January 28, 2006

Indie Rock # Iron & Wine / Calexico

Iron & Wine/Calexico : In the Reins EP
[Overcoat; 2005]

Why didn't somebody think of this sooner? It's not a fair question, but it's an easy one to ask once you've heard the seven-track In the Reins, the first in what, if we're all very lucky, will be a series of collaborations between Iron & Wine and Calexico.

Iron & Wine's Beam and Calexico's Joey Burns sound heavenly harmonizing with each other, especially when guest vocalist Natalie Wyants joins them. Neither is an exceptional vocalist on his own, both occasionally lapsing to a whisper, but those hushed, gently melodic cords singing in unison make magic. Beam is the principle songwriter and vocalist on the album, and he's written some A material for the record, admirably putting his all into it instead of offering up some throwaway stuff and hoping Calexico can do something with it.

What ultimately ends up happening is Calexico's sense of cinematic grandeur and eclecticism imbues Beam's melodies and lyrics with an expansiveness that his humid Floridian folk doesn't usually have. Shades of jazz and country creep in, and they even tackle straightahead California pop on "History of Lovers". The only ingredients from Calexico's usual recipe that are absent are dub and mariachi, but they employ their arsenal so sympathetically to Beam's vision that an unschooled listener might never guess that this wasn't a proper, working band.

Calexico are no strangers to backing other singers-- Burns and drummer John Convertino began playing together as Howe Gelb's rhythm section in Giant Sand, and they've contributed to dozens of LPs by other artists over the years. The core duo of Calexico brings along most of the collective of Southwestern musicians that enlivens their own albums-- Paul Niehaus's lap steel, in particular, helps to shape the sound of the album. "Prison on Route 41" and "16, Maybe Less" both traffic in hushed country 'n' western tones, but are arranged in such a way that vocals give way to instrumental passages so smoothly that the solos don't feel at all like showcases.

There isn't a disappointing song on the EP (mini-album might actually be a better word for it), but it's worth noting a couple of stand-outs. Opener "He Lays in the Reins" is a subtle waltz stuffed with flourishes of acoustic guitar and brushed drums that almost two minutes in introduces the operatic Spanish vocals of Salvador Duran, a complete leftfield move that proves as inspired on subsequent listens as it does jarring on the first listen. But the real highlight is also the biggest shock: "History of Lovers" is what Fleetwood Mac's Rumours might have sounded like if it had been recorded in Memphis, complete with steel guitar trim and a great horn arrangement to go with some stunning harmonies and an unbelievable vocal melody.

Whether or not Iron & Wine and Calexico ever choose to follow this up with another collaboration (fingers crossed), it's clear that both acts are stronger for having worked with the other. It'll be interesting to see what comes next for Iron & Wine and Calexico and how this affects their work apart from each other. In the meantime, we can hope that this isn't a one-time-only engagement.

Pitchfork Review

January 18, 2006

My Top 10 Albums 2005 & 10 more

2006 was an interesting year with a good mix of releases across genres lots of comebacks and indie finally breaking thru into the mainstream .

So here are my favourite 10 records released in the year gone by

1 Plans # Death Cab for Cutie
Moving to a major label didnt effect the quality of the music , a captivating album from start to finish. The record hopefully will be released officially in India sometime.

Track picks 'What Sarah Said' & 'Brothers on a Hotel Bed'

2 Life in Slow Motion # David Gray
Just when you thought you couldnt get more dark and forlorn after his previous two masterpieces David Gray delivers another classic . A wonderful lyrical journey from perhaps one of the best songwriters of our generation.

Track picks ' The One I Love' & 'Aint No Love'

3 Devils and Dust # Bruce Springsteen
The Boss was back with just he and his dusty acoustic guitar. Very much on the Nebraska and Ghost of TD lines tackling strong themes and subjects , the boss was back to his very best.

Track picks 'Devils and Dust' & 'Jesus was the only Son'

4 Illonise # Sufjan Stevens
5 Extraordinary Machine # Fiona Apple
6 The Picarasque # The Decemberists
7 Get Behind Me Satan # The White Stripes
8 In Between Dreams # Jack Johnson
9 I am a Bird Now # Antony and the Johnsons
10 I am wide awake its Morning # Bright Eyes

The other 10

11 Songs for Silverman # Ben Folds
12 Back to Bedlam # James Blunt
13 Blinking lights and other revelations # Eels
14 Amos Lee # Amos Lee
15 Howl # Black Rebel Motorcyle Band
16 State of Mind #Raul Middon
17 Haughty Melodic # Mike Doughty
18 Late Registration # Kanye West
19 You Could Have it so much better # Franz Ferdinand
20 Mesmerize/Hypnotize # System of a Down

January 17, 2006

2005 RS Readers POLL

What people liked most, and least, in music

You, the readers, have spoken. Green Day were your American idols of 2005, sweeping the Artist of the Year, Best Single and Best Band category in our thirtieth annual Rolling Stone Readers' Poll, conducted online. You also sounded a holla for Gwen Stefani (Best Video, Best Dressed, Best Female Performer), Kanye West (Best Male Performer, Best Hip-Hop Artist), Coldplay (Best Album) and U2.

