Sunday, February 25, 2007

Who Do You Love?

Ted Leo & The Pharmacists - Living With the Living
Touch & Go Records 2007

Most critics and fans alike will agree that Ted Leo can do no wrong, and for the most part, they're all correct. Mr. Leo's newest jaunt is his fourth full-length (first for legendary Chicago imprint, Touch & Go Records), and by a longshot his most ambitious album to date. Produced by former Fugazi drummer, Brendan Canty, Living is brimming with everything you could want from a Ted Leo album. Lean, speedy post-punk jams, quasi-dub movements, even a good handful of lengthy tracks reminiscent of fan favorite, "Stove By a Whale." But somehow, this album sounds simultaneously more and less like Ted's past work.

The album's opener, "Sons of Cain" is a classic Pharmacists rock-out. Chris Wilson's drumming is tight and speedy as always, as Ted begins his frenetic strumming. This track, along with "Who Do You Love?", and the closer, "C.I.A." wouldn't sound out of place on any previous Pharmacists album. What's always been incredible about Mr. Leo is his ability to learn from his past. Not simply his musical influences, but his own musical history. From The Tyranny of Distance to Hearts of Oak to Shake the Sheets, he has taken the best parts of each album, and incorporated them into their successors, all the while adding new things to build from.

However, the difference between Living and say, Shake the Sheets, is that with Living, it may perhaps be just a bit too ambitious. While Leo scores with the reggae posturing of "The Unwanted Things", and hits home runs with the sprawling "La Costa Brava" and "The Lost Brigade", he manages to overreach just a little bit with the shorter tracks like "Colleen" and "Bomb. Repeat. Bomb."

In reality, this album is structured very much like his previous works. Ted Leo has a crack band, and he's a punk rock savant, who, unlike most in genre, is able to take all of his influences (The Pogues, latter-days Clash, The Jam, Billy Bragg, Minor Threat) and actually make them work together. He can create simple songs that will apply to the most hardened of hardcore kids, the most simple of Top 40 listeners, and the snobbiest of indie rockers all at the same time. Even with a few missteps on this album, Living With the Living still holds true to the same ethos and musicianship that Ted has always promised. (4/5 Stars)
Key Tracks: "Sons of Cain", "La Costa Brava", "The Unwanted Things", "C.I.A."
More Along These Lines: The Pogues - Rum, Sodomy, & the Lash, Billy Bragg - Talking With the Taxman About Poetry, Stiff Little Fingers - Inflammable Material
Download The Album In This Free Link I've Provided For Your Broke Ass:
Ted Leo/Pharmacists - Living With the Living

A few swift news items from the past week before we all move on with our days:
  • Rage Against the Machine added three new dates to their reunion show/now tour of SoCal. Unless you'll be in L.A. late this summer, it's probably not worth it to you.
  • Jeff Rosenstock's electronic-ska act, Bomb the Music Industry! have finished demo-ing their new album, and plan to record soon, with a tour to follow.
  • Naked Raygun made Chicagoians very happy by announcing 2 reunion shows in their hometown, featuring guests like Dillinger Four and The Bollweevils.
  • Hardcore stalwarts, Gorilla Biscuits announced a tour of Germany.
  • North Lincoln posted a couple of demos in preparation for a very busy year.
  • Former Godflesh frontman, Justin Broadrick's new band, Jesu, who just recorded a new album, were detained on their way into the states this week in support of Conquerer, and were forced to cancel some shows.
  • Former None More Black teammates, Colin McGinniss and Paul Delaney (also of Kill Your Idols) have announced a new act, called Ram & Ox, possibly in response to the announcement of former NMB frontman Jason Shevchuk's new solo act, OnGuard.
  • Thomas Barnett & Rob Huddleston's old outfit, Inquisition are reuniting as well.
  • The Onion's A.V. Club interviewed the almighty Ian MacKaye
  • El-Producto detailed his new album, I'll Sleep When You're Dead which will feature guests like Trent Reznor, Aes Rock, The Mars Volta, & Cat Power. Check out the first single, "Flyentology" (featuring Mr. Reznor), on iTunes right now.
  • While on the subject of album details, Josh Homme and the Queens of the Stone Age detailed Era Vulgaris, and will also feature Trent Reznor, in addition to Mark Lanegan & Julian Casablancas.
  • Shearwater signed to Matador Records and planned a re-release of last year's Palo Santo.
  • The Jesus & Mary Chain tickled everyone's balls with talk of a new album and more tour dates.
That's the end of that folks, stay tuned next week for reviews of the new Leftover Crack/Citizen Fish Split album, Against Me!'s live show in New Jersey on Friday, and perhaps a full review of my top 10 of 2006. We'll see where the week takes us. Later, skaters.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

This Ain't No Party.

