1.23.2017

What the F**&K is Wrong with You?: PJ Harvey


I didn't listen to many female artists when I truly began to "listen" to music, i.e. actively searching and using my own money to buy a tape or CD of somebody that I wanted to listen to and absorb. Being a boy around the age of 13 in the suburbs, all of my music was male-centric, from The Beatles to Led Zeppelin to AC/DC to, of course, The Partland Brothers' Electric Honey.



Two things to mention: First CD I ever bought  after getting my first CD player 
(bargain bin), and article symbolism later.

I don't believe this is anything odd and imagine that most kids starting out their active-listener lives are going to associate to artists of their own sex. I never disliked women artists (certainly not those from the 50s , 60s, or the R&B 70s), but as boy who didn't understand anything about girls, buying their music never crossed the mind. I needed some sort of connection outside of the music itself, and all of us being man-boys was the easiest connection to make.

Eventually, once I hit college in I had realized that part of absorbing music is to encounter different perspectives, and that I could listen to Liz Phair talking about blowjobs and gender double standards even if I couldn't relate (but I could still sympathize!). I could enjoy hearing Justine Frischmann sing about needing Vaseline when you're stuck like glue because, damn, sex is awkward for all of us!


Absolutely listened to Elastica solely because of their music

While I began to listen to  more females artists, I'd say most hung around the indie or just general rock genre, so while lyrically they might be bringing some new ideas to my tiny musical end table, it was still food for thought that I had ingested before. I wasn't pooping out anything new to spark the imagination, so to speak. Perhaps, I was becoming musically constipated in the bowels my artistic expansion....

There wasn't - and still isn't- as much diversity in my female artists. I still lean towards rock/indie/punk women artists (Sleater-Kinney being my absolute #1 as a whole, not just a "girl band"), along with electro-pop leaning singers and Americana/folk. Still, despite what  I consider to be my own limits of female experience, I am surprised I didn't spend more time listening to PJ Harvey, as by all indications she should have been up my alley. When Witmer suggested that I take on To Bring You My Love, I jumped at the suggestion, kicking myself when he named the album that this wasn't something I already had on my playlist.

So, let's begin!




The Artist: PJ Harvey
The Album: To Bring You My Love
The Listener: Chris
The Presenter: Scott

(Side note: I actually thought I saw her in support of R.E.M in 1995, but it was actually Sonic Youth, I now realize).

Track 1: To Bring You My Love

Well, hello Track 1!  l love a good Track 1. Picking your first track for an album is the most important part of your track arrangement, so this bodes well. She's mentioned the desert, wandering, and Jesus in the first minute, so we are in fine shape for a rock album. This is my point: All musicians - regardless of sex -  will write about those three topics at some point in their career.

Man, I am kicking myself already on this- Harvey has great character in her voice and you buy in, and already much more raw than I expected, with a great mix of the guitar falling over the rest of the instruments. I feel like her bringing love might be a double suicide. And that tremolo at the end...Grade: A

Track 2: Meet Ze Monsta

It was fun to write that title, and I laughed, but before the track started I was also wondering if there was going to be any humor in the actual song, or it would be just really dark. Possibly being about abuse.

I initially thought I heard a little Robert Palmer with the drums, so that was a little fun. Her lyrics really are the prime example of relatability to any artist- I took it as her just having an intense night of sex, and she lays on middle-school euphemisms or just general words (like "head" and "coming") that you associate to sex even if they are not being used in that context, since I am still a middle-schooler (I taught middle school, so maybe that explains it. Ironically, I can't stand that age, but I loved teaching them. They are hilarious group of insecure dorks who all seem to discover 70s rock in 7th grade). Grade: B-

Track 3: Working for the Man

Now this track is what I was expecting Harvey to sound more like- spare drums, slight textures, a sense of something a little creepy going on. It's a nice change of pace from the first two tracks- breaking up the blues rock gives you time to breathe and get a sense of what she is fully bringing to the table. The song is a throwaway, but serves the album, so far. Lyrically, she is really seeming to push the idea of sexuality, or being under the spell of a man, as well as being powerless to God. "God of piston, god of steel/God is here behind the wheel". Grade: B+

