Monthly Archives: September 2008

Maybe Chinese Democracy isn’t going to suck as badly

OK, so it’s not Wal-Mart that’s getting the new Guns N’ Roses album but Best Buy, reports Billboard.

Despite Best Buy low-balling independent music shops on CD prices, it still doesn’t stop me from going there when I need to pick up a new hard drive or blank media. I just tend not to buy music there. (Unless it’s something I don’t want my former record store co-workers to see me getting.) So my rampant bourgeois rockism is only slightly mitigated.

But you have to wonder about big-box retailer exclusives. Is your major label release so milquetoast that you need to keep it out of stores that would put it next to the likes of, say, Death Cab for Cutie and the Shins?

Shiina Ringo: Watashi to Houden

Let me get the fanboy stuff out of the way. For a better listening experience of the first disc of Shiina Ringo’s b-side collection Watashi to Houden, rearrange the track listing in the following order.

  1. Σ
  2. Tokyo no Hito (The kanji spells onna, but the furigana says hito. Confusing.)
  3. Unconditional Love
  4. Remote Controller
  5. Suberidai
  6. Memai
  7. 17
  8. Rinne Highlight
  9. Aozora
  10. Kimi no Hitomi ni Koishiteru
  11. Toki ga Bousou Suru
  12. Jitsuroku ni Shinjuku (optional since it’s not even in the collection)

EMI Japan took a chronological order for the first disc of this two-disc collection, which doesn’t quite highlight the strength of the material on the whole. As Shiina got more sophisticated with programming her releases, the material on the second disc could not lend itself to such a chronology.

So that brings up my main criticism of an otherwise good retrospective: why not apply the same kind of sequencing of the second disc to the first? Of course, the order listed above is my personal choice on how to sequence the tracks. YMMV. Still, any effort would have made the collection feel less miscellaneous.

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The Dead Betties: Nightmare Sequence

After being disappointed by The Advocate’s choices for emerging gay artists, I decided to flip through some old issues of Out to see if I could find something more interesting. Even though music coverage in Out is even less pronounced than the Adovcate, the editorial judgment aligns far better with my own taste.

And so it was I ran across a one-paragraph review of the Dead Betties’ Nightmare Sequence. I sought the band’s music out, and it spoke to me immediately. Finally — a mostly gay punk band that sounds closer to NUMBER GIRL than the Dead Milkmen.

These guys sound like they can kick the living shit out of you.

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First off, no one in this band is named Karen. Yes, there’s a woman singer, but her name is Achiko. Why did the band name use a single first name? I don’t know. And yet, the name kind of fits.

KAREN consists of ART-SCHOOL guitarists Kinoshita Riki and Todaka Masafumi, ex-downy rhythm section of bassist Nakamata Kazuhiro and drummer Akiyama Takahiko, plus Achiko. It’s something of an indie supergroup that, not surprisingly, sounds nothing like the bands from which the members came.

A bit of ART-SCHOOL’s emo bluster can be heard in the guitar work, but it’s held in check by a more pop sound. The syncopated madness of downy, however, is nowhere to be found, although Akiyama and Nakamata do a fine job of playing around the beat.

Rather, KAREN is what happens when a ’90s indie band gets transported to the late ’80s. If the band’s debut album MAGGOT IN TEARS is any indication, the arm of Johnny Marr stretches long yet again.

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Jonathan Mendelsohn: SNOCAP tracks

Well here’s a first — a review of what could conceivably called a bunch of demo tracks. No album at all.

About the only thing Jonathan Mendelsohn has released commercially is a contribution to the compilation Revolutions, released by the gay-friendly label Music with a Twist, and that track, "Forgiveness", was one of the better ones in the collection.

When Sony was directly involved with Music with a Twist, Mendelsohn’s Myspace page indicated he had major label backing. As Music with a Twist disappeared from consciousness — after really big announcements at the start of 2006 — so it seemed with Mendelsohn’s deal. His label description reverted back to "None".

Instead, he launched a SNOCAP store and posted 10 recordings, which will be referred here as the SNOCAP tracks, since they aren’t really part of any specific album.

One of the problems with Revolutions was a broad brush approach to its selection. The commercially-minded tracks just didn’t sound distinctive even for commercial music. Mendelsohn was one of the few exceptions.

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Ann Sally: Brand-New Orleans

Five months before Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana and caused the levees in New Orleans to break, Ann Sally released Brand-New Orleans, an album of jazz and blues standards recorded with New Orleans musicians. I briefly thought about holding a New Orleans fund raising drive with that album as a donation prize, kind of like how local public television stations get viewers to buy stuff during donation drives. But I hadn’t yet listened to the album, and I have no connections with a label to facilitate such a drive.

Now that I have listened to the album, I should have held that drive anyway, just to get people to listen to it.

Like Máire Brennan, Sacha Sacket or Hatakeyama Miyuki, Ann has a grocery list/phone book voice — someone who would sound good singing a [grocery list/phone book]. She could have gone for convenience and recorded Brand-New Orleans with Japanese musicians with all the technical skill to pull off jazz and blues. But instead she traveled across the globe, and the effort pays off.

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Emmylou Harris: All I Intended to Be

As much as I love Emmylou Harris’ Wrecking Ball — you really didn’t want to be hanging around me in 1995 if I were anywhere near a CD player — two additional albums in the same vein started to feel … familiar. And Harris isn’t one to dwell on the familiar for very long.

To bastardize Sir Isaac Newton, every zig has an equal and opposite zag. With All I Intended to Be, Harris returns to her role as interpreter, and she works with her very first producer, Brian Ahrens, for the first time in two decades. It’s not a complete return to the past, however — a few of her own songs are thrown into the mix.

What results is a wonderfully organic and rustic work, a culmination of Harris’ storied career as performer and songwriter.

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Looking ahead: September 2008-December 2008

I must have started this entry at least three times, trying to cull release news of interest (to me.) So most of this entry contains releases already scooped in earlier posts. I included a few other potentially news worthy items, and of course, I have to mention the Shiina Ringo boxed set coming out Nov. 25. Mostly, this fall looks as bad as last year in terms of interesting releases. I didn’t think I could take "bored to death" so literally.

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unkie releases second album in October

Instrumental rock band unkie is set to release their second album, too many secrets, on Oct. 22, reports The band recorded the album in Chicago on analog equipment with Steve Albini, and the new tracks include more of a "hip-hop taste" (that’s how Bounce describes it. The article also throws around the adjective "jazzy".)

unkie includes AJICO/LOSALIOS bassist TOKIE, downy/VOLA & THE ORIENTAL MACHINE guitarist Aoki Yutaka and session drummer Kido Hiroshi. The band released the Price of Fame in July 2007.