RELEASE OF THE WEEK (even though it was released last week - 6.12.12):
What we saw from the Cheap Seats, Regina Spektor
I'm thankful for being a fan of Spektor before her catchy tune "Fidelity" became a bit of a unexpected hit back in 2006. Not proud in the sense of just to be pretentious about the matter, I'm just proud to have watched from afar as an artist with as much artistic integrity as Spektor got a bit of her due in a larger public eye. She never exploded, but that's probably a good thing, and she has enjoyed seeing her stuff out there a bit more, such as doing a song for one of the Chronicles of Narnia films as well as her tune "Us" being brilliantly used in an 8mm credit sequence at the beginning of 500 Days of Summer. Besides the fact I edited a similar piece a couple years prior and they totally ripped me off (that's right Manny, I'm still pissed about it) it's still a brilliant piece of montage editing. I saw Regina perform live at the Orpheum in downtown Phoenix in the fall of 2007, in a performance I gave one of my rare 5-star reviews to. She mixed in pop, rock, blues and classical music together in a performance where she had the audience from the opening moments through the end - all on her own, without ever need ing a band, heck she could have done the whole show a Capella and we would have been eating out of her palm. She didn't do that, but she did find unique ways to find her music backdrop - thumping a microphone as the only source of back-up music to her vocals, thumping a chair with a drumstick, playing her piano or even strapping on a guitar, Spektor gave, for me, the best concert I saw that year. Throughout her career in fact, Spektor has lived up to the song title of "Fidelity." Through her self-produced, self released albums Songs and 11:11, through more major label releases like Soviet Kitsch and her live LP Live in London, Spektor has remained faithful. Faithful to her fans, faithful to her style and to herself, faithful to her art, and most importantly, faithfully releasing a great album every couple of years.
Spektor performing live at the Orpheum in Phoenix - November 2007
In their review for What we saw from the Cheap Seats, Rolling Stone, in another sign they're so out of the loop they're not even on the roller coaster track, called Regina Spektor the Joni Mitchell of her generation. That's doing Spektor a disservice, they're completely different types of artists beyond being female singer-songwriters. Spektor is the Warren Zevon of her generation: A classically trained pianist with a penchant for catchy pop hooks and some very unique, often even strange, lyrics with their own brand of humor. With this album, I think Spektor has crafted maybe her most well-rounded LP of all her "major" label releases. Far was a solid outing, but here she goes against what that records biggest problem was: too many producers. This album has one producer throughout (besides Spektor's own self-producing co credit) and while all the songs don't sound the same, there's a cohesive sound going throughout. It's appropriately titled, Spektor is a people watcher. Her past lyrics, whether delving into the teenage trying to find a mate rituals and hangouts or the people of New York most people try to ignore, show a person watching the world around her and willing to write stories about them. This album is no different, a canvas where fictional and non-fictional people and events collide and form something new underneath Spektor's beautifully played piano. Speaking French in "Don't Leave Me," taking the old classic "Don't Let Me be Misunderstood" and throwing it into a Mafia tale in "Oh Marcello," making recent pop songs archaic in their often over-produced sound and calling museums mausoleums, it's all par for the course here. What makes her so unique is her ability to take serious subjects (facing death in "Firewood," political corruption in "Ballad of a Politician" finding a sharp knife of satire) and seeming so light about it. Sometimes funny, but even when being heartbreaking there's a warmth into what she says and how she says it you can't help but feel the world is going to be alright tomorrow, even if you're not around to see it.
Available on: CD, Deluxe-CD Set, Vinyl w/ CD (In July), MP3 Download
Other Notable Recent Releases (6.12.12)
That's why God made the Radio, The Beach Boys
The first Beach Boys LP in 16 years, and let's be honest, probably the last at this point. It's notable for the fact that Brian Wilson is here, back with the rest. Is it the best new release from the group in many decades? Sure. Is it cotton candy pop filled with a Titanic load of harmonies? You bet. Is it great? No. This isn't Pet Sounds, that's the album they'll be known by, while their strange soap opera esque relationship together else where will be how they're remembered elsewhere. But not-great doesn't mean not really good, this is a Beach Boys album and it nails what you want it to. I think the title is almost genius and I think "Pacific Coast Highway" is a great tune. "Sunlight is fading, and there's not much left to say" is a lyric that echoes Dylan's "The parties over, and theres less and less to say" from Time out of Mind, but that doesn't mean it means less here. It might not be a classic, but it's certainly better than the last (to date) records by say the Rolling Stones, Who or Paul McCartney. To celebrate 50 years of this band with this record, well, that's why God made CD players. Pop it in.
