Musings on music delivered when I dig myself out.

I wish time machines made everything sound better

Or Air's remix of "Home," from Depeche Mode's remix collection, Remixes 81-04

Air have really uh, underdone themselves here. "Home," a track from Depeche Mode's 1997 album Ultra, isn't the most impressive pallet to begin with; but you would think that Air might be able to cure the song of its rabid desire to be from the 80s. Not so. Instead, the French duo throws the track further back into the 80s, leaving it mired in cheesy piano lines and limp swirls of synths. The end result is stripped of whatever emotion David Gahan had imparted originally and left entirely disposable. This is a surprise coming from Air, whose most recent album Talkie Walkie turned otherwise cold-sounding electronic tunes into something full of life. I'd be curious to see what the rest of the remixes on the collection sound like, but there's no way I'm going to wade through the three discs, particularly if "Home" sets the standard.

Now with 47 percent fewer breakdowns!

Or "You Are My Target Audience," from Bars' debut album, Introducing

Because hardcore punk isn't viewed as the most challenging music to make (I'm a prime example) it comes as little surprise that many hardcore bands start other bands that take a totally different direction, Fall Out Boy being the first that springs to mind. Bars is a similar story. Containing members of Give Up the Ghost, Suicide File, and The Hope Conspiracy, Bars was supposed to be the rock and roll offshoot. They tried to diversify their influences invoking the names of The Dead Boys and Entombed and were compared to Black Flag. To be entirely honest, they couldn't be farther off. "You Are My Target Audience" is Bars doing Suicide File-esque songs with more solos and tambourines. Nothing else about the song strikes me as rock and roll or even worthwhile. I implore Bars to quite touting the Dead Boys around as an influence -- you're making Dead Boys fans look like idiots.

No Winona jokes -- I promise

Or "Lua" and "Take It Easy," the two simultaneously released singles from the new Bright Eyes albums, I'm Wide Awake It's Morning and Digital Ash in a Digital Urn.

I'm trying in vain to figure out what the recent fascination is with putting out double albums, or in the case of emo cutie/scapegoat Conor Oberst (and Nelly!), putting out two different albums on the same day. With Oberst I'm pretty sure it has nothing to do with money and more to do with being a prolific songwriter. Could it also be an effort to put out something for everyone, including the ex-emos that left the flock when Bright Eyes became a touchstone for the "unworthy"? Overemphasizing aesthetic differences? Probably; but to downplay the differences between these two new singles would be to obscure their delightful nature.

Anyone worried that Oberst would be too busy slugging down vodka to write decent tunes should be ashamed and told to sing five "Haligh, Haligh, A Lie, Haligh"s as penance. Both songs are charmingly low budget without being proud of it and dark like a pleasurable dusk. "Take It Easy" finds Oberst hunched over a laptop, punching out helicopter drum programming and nervy bleeps upon bloops. "Lua" could've easily been conceived on the balcony of an LES apartment -- barebones, endearing, and as usual, packed with emotion. Neither of the tracks is particularly ambitious as far as Bright Eyes goes, but they are far from detritus. These tracks are exciting if they are proper primers to the upcoming albums and begrudgingly amazing if they are not.

Q and Not U interview

[originally for]

It was probably the best night in October to go out to dance your ass off. The weather was temperate and the venue perfect (big ups to the Logan Square Auditorium!). The missing link was music, so who better to fill that role than Q and Not U? The band, who has recently released their third LP Power is the soundtrack to Election Night Fever, was ready to get people to shake it and maybe talk some politics along the way. Vocalist/bassist/guitarist Chris Richards was nice enough to lean against a building with me to answer a few questions I had on my mind.

Interviewed October 2nd, 2004.

Codebreaker: How long have you guys been on tour so far?

Chris Richards: We've been out for about a little over a week right now. It;s been in these little spurts where we go out for a few days and come home, go out for a few days and come home. So now we;re on a tour through the Midwest; we go back to New York for CMJ and then we go back to D.C. for just a couple more days. After that we have about three and a half weeks on the West Coast. So all in all it will be about five weeks of touring, but we've divided it up into these little... chapters, which has been nice.

Codebreaker: And how has it been going so far?

CR: Really well. We're playing a lot of new material that we're just getting used to. I think we tour a lot as a band, so the songs really become second nature to you when you're on tour so often. With all these new songs it's the first time we've been playing them, so it's just interesting to play a song like "Soft Pyramids" that we've probably played live over 250 times right after a song we're playing for the forth, fifth, sixth time. It's weird. Of course the older material feels very natural so it's really easy to slip on those. We're trying to just make it flow and all work together. I think by the end of the tour we'll have gotten our rhythm down.

