Sunday, April 11, 2010

Writer’s Jukebox – A Series of Unfortunate Events

WTF was this movie? It’s been a while since the last jukebox.  That’s partially my fault and partially…well, it’s mostly just my fault.  A series of unfortunate events – holidays, people being busy at work, extremely distracting nice weather – prevented me from properly focusing on the task at hand.  Namely, providing you folks with our staff’s listening habits.

Andrew, Rob, and I – fresh off our recent foray into food commentary and toilet humor – kick in some musings and recommendations.  Remember Barenaked Ladies?  Andrew does.  Remember Gnarls Barkley?  I do. What about Jimi?  Yeah, that Jimi.  Rob’s been thinking about him some.

Andrew – Barenaked Blasphemy

Did you know that Steven "the nasally one" Page left the Barenaked Ladies early last year? It happened kind of awhile ago, but I didn't know about it until their newest album, All In Good Time, popped up on my Allmusic new releases feed. The band still soldiers on, but apparently recording a childrens' album and then being busted for doing cocaine in the space of a couple of months was enough to split apart Page and the band he co-founded over two decades ago.

Once acquired, this knowledge sent me on a nostalgic trip through their back catalog - owning every BNL album up to and including 2007's Barenaked Ladies Are Men was never something I intended to do, but it sort of just happened anyway. If you've ever written the group off as a novelty act, you need to give them another try.

The first thing you need to do is procure yourself copies of 1992's Gordon, 1998's Stunt, 2000's Maroon, and 2003's Everything to Everyone. Then, being sure to skip the singles that earn the band its novelty label ("If I Had $1,000,000," "One Week," "Another Postcard") listen to them all, noting the band's consistently excellent musicianship, wordplay and harmonies. Note that most of BNL's work doesn't sit well upon first listen - prepare yourself for a Music Snob-esque listening session in which you give each disc multiple spins.

When I covered the Beatles' catalog as part of our Art of the Album feature, you may have noticed my love of and admiration for vocal harmony coming to the fore, and I submit that some of the Ladies' impressive chords wipe the floor with some of the Beatles'. Disagree?Ask Sir Paul himself.

Oh, what do I think of their new album? Well, surprisingly, it's not bad, but the band definitely misses Page and it's not a great place to start.

Craig – Who’s Charles Barkley?

Remember when you could barely spend ten minutes listening to the radio without hearing “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley? (Unless, of course, you were listening to NPR.)  That song, with its insistent bass line and moody harmonies, took over the charts – no doubt aided by the duo’s costume antics.

The duo – producer/DJ Danger Mouse and rapper/vocalist Cee-Lo Green – defy easy categorization.  Danger Mouse lives to create outside genres (or in multiple genres at once); his breakthrough releases was his Beatles/Jay-Z mash-up The Grey Album.  Cee-Lo’s melodies soar, cutting through Danger’s beats and making each of their tracks instantly recognizable as a Gnarls song.  He’s definitely hip-hop.  And there’s plenty of soul.  But his voice carries a certain naked honesty that usually gets swallowed up in R&B’s usual “Lemme get you laid” posturing.

My iPod on shuffle, I was brought back to their debut release St. Elsewhere through the excellent closing track “The Last Time.”  It’s fortuitous that a song whose hook reads “When was the last time you danced?” is impossible to resist kinetically.  The guitar riff, the back-up vocals: it massages your muscles into movement.  Other exemplary cuts from the record include “Transformer” (this song is a goddamn kick in the nuts) and a cover of “Gone Daddy Gone.”

I was a little less impressed by their sophomore effort, The Odd Couple, but I chalk that up to the novelty wearing off.  It’s still quality (“Run” and “Going On,” especially).  It’s just not the revelation the first record was. 

RobWatch Hendrix light this novel on fire

I'm reading Matterhorn, a stunning novel about the Vietnam War by Karl Marlantes. Naturally, the Hendrix comes out.

I mean, really, have you ever listened to his guitar? Listening to the way "Voodoo Child" crashes and howls, I'm not sure anyone's played the guitar with quite such abandon. It screeches. It cries (it cries Mary (sorry)). It makes rock and roll seem like something that naturally occurs, given a certain unhingedness.

We all know "Purple Haze," "Freedom," "Hey Joe," and "Fire." For some deeper cuts, try "Machine Gun," a rambling, bass-driven blues slouch that (lackadaisically) nods to Vietnam. For those of you not reading a book about our jungle war, try his delightful cover of Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone." Most charming stage banter this side of Jesus Christ: "If you'll excuse me for a minute, just let me play my guitar, right?" Extra points for a shoutout to Dylan's grandmother.

Like TuPac, Hendrix has released an album from beyond the grave: Valleys of Neptune. I haven't given it a listen, but recent spinnings of his old standards have reaffirmed my love. Excuse me while I kiss this guy.