Capitol Hype Record Review The Decemberists

The King Is Dead

As most semi-popular music fans know, the two oldest stories in the history of the rock album as “art” is actually the same one from different ends. The grand, ornate, rococo resurrection – and the stripped down, for serious or fun reinvention. Dylan invented all this with his trilogy of amphetamine-fueled apocalypse pop in the mid-60s, and then followed it with LPs where he wore cowboy hats on the cover and tenderly rasped about throwing it all away.

As you may have heard, The Decemberists have kind of done that, too, on recent release The King Is Dead, after one or two double-LP length leviathans of noodly odysseys and noisy oracles, now coming down with some sunny, bittersweet folk-pop, but without leader Colin Meloy having to get all mashed up on a motorbike to do it.

Actually, there’s lots less psychic damage and violent imagery here than on The Crane Wife and The Hazards of Love, but I’m really guessing. I have no stakes in whether or not the band should collaborate with Americana like-minded kin like neo-depression bellwether Gillian Welch, and twangle-guitarist Peter Buck here (and don’t care a bit how many people think this sounds like an REM album; or rather, care as much about that as I did people in the 80s who thought REM albums sounded like Byrds albums from the 60s), or keep on expanding till they’re at Tusk-level.

Also, while The Crane Wife may be my favorite Decemberists album because of that gleeful dusky murder ballad about Protestant children carving up passersby and a title track which sounds like the ghost of my dead mom pining for my also dead dad, I missed out on The Hazards of Love altogether, because it was all just so damned complicated to get into (my wife says it’s great though, and I bought it for her, didn’t get it for review, which shows our household invests in The Decemberists, for what that’s worth).

The King Is Dead grows and grows on you, if you love sanded-down and souped up songs about romantic roadkill and clumsy thieves and hearing hushed rumors about the seasons changing from people with nothing else to gossip about. It has several of my most-enjoyed-songs-lately on it, such as the reasonably-assist-other’s-burdens compassionate libertarianism of “Don’t Carry It All,” the bluesy grind-grass of “Calamity Song,” and the early-evening pastoral funk of “Rox In the Box,” all wheat-field winners. But if the concept of the “second side” of an “LP” still exists, the triple treat of first single “Down By The Water,” “All Arise!” and “June Hymn” are dizzying. The middle song in particular is more than just fun, with some weary love compromises coming off as cranky affair raves, the lack of trust between singer and beloved seeming a bit (attractively) tawdry, even if the title pushes things a little too in the anthem direction.

Which is a good place to say that Meloy may have a problem writing a simple love song, but is hardly the James Joyce of indie rock write hacks like to hack write him out about hackity-hackity. And that somewhere, in the broad shouldered-solid and nestled-in-the-crook of the arm instrumental playing of The Decemberists, among the fairy tales and allegories and timeless lamentations, there is the universal connection we all crave: A tune to remember her or him by. The Decemberists deliver love songs behind a delightful veil, but don’t mistake that for a mask.

Blue Giant Capitol Dandy Warhols Imaginary Scoop Showbox at the Market

Friday's recommended show: Dandy Warhols playing the hits at the Showbox {12/3}


Given my love of all things Pacific Northwest  and Britpop, it’s no surprise that I have a soft spot for The Dandy Warhols.  The band expertly blends the brashness and hook-laden landscapes of their UK influences with Portlander moxie.  I had forgotten how much I dig on them until I their 2010 retrospective of their Capitol years (1995-2007) crossed my path.  It doesn’t have all of my favorite Dandy’s songs but that’s to be expected when they only have 14 spaces for classic tracks.

This Friday, December 3, 2010, The Dandy Warhols will be at the Showbox Market in support of this celebration of their fine Capitol catalog with Blue Giant opening. It’s going to be a spectacular scene listening to them cut through the lesser hook’d album tracks and hitting all points “Not If Your Were The Last Junkie On Earth,” “We Used To Be Friends,” “The Last High” and playing a new recording, “This is The Tide.”

