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Blur Still Pretty Much Murders

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blurThey may be approaching decrepit geezerhood in terms of rock years. Their mention may time-stamp anyone as a “‘90s kid.” (That’s lame, right?) But it can be said with absolution and from a totally righteous standpoint that after almost 25 years of being ridiculously musical wankers, Blur remains the badass.

Actually, for a band that has churned out solid Britpop glory for most of its career, including one of the biggest ‘90s radio hits (“Song 2,” known to rock ignoramuses as “Woo-Hoo”), Blur is still a fairly well-kept rock and roll secret – at least if you’re on this side of the vast aqueous barrier that shields North America from all of the drunken Oasis fans.

Whenever I’m at a party or a Queen’s Luncheon and I bring up Blur, I get one of two responses:

a) (Contemptuous smirk) Blur?

or

b) (Slow, solemn nod) Blur

This usually depends on whether or not I’m talking to one of the aforementioned rock ignoramuses. And it’s because of “Song 2.”

“Song 2” is kind of like Radiohead’s “Creep” (to recap an earlier post, most rock ignoramuses are unaware of any Radiohead material other than “Creep”). It’s not necessarily representative of the band’s catalog, but for whatever reason it is the only blip on most people’s radar where the band is concerned. As a bonus, it’s not really the sharpest song in the shed, so the consensus among rock ignoramuses is that Blur is a shallow, candy-pop one-hit wonder. Thus, there is a sizable divide between those who are aware of Blur’s legacy of badassery and those who blithely deny it.

To remedy some of this ignorance, let me try with this humble post to explain the brilliance of Blur for the benefit of those who weren’t previously aware, or might have even doubted it. (Those drunken, Blur-hating Oasis fans can be pretty confident en masse.) If you are already aware of Blur’s awesomeness, this will simply sharpen your awareness, and maybe send you on a tear listening to all of their albums in your car for a week. It’s a plus either way.

Here are several reasons why Blur is a bastion of stone-hewn coolness:
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Radiohead to Play Haiti Benefit

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radioheadIf it’s possible for band to be sainted, Radiohead is trying hard.

The band (Namely Phil) announced they’re playing a Haiti benefit show Sunday, January 24, at 7 pm at the Henry Fonda Theater in Los Angeles. Tickets are being auctioned on Ticketmaster in order to raise as much money as possible — which means you’ll be spending a lot. However, all proceeds are going to the Oxfam Haiti relief fund, and since the band is currently in the midst of recording their next album, it also means you could be treated to some new, un-rehearsed material. Radiohead on the raw is a rare thing indeed.

The ticket auction started today (January 21) at 8 pm PST, and will run until Saturday January 23 at 11 pm. Visit Radiohead’s site for details.

Written by Peter Kimmich

January 21st, 2010 at 11:27 pm

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Seven 2010 Albums That Have the Panties in a Bunch

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Whatever happens in 2010 — whether it be a massive earthquake that sinks California, a tidal wave that washes out everything on the eastern seaboard, or a horrendous new trend whereby everyone tries to become a vampire (oh crap, that’s already happening) — at least there will be these seven albums. In order of anticipation (I suspect), here are the seven most conniption-inducing albums expected in 2010.

mgmtMGMT
Title? Congratulations
When, son? Spring
What gives: After selling over a million copies of their electro-psychedelic debut Oracular Spectacular, Ben Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden’s next release is the result of the band’s coping with the craziness of their new success. Their well-intended (read: crazy) idea is to release an album with no radio-friendly singles, in hopes of people actually listening to the whole thing rather than just downloading two tracks to play in their Scions. Though this will likely result in their label asking them to go back into the studio (d’oh), we hope them the best. It also purportedly involves more guitars, which is always a good thing.

Courtney-LoveHole
Title? Nobody’s Daughter
When, son? Undecided.
What gives: With the origins of Courtney Love’s albums as buried in speculation as she herself is in media scat, this one is starting to look no different. There is talk of using material recorded during her stint working with Billy Corgan (responsible for songwriting contributions to Celebrity Skin), as well as songwriting from 4 Non Blondes front woman Linda Perry. Still, with what she’s capable of when not wasted, it may have potential. The album’s release will be accompanied by a tour, during which the live performances will sound nothing like the recordings.
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Written by Peter Kimmich

January 18th, 2010 at 4:39 pm

10 Things Indie Musicians Do That Make People Hate Indie

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First of all, I love indie. I love it like a 15-year-old boy loves Megan Fox, sans anything involving posters on ceilings. So before you get up in my face with loud, defensive, aggravated comments about how great it is — I know, I know. Mellow.

