December 31, 2005

TOP 10 Albums of the year

The Year End lists

Rolling Stones Top 10
1. Kanye West, Late Registration
2. The Rolling Stones, A Bigger Bang
3. White Stripes, Get Behind Me Satan
4. Fiona Apple, Extraordinary Machine
5. Bruce Springsteen, Devils and Dust
6. My Morning Jacket, Z
7. Beck, Guero
8. Bright Eyes, I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning
9. Sufjan Stevens, Illinois
10. 50 Cent, The Massacre

Below link to their top 50 Editor picks

1. Illinois by Sufjan Stevens
2. Arular by M.I.A.
3. Twin Cinema by The New Pornographers
4. Z by My Morning Jacket
5. Dimanche a Bamako by Amadou & Mariam
6. Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall [Live]
7. I Am A Bird Now by Antony & The Johnsons
8. No Direction Home: The Soundtrack by Bob Dylan
9. Guero by Beck
10. Extraordinary Machine by Fiona Apple

E! Magazine

1. Plans by Death Cab For Cutie
2. Arular by M.I.A.
3. Guero by Beck
4. 12 Songs by Neil Diamond
5. Get Behind Me Satan by The White Stripes
6. Late Registration by Kanye West
7. Z by My Morning Jacket
8. Demon Days by Gorillaz
9. Year Of Meteors by Laura Veirs
10. X&Y by Coldplay

1. I Am A Bird Now by Antony & The Johnsons
2. Funeral by Arcade Fire
3. Aerial by Kate Bush
4. Devils & Dust by Bruce Springsteen
5. Z by My Morning Jacket
6. Chavez Ravine by Ry Cooder
7. The Magic Numbers by The Magic Numbers
8. Into The Woods by Malcolm Middleton
9. Dimanche a Bamako by Amadou & Mariam
10. Cole's Corner by Richard Hawley

Q Magazine

1. X&Y by Coldplay
2. Demon Days by Gorillaz
3. Employment by Kaiser Chiefs
4. Don't Believe The Truth by Oasis
5. I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning by Bright Eyes
6. Back To Bedlam by James Blunt
7. You Could Have It So Much Better by Franz Ferdinand
8. Funeral by Arcade Fire
9. Eye To The Telescope by KT Tunstall
10. Stars Of CCTV by Hard-Fi

November 20, 2005

New Buzz : Antony and the Johnsons

I Am A Bird Now

Antony and the Johnsons' second full-length recording, the haunting and affecting I Am a Bird Now, is a far more intimate affair than their debut. Antony's bluesy parlor room cadence is more upfront here, resulting in a listening experience that's both exhilarating and disquieting. "Hope There's Someone" is a somber opener, and its plea for companionship, augmented by a sparse piano/vocal arrangement that rises into the air by song's end in a swirl of multi-tracked harmonies, is ultimately uplifting. This formula is applied to much of the record and never ceases to elicit honest emotion from either Antony or his numerous guests.

Rufus Wainwright takes the lead on "What Can I Do?," a languid meditation on death that conjures up images of rainy streets, lonely lampposts, and cigar smoke -- it's brief (under two minutes) but alluring like the cover of a Raymond Chandler novel. Boy George joins Antony for a duet on the soulful and empowering "You Are My Sister," Devendra Banhart lends his warbly tenor to the lush "Spiraling," and Lou Reed plays noodly guitar and recites an anonymous poem on the mischievous "Fistful of Love."

It's a testament to Antony's skill as a writer and arranger that these guest appearances are completely devoid of pretense, and while each artist is reverent to the source material, it's still Antony's show, as the most powerful moments on I Am a Bird Now are his.

Antony and the Johnsons are an award-winning music act from New York City.

The band is essentially the vehicle for singer Antony, whose full name is Antony Hegarty. Born in Chichester, West Sussex, England in 1971, Antony moved to Amsterdam in 1977 before settling in California the following year. As a teenager he was enthused by the British synth pop of the time — in particular emotive torch singers such as Marc Almond and Boy George. In 1990 he moved to Manhattan and founded the performance collective Blacklips with creative partner Johanna Constantine.

British neofolk musician David Tibet of Current 93 heard a demo and offered to release Antony's music through his Durtro label; the debut album, Antony and the Johnsons, was released in 1998. In 2001, Antony released a short follow-up EP, I Fell in Love with a Dead Boy, which, in addition to the title track, included a cover of a David Lynch/Angelo Badalamenti song and a Current 93 song.

Producer Hal Wilner heard the EP and played it to Lou Reed, who immediately recruited him for his project The Raven. Now gaining more attention, Antony signed to US-based record label Secretly Canadian, and released another EP, The Lake, with Lou Reed guest-performing on one of the tracks. Secretly Canadian also re-released Antony's debut album in the United States to wider distribution in 2004.

Antony's second full-length album, 2005's I Am a Bird Now, gained rave reviews and significantly more mainstream attention, winning the Mercury Music Prize for the best album of 2005. Rival Mercury nominees, and favourites for the prize, the Kaiser Chiefs suggested that Antony got in on a technicality; despite the fact he was born in the United Kingdom he spent much of his time in the US - although they later apologised for the suggestion that he wasn't a deserving winner.

Antony's voice seems to channel Nina Simone and Bryan Ferry, and he has many celebrity admirers such as Philip Glass, Marc Almond, Lou Reed and the guest vocalists on I Am a Bird Now, Boy George, Rufus Wainwright and Devendra Banhart.


* Antony and the Johnsons (Durtro 1998; Secretly Canadian 2004)
* I Am a Bird Now (Secretly Canadian 2005) #5 UK

EPs and singles

* I Fell in Love with a Dead Boy (Durtro 2001)
* The Lake (Secretly Canadian 2004)
* Hope There's Someone (Secretly Canadian 2004) #46 UK (charted in 2005)
* You Are My Sister (Rough Trade 2005)

Indie Rock : The Postal Service

The Postal Service is an indietronic band featuring singer Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie and producer Jimmy Tamborello of Dntel and Figurine. Several songs on their first LP, Give Up, feature guest vocals from Jenny Lewis, the lead singer of Rilo Kiley, a band which was once on the same label as Death Cab (Barsuk Records) and vocals from Jen Wood, an indie rock solo artist. Chris Walla is also in the band playing guitar, drums, and keyboard.

he way in which the group combines mechanical backing tracks with poppy hooks is somewhat reminiscent of 1980s new wave music. The group formed after Gibbard contributed vocals for a song on Dntel's album Life is Full of Possibilities called "(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan". This song sparked an EP of remixes by other artists, such as Lali Puna, Safety Scissors, Barbara Morgenstern and Superpitcher, and was so well received that the two artists decided that further collaboration was in order.

Their name comes from the manner in which their songs were written, due to the fact that the two of them lived too far away to be able to work together in person. Tamborello would create beats and mail them to singer and lyricist Gibbard, who would then edit them and put his melodies over the tracks and mail them back. Ben didn't write any of the lyrics until the tracks were completely finished.

Despite the fact that their main bands are still active, The Postal Service has supported their full-length album Give Up with a successful concert tour and has stated intentions to tour more in the future. The album's most notable single was "Such Great Heights" that has been featured in various television commercials and movie trailers. The album also recently became the most successful album for the Sub Pop label since Nirvana's debut album Bleach.

In 2004, the United States Postal Service sent the band a cease and desist letter citing their trademark on the phrase "postal service". After negotiations, the USPS relented, allowing the band use of the trademark in exchange for promotional efforts on behalf of the USPS and a performance at their annual National Executive Conference..Additionally, the USPS website sells the band's CDs.

In 2004, the track "Such Great Heights," as performed by Iron & Wine, was used on the Garden State film soundtrack. In 2005, this version of the song was also licensed for use in a television commercial for the Mars Corporation's M&M's candies. "Such Great Heights" has also been featured in The O.C. and Grey's Anatomy, as well as commercials for insurance provider Kaiser Permanente. The band ghas also done a great cover of the Phil Collins song 'Against all odds' featured on the Wicker Park soundtrack.


* Such Great Heights
* Give Up
* The District Sleeps Alone Tonight
* Ego Tripping At The Gates Of Hell (EP) - The Flaming Lips
* Wicker Park: Soundtrack Album
* Give Up (Vinyl)
* We Will Become Silhouettes
* Be Still My Heart (Nobody Remix) - Single
* Verve Remixed, Vol. 3

Indie Rock : Bright Eyes

Bright Eyes is a band fronted by Conor Oberst, an American singer-songwriter from Nebraska.

Bright Eyes currently resides on the Saddle Creek record label, an Omaha-based label that is home to bands including Cursive, The Faint, and Now It's Overhead. The name "Bright Eyes" came from a film Oberst was watching, where the male protagonist affectionately used the term to describe the female protagonist.

Conor Oberst and producer/multi-instrumentalist Mike Mogis are the only permanent members, with the backup players resembling something of a Saddle Creek house band, pulling many, if not most, from other bands on the label. Oberst's vocal style and lyrics often have a desperate edge: he frequently sounds like he's on the verge of crying, or of having a nervous breakdown.

