Popdose Music Roundtable: February 2014

Written by Music, Popdose Roundtable

It’s the Popdose Music Roundtable for February 2014 — wherein the staff gabs about any music, new or old, that has been moving us over the past month.

Robert L. Ross – It’s been a very musical month for me – from The Beatles to Booker T and everything else, plus revisiting my own band’s catalog, so I’m sonically awake.

Michael Parr – I have not been able to stop listening to Band of Horses’ Acoustic at the Ryman. The arrangements, while not new—I saw the band perform an acoustic show at Carnegie Hall a few years back—do a world of justice to the band’s oft under-appreciated lyrics. Well worth the price of admission.

Ross – Bobby Messano’s new album is a great surprise; Matthew Ryan’s next album is a masterpiece and revisiting the re-released “Drums Along The Hudson” is an emotional rollercoaster.  So is “Trade Test Transmissions”.  And I keep listening to “…to get to the other side” at least once a day – not the whole thing, but some songs are worth repeating on my iPod.

Dw. Dunphy – I’ve been all over the map this month. I really enjoy Vanden Plas’ new one Chronicles of the Immortals: Netherworld, which is exactly what you expect from a heavy-handed prog metal album. Not a problem because it’s really what I was hoping for. I’m also enjoying the new Beck album Morning Phase and, shockingly, I don’t mind the new Asia album Gravitas.

At the same time, I’ve been obsessing over Blade Runner lately, so I’m listening to the Vangelis soundtrack. While unrelated, other than being instrumental synth-based, kind of new agey, I’ve been on with an old favorite, Patrick O’Hearn’s Indigo.

Finally, I’ve been listening to Hitchhiker’s Guide Tertiary Phase and Steve Martin’s Pure Drivel on audiobook.

David Medsker – I’m really digging Art Decade’s new record. Very much in the classic pop songwriting vein, which means they aren’t sexy, or cool, and they’ll probably sell 75 copies. But I really like it. It’s nice to see present-day bands who respect songwriting, and aren’t just trying to write hits.

I also really like the new Kaiser Chiefs single “Coming Home,” and can’t wait to see them later this year. Taking the kids, too. Pogo party!

Dan Wiencek – I am majorly digging the new Cibo Matto. I had no idea they were even working together again until the disk showed up in Rdio one day. It’s fantastic — whacked and weird and tuneful and all kinds of fun, with a surprising layer of thematic/conceptual unity. Son Kil Moon’s Benji also took me by surprise. Very unique and compelling songwriting. And the recent Michael Bloomfield anthology sent me off to investigate Merle Travis, one of those artists whose name I knew without ever having listened to. What can you say about a guy who both Doc Watson and Chet Atkins named children after? Guitar playing from Mount Olympus, it is.

I am also enjoying Angel Olson (I think I prefer the prior record to the new), Nicole Atkinson’s Slow Phaser and And They Spoke in Anthems’ June. (Sidebar: will the full-sentence band names fad fall by the wayside, or has MySpace and Soundcloud made it so literally every good band name has been thought of?)

Oh, and Bibio’s The Green EP? Gorgeousness.

Thierry Côté – I’m guessing you meant Nicole Atkins, Dave. It’s definitely her brightest record after the darker tones of her first two – I hear more echoes of Bowie and Mott the Hoople in the arrangements, and that’s certainly never a bad thing.

Rob Smith – Winter has hijacked my mood.  I’m in my usual cold weather head space, which – for reasons I’ve yet to determine, and it’s been years – means I’m listening to a lot of Grateful Dead.  The recently released Dave’s Picks Volume 9 captures them in a deep, jammy mood in 1974.  Twenty minutes of “Playing in the Band,” 26 minutes of “Dark Star,” and a sprightly, 16-minute “Weather Report Suite” will put off most listeners, and with good reason, but it’s all sorta hitting me where I live right now.

I’m also getting into the new Neil Finn record, Dizzy Heights, which has its share of detractors, but which I’m quite happy to marinate in.  I don’t think of it much as a Neil Finn record; it’s more of a Dave Fridmann production, with Finn providing the voice and songs.  And in my peculiar mood, the pieces all fit, much as they did last year around this time, when the Flaming Lips dropped The Terror, and I found myself perfectly in tune to its noise and sense of desolation.

