Monday, April 16, 2018

In Conversation with Albert Hammond Jr.

As Albert Hammond Jr. began to kick around ideas for his next solo album, he was given some fascinating information from a family member about his twin brother Francis, who was born stillborn five months into his mother’s pregnancy. Albert had always known about his twin, but what he didn’t know was that when Albert was born, a fingernail belonging to Francis was found in Albert’s placenta. In a way, the news helped forge a connection between Albert and the brother he never knew. Finding inspiration in this revelation, Albert took what could have been a very dark moment in time, and instead turned it into a positive creative force. The end result is Francis Trouble, Albert’s fourth solo album, and perhaps his most personal to date. 

Albert explained to me in a recent chat that, “As I was creating or thinking of new ideas, I found out about an inner womb collision I had with my stillborn twin, and it helped cement the idea of this alter ego, and kind of had me relive parts of my youth. I guess, to be honest, it’s kind of like I was creating a jacket, and there was just this stitching that helped shape it. It was a part of the process, I guess—not a part that you can choose, really.” Inspired by the persona shifts of David Bowie, Albert began to flesh out the ideas and concepts that would serve as the foundation for Francis Trouble. “I had just got off the road,” Albert says, “and I knew the songs I felt like I was missing from my set could be cool—to be the entertainer I wanted to be, to be the front man I wanted to be, and to tell the story I wanted to tell. I was always doing other things where I had to get out of my routine and see myself from different spots. The baggage of my name isn’t enjoyable for me, so the idea that this person exists or not in space or time was more fun to play with, and I felt like that was important to create the feelings in the songs. It was to feel a little more playful.” Albert—who rose to fame as the guitarist for indie-rockers The Strokes—has taken this playful approach to a level not seen in his previous solo work. Francis Trouble has a fun, carefree vibe—not at all marred by any bleakness or pretention, especially considering its genesis. “I feel like I have come full circle with this record,” says Albert, “whereas I’m now who I saw myself being when I daydreamed of playing music, except with the knowledge of experience. So, it’s like all my records could have just been the discipline of getting here—the good and the bad of trying to figure out what to do.” 

In translating the material live, Albert has challenged himself even further by stepping away from the guitar (though he did play guitar on the album). As he explained, “I had neck surgery in June because there must have been something pinched. My right-hand fingers were kind of numb, and I had atrophy in my muscles on the right side. So, it was a thing where my body didn’t really feel like playing that much guitar live. It kind of lent itself to a sort of different place. And, sometimes, I feel like to change perspective with people you have to go a little more extreme—I don’t think people would have saw this music the same if I was playing guitar. The way people see me kind of made me hate the instrument, so I just wanted to get rid of it! But, I love the guitar when I’m sitting with it as the thing I fell in love with, and it is still the tool I use to create—I love it very much.” 

In 2010, Albert began to seek sobriety, after a long struggle with drugs and alcohol. Part of this journey included entering therapy with a gentleman named Andrew Park. “He was a therapist, but one who had come to it through intense journey,” Albert tells me. “He was an addict himself. I’d never really gotten along with therapists. It always felt like someone was looking down on you, and this was the first person to share stories with me, and he became more like a mentor and a father figure. I feel like those are important roles as men in modern society. So, he took that space and it was really important because it was at a time that I was relearning—you know, when you stop taking drugs, you’re really relearning everything, in a way. So, what we did—our mutual respect for each other, non-judgement through doing things where most people would immediately throw up judgement—was tremendously life changing. I don’t think I’d be in this place where I could even accept the ideas that have come to me on this record. Just accepting myself, realizing and accepting what I want to do, really telling yourself and understanding it—seeing how you work—it helps you understand how to be creative. I think the need for creative people to use drugs and alcohol sometimes is like a fake way of battling your shadow. I think a lot of creative work comes from that. But, to learn how to get there in other ways, to learn how to bring up stuff and learn how to change is important.” Park sadly passed away in 2016, and Francis Trouble is dedicated to him in his memory. 

Once a New York City regular, Albert now finds refuge in his upstate New York home—invigorated by its serenity, but clearly of the understanding that it is just one part of a much bigger world. “It’s weird how (conservationism) is not a given,” he says. “I thought about it a lot, because I used to live in the city, and you kind of lose the idea that we’re on a planet together. So, I don’t know why it doesn’t connect more. I always try to do what I can, but it would be nice to see a push towards renewable energy.” However, one type of energy, it seems, will not be renewed anytime soon: The Strokes. When asked for a status on the group, Albert says, “I always answer that question with the same tagline, which is ‘I’m not a part of that culture.’” Albert stresses that his caginess about the group actually comes from a good place. “The thing is, I don’t like to answer about it when I do my own stuff, because the media always tries to separate us, and they will continue to whether I say anything, or I don’t. But, I just feel like when you’re together as five people and you’re seen like that, it seems better to talk about it when you’re together as five people, and when you’re not, just not really say anything. (When asked in the past), I’ve tried to answer, and it feels like I shoot myself in the foot constantly. So, it’s better to just use the “I’m not a part of that culture” tagline.” 

With Francis Trouble now complete, and tour dates in Europe, Japan, and Australia scheduled through September, Albert will be keeping busy throughout the year. But, as far as what his next move will be, nothing appears to be definite—including recording more albums. “I don’t think it’s a given, to be honest. Maybe it’s a given because of the past history in rock music, but I feel like every record has been a hustle and a fight to get people to back you. So, I definitely don’t feel like I can just continue to do this so carefree. I’m always trying to figure out how to make it bigger and better, so the option is there. But I see myself very as very multifaceted. I’d like to be in movies . . . writing and directing. I love many, many things from a creative aspect. I feel like the older I get it all has to lead to something more positive . . . the success can’t just be money. It’s great because all these arts need funding, and it’s part of how we live, but you wanna leave everything in a better place then how you came in.”

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Judas Priest launch new album as guitarist Glenn Tipton battles Parkinson's

Heavy metal masters Judas Priest will be without guitarist Glenn Tipton when they head out on tour this spring, supporting their 18th studio album Firepower—due out March 9th on Epic Records

Sadly, Tipton, who joined Judas Priest in 1974, is fighting Parkinson's disease. As reported in Rolling Stone, a statement from the band read that the guitarist was "diagnosed to have the onset of the early stages of Parkinson's" ten years ago. The statement also notes that Tipton is not leaving the group–simply that "his role has changed."

The band has not closed the door on Tipton retirning to the stage at some point. Judas Priest visit the area in March, at the Prudential Center.

Here is the title track from the forthcoming release, Firepower.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Don't forget! VINYL NIGHTS WITH DAN AND LEN – Fridays at 8pm at Strong Rope Brewery in Gowanus, Brooklyn.

Mudhoney's New Live Album Hits Like a Sledgehammer!

Mudhoney have a new live record out now entitled LiE (Live in Europe), and it's a cracker! Throughout the twelve song set, singer Mark Arm howls frantically at his audience, his vocal-styling so provocative, very much in the mold of Iggy Pop.

