brothers" by Tempest
4. "Every Little Thing" by Yes
5. "At War With the World" by Foreigner (Or as some might say, "70s super group...Foreigner!")

Playlist 3
1. "Baby Blue (Demo)" by Badfinger
2. "Downtown" by Crazy Horse
3. "Waterloo Sunset" by the Kinks
4. "Tell it to Carrie" by the Romantics
5. "Here Comes That Feeling" by Sandy Salisbury


One final hint: There is a common theme between all three of the bands in question and it is implied earlier in the post...

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Durham Blues

Here in Durham, N.C., at a university on some business, I had quite the musical day. My experience ran the gamut from following some unusual and impressive compositions by a bunch of graduate students (including one that used a squeaky toy as one of the instruments) to a disussion of the movie version of Jesus Christ Superstar (a great "rock opera" by Andrew Lloyd Webber) to just having returned from a run while listening to R.E.M.'s album Murmur (I thought it was appropriate, since we're in the deep South). I also got to talk to one student who just loves the band Architecture in Helsinki. This post is an example of one that fits the blog's personally selfish purpose as a logbook for some of what I listen to and hope to remember one day. That in no way means you shouldn't comment.

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Thursday, February 16, 2006

hecka

hella- theyre just one of those bands that i always was really impressed by, but i never really got into them. they had like one amazing song that blew me away, and the rest was killer, but i just couldnt sink my teeth in. i dont know if theyve changed or if i have, but their new ep (which comes with a live dvd and, at 29 minutes, is quite long for a 4 song ep) is really filling my life with energy right now. its just so INTENSE, and its like a crazy oppression, that once you give into it, it overwhelms your being. heres what i said about the record (called Concentration Face/Homeboy) when reviewing it for ma station:

Math/Jazz/Noise/Rock. INTENSE. Jazz and Rock shows should play this for sure…but so should everyone else. Basically just one fucking sick amazing and unbelievable drummer doing incredible shit over some experimental synths and other toys. Most of the tonal quality is spooky and dark. Rocks HARD most of the time, but there are also nice, emptier sections that really shine and are surprisingly pretty, although it may just be in context of the madness that inevitably precedes and follows. Tracks 1 and 4 are long, 10:00+ affairs, tracks two and three are more manageable in length. I find the shorter songs more coherent and capitivating, and the longer ones a little bit more masturbatory, but then again who doesn’t love watching the hottest kids in the school wank it?


And there you have it folks, an obnoxious radio station review from me. i do tons of them, but i thought id drop this one on the blog because the album is so amazing i want everyone to check it out...but only if youre feeling hella crazy. mr rubin, you jo. you corny as shit.

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Monday, February 13, 2006

And There Stands R.E.M.

With Michael Stipe's growling vocals, Mike Mills' smooth but active basslines, Peter Buck's jangly guitarwork, and Bill Berry's driving drums, it doesn't get much better than the sounds of the southern boys of R.E.M. — particularly their early output. We all know that Stark Attack was mining the Amoeba cassette section recently. But when FriedOreo told me that Stark could have purchased Lifes Rich Pageant but didn't, I was horrified. I decided that now would be as good a time as any to provide a quick guide, in chronological order, on what to do if you see R.E.M. on the shelf, so that you don't make the same mistake Stark did.

Others, like rpshyena, will surely have something to contribute to this discussion, even though he and I agree on most things R.E.M. I invite him, and everyone else, to post lots of comments in response. Click below for the full story.

Murmur: R.E.M.'s first full-length, and their tightest of all. Buy it. Mugshot's Top 3: Laughing, Talk About the Passion, Catapult.

Reckoning: Not as strong straight through as Murmur, but this one has some of their best moves to date. Buy it. Mugshot's Top 3: Harborcoat, 7 Chinese Brothers, Pretty Persuasion.

Fables of the Reconstruction: Underrated, and R.E.M.'s most consistently solid album. Buy it. Mugshot's Top 3: Driver 8, Maps and Legends, Green Grow the Rushes.

Lifes Rich Pageant: Some of their best songs. Buy it. Mugshot's Top 5: Hyena, These Days, I Believe, Cuyahoga

Document: Big, shiny production, but a big disappointment after the first four. Don't bother.

Dead Letter Office: B-sides and loose tracks from the early days, including Chronic Town, the first EP. Buy it. Mugshot's Top 5: Voice of Harold, Ages of You, Gardening at Night, Bandwagon, Wolves, Lower

Green: Band's first album on a major label. Don't bother. Mugshot's Top 1: World Leader Pretend.

Out of Time: A nice change — perfect pop, with lots of your favorites. Buy it. Mugshot's Top 5: Texarkana, New Wild Heaven, Shiny Happy People, Losing My Religion, Low.

Automatic For the People: Everyone's favorite, but not mine. I'm used to the more driving stuff. Buy it, if you have a few extra bucks. Mugshot's Top 3: The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight, Monty Got a Raw Deal, Ignoreland.

Monster: Everyone's least favorite, but I don't mind it — that much. Buy it. That's right, buy it. Mugshot's Top 2: Star 69, Strange Currencies.

New Adventures in Hi-Fi: Spectacular stuff, with urgency and energy. Will please fans of the early work. Buy it. Mugshot's Top 3: New Test Leper, Be Mine, Bittersweet Me.

Up: First album without drummer Bill Berry. Band finding itself. Whacky, drum machines. Forget it — for now. Mugshot's Top 1: Sad Professor, and others, but I don't remember them.