To be fair, that title's a bit of a lie. Not to say, of course, that this blog is anything like a party, because, hey, this is the internet; it's hard to have internet parties unless you're still in the fourth grade and AOL "lesbian" "chat rooms" are back in style.

But I suppose that's neither here nor there.

What is here is this fancy new blorg. This is heretofore your new stop for musical jibber-jabber and various other exclamations of "I Pity the Fool," because, if I may remind you, this ain't no foolin' around. I'm like Mr. T if Mr. T was more like Ice-T. Just saying. I took the name for this page from one of my favorite Talking Heads tunes ("Life During Wartime" from the good but not great album, Fear of Music) and made an adorable little current pop culture reference to Panic! at the Disco, all the while making the statement that you will not find Panic! at the Disco on this site, except of course for in the title.

This will more than likely begin as a weekly blog, probably updating on Fridays or Saturdays, or perhaps even on Sundays. It'll contain album reviews, show reviews, film/DVD reviews, a handful of interesting music and film news bits, top 10's, and a plethora of other interesting and terrifying stories and other odds and ends and such.

As an introduction though, I struggled for a while over which album I'd want to review to make for a good, well, introduction. I wanted it to be something good, somewhat recent, a little unknown, but a good indication of my tastes and what I plan to tackle within this blorg. My decision ended on one of my all-time favorite albums; DJ Shadow's 1996 hip-hop masterpiece, Endtroducing... (the cover of which, you can find at the tippity top of this post). Enjoy.

DJ Shadow - Endtroducing...
Mo'Wax Records 1996

When people think of the label, "hip-hop", they don't normally picture a white kid from Southern California. In 1996, DJ/Producer Josh Davis (a.k.a. DJ Shadow) changed all that. In one fell swoop, Shadow released his first solo record, gained credit for creating the halfway-popular "Trip-Hop" trend that followed through to the late 90's, and made the Guinness Book of World Records for creating the first album based entirely on sampled sources. Shadow sampled everything from old radio and T.V. commercials, archived speeches, drum loops, and artists as diverse as The Beastie Boys, Stanley Clarke, and Masters of Ceremony. And that's just on the forty-eight second intro track.

Davis is less a musician and more a conductor on this album, piecing together rhythms and movements, queueing up every single instrument and putting them into perfect poisiton. And the beauty of Davis' work on this record is that, despite only using pre-existing sounds, he manages to make the entire thing sound like one living, breathing organism. The album sounds alive in a way that every other electronic album before (not to mention the ones that tried to copy it after) had never been able to accomplish. Tracks like the opener, "Building Steam With a Grain of Salt," and the single, "Midnight in a Perfect World" both sway and swell with bold, shimmering keys, while the drums in the background crash away almost sloppily, but the closer you listen, the more you can see where it's all going. These songs are, dare I say, like The Bealtes at their finest moments; you can imagine every note, even if you can't hear it, and you know exactly what note is coming next. That's not to say that the album is predictable, it's saying that it's got such an understandable flow to it at points that you can feel Shadow's vision and you know exactly what he's trying to do.

However, not every song is designed in such a way. The more epic tracks like "Changeling/Transmission 1" & "Napalm Brain/Scatter Brain" switch channels without warning, careening from metal blastbeats to funk rhythms to old fashioned hip-hop and soul breaks. But even with this seemingly sporadic and A.D.D.-style form of songwriting, it all makes sense. Unlike with most albums or songs where we see frequent changes in tune or time, Endtroducing... doesn't need or provide the time to readjust. Shadow keeps on like a steam locomotive with the brakes cut, stopping for nothing, flying through landscapes, all the while with it's eye on the light at the end of the tunnel.

Even forgetting the sheer scope and mythology surrounding this album, it's undeniable that this is not only DJ Shadow's strongest work, not only one of the best albums of the 90's, but one of the greatest hip-hop albums ever concieved. (5/5 Stars)
Key Tracks: "Building Steam With a Grain of Salt", "Changeling/Transmission 1", "Midnight in a Perfect World", "Mutual Slump"
More Along These Lines: UNKLE - Psyence Fiction, Radiohead - Kid A, Handsome Boy Modeling School - So...How's Your Girl
Download The Album In This Free Link I've Provided For Your Broke Ass:
DJ Shadow - Endtroducing...