To read the rest of the interview with Q and Not U, click here.

Aww man, I guess Rob Thomas isn't on this one

Or "Supernaturally," a track off the new LP The Lyre Of Orpheus, from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Let me throw this out on the table before I really get into it: I don't really know a whole lot about Nick Cave. In fact I've only heard one of his records previous to this and own only a baby's handful of mp3s. It might not mean much to a hardcore Cave fan that a relative newb is really, really excited about the quality of the man's new LPs, but it represents something significant to me. Cave's dual new release of Abbatoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus could be a serious jump-on point for new fans, with "Supernaturally" leading the ship.

A real rabble-rouser amongst a collection of feisty songs, "Supernaturally" is the most encouraging song I've ever heard from Cave. Its construction is like a battle song or the theme for anything requiring courage and endurance: up-tempo, relentless, and with a chorus that would sound vicious shouted at the top of your lungs. The acoustic guitars strum as if they were pumping iron and the string section has a real sinister air. Nick Cave's singing of "Hey! Ho! Oh baby, don't you go!" is heartfelt and powerful. There's nothing half-assed about this song and it shows. If this is a Bad Seeds recruitment commercial, I'll sign up and spread the word as fast as my fingers will let me type.

Ok guys, what's cuter: a sponge or a shin?

Or "They'll Soon Discover," The Shins' contribution to The Spongebob Squarepants Movie soundtrack

Talk about a set of high expectations. The Shins are in a rough spot; they've released two pristine albums to a deservedly large deal of praise, been featured on multiple television shows, and described as a band that would "change your life" by the movie Garden State (instead of NME, surprisingly). To say that the amount of public scrutiny they're under is high would be an understatement worthy of the Bush administration. While it might seem like an odd choice to contribute one of their first new songs to The Spongebob Squarepants Movie, they're in the company of other illustrious bands such as Wilco and The Flaming Lips. What should draw no questioning looks is the song they decided to put out.

"They'll Soon Discover" finds The Shins in fine form -- their cheery guitar lines frolicking, keyboards whirring happily, and vocals soaring with ease. The day's topic is the boundless imagination one has during childhood, and it seems like vocalist James Mercer is still very much in touch with his memories. Somewhere along the line the plot for the movie sneaks its way into the lyrics but never obscures the merry nature of the track. Although this song may not go toe-to-toe with something like "New Slang" or "Saint Simon," it wouldn't be out of place on either album. The Shins know they have a high bar to hurdle over, but if this song is any indication, they're not sweating it. They have bigger sponges to fry.

Duran Duran -- Astronaut
Epic; 2004

When thinking about the recently revamped Duran Duran, I think it's appropriate to quote LL Cool J: "Don't call it a comeback." Much like Prince's glorious and much-lauded "return" to music, it's important to point out that Duran Duran hasn't gone anywhere. Since the release of their first record in 1981, the band has put out albums more or less consistently, most recently releasing a number of live shows within the last year. Astronaut is Duran Duran's 11th album of original material, one that presumably looked to update their sound for a new generation. And while this record does sound like it was made for the 21st century, it also sounds like it was made by soulless automatons. Oops!

Those of you that own or have at least heard part of Duran Duran's breakthrough album Rio may be in for a surprise with Astronaut. Opener "(Reach Up For the) Sunrise" is a busy and energetic song that would fit well on the soundtrack of an exercise video. "Want You More!" would make for a fine Mountain Dew commercial, and has the same emotionally devoid qualities. This isn't the band their many fans might remember and cherish. As the rest of the record continues on, it seems like the group lost their creative juices in a high stakes poker game, and has enlisted the help of noted pop producers Don Gilmore and Dallas Austin to try and fill the void. And as with the rest of life, you get what you pay for; in this case it's heavily produced, low impact pop.

If this is what Duran Duran thought passed for quality pop music these days, we're royal screwed. Singer Simon Lebon sounds less like a British playboy (all puns intended) and more like a ragged boy band member, his voice listless and digitized to high heaven. Guitar lines are tossed through endless filters to the point that they've been robbed off all their rock. The only appealing factor in the band's repertoire these days is their massive collection of keyboards and synths, which don't make the band particularly more human, but do make the cheeseball melodies easier to swallow.