Reveal: Band has found itself, but what they found isn't as great as it once was. Buy it, I guess.... Mugshot's Top 3: Imitation of Life, All the Way to Reno, Beat a Drum.

Around the Sun: Can't get through this whole thing yet. Buy it, and tell me if it's good.

One final note: it would behoove indie rock fans to check out "The Unseen Power of the Picket Fence," from the first disc of the 2-disc edition of Pavement's Crooked Rain. It's a better tribute to R.E.M. than the band's cover of "Camera."

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WE ARE JUST A MINOR THREAT

so this blog isnt so into the hardcore it seems. and neither am i, for that matter. but just this past week on my radio show (see sidebar- college radio!) i was doing a tribute to dinosaur jr., who formed on sst records out of the asses of j's hardcore band deep wound, so i did a little exploring of sst hardcore (black flag esp.) which led me to minor threat. played a few tunes on the radio, like the energy, but didnt really think too much about it.

flash forward: its last friday nite, me and friedoreo are scouring the amoeba rock cassette section, and there it is: minor threat's first two eps, collected onto one cassette tape. holy lord of hosts. 3 bucks. done. bought. in the car. drive home from berkeley to palo alto. lost. 1.5 hours. WHO CARES!!!!!! with words like these:

Was she really worth it?
She cost you your life
You'll never leave her side
She's gonna be your wife

You call it romance
You're full of shit

Your brain is clay
What's going on?
You picked up a bible
And now you're gone

You call it religion
You're full of shit

FILLER


pure, unadulterated genius. the music is SUCH HIGH ENERGY. shouldnt even be written about. lyrics, golden, COMPLETE TRUTH no poses, no trying to impress, just the word. A bible for our times. We all need this in our lives sometimes.

btw they compiled their entire recorded output onto ONE CD. my birthday is 3/13. feel free:

http://www.dischord.com/store?action=showRel&relNumber=40.

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Sunday, February 12, 2006

'Scuse Me While I Kiss This Guy

When I was little, I got a book called 'Scuse Me While I Kiss This Guy, and the sequel, He's Got the Whole World in His Pants. There were lots of great examples of lyrics you thought you heard right but didn't. (No, in "Don't Stand So Close To Me," Sting did not say, "that big pineapple cart" — he actually said "that book by Nabakov.") Never mind that a beverage spill in my backpack during a day at summer camp caused my copy of the second book to be orange-soda-bound. Now, all I need is this Web site. There's a band search box on the left side — a good place to start. Have fun.

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Saturday, February 11, 2006

Law and Order: Special Dixon Unit

Benthoven here. One of the most frustrating things about not having cable is being subjected to network promo spots around midseason replacement time. After all, how many times can one stand being subjected to the latest iteration of the tried and true formulas of reality television, twenty-something buddy comedy, and gripping courtroom drama? This is perhaps especially the case on NBC, which despite carrying many of my favorite programs, deserves a small amount of ire for effectively declaring TV show end credits to be a thing of the past in favor of the split screen promo. (The subject of ending credit music deserves more detailed discussion at a later time). And most of the time, when it comes to promos, I just ignore them and move on with my life.

But the other night, after watching ER, I heard an interesting piano riff that made me actually look up and take notice. Despite being completely drowned out by the voiceover announcer, the song sounded familiar, reminiscent of a Billy Joel track that you've heard dozens of times but never quite gotten around to remembering. Waiting until the end of the promo, I learned the show's name was Conviction, and it was, get this, another spinoff of the Law & Order franchise. (Yes! A gripping courtroom drama!) But that was beside the point...I needed to find this song and determine if it really was Billy Joel or just some remarkable facsimile.

Turns out it was the latter. The track in question, "All Will Be Well," was performed by the Gabe Dixon Band, a group I did not recognize, despite their having toured with Paul McCartney and Loggins & Messina. But guess what? Except for one rather frustrating decision to rhyme "keep it up" with "don't give up", the song actually lived up to my original impressions. It's a well-written piano driven track that is catchy without being overly repetitive. And guess what...you can download it, along with several other tracks by the same group here for free. Personally, I like "Shallow" and "Ever After You." Definitely worth checking out...

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The Lips


Why the fuck am I up so early? Only through six tracks, yet feels like hours. The sounds so varied, intertwining layers, the references (Prince?). Leave me alone, goddammit! Let me continue my journey....

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Friday, February 10, 2006

Bundle Up

Now that it finally actually feels like February and the East Coast is bracing for what isn’t, but feels like, its first winter storm of the season, how about a top 5 list?

Top 5 Cold Weather Songs

Tom Waits, “Cold Cold Ground”
Josh Ritter, “Snow Is Gone”
James Brown, “Cold Sweat”
Joni Mitchell, “Come in From the Cold”
Neil Young, “Winterlong”

Think you’ve got a better list? Lay it on me.


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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Taking Care of Diz-ness

Today, I learned that one of my eighth graders is originally from London, and came to Philadelphia less than a year ago. Like any good teacher trying to make a student from across the pond feel at home in Southwest Philly, I asked her if she ever listened to London garage rapper Dizzee Rascal. Her eyes lit up, and we listened to a few snippets from the Diz tracks I have on my work computer. She begged me to play "Fix Up, Look Sharp." I also played her some of the Streets, and though she didn't know the name "The Streets," Mike Skinner's songs rang a bell, too. Grime lives on in America.