Track 4: C'mon Billy

This was the first track that lyrically took on a true "woman's perspective", after three tracks that certainly could have been performed by anyone and made sense. Harvey is trying to get Billy to come back to her after she's had his son, who I assume he didn't know about, or perhaps left. The line towards the end "Damn thing went crazy" makes me think she killed the child, since she's referring to it as thing, perhaps keeping Billy from her. I also read into what seems like a trend, with Harvey serving to the will of man in her song, and I can't help but read it as commentary on the kind of life a woman leads when in this mindset. Grade: B

Track 5: Teclo 

So my kids were listening to Veggie Tales before I listened to this, and when I hit play I hadn't clicked on the actual track. Not what I was expecting. So it's taken me a few seconds to get my thoughts back in order.

This track is more in line with how I imagined PJ Harvey to be. She throws in a lot of character into her voice, as opposed to more straight-up blues wrath from earlier. The vocals ride on sparse minor chord riffs with feedback noodling to still give it that root anchor, but certainly goes into a more modern framework. The lyrics continue the obsession or longing to be with someone else, but I have no idea what "Teclo your death/Will send me to my grave" means. Isn't Teclo a convenience store in the UK? Grade: B-

Track 6: Long Snake Moan

Fuuuuuuuuuuck yeah! I don't care about the lyrics at all. I knew that once the first four seconds went by. I want this song played live when I go see her, preferably as an encore. I checked her set list recently and doesn't look like she's playing it. I'll need to tweet her this advice. Perfect blend of a dark, angry, sexy riff, power drums, droning organ, and that goddamn angry  voice. Grade: A

Track 7: Down by the Water

It's amazing how much MTV could effect what I wanted to listen to or who I wanted to pass on. I mean, I prided myself on watching 120 Minutes and MTV2, so I was hip to what was going on, but if an artists song didn't connect with me on those first couple of rotations, I was probably done with them. This is what happened with "Get Up" by Sleater-Kinney and it happened with Harvey and "Down by the Water". "Get Up" is one of my least favorite SK tracks, and the same certainly is true for "Water". It's not awful by any means- the buzzing synth bass is cool, I like the strings, and it has an identity, but it just...is. After 6 tracks in, where at least 5 really had some charge to them, this just drifts down the water past my raft, without me caring to go back and save it. In fact, it can take "Get Up" with it. Grade: C-

Track 8: I Think I'm a Mother

Is this a dirge? Seems like a dirge. I want to write a dirge and play it a funeral, and people would say "That's quite appropriate".

The lyrics are really confusing, so I won't read too much into them. But I have to wonder what the hell "You just roll me over/You give me a mother/A man if I love her" means. Is the narrator a woman? She wants to get pregnant with a mom? Or the man's a she if she loves her? A nice little riff- Harvey is absolutely a blues aficionado who does a nice job throwing in modern interpretations to these tried-and-true melodies, and that always sticks with me. This is a back-to-back run of two songs that don't stick much with you, though. Grade: B-

Track 9: Send His Love to Me

Hello, 90s acoustic guitar! It's the classic overproduced acoustic track, which seems counter-intuitive. I found the organ not quite fitting this song as we have heard in others, and I wasn't quite sold on her synth-and-strings middle section. I could certainly hear this with that out and have kept it with just the acoustic and percussion. Also, she misses the love of a guy, and wants Jesus to hear her!
Grade: C

Track 10: The Dancer

I've somewhat joked about Harvey's reference to God/Jesus in this album, but while I think a lot of time artists use biblical references, terms, or theological questions as an easy out to look deep and contemplative, it definitely is a theme for Harvey in this album- and maybe in a lot of her work. Lyrically this is by far the most direct track on the topic of God and the idea of being saved by Him. God even appears to send an angel to her to let her know he is there for her. This directness of the track also makes me want to look back at hear earlier tracks and see if the references to him might deal more with her relationship with God. It makes the idea of her constantly in want of him to be much deeper if she's seeking Him, and not a him. Musically it keeps a pretty constant melody throughout, so it's a showcase of her words, and it feels like she bearing her soul, with the music more of her background. Grade: B

