SirTheory’s Treatise on Life

(opinions on just about anything)

The Residents – The Voice of Midnight

First off, let me apologize for the long silence and lack of updates. School/life has pretty much sapped all creative thinking out of me. Considering this blog is a creative endeavor, it suffers as a result.

The Residents have been experiencing a creative resurgence the past few years. While their career has been quite steady in its streaky nature (a decade of amazing releases, a decade of trash, a half a decade of pretty good, a half a decade of trash, etc) it has been on an upward swing for several years. Animal Lover from 2005 and Tweedles from 2006 are both really good albums that showcase what a group can do 35 years into their career.

The Voice of Midnight immediately made me both excited and worried. While the prospect of new Residents material is always good, the fact that only about a year (as opposed to the year and a half separating the aforementioned Animal Lover and Tweedles) had passed since the last album made me wonder if The Voice of Midnight could be as well developed or original as the last few albums had been.

It is a valid concern, as nothing on the album is really compelling or any kind of surprise. It simply retreads what they’ve been doing the last two to three years. Like The River of Crime, there is a strong focus on narration instead of singing. Unlike Crime, however, The Voice of Midnight feels more like a stage production than a radio program. Tweedles had some narrative elements, but they were mixed with interesting music. The Voice of Midnight lacks that aspect.

The main redeeming feature of this release is the super-limited EP, The Sandman Waits, that the first 500 people to order the album off of Ralph America received. Unfortunately they are no longer available (as one just sold for over $140 on ebay), but it takes the themes from the full length and presents them in more of a classic Residents sound. Highly essential for Residents fans.

For those who are new to the band, The Voice of Midnight is not a great place to start. Definitely a subpar effort that hopefully won’t signal the start of bad years ahead.

Advertisements

November 17, 2007 Posted by | Music | , , , , | 1 Comment

Jars of Clay – Live Monsters

When Jars of Clay released their self-titled debut in 1995 few people would have predicted that the band would still be going strong twelve years later. They have kept going, even as their popularity dropped from the insane fervor that drove the self-titled album to platinum sales. Yet the albums they release continue to be amazingly strong. Even a band as consistent as Jars of Clay will have a few duds in their catalog. Live Monsters is definitely a stumble and a weak way to follow-up their hit Good Monsters.Live Monsters takes seven of the songs from Good Monsters and, as can be inferred from the title, presents them in a live setting. The problem with that is that Jars of Clay doesn’t really sound any different live than they do on album. If you are actually in a crowd in a live setting this doesn’t really pose any problems. Fun will still be had. Unfortunately, when presented on album, the lack of difference makes owning both Live Monsters and Good Monsters pretty redundant.

The song that feels most different when compared to the studio version is “Oh My God.” The difference can be debated, but the live version feels more steady than the studio. In the studio the song rises and falls in a more-or-less steady manner. But live it does more of a gradual climb to the eventual spine-tingling ending.

Subtleties aside, this album is a fairly classic example of how to get out of a contract. Jars of Clay has been on Essential Records from the very beginning. However, their new Christmas album, simply titled Christmas Songs, releases soon and it is fantastic. I have listened through it several times and will doubtlessly become my favorite stuff of the season. Not so surprisingly, the album releases on Grey Matters through Nettwerk Music Group.

Contract ditching or not, Live Monsters can really only be recommended to three groups of people: Those who must own everything Jars of Clay has released, those who saw the group live on this tour and want a postcard of sorts of the event, and those who did really prefer a live version of one of these songs to the studio version. Yet as much as I preferred “Oh My God” on the live album, I still wouldn’t invest my hard earned money into it. However, if you don’t have Good Monsters, I do recommend checking that album out.

October 13, 2007 Posted by | Music | , | 1 Comment

Obligatory Radiohead Post

Radiohead shocked the world two weeks ago with the news that they had just recorded an album and that it would be available as a download starting today (Oct. 10th) on a– get this– “pay what you want” basis. Many people who would have simply P2Ped it gave $0. Then the hardcore Radiohead fans who wanted to support the band on such a venture gave up to $20 for the download. I paid ~$4, which seemed worthwhile for a download of our generation’s Beatles.