She says to look out for "Cartel," and I later figured out through googling that she meant Vybz Kartel, who makes a kind of Reggae-infused hip hop the likes of which I haven't really heard before (I checked out a few samples on the iTunes music store.) Kartel was one of the things she was listening to before she left England. She warned me that there is "quite a bit of profanity in there." If anyone knows more about Kartel, or can offer some more ideas for music to find and play for her and her class and to bring back some memories of London City, please let us all know.

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And it Burns, Burns, Burns....

So I am definitely late on this, and I am not sure if its been touched on in earlier posts, but I just saw Walk The Line this weekend, and it was ACE. The film isn't genius in a Usual Suspects, change the way you watch movies sorta way, or The Hours, mess you up for a couple of weeks sorta way, but instead is just a beautifully executed character film with amazing performances by Joaquin Phoenix (as Johnny Cash) and Reese Witherspoon (as June Carter).

My viewing pleasure was perhaps amplified by the fact that Nick Hornby's music obsessed protagonist in High Fidelity (one of my favorite books) lists Johnny Cash's biography as his favorite book, and this way I know what its about without having to read it!

Here is the skinny. Joaquin Phoenix finally finds a role where his eerieness fits perfectly, and his slow, dark speach pattern fit. He was born to play Johnny Cash, and amazingly, he can really sing. This my friends is not Lou Diamond Phillips lipsinking to Los Lobos! Joaquin Phoenix sings just like Johnny Cash in an actor-sings-like-famous-singer portrayal that rivals Kevin Spacey doing Bobby Darin.

I can't really say that I was that familiar with June Carter's voice before watching the movie, but irrespective of whether she is accurate, Reese Witherspoon is amazing in this film. If June Carter sounded half as good as Witherspoon in real life, she'd be solid, and considering she probably sounded exponentially better, I am dying to get that Cash and Carter live from Folsom Prison album.

The film is being kept in theatres due to the oscar noms Phoenix and Witherspoon have received in the past couple of weeks and I strongly recommend it to any stragglers like me that were too lazy to go and see it when it first came out.

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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

First Impressions


Currently listening: Rhett Miller's The Believer.

Street date: Feb. 28.
i-know-the-boss date: Feb. 7.
Awesome-media-job factor: 21 days.

First-listen standout tracks:
“My Valentine”
“Brand New Way” (in 12/8 or something crazy)
“Fireflies” (with the super-talented Rachael Yamagata)
“The Believer”
“Delicate”


Inferior to the Old 97’s versions in every way:
“Singular Girl”
“Question” (no French to be found here, despite Rhett’s in-concert performance of a verse in French, and his claim to have recorded an entirely French version. as though the song weren’t romantic enough to begin with.)

Jury still out:
“Help Me, Suzanne” (all over ’XPN right now)
“Meteor Shower”
“I’m With Her”

Fast-song-to-slow-song ratio:
8:4

Unabashed-pop-song-to-abashed-pop-song ratio:
5:7

Chance of mainstream acceptance: 40 percent
Chance of Old 97’s fans’ acceptance: 45 percent
Chance of WXPN heavy rotation: 100 percent


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Does She Want Revenge?

They have been receiving major hype on MTV, and sound a lot like an Interpol cover band. I have to admit that I found the bits and pieces that I heard to be rather catchy and plan on giving them a bit more attention. Still it made me wonder the state of things and whether Interpol has wasted their chance at glory.

Are Interpol destined to be the pixies that inspired many other commercial successes? I've heard a lot of rumours that their next record on Matador will be their last or sold off my Matador to a bigger label, but by that point if bands like She Wants Revenge are already getting major airplay sounding just like Interpol will the moment be past?

And how on Earth could Interpol top Turn on the Bright Lights or Antics with a big studio release? Would the pressure (and hype) be too much?

Its like learning a new language.....

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Chalkhills

To Mugmon et. al:

Just so you know, XTC had an awesome side project call the Dukes of Strosphear. Here is what Partridge had to say about them:

“The Dukes were the band we all wanted to be in when we were at school. Purple, giggling, fuzztone, liquid and arriving. If you want to know where those cheap charlatans ‘The Beatles’, ‘Pink Floyd’, ‘The Byrds’, ‘The Hollies’ and ‘The Beach Boys’ stole their ideas from, well just listen to this and weep.”

They put out two records which are hysterical and awesome.

Also, for any XTC fanatic, although the great mongrel is awesome, i just feel i need to do this:
http://chalkhills.org/ (this site is SO DEEP you wont believe it. happy spelunking!)

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Misnomer

If you haven't heard Akron/Family, stop reading and go get some o that sheet rite now bitch.