The highlights on the record are songs from Mudhoney's more recent catalog, such as the paranoid "What to do With the Neutral" and the pulp fiction of "The Final Course," from 2013’s Vanishing Point—to date, Mudhoney’s latest studio release.

But, it is naturally the group’s work from the 90s that pack the best punch on LiE. Classics like "Suck You Dry" and "Judgement, Rage, Retribution and Thyme" are presented in this set as some rather rowdy renditions, and that will certainly please old-school fans of the Seattle rockers.

The album also includes a high-voltage performance of Roxy Music’s “Editions of You.” Guitarist Steve Turner shows off his versatility and touch as he solos like a virtuoso, while Arm shrugs off Bryan Ferry’s pomp in favor of a more aggressive vocal.

The fine folks at SubPop have made the full album available on YouTube. Check it out below.

Mudhoney – LiE (SubPop)


"Editions of You"

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Happy birthday, Michael Stipe!

Today, R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe turns 58 years old! In honor of his special day, enjoy this R.E.M. playlist on Spotify.

Boasting four hundred songs and over twenty-five hours of music, this playlist is an extensive and exciting retrospective of one of America's greatest bands! 

Sunday, December 31, 2017


25. Jamiroquai - Automatron
24. Morrissey - Low in High School
23. Brian Eno - Reflection
22. The Jesus and Mary Chain - Damage and Joy
21. Thundercat - Drunk
20. Kamasi Washington - Harmony of Difference
19. Dead Cross - Dead Cross
18. At The Drive In - In*ter a*li*a
17. Chris Robinson Brotherhood - Barefoot in the Head
16. Liam Gallagher - As You Were
15. Wu-Tang Clan - The Saga Continues
14. Danzig - Black Laden Crown
13. Robert Plant - Carry Fire
12. Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds - Who Built the Moon?
11. Jeff Tweedy - Together At Last
10. St. Vincent - MASSEDUCTION
9. Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile - Lotta Sea Lice
8. Beck - Colors
7. Primus - The Desaturating Seven
6. Roger Waters - Is This The Life We Really Want?
5. U2 - Songs of Experience
4. The Black Angels - Death Song
3. HAIM - Something to Tell You
2. Action Bronson - Blue Chips 7000
1. Paul Weller - A Kind Revolution

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Post-Melo Knicks show progress after miserable start to season.

The New York Knicks were all but written off prior to the beginning of the 2017-2018 NBA season. In June, Phil Jackson was let go after three seasons as team president–his puzzling obsession with the outdated triangle offense failing to bring a championship to the Big Apple, as he had promised it would. Then, the centerpiece of the Knicks offense, Carmelo Anthony–who famously forced a trade to the Knicks from the Denver Nuggets in February of 2011–was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Long-time Knicks general manager Steve Mills, a figure in the Knicks organization for decades, took over the role left vacant by Jackson's dismissal, and former Sacramento Kings' executive vice president Scott Perry was hired as the new general manager.

Needless to say, but expectations were not high for the team, and the Knicks reinforced that notion by dropping their first three games of the new season, losing in embarrassing fashion to the Thunder, Celtics and Pistons–the last of which being a game the Knicks led by double-digits before completely collapsing in stunning fashion. But despite the dismal start, the Knicks have responded by winning six of their last seven games, and as of this writing, are sitting in fifth place in the sad Eastern Conference with a 6-4 record. 

So what has given these Knicks "the knack," as Knicks legend Clyde Frazier likes to say? 

Coach Jeff Hornacek made a crucial decision after the Pistons loss by taking Ramon Sessions out of the starting line-up, and substituting him with the crafty, yet often injured, Jarrett Jack. Personally, I never understood the signing of Sessions this summer. To me, it felt like it was ten years too late, as Sessions would have strived in former Knicks' coach Mike D'Antoni's run-and-gun offense. But Sessions appeared lost on the court, failing to grasp the offensive sets thoroughly and never finding a groove with his new teammates. 

Of course, during that time the entire team was a mess, turning the ball over to a frightening degree, and completely botching defensive rotations whenever the opportunity presented itself. But since the insertion of Jack into Hornacek's starting 5, the offense has started to click, and the team has protected the ball much better over the last seven games. It is important to note, though, that Jack's contract is not guaranteed–and with the return of beleaguered center Joakim Noah pending, the Knicks have a decision to make, as they already have a 15 man squad. 

Noah is currently serving a 20 game suspension for use of a banned substance, and I think I speak for most Knicks fans when I say that no one is really itching for his return. Noah's days of being a dynamo on the court are over. Period. But his hefty contract makes it difficult to cut ties with him altogether. So, it will be interesting to see how Mills and Perry play their hand here.

There can obviously be no talk of the Knicks' recent success without hailing the play of Kristaps Porzingis. It would appear as though the young Latvian forward is poised for a breakout season. Currently this week's Eastern Conference Player of the Week, his workouts with Dirk Nowitzki this past summer are clearly paying off. The 22-year old phenom is averaging 30 points in 33 minutes of play per game, and has a 50 percent field goal percentage. But what is perhaps most exciting about Porzingis' play this season is he is no longer settling for questionable jump shots from behind the arc. Quicker and stronger this year, KP is posting up players when his shot isn't falling–and even when it is, he's still taking the ball to the hoop more than in his rookie and sophomore seasons. 

Of course, this is the Knicks–so drama is always inevitable. But as the team heads into tonight's matchup against the Orlando Magic, there's reason for fans to be optimistic.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Right now, there is an incredible piano rendition of DJ Shadow's "Building Steam with a Grain of Salt" that you have to hear.

Today, Sub Pop announced the release of a track off pianist Walt Wagner's upcoming album, Reworks. The track, a skillfully executed rendition of DJ Shadow's "Building Steam with a Grain of Salt," can be heard on YouTube, Spotify and Apple Music.

(From Sub Pop)
Reworks is an album of renditions popularized by the likes of Band of Horses, My Bloody Valentine, Prince, Fleet Foxes, Phoenix, and more. The veteran pianist recorded the songs live on October 9th, 2016 at the famed Canlis Restaurant in Seattle.”
To read more about Mr. Wagner, click here. The clever reworking of the seminal Shadow track can be heard below.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Snapshots: Sonic Youth at Prospect Park Bandshell, Brooklyn

Sonic Youth performs at the Prospect Park Bandshell, July 31, 2010


Brother James
(I Got A) Catholic Block
Stereo Sanctity
Hey Joni
The Sprawl
'Cross the Breeze
The Wonder
White Cross
Shaking Hell


Shadow of a Doubt
Silver Rocket
Expressway to Yr Skull

Setlist courtesy of
Photo by Dan Alleva. Check out my Instagram photos here!

Reviews: Paul Weller - "A Kind Revolution" (Parlophone)

Only Paul Weller could create an album like A Kind Revolution - so stylistically rich and diverse, yet still be able to pull it off. Though, if you think about it, there shouldn't be much surprise at all — style is what the man they call "The Modfather" does best, ever since his days as frontman for The Jam, and later as co-founder of The Style Council. 