Oberst has stated that his lyrics do not necessarily reflect his personal experience, and are often similar to short stories. "Padraic My Prince," for example, tells of a mother drowning the narrator's brother in a bathtub, an event Oberst has stated is fictional. In interviews, Oberst has explained such situations are often required to achieve the emotive extremes he seeks.

Oberst has served in many bands since the age of 13, by first fronting the mildly succesful band Commander Venus and the not-as-successful Park Ave.. He was also the lead singer of Desaparecidos. Although there are some parallels between Desaparecidos and Bright Eyes, the lyrics of Desaparecidos tend to reflect more on society rather than individuals, and the music fits more to punk rock than folk. Although this clean comparison is for the most part accurate, it should be noted that there are two general stylistic grains in Bright Eyes' catalog. The earliest records and most recent Digital Ash in a Digital Urn feature heavier use of electronic instruments and drum machines, while Lifted and I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning, while still using many electronic aspects, have a more "stripped down" tone with the acoustic guitar taking the most prominent role.

During the 2004 election season, Bright Eyes toured with Bruce Springsteen and R.E.M. on the "Vote for Change" tour, further pushing him into the public eye. On May 5, 2005 Bright Eyes appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and performed the protest song "When the President Talks to God", a scathing rebuke of the Bush administration.

In early November, 2004, two Bright Eyes singles, "Lua" and "Take It Easy (Love Nothing)", reached the two top spots on the Billboard Hot 100 Single Sales, a remarkable feat for a musician on an independent label. This was the first time this has happened on the list in seven years. Many predict that, as of January 2005, Oberst is on the verge of an international mainstream breakthrough.


* Letting Off the Happiness (1998 · Saddle Creek Records)
* Fevers and Mirrors (2000 · Saddle Creek Records)
* A Collection of Songs: Recorded 1995-1997 (2000)
* Lifted or The Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground (2002 · Saddle Creek Records) (US #161)
* The Christmas Album (2002 · Saddle Creek Records - online exclusive)
* Digital Ash in a Digital Urn (2005 · Saddle Creek Records) (US #15)
* I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning (2005 · Saddle Creek Records) (US #10) (UK #23)
* Motion Sickness (live) (2005 · Saddle Creek Records)

EPs, singles, other

* Every Day and Every Night EP (1999)
* Blood of the Young 7" (2000)
* Drunk Kid Catholic 7"/CD (2000)
* Don't Be Frightened of Turning the Page (2001)
* Oh Holy Fools: The Music of Son, Ambulance & Bright Eyes (2001)
* There Is No Beginning to the Story EP (2002)
* Lover I Don't Have to Love CDS (2002)
* Vinyl Box Set (7 LP's) (2003) This collection contains Bright Eyes' first five albums plus bonus material.
* One Jug Of Wine, Two Vessels (2004) Split containing three tracks each from Bright Eyes and Neva Dinova.
* Take It Easy (Love Nothing) CDS (2004) from Digital Ash in A Digital Urn
* Lua CDS (2004) from I'm Wide Awake It's Morning
* First Day of My Life CDS (2005) (UK #37)
* Easy/Lucky/Free CDS (2005) (UK #42)

Indie Rock : The Decemberists

The Decemberists are an indie band from Portland, Oregon. Named after the Decembrists from the Decembrist Revolt, they appropriated the name and made it their own. Their songs range from upbeat pop to slower, instrumentally lush arrangements. In their lyrics, they eschew the angst and introspection common to modern rock, instead favoring a storytelling approach with lines like "My mother was a Chinese trapeze artist / In pre-war Paris / Smuggling bombs for the underground" (from "My Mother Was a Chinese Trapeze Artist", on 5 Songs) and "We are two mariners / Our ship's sole survivors / Inside this belly of a whale / Its ribs our ceiling beams / Its guts our carpeting / I guess we have some time to kill" ("The Mariner's Revenge Song", from Picaresque). Their songs convey tales ranging from whimsical ("Here I Dreamt I Was an Architect") to epic ("The Tain") to truly dark ("Odalisque").

While they boast a genuinely original sound (which often features the accordion), their demeanor and approach often finds The Decemberists compared to Neutral Milk Hotel. Many reviewers and fans categorize the band as pirate rock (due to alleged pirate themes in the music), a characterization that lead singer Colin Meloy disputes Recently, the band has also earned a reputation for their exceptionally entertaining live performances.

In March 2005, the Decemberists were reportedly the first band to distribute a music video, the self-produced 16 Military Wives (for the song of the same name off of Picaresque), via BitTorrent. That same month, the band's gear trailer was stolen; fans contributed to a replacement fund, and another fund-raiser was organized via eBay auction, bidding copies of Colin Meloy Sings Morrissey and original art work by Carson Ellis. They also recieved help from Lea Krueger, the Shins, the Dandy Warhols and other musicians. The Martin Guitar Company offered 6- and 12-string guitars on permanent loan. In early April, police discovered the trailer in Clackamas, Oregon missing $40,000 worth of instruments and equipment and a great deal of the band's merchandise

On their official website, The Decemberists claim that their official drink is Orangina, and that bands they adore include Norfolk and Western, The Places, The Long Winters, Death Cab for Cutie, Tracker, Sleater Kinney, Electrelane, Camera Obscura, Clearlake, Tom Heinl, The Thermals, The Swords Project, and Earlimart. Their official biography, keeping up their reputation for grandiloquence, describes how the band's members met in a Turkish bath.


* 5 Songs EP (self-released 2001, Hush reissue 2002)
* Castaways and Cutouts LP (Hush release 2002, Kill Rock Stars reissue 2003)
* Her Majesty The Decemberists LP (Kill Rock Stars, 2003)
* The Tain EP (Acuarela Discos, 2004)
* Billy Liar CD Single (Kill Rock Stars, 2004)
* Picaresque LP (Kill Rock Stars, March 22, 2005)

Indie Rock : Sufjan Stevens

Sufjan (SOOF-yon) Stevens (born July 1, 1975 in Detroit, Michigan) is a musician, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist from Michigan with a fondness for the banjo. His lyrically focused songs deal with subjects such as faith, family and, in the case of Michigan, his observations from living in that state. Stevens has announced plans to make an album for each of the 50 states. Accordingly, his follow up to Seven Swans is titled Illinois.

Sufjan Stevens began his musical career as a member of Marzuki, a folk-rock band from Holland, Michigan. He also played various instruments for The Danielson Famile. While in school at Hope College, Stevens wrote and recorded his debut solo album, A Sun Came, which he released on Asthmatic Kitty Records, a record label he founded with his step-father. He later moved to New York City, where he was enrolled in a writing program at the New School for Social Research.

While in New York, Stevens composed and recorded the music for his second album, Enjoy Your Rabbit, a song cycle based around the animals of the Chinese Zodiac that ventured into electronica.

Stevens followed this with the first of his 50 states albums, a collection of folk songs and instrumentals inspired by his home state of Michigan. The result, the expansive Michigan, included odes to cities including Detroit and Flint, the Upper Peninsula, and vacation areas such as Tahquamenon Falls. Melded into the scenic descriptions and characters are his own declarations of faith in God, sorrow, love and the regeneration of Michigan.

Following the release of Michigan, Stevens compiled a collection of songs recorded previously into a side project, the Christian-folk album Seven Swans, which was released in March 2004.

The 50 States Project

Beginning with Michigan, Stevens announced an intent to write an album for each of the 50 U.S. states, although in interviews he wavers between utter sincerity and self-mocking sarcasm when describing the idea.

Stevens spent the second half of 2004 researching and writing material for the second of these projects, this time focusing his efforts on Illinois, where he has never lived. Among the subjects explored on Illinois are the cities of Chicago, Decatur and Jacksonville, the serial killer John Wayne Gacy, the poet Carl Sandburg, and Mississippi Palisades State Park. As with Michigan, Stevens used the state of Illinois as a leaping-off point for his more personal explorations of faith, family, love, and location. Though slated for general release on July 5, 2005, the album was briefly delayed by legal issues regarding the use of Superman in the original album cover artwork.

Illinois has been widely acclaimed, and as of October 2005, is the highest rated album of the year on the Metacritic review aggregator site, based on glowing reviews from Pitchfork, The Onion A/V Club, Spin, Billboard, Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone, The New York Times, and The Guardian

The next states to be the topics of albums in the project have been reported as Oregon and Rhode Island.
Studio Releases

* A Sun Came (Asthmatic Kitty, June 13, 2000; re-released July 20, 2004)
* Enjoy Your Rabbit (Asthmatic Kitty, September 17, 2001; re-released June 8, 2004)
* Michigan (Asthmatic Kitty/Sounds Familyre, July 1, 2003; a.k.a. Greetings from Michigan: The Great Lake State)
* Seven Swans (Sounds Familyre, March 16, 2004)
* Illinois (Asthmatic Kitty, July 5, 2005; a.k.a. Come on Feel the Illinoise)

Other Releases

* This Bird Has Flown: A 40th Anniversary Tribute to The Beatles' Rubber Soul (Compilation) song: "What Goes On" (Razor & Tie, October, 2005)
* Seen/Unseen (Compilation) song: "Damascus" (Absalom Recordings, September 25, 2001)
* Noel! Songs for Christmas - Vol. I (unreleased)
* Hark! Songs for Christmas - Vol. II (unreleased)
* Ding! Dong! Songs for Christmas - Vol. III (unreleased

Indie Rock : Death Cab for Cutie

Death Cab for Cutie is an indie rock band formed in Bellingham, Washington in 1997. The band takes its name from a satirical song performed by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band on their album Gorilla. The song was also performed in a striptease act in the Beatles' movie Magical Mystery Tour.

