Thursday, October 11, 2007

Record Review: Albert Alexander- College

Between taking a full slate of classes, working two jobs, researching a thesis, and planning the rest of my life come spring, it takes an awfully big something for me to dust off this old blog and write about music for any period of time. In what has been in all honesty a season of excellent music on all fronts, I’m excited to say that this is that something.

I’ve known Albert Alexander since he came to the open mic night I ran during welcome week of my sophomore year, and from moment one he’s simply blown me away with his seemingly effortless talent and witty, imaginative songwriting. He’s the kind of person that you feel without a doubt deserves to make a name for himself, yet at the same time you want to keep all to yourself for fear that he’d lose something of the intimacy and authenticity of the guy who sits in your dorm hallway at all hours singing to whoever might be around. This week, Albert finally took the big step of putting out a self-produced album, and I’m thrilled to say he’s managed to get the best of both worlds.

Though the self-explanatorily titled “College” is really an EP I suppose, with nine songs totaling a little over twenty minutes in length, it has the thematic and emotional scope of a full length release, compiling the tunes Albert composed over the years reflecting on life at Michigan State University into a remarkably coherent unified work. Opening with the frenetic and hilarious “Posers”, he manages to skewer most of the college creative archetypes and establish himself as someone outside the crowd all within the space of two minutes (and it still sounds every bit as fantastic as it did when he first played it in my dorm room for myself and a friend after a party a year and a half ago… not to brag or anything). From there, the album weaves in and out of incredibly literate vignettes of college life, and much like Sufjan Stevens, you can tell that Albert dabbles in creative writing on the side. Characters arrive fully formed with tremendous and relatable detail, then disappear almost as quickly from track to track, while the simple yet agile acoustic sound and warm vocals give everything a fresh coat of instant nostalgia, as if watching life go straight from live action to a sepia toned memory. Perhaps the greatest triumph is (unsurprisingly) one of Albert’s more recent works on the album, the gently rocking party ode “Dead Weekends”, which builds slowly from the restless Friday classroom to the anticipation and small wonders of the weekend party scene in which not much really happens but nobody seems to mind, exemplified by the triumphant shout of “hell yes” that defines the chorus. It’s a scene that resonates with students from all walks of life, and shows Albert’s abilities as not merely a singer, but a storyteller in the finest folk tradition.

Am I piling on the praise a little thick here for a guy from my own backyard who features pictures of my former home in Case Hall on the album art? Of course I am. At the same time, as the fall chill has finally set in, the leaves turn, and the alumni begin to make the pilgrimage to East Lansing for homecoming weekend, I can think of no more fitting album. Also, it’s worth noting that this is only the tip of the iceberg for Albert’s catalog—he’s already composed several hours worth of material on fictional themes (such as the live favorite “Zombie Massacre Love Song”), local bars, and even a whole concept album, all just waiting to be recorded. I doubt I’m the only one who thinks that he can’t get back into the studio soon enough.

Albert Alexander—Dead Weekends (website) (MySpace)

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Cheesetastic Rock Music Post

While there's no doubt that it's been a fantastic summer for music, there's one song for me that has managed to silently crawl up to the upper tier of my list. Was it the solo-filled "Icky Thump" by the White Stripes? Spoon's horn laced pop of "The Underdog"? Ted Leo's irresistable listing of oppressed minorities in "CIA"?

Nope. It's a track by the New Pornographers... and as good as "Challengers" is (believe me, it's astounding), its not even a new one.

No friends, I am ashamed to admit that my secret love of Summer 2007 was a song Carl, Neko, Dan and company recorded years ago for a Canadian metalhead mockumentary known as "FUBAR" (which I'm told by the fine folks over at Pajiba is worth checking out).... a cover by a little known 80s band called Toronto.

Ladies and Gentlemen.... "Your Daddy Don't Know", in mp3 as well as all its music video glory:

The New Pornographers- Your Daddy Don't Know

(LJ readers may have to click on the link up top to see it, as You Tube doesn't play nice with my feeds... any bloggers out there know how to fix that?)

As undeniably amazing as that video is, I managed to find the original today, and well... you just can't out-cheese the 80s, no matter how hard you try:


BONUS! As no post on incredibly cheesy rock music would be complete without some love for "Don't Stop Believing", I urge one and all to click on over to the MySpace for "Guilt by Association", an indie comp of bad pop covers, for an astounding all a capella rendition of the Jounrey classic by onetime Decemberists collaborator Petra Haden.... and I do mean ALL a capella.

Monday, August 06, 2007

New Nellie McKay: "Zombie"(!)

I've never made it a secret that I have a little bit of a celebrity crush on Nellie McKay... the jazz stylings, the tounge in cheek lyrics, the rabid left wing politics... I'm kind of a sucker for all of it.