Would it be to much to ask that they encore with some tracks from their debut album Dandys Rule: OK {one of my favorite albums of all time} even though it was released on indie label Tim/Kerr {in their pre-Capitol days}?  The band is devoting a Portland show to their first two albums where Peter, Zia and Courtney will join up with original Dandy’s drummer Eric Hedford for a one-time only performance of select tracks from the first 2 Dandy Warhols albums. This gig will be at the soon-to-be out of business all ages club Satyricon, where the band got their start back in 1994.

Let’s all hope for {and request} “TV Theme Song”  from Dandys Rule: OK!

Capitol OK Go Record Review

Of the Blue Colour of the Sky

So here’s the story: OK Go won my heart at the (old) Crocodile one night when Damian Kulash awkwardly positioned himself center stage with one leg in a full cast, and proceeded to sing the sweet & funny “It’s Tough to Have a Crush When the Boy Doesn’t Feel the Same Way You Do” at the exact moment I knew that I was going to get dumped by the boy I attended the show with.

After that kismet (and rocking out to the rest of their songs), I made it a point to see them whenever they came to Seattle, which fortunately for me is pretty frequent. I am thrilled I got to see them perform their carefully choreographed “A Million Ways” dance live, even more thrilled when they came up with the “Here It Goes Again” treadmill dance—and have been loving each and every video and song they’ve released since.

The last Chop Suey show ended up with me out of breath and on the floor, clutching an orange tambourine and picking confetti out of my hair. All of this is a long-winded way of telling you that if you think all OK Go does is put out cute videos and make teenage girls swoon, you should reconsider, because not only are their live shows some of the BEST I’ve ever seen, their 2002 self-titled release OK Go and 2005’s Oh No will rock the hell out of you (no lie: every single time I play an OK Go song for someone they say; “Who is this? It’s really good!”), and their newest, Of the Blue Colour of the Sky, is even better.

The band, made up of Damian (lead vocals & guitar), Tim Nordwind (bass & vocals), Dan Knopka (drums) and Andy Ross (keys, guitar & vocals), takes this album from what I like to call ‘pop with a rock-n-roll edge’ to a more effects-laden sound with a little bit of disco. And this is exactly what I love about OK Go: they’re not afraid to take chances, and they change their sound and grow a little bit more with every album.

Starting out with the trippy groove of “WTF?”— also their first video off this album, then moving on to the dance-y and optimistic “This Too Shall Pass” (complete with ooh-ooh-oohs), they hit a more mellow groove with “Skyscrapers” (the intensity with which Damian rasps; “I was blind” over and over nearly brings me to tears). A distinctly Prince-like sound emerges on “White Knuckles”, which is taking the lead as my fave track. “I Want You So Bad I Can’t Breathe” showcases Kulash’s awesome vocal styling (He’s totally talking about me, right? Hey, a girl can dream). And as a companion to that tune, “Last Leaf” is yet another great acoustic song crooned by Damian with expert lovesickness.

Really it’s hard to pick out specific tracks, because as a whole OtBCotS blends seamlessly together into one awesome listen. After just a few songs, I knew that it was going to be one of my go-to albums for private-dance-party-rockin-out-crying-a-little-singing-along-total-music-bliss. My rec: get thee to your favorite local music store and buy it today. You won’t be sorry.

Capitol Imaginary Scoop The Decemberists

Streaming previews of The Decemberists new Hazards of Love album

the decemberists

As I was browsing ChrisB's list of releases today, I saw that The Decemberists' new album was out today. The band drew me into their fold with their last release, The Crane Wife, so I was curious to see how the two albums compared.

There are two streams of the album that I can find, on Entertainment Weekly (must sign up to listen) and on their Myspace (no login necessary).

What do you think of the band's latest material?

(Thanks for the photo Chona Kasinger)

Capitol Imaginary Scoop The Decemberists

The Decemberists are — well, they're everywhere.

For the love of all things verbose, our lyrically adept Northwest neighbors are certainly going at it full-force these days. Seriously. The Decemberists are currently about to do a full album performance at SXSW, a simultaneous NPR live stream, plus side projects, poster contests, track releases, special vinyl issues, and listening parties (and autograph sessions) for the upcoming release of the new album, The Hazards of Love.

