At the Boathouse, 2000 maybe?

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Sunday, October 27, 2013

R.I.P. Lou Reed

I don't have any particular insight into Lou or the Velvet Underground. Others with closer associations and deeper feelings will surely say things more relevant and moving. I just keep thinking back to when I first heard "Ocean" and "Heroin" and the profound impression those tracks made on me. I wish there were going to be more. Good travels Lou, you'll be missed.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Dream Shake, "Dream Shake"; Ethereal Familiarity

Everything that's old is new again and that can be a good thing, especially when it has an original twist. Dream Shake's self-titled debut reminds me a little of The Jesus & Mary Chain and sometimes Lush while remaining original throughout. The music has a very dreamy quality mixed with old school rhythms and guitar which add an undercurrent of punk that occasionally breaks the surface. It's a good album and imminently listenable for almost any mood. This is the sort of album that for some will become like a friend and a tether to the period in one's life where they first heard and loved it. It sits with you, it resonates, and it feels familiar at the first listen, while sharing unrealized depth with subsequent plays.

It also has a fun and offbeat side that's more to do with the artist that the music, though it does manifest in the lyrics. All of the songs are named for female characters in media and pop culture. It might be an added bit of fun to try to figure out or debate with your friends which characters the songs are named for. "Buffy" is an obvious gimme and I'll go out on a limb and guess that both "Deanna" and "Beverly" came from "Star Trek: The Next Generation".

As concept albums go, this offering from James Nee, Dream Shake's prime mover, is pretty original and more fun than most. It also allows him to write about things he cares about without apology and without having to wedge them into some tortured multi-movement or act structure. It's a good, chill listen with a party game built in. It's also an interesting reflection of our increasingly media-centric culture. I listened to it straight through twice, which I seldom do, and have gone back to it and thought about it repeatedly since. The album is out today on the Frenchkiss label and you can preview some of Nee's work, including "Buffy" here. If you like breezy male vocals and alternately ethereal and bright, driving guitars, I recommend it. 4 out of 5 Whatevers.

For a little extra fun please login or follow this blog and comment with your guesses about which characters the songs are named for.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Crowd Source Criticism and Trent Reznor

About a week ago I heard a promo for NPR’s All things Considered which advertised an upcoming interview with Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails. I enjoyed the on-air portion but it left me wanting more. Fortunately they posted the long form hereMaybe it's just because I'm a music nerd but I thought the best parts were left out of the broadcast edit. For instance he talked about what I've begun referring to as "crowd-source criticism". 


Trent Reznor

Reznor said, "I think we live in very dangerous times right now... with the Internet and the feedback loop you can get from people who somehow feel their fingers are connected to an impulse — first second of hearing something, I need to write some reaction that gets blasted out to the world." It's essentially what I'm doing right now; critiquing an interview that, in part, discusses a critique. Is my criticism more valid because of my past credentials or is the reporter more valid because she works for NPR? Do you need to have credentials other than the support of the crowd? It seems not, but a lot of snarky and ugly stuff does get pushed to the surface when the crowd is the only determiner of quality.

I started in the small press, which was the internet for people born before 1980. When I started we had trouble getting press passes and were looked down upon by publicists and “real” journalists. I actually found that small press (I wrote a lot for regional entertainment papers) had a harder time getting treated as members of the press than did my community college newspaper. I found this terribly frustrating at times, especially when I would see an interview with a major act that I hadn’t been able to get. In one instance in particular the publicist for a punk rock icon said I could interview his guitar player if I wanted, but the icon himself was interviewed by a major publication that did a truly awful job. Having that experience, I’m interested in what makes criticism or commentary worthwhile. Snark, unfortunately, gets a lot of eyeballs these days, but there is also a lot of truly poor journalism on the websites and in the pages of major media outlets.

When Reznor lamented, "I could spend a lot of time being frustrated about one aspect of the press, which is what low qualifications are required to become a quote-unquote journalist these days.", I wanted to hear more of that discussion. Unfortunately the journalist didn’t dig as deeply as I would have liked. This was also within a couple of days of AP making, at least to Nine Inch Nails fans, a huge attribution mistake regarding Johnny Cash’s cover of the NIN song “Hurt”. Perhaps the NPR interview was conducted before that story broke and broadcast later, but it was a wonderful coincidence that this happened at AP, an organization that should have the best qualifications and processes, within days of Reznor challenging the threshold of journalistic qualification.

I hope someone does another Reznor interview soon and really sounds him out with regard to what is journalism and what is criticism and how it is different from what we do on Facebook and other social media sites. Is crowd-source criticism more or less legitimate if it lacks journalistic credentials?  Those are topics I'd love to hear discussed in detail. 

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Sons of Bill - Joey's Arm

"Joey's Arm" is elegantly clean and direct like the best of country ballads. For such ballads to succeed they need emotional power carried through the voice and something to say. Clearly James Wilson's melodically gruff sound carries that off in spades and is pushed further by the harmonies with his brother Sam. The lyrics may not be quite as obvious in their part, but what they capture about the New South is the stark and often muffled pain of building a life there, especially in the rural areas. When I first heard this it was like a punch in the chest from my own childhood in Southwestern Virginia. They're saying something.
       Sons of Bill is a 5 piece rock/country band with two full length albums out, and a third on the way which is being produced by David Lowery (Cracker, Camper Van Beethoven). They have performed this tune acoustically several times for different public radio stations and it was on the website of WHRO in Norfolk that I first found them (I was unable to embed the performance here but you can find it about halfway down the page from the link above). This version is from a public radio performance in their home town of Charlottesville on WNRN. Both are worth checking out. I found the instrumentation on the NRN version to be better recorded but felt the vocals hit a higher emotional register on the HRO version. They're all over YouTube, you can of course buy the albums, and check them out at .