And now on top of it all, she goes and releases a track off her forthcoming Obligatory Villagers album.... and its about zombies. Is she capitalizing off a pop culture trend that started with Shaun of the Dead and spawned numerous imitators? Of course she is. Does this make it any less adorable? Not at all.


Check out "Zombies" at Pitchfork

Amazingly, this is only the second best song I've heard about zombies this year... head on over to my friend Albert's MySpace and have a listen to the "Zombie Massacre Love Song"... this may actually be the first time Albert's stuff has been blogged about on here, but he's one of the most talented people I know and this is only one small example of the incredibly imaginative stuff he's come up with over the years.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Indie Rock Campaign Anthems 2007- The Democrats

So yes… I’m aware I owe a Pitchfork Fest recap, and that I haven’t posted for well over two weeks. Basically, I fail at blogging. However, I would like to get a few things out there that have been kicking around my head this summer in terms of amateur music journalism before real life sets in entirely again, so hopefully those of you left reading will find them worthwhile, however intermittent they may be.

Today, I’d like to talk campaign anthems. Aside from rock snobbery, my other great passion/waste of time is politics, so naturally I’m pretty psyched for this all out free-for all in both parties for the 2008 presidential nod. I do have one complaint thus far, however—the music sucks. Granted, its been going downhill for a while from the glory days of Bill Clinton and “Don’t Stop Thinkin’ About Tomorrow” in 1992 (possibly the best political soundtracking ever), but its just gotten sad. Celine Dion? John Mellencamp’s song from the car commercials? And don’t even get me started on the number of candidates who think use of “Beatiful Day” is a one way ticket to hip optimism (even the beloved and fictional Matt Santos couldn’t resist the dark side on “The West Wing”).

Clearly, its time for a change, and I’m ready to start making requests. Below are my picks, in glorious YouTube, for the top four Democrats in the 08 race:

Hillary Clinton

I’m sorry, but I’m just not a huge Hilary fan. I love her biography, and she seems like a good person, but everything about her campaign seems phony and contrived so far. Even the one clever moment of political theater thus far—incidentally a send-up of the Sopranos finale complete with cameo from Bill to reveal her campaign anthem—was sullied by her godawful pick—a Celine Dion number originally written for AirCanada (not to mention the awful memory of Bill Clinton uttering the line “Well, I know I’m rooting for Smash Mouth”). For all of this and more, I’m offering her a moment of unexpected, self-deprecating humor that could offer some hope… sure, it’s a cheap shot, but just use this song at one rally, and I might regain faith in you:

Barack Obama

Ah, to be the rock star of the party… young, hip, hot on the trail of the establishment—heck, its almost like he doesn’t need a soundtrack. Yet Obama is also an adopted son of the city of Chicago, which also houses my personal favorite band of all time, Wilco. Most of Wilco’s songs are dark, brooding affairs unfit for the political stage, but there’s one I’ve always wanted to hear pumping through the speakers at a rally, and I think Barack could pull it off. “War on War” was used beautifully in some Chicago tourism ads a few years back, and has a great sense of motion and energy to it that could warm up a crowd nicely. The trick, of course, is getting over the lyrics, which range from the nonsensically poetic “you are not my typewriter, but you can be my demon moving forward through the flaming doors” to the ominous sounding “you have to lose/you have to learn how to die/if you wanna wanna stay alive”.

John Edwards

Edwards is probably my second favorite candidate in the field, in part because he’s hired my political hero David Bonior as a campaign manager. Nevertheless, this song is far better than he deserves, given his penchant for corny fare supposedly designed to emphasize his down-home, small town roots (such as the aforementioned “Our Country” by Mellencamp… if you want to believe Edwards is driving his truck out to the fields every morning, then be my guest). He’d be far better to take on the excellent rock anthem by Ted Leo and the Pharmacists that is “Walking to Do”. Like most of Ted’s music, its layered—there’s a theme of moving, of progress and brighter days to come, which Edwards is all about, but there’s also something about love and relationships in there (as indicated most strongly by the final words “if you do, and I do, there’s a whole lotta walking to do”), which brings to mind Edward’s own wife Elizabeth, who serves as one of his strongest assets in my opinion (anyone who can fight cancer and Ann Coulter at the same time is a winner in my book). Plus, its just an amazingly energetic song that never fails to lift my spirits (even in this shoddy concert footage).

Bill Richardson

Finally, we come to my guy in the race (I’m sadly noting that this list is in order of who’s leading in the polls as well as the reverse order of my preferences). I’m a fan of Richardson for his straight talk, his unparalleled experience, and his commitment to alternative energy and improved diplomacy, but sadly, he doesn’t seem to be catching on quite yet (there’s still a long time until Iowa though, and he is picking up speed little by little it seems). Because of his status as the number one underdog in the race, the most likely to be a dark horse come primary season, I’m recommending that Bill takes on what might be my favorite song of Summer 2007. Play this at rallies, print up some shirts that say “Fear the Underdog” on them, and I think we’ll have an anthem on our hands.