Right out of the gate, A Kind Revolution rips through the speakers with the hard-rocking “Woo Se Mama” — a warning against conformity, complacency, and greed. Over a howling guitar riff and a whirling Hammond organ, Weller cautions that he can’t be fooled by those that acquiesce to falling in line, doing only what their told, and suddenly falling in love with the things they once hated. Almost like a taunt, Weller snickers over the infectious groove, declaring “once that flame don’t burn so bright, it’s slow death by candlelight,” and — in case it’s not obvious — Weller is having none of that. The album’s first single, “Nova,” depicts Weller in a futuristic daydream, where his mind is racing, and his soul is being tugged at repeatedly by the impulse of obligation; there’s still so much to do, the artist urges. To whom Weller feels obliged, it is not clear. But one thing is clear: the fantasy of “Nova” — of building a new planet, and beaming communications through the cosmos — could almost be identical to many an escapist’s views on the chaos that is taking place here, right on Earth.

A Kind Revolution is not a socially heady album in its entirety. Weller breaks away momentarily from the complexity of humanity with an ode to his wife, on the Latin American-flavored “New York.” Throughout the track, Weller recollects a chance meeting, and how it leads to a life of eternal gratefulness. Noting that in life, sometimes there isn't even a moment to think, Weller relishes the moment to thank the most important person in his. Elsewhere, love strikes again, this time in the solid grooves of “She Moves with the Fayre.” Weller’s endless surprise at the object of his desire — the delirium of just knowing there is so much left to discover of her — slips and slides, until it lands flat in a fat disco break, connected by two passages of funk that couldn’t be contained if you tried. The fanfare carries on, all while Weller delivers the vocal with barely more than a whisper. 

Despite these soulful detours, A Kind Revolution starts where it began; far from a political record (there’s no traces of Billy Bragg here), the album may still prove to be nuanced by the social situation of many of its listeners. The album’s title refers to a lyric from “The Cranes are Back,” a gospel song at heart that aims to declare the desire of hope. As the United Kingdom navigates the complexities of Brexit, and America struggles to reconcile itself with the realities of its latest leader, Weller instead reminds us of the joy that freedom can bring — though, only if we could “pick ourselves up off the floor, try to heal the land once more…. There would be some hope in the world.” Weller’s plea isn’t particularly in vain. He knows the power is in the people — all mod-rock space odysseys, aside.

A version of this review was featured in The Aquarian Weekly.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Reviews: HAIM - Something to Tell You

California's sister act returns with a bold sophomore release that picks up where they left of on their previous album, while throwing in a few new twists and turns to dazzle the listener.

HAIM were an unexpected delight in 2013 with their debut album, Days Are Gone. That album was an unabashed love letter to rock music of the late 70s and early 80s, with HAIM being able to up the ante by incorporating vocal effects, synthesizers, and electronic drums into the mix—staples of the music they enjoyed as millennials growing up in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley. When Days Are Gone was released, the buzz on HAIM was that the band was a cross between 80s-era Fleetwood Mac and 90s-era R&B. Think Tango in the Night meets En Vogue. The result was a forty-five minute morsel of achingly sweet power pop that could simultaneously appeal to fans of rock music as well as Top 40 pop. As quirky as it all seemed, HAIM had tapped into something unique. Now—four years later—on their sophomore release, Something to Tell You, HAIM continue to work their magic, crafting songs that walk the delicate tight rope between the retro and the modern, songs which are much more dynamic and atmospheric than those that appeared on Days Are Gone.

As she did on HAIM’s debut, guitarist and lead vocalist Danielle Haim lyrically dissects the ins and outs of romance with little ambiguity. Often times, Something to Tell You reflects upon personal relationships in a way that can become thematically redundant. But, at its finest moments, the album is uplifting and uncompromising. The album begins with “Want You Back,” a song about admitting mistakes and longing for forgiveness. Danielle delivers a raw, empowered vocal performance, while intermittently trading harmonies with keyboardist and vocalist Alana Haim. Elsewhere, the thumping “Kept Me Crying" is a dead ringer for any of the best work of The Eagles. It’s slickly produced guitar solos sound like Joe Walsh is right there in the studio with HAIM, going off on a tear. The groovy shrug off of “You Never Knew”—a kiss goodbye to a lover who’s taken too much for granted—is where HAIM showcase their uncanny ability to take the aesthetic of 70s rock, and accent it with the stylization of contemporary R&B. The beauty of a song like “You Never Knew” is that it could be mistaken for a lost Janet Jackson track—or a deep cut on a Michael McDonald-era Doobie Brothers album.

While Days Are Gone was dense, compact, and at times seemed to move at breakneck speed, Something to Tell You lingers a bit, like a shadow in the night, wrapping itself inside the listener’s subconscious until something starts to click. Perhaps that’s more contemplation than a pop record would normally require. But on the other hand, maybe that’s what pop music needs. The takeaway from Something to Tell You seems clear: rock and roll can be a blast, especially if you can make a record that would have Don Henley dancing like nobody’s watching.

A version of this review was featured in The Aquarian Weekly.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Velvet Underground and David Fricke @ The NYPL

The classic track “Heroin” was played in its entirety as the audience sat in darkness, while waiting for the evening's guests to take the stage. Inside the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building at the New York Public Library, there sat a tiny turntable - the needle blazing into the beginning of side two of an unforgettable album. Rolling Stone's David Fricke stood off to the right, while waiting for Lou Reed, Mo Tucker, and Doug Yule - essentially The Velvet Underground - to take to the stage alongside him. In what was to be an evening filled with energy, insight, and laughter, the seminal journalist engaged the seminal band in a discussion on a range of subjects - from how they made the avant-garde so exceptional, to how they changed pop music – which had the audience hanging on every word, until the last one was spoken.

This unprecedented gathering came together over the release of a new visual collection, The Velvet Underground: New York Art (Rizzoli Publishing). Though it's been over forty years since they first played a show together, the Velvet's as people still spill over with unmatched moxie and splendor. Lou Reed is every bit as intense as the day is long, and Mo Tucker is girlish and charming - though I suspect if they had put a drum kit in front of her right then and there, she'd lay down a beat so primal it would make the halls of the Schartzman Building tumble down into rubble. For Doug Yule's part, it's hard to be the man who had to step into John Cale's shoes, but he answered David Fricke's questions in a voice that still sounds as tender today as it did when he recorded his vocals for “Candy Says,” and he spoke of his time as a member of the VU with the deepest regard and fondness.

Whether listening to him impersonate Andy Warhol when recollecting his days inside the Factory, or laughing along as he took the piss out of everyone from journalists, to music industry types, to even other bands, Lou Reed is still hardcore. At the end of the day, he's a man that has given his life up as an offering to the higher power that is music. “I'm just the songwriter,” is what he told the audience on this evening, but judging by the many, many people who have had their lives changed by his songs, Lou Reed is someone who has left his fingerprint on our future – and it is clear to me that the Velvets' are the proof that the future is now. As Mo Tucker explained in response to a question asked by a member of the audience, the VU could absolutely exist today as a new band coming up in NYC, because they are who they are as people, and that could never change about them. No one ever told them to wear all black, or to wear cool sunglasses. That's just who they were, and that's who you can be, too, if that's just who you are.