Overall Grade: B-

This album really started strong, and even mid-way when I felt it started to lose it's luster, "Long Snake Moan" came an swallowed me whole. But that was the high-water mark, and the back end really started to fade. Lyrically she stuck with her themes, she has a hell of voice that can rip through and make a musically "meh" song really catch fire. While A B- might seem a little low, this is based on my first listen. I am going to listen to the album again, and update the overall grade if I feel different. More importantly, I am really going to go on and listen to some other albums of hers, as I hear a lot of elements of her music that made me curious about her output.

Great suggestion, Witmer! Let me know what you all think, and if there's another PJ Harvey album you recommend, let me know. I feel this would be a great 1-2 punch with Exile in Guyville.

-Chris


Bonus content! 

If had grabbed this Electric Honey in the bargain bin, my music life would have gone a much different direction in grade school (I would have at least listened to the album more than once). However it didn't come out until 13 years later when I was in college.

Remember, when doing the photo shoot, only one member should look directly at the camera.

1.17.2017

Clearly, This Is a Valid and Objective Comparison of Artists

Today at work, I engaged in a conversation with Matt regarding the recent Bon Iver release 22, A Million. We both agreed that it was underwhelming at best in comparison to For Emma, Forever Ago and Bon Iver. Not shocking analysis after being out for a few months and after however many reviews. Most reviews are pretty positive, some aren't. Mine is probably middling- nothing much really got my attention and seemed like Justin Vernon became enamored with production, etc. etc.

How I felt about the album is not the point of the post. The point is this: I believe that if Vernon makes another (in my opinion) sub par album, he will decline to the musical quality and relevance of Gotye. To help Matt get a nice visual of my projection, I made this graph in four minutes (three if I wasn't interrupted by a coworker):



This only projects out up to 2016 and his most recent output- this is science so I'm not going to make shit up. Matt believes that comparing him to Gotye as a negative is not valid: Gotye is pretty much a one-hit wonder, while Vernon has had three extremely well-received albums. Vernon also has influence in production with other artists across genres, where as we think Gotye is still recording?

I believe the comparison is valid because:

1. They are both white
2. Wikipedia describes their genres as "art pop" (just one of at least four listed. Apparently Bon Iver is also "Baroque pop", which is a new one. Does that mean it's really lavish and over-the-top? Does he reference Johannes Vermeer and get really emotional?).
3.They are kinda whiny?
4. Beards
5. If Vernon bombs, I can say he "got Gotyed!". Or something..

So, that to me is enough., but Matt says no. So here is the exercise:

If Justin Vernon fails - and I mean fails, not make an album that I myself didn't think was all that great- what artist can we compare him to at that point, using a failed release as hks absolute state orf relevancy and quality? Or, to make it more general, which currently relevant/successful artist would you compare to a one-off, middling artist should said successful artist drop off a cliff with their next release?

We will assume both Gallagher brothers are already nominated.

-Chris

1.13.2017

Five for Friday the 13th

In attempt to fulfill my resolution from LAST year, I am announcing my return to JoC! Despite Matt telling me he closed up shop, I was able to remember my password and log back in. I was going to throw in some random faves, but since it's Friday the 13th AND Kansas City is supposed to be hit by the STORM OF THE CENTURY, I thought I'd list some videos that fall under that theme. See if you can find the connections!












Fuck it, I just searched randomly for this one:






Happy Friday, everyone! Remember, just because you drive an SUV doesn't mean  your tires melt ice and you can drive like back road country boy...

Video: Foxing - 'Night Channels'

Every time I make a new "Favorite albums of XXXX" list, I like to revisit it later to see what I would change. Sometimes albums will sit with me long after I've made a list and if I were to re-rank a particulate year, albums would move around quite a bit. The perfect example of this would be the 2015 release from St. Louis band Foxing. That album, Dealer, has been on regular rotation through all of 2016 and already into 2017. If I re-ranked my favorite albums of 2015, Dealer would without a doubt make the top 10 instead of where I initially ranked it at #35.