I got the link this morning to download the album from Radiohead and was surprised that the download took a mere minute and a half. I figured that the high traffic of everyone and their mother trying to download the album would really slow things down. Thankfully that was not the case and within ten minutes of waking up I had the album downloaded, on my iPod, and was on track two while walking to my General Astronomy class.

In Rainbows seems to be more about subtle nuance than most of their catalog. My favorite Radiohead album was, and remains, Hail To The Thief, due to how three dimensional the album and songs feel. The other Radiohead albums always struck me as feeling more two dimensional. In Rainbows seems to return to two dimensions, at least initially. Yet the afore mentioned subtle nuances allows it to breathe freer than the sum of its parts would imply. But that is Radiohead for you: their albums often feel like more than they should.

At this point, trying to determine how this album ranks among the rest of Radiohead’s output would be an exercise in futility. Indeed, even trying to pinpoint the best track from the album would be a pointless task. It is just too early to be able to tell. But what can be told is that for an album where you could pay what you wanted, you got your money’s worth. The songs are not throw-away tracks that won’t be worth keeping around. Nor do they feel like b-sides from past albums. In Rainbows feels like a genuine album. It is merely missing the packaging and heightened anticipation that accompanies most normal releases.

Of course, for those who have yet to purchase the download the question remains of how much to pay for it. If you have no interest in a physical release if and when one comes, then I’d go with $5-$8 for it. If you plan on picking up the physical release (if and when) then I’d suggest somewhere between $1 and $4. I picked the $4 because I don’t want to take advantage of the system while also realizing that this is a digital release and, with my $4 Radiohead is still making more money on the download than they would have from a major label release in physical CD form.

Regardless, kudos to Radiohead for this interesting experiment. While I don’t see this exact format working for most normal bands, the fact that a major band such as Radiohead pulled it off will definitely be something the industry takes a long, hard look at. It will also be interesting, once there is an actual physical release of the album on a label, to see how that sells after the digital release. Only time will tell.

October 10, 2007 Posted by | Music | , | Leave a comment

This Dude Is A Stud…

Eh, eh?

Yes, that is me. I find it perhaps to be one of my most photogenic moments ever. While I generally don’t want this blog to be about me, I thought it worth sharing. The man behind the words.

In other news, the Phillies have been killing me the past two days with their lackluster pitching against the Rockies. While the Phillies have it in them to win three in a row, the way the Rockies have been playing will make it tough.

Everyone and their grandmother should, by now, be aware of the forthcoming Radiohead album. Few future releases stir up a buzz the way Radiohead does. Particularly when you combine it with the way Radiohead is doing their new release. They suddenly set up a website proclaiming that they had just finished recording their new album and that it it would be releasing in what at the time was 10 days. TEN DAYS. It is going to be available in two formats: digital download and a super-deluxe boxset. The really, really good news is that the download is pay-what-you-want. Anywhere between $0.00 and your credit limit. The deluxe boxset is about $80, depending on current currency exchange rates between USD and Pounds. The big perk to the box set is that it comes with both CD and Vinyl… plus includes a second CD/Vinyl exclusive to the boxset. Without a doubt the hardcore fans are pulling out their wallets for the boxset. Order either at http://www.radiohead.com

October 4, 2007 Posted by | General, Music, Sports | , | 1 Comment

Royal – My Dear

Tooth and Nail Records is often unjustly categorized as just a Christian label releasing bland music like Thousand Foot Krutch and Hawk Nelson. Yet in the mid-to-late-90s Tooth and Nail was releasing a whole slew of interesting indie rock (what was, at that time, considered “alternative rock”). I mean, Tooth and Nail was the launching pad of The Danielson Famile for crying out loud. The Danielson Famile was directly related to the rise of Sufjan Stevens. Yes, that Sufjan Stevens. While The Danielson Famile has become Pitchfork Media indie darlings, there were many other deserving artists released through Tooth and Nail who never got the slightest attention from the mainstream media or the Christian media.