In his introduction, David Fricke told the audience that “Heroin” was the song that made him want to dedicate his life to music. I was able to chat with David for a few moments after the evening had concluded, and clearly, this opportunity was a moment of great importance for him. When he spoke, he delivered his words with the passion of a true fan. If I have but one regret, it's that only now does it occur to me that I should have asked if the VU vinyl that ushered in the evening had come straight from David's very own record collection. But myself being truly inspired by the entire event, I told him that I hoped to one day have the same opportunity that he'd just had. In a response that was just as humble and kind as the man himself, he said to me, “You will. Listen, if it can happen to me, it can happen to anybody.” And I hope he's right, because moments like these can only produce memories that will last a lifetime, all of which are a part of sharing in the greatness that is music.

For More information on The Velvet Underground: New York Art, please visit Rizzoli - New York. For more information on events at the NYPL, please visit here.

Event photos by Peter Foley.
Deluxe edition photo spread courtesy of Rizzoli

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Kevin Barker - You & Me

You & Me is the new release from Vetiver guitarist, Kevin Barker. Released on Devendra Banhart's Gnomonsong Records, the songs on You & Me are fine examples of the free-spirited and well-crafted rock that has come from the West Coast for the better part of this decade.

Barker's songwriting on You & Me makes an immediate impact on the listener, and his stories are easy to identify with. Lyrically, Barker taps into the soul of the wanderer in dusty jeans. He tells stories about broken hearts, as on “Little Picture of You,” over herky-jerky drum beats, some old-time piano (supplied here by Wilco's Pat Sansone), and just a dash of psychedelic guitar. Added all together, and Barker's songs are a gift to those who crave unpretentious, Americana roots music that gives a nod to the modern man.

Like many of the albums that have come from this scene, You & Me continues the tradition of communal jamming. Performing on the track “Mountain & Bear” is practically a new-folk supergroup, with Barker being joined by scene alumni Jonathan Wilson on guitar, and Joanna Newsom on organ - while not forgetting to mention Vetiver's Otto Hauser on the drums. But like with all these gifted songwriters, the tone of each album is dependent upon the main songwriter's strengths, and in the case of You & Me, Kevin Barker should be regarded as highly as his peers, given that many of the album's tracks are sure-fire knock-outs, worthy of repeated listening.

Check Kevin Barker performing "Little Picture of You," the first track on You & Me, live at Bruar Falls in Brooklyn.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Devendra Banhart - What Will We Be

Devendra Banhart is striding along splendidly with his latest album, What Will We Be - this being his seventh studio release, and follow up to the remarkable Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon. While some tracks on the album, such as “Meet Me At Lookout Point,” are reminiscent of the four-track recordings featured on Banhart's breakout album Rejoicing in the Hands, most of What Will We Be continues to build on the foundation that was laid down on Smokey…. If that album was a psychedelic tour de force, then What Will We Be is it's leaner, sharper companion piece.

An evoking record that's distinguished mostly from its predecessors by it's impeccable craftsmanship, What Will We Be exudes concentration from beginning to end, although it never succumbs to the rigid over-thinking of an artist with something to prove. Banhart just does what he does, and the output is raw and real. There are tracks on the album such as “Baby” that call out something familiar about all of pop music’s joyful sensibilities, underscoring the fact that Banharts’s music aims to conjure up the feeling of being unable to help yourself from smiling (just like the album’s opening track, “Can’t Help But Smiling” suggests). This unbridled commitment to purity is the exact life-juice that gives Banhart the moxie to rock a cotton-candy vamp of a number like “16th and Valencia, Roxy Music” – even if the track is a little too MGMT for my tastes - specifically because it comes so naturally to the California-cool, somewhat jester-like gypsy that is Banhart. Also still present are the unorthodox arrangements that have been a staple of Banhart’s music since the very beginning. “Rats” sounds like early Black Sabbath meshed with The Doors’ famous track, “The Soft Parade.” But What Will We Be’s best track, “Maria Lionza,” starts out with a haunting, echo-induced vocal, before making it’s way into a doo-wop tinged, Brasil ’66 impersonation – giving nod to Banhart’s Latin roots, which are also present on the gentle “Brindo.”

It's becoming harder and harder for me to imagine a scenario in which Banhart doesn't release an album that not only exceeds expectations, but renders them trivial in the wake of great mastery. Such is how this exceptional person has inspired me with his music, by giving me hope that he's only just begun to scratch the surface in terms of his excellence.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

R.E.M. - Reckoning (Deluxe Edition)

No band was vital to the growth of America like Athens, Georgia's R.E.M. was. They kept individualism and creativity alive during very questionable times in this country. I don't suppose there's ever a moment like hearing the guitar intro to “Pretty Persuasion” for the very first time, and with this anniversary edition-deluxe remaster of Reckoning, R.E.M.'s gift to the modern age of rock – aka Peter Buck's right hand – is sent up for a grand salute.

Practically all of Reckoning sounds as inspired today as it did at the time of release twenty five years ago. A very young Michael Stipe is but a whisper in your ear on “Letters Never Sent,” and up in your face on “Second Guessing,” proclaiming “here we are!” with valiance, as bassist Mike Mills joins in for the now-classic, R.E.M. harmonies. There is, of course, drummer Bill Berry, solid as any man who ever played the instrument, and every bit as integral as any of his fellow band mates – being the pulse behind the passion. Featuring hits like “So. Central Rain” and “Don't Go Back to Rockville,” Reckoning introduced R.E.M. into the conversation regarding greatest American songwriters, surely.

With a second disc featuring a live performance from the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago from July of 1984, this set captures R.E.M. at the onset of a songwriting blitzkrieg, and is a snapshot of the men behind the songs who were about to achieve nothing short of greatness.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Vetiver: Catch as Catch Can
by Daniel Alleva

Andy Cabic recently made the pilgrimage down to Los Angeles from his home in San Francisco, after completing Tight Knit, the fourth album from Vetiver - the group that serves as his ever-evolving musical home base. Sure, it's 2009, and the term "freak folk" has become as passé as Jesus beards and funny looking hats have. But if the nomenclature of the California rock scene has left you stumped for definition, please don't ask Andy Cabic for any answers. While the oft-collaborator of Devendra Banhart's is an affable gent, it's obvious that Cabic doesn't have much use for conversation about silly taglines like "freak folk" or "naturalismo."

"You know, it's not something I encounter. Only when...." and Cabic trails off for a moment. I wonder if it's because he's too polite to say, "I only encounter that when journalists bring it up." But he continues, "I don't know.... that has no relevance to my way of thinking about my music. I think it comes from a time when a lot of people where involved in a each other's music, and touring together, and friendships were acknowledged and being commented upon." That's probably as good an answer as anyone could give. Cabic and Banhart met in college in San Francisco and quickly became fast friends - and while he downplays the idea that he's integral to Banhart's music, Cabic has either played or served as producer on most of Banhart's catalog, and has played in Devendra's touring band fairly regularly over the last three years.

