Category Archives: Music

Running against the wind

Stuff I’ve enjoyed recently:

  • Even the filler strips at Dresden Codak are wonderful. The latest (for which a permalink doesn’t seem to exist yet, but it’s on the main page) is a bit xkcd-esque, but with a healthy dose of surrealism.

  • “Don’t Make Me a Target” is my favorite song off the new Spoon album. The rest of the CD is really good too; other favorites are “Rhthm and Soul”, and “The Underdog”, for which there’s a video:

  • This post at 3 Quarks Daily is equal parts geeky, silly, and poetic: “Among the inert gases lowest on the Periodic Table of Elements is love”

The Long Blondes, Someone to Drive You Home

Apart from Coachella I haven’t reviewed any music (or anything else) for about six months; I felt a little burnt-out on writing short reviews of every album I heard. So instead I’ll try another format, longer reviews of records I’m really into in which I overanalyze them. Here’s a pilot installment.
The Long Blondes: Someone To Drive You Home
This band has been all the rage in Britain for like six months now, but their debut album just came out here at the beginning of June. The British music media seems to find a new Savior of Rock every year or so, thus making me skeptical of massively hyped Britrock bands, but I picked up this CD anyway and have practically put it on repeat all week—it’s really kind of addictive. I can’t figure out how to categorize the musical style: it’s loud and fast and danceable, frequently poppy and with a touch of punk. Play the video below and you’ll get an idea.
The lyrics are terrific, and one of the rewards of repeated listens. Clever psychological studies and layers of meaning, in the best traditions of fellow Sheffield artists like Pulp and the Arctic Monkeys. (What is it with that town? Def Leppard aside.) Film noir and the femme fatale archetype are clearly influences, and not just because they’re explicitly mentioned. In fact the band knows its cinema pretty well, from the shouted chorus of opener “Lust in the Movies”—Edie Sedgwick! Anna Karina! Arlene Dahl!—to the Billy Wilder reference in “You Could Have Both”.
If there’s an overall theme to the album it’s relationships between women; although most of the romance is heterosexual, the male characters are frequently in the background, with the song focused on the (female) singer’s rival. In (my personal favorite) “Only Lovers Left Alive”, we learn nothing at all about the man she’s got her eye on, but plenty about the girlfriend she plans to take him from.
And many of these songs are ultimately more revealing about the character of the singer rather than their nominal subjects. Perhaps the best song on the album is “Once And Never Again”; here’s the video:

I noticed the Wikipedia entry has a section on the song’s meaning, which reads:

It has been speculated amongst fans about the meaning of this song. Some have thought of it as playing with lesbian undertones (“Oh how I’d love to feel a girl your age…”), whereas others think it is about self-harm.

Yes, the teenage girl’s self-harming tendencies are an element of the song, and it’s definitely a thinly-veiled come-on, but as I read it neither of these are what the song is really about. Rather, it paints a picture of an older woman wanting to recapture her youth by latching onto a younger girl. The singer desires the girl in the song because she wants to be her, and her insistence that it sucks to be 19 are ironic because she wants to be that age again herself. Thus, the title line, repeated twice in the song: the first time an assurance that “to be your age” need only be suffered “once and never again”, and the second a lament that the singer already had her chance herself. And so the line Wikipedia quotes has a double meaning: what she’s really saying is “how I’d love to feel like a girl your age… [but it was] once and never again”.
If you like the song, you’ll like the whole album—it’s good all the way through. The US release comes with a bonus disc that has some of the B-sides from the UK singles, but they’re more optional.
Someone to Drive You Home: Amazon iTunes

Coachella 2007: Ocean of Noise (Day 2 Report)