Death Cab for Cutie began as a solo project of Ben Gibbard while he was the guitarist for the band Pinwheel (he has also recorded solo as All-Time Quarterback). As Death Cab for Cutie, Gibbard released a cassette, entitled You Can Play These Songs with Chords; the release was surprisingly successful, and Gibbard decided to expand the band into a complete project. He recruited Christopher Walla, who also recorded "Songs with Chords", as an electric guitarist, Nicholas Harmer on bass, and Nathan Good to play drums; this configuration released the LP Something About Airplanes in the summer of 1998. The album got favorable reviews from the independent music scene, and in 2000, the follow-up was released: We Have the Facts and We're Voting Yes. Nathan Good left the band at some point during the recording of We Have the Facts. His playing on "The Employment Pages" and "Company Calls Epilogue" were kept, but Gibbard played drums on all other songs. New drummer Michael Schorr would first appear on The Forbidden Love E.P., released in fall of 2000. The following year, another LP was released, entitled The Photo Album. Limited editions of this album contained three bonus tracks, which were later released separately as The Stability E.P..

In 2003, there was another change of drummer, with Jason McGerr of Eureka Farm replacing Schorr. McGerr would play drums on the next release, Transatlanticism, which came out in October of 2003.

Transatlanticism received critical praise and also became the band's top-selling album, with 225,000 copies sold during its first year out. In addition, tracks from the album appeared in the soundtrack of television shows The O.C. and Six Feet Under and the 2005 movie The Wedding Crashers.

In spring of 2004, the band recorded a live album titled The John Byrd E.P., named for their sound engineer. The E.P. was released on Barsuk records in March of 2005.

In November, 2004 Death Cab for Cutie signed a "long-term worldwide deal" with Atlantic Records, leaving their long-time label Barsuk Records and the rank of indie record labels. Gibbard stated on the official website that nothing would change except that "Next to the picture of Barsuk holding a 7”, there will be the letter “A” on both the spine and back of our upcoming albums."

The first single off the band's Atlantic record release Plans is titled "Soul Meets Body". The full album was released in August of 2005.

Gibbard is also a member of The Postal Service, a side project he formed with Dntel's Jimmy Tamborello and Rilo Kiley's Jenny Lewis in 2003.

Full albums

* You Can Play These Songs with Chords (1997 · Barsuk Records)
* Something About Airplanes (1998 · Barsuk Records)
* We Have the Facts and We're Voting Yes (2000 · Barsuk Records)
* The Photo Album (2001 · Barsuk Records)
* Transatlanticism (2003 · Barsuk Records)
* Plans (August 30, 2005 · Atlantic Records)[1]


* You Can Play These Songs with Chords + 10 (2002 · Barsuk Records)
* Future Soundtrack for America (2004 · Barsuk Records)
* The Late Great Daniel Johnston: Discovered Covered (2004 · Gammon Records)
* Stubbs the Zombie (2005 · Shout! Factory)


* The Forbidden Love E.P. (2000 · Barsuk Records)
* The Stability E.P. (2002 · Barsuk Records)
* Studio X Sessions E.P. (2004 · Digital Only iTunes Release)
* The John Byrd E.P. (2005 · Barsuk Records)

Genre : Indie Rock

Indie rock is rock music that falls within the indie music description. The term is sometimes used interchangeably with indie music as a whole, though more specifically implies that the music meets the criteria of being rock, as opposed to indie pop or other possible matchups. These criteria vary from an emphasis on rock instrumentation (electric guitars, bass guitar and live drums) to more abstract (and debatable) rockist constructions of authenticity.

The music commonly regarded as indie rock is descended from what was known as alternative rock during the 1980s; this name refers to the fact that it was an alternative to mainstream rock. Alternative bands of the time, in turn, were influenced by the punk rock, post-punk, and New Wave movements of the 1970s and early 1980s. During the first half of the 1990s alternative music, led by grunge bands such as Nirvana and Pearl Jam, broke into the mainstream and achieved commercial chart success. Shortly thereafter, the alternative genre became commercialised, as mainstream success attracted major-label investment and commercially-oriented or manufactured acts with a formulaic, conservative approach. With this, the meaning of the label "alternative" changed away from its original, more countercultural meaning, and the term "indie rock" fell into greater use.

"Indie rock" is shorthand for "independent rock," which stems from the general rule that most of its artists are signed to independent record labels, rather than major record labels. It is not strictly a genre of music (given that musical style and independence are not always correlated), but is often used as an umbrella term covering a wide range of artists and styles, connected by some degree of allegiance to the values of underground culture, and (usually) describable as rock and roll. Genres or subgenres often associated with indie rock include lo-fi, post-rock, shoegazer, garage punk, emo, slowcore, c86, twee pop, and math rock, to list but a few; other related (and sometimes overlapping) categories include alternative rock and indie pop.

Typically, indie artists place a premium on maintaining complete control of their music and careers, often releasing albums on their own independent record labels and relying on touring, word-of-mouth, and airplay on independent or college radio stations for promotion. Some of its more popular artists, however, may end up signing to major labels, though often on favourable terms won by their prior independent success.

More recently, the term "indie rock" has become so incredibly broad that almost anything from post-punk to alt-country to synth-pop to afrobeat to ambient to noise pop to IDM to psychedelic folk to hundreds of other genres can fall under its umbrella.

In fact, there are likely to be several popular, and wildly varying, strains of indie rock going at any given time. For example, some of the more popular recent strains include:

* New folk, an updated take on the folk music of the 1960s, typically designated by quiet vocals and more ornate, orchestral instrumentation and arrangements. (See: Sufjan Stevens, Iron and Wine)

* Freak-folk, a more experimental take on New Folk that generally revolves around quirky, psych-inflected folk songs and ballads. (See: Devendra Banhart, Joanna Newsom, Animal Collective, Six Organs of Admittance)

* New Weird America, the most heavily psych-damaged strain of New Folk, frequently consisting of avant-garde noise, drones, or dissonance, and often employing natural field recordings for added atmosphere. (See: No-Neck Blues Band, Tower Recordings, Wooden Wand and the Vanishing Voice)

* Dance-punk, a hybridization of electronic dance music and punk rock aesthetics. (See: LCD Soundsystem, The Rapture, !!!, Out Hud, Radio 4)

* Garage rock revival, a throwback to a more primitive 60s rock and roll sound which was heavily influenced by Delta blues. (See: The White Stripes, The Strokes, The Hives, The Von Bondies)

* Nu-gaze, an updated version of shoegazer that tends to lean more heavily on synths than its more guitar-focused predecessor. (See: Sigur Ros, Ulrich Schnauss, M83, Serena Maneesh)

* Indietronic, a descendent of electropop that finds a more conventional approach to indie rock or indie pop backed almost exclusively by highly digitized electronic instrumentation. (See: The Postal Service, The Notwist, Manitoba, Dntel, Lali Puna)

Also among the most popular strains of indie rock at present is Neo-Wave. Popularized by bands such as Franz Ferdinand, Bloc Party and Futureheads, it is influenced primarily by the New Wave and post-punk movements of the 1980s. The core of this movement has mostly been the resurgence of spiky 80's post punk rhythms and riffs akin to those played by Gang of Four, Television and Wire. Often this style has been blended with other alternative genres such as garage rock (Death From Above 1979), synth rock (The Killers) and post-punk (Interpol). Some would also classify the Scissor Sisters and many others within this genre, which is very popular in the UK, forming the backbone of the Zane Lowe show, a popular evening radio show on Radio 1.

October 16, 2005

Fall Music Review : 2005


Alicia Keys
Alicia keys Unplugged
Out October 11th

"I wanted to be able to bring it back to the essence of me as a performer: intimate and personal," says Keys of her Unplugged disc, recorded live at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on July 14th. In addition to pared-down versions of songs from her two previous albums ("A Woman's Worth," "Fallin' "), Keys duetted with Maroon 5 singer Adam Levine on a cover of the Rolling Stones' "Wild Horses"; teamed with Common, Mos Def and Damian Marley for a fusion of Keys' "Love It or Leave It Alone" and Marley's "Welcome to Jam Rock"; and debuted two new songs: "Unbreakable," which is already in heavy rotation on MTV, and "Stolen Moments," co-written by Al Green.

Ashlee Simpson
I Am Me
Out October 18th

Simpson re-teams with hot producer John Shanks for a disc of chart-killing teen pop that takes its cues from grown-up rockers. The first single, "Boyfriend," is as close to Franz Ferdinand as a pop tart may dare go, with a jittery dance-rock guitar hook. The piano ballad "Beautifully Broken" chronicles the aftermath of her SNL lip-sync fiasco in a way that almost elicits sympathy -- and it doesn't hurt that the intro sounds exactly like Oasis' "Wonderwall."