Foxing aren't the type of band I normally listen to. They're on the verge of being Emo which is a genre I don't usually enjoy. However, this album has seeped into my sub-conscious and will probably be one I'm still listening to in another five years. My favorite track on the album is 'Night Channels'. The band also made a brilliant video to accompany an already emotional track. Check out the video below...


-Matt

12.22.2016

Favorite Albums of 2016

50. Explosions In The Sky - The Wilderness
49. Kanye West - The Life Of Pablo
48. Mitski - Puberty 2
47. Lisa Hannigan - At Swin
46. S U R V I V E - RR7349
45. Lapsley - Long Way Home
44. Your Friend - Gumption
43. Angel Olsen - My Woman
42. Wild Nothing - Life Of Pause
41. Berwanger - Exorcism Rock
40. Preoccupations - Preoccupations
39. Charles Bradley - Changes
38. BJ Barnham - Rockingham
37. Childish Gambino - Awaken, My Love
36. M83 - Junk
35. Twin Peaks - Down In Heaven
34. Wilco - Schmilco
33. The Radio Dept. - Running Out Of Love
32. Ben Lubeck - Rented Rooms
31. Frank Ocean - Blonde
30. The I Don't Cares - Wild Stab
29. Parker Millsap - The Very Last Day
28. Black Mountain - IV
27. Conor Oberst - Ruminations
26. Local Natives - Sunlit Youth
25. A Tribe Called Quest - We Got It From Here...Thank You 4 Your Services
24. Julia Jacklin - Don't Let the Kids Win
23. Cymbals Eat Guitars - Pretty Years
22. Anderson Paak - Malibu
21. Weyes Blood - Front Row Seat to Earth

20. Leonard Cohen - You Want It Darker


19. Big Smoke - Time Is Golden


18. Beach Slang - A Loud Bash Of Teenage Feelings


17. The Avalanches - Wildflower


16. Big Thief - Masterpiece


15. Lydia Loveless - Real


14. Drive-By Truckers - American Band


13. Chance The Rapper - Coloring Book


12. DIIV - Is The Is Are


11. Kevin Morby - Singing Saw


10. Sturgill Simpson - A Sailor's Guide To Earth


9. Pinegrove - Cardinal


8. Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool


7. Sunflower Bean - Human Ceremony


6. Car Seat Headrest - Teens Of Denial


5. Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam - I Had A Dream That You Were Mine


4. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Skeleton Tree


3. Hiss Golden Messenger - Heart Like A Levee


2. David Bowie - Blackstar


1. Whitney - Light Upon The Lake


-Matt

9.15.2016

Listen to John Moreland

Add another artist to the "I can't believe I've never written anything about them on the site before" category. This time it's Oklahoma songwriter, John Moreland.

I know I get hyperbolic too often here but Moreland really might be the best songwriter around not named Isbell. Hell, after seeing him for the second time last weekend, Moreland might be the best. With the storytelling chops of Springsteen and a voice that sounds like home, Moreland has made two of my favorite albums of the past few years with 2013's In The Throes and 2015's High On Tulsa Heat. No other artist I can think of (other than the aforementioned Jason Isbell) writes as many heartbreaking songs & lyrics that can completely gut you. I could quote his lyrics all damn day, but here are some favorites:

"Well i'm the kind of love it hurts to look at / maybe we should take it as a sign / when im strung out on leaving / exhaulting all my demons / and you don't care enough for me to cry"

"We read all the right books, we sang songs we misunderstood / and with or without any reason, we did rebellion what justice we could"

"And I apologize if I seem a little overwhelmed / I’m thirsty, but the holy keep on pissing in my well / I had a purpose and a song that was true / But I ain’t ever had a lick of sense when it comes to you"

I could keep going but you get the point. Seriously, go get In The Throes and listen to it immediately. If you listen to it by yourself with a bottle of whiskey at 1am without bawling like a baby you're a stronger person than I am.