Saturday nite, at twelve galaxies here in sf, home of hippiedom, these indie fuckers outhippied everybody. They came on stage and set up a series of bizarre talismans all over the stage, carefully as if they put them in the same place every night. which, by the way, is impossible, since the shit clubs they play DEFINITELY do not have layouts large enough to emulate the same arrangements. but anyway.

these guys kill. They make desperate, insane noise with instruments behind their heads, looking like they are about to fall over, and then hit- WITHOUT STOPPING- on a DIME into the most gorgeous, beautiful post-folk youve ever heard. Its like if Sonic Youth, at their noiseiest, just INSTANTLY transformed into crosby stills nash...and young mothafucka!

these guys are the real deal. and whats great is they know it, and they poke fun at themselves. although they are without a doubt some of the most pretentious indie rockers around (michael gira of the swans did disover them after all), they are also goofy as hell and huge hippies. seeing them, i realized that they really do buy this hippie shit, they seriously believe in the talismans and their music is religious and magical, yet they began their set telling everyone, tongue and cheek, that this show would be the closest thing to the "san francisco in our minds." then they did o jam on bongos, recorder, and glockenspiel before HAMMERING into a riff. amazing.

their live set sounds a lot like the split they just released with gira, with only glimpses of their first record, which is a much folkier, more serenely beautiful affair. only by hearing the first album do you really understand that their hard rock is a band exploring sonic territory to augment a PERFECT grasp and control of the subdued folk they clearly love. its no wonder theyre on the same label as devandra...but they make him look like a silly, uneducated child.

go check out akron/family. NOW BITCH

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Monday, February 06, 2006

Curbing My Enthusiasm

Recent murmurs from Matador's message boards indicate that it plans to continue commemorating the 90's greatest rock band with a 2-CD reissue of Pavement's third and arguably tastiest full-length album, Wowee Zowee, sometime in 2006. Granted, there has been no official word, and this eleven-year reissue will break the ten-year scheme of the first two reissues; still, my glands weep at the promise.

Tear glands included. Tears of frustrated love – because, as with the first two reissues, it will again become necessary to reexamine and reevaluate my relationship with this band.

Before the first reissue in 2002, six CDs were readily available to casual fans. These included five full-length albums released by Matador, and one compilation of early EPs released by Drag City. Since the interstitial EPs and odd promotional releases were typically difficult and expensive to obtain, a casual fan could feel comfortable limiting his or her understanding of Pavement to these six CDs. This state should be known as Pavement’s “event horizon”, a happy vantage from which the Pavement concept remains relatively neat and manageable.

Each of the reissues expands the typically 40- to 70-minute original album to 150-160 minutes of coeval material from EPs, promotional releases, shelved production sessions, and live performances. What’s so intimidating, though, beyond just the volume of new material, is how much of it is as interesting as the original releases. So far, each of these reissues has presented at least another album’s worth of essential music, as well as material which, though not as essential, reveals aspects of Pavement’s creative processes that suggest reevaluation of the surrounding work.

And a reevaluation of the term “slacker” with which Pavement is often labeled. Pavement released their first EP, Slay Tracks, in 1989, and their last full-length album, Terror Twilight, in 1999. At the current rate of accumulation from these reissues, I estimate that Pavement will reveal at least ten 40- to 70-minute albums worth of varied and genuinely brilliant alternative rock created over a ten year period. This seems to leave little room for slack.

As a responsible fan, I feel compelled to broaden my Pavement concept to include this new material as it is released. As a human being, I feel compelled to limit the number of Pavement CDs in my car to a sensible number. The goal is, after reexploring Pavement with each reissue, to escape with what best encompasses their work within a reasonable number of CDs.

This isn’t as painful as it sounds. Why? Because the music is beautiful. Strong senses of melody, tone, and songcraft fuel this varied yet consistently enjoyable body of work. This is a band to fall in love with, once and again, if you haven’t already.

I’ll be posting the track listings for these compilations, as well as compilations for other bands (REM and the B-52s are in the works) as they are called into question. I encourage everyone to post their own compilations for their own objects of obsession or to comment on mine. I know that Mugshot is working on at least one each to cover periods of XTC and the Smiths.

Irish folktales scare the shit out of me.

Song of the Day – “Pond Song”, Bug, Dinosaur Jr., 1988 – A jangly folk guitar line joins Dino Jr.’s standard noisy, ecstatic guitar-rock. The result makes both Peter Buck and the Baby Jesus weep with joy.

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Can't we all just get along?


Last week I started a post entitled “The Elected vs. Jenny Lewis With the Watson Twins,” comparing the two brand-new solo efforts from the leading kids of Rilo Kiley. It went into all this detail comparing the two albums on every possible element, but it got way too long and I got bored. Not to mention the fact that I knew the punchline would be that both albums are amazing and should both be bought by everyone, everywhere. Without question, the Elected’s Sun, Sun, Sun and Jenny Lewis With the Watson Twins’ Rabbit Fur Coat will appear on countless year-end lists 11 or so months from now.

Jenny will probably be on a few more, but only ’cause she’s hotter.

These albums aren’t better or worse, necessarily, than Rilo Kiley’s already stellar output—just complementary in every way. It blows my mind that these guys aren’t more famous than they are.

Soundclips are available on the Elected’s and Jenny Lewis’ respective MySpace sites. Start out with the Elected’s “Fireflies in a Steel Mill” and Jenny’s sublime “Rise up With Fists!!” (Is it just me or do these guys seem like they should be too big for MySpace?)


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Sunday, February 05, 2006

Rocking in the Shadows of the Super Bowl

The Super Bowl is going on right now, and since it's in Detroit, it gives us a good chance to mention the Funk Brothers. They're the guys you hear playing the music whenever you listen to one of the Motown hits you love. They included bassist James Jamerson, who is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a sideman. You can see more about these guys in the documentary Standing in the Shadows of Motown. It's worth checking out. (Thanks to Lowender for pointing out the Motown-Super Bowl connection.)