*note that I'm ignoring the fact that the song features maraccas and mariachi horns and the general appropriateness of this fact for the candidate... some jokes are just waaay too easy, even for me.

Of course, the real challenge would be to come up with a comprable list for the GOP... suggestions, anybody?

Friday, July 13, 2007

Pitchfork Music Festival Preview: The New Pornographers

Ok, one last super quick post in between packing for Chicago.

The one band I’m looking forward to seeing above all else at this show is The New Pornographers. They gave one of my favorite sets at last year’s Lollapalooza, and are generally a blast to see live. This appearance comes right before the release of their fourth album, Challengers, which is currently streaming online for those who pre-order (check out this site for details, as well as the nifty “do it yourself” box set Executive Edition they’re offering, which may be the first time a band has ever offered to literally sell you songs from the future). After giving the album a listen, I have to say its hands down their most complex and (dare I say) breathtaking work yet… a bit slower and less frantic than earlier efforts, but at the same time more subtle and exciting, fully utilizing the varied talents of bandmates Carl Newman, Neko Case, Dan Bejar, and (for the first time as a full member) Kathryn Calder. Take a chance and put in your pre-order for this, I can guarantee you will not be disappointed.

To wet your appetite, here’s the opening track that’s been making its way on the internet for a few months now, which serves as a pretty good indicator of what’s to come on Challengers… of all the quirky lyrical turns of phrase Carl Newman has employed over the years, there may well be none better than “you left your sorrow dangling, it hangs in the air like a school cheer”.

The New Pornographers- My Rights Versus Yours

All right kids, off to Chicago… I’ll be back sometime next week with a full report on the festival!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Pitchfork Music Festival Preview: Jamie Lidell

One of the things I like best about Pitchfork Festival is the sheer obscurity of some of the acts, yet at the same time their assured quality—it’s a fantastic way to find stuff a bit off the beaten path that you get psyched about pretty quickly.

Such was the case for me with Jamie Lidell. The guy isn’t exactly unknown, having worked with Canadian indie queen Leslie Feist and even having had songs featured on Grey’s Anatomy and in Target commercials, but I doubt many people out there could really pick him out of a lineup. In part, this is probably because his act is so unusual—a lanky, bearded, British electronic artist who one day realized he had a voice on par with Marvin Gaye and should really put out a soul album with ridiculously complex beats underneath it. The result on CD is pretty stunning, and word is its even better live, with Lidell recording and looping his own samples on top of one another right in front of everyone.

Here’s one of the better cuts off of his one album (or at least his one album that sounds like this), “Multiply”:

Jamie Lidell- When I Come Back Around

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Pitchfork Music Festival Preview: Voxtrot

Not to get overly personal here (I have other forums for that after all), but I feel like I’m hitting a midsummer slump. After a month or so of rolling along with my new job, enjoying the gorgeous weather and good company an East Lansing summer has to offer, and generally feeling pretty good, a heat wave has set in and brought with it a general air of oppression—days drag along, my hair drips on my morning paper when I take my bike helmet off on my way into work, and I don’t feel motivated to do much of anything.

In other words, it’s the perfect time for a summer music festival to lift my spirits, and this weekend’s Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago can’t come soon enough. To pass the time while I count down the hours until Friday, I’ll be covering some of my most anticipated acts this year, starting with Voxtrot, another band from the creative mecca of Austin, TX.
For about the past year, Voxtrot has been a red-hot indie music sensation that I have more or less been oblivious to. After a string of critically acclaimed EPs (including raves by “the ‘fork”), the band managed to get itself a label deal and a self-titled debut album, which despite failing to meet lofty expectations set by many an indie snob has done quite well as the band continues to gain momentum.

But enough about that. My introduction to Voxtrot came one rainy Saturday as I drove to the grocery store, my radio tuned to MSU’s quality student radio station, The Impact. Its not often I’ll hear a song on the radio that immediately captures my attention (due in part to the fact that truly good radio is diminishing at a truly sad rate just about everywhere), but I’m pretty sure this was love at first listen. It was a little twee (okay, a lot twee… I thought it was Belle and Sebastian at first), a little bit emo (but in a good way), with soulful vocals and a solid indie rock groove to it. The lyrics managed to be sad and wistful while also being strong and angsty, not to mention absurdly witty. Naturally, I went right to work tracking the song down when I got home, and before long, I’d found it… the title track to their “Your Biggest Fan” EP (packaged with two other superb tracks by the way... a great use of that leftover iTunes gift money you no doubt have lying around).

I’ve heard most of the rest of their work at this point (its very good if you don’t mind overblown lyrics like “cheer me up, cheer me up, I’m a miserable fuck”), and am looking forward to their live act come Saturday, but I know there’s still one song I’ll be shouting requests for the entire time—easily one of my favorite tracks of 2007.

Voxtrot—Your Biggest Fan