The album's lyrics offer no cause to rejoice either, as they sadly match the shallowness of Astronaut. While Duran Duran has never exactly been known as the most literary group, older songs like "Rio" and "New Religion" at least showed a desire to write something creative. The lifeless lyrics of "Nice" or the mishmash jumble from "Bedroom Toys" ("Now you [sic] washed up, beat smashing / grab no receipt / takes the platinum off your shine / Lazy bed star, la di da, petty bourgeois") provide none of that. Their peppiest songs offer the least substance and would be a decent match for some Bally's commercial.

For all the supposed liveliness the band shows on Astronaut, the few high points of the record show up in their mellowest tunes. Burbling walking bass lines and the tentative guitar strums of "Chains" hint at their earlier material and shows a more relaxed side of the group. The slightly more up tempo "Point of No Return" is also a bit looser, is recognizably less produced, and effectively puts to use its newfound breathing room. Capping off the album is the ballad "Still Breathing," another song that teases at the former depth of Duran Duran's songwriting skills. It's a shame they chose to write more songs of the cutie-patootie-fresh-and-fruity variety than of these thoughtful tracks.

It seems unlikely that Astronaut will succeed in making Duran Duran relevant again. Using hired guns like Gilmore and Austin has made the band sound like an overproduced and hyper-caffeinated version of The Killers instead of reinstating them to heights of former glory. While it's sad that the band is unable to recreate the zest of their youth, it's also a sign that maybe it's time to hang up the synths for good. Hopefully they'll listen this time.

Wait, wait, you're how old?

Or "Massive Cure," a track from She Like Electric, the debut album from Smoosh

Call me jaded or heartless, but for me a lot of times hearing children perform music is torture. Yes, I understand that they're just learning and that their parents think it's adorable (my parents sure did "love" hearing me play the flute), but it doesn't make me want to hear it any more. Enter Smoosh, a duo of pre-teen girls from Seattle that's vastly more talented than young age would usually permit. Asya, age 12, plays and write keyboard lines that bop like some of the better Fiery Furnaces guitar parts. Chloe, age 10, mans the drum kit and bangs out sharp, staccato beats to keep time. While both girls sing, Asya takes the lead, cooing in a sultry manner that will have parents telling their preteen sons that their bedtime has been moved up to "NOW!!" Smoosh is no novelty either; the girls have already released their first LP She Like Electric, have been covered by Cat Power (ok, she lip-synced along to, but still!), and opened for Pearl Jam last month. They're not relying on childish charm to get by, Smoosh are talented musicians that happen to be young. Just disregard what their website looks like, ok?

You can find more of their mp3s here and at Fluxblog.

The Return of the King(s)

Or "Drop It Like It's Hot," lead single from Snoop Dogg (featuring Pharrell) from the upcoming Rhythm & Gangsta LP

After the last N.E.R.D. album came out I was almost certain that we had seen the last of the Neptunes' glory days. They had gotten cocky, written a whole bunch of forgettable shit and expected to retain the supadupa star stature they had built up. Nelly's "Flap Your Wings" just about sealed the deal, despite its saucy drum line. This is what makes "Drop It Like It's Hot" such a kick in the head -- few guessed they'd make a track this white hot again.

Drawing on the same thought process that assembled the trash-can bash of "Grindin'," "Drop It Like It's Hot" is minimalist in all the best ways. Puffs of air swish in and out, mouth clicks snap, crackle and pop, and a hand clap/bass thump combo holds the beat steady. And once you hear the synth line in the pre-chorus that appears to be lifted from some 80s television show, you know for sure this is nothing short of amazing. The production will leave you so non-plussed, you'll hardly notice Snoop Dogg's comically sleepy rhyming. "Drop It Like It's Hot" is the Neptunes gone electro-plop and I love it to pieces. Let me get back to polishing your crowns, sirs.

Hot Snakes -- Audit in Progress
Dim Mak; 2004

Before writing this I did a little bit of research on Hot Snakes. Although it's clear that Hot Snakes features members of Drive Like Jehu and Rocket From the Crypt, things get a bit muddled when you try and figure out who's actually in the band. I won't go into the whole mess of who is actually who, but it's best said that these guys share a penchant for changing their names. What befuddles me is that for all the mystery encompassing them, Hot Snakes make ridiculously straight-forward rock and roll. The band sticks to their guns on Audit in Progress, their hook-crammed third full-length LP.