Speaking of documentaries, I took a couple of hours out today to watch A Good Band is Easy to Kill, which is essentially footage of Beulah's 2003 tour in support of Yoko, their worst album. (It's still fantastic.) I love Beulah, and it was a shame to see that the members of the band, particularly frontman Miles Kurosky, didn't come off as exactly the most pleasant people in the world. That doesn't matter — or maybe it does, since I want to like the people who make the music I like. (I did like how hard he works, considering how much of a slacker sound he and his band managed to produce — and from me, the slacker sound is a major plus. I also liked his Big Star shirt.) The documentary included a great scene at the University of Pennsylvania that showed Miles angry and concerned about playing the Rotunda, a venue at 40th and Walnut streets, that he deemed insufficient for the band's sound needs given the amount of time they had to set up before the show. (The show turned out OK. And speaking of the Rotunda, I saw Mirah there last year — also excellent.) It was only a few months after that October 2003 Beulah show that I first learned of the band. What a shame that I was only a few blocks away from that show when it took place and hadn't heard even heard of them. Now, they're one of my favorites, and they don't exist anymore. From the footage, it looked like they put on a terrific live show. And that scene at the Rotunda has a nice view of the building that houses The Daily Pennsylvanian, where I used to work.

Enjoy the Super Bowl, bols. And read about Beulah here. They're like a more summery, poppy version of Pavement. But that description doesn't do them justice. Get the album When Your Heartstrings Break to really understand why they were great. They were also loosely affiliated with the Elephant 6 collective. Someone should really write about E6 here.

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Weekly Compilation

Thanks to everyone for a great first week on The Great Mongrel. Things have slowed down a bit in the last couple of days, largely because of problems out of The Great Mongrel's control. So to get things rocking again, here's just some of what our correspondents took on this week.
• stark attack tackles XTC's superb album English Settlement
• FriedOreo waxes melodic on iPods and summer songs.
• ryunited and it feels so good deals with the problem of choice in music. He also gives us the lowdown's on Ireland's Ash.
• Heading north, Gastropublisher reveals Iceland's next big thing.
• Benthoven provides a full picture of one edition of a soundtrack to the classic '80s flick Blade Runner.
• Finally, I introduce the blog and then make fun of the kids.
Read up — and leave your feedback.

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Saturday, February 04, 2006

A little bit of Irish magic!

I recently received a care package from a Dublin-based friend who I met a few months ago, and with whom I share a love for the band Ash. I thought I'd share a bit about them for those unfamiliar.

Here is the low down:

Ash is a (now) quartet band led by vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Tim Wheeler that hail from Ireland.

The Sound: The band epitomize power-pop and play with a rage that resembles You Gave Your Love to Me Softly Weezer, and lovely melodies that resemble, well, Island in the Sun Weezer. Songs are fun, sweet and innocent.

If you have to buy one album: 1977, the band's second record is a masterpiece with classic singles like Kung Fu, Goldfinger, Girl from Mars, and Angel Intervention. It also starts and ends with Star Wars sound effects and the last song Lightside/Darkside closes with a sound that I think is the musical intrepretation of sheer ecstasy.

Top Five Singles:
1) Kung Fu off 1977
2) Burn Baby Burn off of Free All Angels
3) Girl from Mars off of 1977 (reportedly played by NASA as their holding message...)
4) A Life Less Ordinary off of Nu-clear Sounds
5) Candy off of Free All Angels

Top Five B-sides:
1) Halloween (Fried Oreo certified)
2) Where is our Love Going?
3) Coasting
4) No Place to Hide
5) So the story goes

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Thursday, February 02, 2006

Marimba Fusion

After my music theory lesson this evening (I'm getting some extra instruction in "counterpoint," the interplay of voices in a composition), my teacher invited me to stick around for a masterclass with his fellow music composition graduate students. The event: composer Steven Mackey would be discussing and playing a recording of his piece "Time Release," a concerto for the marimba. I'm glad I took my tutor up on the offer to attend — it was just like a book reading at Barnes and Noble, but with a bunch of grad students and professors (and me) crowded around two large scores doing nothing but listening. I thought for a minute that maybe I had found the most perfect circumstances in which to listen to music. It was like a Zaireeka listening party, only without the intense audience interaction and the recreational drugs.

As interesting as the virtuosic lines for the marimba was the composer's discussion of how he wrote them. Mackey chose sets of four notes from a page that listed groups of "pitch-class sets," a page more or less randomly chosen from a stack of papers all with these lists. Committed to using some of the "sets" on only that one page, Mackey decided to make much of the composition depend on manipulations of these simple sets. Explaining this new composing style, he referred to one of the greatest movies of all time — in particular, the scene in Back to the Future in which Doc Brown powers his time machine with whatever garbage (banana peels, etc.) he can get into the Mr. Fusion fuel tank. Mackey called his pitch-class sets his own "banana peels," whereas his older use of groups of tones — one that may well have yielded similar results to his new methods — was a much more convoluted and painstaking process. I couldn't explain it if I tried, but it supposedly resembed Doc's need to get and use Plutonium nabbed from Libyan terrorists. Is music "better" just because you work harder to get the same sounds? If you might get the same result because you thought about it real hard, does that mean you make better music? Those questions are oversimplified, but Mackey made a compelling case that the answer to both is no.

I also learned tonight that the marimba can sound a hell of a lot like the cowbell. Expect to hear more cowbell in upcoming posts.

My music theory homework: compose canons in two and three voices. I'm in the dark as much as you are. I'll never have the patience to be a composer — but I hope my work for next week's lesson sounds better than a few banana peels thrown into a time machine.