Royal was a band from Norway who released only one album. While they were never really signed to Tooth and Nail, it was Tooth and Nail who released the album to the United States. The album released without any real fanfare, other than a couple of good album reviews in the edgier Christian music magazines (Tidal Wave, 7 Ball). Their one claim to fame was that the one guitar player had been Extol’s guitar player before Extol was signed.

The core of Royal is the brother-sister duo Emil (the ex-Extol guy) and Elvira Nikolaisen, although the band is five members deep. Emil went on to form the noisy shoegaze band, Serena Maneesh (which, interestingly, did make one of Pitchfork’s yearly top-50 lists) and Elvira is now a Norwegian pop singer. Yet neither of them has managed to eclipse the grandeur that is Royal.

Elvira handles most of the lead vocals, a laid back croon that you might expect to hear with Over The Rhine. The music Emil backs her with is certainly a far cry from the folk pop of Over The Rhine. A cacophony composed of loud, roaring guitars and a crash symbol used so frequently that it could ring in the apocalypse.

Yet it will turn on a dime so suddenly that your head is left in a swirl. The roar drops completely and they craft silence. Not a pure silence as Elvira continues to croon and the drums tap out a bare bones beat, accompanied by a slowly plucked guitar. Time might be lost track of as things slowly build. All of a sudden three or four minutes have passed with this growing quietness before, just as suddenly, the roar returns.

My Dear can’t be listened to quietly. The stereo has to be cranked in order to prevent the quiet parts from fading completely away. I can’t think of any other album which has two completely distinct personalities and such a difference in volume. This makes comparisons difficult to come by, however, it is hard to imagine that Sonic Youth wasn’t a huge influence on what Royal accomplished. I would like to see someone slip Thurston Moore a copy with a request to re-release it. My Dear would be right at home on his record label while being different enough from Sonic Youth to be more than just a repetitive blip.

September 5, 2007 Posted by | Music | Leave a comment

Struck Last May – 16 Flowers

You might not be able to call Michael Knott successful, after all even in the Christian market which he was an alternative rock groundbreaker his name is more likely to be met with blank stares than not. Yet this has not prevented him from being remarkably prolific, especially in the 90s, when multiple albums in a year were not uncommon. However, new material from Knott has been pretty hard to come by the past two or three years. The drought finally ended at the end of ’06 with the All Indie E.P.. Now we have a new full length with a new band name.

Band names for Knott have tended to feel tacked on like an afterthought. The Russian roulette wheel spun to determine what album gets what moniker. Because whether Knott is electric or acoustic, L.S.U. or solo, it still tends to sound like Michael Knott. So it is understandable that even with a new and different band name on the cover of a Knott album we expect that to have simply been a new addition to the Russian roulette wheel. That assumption is a mistake and is probably at the root of many people’s backlash against the album.

Struck Last May is without a doubt the most experimental thing that Knott has been musically involved with. While there are portions of his back catalog which hint at experimentalism, not a single one of his albums really highlights that tendancy. 16 Flowers highlights it and revels in it, portraying a more textured vision than we’re used to. This is likely thanks to Knott’s partner in crime, Rick McDonough, who’s own solo projects are quite experimental and textured.

The tracks on 16 Flowers range from more typical acoustic Knott to more typical McDonough. Most songs find a middle ground that evoke both artists work. The mixture works really well most of the time, such as on “You Are Me” where McDonough provies ambiance to the standard Knott songwriting. Where it fails to work is when poorly pitched vocals and hollow-sounding drums (I’m looking at you, “Fraidy Cat”) are mistaken for being experimental. That isn’t being experimental, it is being too lazy to do things right.

Thankfully tracks like that are the exception rather than the rule. However, Knott and McDonough set themselves up for failure by making that one of the early tracks on the album, making the one that will stick in peoples minds as they listen for the first time. “Bundled Up” follows “Fraidy Cat” and, despite taking a step in the right direction, meanders on too long and still has some shadily performed vocals. Thus the stereotype for the album is set. If “Bundled Up” is listened to independently from “Fraidy Cat” it works a whole lot better. Unfortunately, the “Fraidy Cat” formula is repeated on the following track, “Pollen.” It isn’t really until track six of this 14 track album that the album settles into a groove and really shows off what the two do well. In fact, if tracks two through 5 were eliminated 16 Flowers would not only have a chance to really impress Knott fans, but be considered one of his better albums.