Here is Moreland playing 'Break My Heart Sweetly' on Colbert:



'Hang Me In The Tulsa County Stars' from SXSW:



-Matt

Album: Day Of The Dead

Every time summer comes around I start pulling my Grateful Dead albums back out. No band gets as much undeserved hate as The Dead. Even if you hate jam bands, it's hard to deny the songwriting and the band put out at least 2-3 classic studio albums. That's why I was so excited to hear about the Day Of The Dead tribute album. Curated by members of The National, the albums participant list is insane: The National, The War On Drugs, Phosphorescent, Jenny Lewis, Jim James, Grizzly Bear, Kurt Vile, J. Mascis, Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, Perfume Genius, Sharon Van Etten, Courtney Barnett, Angel Olsen, Wilco, Charles Bradley, The Tallest Man on Earth, Cass McCombs,  Lucinda Williams, Local Natives, The Walkmen, Real Estate, Hiss Golden Messenger, Stephen Malkmus, Fucked Up and many, many more.

Here are some highlights:

Jim James & Friends - 'Candyman'



Bonnie 'Prince' Billy & Friends - 'Ruben and Cherise'



Daniel Rossen, Christopher Bear & The National - 'Terrapin Station (Suite)'


-Matt

7.07.2016

New Music: Til Willis & Erratic Cowboy - Habit of Being EP

Lawrence's Til Willis and his band Erratic Cowboy are back again with a new four song EP. It's Willis' 15th release but it's his first that has been pressed on vinyl.

Willis' music always reminds me of a punk-rock Springsteen or Steve Earle, especially his vocals. The new EP, Habit of Being, is no different. My only complaint about the EP is that I wish some of the songs and the EP as a whole were longer. The second track, 'Happy Birthday to the Bomb' is a gorgeous track that clocks in at exactly one minute. The following track, 'Nobody Calls Me Home', reminds me of some of the best tracks from The Replacements with a fantastic guitar riff, but it's less than a minute long as well.

The highlight of the EP for me is the closing track 'When the Snow Melts'. It really highlights what a great songwriter Willis is.

You can listen to the EP on Willis' soundcloud page and you can order the 7" on his website.

-Matt

5.12.2016

Middle of the Map Festival: Day One (5/4)

I've probably said it here before but the Middle of the Map festival is my favorite music week/weekend of the year. I love researching new bands to see who I want to check out and trying to create a schedule that allows me to see as many bands as possible. This year over the four days I caught most or all of 29 different performances. Here are the highlights from day one:

Baskery @ Californos

The first set of the festival I caught ended up being one of the best of the whole day. Baskery are a trio of sisters from Sweden. The set of instruments comprising an acoustic guitar, banjo and stand-up bass certainly seem like they'd belong to a normal bluegrass band, but Baskery are anything but.

They were extremely high energy and the addition of the drums made for a pretty rocking set. If not many people knew of the group before the festival, they definitely gained a roomful of new fans last Wednesday.


LA Witch @ Ernie Biggs

After checking out a ton of bands I'd never heard of on Spotify before the festival, one of the groups I was most excited to see was another all female trio: LA Witch.

The group plays loud and fuzzy punk rock with a ton of reverb. If you know me at all, you know I love anything with a lot of reverb so I was in heaven. A lot of times punk rock music can sound thin but the heft of the reverb and drone made LA Witch's sound fill the room quite nicely.


Fullbloods @ Californos Patio

Fullbloods are a KC band that I was already familiar with before MOTM, but hadn't gotten a chance to see live yet. They're a part of the High Dive record label which has some of my favorite local bands on their artist roster. It's lazy but I love comparing bands I see to existing bands I know and love and It's impossible to describe Fullbloods sounds without mentioning Steely Dan. The bands share that same mellow funk/r&b/jazz sound. Although I don't really care for Steely Dan much, I love Fullbloods and their new album. I'm never sure exactly how a bands sound will translate from record to live performance and I can say without a doubt that Fullbloods are a really talented live band. Make sure to check them out if you get a chance.