It is interesting to get his feedback on the topic of labels, being somewhat removed from a time when artists like himself, Banhart, Bright Black Morning Light, Jonathan Wilson, and others were getting the bug jar treatment all across the country. "To me, as soon as I see someone apply those terms, it shows me that that person is attached to some idea - and I don't know why they would be," says Cabic. "It doesn't have a lot of bearing on my music, certainly." We both laugh somewhat uneasily, but you get the sense that Andy Cabic knows that these terms and labels are pretty much implied casually at this point. Plus, he knows he's no scenester - and he's certainly nobody's wingman.

To this point, there is the greatness of Vetiver. "Vetiver is my songs," says Cabic, explaining the roots of the band that has always been a bit of a traveling road show. "To this day, I've played my songs out with different people, having sort of a different line-up over time, gradually picking up friends along the way." When it comes to his influences, Cabic says, "I'm always listening to new things. I'm always going to record stores. I hesitate to put out some idea that there's one thing more than others - I'm always getting turned on to new music, and that side of listening is just as important as something I've already fell for and dug."

Which brings us to Tight Knit. As an album, it provides more immediate gratification than previous Vetiver releases, whether it's venturing towards the more ethereal compositions like "At Forest Edge," or bopping along to the bouncier tracks like "On the Other Side." Tight Knit reminds the listener of a time when The Grateful Dead and The Velvet Underground ruled the world from the fringes of America. In fact, Cabic's gentle voice is quite reminiscent of the VU's Doug Yule. As would be expected, Cabic's approach to songwriting is very natural. "Songs are 'sort of catch as catch can.' I don't really believe in a process too much. I don't have any one way of going about it, I guess."

For decades, everyone from Neil Young to Cabic's buddy Chris Robinson has sung about the beauty and mystery of California. "Spending time in California has an impact on your songwriting and your music. I would find more futility in that than I would something like 'freak folk,'" laughs Cabic. So what is it then exactly about California that keeps Cabic - a native of Virginia - in the confines of the wild, weird west? "It's the small details. It's the friendships I've had with the people I've known here. There's great appreciation for music in the San Francisco area. There are so many music lovers, and a range of places to play. I love the light and the terrain. It's things like that that draw me and keep me in the area."
But even still, the road show that is Vetiver keeps moving along. The band will hit the road once Tight Knit is released on February 17th.

For more info on Vetiver, check out

Saturday, October 11, 2008

TV on the Radio: The Best Shot at Utopia
by Daniel Alleva

Brooklyn’s TV on the Radio are back again with Dear Science, another exceptionally remarkable album that is the follow up to their previous record, Return to Cookie Mountain. Recorded between February and April at Staygold Studios in Brooklyn, Dear Science picks up where Return to Cookie Mountain left off – ducking and weaving to its right with a crisp and persistent exertion of body and mind.

The payoff from a TV on the Radio record lies way beneath the instant gratification you receive from the initial spin. Dear Science’s first single “Golden Age” makes me want to roller skate around my living room today, as we head towards a transitional period in life: seasons, elections, and things of that nature. Singer Tunde Adebimpe says that, “It's pretty positive song. Kyp (Malone, vocals/guitar) said he was trying to write a Utopian pop song, giving as much time to optimism as perhaps we as a band had collectively given to pessimism in the past - which I think is a good idea, making a conscious effort to give those feelings equal space.”

Return to Cookie Mountain was the perfect soundtrack to a purple and wounded December sky. Adebimpe describes the album as “foggy, pretty, and loud.” But when it came to the writing of Dear Science, he concedes that there really wasn’t much of a plan. “Kyp and I write demos - all voice for me. Him, usually just voice and guitar. And Dave (Sitek, production/vocals/guitar) has many beats, so we do a show and tell at the beginning of the allotted recording time, see what's interesting, and then work on those ones. The loose guideline was to make something different that moved in a different way from the last record.” The result is a lot of weary - if not punch drunk - emotion. Without question, each track on Dear Science is another shiny, blank canvas for the former painters turned songwriters to work on - and today’s listen of the album will surely not feel like tomorrow’s. How could it possibly? Like most TV on the Radio albums, Dear Science is a well that never runs dry - it creates the possibility in a dream future coming true, and it’s welcoming to the listener whenever they should arrive at it.

Critics will always fight the temptation to look at TV on the Radio under a magnifying glass, but any truly great band goes through this. I myself am brought back down to earth when I ask about the source of the overt sexuality found in TV on the Radio’s music. Adebimpe replies, “Mostly the genitals, hopefully by way of the heart and soul,” and I laugh, but mainly I’m laughing at my own build-up to the question, especially now that I’ve heard his answer to it. Rolling with the punches, I ask Adebimpe to describe what the title Dear Science really means, and this answer is equally as amusing as the last. “This record is our contribution to science,” he says “We are not degree holders or experts, but we are used to speaking with utter conviction concerning iffy hunches, bad ideas, and the straight up imaginary.”

Fair enough. Adebimpe has given me the slip on the “serious music guy” questions, just like the marching band that slips out the backdoor on Dear Science’s final track, “Lovers Day.” Malone, who wrote the track, croaks "I wanna love ya/All the way off/I wanna break your back," and hearing that, I now gather that the answers missing to the out-loud wonders of sex and science are better searched for within the rhythms of the album itself. Talk, after all, is cheap. But great music like TV on the Radio’s is indeed priceless.

Much like Adebimpe’s wit and imagination. As two guys who have dwelled in Brooklyn a time or two again, I ask him what’s the very first thing that comes to mind when he reflects on TV on the Radio’s rise to fame in the billowing borough. “Rent,” he says flatly. I hear ya, brother. I really should have known that asking such socio-salacious questions was going to throw of my whole game here. And figuring that I might as well go out with a bang, I put forth the question to Adebimpe that if a DJ was to play TV on the Radio in his set, what would be the songs he’d like to hear before and after his band. “No songs. Just crickets, because they were here before us, and they'll probably be here after us - but bigger, probably. Like car-sized crickets. So, before us, just crickets, and after us, unbearably loud mega-crickets.”

You see, now we’re on to something. We’re either just leaving, or about to be entering into, a true Golden Age. Degree holders and experts - cling to what you can. It’s about to get bumpy.

Cold War Kids: Q & A with Nathan Willett
by Daniel Alleva

Last month, California’s Cold War Kids returned to the scene with their amazing new album, Loyalty to Loyalty – the follow-up to their 2006 critically acclaimed debut, Robbers & Cowards. Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with lead singer and pianist Nathan Willett.

Hi Nathan. Can you tell me a little bit about how the band formed?

Yeah, we’ve known each other for years and were just all fans of music… through different schools and different friends, we just got together. Beyond that, we really didn’t have a lot of intention of touring, or doing things on a major scale.

So it sounds as if you guys all gravitated together very naturally
Yeah, definitely.

Reflecting a bit on your influences, if the four of you sat down in a room and started talking about music, what would some of the key threads be?
Um, probably Tom Waits and The Velvet Underground - they would be some of the big ones, and people like Nina Simone. But we’re just all over the place in terms of style.