Depeche Mode
Playing the Angel
Out October 18th

"It's rockier than our traditional stuff," says Depeche Mode frontman Dave Gahan about his band's eleventh studio album, on which Blur producer Ben Hillier added heavier guitar and drums to the band's analog-synth-driven sound. Recorded after Gahan got sober following decades of struggling with addiction, the album provides clear evidence that the goth godfathers are still as into pain and suffering as ever. Says Gahan, "That's kind of our MO."

Rod Stewart
Thanks for the memory . . . The Great American Songbook: Volume IV
Out October 18th

For the fourth volume of his Great American Songbook series, Stewart tackles fourteen more classics, including "Long Ago and Far Away," and "Makin' Whoopee," on which he duets with Elton John. "I bring a new emotion and a voice that people haven't heard singing these kinds of songs," says Stewart. Though Sam Cooke's "You Send Me" doesn't fit into Stewart's loose rule of including only songs cut "between the two Great Wars," he wanted to give props to the man who inspired his career. Says Stewart, "No Sam, no Rod."


Burt Bacharach
At this Time
Out November 1st

In an awesomely weird pairing, seventy-seven-year-old swinger Bacharach recruited Dr. Dre to provide Snoop-worthy bass-and-drum loops for three songs on his new disc. Bacharach says he is "not necessarily" a big fan of rap. "I'm a big fan of Dre's. The guy gets the most unbelievable sounds." Elvis Costello and Rufus Wainwright also make appearances on the album, which pairs Bacharach's lush orchestral arrangements with angry lyrics about the Bush administration. "I spent all this time writing love songs," he says. "I never rocked the boat. If I lose some fans, that's OK."

Trey Anastasio
Out November 1st

For his first collection of songs since Phish broke up last year, Anastasio left the comfort of his converted-barn studio in Vermont to work with Bruce Springsteen and Pearl Jam producer Brendan O'Brien in Atlanta. "A lot of it was based on Brendan teaching me how to make a record," says Anastasio. "We had two days with me, Brendan and [Bob Dylan and John Mellencamp drummer] Kenny Aronoff playing like a power trio. Brendan's a motherfucker on the bass." The resulting disc is surprisingly noodle-free, with twelve uptempo rockers that are more Beatles than Zappa.

All That I Am
Out November 1st

"The only thing I won't do is something that is fake, superficial and shallow," says Carlos Santana, who jams with musicians from Sean Paul to Kirk Hammett on his latest guest-laden album. Steven Tyler sings the power ballad "Just Feel Better"; American Idol rocker Bo Bice belts the "Smooth"-style "Brown Skin Girl"; and Mary J. Blige duets with Big Boi on the R&B tune "My Man." "I don't listen to the radio," says Santana, crediting executive producer Clive Davis with picking many of the guests. More familiar faces were his tourmates Los Lonely Boys, who contributed the slinky "I Don't Wanna Lose Your Love," and Michelle Branch, whose acoustic pop tune "I'm Feeling You" is her second Santana collaboration, following 2002's "The Game of Love." But Santana is determined to keep broadening his group's sound. "A lot of musicians say, 'I don't do windows,' " Santana says. "But to me, life is a big window. So if I don't want to do windows, I shouldn't be on this planet."

Neil Diamond
12 Songs
Out November 8th

Though Diamond is better known now for wearing sequined jumpsuits and making middle-aged women weak in the knees, in the 1960s he was a cool young New York singer-songwriter. On the new disc, Rick Rubin -- who produced Johnny Cash's American Recordings series -- recaptures the spirit of awesome early recordings including "Cherry, Cherry" and "Kentucky Woman." "Rick really pressured me to get back to those times," says Diamond. "Those records were very minimalist -- get a small rhythm group, add some hand claps, mix it up and send it out."

50 Cent
Music From and Inspired by the Motion Picture "Get Rich or Die Tryin' "
Out November 8th

"Every song has something that ties it to the actual film," says 50 Cent of the tracks he wrote to accompany his 8 Mile-style new movie, Get Rich or Die Tryin'. The first single, "Hustler's Ambition," defines 50's alter ego, Marcus, a poor kid from the Bronx (not 50's Queens) who goes from slinging drugs to spitting rhymes. The second, "Window Shopping," backs a scene where Marcus longs for expensive sneakers. The album, with production from Dr. Dre and Hi-Tek, also includes a likely third single, "We Don't Need No Help," with Young Buck. Says 50, "It's a new version of N.W.A's 'Fuck Tha Police' with a Southern twist."

Big and Rich
Comin' To Your City
Out November 15th

On Comin' to Your City, Nashville duo Big and Rich beef up the genre-crossing, party-starting stomp of their multiplatinum 2004 debut, Horse of a Different Color. Recorded with the duo's five-piece touring band, City drops elegantly harmonized ballads ("Never Mind Me"), jokey honky-tonk ("20 Margaritas") and disco-flavored rapping ("Caught Up in the Moment") amid barnburners such as "Soul Shaker" and the AC/DC-gone-South title track.

In My Mind
Out November 15th

Perhaps only Pharrell Williams -- half of the most sought-after production team in pop music, the Neptunes -- could get Gwen Stefani to guest on a song where her entire contribution is five spoken words repeated ad nauseam: "You got it like that." Stefani answers Williams' titular question on "Can I Have It Like That," the first single from Williams' solo debut -- which also features guest spots from Jay-Z and Slim Thug. The disc is divided into two halves: seven tracks of club-banging hip-hop, seven of smooth R&B grooves. "You have the personality with your girl, and you have your macho mannerisms," Williams says. "You got all these characteristics that make up your personality. This is an album I've been working on all my life."

Bruce Springsteen
Born to Run: 30th Anniversary Edition
Out November 15th

A newly remastered version of Springsteen's 1975 masterpiece is just the beginning of this unique CD-plus-two-DVDs reissue package. One DVD showcases long-buried footage of a full E Street Band concert at London's Hammersmith Odeon from 1975, including performances of "Backstreets," "Lost in the Flood" and "Kitty's Back." The other contains Wings for Wheels: The Making of Born to Run, a ninety-minute documentary that includes new interviews with Springsteen and the E Streeters (including former drummer Ernest "Boom" Carter and pre-Roy Bittan pianist David Sancious).

Confessions on a Dancefloor
Out November 15th

After 2003's underwhelming disc of electronic folk, American Life, the Material Girl returns to the dance floor with Confessions. The disco-friendly vibe is announced by the first single, "Hung Up," which samples the opening keyboards from Abba's "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!" Madonna recruited Stuart Price -- a London DJ and the keyboardist on her Re-Invention tour -- to produce the disc, but don't think she didn't express herself during the recording process. "People always think that it's just some guy behind her coming up with all the ideas," says Price. "She's very underrated as a producer."

Fort Minor
The Rising Tied
Out November 22nd

Linkin Park rapper Mike Shinoda gets in touch with his hip-hop roots on his Fort Minor side project -- which gets a boost from heavy-spitters Common, Black Thought of the Roots and Jay-Z. "I thoroughly enjoy what I do in Linkin Park," says Shinoda. "But the first Fort Minor songs were recorded because I got frustrated that I hadn't made a pure hip-hop song in a while." Shinoda plays nearly every instrument on The Rising Tied, which also features new faces such as Styles of Beyond and Linkin Park's nineteen-year-old protege, Holly Brook. Says Shinoda, "I've got some up-and-comers on there who are very hungry."

Jamie Foxx
Out November 22nd

Foxx is cashing in on the musical cred he earned through his remarkable Ray performance with his new album, Unpredictable. "We wanted to stay young and up," Foxx says, citing the feel of his first hit single, "Extravaganza," a collaboration with Kanye West that's currently burning up urban radio. "But the meat of the album is more musical, more piano -- back to how I really get down." Many of Foxx's seductive new tunes, including "Can I Take You Home," "DJ Play a Love Song" and "V.I.P.," find middle ground between his gospel and soul roots and the laid-back beats and raps provided by guests Busta Rhymes, Pharrell Williams, Ludacris, and Twista. Foxx and his friends recorded the bulk of Unpredictable on the set of the actor's next film, Miami Vice. "Timbaland allowed me to use his bus -- it has a studio in it," he says. "So I'd come right off the set, get on the bus and keep cutting and grinding."

System of a Down
Out November 22nd

"I can't say I sat down and tried to make a dark record," says System of a Down guitarist and songwriter Daron Malakian. "I guess you could say it's a reflection of the times." System recorded Hypnotize at the same time as May's Mezmerize and, like its predecessor, it's full of apocalyptic anti-war lyrics paired with guided-missile guitar riffs and exotic melodies. And in the spirit of Mezmerize's "B.Y.O.B.," the band's catchiest song ever, there are some surprisingly pop-friendly moments, including the heart-baring ballad "Lonely Day." "I used to be more focused on 'Let's get it heavy,' " says Malakian. "Now I'm more focused on 'Let's get some emotion out." Malakian adds that Hypnotize isn't just a sequel to Mezmerize. "We don't look at them as two records, we look at them as one record," he says. "It feels like people haven't heard the whole album yet."

