Monthly Archives: February 2007

365 Days, 365 Files: Chara – 世界 (Sekai)

When Chara released A scenery of me in 2004, it seemed like an album intended to fulfill a contract. Chara self-covered a number of tracks from her first few albums with Sony, and I don’t remember seeing the kind of run-up leading to the album as her previous releases.

Chara is now signed to Universal Music, having released a new single in late 2006.

I can’t say Chara occupies the same level of fandom as ACO or Cocco, but she has a remarkable and singular voice, and she can write a damn good single.

"Sekai" made me realize I probably like Chara more than even I’m aware of. The song is the rockingest thing she’s done since "Skirt", and the follow-up singles are just as good.

Chara’s newest album in two years, Union, comes out on Wednesday (Feb. 28). I’m looking forward to it.

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365 Days, 365 Files: Chara – スカート (Skirt)

Billy Corgan may have a very high opinion of himself, but for some reason, I tend to perceive James Iha as being more emblematic of Smashing Pumpkins than its auteur leader.

Perhaps it’s because Iha is the rare Asian-American in what is essentially a white man’s music. Maybe it’s because he has enviable hair. Most likely, it’s because he could provide serious crunch to a generation-defining rock band, when his own music is far more sunny.

His only solo album, Let It Come Down, bears no resemblance to his work with Smashing Pumpkins. It’s that ’60s-era revivalist pop sound which informs his collaboration with Japanese pop artist Chara on "Skirt".

Iha wrote the music for "Skirt", while Chara provided the lyrics. I almost wish the pair recorded an entire album together. Iha’s retro writing fits well with Chara’s aesthetic, and her distinctive voice suits his sound wonderfully.

"Skirt" appears on the 2001 album Madrigal.

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365 Days, 365 Files: Camper Van Beethoven – She Divines Water

Where Key Lime Pie was panned, praise was heaped in mountainous mounds on Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart. Perhaps I exaggerate, but I know my favorite rock magazine at the time certainly weighed in thusly.

I purchased Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart on cassette a few months after getting Key Lime Pie back when the ’80s became the ’90s. I didn’t fall in love with it the way I did its successor, but the strange effects that close "She Divines Water" stayed with me.

I upgraded that cassette to CD a few weeks ago, and the album still can’t penetrate my subconscious. That’s probably because Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart is all over the place. Camper Van Beethoven throw everything into a song, and the results can overwhelm each other.

I always felt like the album was ending when "She Divines Water" comes on. It’s only the fourth track of the album.

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365 Days, 365 Files: Camper Van Beethoven – Sweethearts

There was a lot of bad press when Camper Van Beethoven released Key Lime Pie back in 1989. So much so, the band flaunted those reviews on an early design of its web site in the early part of this decade.

Back then, I couldn’t really tell. Key Lime Pie was the first — and for a long time, only — album of Camper Van Beethoven I listened to. For an 18-year-old kid fed a steady diet of corporate media for most of his life, Key Lime Pie was a refreshing taste. I wasn’t burdened with the history of the band’s oeuvre to pass judgment on the album’s merits.

For all I knew, this album was the most brilliant thing they’d written. It was certainly an album I loved listening to again and again. Still do.

"Sweethearts" is the first country song I ever liked. And no, you may not tell me the twangy guitar on this song is not country. In Hawaiʻi, it’s a cultural requirement to despise country music categorically. There is no shade of difference between Lucinda Williams and Faith Hill.

"Sweethearts", however, was my first introduction to what would eventually be called "alt-country" — country music far enough outside the mainstream to encompass punk rockers and old timers. In fact, the track predates Uncle Tupleo’s No Depression by a year.

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Subscription has its privileges

I’m not sure how I got in the habit of putting the links to sound files at the end of entries and never on the front page of this site. In fact, I think the convention for MP3 blogs is to put the link at the very start of the entry.

I’m not good at following directions.

But I ran across a rather promising media player called Songbird. It’s built on the Mozilla platform and has the capability to find media links on a web page and play them. As I type this sentence, I’m listening to the files I’ve posted here as a playlist.

To accomodate this capability in Songbird, I’m posting the "365 Days, 365 Files" entries in full on the front page. While I’ll still keep with my habit of putting links to files at the end of my entries, I won’t hide them either.

In addition to seeking out media links, Songbird allows you to subscribe to RSS feeds and plays any files contained in the feed. It’s a function similar to one my friend Ryan pointed out in iTunes.

You can subscribe to the RSS feed like a podcast by going to Advanced » Subscribe to Podcast and entering the URL of the feed. Once subscribed, iTunes downloads the sound files to your machine. Ryan said he created a playlist on his iPod.

