Sunday, September 28, 2008

Feels good to be free

The problem with most break-up songs is that they're, well... pretty depressing. As a whole, musicians tend to focus on the soul-wrenching sense of loss engendered by a break-up rather than the possibilities and sense of freedom it opens up. But when Rilo Kiley sat down to make their most recent album together, Under the Blacklight, the not-so-distant break-up of leads Jenny Lewis and Blake Sennett actually made for their best album to date.

The band has finally figured out something that Ben Gibbard (of Death Cab for Cutie) figured out long ago when he recruited her for his Postal Service projects - Jenny Lewis's voice sounds best paired with a maximalist's penchant for electro-pop. (To me, her voice sounds twee and theatrical when paired with the organic folk and Americana influences she has favored on side projects and earlier Rilo Kiley albums.)

As a result, Under the Blacklight sounds bright, edgy and perfectly balanced - early-era Madonna meeting Liz Phair, but always with that hint of cabaret vibe.

Not incidentally, the album contains the happiest break-up song I have ever heard, "Breakin' Up"(how is there no video for this song?):

And on the same theme, check out "Silver Lining:"

The whole album's good. Listen.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

One Man Gift from Above

There is something completely reassuring about the sound of James Taylor's voice, as though here is a man who has been through it all and come out the other side to tell you, "Whatever it is, it's going to be okay." In the darkest of times, there is nothing more timeless and calming to me. But there has always been a bit of mystique about this prolific singer-songwriter - I always got the feeling he'd rather sing than talk.

So it was doubly entertaining to watch his latest concert DVD, One Man Band, and discover that once you get James Taylor talking, there is just no telling what's going to come out.

One Man Band was shot in a very small theater in his hometown in the Berkshires - Taylor and one other musician make up the entire ensemble (unless you count the enormous, early-20th-century-looking "drum machine.") The show is largely acoustic, though he does play his electric guitar on a few songs for variety. But preceding each song is an often lengthy and meandering introduction (often with photo slideshow!) that reveals Taylor's wry charm.

In these candid introductions, he reveals his love of the Beatles, discusses the intersection of Richard Nixon and Rev. Sun Myung Moon, and describes Joni Mitchell as "his bitch" (in the past tense, of course.) And that's just a small sampling.

For a taste, check out this fantastic montage of the DVD:

The accompanying CD is an excellent addition to the collection as well, because the concert features a lot of his newer (though still timeless) material.

Monday, September 15, 2008

This is a brand new day

I spent a rare few minutes tuning into the Real World: Hollywood and was instantly charmed by a song I heard playing in the background. After some internet sleuthing, I discovered the song was "Goodbye from California" by Lindsey Ray, who it turns out is the very same person that provides the vocals for this Target ad I have also enjoyed:

Friday, September 05, 2008

The Power of Love

Some things just don't change. Twenty years ago, I bought a copy of Fore! by Huey Lewis and the News on cassette tape (!) and listened to it so hard that the tape eventually broke. I didn't know it at 8 years old, but that mix of classic R&B, doo wop, and shimmering 80s pop was exactly the kind of sound that I would love for the rest of my life.

Well, fast forward a couple of decades to last Sunday night, when I got a chance to see Huey Lewis and the News live in concert at the Walworth County Fair (!) and I am happy to report that they sound as great as the day I bought Fore! - maybe even better. Apparently they've all been friends since elementary school, and it shows - the band is tight, talented and totally in sync with the brainy rock star that is Huey. The highlight, though, is how great they all still sound on the complex vocal harmonies - they performed "All Right" a capella and their voices blended together perfectly. To paraphrase Ellis Paul, their voices are all torn in just the right places and so they fit together perfectly.

They performed most of their big hits - and this is a band with a LOT of hits. To quote Huey after the show, "So many hits, so little time," but still they managed to fit most of them into their hour-and-a-half long set, including "Power of Love," "Heart of Rock and Roll," "Hip to Be Square," "Back in Time," and my personal favorite, "Doing it All for My Baby," which got the power ballad treatment and totally blew me away. They also performed their new song from the "Pineapple Express" soundtrack (and apparently it's already got some fans - one girl in the front was wearing a pineapple tiara and waving pineapple wands during that song.)

So all I can say is, if you get a chance to see Huey Lewis and the News live, don't miss it! They put on a great show and 8-year-old you deserves it.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Such a silly game we play

For some reason, the song "Love" by Matt White keeps finding its way to my ears this week. Who am I to argue? It's unabashedly sweet and folky, with a subtle hint of surf music thrown in. I'm sold:

And it's more than just a throwaway hit - visit White's MySpace to hear more tracks from his album "Best Days," all of which feature the tropical, laid-back singer-songwriter vibe.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Becomes Eclectic

I've written about my love of KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic before - and today you can buy the latest Nic Harcourt-selected compilation CD of live performances from KCRW's studios. A screening copy of Sounds Eclectic: The Next One reveals Harcourt's impeccable taste in cutting-edge music and features performances by the Swell Season, Spoon, the Shins and the Ting Tings as well as lesser known greats such as Architecture in Helsinki, Seawolf and the Orange Lights. Get it while it's hot.

On a similar note, I recently picked up a copy of Music Lust, written by Harcourt. Much like the Book Lust series, this is a book of lists - this time of music for certain themes, artists or eras. Sample "chapters" include TV Actors Who've Taken the Plunge, Livin' Large: The Big Band Booom!, and Polyester Suits and Wraparound Dresses. The book reveals some of Harcourt's early influences (punk and Australian pop among them) and tells the story of how he came to be the country's foremost expert on eclecticism in music. Definitely worth checking out, if only to see if you agree with his choices.

Finally, inspired by some of my favorite songs from Morning Becomes Eclectic, I have created a new LTF playlist, entitled Soundtrack Becomes Eclectic. The sound is heavy on the retro soul - artists include Al Green, David Ford (who I saw open for Aimee Mann recently - he puts on a VERY impressive live show,) Katie Herzig, the Magic Numbers and the Slip. Cue up the player at right and enjoy!