The Darkness
One Way Ticket to Hell . . . and Back
Out November 29th

It wasn't enough to sound like Queen -- for their second album, the Darkness teamed with Queen producer Roy Thomas Baker and even recorded some of the disc at Rockfield Studios in Wales, where Freddie Mercury and Co. cut "Bohemian Rhapsody." The ten tracks continue in the anthemic head-banging vein of the fabulously trashy Permission to Land, recalling the Eighties hair-metal excesses of Def Leppard and Whitesnake. The album's first single, "One Way Ticket," features a pan-flute intro immediately followed by the distinct sound of someone cutting up and snorting a line of cocaine. "It's a song of redemption, really," says singer Justin Hawkins, who spent part of last year in rehab. "It talks about drugs, the inevitable downward slide into hell, and how it's never too late to turn back."

Oral fixation, Vol. 2
Out November 29th

After scoring a Top Ten hit earlier this year with the Spanish-language album Fijacion Oral, Vol. 1, Shakira is back with an English sequel. "The Spanish album is strictly romantic," she says. "But the English album embraces more social-oriented topics." Featuring a guest performance by Carlos Santana on "Illegal," the disc, like its predecessor, was executive-produced by Rick Rubin. As for putting out so much material in one year, the Colombian singer says, "I just kept writing, and one day I found myself with sixty songs. It was a good problem to have, but it was still a problem."

Notorious B.I.G.
Out November 29th

Biggie's posthumous output has been limited compared with the steady stream of releases from fellow slain rapper Tupac Shakur -- which makes this duets album a potentially notable event. The first single, "Hold Ya Head," teams Biggie with another late legend, Bob Marley, and other songs will have him trading verses with various yet-to-be-announced artists. A companion DVD will include live footage and other bonuses.


Out December 6th

"It's like an OutKast record on film," says Big Boi of the soundtrack to the rap duo's new musical film, tentatively titled Idlewild. Set in the Depression-era South, the movie, which will be released in theaters on January 6th, follows the story of a struggling musician (played by Andre 3000) and a lovable Lothario (Big Boi). "Since it's in the Thirties, we didn't want to use too many synthesizers and keys," says Big, who adds that the duo mined its vault of unreleased and unfinished tracks for the album. The first single, "Idlewild Blues," is a jazzy romp loaded with drum stomps, muffled trumpets and piano; Dre gives his best Cab Calloway impersonation, and Big flips his hallmark spitfire rhymes. "It's a juke-joint jam," says Big. "I don't know if you can categorize it as a rap song."


October 09, 2005

New Buzz # Plans : Death Cab For Cutie

For your consideration: a wildly successful indie rock band with a legion of followers on an equally successful, highly credible independent label makes the jump to major-label powerhouse Atlantic, leading to much chagrin and speculation among its fans as they awaited with bated breath for what would happen to the group. The result was For Your Own Special Sweetheart, inarguably the most polished and fully realized album of Dischord alumnus Jawbox's career.Fast forward ten years and you find Barsuk's Death Cab for Cutie in the same position, making the same move. A new label, a larger crowd and a side project of Ben Gibbard (Postal Service) that very well overshadowed the success of his main project.

In comparison to the dry, raw production of Transatlanticism, Plans is warm and polished, the kind of album expected from a band obsessed with the sound of Fleetwood Mac's Rumours. Chris Walla does an amazing job bringing the group's sound in a different direction than before without compromising too many of the things that made the group sound great to begin with.

Thematically, Plans is the Death Cab for Cutie suitable for graduate students, world-weary and wiser from their experiences, realizing they can no longer be love-starved 20-somethings without a clue yet hopelessly cursed to face the same issues. And there's merit to be had in acknowledging that maturity,Gibbard's wispy, poetic lyrics still remain an artery from which the rest of the band beats and are some of his finest ever but this time around the band aligns itself more with a series of emotional murmurs rather than a heart attack. The album winds its way from one ballad to the next, with brief stopovers at moderately up-tempo numbers to help break things up a bit. And it's this sense of resignation that either makes or breaks the album, depending on which Death Cab for Cutie is your favorite: the melancholic, hopeless romantic or the one who wears its heart on its sleeve with unbridled energy and passion.

Plans is both a destination and a transitional journey for the group, one that sees the fulfillment of years of toiling away to develop their ideas and sound. But it's with the completion of those ideas that band is faced with a new set of crossroads and challenges to tread upon: to stay the course and suffer stagnation or try something bold and daringly new with their future. Which road they'll take will make all the difference.

Biography# Death Cab For Cutie

Bellingham, WA, indie pop quartet Death Cab for Cutie began in 1997 as the solo project of singer/guitarist Ben Gibbard, who previously recorded under the name All-Time Quarterback. The underground success of the cassette You Can Play These Songs' Chords inspired Gibbard to recruit a full-time band including guitarist/organist Christopher Walla (who recorded the early DCFC sessions as well), bassist Nick Harmer, and drummer Nathan Good, and in the summer of 1998, Death Cab for Cutie issued their debut LP, Something About Airplanes, to much acclaim from indie circles.

Just prior to completion of the 2000 follow-up We Have the Facts and We're Voting Yes, Good left the group and was replaced by drummer Michael Schorr. In fall 2000, the band released the Forbidden Love EP. A solid selection of new cuts were found on The Photo Album the next year. In 2003, Eureka Farm's Jason McGerr joined the group and the band's stunning fourth album Transatlanticism appeared in October.

While touring in support of that album in spring 2004, Death Cab For Cutie recorded seven brand new tracks. The John Byrd E.P., which was named for the band's touring sound engineer John Byrd, was issued on Barsuk in March 2005. After a lengthy courtship with Barsuk, the group inked a deal with Atlantic and released their label debut, Plans, in August of 2005. It sold nearly 90,000 copies during its first week of release, entering the US album chart at number four.

Biography # Dave Mattews Band

The South African vocalist/guitarist Dave Matthews formed the Dave Matthews Band in Virginia in the early '90s. Featuring Matthews, Stefan Lessard, Leroi Moore, Boyd Tinsley, and Carter Beauford, the group's music presents a more pop-oriented version of the Grateful Dead crossed with the worldbeat explorations of Paul Simon and Sting. In addition to amassing a sizable following, their self-released album, Remember Two Things, sold well for an independent release; soon, they were attracting the attention of majors.

The band built up a strong word-of-mouth following in the early '90s by touring the country constantly, concentrating on college campuses. Signing with RCA, the Dave Matthews Band released their major-label debut, Under the Table & Dreaming, in the fall of 1994. By spring of 1995, the record had launched the hit single "What Would You Say" and sold over a million copies.A year-and-a-half after the release of Under the Table & Dreaming, the record had sold over four million copies in the U.S. alone. In April of 1996, the Dave Matthews Band released Crash, which entered the charts at number two and quickly went platinum. Throughout 1996, the group toured behind Crash, sending it to double-platinum status. Also in 1996, Matthews launched an attack on bootleggers in conjunction with the Federal Government, targeting stores that were selling semi-legal discs of live performances.

The efforts of Matthews, his band, and his management resulted in an unprecedented crackdown on bootleggers in early 1997 -- with nearly all of the major foreign bootlegging companies placed under arrest by the United States -- thereby putting a moratorium on the entire underground industry.

To further combat the bootleggers, Dave Matthews released an official, double-disc live album, Live at Red Rocks 8-15-95, in the fall of 1997. It was an unexpected success, debuting at number three on the charts and selling a million copies within the first five months of its release.

The live record paved the way for the April 1998 release of Before These Crowded Streets, the group's most ambitious album to date. Another live effort, Listener Supported, followed a year later. Summer tours also packed the late '90s, with sold-out shows across the U.S. The new millennium, however, saw the band back in the studio with Glen Ballard to record their fourth studio album. Everyday was issued in February 2001. The following summer, the band issued Busted Stuff. Debut single "Where Are You Going" was also featured on the soundtrack to the Adam Sandler flick Mr. Deeds. Their latest album is called Stand up and in between Dave himself released a superb solo effort called Some Devil.

October 01, 2005

New Buzz # Back To Bedlam : James Blunt

Soulful British crooner James Blunt's wistful debut infuses the listener -- in order -- with rainy-day hope, the wistful comfort of unattainable love, and finally, world-weary resignation. While his parched and effeminate falsetto recalls Gasoline Alley-era Rod Stewart with a healthy dose of Antony and the Johnsons, it's the late Elliott Smith who casts the largest shadow on Back to Bedlam.

Predictable but effective four-chord guitar motifs are the chosen vehicle for the ex-Royal Armed Forces soldier, and when they connect ("Wiseman," "Goodbye My Lover," "You Are Beautiful"), it's like a "Dear John" letter from a lover who you know will remain a close but ultimately guarded friend. Opening track "High" sets a determined midtempo pace that rarely wanes -- it's like an acoustic version of "Drive" by the Cars with a Coldplay chorus.

It's a pace that would sink some records, but Bedlam's perfectly rendered, under 40-minute run time ensures that the listener doesn't suffer from a melancholy overdose. Blunt recounts his harrowing experiences as part of the NATO peacekeeping force in Kosovo on the closer, "No Bravery," and it's a shock to hear all of the romantic lyricism that informed Bedlam up to this point reduced to "Old men kneel and accept their fate/Wives and daughters cut and raped/A generation drenched in hate," but it's damn effective -- as is the majority of this fine debut.