Available On: Vinyl, CD, Mp3 Download
Lex Hives, The Hives
When it came to the garage rock revival from a few years back, the Hives were always the B-team to the White Stripes starting lineup. That's not to discount them, and anyone who's seen them live knows that when it come to frontmen, they have one of the best at doing what a great frontman is supposed to do with a live show/audience. With influences from The New York Dolls, The Ramones, even to ELO and the power-chords of Joan Jett, the album tries to have that spark that their fans not only want, but expect. The album does stumble a bit with some repetitiveness but I even that out since they actually use audio EQ effects right, and not just for the hip auto-tune fad that everyone makes fun of but still listens to. It's an above average effort, if you're not a fan of the band it's not likely to change your mind, but if you dig them you'll like it, even if you don't love it.
Available on: Vinyl, CD, Deluxe CD, MP3 Download
Americana, Neil Young & Crazy Horse
I'm just gonna say it, Neil Young has lost it. He's been steadily putting out albums these past few years, and songs I dig are few and far between. Whether eating an apple on badly filmed webcam video or shoveling his giant box set to us, I just can't understand what he's doing anymore. Most of his contemporaries have tried covers of old folk songs, their own form of Americana. Springsteen did We Shall Overcome, Dylan did World Gone Wrong and Good as I been to You, and Young shouldn't be faulting for trying. This is a really mixed bag for me, all the songs on here are songs I love. Some of his interpretations I ended up liking, some, not so much. For instance "Jesus Chariot" (also known as "She'll be coming around the mountain") sounds like a bad parody from an 80's hair metal band.
Available on: CD, MP3 Download with Video Bonus, Vinyl (in July)
All Fall Down, Shawn Colvin
Remembe "Sunny came home?" Well, if you lived in the 90's You undoubtedly heard that tune. Here Colvin returns for the first time since 2006, and tackles some dark themes such as failure, love, loss and depression along her lyric journey. There's some good storytelling here, but the album is missing something, maybe it's a little too slow too often, but it's still worth checking out. You might not want to listen to all 11 tracks in one listen, and it's not exactly what I'd call a road trip album. "All Fall Down," the title track, is the closest thing you'll find to a "Sunny Came Home" type radio pop hit. "American Jerusalem" is a unique take on New York City that will ring more than true to those who've found themselves lost and hating that city.
Available on: CD, MP3 Download
Here, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros.
Some of you might remember my chastising of Edward Sharpe's performance at a 2011 Railroad Revival Tour show I saw in San Pedro. If you don't remember my re-telling of lead singer Alex Ebert's seemingly drunken, caricature of Jim Morrison mess, well you can read about it HERE. A problem came from Ebert continually stopping songs to go into rambles about learning to die and waving his arms around like a deranged lunatic. They, like all their shows during this couple year period, played the same ten songs over and over yet pretending to have an "on the fly" type stage presence. The problem came from the fact that their LP of the time (which has some rather good tunes, "Janglin'," "Home") built them up as a psychedelic trip back to a band on a trip in 1969. They just lived up to that whole Manson hair, hippie love image. Here on, uh, Here, they've toned that side down, a lot. The funky side of old still drives the band, but it seems like the band has learned what worked from their first LP, and built this record around that type of choral beauty that actually works. From the opening track "Man on Fire," it's obvious the band knows what their fans loved the best, and are giving them a more laid back folk and bit of funk effort. On "All Wash Out" they take the basic melody and feeling of Dylan's "It's All Over Now baby Blue" and add a little more production in between verses, and take a little venom out of the bite. With the folk revival still in full swing, this album might end up looking like a real good decision on the bands part. Also, the fact that I overall enjoyed this release should be a reminder that, contrary to popular belief, I don't hold grudges.
Available on: Vinyl, CD, MP3 Download
Banga, Patti Smith
Patti Smith once gave up her role as rocks poet queen to live a life with the man she loved. He died and while she came back, she never really came back all the way. Part of that is because she's never released an album that can rival Horses, and more than that she's been more interested in dealing out her prose poetry with music as the background than get another "Because the Night" on the radio. Trampin' was a good album, and 8 years later this one is good but different. Less rock (though it's still here) and more spoken word poetry, and fans of this type of lyrical prowess will enjoy it. If you'd rather read Rimbaud in the original French than watch the MTV Movie Awards, this may be your ticket. Where Lou Reed fails in his modern day spoken word type of singing, Smith shines.
Available on: Vinyl, CD, MP3 Download