Phew. I'm tired just typing all that. Here's some technicals:

  • Tonight, KMRIA will be performing with the Minus 5 at the Tractor, for no less than Pogues cover night. KMRIA endeavors have traditionally included, among members of the Eels and Minus 5, the Decemberists' own Chris Funk and Jenny Conlee. Woot!
  • The much-anticipated Hazards of Love will be available this coming Tuesday, both digitally via iTunes and wax-style at some local mom & pop shops. The rest of the free world will have to wait until the official release, on 3/24. On top of all that, you can pre-order bundles through the Decemberists' webshop, laden with extra trinkets and whack-o autographed giveaways.
  • The day after that, on 3/18, NPR will be broadcasting the live performance of THoL, in it's entirety, from Stubb's at SXSW. Check NPR for local listings / streamings, and get the party started at midnight (Central time).
  • And, the whole rad poster thing is going on. But you already knew about that.
  • Still with me? Good, because there's one more: there's several listening parties brewing to celebrate the official release of THoL, including our very own Queen Anne Easy Street at 11p on 3/23 (with a midnight sale following). And our friends in PDX will be able to catch Colin & Co. in the flesh at Music Millenium the next day, from 6p – 8p for an autograph session. Full details on the Decemberists' homepage, here.

Wows. Oh, and Oregonians (and road-trip oriented Seattleites) can start lining up for tickets: the band will be playing two shows in Troutdale, OR at the Edgefield Amphitheatre, with none other than Andrew Bird and Blind Pilot. Presale tickets on 3/16 here, and public sale on 3/21 here.

With all the HoTL buzz these days, I thought I'd take us back to '02-ish and a release from Castaways and Cutouts, via some video. Enjoy.

Capitol Lily Allen Record Review

It's Not Me, It's You

In the United States,we like our celebrities to be perfect so we can revel in their flaws when they cease to be. The Olympic champion Michael Phelps achieved a perfect eight Gold Medals at the Beijing Olympics this past summer but the moralist echo chamber went into fast effect when he was photographed smoking marijuana at a party and lost sponsorship deals from Kellogg. How many discussions have you heard (or taken part in) regarding how fit a parent Britney Spears is? I bet it happens far more often than discussions as to how good her last two albums, Blackout or Circus, are (very and pretty, in that order).

What makes Britney’s Blackout album and, her British equivalent, Lily Allen’s It’s Not Me, It’s You albums so compelling is that they are pop stars cognizant of the bubble they live in and written from that perspective. We may not be able to live the life of a pop star, but those two albums give a glimpse into the life of one. Allen is not on the same leash that Britney is and she finds herself in the headlines for her lifestyle. She had gotten pregnant (and subsequently miscarried), had a television show that was quickly dropped and it was noted at least two awards ceremonies that she had too much (free) alcohol and embarrassed herself. In her early twenties and coming off the success of a hit first album (2006’s Alright, Still, Allen makes for good tabloid fodder.

It’s now early 2009 and Allen’s sophomore album, It’s Not Me, It’s You, is an early contender for album of the year. She may be a magnet for tabloids because she’s young, beautiful and has (had?) a hard-partying lifestyle, but she is also very intelligent and no contemporary pop star (ok, maybe Justin Timberlake) has a comparable grasp for what makes a hit song than Allen does.

This album’s recording was made in the public eye, with Allen immediately releasing demos and rough mixes of songs to her MySpace page or other spots on the internet. A track called “I Don’t Know” was an earlier incarnation of “The Fear” (the first single) and “Guess Who Batman” became “Fuck You”, etc. Yet everything she released left one with the impression that It’s Not Me, It’s You will be a very, very good pop record. She posted another fantastic track, “Who'd Have Known”, but said she left it off the final version of the record because she didn’t want to waste the time getting a sample cleared, but it did eventually appear on the final version of the record.

It’s Not Me, It’s You opens with “Everyone’s At It”, a pop song about the hypocrisy of the culture she lives in. The song slowly builds up into a thoughtful (and sometimes funny) critique of the culture we live in. When she sings “so your daughter is depressed, let’s get her straight on Prozac; little do you know she already takes crack”, the best pop star in the world gets the last laugh.