Roosevelt Dime @ Westport Saloon

The very last band of the evening we caught was Brooklyn's Roosevelt Dime. I went into the show expecting some solid bluegrass but got much more as the band incorporates elements of blues, R&B and Americana. I was exhausted by this time and wished I could have stayed for the whole set but I'll definitely try and catch them if they come through town again.

Other bands I saw on Wednesday:

Atlas
Quirk & Ruckus
Via Luna
Ensemble Ibérica
Sales

-Matt

4.27.2016

Jill Andrews @ The Madrid Review (supporting Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors)- 4/23/16

Well, this is somewhat exciting- technically this my first legitimate concert review, and by "legitimate" I mean existing. Whether it's actually legitimate or not is up to our lawyers.

The evening did not start well upon arrival, as I realized I had left my little notebook and pen to write my notes down in the car. I couldn't use my phone effectively as I felt I would need two hands, and I needed one to hold a beer. I felt bummed that I hadn't even managed to accomplish what I assume is the second-most important task in reviewing a show after actually being at the show. However, my spirits rose immediately after having a Purple Rain (which wasn't anything special but I felt like I was now officially honoring Prince in the most selfish manner), so I decided to adapt. Rather than write about the specific songs and my reactions to each one, I decided to look at  the overall experience of listening to Ms. Andrews, as well as my observations on the Americana/folk-rock scene that night.

Americana - or whatever fits your mind for this genre - is an interesting breed of music, in that I am not sure if there's another brand of music where competent musicianship, quality singing and at least decent lyrics can really make the concert experience lukewarm and meh-able.This style of music fits within some consistent trappings: generally you have at least one acoustic which is often kicking the song off (might even be using a capo on the 2nd or 4th fret), open chords, and multiple harmonies. Even when these are performed well, the ears begin to mix them with the multitudes of other bands that are doing the same thing. You find yourself moving towards the back, towards the exits or at least to the bar, so you can have a conversation and maybe sit at a table.

And the thing is, the music could still be good, perhaps really good, but if there's not one little thing that sparks your brain to notice- a distinct voice, really unusual lyrics or phrasing - then it all becomes background. Other genres can skate by on being solely competent and grab your attention because their angry and loud by nature and you have no choice to be focused on them. But Americana shares that folksy politeness in sound where it can be easy to excuse yourself from the room.

So, with this in my mind, what did I think of Andrews the first time I saw her? She started out by herself on an acoustic, wearing a comfy sundress and a natural smile, and I thought to myself "Well, this has the chance of fitting into my "Slippery Slope of America" logic I mentioned earlier. She has a strong voice and a good sense of melody, but I wasn't sure I was going to stay focused for the whole set, or have it leave me with any impact.

Then, after the second song, she brought out her touring guitarist whose name started with a "J" and if I hadn't forgotten my notepad I would have remembered it- and the vibe of the performance changed. The guitarist provided a great layer to the music that would have been missed if Andrews was straight solo (Andrews's albums are well-fleshed out by an entire band and solid production), using effects to not overwhelm but support, and that shimmering layer brought more power to the lyrics. I also enjoyed her soloing- simple but with a nice bite to cut through the folsky sweetness and hinted at the darker lyrics inside the song. J's added vocal melodies (which made me think of First Aid Kit) also fit well with Andrews and it's a credit to the two of them for meshing well. I don't know how long they have been playing together on this tour or prior, but for the rest of the set, I was locked in.

So my final review? If you are an Americana fan, or want to see a good musician that can add a little bit extra to her performance (outside of somewhat awkward stage banter), I recommend catching Andrews next time she's in town. I'd be curious to be there with a full-backing band, as she more than held her own with just two guitars.




Chris

PS- Matt and I discussed if there would be a Prince cover performed, and which one it would be. Matt believed it would be "Nothing Compares 2 U", and I agreed. Turns out Drew Holcombe covered it, so we won the night.