The other tracks also have experimental aspects, but they retain a pop sensibility and good songwriting. Experimentalism for experimentalism’s sake isn’t always a bad thing, but it needs to be more than the proverbial farts in a can. Because no one wants to hear that and the fact that you think that people do is quite masturbatory.

To really hear this album for what it should have been eliminate tracks two and four, and possibly five, from your listening experience. This will allow the other 2/3s of the album to stand out and show what it is that Knott and McDonough bring to the table together.

September 2, 2007 Posted by | Music | Leave a comment

Lovedrug – Everything Starts Where It Ends

Year 2007 in the world of music has been… disappointing. Favorite artists have released underwhelming albums (The Shins, Bjork) or albums that fail to capture my imagination (The White Stripes). Which wouldn’t be extremely disappointing except I’ve only discovered a handful of new artists to capture my attention (St. Vincent, Noisettes).  For the first time in years it is looking like my normal year-end top-20 list will get shrunk to a top-10. And there still might be filler on it.

One possible option for the filler is Lovedrug’s second full length release. My history with this band is long and storied– swinging from extreme hater to a non-hater. Then ending up as an appreciator. It is a whirlwind of a story. Grab a cup of mocha and enjoy…

Once upon a time there was a band named Kerith Ravine. They were a little band out of Ohio who released one awesome CD, a couple of tantalizing EPs,  and then disappeared.
Along comes Lovedrug, who just happens to have several of the same members as Kerith Ravine (including the lead singer/songwriter). “Ho boy!” said I. “This will be almost like having Kerith Ravine back!

The first Lovedrug CD, Pretend You’re Alive, did nothing to prove my initial enthusiasm justified. Bland, typical indie emo rock anthems. So naturally Lovedrug became much bigger than Kerith Ravine could have ever hoped to be. Yes, I was bitter. I lamented the inane music industry and its championing of mediocre talent.

I saw them live. And that was when I stopped being anti-Lovedrug. They put on a great, energetic live show. It was the only context which the songs off of Pretend You’re Alive did anything. The live show gave me enough to hold onto to allow me to have hope for Lovedrug’s future.

Which brings us to Everything Starts Where It Ends, the new Lovedrug release. It keeps a similar tone to Pretend You’re Alive, but creatively pushing the envelope. As a result it sounds a lot more alive. It ends up being an engaging listen that doesn’t play it safe.

It still fails to live up to Kerith Ravine, however this album won’t surprise fans of Kerith Ravine the way it might surprise those simply familiar with Pretend You’re Alive. The album proves that Lovedrug are going in the right direction and, perhaps later down the road, will fulfill the promise Kerith Ravine came close to perfecting.

August 24, 2007 Posted by | Music | Leave a comment

Recent Purchase Wrap-up

Every 2nd Sunday of every month (barring any major holidays like Christmas or Secretaries Day) there is a record show not too far from where I live. Like, just downtown. It advertises itself as the largest monthly record show in the nation. Whether or not that is true, I have my doubts. But I try to go every month. I really only go to one or two booths because the large majority of the booths only deal in records. Others have CDs, but they are dusty and old (not that that would stop me, but they aren’t exactly enthralling titles). But one guy has current stuff… and even has a bunch of pre-releases for albums which haven’t released yet. (Which is how I got that Thurston Moore solo album that I reviewed several days ago.) Today was probably the most successful trip I’ve had in a long time.

In order, from least important to most important:

It’s A Bit Complicated by Art Brut
Downtown Records, 2007

Never listened to the band before, but the name has definitely been around. And it is hard to go wrong with a $2.50 price tag. Seems rather like british indie rock with attitude. Seems like the sort of album I won’t really crave, but will enjoy the random song popping up on shuffle.

Boss by Magik Markers
Ecstatic Peace, 2007

Thurston Moore’s label, Ecstatic Peace, should be renamed Erratic Piece due to the unreasonably varied quality the label releases. They release stunning albums and horrible albums. Then there are middle of the road albums like this. Magik Markers sound like disciples of Sonic Youth with the same fetish with noise. Not bad. Not good. I could, however, see it as a grower album. We’ll see. (Note: that is not the actual picture of the album as far as I can tell. But it works, yeah?)