The band has always sounded like a streamlined amalgamation of Drive Like Jehu and Rocket From the Crypt, and no real departures are found in Audit in Progress. And yet, this isn't a bad deal at all for the listeners. Few groups I know of harness piercing and angular guitar lines and punchy yells in a way that pleases the pop ear -- something Hot Snakes is particularly good at. Another strength of the band, one that is accentuated on Audit in Progress, is know-how to write mildly abrasive punk songs that don't spiral into noisy wankfests. The majority of songs on Audit clock in at around three minutes and simply scorch. So while Hot Snakes may not venture off the beaten path much, Audit in Progress is proof that there's something to be said for sticking with what you know. Next task? Picking one name per member and settling on it.

Battles -- B EP
Dim Mak; 2004

Battles is one of those bands that you have to see live to truly understand what they're all about. With all that's happening onstage (a fucking ton) it's such a multi-sensory experience. This presents Battles greatest, er, challenge; that is how to translate such an engaging live presence onto record. B EP, the tail end of a trio of EPs put out by the band, nearly does them justice, and certainly exceeds their previous effort of EP C.

While EP C felt excessively stiff and mapped out, Battles loosen their collars a bit on B EP. Drummer John Stanier of Helmet and Tomahawk still keeps time like fine machinery on jet fuel and the time signatures are as math-ridden as ever. What's different is how raw the music comes off. The interplay between guitarists David Konopka (Lynx) and Ian Williams (Don Caballero and Storm & Stress) is filled with more emotion than one might expect from something so exacting. Avant soloist Tyondai Braxton's impact is deep, perhaps seen most in the 12 and a half minute long "BTTLS," in all its atmospheric choppiness.

But though B EP is a decent documentation of the Battles' talent, it still pales in comparison to their live performance. Is it fair to compare a band's recorded material to what they do in front of an audience? Probably not; but since that's where they do their most impressive work, it's the best point of reference to go off of. B EP is certainly worth a listen, but definitely make an effort to see Battles live, if for no other reason than to see whether I'm entirely crazy or not.

Bloc Party -- Bloc Party EP
Dim Mak; 2004

Bloc Party, for those of you who haven't melted your eyes reading NYC-related blogs for the last few months (I'm an addict; leave me alone!), is a British foursome that has made small but rhythmic waves with their Gang of Four-styled post punk. While that's hardly a point of uniqueness these days, Bloc Party does a decent job at it. Bloc Party EP is a sharp, poppy affair that finds the group working hard and showing off talent, all for an unoriginal end.

The sound of Bloc Party EP is earnest and energetic. "Staying Fat" has guitarist/vocalist Kele Okereke and other guitarist Russell Lissack firing sonic bullets at each other with sniper accuracy; "Banquet" bounces around like a Killers single with more oomph; and "She's Hearing Voices" throbs in a gangly Sonic Youth kind of way. What irks me is that all of these songs are blatantly derivative and only leave me with the impression that Bloc Party would make a decent cover band. Compounding this weakness is Okereke's voice. With a voice that blends TV on the Radio's Tunde Adebimpe and all of the Futureheads guys, it's not his singing that puts him out -- it's his yelling voice. Terribly nasal and akin to an inside joke that Brits might pull on us Yanks, Okereke's often used yelp detracts greatly from the rest of the band's efforts. Bloc Party still has a lot of room to grow, but if this EP is telling at all, their skills will definitely pay the bills if they push their creative boundaries a bit.

27 different approaches to one man

or "In the End" by Dragonguyver, as interpreted by James Cardis

I have no idea who Joshua Beane is or why he calls himself Dragonguyver. The concept he brought forth with Struggle and Fall, however, is admirable. 27 different groups are each assigned a different set of lyrics and are charged with the task of creating original music while finding a way to incorporate them. It's like a narrated mix disc, if you will. James Cardis, a young musician from Chicago, was given the lyrics for the despair-filled "In the End." The track starts off with some saccharine synth melody over some straight-forward drum programming, which is a bit deceptive of the nature of the piece. About 50 seconds in, the melody starts corroding and fast, and within 15 seconds disappears under roaring noise. The noise continues for around five minutes, varying in shape, pitch, tone, and melody. As I let the noise wash over my face in run into my ears I was surprised I didn't fast forward the track, skipping ahead for some brighter point. The noise had character and was oddly pretty. Six minutes in, some vocals break through the moving mountain, tying the piece back to the Dragonguyver theme. It's not long before they subside to the noise as well, which rides out for another three minutes before fading to a warm hum. Since there were no set parameters for this project, it's good to see that someone took advantage and pushed the envelope a bit.

For more information on this project, please visit this site.