And then there’s the new Beck album, Morning Phases, which is just a thing of beauty.  I hear echoes of Surf’s Up and Younger than Yesterday and Workingman’s Dead (there’s the Dead again) in its sound, and it gives me a bit of hope, at a moment when I can really use some.

Jeff Giles – I spent much of the month with Joe Henry’s upcoming release, Invisible Hour, on repeat — I spoke with him for a piece that I think will be running at Paste when the album comes out in May. I love pretty much everything Joe does, but this is particularly great stuff: kind of an Americana record, but tilted on his signature lyrical axis, and colored with dashes of dark reeds from his son Levon. These days, I’m spending a lot of time with Matthew Ryan’s next effort,Boxers, which gets the blood pumping and heart surging in all the ways fans expect from a Ryan rock record.

Today, though, I’m listening to the new Johnny Winter box.

Ross – I spent about a week and a half, prepping for the Beatlefest by listening to every album in release order – from “Please Please Me” to “Let It Be”.  And I still don’t like “Abbey Road” or “Let It Be”.  I can only tolerate a single album’s worth of “The Beatles” (why oh why did they release shit like “Honey Pie”, “Revolution 9”, etc.).  Subsequently, my palate cleanser after that weekend was “A Quick One” right into “The Who Sell Out”.

Medsker – I never listen to Side 1 of Abbey Road anymore, but I love, love, love Side 2.

Wiencek – I have come to the realization that “You Never Give Me Your Money” is the best song on it.

Ross – I have always and will always maintain that “Revolver” is still the greatest album of all time – by anyone.  And I can play it over and over and over…

Jon Cummings – That is absolutely true. Speaking of both these albums, I’m twitching with excitement (OK, not really … but metaphorically) for this Saturday night’s (March 1) autism benefit here in L.A. – Revolver and Abbey Road performed in their entirety by a cast including the Bangles, Matthew Sweet, the Three O’Clock, Colin Hay, Chris Stamey, the Muffs, plus Denny Laine & Laurence Juber (from Wings) and many others.

revolverMedsker – I don’t see me ever getting tired of Revolver. And that benefit show sounds amazing.

Ross – Damn, I wish I could see that show – I love Stamey, The Bangles, Matthew Sweet; The 3 O’Clock are really nice people – plus it’s for a such a good cause.

But yes, “Revolver” is the one album I hold up as THE gold standard.  A perfect album.  The most “mediocre” tracks are “Yellow Submarine” and “Good Day Sunshine” and if that’s not great, that’s pretty damned good.  I’ve never held “…Pepper” in much regard – the two are back to back – “Rubber Soul” and then “Revolver”.  But I would still give the nod to the U.S. version of “Rubber Soul” instead of the U.K. one; it’s a bit more consistent with it’s low voltage nature in the U.S. configuration.

Wiencek – That’s the version Brian Wilson fell for, and that inspired him to make Pet Sounds.

Medsker – Just looked up the differences between the US and UK versions, and ack, they removed If I Needed Someone? Blasphemy.

Bro culture needs to die. Yesterday.

Ross – And they removed “Nowhere Man”, “Drive My Car” and “What Goes On” – but they added “I’ve Just Seen A Face” and “It’s Only Love” to start sides one and two, respectively.

Medsker – I was weaned on the UK sequencing, and to me that album is fine as is, just a notch below Revolver.

Dave Lifton – Capitol reportedly did that to make it more like a folk-rock album, which was a stupid idea considering it made it look like they following the trends rather than setting them.

Ross – A fair point, for sure, but it does work – and having grown up with the opening of “I’ve Just Seen A Face”, it’ll always be with me in that order. Of course, those dipshits at Capitol really f**ked up with “Revolver” by using the three Lennon tracks for “Yesterday…  & Today”, when they simply could have put “I’m Down”, “Paperback Writer” and “Rain” to flesh out the compilation…

And funnily enough, “Magical Mystery Tour” was a good idea as an album!