I haven’t reviewed any of these yet, but for context I want to list my top five albums of 2007 so far:
1. The Arcade Fire, Neon Bible
2. !!!, Myth Takes
3. Of Montreal, Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?
4. Blonde Redhead, 23
5. Ted Leo & the Pharmacists, Living with the Living
Four of these bands played at Coachella this year; three of them were on Saturday. Throw in the New Pornographers and the Decemberists and this was easily my favorite day of the festival, even if I had to skip !!!’s set.
Sets I saw Saturday: Hot Chip, the New Pornographers, the Decemberists, the Arcade Fire, Blonde Redhead
Details below the fold:

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Coachella 2007: Suffer for Fashion (Day 1 Report)

Didn’t get much sleep Thursday night, partly because I arrived late at the campsite, but mostly because other, very loud people continued to arrive even later at the campsite. This was not a problem the next three nights; as everyone was exhausted from the day’s events, the nights were very quiet. By about 9 am it became too hot to sleep, and I felt like I was baking in my tent. I spent the brutally hot morning hiding in the shade reading Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb, and sometime after noon ventured into the festival.
Sets I saw Friday: Noisettes, Tokyo Police Club, Of Montreal, Arctic Monkeys, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Jarvis Cocker, Sonic Youth.
Details below the fold:

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Coachella 2007: Verdicts

(Posted first so it’s up while I work on the detailed report.)
(And here’s last year’s.)
Obviously, this only applies to the artists that I saw; I’m sure I missed a lot of good stuff.
Instruments category:
Best vocals: Win Butler (Arcade Fire)
Best guitar (electric division): Mike Stroud (Ratatat)
Best guitar (acoustic division): Rodrigo Sanchez (Rodrigo y Gabriela)
Best bass: This has to be Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers), right?
Best synth: Hot Chip
Best violin section: The Arcade Fire
Best brass section: Lily Allen
Flair category:
Best audience participation: The Decemberists
Best band name: Travis
No, seriously: !!! (“chk chk chk”)
Best costumes (general): Of Montreal
Best costumes (cetacean division): The Decemberists
Most endearing display of modesty: Thurston Moore introducing the band and the lead song as if no one had ever heard of Sonic Youth, Daydream Nation, or “Teen Age Riot”.
Most endearing display of immodesty: Carl Newman (The New Pornographers): “Bow before our new album cover!”
Best celebrity cameo: Scarlett Johansson with the Jesus and Mary Chain on “Just Like Honey”
Organization category:
Best stage: Outdoor Theater
Best day’s lineup: Saturday
Most agonizing schedule conflict: !!! vs. The Decemberists
Song category:
Best cover: Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” played by Rodrigo y Gabriela
Bands playing songs that appear in Guitar Hero:
Satellite Party covering “Stop”
The Willie Nelson Family Band covering “Texas Flood”
Rage against the Machine playing “Killing in the Name Of”
(Did RHCP play “Higher Ground”?)
Best performance of a single song: The Decemberists, “The Mariner’s Revenge Song”
Band category:
Best band I’d never even heard of: The Feeling
Best band I’d heard of but never really looked into before: Hot Chip
Best band at the festival: Arcade Fire
Best overall performance: Of Montreal

Music news for JSpur

The rest of you may also be interested:
Ted Leo’s new CD will be released March 20. (Via Atrios, who is not normally a source for music news, but Ted Leo is appropriate.) There’s also a freely downloadable mp3 at the link.
Iron & Wine are planning a release in the fall (via Pitchfork).
If you don’t know these bands, you need to listen to more of my mix CDs. Speaking of which, I should mail out copies of the 2006 CD to those who didn’t get one…

Contact the patent office!

Over coffee I and another grad student had a brilliant innovation: an electric guitar with SQUID pickups! Due to the high sensitivity and low noise of the SQUID, we expect the sound quality to be extremely good. Of course, the guitar will have to be filled with liquid nitrogen (we’re assuming high-Tc SQUIDs here) or equipped with a cryocooler. The LN2-filled guitar would have the advantage of producing plumes of fog on demand, and would be especially spectacular when smashed against the stage at the end of the show.