But again like our halter-wearing temptress, there are a lot of seemingly reasonable people who HATE indie. And when you start to talk to these people about their hatred (once they get past the asinine jabs about hipster jeans, beards and technical guitar skills, like those even matter), you start to realize they may actually be on to something. Because even though indie is awesome, it’s only really awesome if it’s done right. And sometimes, you just have to take a loved one by the collar and tell them when they’re not doing something right. Right?

Here are some of the things indie musicians do that piss off people who otherwise have good taste in music. (Subtext: if you hate indie because the only style of music you like is speed metal or radio country, then this list, and my entire blog, will probably mean nothing to you.)

whiney singer1. Whine a lot more than necessary. Most people understand that songwriting is about expressing emotions, so like-minded listeners can identify when their parents get divorced and they’re shuttled back and forth like a fake ID at a sorority house. But those alleged “genuine” emotions shouldn’t cause stool to run soft in the bowel, and those “genuine” lyrics shouldn’t have to become ironic Facebook status updates. Despite the majority of indie songwriters who express their inner ingénue at an appropriate level, a lot of them tend to dwell on the idea of adult male vulnerability, riding it like the bow of the Titanic until people in the crowd are considering dialing a hotline. The result: indie rock that is backed only by overdramatic 14-year-old girls and moms who are just glad their kid isn’t listening to Insane Clown Posse. And the woe in my heart bleeds like yesterday’s undercooked pot roast.

bad singing2. Sing like the deaf. Okay, part of being vulnerable and “real” is not having an overtly superior singing style. No one expects to be empathizing with Bono, or relating on a personal level to Axl Rose. (Yikes.) Still, there are a couple of fundamentals that are just part of singing — like pitch control, and not making the audience laugh out loud. So when the biggest Clap Your Hands Say Yeah single sounds like Joe Assface got up on karaoke night and ran a schoolbus over the solfege scale, it’s tough to hold the contempt in check. It’s even worse when it’s a cover of a song people are already familiar with, like Clem Snide’s abhorrent version of Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful,” or Ben Gibbard’s cringe-inducing take on Bjork’s “All is Full of Love.” I don’t care how cute his own songs are, taking on Bjork’s most well-heard single with his northern-accented po-boy whimper is like climbing Mount St. Helens in a T-shirt and Converse low-tops. When the tone that comes across is “this didn’t sound like it did in my head, but oh well,” something is probably lost.
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Some Good Songs to Download to Your iBrain

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dr pepperLike many people, there are songs constantly streaming in my head. They can fade in like a mist, or come crashing onto the scene like a warthog. They can drown out things like real-life conversations, or simply hang in the background while I go about my day. It’s like having a built-in music player, sans record-industry meddling. iTunes, meet iBrain. Now kindly go get iBrain a Dr. Pepper.

The thing about my iBrain, though, is it doesn’t cost anything. Not a dollar a download, not one cent a download, nothing. Even better, there’s no account to sign up for, no annoying emails to block, and no mega-corporation to decide what songs are allowed to be there. Unless you count taste. I usually let Taste, LTD pretty much do what it wants.

So here are a few of the songs that have been occupying my iBrain rotation as of late. Feel free to listen in, start your own mental download, and show the industry suits that you’ll listen to whatever you want, when you want. As long as it’s not while your boss or significant other is saying something important. That’s just bad for business.

The Vines, Autumn Shade II. Like the first one, but Craig Nichols nailed the wispy, esoteric harmonies even harder, and it survives more than three listens.

Blur, Tracy Jacks. Because that guitar part is catchier than a left-fielder with sonar. Whoa, did a sports analogy just make it onto this blog?

Radiohead, I Might Be Wrong. This riff could smash a hole in the side of your grandaddy’s barn without an ounce of remorse. I heard it even robbed a nun in broad daylight. Shame on it.

David Bowie, New Killer Star. The bassline to this song would make me punch a guy in the face, if the music video didn’t make me feel dizzy.

The Primrose League, Stealing All Those Cars. It’s not as well-known as some, but the intricate guitar work and vocal harmonies manage to find their way into your bloodstream.

The Smashing Pumpkins, Hummer. That opening solo is like a bucket of cold water on a saturday morning, but somewhat more awesome.