Dunphy – I’m all Beatled out for a good year at this point. I need a break. A loud, obnoxious break.

Dan Walsh – One new band has gotten my ear, even if it’s only one song – Tysson. Which is the new project from John Michael Rouchell. First he had MyNameIsJohnMichael, then he released a solo EP last year and this seems to be where he’s at now. Definitely different than his previous stuff, but he can’t write a bad song. I’m looking forward to hearing more from this project.

Vance Joy had this song free on iTunes a couple weeks ago and I’ve been hooked in. I’ll have to give the whole “God Loves You When You’re Dancing” EP a spin soon.

I’ve been streaming the new 311 & Ozomatli records and they have joyfully taken me back to the late ’90s.

With the kids, the new Ella Jenkins record ABCs & 123s has demanded their attention. Lots of the kids music is just played in background while they play. This CD with Ella playing and interacting with school kids just grabbed them. They just sit and stare at the boombox as it plays.

Cummings – I’ve spent much of February catching up on several female country artists whose work I didn’t spend enough time with last year – Brandy Clark’s “12 Stories,” Ashley Monroe’s “Like a Rose,” Kacey Musgraves’ album, Miranda Lambert’s last set, etc. I’ve been spurred on by a rash of stories bemoaning the inability of female acts to get significant airplay on country radio, at a time when the male-dominated genre has reached a nadir of stupidity thanks to the “Bro Country” trend.

Côté – Have you heard Caitlin Rose’s The Stand-In? While it’s not quite as country (at times, it recalls early Bonnie Raitt, or Josh Ritter’s songwriting), it’s right up there with those albums in terms of quality – and is an excellent palate cleanser after another bro country, let’s-grab-some-beers-and-drive-the-pickup-down-to-the-beach-to-pick-up-bikini-models-casually-waiting-for-us-there party anthem.

In that same vein, I’ve been listening to Robert Ellis’s newest album a lot this month. I enjoyed his previous work well enough, but The Lights From the Chemical Plant is just on another level, particularly in terms of songwriting and arrangements. With a bit of a push, “Steady as the Rising Sun” could become a genuinely enjoyable wedding staple (the album version has some Nashville Sound strings, but I really enjoy the acoustic take below) and “Bottle of Wine” wouldn’t sound out of place on an early Tom Waits album or on Ryan Adams at his most stripped down.

Ross – The new Matthew Ryan album has been knocking me out – but it won’t be available for a while.  However, Mr. Giles has it and he can probably spread a bit more – or better, objectivity than I can.  It’s a powerful, coherent piece.

Parr – I’ll definitely vouch for the Catlin Rose record. That came to me last year and I’ve found myself going back to it over and again. The Bonnie Raitt comparison is dead on.

Ross – And – for the record – no Beatling will be done until at least November.  I can feel a slight tug towards R.E.M. right now, actually.

Medsker – EW pimped an Australian band called the Jezabels in a recent issue, and I have to say, two songs into their most recent album, these guys have my attention. Female singer, anthemic indie pop with dreamy vocals, like that band Minipop crossed with U2.

Robert Cashill – “Gve the People What They Want,” command Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, and I’m pretty much loving what they’re dishing out; 10 songs, 34 minutes of pure listening pleasure. Highlight: “Now I See.” Yes, Miss Jones, I do, I do see. You shook me to the bones. (Bonus Jones: A nice cover of “Goldfinger,” on The Wolf of Wall Street soundtrack. She performs it in the film.)

Ross – This is the kind of day to end it (in another two hours) with Booker T & The MG’s “Melting Pot” – the perfect antidote to Mondays.

Matt Springer – I literally just put the new Beck record in my ears. I like it so far.

But mostly, it’s been all Bruce, all the time. Springsteen’s new efforts to release official downloads of his every live performance has hit my iPod in a powerful way. I’ve listened to almost every single minute, some of them multiple times. I think the band is still putting on a pretty remarkable show, and it’s astonishing how revealing the songs still are. There’s still life in the old girl yet. His solo version of “For You” from Perth, Australia is jaw-drop great.