The results:

Best Album

1. Coldplay, X&Y
2. White Stripes, Get Behind Me Satan
3. Mariah Carey, The Emancipation of Mimi
4. Kanye West, Late Registration
5. Gwen Stefani, Love. Angel. Music. Baby
6. Beck, Guero
7. Fiona Apple, Extraordinary Machine
8. Foo Fighters, In You Honor
9. System of a Down, Mezmerize/Hypnotize
10. Nine Inch Nails, With Teeth

Best Single

1. Green Day, "Boulevard of Broken Dreams"
2. Kanye West, "Gold Digger"
3. Kelly Clarkson, "Since You Been Gone"
4. Gorillaz, "Feel Good Inc."
5. U2, "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own"
6. Gwen Stefani, "Hollaback Girl"
7. Mariah Carey, "Shake It Off"
8. Coldplay, "Fix You"
9. Foo Fighters, "Best of You"
10. White Stripes, "My Doorbell"

Artist of the Year

1. Green Day
2. U2
3. Kanye West

Best Male Performer

1. Kanye West
2. Beck
3. Trent Reznor

Best Female Performer

1. Gwen Stefani
2. Kelly Clarkson
3. Fiona Apple

Best Band

1. Green Day
2. U2
3. Coldplay

Best Tour

1. U2
2. Green Day
3. Weezer/Foo Fighters

Best Hard Rock/Metal Band

1. Audioslave
2. System of a Down
2. Nine Inch Nails

Best R&B Artist

1. Alicia Keys
2. Stevie Wonder
3. John Legend

Best Hip-Hop Artist

1. Kanye West
2. Missy Elliot
3. 50 Cent

Most Welcome Comeback

1. Fiona Apple
2. Weezer
3. Nine Inch Nails

Best Video

1. Gwen Stefani, "Hollaback Girl"
2. Green Day, "Wake Me Up When September Ends"
3. My Chemical Romance, "Helena"

Best Dressed

1. Gwen Stefani
2. The Killers
3. Kanye West

Best New Artist

1. Fall Out Boy
2. The Arcade Fire
3. James Blunt

Worst Single

1. R. Kelly, "Trapped in the Closet"
2. Black Eyed Peas, "My Humps"
3. D4L, "Laffy Taffy"


Music Biz Laments "Worst Year Ever"

Labels' woes continue as album sales drop seven percent, while digital single sales surge

It was yet another unhappy New Year for the music industry: Despite hits by Mariah Carey, 50 Cent and Green Day, 2005 saw album sales drop 7.2 percent as labels continued to struggle with adapting to the age of the iPod and the Internet. Overall, consumers bought 48 million fewer albums than in 2004, marking a disastrous twenty-one percent slide from the industry's peak in 2000, according to Nielsen SoundScan. And the holiday season, which typically accounts for forty percent of annual sales, was a bust. "It was arguably the worst in the music business's history," says Steve Bartels, Island Records president.

In contrast to CD sales, digital-song downloads jumped 150 percent in 2005 as consumers bought 352 million of them. "With digital technology, everyone's figured out that a business built only on the manufacture, distribution and sale of CDs has ended," says Dixie Chicks manager Simon Renshaw, echoing many other industry veterans. "The traditional model can't continue."

Where Are the Hits?

In 2000, the industry's last boom year, the top five albums -- including megahits by Britney Spears and Eminem -- sold a combined 38 million copies. The top five in 2005 sold just 19.7 million. Mariah Carey had the comeback story of the year, selling 5 million copies of The Emancipation of Mimi, the year's top album. Green Day, who sold 1.8 million copies of American Idiot in '04, sold 3.4 million more in '05. And a baby diva, American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson, broke through, selling 3.5 million copies of Breakaway.

Just below the top ten, there were signs of hope, as developing artists -- Ciara, Young Jeezy, Fall Out Boy -- all sold at least 1 million copies. But expected best sellers from Missy Elliott and Santana barely broke 500,000 copies. "Last year you had releases from superstars such as U2, Eminem, Lil Jon," says Best Buy music buyer Lon Lindeland. "This year didn't match that."

Latin music was the only genre to see increased sales in 2005. As the reggaeton-heavy "hurban" radio format grew -- taking over rock stations in several major markets -- the genre's sales leaped 12.6 percent. Sales of alternative rock fell 8.8 percent, hip-hop dropped 7.8 percent and R&B saw an 11.6 percent decline. "Consumers who used to buy a lot of hip-hop are now buying Latin records," says Virgin exec Jerry Suarez. "It's something for the younger demographic to get excited about."