Track picks

1. Goodbye My Lover
2. High
3. You're Beautiful

James Blunt Bio

Growing up in England, James Blunt had a "traditional" childhood, which essentially means he was shipped off to boarding school at age seven. He excelled in science and math at school, so it wasn't a surprise that his father pushed him along the path of a military career. But school wasn't all bad: Blunt learned how to play the piano there and even tried his hand at school plays. It would be too cliche to say that Blunt's love for music help him fight off the career designs of his over-enthusiastic father. In fact, that would be both cliche and a lie. Blunt did join the military, and in 1999 he served as a peacekeeper in Kosovo. Armed with a gun and his guitar, James did his best to keep an even keel in a place that just experienced one of the bloodiest civil wars on record. Writing was an escape for the singer-songwriter; a way to process the horrors of what he was witnessing, as songs like "No Bravery" attest. When his military time was up, Blunt focused on making music his career, got a band together and recorded some demos. Within months he landed both a publishing deal and a manager. After his performance at 2003's SXSW, Blunt met producer Linda Perry (Pink, Christina Aguilera, etc.) who offered the singer a deal on her very own label, Custard Records. James Blunt's debut, Back to Bedlam was released in the U.K. in January 2005 and in United States later that year, in July

Review Courtesy AMG

September 26, 2005

Great Albums # Tonight's the Night : Neil Young

Written and recorded in 1973 shortly after the death of roadie Bruce Berry, Neil Young's second close associate to die of a heroin overdose in six months (the first was Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten), Tonight's the Night was Young's musical expression of grief, combined with his rejection of the stardom he had achieved in the late '60s and early '70s.

The title track, performed twice, was a direct narrative about Berry: "Bruce Berry was a working man/He used to load that Econoline van." Whitten was heard singing "Come On Baby Let's Go Downtown," a live track recorded years earlier. Elsewhere, Young frequently referred to drug use and used phrases that might have described his friends, such as the chorus of "Tired Eyes," "He tried to do his best, but he could not."

Performing with the remains of Crazy Horse, bassist Billy Talbot and drummer Ralph Molina, along with Nils Lofgren (guitar and piano) and Ben Keith (steel guitar), Young performed in the ragged manner familiar from Time Fades Away -- his voice was often hoarse and he strained to reach high notes, while the playing was loose, with mistakes and shifting tempos. But the style worked perfectly for the material, emphasizing the emotional tone of Young's mourning and contrasting with the polished sound of CSNY and Harvest that Young also disparaged.

He remained unimpressed with his commercial success, noting in "World on a String," "The world on a string/Doesn't mean anything." In "Roll Another Number," he said he was "a million miles away/From that helicopter day" when he and CSN had played Woodstock. And in "Albuquerque," he said he had been "starvin' to be alone/Independent from the scene that I've known" and spoke of his desire to "find somewhere where they don't care who I am." Songs like "Speakin' Out" and "New Mama" seemed to find some hope in family life, but Tonight's the Night did not offer solutions to the personal and professional problems it posed.

It was the work of a man trying to turn his torment into art and doing so unflinchingly. Depending on which story you believe, Reprise Records rejected it or Young withdrew it from its scheduled release at the start of 1974 after touring with the material in the U.S. and Europe. In 1975, after a massive CSNY tour, Young at the last minute dumped a newly recorded album and finally put Tonight's the Night out instead. Though it did not become one of his bigger commercial successes, the album immediately was recognized as a unique masterpiece by critics, and it has continued to be ranked as one of the greatest rock & roll albums ever made.

September 23, 2005

Great Albums # Feels like Home : Norah Jones

In two short years, Norah Jones went from playing clubs as an unknown to becoming a ubiquitous, insanely heralded new artist and the prime torch carrier for "grown-folks' music." Most of the praise was for Jones' voice: You put on her 8 million-selling, eight-Grammy-winning 2001 debut, Come Away With Me, to be transported by that tousled half-whisper and by the twenty-four-year-old's affectation-free Texas-saloon-chanteuse vibe. The surrounding musical embellishments might as well have been ring tones.

But singing doesn't just happen: It needs context, and this could be Jones' particular genius; she is as much a piano player as a singer, despite her best efforts to hide this fact -- in performance she slinks behind the piano and does her thing with undivalike anonymity. Far from blanded-out background music, Feels Like Home, Jones' second album, is a triumph of the low-key, at once easygoing and poignant.

Jones, her bandmates and producer Arif Mardin take what might seem like unexceptional acoustic-lounge arrangements and turn them into high drama. The gorgeous "Those Sweet Words," one of several songs Jones co-wrote with her boyfriend and bassist, Lee Alexander, is a good example. It begins as an ordinary singer-songwriter tangle of acoustic guitars, ambling along in the medium-slow tempo that became, from overuse, her Achilles' heel. Jones enters by pawing delicately at a single note, then plays idle throwaway chords that exude a round, almost liquid tone you rarely hear from a piano. They're just random jazz-piano jottings, yet from them Jones creates the outline of a sullen, disconsolate scene. The hard work of framing a narrative backdrop is done. All that remains is for Jones to heave that heavy sigh and fill in the details.

Feels Like Home is a series of these carefully drawn mood states, each one set in a slightly different shade of blue and differentiated by subtle changes in the arrangements. Though the originals, written mostly by members of her touring band, lack some of the earnest grabbiness of the songs Jesse Harris wrote for Jones' first foray, they're far more varied musically, and they depend on Jones' magic, her ability to invest the most fragile melody with some preternatural impact. There are moments of lithe, coolheaded boho blues ("In the Morning," featuring a coy Jones solo on Wurlitzer electric piano) and downcast salvation-seeking waltzes (the transfixing "Humble Me"). There's a credible excursion into country two-step (the duet with Dolly Parton, "Creepin' In") and a haunted Brechtian tone poem called "Carnival Town."

Jones talks about her whirlwind success just a little, with her usual understatement: On the idyllic "Toes," she sings of an idealized, unharried life not in the strident complaining voice of a newly minted star but like any other overwhelmed soul yearning for a moment's peace.The most heartening thing about Feels Like Home is the utter absence of fussiness, or second-album overthink. It extends the Come Away With Me template while never echoing the earlier songs. Where most creators of vocal pop music concentrate on crafting tight couplets and big-payoff refrains, Jones just sits at the piano and chases less obvious targets -- ruminative moods and hushed-whisper atmospheres. And she's found, in two graceful albums, a whole different kind of mojo lurking inside the three-minute song.

Review from RS Mag

Biography # Gipsy Kings

The Gipsy Kings are largely responsible for bringing the joyful sounds of progressive pop-oriented flamenco, called Sevillana in Spain, to the world. The band started out in Arles, a village in southern France during the '70s when brothers Nicolas and Andre Reyes, the sons of renowned flamenco artist Jose Reyes, teamed up with their cousins Jacques, Maurice and Tonino Baliardo, whose father is Manitas de Plata. They originally called themselves Los Reyes and started out as a gypsy band traveling about playing weddings, festivals, and in the streets. Because they lived so much like gypsies, the band adopted the name the Gipsy Kings. Later, they were hired to add color to posh parties in St. Tropez. Popularity did not come to Los Reyes right away and their first two albums attracted little notice.

At this point the Gipsies played traditional, albeit passionate flamenco music punctuated by Tonino's precise guitar playing and Nicolas' exceptional voice. Though they had devoted fans, they still had yet to gain wider recognition until 1986 when they hooked up with visionary producer Claude Martinez who could see that the Kings had the makings of a world-class band.Thanks to Martinez, the Kings began to relax a bit and take on a more contemporary edge, combining their traditional songs with sounds from the Middle East, Latin America, North Africa, a hint of rock, and their inimitable joy.It was, in a music industry filled with flamenco purists who resisted any kind of change, a very daring move, and many felt the Gipsy Kings would fall flat and disappear. But the nay-sayers were wrong.

In 1987, they released "Djobi Djoba" and "Bamboleo," on an independent label and scored two smash hits in France. Their success led them to sign with Sony Music and release their eponymous debut album later that year. Again, they had tremendous sales in France and then found their album was appearing on the Top Ten album charts in 12 European countries including England, which is traditionally unreceptive to international music.

In the late '80s, the Gipsy Kings, debuted in the U.S. at a New York New Music Seminar. This led them to sign to Sony in America. In 1989, they were invited to perform at the inaugural ball for George Bush, but they chose to return home to rest and be with their families. Later that year, they held an SRO concert at the Royal Albert Hall, where the Gipsy Kings hobnobbed with some of the world's biggest pop stars including Elton John and Eric Clapton. To top off their great year, the Kings' debut album spent 40 weeks on the U.S. charts and went gold, becoming one of the few Spanish albums to do so.Their latest album is Roots which takes them back to their roots as the name suggests.

Roots : Album Review

Fans of flamenco icons the Gipsy Kings have been waiting a long time for a record like Roots. The group spent much of the last ten years churning out a sleek and heady mix of often disposable worldbeat that, while perfectly executed, never lived up to the promise of their hugely successful 1988 American/English debut. The aptly named Roots finds the brothers Andre and Nicolás Reyes leading the veteran octet through 16 blistering tracks, bereft of the percussion and electronic trickery that has plagued so many of their previous outings. The family collective rented a farmhouse in the south of France for the recording, and the results are nothing short of a revelation.