Werewolves and Lollipops by Patton Oswalt
SubPop, 2007

So I’ve heard the name Patton Oswalt around before without really paying attention to it. It wasn’t until this year that I found out that he is a comedian, not a musician. It wasn’t until several days ago I found out he did the lead character’s voice in Pixar’s newest, Ratatouille. So when I found his newest album for all of $2.50 I figured, heck, why not? And it is actually pretty funny. Comedy is such a visual branch that albums really can’t do it justice. But I will definitely enjoy random sketches popping up on shuffle.

The Trumpet Child by Over The Rhine
Great Speckled Dog Recordings, 2007

Their last album had a bare-bones feel that almost brought on a cabaret folk sound. This one is much more lounge in feel. It asks the listener to prop of their feet, pour some wine, and cuddle with a loved one. It doesn’t seem too compelling at this point, yet I have trouble seeing Over The Rhine failing to deliver a solid album. Time will tell.

We Are The Pipettes by The Pipettes
Interscope Records/Cherry Tree, 2007

At the end of August the US will finally see a state side release of last year’s indie pop buzz album by The Pipettes. It really is a fun album, full of dance-yer-buttocks-off pop songs. They are a throwback, but a fun novelty none the less. (That cover is the European cover. I am assuming the US release will be the same thing, but I don’t know for sure.) One interesting note is that the US release will have 17 tracks, three more than the European release.

Marry Me by St. Vincent
Beggars Banquet, 2007

My first reaction upon seeing St. Vincent, who is 23 year old Annie Clark, and reading the album title, Marry Me, was “Yes! Oh God, yes….” Because she is beautiful. Then when I heard her voice that reaction only intensified because her voice is stunning. She performs an orchestrated indie pop, but it has weird flourishes that you don’t usually hear in such music. Not to mention her guitar skills which are quite impressive. This album could definitely crack my year end top 10 list.

Widow City by The Fiery Furnaces
Thrill Jockey, 2007

Another possible top 10-er. I love just about anything this band does, although I will admit that last year’s Bitter Tea left me feeling kind of empty. However, I am a devotee of Rehearsing My Choir (best album of ’05) and this one seems to sound both weird, yet also like it could be appealing to the popular indie (what an oxymoron) crowd. We’ll see what kind of staying power it has with me. But on one listen it sounds great.

So that is my day in pictures and text. I am pretty happy with it. Because even the stuff I sound down on up there is enjoyable. It is just easier for me to talk negatives in a little blurb.

August 12, 2007 Posted by | Music | Leave a comment

free yr radio

I have seen some awesome concerts in my day. I’ll admit it. Four stand out as being just stupendously awesome that they all tie for my #1 spot. In chronological order…

X) 16 Horsepower in Cleveland. The raw energy was amazing. Watching David Eugene Edwards  switch off between his banjo, guitar, and bandonian was great. This bass player was riviting. And how often can you say that about bass players? Live is really the best way to experience this band. (The live DVD does the live show some justice, so since the band no longer exists it is a nice second-best. Just make sure to check out the LIVE DVD and not the INTERVIEWS DVD. Biiiig difference.)

      

X)  Sufjan Stevens in both Cleveland, OH and Lancaster, PA. I suppose if I had to drop one artist to narrow down to a top three sharing the #1 spot, it would be Sufjan. But still, both concerts were fantastic for different reasons. It was 2005 on the cusp of Sufjan’s explosion into the indie elite and the crowds were just electric.

X) Man Man in Harrisonburg, VA at MACRoCK festival. How many times could a festival show be totally stunning? Not too often. Macrock takes an edge just for the fact that most of the stages take place in actual bars like a real show. Thankfully, Man Man played late enough that they probably played a good half hour to forty minutes. Which, honestly, is probably the average length of their set, anyway. You can’t really describe Man Man… they have to be experienced. Preferably live. Because on CD it sounds much flatter. It just explodes on stage.

(Above image not from the Macrock show. I couldn’t find any. Sigh.)