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The Old Blade Runner "Magic"

Greetings, folks...Benthoven here. In what must have been a fit of XTC-driven insanity, Mugshot decided that I might bring something potentially worthwhile to this mongrel of a music blog, so despite my relative lack of knowledge of the pop music scene compared with the site's other posters, I figured I'd give it a shot. And since we focus here on music experiences, I may as well tell you about my recent infatuation with an album dubbed by one reviewer on Amazon as "simply terrible...an instrument suitable for use during torture by South American dictators." I refer, as you no doubt deduced from the title of this post, to the soundtrack of the most seminal cinematic cyber-noir of the 1980s: Blade Runner.

The CD in question was borrowed from the local library, which for those of us without iTunes is one of the best ways available to check out interesting new music on the cheap. Growing up in the suburbs, I shunned the music collection at my local library for the most part, since for the most part the selection was rather minimal. Since then however, library music collections have expanded and larger libraries, like those found in major cities, are gold mines for any music lover with eclectic . During my last few trips to the library in question, I checked out Weezer's Green Album (which maintained the high standards of its azure predecessor) Johnny Cash's Murder (arguably the greatest country-western compilation of all time), and the aforementioned Blade Runner CD.

I should stop now and note that the album under discussion here is not in point of fact the music you will hear in the movie Blade Runner, but rather the New American Orchestra's reinterpretation of those themes released shortly after the movie premiered in 1982. The soundtrack's composer, Vangelis, was apparently concerned that the movie soundtrack market would be oversaturated with his music following the success of Chariots of Fire. So he withheld the original tapes for a while, driving science fiction fans and soundtrack aficionados until the mid-90s when the "real" album was deemed ready for release. For better or for worse, I did not realize all of this backstory when I picked up the album...I was just a movie buff who wanted to see how well Vangelis' soundtrack worked outside the context of the movie. Even if his work sometimes has a tendency to slather his compositions chock full of 80's vintage synthesizer, the Chariots of Fire soundtrack was excellent, especially the title track, and I wondered if there might be a few hidden gems on this disc as well.

Consider me pleasantly surprised. On the whole, this album captures the gritty, noirish feel of the film, evoking the classic detective stories of the 1930s while capturing the futuristic landscape of Scott's movie...and all of this with only minimal use of synthesizers!

Let's do a quick track rundown...

Track 1: In striking contrast to most movie soundtracks, the producers of this disc decided not to begin the album with the film's main titles. Instead, the coveted first slot of the album is filled by a track entitled "Love Theme," a slow-paced instrumental track whose wailing saxophone solos by Tom Scott place one in the mindset of the classic detective voice-over narration. The whole "a dark night in a city that doesn't sleep" kind of mindset as channeled through a Shirley Bassey-ish brass section. I confess, on repeated listenings, that the later parts of the track seem like something of an easy-listening radio station, but the track still serves as an effective opener.

Track 2: Ah, there's the main title! Now here's a track that really would sound better in the original synthesized version, and it shows. The first thirty seconds or so is a gradual crescendo towards...well, that's the interesting question. Where is this track going? It wends its way up and down for a little while, dies out for a few seconds, and then restarts on what, in my opinion, should have been a separate track. But no, instead, the music comes back, and provides some lovely background stuff, before fading out and restarting again. This time, one wonders who's to blame for the seagull like flutes and the bells evoking buoys...and then just as you're starting to get immersed in the waterfront of this dystopian L.A. of the future...well, the track is over.

Track 3: A vocal track of the classic 1930s school. With its muted piano and bass accompaniment and standard structure, "One More Kiss, Dear", really sounds like something you might have heard had Sam Spade or one of his colleagues had flipped on the radio before enjoying a couple of shots of whiskey and thinking about the lost loves of his murky past. Listening to the spoken verse over muted trumpet playing, you would never suspect that Vangelis wrote the music, much less that this was slated for inclusion on the soundtrack of a science fiction movie!

Track 4: This track, entitled "Memories of Green," is a poignant little piano piece with violin orchestration. The title reflects one of the film's central themes, the importance of memory in identity and what makes an individual experience valid, having lived through it or possessing memories of the experience. I am curious to hear whether the actual film's soundtrack is capable of evoking the same level of haunting emotion using synthetics as this piece does. Arguably, the best track on the album with some nice, bluesy modulation thrown in from time to time to keep things interesting.

Track 5: So the opening credits are the second track on the album. It only makes sense that the end titles should show up at the halfway point! Seriously, I'm not trying to bad mouth the music, but this album's organization continues to throw me for a loop! Perhaps the most catchy piece from the whole film is this track's repeating four note violin theme with the bass and the timpani in the background driving it home. Over and over again...each time with slightly different background noises in the higher registers. I guarantee after a few minutes you'll never forget the theme, no matter how hard you try. Oh, and in case you do, come back again for track 8... (That's right...there's more!)

Track 6: "Blade Runner Blues" (n.) : 1. What some of you may be experiencing right now as you read this blog posting. 2. A trumpet track featuring Chuck Findley intended to mirror the heartache of the title character in the film Blade Runner. Rick Deckard, former detective, here has his life captured in brass, with Findley's trumpet crying out in all of its muted glory, almost presenting a musical monologue to the audience. Because after all, it sucks when your job is killing hyper-realistic androids, especially when your latest girlfriend may be one of them, and oh yeah, it looks like you might be too depending on which cut of your life story you're watching.