The Von Bondies, C’mon, C’mon. Ok, I watch TV. But screw you if you don’t appreciate 1-2-4 guitar stumming and a loud voice. At least I’m not repping Jet.

Versa Vice, It’s Clear. Another lesser-known band, but the guitar and bass are the muggers who 1-2 you to death in the alleyway behind Circle-K.

Blur, Death of a Party. I usually try to avoid dumping the same band on people twice, but the creepy vibes from this one have a tendency to linger. You just try to shake them off.

Queens of the Stone Age, Make It Wit Chu. Who knew a song titled in text speak would actually be good? Josh Homme once again demonstrates his ability to get inside your head with a piano and a guitar.

Gran Ronde, Wisdom. This short number hits the pleasing-guitar-riff quotient right on the head.

Written by Peter Kimmich

September 8th, 2009 at 1:03 pm

The Curioso’s Guide to Radiohead

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radioheadScrew reading, skip to the songs

There are three things everyone seems to have opinions about: politics, religion, and Radiohead. On two of those topics, one dissenting view can cause a flat-out argument. When it’s Radiohead, it can cause someone to go insane. It’s quite a phenomenon.

That’s because, like politics and religion, Radiohead is complicated. When an ardent Radiohead fan hears disparaging remarks, or even worse, lack of acknowledgment about their favorite band, it’s easy for them to assume the disparager is uninitiated, and therefore not equipped to make the call. Because “getting” Radiohead isn’t like “getting” Puddle of Mudd. It doesn’t just happen after hearing a couple of songs on Internet radio (“They’re so dreary and weird … how can you like this?”). Most people who are wanton over Radiohead have listened to them for years, seen them evolve, and have grown immensely attached to them.

This is why whenever you ask someone what they like about Radiohead, you get a vague, impassioned gushing of adjectives, with no real explanation. It can leave you even more clueless than before. Or thinking your friends are hippies.

But if you’re into music, and a little open-minded, Radiohead is totally worth getting into. Because the hype is true. They’re like the 200-piece orchestra of pop bands. They’re a punk mentality shoved into something that is about as far from punk as you can get (without involving bagpipes or accordions. Yet.) Their music explains why Thom Yorke is so twitchy and paranoid, and why he sings like that. (He doesn’t always.) Radiohead is pure, 80-proof sonic bliss, if you get what they’re doing.
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Written by Peter Kimmich

August 31st, 2009 at 12:41 pm

Radiohead’s Latest Available for Download

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harry patchRadiohead has released a composition written in honor of Harry Patch, the last remaining UK veteran of World War I.

Patch died July 25 at age 111, having been one of the world’s last four survivors of the First World War, the third oldest man in the world, and briefly the oldest man in Europe. As Thom Yorke says on Radiohead’s Web site, “I had heard a very emotional interview with him a few years ago on the Today program on Radio4. The way he talked about war had a profound effect on me.”

The song, inspired by Patch’s story, was composed and recorded a few weeks before his death. Johnny Greenwood arranged the strings, Yorke wrote the lyrics, and everything was recorded live in an abbey.

The song’s feel is old-fashioned and awe-struck, the way one would imagine a dirge for every fallen soldier would sound. The lyrics are bleak and dark, evoking an old war documentary or Normandy footage. It is sparse and delicate, and powerful at the same time. The abbey’s echo can be heard in the strings, giving it an ancient, wooden feel.

“Harry Patch (In Memory Of)” is available for download at Radiohead’s site and can be previewed, 30 seconds at a time, through a somewhat irritating flash player. The cost to download is 1 UK pound, or around $1.70. All proceeds are going to the Royal British Legion.
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Written by Peter Kimmich

August 5th, 2009 at 1:27 pm

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Revelations Rooted in Listening to Office Music

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radioSome random revelations that came from listening to Internet radio stations at work (a work-in-progress, watch for sudden changes):