X) Sonic Youth, The Magic Numbers, and The Flaming Lips in Allentown, PA at the  2006 town fair. Hard to believe this show happened almost a year ago already. Yet here we are. Sonic Youth is one of my favorite bands, with only The Residents realistically rivaling them. And chances are I’ll never be able to see The Residents live in any way in person… so seeing Sonic Youth was kind of like the completion of a dream for me. And it was pretty much amazing. The only thing that could have made it better would have been to play more songs from the mid-to-late-90s, particularly off of NYC Ghosts & Flowers. The Magic Numbers opened and were pretty much awesome also. And The Flaming Lips closed and, despite me not being a huge fan of their music, they sure know how to put on a huge live experience. (The only downer to the evening was an excruciatingly long set from the horrible Ween.)

(Again, not from actual show.)

Which brings me to http://www.freeyrradio.com. They put on a series of benefit concerts and have a bunch of video footage on their website that can be downloaded. Of special interest to me were the three full Man Man songs they had up. The one was really bad (instead of watching Engrish Bwudd on their site, go to youtube.com and search “macrock” and “man man” and it will be much, much better. Plus you’ll see me in the crowd at a couple of points.) But the second song must be new, because I don’t have any record of it… it’s pretty cool. Definitely the sort of song that works really well live. Then the final songs is awesome, also… not new, though.

Sonic Youth also did a benefit for free yr radio. Unfortunately there is no footage on the free yr radio website, but if you go to pitchforkmedia.com, there is a great video of them performing a song off of their first full length album, Confusion Is Sex. I hate pitchfork as much as the next self-respecting sub-indie snob, but they do occasionally provide some cool stuff. Definitely check that one out. It. will. blow. your. mind.

After all of that, if you still happen to have a mind, either search youtube for 16 Horsepower or Man Man (not an easy task given the insanely common occurrence of the term “man”) or Sonic Youth. You’ll thank me later.

August 12, 2007 Posted by | Internet, Music | Leave a comment

Terry Scott Taylor – Imaginarium

Terry Scott Taylor has been around a long time. He started off in the Christian band he fronts, Daniel Amos. Then there is The Lost Dogs, an alternative country supergroup. Not to mention The Swirling Eddies. Plus, somehow, the man finds time to do his own solo material. He cranks out songs like there is no tomorrow.

And then there is Imaginarium. Taylor was approached by a new video game company to compose the music to accompany their video game. So he did it, writing quirky songs to fit the video game. They liked the results so much that whey the did a follow up video game, they got him to do the music again. All of the music, from both video games, has been squeezed onto two discs and released in one package for fans of both Taylor and the video games.

Ripped out of the context of a video game, the music sounds thin and sketchy. The guitars are all acoustic, played in a militant strum that makes the guitars sound more percussive than anything. Drums tap out a beat, but don’t really do anything worth listening to. Whistles and strings and horns and other assorted instruments then are what adds flavor to the tracks.

The big interest in this album is Terry Scott Taylor’s vocals. Here more than any other recording I have heard from him he explores the farthest reaches of what his voice can do. At various points he sounds like a less guttural Tom Waits. A lot of the album though paints Taylor as a Mike Patton singing Lewis Carroll’s popular poem, “Jabberwocky.” The poem is a nonsense poem, here are a few lines for an example: “Twas brillig, and the slithy toves/Did gyre and gimble in the wabe.” It kind of reminds me of trying to read Chaucer in the Middle English. It almost makes sense, but not really.

There are actually a fair number of tracks that work fairly well in the context of an album. However, there is so much which is also, in the context of an album, quite skippable, that simply finding the really good tracks is a chore. I mean, there are over 30 tracks on each CD in the set. Over 70 songs spanning the two discs. Some of them are only seconds of sound, others are longer with more of a traditional song structure. Yet Imaginarium is an important album for sole reason that nothing else that a Christian artist has released really sounds like this. Sure, The Danielson Famile has done their own brand of weird and odd music, and so has Daniel Amos and The Swirling Eddies. But none of it sounds like this. For that reason this album stands alone.

August 9, 2007 Posted by | Music, Video Games | 3 Comments