I feel really distant from music sometimes. I return to the same old bands but nothing new floats into my life. It’s like if it doesn’t sound good playing sorta-loud on my crappy Kia speakers while I’m driving to and from work, it gets lost. I should do something about that.

Brian Boone – I like the new Beck, inasmuch as I like Sad Beck. I prefer funky, hillbilly-from-space Beck.

Giles – I prefer Jeff Beck.

Chris Holmes – Seconded.

Boone – I prefer Sad Jeff Beck.

Springer – I prefer Jeff Giles. AWWWWWWWW.

Giles – It’s because I never covered “People Get Ready” with Rod Stewart, right?

Scott Malchus – Started out February listening to the new Amy Ray album, Goodnight Tender, which is a great country record. It’ll never get any radio airplay, but anyone bitching about the “new” country sound should be listening to this record. I’ve always loved her voice, especially when harmonizing with Emily Saliers. Ryan does something very wise on this record by having a female sing harmony similar to Saliers. She also does something very cool by letting one of her contributors, Heather McEntire, take lead vocals on the album’s last track, “When You Come for Me,” which McEntire penned. The entire album is very spiritual, which brought me comfort this month. The death of Philip Seymour Hoffman really shook me, unexpectedly, and I needed some comfort music.

Recently I’ve been delving into the new Eric Church record, which is pretty badass. And of course I’ve been dabbling in those Springsteen live releases.

Ross – I’ll fourth or fifth the appreciation of El Becko and not the loser one.  Fuck that Slowhand Clapton shit – Beck was the only Yardbirds guitarist of note.  Listen to his career retrospective boxset – he can do anything.  He’s the master (and it has to be said my only real guitar hero).

Ann Logue – I have not really listened to anything new this month and was going to pass, but then I heard the new Rosanne Cash song “A Feather’s Not a Bird” from “The River & the Thread”. It’s a great piece of songwriting.

Ross – As I thought I might do, I did listen to the last (official) R.E.M. album.  While they really sucked huge logs in the aftermath of Berry’s departure (and I hated everything from “Automatic For The People” onward anyway), “Collapse Into Now” is a surprisingly strong album.  It’s like a best-of but with all new songs, y’know?

Springer – You… you hate Automatic for the People?

Medsker – Wow, that and Pageant are still my favorite R,E,M. albums.

Ross – “…Pageant” was the last one I loved – hated “Document” and “Green”; “Out Of Time” has moments (like “Me In Honey” and “Texarkana”).  HATE “…People”.  They became like U2.  So it was shitsville for them from ’92 until around ’09, when we went to the R.E.M. tribute at Carnegie Hall.  The dB’s, Mould, Rucker and Rhett Miller were great.  But who knew R.E.M. would come out for what would unknowingly be the final time in front of an audience?  So we started working our way through the post-Berry era…  I found several tracks off “Around The Sun” (which everyone hates) to be quite good (“Wanderlust”); some things from “Up” and most of “Accelerate”.  But no matter what, “Reveal” sucks.  Oh, and “All The Right Friends” is a fucking masterpiece – too bad they never got that good of a version down during the “Murmur” sessions.  I loved them from the first time I’d read about them in Musician (August ’82 – with Eddie Van H on the cover and an interview with Weller – R.E.M. were in the “Faces” section) and hearing “Wolves, Lower” on the old WSOU…

Springer – We need some kind of Popdose e-mail bot to monitor these conversations and repost everyone’s arguments from the last time we debated REM. I feel like there was a last time. Maybe I’m nuts?

All I can say right now is that I don’t know if I could connect Automatic for the People to U2 if my life depended on it. But as always, mileage varies.

Ross – Matt – it was the irritation factor.  You couldn’t shake one off and then you couldn’t get rid of the other.

Medsker – What’s funny is that I had completely given up on U2 by the end of the ’80s. Then I heard their cover of “Night and Day” and thought, “Ooh, cool.” Then Achtung Baby completely restored my faith in the band, which they lost once again around the time All That You Can’t Leave Behind came out.