  1. Thom Yorke definitely seems to have gone through a “whiney, screamy acoustic version” period. Meh.
  2. After a long time, yes, it is possible to be sick of hearing the Beatles.
  3. Pandora can play long sets without repetition, but not that long. I’d say the euphoria dies around the 4-hour mark.
  4. John Mayer sounds like a rock and roll version of Dave Matthews.
  5. David Byrne struggles a bit to hit that high note in “Psycho Killer” when he sings it live, but he’s a badass for not lowering the key.
  6. In any group of people, young and old, there is always the “metal guy,” and he’s not who you think. Don’t let him control the station.
  7. Some ’70s group covered the Rolling Stones’ “19th Nervous Breakdown” and slopped it up, and I don’t know who they are. Must look into this further.
  8. New Order’s “Blue Monday” is catchy, but also long and redundant. I don’t know why so many bands have covered it. Note to self: If I start a band, don’t cover “Blue Monday.”
  9. God, the Strokes are undeniably awesome, and I’ll wall-slam anyone who disagrees. Try me.
  10. Also on the Strokes: Ignorant people sometimes bag on Fab’s drumming, but I believe simple and steady outperforms fancy and flamboyant any day.
  11. The Killers line “I got soul, but I’m not a soldier” is like a grotesque mustard stain on an otherwise halfway decent song. Must write band and complain.
  12. Someone somewhere started a “sad, high-pitched girl singer/pianist” trend, and then everybody started copying it. Boo, hiss.

Written by Peter Kimmich

April 9th, 2009 at 12:09 pm

When Acoustic Covers Amount to Masturbation

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snideAs Einstein once said, the secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.

In other words, if no one can figure out where your inspiration came from, then whatever masterpieces you’ve created are attributed directly to you, making you a creative genius.

Musically speaking, a band can take full advantage of this axiom, if they’re clever enough to weave together a collage of influences to create a sonic concoction to which no one can point and say “hey, that sounds just like that Black Rebel Motorcycle Club song.” If you can do that, then sweet, you’ve created an original piece of work.

Or this axiom can be the sword your unimaginative ass falls on after you plunk your way through some mainstream guitar ballad everybody has already heard, turning down-tuned F7 chords into open Es and ad-libbing from Internet-sourced lyrics before pressing it onto 40,000 silver discs and littering the sidewalks of Hollywood with hopeful, paper-wrapped debris.

When it comes to acoustic covers, it’s a tough call which side you’re going to fall on. It seems to come down to whether your aim is to discover a new aspect to someone else’s song that no one might have noticed yet, striving to capture it with only your burning, tortured soul, a minimal of instrumentation and countless nearly perfect takes. Or…whether your aim is to realize your teenage fantasy about banging out your favorite band’s song on a plastic-backed Ovation, hoping the girl you were crushing on in high school has a radio in her cold, lonely trailer park home and suddenly notices you after all these years, and finally contacts you through your Myspace account. On which you’ve had said song posted in hopeful anticipation for the last eight months.

Thus, there are good acoustic covers and bad ones. The line is thin, it doesn’t take much to cross it, and once you have, you’re either a creative genius or Bright Eyes.

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Some Music Fans May be Shallow

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STP at the Hollywood Bowl

STP at the Hollywood Bowl

This is partially intended as an addendum to the recent rant on bland retro-popheads, titled “When did the World Get So Unoriginal?” by esteemed [former] CinemaBlend music editor Mack Rawden. I’m wholeheartedly agreeing with his main thesis (albeit without judgment against J.K. Rowling, because I freaking like Harry Potter). But I’m adding one significant point.

And naturally, we will get to it via a quick story.

There I was, with my beautiful girlfriend, watching the Stone Temple Pilots’ June show at the Hollywood Bowl. We’re both into them, even the albums no one really likes (No. 4 and Shangri-La Dee Da). So we had at least a handful of songs we were waiting to hear.

About 10 minutes into the set, the obligatory wave of fashionably late bros and sorority chicks showed up. This element was expected, since due to some cosmic theorem they make up about 85% of the band’s following. But I was completely bewildered, and even disappointed, when during the ¾-set arrival of “Plush,” a group of sorority girls nearby suddenly got all antsy, huddling together in a secret conversation until one of them finally turned to the people next to them and said, “Oh my god, what’s this song called?” At first I thought I was hearing things. But then it happened again, during “Interstate Love Song.” My jaw was floored.

I get it: some people’s memories of these songs are a little dimmed by lite beer and accessory distraction (I might have heard someone singing the lyrics, “Driving on a Sunday afternoon / I swerve my Bug between the lines…”). But someone just spent $50 on tickets, fought traffic and crammed into a packed bleacher row without knowing the names of the band’s 16-year-old major radio hit singles. It seemed like a big monkey wrench just got tossed into the logical fandom gears somewhere. What was wrong here?

Then it occurred to me that the world’s sea of music fans might be a lot shallower than I had previously thought. Do some people pretend to be into bands? Do some even pretend to be into music? I decided this needs to be explored further.

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