Were you personally very engrossed with music from an early age?

Yeah, you know, my mom was in a lot of different folk groups, and we had a piano in our house. Growing up in Southern California, I had a lot of friends that were in punk and hardcore bands – just stuff that I really wasn’t interested in - so I didn’t really figure I had much of a place for playing, or meeting like-minded musicians around where I was. I didn’t actually end up playing with people all that much until I met these guys. I had recorded this tape of Elvis Costello covers that I done, and some of the guys heard it and wanted to do something.

And how did the name Cold War Kids come about? I always thought that was such a classic name.
It came from our bass player, Matt Maust. There was this park in Europe, near Budapest, that had fallen statues of Communist, cold war-era leaders, that kids would literally play on, and we liked that whole aesthetic.

That’s very interesting. So, the new album is called Loyalty to Loyalty. Can you explain what the title means?
Yeah, it’s a phrase coined by Josiah Royce, a writer from the early 1900’s. We started writing Loyalty to Loyalty as a reaction to (his writings) - kind of how man should not rise above one another, but instead be a support to each other, and a lot of the songs are sort of in-between these different philosophies.

Where did you record the album, and did it take awhile?
We recorded in a few different rooms in L.A., some of the bigger named studios in the area. But we’re a very frugal band in that we don’t want to allow ourselves too much time in the studio.

Because the approach is, “let’s knock this out on the first take because that’s the freshest and most organic,” or is it just about economics? Or, is it a mixture of both?
It’s a mixture of both. We do a few takes and then put it to rest… trying to be as live as possible.

So, you cut a lot of tracks live?

Oh, yeah, definitely.

And most of those takes made it to Loyalty to Loyalty?


You can definitely hear that on tracks like “Against Privacy,” which has a very open-room feel to it - it’s almost feels like your sitting in a concert hall while listening to that song. So, did you guys have set objectives going into the sessions for this album, or even when you were writing the record?
You know, we don’t necessarily know how to describe what it is that we do, so we try to not even be super-aware of what a record is going to be like, or how it is different from the last record. We try to be unaware while we know that, ultimately, we wanna go in and write more songs. I think it’s important for bands – or at least us, anyway – to approach it naturally.

But with that being said, now that the record is done, and you’ve completed this creative process, could you make any comparisons or contrasts between this record and your last album, Robbers & Cowards? The reason I ask is because while Robbers & Cowards is a great record that received a lot of critical acclaim, this record, Loyalty to Loyalty – to my ears, anyway – is really something special. Just from the opening notes of the record, you can tell…it’s like, “Oh, wow… we’re going somewhere here.”
Oh, definitely. I mean, our first record had a much slicker sound than this new album, which has a much darker sound to it. It’s interesting for me, because we think this record is much better than the first, but of course, going into that whole thing about a second record - people kind of read into it what they want to. I don’t know… I think we’re just kind of preparing ourselves for the fact that you never know what to expect from people’s thoughts. But we just kind of have to roll with it. All of this is very new for us, so….

New in the sense that it’s just not about the four of you guys anymore?
Yeah. New in the sense that we have never really been through this criticism game when people’s opinions - way outside of our existence - are very strong. And that’s kind of the reality with any entertainment. It’s new to us, but I guess that’s how it works.

Is this record a political record at all?

Yeah, I think there are political things going on there. The song “Welcome to the Occupation” is one that I think most strongly deals with the “loyalty to loyalty” theme, and it’s also the most autobiographical. I was a doing student teaching right before we started touring, and that song is about teaching as a public institution that is kind of owned by the state, and the feelings of an artist trying to break out of that situation. There are a lot of other capitalist and socialist themes going on the record, and a lot of other things relevant to a lot of the questions our country is asking itself right now.

Cold War Kids will play two very special shows in the area this month – first on October 15th at Webster Hall in NYC, and on October 16th at the Williamsburg Hall of Music in Brooklyn.

The Verve: Leaving It Up to the Gods
by Daniel Alleva

As Verve bassist Simon Jones would tell it, sometimes all it takes in this world is the desire to take care of unfinished business. For those that have not been keeping score, this is the second time that The Verve – arguably the best group to come from Britain in the past two decades - has risen from the ashes with a great new record in tow. The first time was in 1997, when they released the highly successful Urban Hymns – but only after disbanding in the wake of the psychedelic epic that was 1995’s A Northern Soul. Now, with the release of Forth – their first album in ten years – The Verve have returned with the same swagger that they were known for. “This band is a big part of our lives, and we’ve got a lot of things left to do in this band,” says Jones, calling from the U.K. “But when you keep breaking up after every album, you look like a fucking idiot.”

The future of the Verve post-Urban Hymns was short-lived, when in 1999, singer Richard Ashcroft decided to disband the group and pursue a solo career. So, what drew Ashcroft, Jones, Nick McCabe, and Peter Salisbury back into the dazzling spectrum of The Verve again was purely a series of phone calls. Salisbury and McCabe – after not being in touch since McCabe left the band shortly after the release of Urban Hymns - reconnected again, and began to throw around the idea of playing together once more. Jones - who had never once given up on the idea of playing music again with his old mate Nick McCabe - needed no persuasion whatsoever. According to Jones, “It was down to Richard, really… and Richard did the right thing and called.”

When talking about the mega-success of Urban Hymns, Jones compares the experience to that of a train losing its wheels, and says that the band wasn’t geared up enough emotionally to handle the pressure. During the time, even the confident Ashcroft seemed taken aback by all the commotion. He sent fans into frenzy, weeks before the album was released, when he was spotted in the crowd at an Oasis show in New York City. Weeks later during a promo spot, he likened the experience to something out of The Who’s Quadrophenia and said, “It was like The Verve turned into Michael Jackson or something!” Tension would soon boil over in the group: resulting first in McCabe’s departure, then fallout from the legal matter that ensued around the band’s big hit “Bittersweet Symphony.” But while Ashcroft may have had enough, Jones now has other thoughts on the band’s ultimate second demise. He would have preferred a hiatus, which would have given the band time to regroup. “I don’t think we’re the sort of band to put out a record every year. You know, we’re not that type of band,” he says. “But everyone’s got their own opinion about it.” Jones continues to say that, “It’s all in the past now. It’s important to learn from our mistakes, and make sure it doesn’t happen again - to really hold on to this thing that’s precious, and to value it, and not be so flippant.”

With Forth, these four distinct personalities that each has their own ideas about making music have made a record that sounds intuitive and fresh. Because The Verve’s intention was never just to reunite to do a few gigs, Forth has the concentration and flow of a true rock epic. Many of the albums tracks punch with power, and are reminiscent of the band’s very first records. A lot of this has to do with Nick McCabe. A brilliant musician, McCabe rejoined the group late into the recording sessions for Urban Hymns. But on Forth, his presence is layered deep into the mix of the album, and his atmospheric sound runs rampant.