Track 7: Shouldn't a track entitled "Farewell" be the last track on the album? This one misses the mark by one. It's on the penultimate space on the album, and in some ways serves as filler. The use of metallophone (or glockenspiel?) is nice and all, but in a fashion similar to the main titles, the track is otherwise just building towards a resolution which never seems to arrive. Perhaps, some might argue, this is the point, and Vangelis is suggesting that there is no pat resolution to the story in Blade Runner. Or perhaps he just prefers to let his musical stream of consciousness run off to who knows where instead of just ending things...

Which finally brings us to...

Track 8 (the last): End Title Reprise! It's like the end titles...but longer! And with a quicker tempo! And that damn end theme will be stuck in your head for hours to come. It's strange, as I relisten to this track, it sounds like the orchestrators decided to throw in a little bit of the jazz on this track. Maybe it's the electric bass...maybe it's the inclusion of something very much like a synthesizer...who knows? The point is, it's a catchy track that serves its purpose...bringing the whole album to a tight conclusion. A good bookend piece, even if it suffers from what seems to be Vangelis' trademark of fading out rather than just ending his instrumental pieces...


Right, so that's the album deconstructed. Let's pick up the pieces and summarize. Whenever I consider a movie soundtrack, I approach it in two different ways. First, does it complement the action of the movie it was intended to accompany? In this case, the answer is yes...even with its repetitious moments, this soundtrack perfectly matches Blade Runner's unique pedigree, combining the best aspects of Philip K. Dick and Dashiell Hammett.

The second question however, is whether the soundtrack is interesting enough to listen to on its own...without the movie in front of me to distract from its more monotonous parts. Here, unfortunately, I'm not sure this reorchestration holds up. There are a few gems hidden here, particularly "One More Kiss, Dear" and "Memories of Green," and of course the end title is damn catchy...but otherwise, I'm not sure the album stands on its own after repeated listening.

It does make excellent mood music however after a long day at work, so I may consider buying a cheap copy of it off Amazon eventually. Of course if I can find the original Vangelis version to compare that would be even better!

Well, this ran longer than expected, so I suppose I'll end it now. Expect more eclectic musical musings in the near future including some vintage Billy Jones recordings from the golden age of radio.

This is Benthoven, signing off.

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i like the new motif on the site

and in the spirit of mode-shifting, i have a brief thought.

a lot of the pop stuff mugmon is talking about- xtc, (not early) rem, etc. (not to mention the other stuff people seem to like on the site, e.g. rosebuds)- is GOLDEN pop music with high production values. this stuff is amazing, lights smiles on our faces, and sits in the background of any room like an unobstrusive guest.

however, for a few years now, and REALLY for the last year, ive come to view pop melodies and moves as somewhat cheap and easy (i think actually i love xtc so much simply because they are the best at it, but they make others look pale to me). whats got my ear these days is the era of lofi pop rock from the late 80s-early 90s that is more disunified, harder to listen to, and generally more basement-sounding, but actually infused with as much- if not more- pop genius. im talking guided by voices, pavement, dinosaur jr. and sebadoh, etc.

in that spirit, and because im back in skool after some time off pretending to be an adult in the workin world, ive decided to get a radio show out here in cali where i ONLY play indie rock fromthat era, of about 1987-1996. i could expound on why this is the golden age for me, and i will on this page sometime soon, but for now, if you want a good afternoon tomorrow, tune into my show (shameless self promo plug coming...the more things change, the more they stay the same):

college radio!
w/ dj matthew stark rubin
kzsu 90.1fm in the bay, zookeeper.stanford.edu to stream on the web
fridays, 12-3pm, west coast time (thats 3-6 in philly and the like)

enjoy young bol


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Goodies in the mail

Some of the Amazon.com order that sparked this whole blog arrived today — Apple Venus (Volume One) and Chips From The Chocolate Fireball, both from XTC (the latter with the band calling itself the Dukes of Stratosphear), and the Beulah DVD A Good Band is Easy to Kill. That DVD name comes from a killer track on their album The Coast is Never Clear, and the video features a documentary and some Beulah concert footage. I'm looking forward to watching this — maybe the ultimate summery slacker band will provide a nice contrast to my XTC fanaticism (even if I did take stark attack's brilliant English Settlement discussion to heart and listen to "Ball and Chain," "Senses Working Overtime," and "Jason and the Argonauts" about 12 times today). Unless they merit a new post, musings on these latest acquisitions will appear as comments here.

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Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Mugison: Big in Iceland

So, the last issue of Paste magazine told me that Mugison* and his album Mugimama! is This Monkey Music? have taken Iceland by storm, even dominating the 2005 Icelandic Music Awards -- which, given the relative size of the country, is like Match Point sweeping the field in the Best Woody Allen Movie of 2005 Awards. The Paste puff piece made the obligatory national comparisons to Bjork and Mum (please forgive me for the missing umlauts), but far more interesting critical comparisons to Thom Yorke (good) and Bonnie "Prince" Billy (bad).** Because of the Yorke nod (and, well, the fact that he looks like a bearded, dark-haired Mike Score), I'd been meaning to check out a track or two. Lo and behold, Paste's newest issue arrived in the mail today. One of the best things about Paste is that each issue comes with a CD of supposedly cutting-edge tunes. Of course, Mugison's song "Murr Murr" is Track 10. It's way more Yorke than Bonnie "Prince" Billy -- actually, it's as if Yorke went down to Rosedale and sold his soul to the fjandi. Great little guitar riffs and a driving beat sans drums. I might have to spring for the whole album. That said, Mugison is still essentially the Arctic Monkeys of the great north -- lots of word of mouth, not so much music out there to show for the hype. At the end of the day, though, it's all Monkey Music.