From the opening notes of "Aven, Aven" through the intimate campfire splendor of "Petite Noya," the bandmembers seem possessed by one another, trading stories through the only medium they understand, resulting in a listening experience that's almost mythological in scope. Between the infectious handclaps on "Rhythmic," the two visceral "Fandango" pieces performed by Nicolás and cousin Patchai Reyes, and the pristine (field) production -- it's like an Alan Lomax recording in 24-bit digital -- lie eight men out of time, playing for their country, their history, and most importantly, themselves.

September 17, 2005

Back with a Bang

"Solo first, bridge later!" Mick Jagger yells, turning to the rest of the Rolling Stones as they come to a messy halt behind him. Jagger, guitarists Keith Richards and Ron Wood, and drummer Charlie Watts are rehearsing for their 2005-06 world tour -- dubbed A Bigger Bang, after their outstanding new album -- in the gym of the Greenwood College School in Toronto. They are grappling with a song they have not played live since 1982, "Hang Fire," from the album Tattoo You. Unable to agree on which parts go where, the Stones collide in the middle of it on the first pass.

It's a split-second crash. Watts hits a hard, fast roll on his snare, and the entire cast -- including bassist Darryl Jones, keyboard player Chuck Leavell and background singers Bernard Fowler, Lisa Fischer and Blondie Chaplin -- jumps back into the song at full speed.

But the crossroads of energy is at the foot of the drum riser. As the Stones charge through the last choruses of "Hang Fire," Jagger sings facing Watts, shimmying in place as the drummer swings with perfect, racing tension. Richards and Wood also pull in tight, almost toe-to-toe as they riff and solo like dueling swordsmen. This is the spot where lightning strikes again and again: tonight in the surging finale of "Let It Bleed" and the slow boil of "Some Girls," and every night, no matter how big the stage. The Rolling Stones are the biggest rock & roll band in the world, an unstoppable institution still setting tour-gross records in stadiums and arenas after forty-three years. But Jagger, 62, Richards, 61, Watts, 64, and Wood, 58, spend a good part of every performance in that airtight formation, making their best music in close quarters.

That is why A Bigger Bang, the Stones' first studio album in eight years, is their finest since Tattoo You. Jagger and Richards wrote and refined many of the songs literally side by side, and the Stones recorded all of them with no special guests and no excess garnish, from the carnal romps "Rough Justice" and "Oh No, Not You Again" to the dirty, crawling blues "Back of My Hand" and the political brickbat "Sweet Neo Con," the last two featuring the bare-bones trio of Jagger, Richards and Watts. Things could have turned out a lot differently. In June 2004, just as Jagger and Richards began working on new material, Watts was diagnosed with throat cancer. But the operation was successful. After six weeks of chemotherapy, the drummer received a clean bill of health and was soon back at his kit, proving again that for the Stones, mortality is not an issue. It's an irritant.

"There is a certain feeling on this one, an excitement," Richards says, with his crusty swashbuckler's laugh, of the album before rehearsal one night. "There were no huge obstacles to overcome, like, 'What about that tuba part?' These songs lend themselves to live work. They are beautifully ready to play, and everybody's ready to play them."

By the time the Stones sit down for these four interviews -- two weeks into rehearsals, in their respective dressing rooms (except for Watts, who prefers the quiet comfort of his hotel suite) -- they have run through much of the new album, including "Back of My Hand," Richards' smoky vocal feature "Infamy," and the R&B ballads "Streets of Love" and "This Place Is Empty." In fact, there are nearly 100 different titles, written in colored marker on the large whiteboards on the gym walls, listing the songs the band practices each night. There are vintage surprises ("The Last Time," "It's All Over Now," "Little T&A"); the expected hits ("Tumbling Dice," "It's Only Rock and Roll"); even a pair of Ray Charles tributes, "Lonely Avenue" and "(Night Time Is) the Right Time."

"A lot of these things we do very occasionally," Jagger says. "We try them in different ways. In the end, I'm trying to collect a group of eighty tunes for the whole year." He laughs. "That way, I can say, 'We rehearsed those in Toronto. C'mon, let's have another go at this.' "

Rock & roll is supposed to be unpredictable, but the Stones operate like clockwork: a world tour every three or four years, usually with a new album; rehearsals in Toronto.
The whole act of touring is ritualistic: You're here one day, there the next. It's superpredictable. I can tell you exactly where I'm going to be in Frankfurt -- the hotel I'm staying in and the room -- next July.

Is that the life you envisioned for yourself forty years ago?
In the old days, the best thing you could get was a residency at a club. Your life was formulaic. We'd play Tuesday nights at the Ealing Club, Friday nights at the Marquee, Saturday night somewhere, Sunday afternoons at Ken Colyer's and Sunday evenings in Richmond. You didn't worry about where your next gigs were coming from. And they were all within a five-mile radius.

You get the question whenever you announce a tour: "Is this the last time?"
The first time I answered that was in 1966. It's on film.

Are you ever tempted to say yes?
I always feel like that at the end of a tour. They never ask you at the end [laughs]. To be honest, I didn't think the Stones should do another big tour. I was thinking of just twenty shows: "There are all these festivals in the summer. Let's do ten gigs in America, then come to Europe." I'm quite happy to do less. Because I get bored after twenty shows. It's interesting and challenging to get the thing going. But after you've done it, it becomes routine. Every night you have to make it fresh for yourself, so that when you go out there it's fresh for the audience.

Did you feel that way in, say, 1978?
Yeah. And creatively, it's rather dull. You have all these great ideas -- "I'm going to write twenty songs." You don't write anything. Keith will tell you he writes all these songs on the road. Bollocks. The most you write is a few bits, because you're so focused on this one thing -- getting the show right.

How far along were you in planning this album-tour cycle when Charlie told you he had cancer?
We had OK'd the tour. He was straight up about it: "The doctor says I have a ninety percent chance of being completely cured." I would have been in such a state. If Charlie had said, "I can't do this tour, I've faced mortality," we would have had to change our minds. No one pressured him. But the treatments couldn't have been easy. I kept worrying: Is he eating? I'm like a nanny [smiles].
Have you ever had a serious health scare?
No. I'm sure I will one day. It's going to happen: You're going to get ill. You're going to die. What can you do? Keep as healthy as you can. The physicality of touring is problematic, but it's always been the same, since I was twenty. It's December in bloody Edmonton, Canada, you get a cold, you have to miss a show. That's the worst that will happen. And you're doing it in the lap of luxury. Everyone's looking after you. Let's not exaggerate how difficult this is.

A Bigger Bang is the Stones' first studio album in eight years. What makes you sit up and say, "It's time to record"?
If we go out on tour, we gotta do a record. It shows you are an actual functioning rock band. I don't want to be one of those bands that just does hits. People say, "I much prefer to hear 'Brown Sugar' than some new song." Well, I don't give a shit what you prefer. If everyone else in the band had said, "We can't be bothered, no one listens to our new records," fair enough. We can do more repackages [rolls his eyes]. But everyone was up for it. And we did it in a different way: less people around, concentrate on what you're doing. No fucking about and jamming for days. You know how it is with rock bands in studios. Once they get in there, they never want to leave. It's not a record anymore; it's a way of life.

When you and Keith sit together to write, what happens?
It's never the same from one song to another. I'm very different from Keith. I like everything organized. I love it when things go wonky and funny, but I want to move forward. I don't want to sit around waiting for shit to happen. "This is how it goes, these are the words. Should it be fast or slower? Do you like it or not?"
This time, I got into this thing where Keith would have an idea and I would put a drum program to it. Then I'd play drums over that, create a groove. By the time Charlie got there, I'd say, "This is the beat." I wanted to impress him [laughs]. We were in such a confined space -- some of it was in France, some of it in the Caribbean -- without loads of hangers-on. There was nowhere to hide. "Is it good?" "Is it not good? Then bung it out the window." There were no three-hour blues jams. There wasn't time.

On this album, and in almost all of your lyrics, you write about sex in two basic ways: In the rockers, it's conflict and the chase. In the ballads, it's losing and leaving. You never write about satisfaction.
It's easier to write about conflict. Try writing "I'm at peace with the world" in a rock tune. See where that gets you. But if you went into some country singer's songbook, you'd find a lot more heartache than in the Rolling Stones.

How much of the conflict and heartache is autobiography?
It's a mixture of your diary and creative imagination. That's what being a writer is about. Totally autobiographical songs are cringe-y. Teenage girls love that shit. When Britney broke up with Justin and he did that tune ["Cry Me a River"], my daughter was explaining to me, "You see the scene in the video? That actually happened, Dad."If I wrote about what my life is really about, directly and on the money, people would cringe. "Oh No, Not You Again" is based on a real incident. But I made it funnier than it was.
So was there really an "Angie"?
I don't know. That was one of Keith's songs [laughs]. I just filled in the gaps.