Parr – I like that record (All That You Can’t Leave Behind) much less now than I did when it came out. Maybe it’s a timing/age thing, but everything since Pop just grates on me. I also have a hard time understanding hate for Automatic, though I get the U2/R.E.M thing. As a record store employee in that time period it was easy to grow weary of the overexposure if both acts.

Ross – We all give up on bands that sometimes don’t know when to stop.  Hey, I’m glad The Jam called it a day when they did in ’82.  When I first heard “Absolute Beginners”, my initial reaction was “they’re fucking Genesis now” but then I realized they were ripping off The Teardrop Explodes completely.  Then they put out “Town Called Malice” and “Precious” as a single – and I lost my shit; one side being a bad re-write of “You Can’t Hurry Love” and the other side being a fucking awful disco song.  They were going in the wrong direction and they wisely broke up.  Then Weller went and fucked up on his own with The Style Council.  But at least he wasn’t dragging The Jam’s name down further with his half-assed white English soul boy ambitions…

Springer – You… you don’t like “A Town Called Malice’?

Medsker – Thought the same thing.

Ross – (laughing)  I do like “…Malice”.  Some of P.W.’s better lyrics.  I just was not – at the time – going to sit there and watch my favorite band turn into everything I hated.  Most of “The Gift” sucks, though.  And they were AWFUL on that final American tour (spring ’82).  Weller could not have cared less and treated the audiences with contempt (the miserable shit).

Now…  “SOUND AFFECTS”.  That’s their “Revolver”.  And I think I’ll listen to it on my way home tonight.

Logue – Go listen to “A Feather’s Not a Bird” by Rosanne Cash and put all this REM vs, US, 1980s vs. 1990s stuff behind you.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bjMzrMeLJxw

Springer – This is gorgeous. I have been really meaning to get around to this record.

Lifton – I raved about it in last month’s roundtable. Thanks for paying attention.

Springer – When I see the last name “Lifton,” I just automatically assume I’ll get around to it eventually.

Parr – (Insert joke about Lifton’s mom.)

Lifton – As opposed to everything getting inserted inside yours?

Springer – A feather’s not a bird…unless it’s Lifton’s mom.

(yes? no?)

Holmes – Glad to see we made it a whole two installments into this before it spun out of control.

Parr – For the record, this does have me jotting down a list of records I should listen to. Some that I’ve never heard, some that I haven’t listened to in well over a decade.

Lifton – To bring it back on track, for the past few days I’ve been enjoying St. Paul & the Broken Bones (retro-soul produced by one of the guys in Alabama Shakes) and J. Roddy Walston & the Business (old-school Stones-garage shouting).

Wiencek – Just heard that (St. Paul & the Broken Bones) yesterday. Knocked my socks off.

Giles – Some pretty hip publications are helping get the word out about St. Paul and his Broken Bones…

Lifton – Yeah, I thought Alabama Shakes had a good debut. Great sound and Brittany is a phenomenal singer, but a bit inconsistent in the songwriting department to justify the hype they got. But this is better.

Côté – I really don’t get what people see in that St. Paul LP, but then again I didn’t see the appeal of Alabama Shakes at all, either.

Giles – Thierry prefers the St. Paul of 1990:

Côté – Well, at least that St. Paul doesn’t make me think about a (formerly) rotund, harmonica-wielding H.O.R.D.E. favourite. Or worse.

Ted Asregadoo – I’ve been listening to Tales from the Realm of the Queen of Pentacles by Suzanne Vega quite a lot. It’s not as good as Beauty & Crime but I’m pretty pleased with about 3/4 of the album. Also, I started listening to U2’s How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb again. For some reason, I remember this album being slagged in some publications, but I think it’s an extremely strong record.

Medsker –  I like that song about virgins wear white, so I wear black.

Ross – Final album of this evening’s commute home – Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. by (if you don’t know) The Monkees.  It’s their Revolver.  Has one of the best fuck-you songs ever written:  “Don’t Call On Me”, composed and sung by Papa Nes (or Robert Michael Nesmith to some).  Another flawless album, end to end.