Dungen -- Ta Det Lugnt
Subliminal Sounds; 2004

A common sentiment among rabid music enthusiasts and old folks alike is that everything was better in the past. Unspoiled by the need to emulate their predecessors, musicians had the ultimate freedom to make sound as far out as they could take it. Entire genres were emerging every year and almost no one looked back. It is in this period of time that Dungen belongs.

The group, or more accurately the Swedish 24 year old Gustav Ejstes and a few of his friends, is a relative enigma. Other than the knowledge that the group has put out two other albums, there's very little to offer up -- even Dungen's website is in some form of internet limbo. Perhaps it's all this mystery surrounding Dungen that makes it so difficult to believe that Ta Det Lugnt, their third album, is from the present day.

On the other hand, I would suggest that it's the music that makes me doubt the year 2004 emblazoned in pink on the disc. Thunderous drums a la Keith Moon or even John Bonham, vocals that sweetly coo and shout, and an eye-opening bag of guitar tricks and effects spring forth from each track. Snugly fitted amongst those elements are regal arrangements for flute, piano, organ, and a small string section, each more achingly beautiful than the last. Every song, from the brief "Tack Ska Ni Ha" to the eight and a half minute "Du E For Fin For Mig," is a swirling portrait of sonic beauty.

Ejstes is not one to shy away from fulfilling his musical desires. Songs that start out as intensely psychedelic scorchers fade into jazzy asides that focus on sax and piano ("Ta De Lugnt"). "Det Du Tanker Idag Ar du I Morgon" is a waltz-like number with lazy waves of guitar and precisely executed flourishes of flute. The track that follows, "Lejonet & Kulan" is done exclusively on an organ, although it encompasses a number of instrument's sounds. It's like the creative urges of his pysch-rock ancestors have been beamed into Ejstes' head and that Ta Det Lugnt is his outlet. This is not imitation -- it's like he's a displaced master himself.

One of the most appealing factors of Dungen's songs is Ejstes' guitar work. Ranging from frantic and fleeting to precise and executed with angelic-like care, there is little that Dungen doesn't put forth. The striking leads and white hot solos of "Ta De Lugnt" suggest near-virtuoso skill and could inspire much fist-pumping and air guitar-soloing. Other times Ejstes scales things back to passionate acoustic strumming and hand claps. All his work, even at his most bananas (check out the King Crimson-esque "Om Du Vore En Vakthund"), feels like pure artistic expression without ego-stroking.

What may come as a surprise is that Ejstes sings exclusively in Swedish, choosing not to resort to English to increase Dungen's commercial ability. While I might not understand what he's singing, it feels fitting; creating a greater focus on Ejstes' harmonious voice while allowing the listener to sing whatever words feel right with the melodies.

I can't help but come away from writing this review feeling almost defeated; there is no way that I can express the sheer magnitude of talent that Dungen possesses. There are relatively few musicians I know of that stack up as admirably as Ejstes, and even fewer that can sit as deservedly with the forefathers of psych-rock. Ta De Lugnt is easily the most beautiful new album I've heard all year and certainly one of the most creative. As little as this means, my proverbial hat is off to you, Gustav Ejstes.

"I feel like arrows should be flying up and down my screen"

or "What You Waiting For," the first single from Gwen Stefani's solo debut, Love, Angel, Music, Baby

According to Gwennie herself, Love, Angel, Music, Baby, is not a solo record, it's "more of an art project." Uhh, right. The good news is that it's slated to have production from Dr. Dre, The Neptunes, Martin Gore, and New Order, as well as noted pop producer Dallas Austin. With expectations set high, "What You Waiting For" may disappoint like a nervous senior on prom night. The song starts off with Stefani playing piano and cooing to a "live crowd," but the walls of the quaint piano bar are ripped away and replaced with the set of a Japanese game show. Yes, this song sounds like it's J-pop. The song's beat is hyper-paced and crystalline sweet, like something Basement Jaxx would cast away as too straight forward. Stefani herself gives a surprisingly weak performance, considering that her last few singles with No Doubt have been solid. To make up for it, the production on her voice is tripled and processed into oblivion. The lyrics fare even worse, as the topic is the *yawn* trappings of fame. It's catchy and the off-chorus hook of "Take a chance you stupid ho" is mildly amusing, but the song remains utterly mindless and offers very little depth. Perhaps it was chosen to be the single because of its simplistic nature, and that the rest of the songs will be more challenging. I'm crossing fingers and toes until I find out for sure.

I Got Love For

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