"Sweet Neo Con" is direct in its politics and accusations. Who are you singing to?
I don't want to overexplain it. But it is very direct. During the presidential election, I was asked by the New York Daily News which side I was on. I said it's not polite to take sides in foreigners' elections. But we're not in an election now.

So whose side are you on now?
I'm not on anyone's side. There is no side that has an absolute answer. That's the trouble with politics. You might say, "The Republican take on the Middle East is incorrect." The Democratic policy wasn't that brilliant, either.

The most explicit thing in "Sweet Neo Con" is your own fear: "There's bombers in my bedroom/And it's giving me the shits." You sound pretty scared.
It is a scary time. Since I wrote the song, London's gotten even scarier. "Rain Fall Down" is a song about London. It has a line, "Feel like we're living in a battleground/Everyone's jazzed." That was in my head already. There were so many armed police in the streets. Walking around, seeing machine guns, is not how you imagine London to be. If we keep going down this track, we're not going to get back. The same feeling is in "Back of My Hand": that we'll go too far, get away from our original values, and this overreaching imperialism will take us to a place where we eventually collapse.

Music technology has changed so much just in the three years since "Forty Licks." How has that affected the way you oversee the business of the Stones?
The first important thing has nothing to do with technology. You have to create new songs. If you don't, you are definitely set into a time zone. We recorded this album digitally, without any tape, which is pretty normal now. The rest of it is just distribution: ring tones, different kinds of digital delivery. We used to tour to support a record. In 1972, I would have said, "We're promoting Exile on Main Street." Now you're touring, you have a new album, there's merchandising and television shows. We have partnerships with the NFL and Ameriquest to get our music on television. It's old-fashioned, but you reach more people than you do with downloading.
Keith is so negative in public about your solo albums. Don't you ever feel like telling him to knock it off?
I do [laughs].

But after collaborating with people like Rob Thomas and Lenny Kravitz, do you find that you do your best work with the Stones?
Not necessarily. You can do a song with the Rolling Stones that turns out not to be very good at all. There are songs you write that you wouldn't ask them to play. And there are songs where you know the Stones will play them far better than anyone else. It's all one creative process. Some things you like less than others. And you never know what that's going to be.

What was your first reaction when you heard about Charlie's cancer?
Mick and I were at Mick's place in France -- we were beginning to write -- when we got the news. Mick and I looked into each other's eyes and realized, "It's down to this -- just us." Then I said, "For the moment, you're on drums, and I'll double on bass." I don't think that, between us, there was any doubt that Charlie would beat it. I wondered how long and debilitating it might be, which Charlie answered in spades when he came back. He looked exactly the same, like he hadn't done anything more than comb his hair and put a suit on. This is Charlie Watts' finest album. If you listen to the drumming, it's as if he came back and said, "A minor flesh wound!" When he came in, we were still running down songs, rehearsing. You don't usually go into fifth gear in rehearsal. You lay back a little. But Charlie came in as if to prove "I'm back." He played every rehearsal like a show.

There was a chance he would not be back, which raises the question: Who is indispensable? When do you admit that you can no longer carry on as the Rolling Stones?
There is a certain equation that ends up as zero. The Stones will make their decision about that eventually. At the moment, they're rockin', so who cares? This is something we gotta do. OK, shit hits the fan. But the bus is still rolling. You can't get off this machine, except when the wheels fall off. And we'll all know when that happens.

(Excerpted from RS 983, Sept. 22, 2005)

September 10, 2005

Biography # Nina Simone

I Put A Spell on You

Of all the major singers of the late 20th century, Nina Simone is one of the hardest to classify. She's recorded extensively in the soul, jazz, and pop idioms, often over the course of the same album; she's also comfortable with blues, gospel, and Broadway. It's perhaps most accurate to label her as a "soul" singer in terms of emotion, rather than form. Like, say, Aretha Franklin, or Dusty Springfield, Simone is an eclectic, who brings soulful qualities to whatever material she interprets.

These qualities are among her strongest virtues; paradoxically, they also may have kept her from attaining a truly mass audience. The same could be said of her stage persona; admired for her forthright honesty and individualism, she's also known for feisty feuding with audiences and promoters alike. If Simone has a chip on her shoulder, it probably arose from the formidable obstacles she had to overcome to establish herself as a popular singer.

Raised in a family of eight children, she originally harbored hopes of becoming a classical pianist, studying at New York's prestigious Juilliard School of Music -- a rare position for an African-American woman in the 1950s. Needing to support herself while she studied, she generated income by working as an accompanist and giving piano lessons. Auditioning for a job as a pianist in an Atlantic City nightclub, she was told she had the spot if she would sing as well as play.

Almost by accident, she began to carve a reputation as a singer of secular material, though her skills at the piano would serve her well throughout her career. In the late '50s, Simone began recording for the small Bethlehem label (a subsidiary of the vastly important early R&B/rock & roll King label). In 1959, her version of George Gershwin's "I Loves You Porgy" gave her a Top 20 hit -- which would, amazingly, prove to be the only Top 40 entry of her career.

Nina wouldn't need hit singles for survival, however, establishing herself not with the rock & roll/R&B crowd, but with the adult/nightclub/album market. In the early '60s, she recorded no less than nine albums for the Candix label, about half of them live. These unveiled her as a performer of nearly unsurpassed eclecticism, encompassing everything from Ellingtonian jazz and Israeli folk songs to spirituals and movie themes.

Simone's best recorded work was issued on Philips during the mid-'60s. Here, as on Candix, she was arguably over-exposed, issuing seven albums within a three-year period. These records can be breathtakingly erratic, moving from warm ballad interpretations of Jacques Brel and Billie Holiday and instrumental piano workouts to brassy pop and angry political statements in a heartbeat.There's a great deal of fine music to be found on these, however.

Simone's moody-yet-elegant vocals are like no one else's, presenting a fiercely independent soul who harbors enormous (if somewhat hard-bitten) tenderness. Like many African-American entertainers of the mid-'60s, Simone was deeply affected by the civil-rights movement and burgeoning Black pride. Some (though by no means most) of her best material from this time addressed these concerns in a fashion more forthright than almost any other singer. "Old Jim Crow" and, more particularly, the classic "Mississippi Goddam" were especially notable self-penned efforts in this vein, making one wish that Nina had written more of her own material instead of turning to outside sources for most of her repertoire.

Not that this repertoire wasn't well-chosen. Several of her covers from the mid-'60s, indeed, were classics: her revision of Weill-Brecht's "Pirate Jenny" to reflect the bitter elements of African-American experience, for instance, or her mournful interpretation of Brel's "Ne Me Quitte Pas." Other highlights were her versions of "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood," covered by the Animals for a rock hit; "I Put a Spell on You," which influenced the vocal line on the Beatles' "Michelle"; and the buzzing, jazzy "See Line Woman."

Simone was not as well-served by her tenure with RCA in the late '60s and early '70s, another prolific period which saw the release of nine albums. These explored a less eclectic range, with a considerably heavier pop-soul base to both the material and arrangements. One bonafide classic did come out of this period: "Young, Gifted & Black," written by Simone and Weldon Irvine, Jr., would be successfully covered by both Aretha Franklin and Donny Hathaway.

She did have a couple of Top Five British hits in the late '60s with "Ain't Got No" (from the musical Hair) and a cover of the Bee Gees' "To Love Somebody," neither of which rank among her career highlights. Simone fell on turbulent times in the 1970s, divorcing her husband/manager Andy Stroud, encountering serious financial problems, and becoming something of a nomad, settling at various points in Switzerland, Liberia, Barbados, France, and Britain.

After leaving RCA, she recorded rarely, although she did make the critically well-received Baltimore in 1978 for the small CTI label. She had an unpredictable resurgence in 1987, when an early track, "My Baby Just Cares for Me," became a big British hit after being used in a Chanel perfume television commercial. 1993's A Single Woman marked her return to an American major label, and her profile was also boosted when several of her songs were featured in the film Point of No Return. She published her biography, I Put a Spell on You, in 1991 .There were several run-ins with the law in the 90s in France, as Nina Simone shot a rifle at rowdy neighbors and left the scene of an accident in which two motorcyclists were injured. She paid fines and was put on probation, and was required to seek psychological counseling.

In 1995, she won ownership of 52 of her master recordings in a San Francisco court, and in 94-95 she had what she described as "a very intense love affair" -- "it was like a volcano." In her last years, Nina Simone was sometimes seen in a wheelchair between performances. She died April 21, 2003, in her adopted homeland, France.

In a 1969 interview with Phyl Garland, Nina Simone said:

There's no other purpose, so far as I'm concerned, for us except to reflect the times, the situations around us and the things we're able to say through our art, the things that millions of people can't say. I think that's the function of an artist and, of course, those of us who are lucky leave a legacy so that when we're dead, we also live on. That's people like Billie Holiday and I hope that I will be that lucky, but meanwhile, the function, so far as I'm concerned, is to reflect the times, whatever that might be.

Nina Simone is often classified as a jazz singer, but this is what she had to say in 1997 (in an interview with Brantley Bardin): 'To most white people, jazz means black and jazz means dirt and that's not what I play. I play black classical music. That's why I don't like the term "jazz," and Duke Ellington didn't like it either -- it's a term that's simply used to identify black people."