365 Days, 365 Files: Caitlin Cary – Cello Girl

When Caitlin Cary released I’m Staying Out 13 months after her debut, I questioned the speed of the turnaround.

As it turned out, I’m Staying Out stood on its own feet, although it didn’t possess quite the same level of catchiness as While You Weren’t Looking.

By that, I mean there wasn’t a track as good "What Will You Do?" on the album. "Cello Girl" comes pretty close. One of the bona fide rockers on the album, the song features a catchy chorus and a storyline that could have fell into sentimentality but doesn’t.

Cary’s rich voice suits any environment it’s in. She’s powerful on fast songs, touching on slower songs. It’s a telephone book or shopping list voice — one that could sing either and sound great doing so.

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365 Days, 365 Files: Caitlin Cary – What Will You Do?

This isn’t the first time I’ve posted this song to this web site.

Back when was a webzine, I reviewed both of Catilin Cary’s solo albums, and I included a track from each album for each review. And I’m featuring them again. Mostly because I’m lazy, but conveniently because they’re very good songs.

"What Will You Do?" is the most poignant track of Cary’s debut, While You Weren’t Looking. Cary’s voice just aches with regret, and the haunting melody can’t easily be forgotten.

It’s been almost five years since Cary released that album. For the past few years, she’s teamed up with Tonya Lamm and Lynn Blakey as Tres Chicas, and she’s recorded a duet album with Thad Cockrell. Tres Chicas released its second album last year, so there may not be room for a third solo album by Cary in the near future.

But the two albums that are available shouldn’t be missed.

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365 Days, 365 Files: Café Tacuba – Pinche Juan

So far, "Pinche Juan" is the shortest offering of all the files I’ve loaded to this site.

Clocking at 33 seconds, the track is a punchy punk song without actually employing very many punk conventions. There’s the double-time tempo, the shouted vocals and the concise length. That could be considered punk.

The rest of the song is propelled by accordion, bass and keyboards.

It could be argued the song isn’t really punk at all — just very hopped up traditional Mexican music. Perhaps some aspect of that remains.

But pogo-ing to this song wouldn’t be inappropriate.

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365 Days, 365 Files: Café Tacuba – Ojalá que llueva café

The only Café Tacuba album I don’t own is Avalancha de Exitos. I would probably enjoy it if I listened to it for a while, but there’s no way I could understand it. (As if I possessed any understanding of Spanish.)

Avalancha de Exitos translates to "avalanche of hits". In short, it’s a cover album.

I did borrow it from a friend of mine back in 1999, and it was the first Café Tacuba album I ever heard. I was immediately drawn by the group’s angular sound, but instead of getting Avalancha de Exitos, I went with Re.

I’m still hesitant to get Avalancha de Exitos because certain interpretations have contexts beyond my experience.

"Ojalá que llueva café" is one such song. To a gringo such as myself, "Ojalá que llueva café" is just an energetic piece with textured rhythms, virtuoso playing and stratospheric singing. But to a native listener, it’s a display of sharp wit and cleverness.

The original by Juan Luis Guerra is performed as merengue, very danceable and very pop. Café Tacuba, however, transforms the song into huapango, also very danceable but far more traditional. It’s like turning a Shania Twain country-pop song into bluegrass.

That analogy, unfortunately, doesn’t take into account the national identities attached to such a transformation. You might cross state lines by making Shania bluegrass, but to turn merengue into huapango takes a leap across a sea.

If there is one thing my gaijin ears understand is energy, and "Ojalá que llueva café" has it in spades.

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365 Days, 365 Files: Café Tacuba – M.C.

I learned about the departure of cellist Joan Jeanrenaud from Kronos Quartet not from any news item but from the liner notes of Café Tacuba’s double album Reves/Yosoy.

Kronos appears on one of the tracks on Reves, and Jennifer Culp (who has also since left the group) was listed as cellist. Huh? What happened to Joan? That discrepancy spurred me straight to the quartet’s web site, where I found an announcement about Jeanrenaud’s exit.

Thanks, Café Tacuba.

Although Kronos doesn’t discriminate against rock music in its repertoire, rock bands haven’t been a prime source for new commissions. Café Tacuba, however, has had two pieces performed by the ensemble.

"12/12", available on Kronos’ Nuevo, is a sprawling work, and the most daring piece on the album. When Café Tacuba is weirder than Silverstre Revualtes, something is definitely up.

"M.C." is an instrumental version of a song from Yosoy titled "La Muerte Chiquita". Kronos included the track on its own album, Kronos Caravan.

I hope the band provides more music for Kronos. I can’t imagine a better collaborator for the quartet. (Sigur Rós does come close, though.)

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