*Mugison is in no way related to Mugshot.

**Interestingly, I saw Bonnie "Prince" Billy open for Bjork at the Hollywood Bowl in the summer of 2003. He was putrid -- so bad, in fact, that I thought Bjork put him first on to make her performance inevitably better.


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Top 5: Summer Songs

FriedOreo's brilliant post about summer songs is exactly the kind of thing we need here at The Great Mongrel. And right now, we're going to activate prior knowledge and do a little activity to raise spirits during these dark winter days and remind us that summer is only 4 months away. As comments to this post, please look deep into your souls and list your top 5 summer songs from 2005.

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Top 5: What the kids are into

This morning, I had the pleasure of covering a class during what would normally be considered my "prep" time. So in addition to the xeroxes of word searches I brought to the bored-looking sixth graders, I also asked them each to list their five favorite songs and the artists responsible. That got them going a little bit. These examples from the assignment are presented without comment or correction (but from those who listed more than five, I just took the first five songs). Try not to laugh too hard at some of the misspellings — I left them there so people can also see that NCLB has done nothing to ensure that ALL of our children can spell "Chris Brown." Click below to see the kids' rankings.

Carolyn:
1) Run it - Crish Brown
2) yo! - Crish Brown
3) sosike - nayo
4) 12-sept - Chier
5) Baby - Bow wow

Shaneyah::
1) Love - Keisha Cole
2) And I - Ciara
3) Laffy Taffy - D4L
4) Candy Shop - 50 cent
5) I wish - Ray-J

Shanea
1) yo - Chris Brown
2) one wish - Ray_J
3) And I - Ciara
4) Laffy taffy - D4l
5) Fire Man - lil wyne

Eric
1) Oh yes - Juelz Santana
2) Be without you - Mary J Blige
3) Laffy Taffy - D4L
4) so sick - ne-yo
5) Temperature - Sean Paul

Dante:
1) Lean with it rock wit it
2) Get rick die tryin (nice rhymes)
3) Laffy taffy (dance to it)
4) Miny Men
5) Fire Man

Shaquil:
1) Yo - C. Bronw
2) Run it - C. Bronw
3) cant do it like me - D4l
4) Think they like me - Frachisze boys
5) Lean with it Rock with it - Frachisze boys

Clearly, "Laffy Taffy" is spectacular. I'm gonna have to hit up that jawn. Personally, though, I like "Fire Man." It doesn't get much better than those sirens. How come none of the kids listed Morrissey? How about that song "Hairdresser on Fire"? I need to make a compilation, or mixtape, of songs that have to do with fire. Run it!

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the problem of choice

"Is that a discman?...that's different."

So, I don't own an i-pod, and its not because I ran out to get the Sony MP3 player. In fact, I didn't even know that Sony had a new MP3 player. It's not because I think Apple is the devil, or think I am some kind of purist (though I do have a turntable with pre AND post amp). I am simply paralyzed by risk aversion and the problem of choice. I'll explain...

I'll be finishing up the second year of my MBA in May. For those unfamiliar with MBA curricula, you usually spend your first year taking a set of core classes (so you don't go and embarrass your school by you graduating and not knowing something "fundamental"), and then get to pick your electives your second year. My favorite this term is a class called "Decision Making" which centers on applying insights gathered from psychology, anthropology and sociology to debunk classic economics theory. One of the most useful lessons I've learned from my professor, Uri, is the problem of choice - hear me out, I promise this is cool.

So classic economics preaches that the more choices we have, the more informed we will be, the happier we will be because we'll be able to find exactly what we want. In practice, Uri and his coursepack explain to me, that each additional choice we have is a trade off we have to contemplate, or what economists call an "opportunity cost."

So experiments have shown that if you stock one store shelf with six types of jam, and another with thirty six (including the six from the first shelf), you will sell dramatically more off the first shelf. The shelf with more variety just scares people away because they don't want to choose. A fascinating essay by a professor at Princeton uses this phenomenon to explain the panic suffered by most career-agnostic liberal arts grads pondering what they should do with their lives. The more choices we have, the more we stand to lose by choosing at all and picking the wrong one.

And this is why I don't have an I-Pod. Every time I am about to get one, I hear that "the mini is coming out soon," then there will be colors, or the mini sucks cause the nano will be better, or YOU CAN EVEN WATCH TV on your I-pod if you get the right one, but the TV on the I-Pod right now isn't that great but in a few months they might have a better one. So I do nothing!

I want to have my whole CD collection in the palm of my hand, and it'd be pretty cool to download last night's 24 and watch it on the bus to school tomorrow. In the meantime, I watch in envy as people I go to school with (most of whom think that Romanian Numa Numa song is a classic and XTC is a drug) enjoy the elegant design, symphonic sound, and perfectly designed controls of Apple's pocket sized wonder.

But then, if I had an I-Pod, and I uploaded all my CD's onto it, I'd have to make a choice. How would I pick what to listen to from 10000 songs anyway? If Uri is right, I might be happier with my discman anyway.

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