Despite all this, Jones knows that his band could be described as tumultuous, and there are always rumors that claim another break-up is inevitable. “I’ve found the best way to deal with that is to not to dip your toes in that sort of environment,” he says. “If you’ve got four people, and it’s supposed to be a democracy, then you are always going to butt heads. But that, for us, has always created great music.” And with a new generation of fans being enlightened by The Verve’s music, the impact of reforming has been incredibly positive. “I say to people that (Forth) is the most definitive Verve record,” says Jones. When the band played The Theater at Madison Square Garden in April, their two-hour set was comprised of fan-favorites that covered their deep catalog through and through. “A lot of people who only bought Urban Hymns come to the gigs not realizing that we’re a pretty psychedelic fucking band, and I love when they walk out looking like, ‘Holy fuck!” One of the tracks from Forth that is sure to make its way into The Verve’s sets when they tour in support of the album is “Noise Epic,” an 8-minute freakout a la “Gravity Grave,” a song from the band’s very first EP.

The Verve, for now, is embracing the freedom to be totally spontaneous, and they have re-lit the torch that burns so brightly in the memory of many fans across the world. The time in-between The Verve’s latest jaunts was long and hard. But listening to Jones, there seems to be reason to stay optimistic. “We’ve learned that this is how we’ve got to do it... instead of looking at a calendar that’s full for the next three years of your life, and it being this sort of daunting, ‘how the fuck am I going to do this?’ sort of thing.” For all of their ups and downs, there has always been a simple premise in The Verve, one that has held true since they started such a long time ago. “We’ve just gotta go in there and leave it all on the floor, and leave it to the gods.” One can only hope that the gods Jones speaks of aren’t in the habit of taking things away, because a world without The Verve again is too unbearable a thought.

Oxford Collapse: Now That's a Throwback
by Daniel Alleva

About twenty minutes into my interview with Michael Pace of Oxford Collapse - the Brooklyn trio that just released Bits, their second record on the legendary Sup Pop label - I find out that Pace and I grew up not far from one another on Long Island, and that we had mutual friends that played in bands way back when; hardcore enthusiasts that enjoyed local notoriety. Talking to Pace, much like listening to Oxford Collapse’s records, reminds me that the era in which we were raised stands in stark contrast to this place in time. “Everyone in the band kind of came of age in the early to mid nineties,” says Pace. “We were listening to a lot of punk music and hardcore; you start with a touchstone band like Nirvana, and from there, you read about all these other bands that those guys loved, and you start getting into them, as well.”

Very seldom do bands today like to talk about their influences in specifics without being pressed. Quite possibly it’s because they’re afraid of getting hung by them in the press. But Pace’s knowledge of music over the last four decades is practically encyclopedic. “From my own experiences, I started getting into the SST bands - Meat Puppets, Husker Du, Black Flag, and more bands like that. I was fortunate enough to have a radio station at my high school that I was involved with, and there was a lot of new stuff coming out at the time like Superchunk and Archers of Loaf, so that stuff also had a big impact on me, also – it was like ‘Oh, this is what I like.’ It’s all about kind of refining what you’re listening to, and if you’re really into it, you do your research, and you discover bands all the time.”

Anyone who’s ever really cared about music in the last fifteen years or so loves a band exactly like Oxford Collpase. A band like Oxford Collapse commits only to making music that they themselves would want to hear, resulting in an album as rewarding as Bits - drawing their inspiration from the poetry, the performance, or just the power of will. “We don’t like to rest on our laurels, we like to challenge ourselves and try new things.” New things include songs based solely around string arrangements, like the tender track “A Wedding,” or the acoustic refuge of “Featherbeds.” “The sound has matured over time as we’ve gotten more comfortable with the way that we write, the way that we play, and the way that we think about music,” says Pace.

“With this record,” he continues, “we wanted to record with friends over an extended period of time. So, we recorded the record between September and December of 2007. The first session was with our friend C.R. Matheny, and we did 15 songs straight to cassette - like hi-bias, regular cassette tape – and we did all the basic tracks like that. The second session was with our friend Eric Emm who has a studio in Greenpoint, and that was more traditional in terms of the ways bands record these days with Pro-tools. So, we had these two sessions worth of material, and we mixed them together with both producers, so everyone had their hand in each other’s work, and so that there was cohesion between the cassette tape stuff and the computer stuff. The main point is that we took our time, and we collaborated a lot more with other people.”

At one point, Bits almost became a double-album. Says Pace, “We wanted to challenge ourselves and write 30 songs that we could release, and for awhile we thought, ‘yeah, let’s do a double record.” He then starts to rattle off one double-album classic after another. Double Nickels on the Dime. London Calling. Exile on Main Street. Physical Graffiti. The River. Tusk, even! “There’s something so satisfying about a double album if you can pull it off. But in the end, more prudent heads prevailed and we kind of realized that maybe the world wasn’t ready for an Oxford Collapse double album – or maybe the world doesn’t want an Oxford Collapse double album (laughs)!” Still in all, many additional tracks from the Bits sessions will be released on a series of 7” vinyl.

Signed to Sub Pop? Releasing b-sides on vinyl? Just what time machine have we stepped into exactly? Oxford Collapse is no retro trip, but something about them is making me nostalgic “We are all huge proponents of the album concept – where the record has a beginning, middle, and an end – and the emphasis on that has sort of been lost.” Yes, it certainly has. I ask why this has happened to a lot of artists, but truth be told, the answers seem more genuine when I’m not the one to broach the subject. “Maybe it’s because it got so easy to put out a record now,” Pace says. “I feel like there’s been an emphasis on singles, where you want to put only the best songs from a session on your record, instead of looking at the big picture.”

But this is not to suggest that Michael Pace thinks some of the songs on his new album are lesser than others. “The whole idea behind an album is that you have peaks and valleys sonically, and there’s an ebb and flow to the album. So, with all of these songs at our disposal, sitting down and making a track listing was really fun, because we put a lot of care into it, and it wasn’t like we said ‘These are the best songs’ and then just threw them all together. We had one song that, at first, we were dead-set about putting on the album. But, ultimately, we found that it worked better as a b-side one of the seven-inches.”

Thank the Christmas Baby for pawnshop record players, and the good sense in not always show your hand. Oxford Collapse will be heading to Europe in the beginning of 2009, but before that, they make two very special stops in NYC – first a CMJ showcase on October 24th at Pianos, and then a headlining set at Webster Hall on November 15th.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Futureheads: Breaking Up Time
by Daniel Alleva

Barry Hyde, the vocalist and guitarist for The Futureheads, is a touchstone of English charm. It’s been two years since the release of their last record News & Tributes, and with the release of their latest effort, This is Not the World, Hyde’s enthusiasm boils over as he speaks.

The Futureheads recorded This Is Not the World last summer on a mountaintop in Spain, and while describing the setting, Hyde says to me, “I don’t know if you know this, mate, but we recorded our album in the only area in all of Europe that has a desert.” He pauses for a second and then laughs, “Of course, they’re not like the deserts you have in your country, but it’s all we have here in Europe!” Hyde’s spirit is as youthful and energetic as his music, and The Futureheads’ journey from their native Sunderland to the mountaintops of Spain all started with a lesson in letting it all hang out from super-producer Youth, who along with the band crafted This Is Not the World out of his home studio.