Digital Music Surges

In 2005, digital downloads became a major moneymaker for the first time, earning more than $500 million as sales of digital tracks jumped from 141 million in 2004 to 353 million in 2005, and sales of digital albums rose from 5.5 million to 16.2 million. In the fall, Apple's iTunes Store became one of the ten biggest U.S. music retailers, ahead of Tower and Sam Goody. And in the last week of 2005, digital single sales exploded to a record-setting 19.9 million -- outselling CDs for the first time in history -- as about 11 million Christmas-gift iPods flew off shelves. The digital boom helped offset some of the labels' losses; using SoundScan's formula of counting every ten sold singles as an album, album sales dropped just 3.9 percent.

Ring tones were even more profitable, as revenues doubled to $600 million. Real tones -- actual music rather than tinny reproductions -- became the dominant format.

But as sales shift toward digital distribution, battles are brewing over how much downloads should cost, and who should get the money. Apple CEO Steve Jobs called the labels "greedy" for suggesting iTunes should charge more than ninety-nine cents for hits; Warner Music Group CEO Edgar Bronfman Jr. shot back, "We want, and will insist upon having, variable pricing." Artists, meanwhile, complain that their royalties from digital tracks -- fourteen cents is the typical rate -- don't make up for the loss of income from CD sales. "This is where the sales are going," says Josh Grier, a music lawyer for Wilco. "But being part of the transition might be a bad thing."

Major-Label Woes

As the industry contracted, market share declined or remained steady for three of the four major record companies. The exception was Universal Music Group, which sold thirty-two percent of all music and six of the year's top ten albums. Warner, which became the first publicly traded record label in 2005, managed to hold steady, thanks to Green Day and the Asylum subsidiary, which scored hits with Houston rappers Paul Wall and Mike Jones. EMI dropped just 0.4 percent, with strong releases from Coldplay and Gorillaz. "It's not a growth market," says Arista exec Tom Corson. "This is a mature market that's being attacked on all sides."

Of all the labels, Sony BMG -- which merged in 2004 -- had the toughest year: The company's market share shrunk three percent, it paid $10 million to settle a payola investigation (Warner eventually settled for $5 million) and had to recall 4.7 million CDs that included invasive copy-protection software. "How does a record label self-destruct?" says Darryl Pitt, manager of the Bad Plus, whose CD was recalled. "This is a pretty good way."

The labels continued to battle piracy, filing hundreds of lawsuits against peer-to-peer downloaders. But in the month of November, for instance, twenty-one percent more users traded music online than in the same period the year before.

The Indie Scene

As the majors stumbled, independent labels gained market share, accounting for eighteen percent of CD sales in '05. Indie labels proved especially adept at Internet marketing via outlets like MySpace; the emo label Victory Records sold 558,000 copies of Hawthorne Heights' album The Silence in Black and White without radio play. And several hip indie acts -- the Arcade Fire, Interpol and Bright Eyes -- sold more than 250,000 copies each. The indie model of earning profits on a broad range of small-scale releases, rather than focusing on blockbusters, may offer a new direction for the majors. "The major labels want to say the glass is half full," says Gwen Stefani's manager Jim Guerinot. "I think everybody's getting the message: You better get a fucking smaller glass. The music business is a different game."


January 14, 2006

Biography # Jeff Buckley

Since he was the son of cult songwriter Tim Buckley, Jeff Buckley faced more expectations and pre-conceived notions than most singer/songwriters. Perhaps it wasn't surprising that Jeff Buckley's music was related to his father's by only the thinnest of margins. Buckley's voice was grand and sweeping, which fit with the mock-operatic grandeur of his Van Morrison-meets-Led Zeppelin music.Buckley began playing while in high school. Eventually, he moved to Los Angeles to study music; while he was there, he performed with several jazz and funk bands, as well as playing with Shinehead, a leader in the dancehall reggae movement.

A few years later, he moved to New York, forming Gods & Monsters with the experimental guitarist Gary Lucas. The band became a hip name, yet their lifespan was short. Buckley began a solo career playing clubs and coffeehouses, building up a considerable following. Soon, he signed a record deal with Columbia Records, releasing the Live at Sin-e EP in November of 1993. It received good reviews, yet they didn't compare to the raves Buckley's full-length debut, 1994's Grace, received. Unlike the EP, the album was recorded with a full band, which gave the record textures that surprised some of his long-time New York followers. Nevertheless, it made several year-end "Best of 1994" lists and earned him a belated alternative hit, "Last Goodbye," in the spring of 1995.

A long hiatus followed as Buckley worked on material for his follow-up effort, provisionally titled My Sweetheart, the Drunk. Originally slated to be produced by Tom Verlaine, who later dropped out of the project, Buckley finally began work on the record in Memphis during the late spring of 1997.

On the night of May 29, he and a friend traveled to the local Mud Island Harbor, where Buckley spontaneously decided to go swimming in the Mississippi River and waded into the water fully clothed. A few minutes later, he disappeared under the waves; authorities were quickly contacted, but to no avail -- on June 4, his body was finally found floating near the city's famed Beale Street area. Buckley was 30 years old. A collection of unreleased recordings, Sketches (For My Sweetheart the Drunk), appeared in 1998, and two live albums arrived during 2000-2001, Mystery White Boy and Live at L'Olympia.