“We learned so much from Youth,” says Hyde. “He taught us that we didn’t have to spend too long on a song . . . we could just write and record a song one day, and the next day, start up on another.” Of the twelve songs on the album, nine were written previously to arriving in Spain, which allowed the band to knock out the recording of the album in just three weeks. The frenzied pace is evident all over This is Not the World.

Unlike the acoustic elements that made up News & Tributes, This Is Not the World is a 38-minute blitz to the finish line - a manic attack signaling the start of an indie rock rampage. Tracks like “Broke Up the Time” and “Think Tonight” are perfect morsels of post-punk jive, and all the tracks on This Is Not the World were crafted with The Futureheads’ signature vocal harmonies. “We try to use the very tones of our voices to make our harmonies unique,” says Hyde. “For instance, Ross (Millard, bassist) has a very low voice, and Dave’s (Hyde, drummer) is very high. So, Jaff (bassist) and I fit into the middle.”

On previous efforts, both Barry Hyde and Ross Millard would bring loose arrangements to the band, and together they would work out the songs. But this time, the songwriting process was even more collaborative than before, with Barry taking on lead vocals for songs written by other members, and Dave Hyde contributing many guitar parts. In terms of lyrics, The Futureheads have always had a knack for being slightly ambiguous, while still being great storytellers. But on This Is Not the World, Hyde says that “we tried to be more straight-forward with the lyrics,” and he notes “Hard to Bear,” a broken-hearted love song written for a friend, as a prime example. The lyrics are very simple: “She broke your heart yesterday/It tore you apart when she turned the other way/You came to me and I didn’t know what to say/But know I do,” with the chorus being a message for Hyde’s friend to take care, and know that the worst is behind him. “It’s a place where every young man has been,” says Hyde, “and everyone can relate to it somehow.”

The Futureheads’ debut album was comprised mainly of the first songs they had ever written together, and their second release, News and Tributes, was basically an exercise in trying not to write big hits and radio singles. This Is Not the World was written with the intention of creating an album that would translate well in a live setting – and the end result appears to be a great success. Explains Hyde, “When we started playing the record live back in December, the fans were hearing the songs for the first time. But towards the end of each song, they were singing along with them.”

This Is Not the World
is not only The Futureheads third album, but it is also their third record label - having formed their very own Nul Records. “After News and Tributes,” explains Hyde, “we were in a position where we were possibly going to be dropped because of the sales of the album, and for me that would have been perfectly fine.” With the major record label industry being in the sad sate that it is, The Futureheads saw an opening and ran with it. “The label started asking about a new album, and I told them I had writer’s block – when in fact, I had actually written about six songs already. But I didn’t want them to get their hands on it. I would have given them an album of white noise if I could.”

Ultimately, Warner Records did not drop The Futureheads as much as they forgot to pick up their option on the band – leaving The Futureheads in the very fortunate position of being able control their own destiny. Many potential suitors all came knocking in hopes of snatching the band up, and even Warner tried to resign them, but ultimately The Futureheads decided to focus on a more independent way of distributing music – something Hyde hopes bands will do more of in the future. “Just recently, the Von Bondies asked if we could sign them to Nul, but unfortunately, we had to turn them down. We really don’t want to sign anybody, because we’d rather a band realize that they can do it for themselves, and not have to rely on a record label.”

This Is Not the World is in stores now.

"Radio Heart" - The Futureheads

R.E.M. at Madison Square Garden, NYC
June 19th, 2008
by Daniel Alleva

Michael Stipe and Peter Buck of R.E.M. with Johnny Marr

It was clear when they stepped on stage at Madison Square Garden, that the R.E.M. of today was not like the R.E.M. of most recent note. Granted, their performance in support of their latest release, Accelerate, was not a time-warp back into R.E.M.’s heyday. But instead, the band blasted through a two-hour set with a flare not seen from them in quite some time – a set marked most by the strength of the Accelerate material, and the boatload of R.E.M. classics that were also included.

Opening up with the Document-be-damned explosiveness of “Living Well Is the Best Revenge,” R.E.M. focused mainly on the high energy aspects of their repertoire, including “These Days” from Life’s Rich Pageant, and “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” from Monster. Dressed in a black suit and tie, singer Michael Stipe presided over the crowd like he was possessed by Marc Bolan’s Holy Ghost - working the stage from left to right, and falling to his knees into character-esque poses.

The set would go on to include other gems such as “Driver 8,” “Don’t Go Back to Rockville,” “Disturbance at the Heron House,” and even “Pretty Persuasion” from their second full-length L.P., Reckoning. Also from that album was “Harborcoat,” with Stipe joking how The English Beat’s influence on R.E.M. was most notable in the song’s ska-like rhythm.

Still, though, the taste of vintage was merely a whipped-cream topping on the quality selections played from Accelerate. “Man-Sized Wreath,” “Horse to Water,” and the set-closing, “I’m Gonna DJ,” kept the pace banging along nicely, as guitarist Peter Buck and bassist Mike Mills - along with new member and former Ministry drummer Bill Rieflin - seemed to find great comfort in the new material’s aggressive nature.

The night’s encore featured the first single from Accelerate, “Supernatural Superserious,” as well as R.E.M.’s most successful single to date, “Losing My Religion.” Stipe then introduced to the stage Johnny Marr, who had been on hand earlier in the evening during opening act Modest Mouse’s lackluster set. The former Smiths guitarist sat-in on renditions of “Fall On Me” and “Man on the Moon,” which closed the show.

Brooklyn’s The National was also on hand to open the evening

The Black Crowes - Warpaint
by Daniel Alleva

The Black Crowes have found themselves again on Warpaint, the long-awaited studio release from the Brothers Robinson and family. For a record that seemed all but impossible for The Black Crowes towards the start of this decade, Warpaint gives The Black Crowes finest works a brand-new rival.

Warpaint is an album that is best exemplified by its true personality. “Walk Believer Walk” finds guitarists’ Rich Robinson and Luther Dickinson dropping into the hard blues, while vocalist Chris Robinson howls about “mainline Jesus” and wanting “your diamond god.” Then there is “Oh, Josephine,” a tender ballad that doesn’t force a cringe by being too contrived, instead touching on real things such as life, love, and everything in-between. It’s a genuine moment from a band that seemed to have the hardest time just being themselves for the longest of times. Their signature brand of rock and roll - a mixture of Keith Richards, Alex Chilton, and Gram Parsons that has made The Black Crowes’ catalog one of the most varied in all of rock - allows the band to sound positively revitalized on “Wounded Bird” and “Movin’ On Down the Line,” especially when coupled with a healthy dose of psychedelia.

Warpaint closes with the pastel hope found in the slide and strum of “Whoa, Mule.” Robinson sings, “We’re dirty but we’re dreaming, we’ll both get there someday.” It’s an optimistic refrain that downplays the subtle truth: “I could tell you that all pastures stay green, but you know that I'd be lying,” he states. But for all the highs and lows, The Black Crowes have finally found a reason to stand tall again.