“The Fear” is the second song and lead single. It mocks the image that Allen is supposed to have as the troubled pop star. “I want to be rich and have lots of money; I don’t care about clever, I don’t care about funny,” she sings in the opening verse and later reconciles “it don’t matter because I’m packing plastic, that’s what makes my life so fucking fantastic.”

Produced by Greg Kurstin, the album has a much more contemporary sound than the ska-inflected pop of her debut album, Still, Alright, which is sort of ironic because Kurstin’s own band, The Bird and the Bee, used a much more nostalgic pop sound on their latest album, Ray Guns are not just the Future. Here, Kurstin co-wrote most of the songs with Allen and found a consistent sound whose melodies fit very well with Allen’s lyrics and harmonies.

“Fuck You” is a screed against George Bush, who presided as a president of the very slim majority (very large minority?) that elected him. She mocks the issues with his father but it has catchy hooks that fit with the song well. It was released online during a time when Bush was still president and makes light of his homophobia. Fortunately, Allen gets the last laugh because Bush is unemployed in the (bear) economy his presidency created.

Even when she deals with subjects beyond her (i.e., God and the afterlife), her pop instincts guide her through the songs about her relationship with her God. It probably is not a coincidence that Allen’s “Him” and Kanye West’s “Jesus Walks” are the most interesting songs about faith (to me, an admitted atheist) about individual faith because they are written by two individuals aware of their imperfections (ok, Kanye may not be) and grapple with that in song, while not forgetting the knack for a catchy hook that sounds instinctive.

It’s Not Me, It’s You is not a completely perfect album (“Back to the Start” is sung way too fast for its hook to take effect, for example), but it is the final result is of a very gifted pop star who is aware of the price that comes with fame but still wants to live a life she is comfortable with. Lily Allen has the wisdom of an industry veteran because they hype machine tried to swallow her whole, but she is she is still way too smart to let that happen – or at least go down without a fight. It’s Not Me, It’s You is that fight.

Capitol Imaginary Scoop Lily Allen

Stream Lily Allen's new record on MySpace

The record I've been most anxious for this year is Lily Allen's second album, It's Not Me, It's You. After failing to get an advance copy of it, I've been taking to plan B, holding my breath and waiting until February 10.

I try not being part of the hype machine with certain artists, but when it comes to Allen, I throw all objectivity out the window. Her first album, Still, Alright, was my favorite album of 2007. I've also really enjoyed everything I've heard from It's Not Me (probably about half the record).

Starting today, It's Not Me, It's You will be streaming on MySpace music. The press release says:

MySpace Music… is excited to announce the world exclusive premiere of It's Not Me, It's You, the highly anticipated second album from British singer and songwriter Lily Allen. Starting on February 3rd, MySpace users across the world will be able to stream her new album in its entirety, giving fans a chance to preview it before the official US release on February 10th. It's Not Me, It's You can be pre-ordered on Lily's MySpace page this week and will be available for purchase via MySpace Music on February 10th. In addition to her global album premiere, fans should stay tuned for exciting MySpace news about special performances by Lily Allen.

It's Not Me, It's You is going to be released next Tuesday – and, as a reminder, Easy Street Records is open until midnight on Mondays.

Capitol Imaginary Scoop Lily Allen

More details on Lily Allen's new record (!!!!!!!!)

Ok, I didn't mean for it to happen, but the Imaginary Blog has turned into the vehicle for my superfan-like love of Lily Allen. Just this week I blogged about her good taste in music and her excellent Bush protest song. I wouldn't have thought about another post on her, but I woke up (without an alarm clock since I took a personal day from my day job) with an e-mail with lots of details about her forthcoming record.

It was originally going to be called Stuck on the Naughty Step but now the title is It's Not Me, It's You. It is scheduled to be released on February 10 on Capitol Records. I'll include the tracklist below.

While she's been releasing different songs through her MySpace page for the past year or so, "Who'd've Known" is the only one to make the final cut. I've been hooked on two songs not on final tracklist ("I Don't Know" and "Guess Who Batman?") but if those weren't good enough for the final record, this will be my most-anticipated record of 2009 so far (although I cannot wait for Annie's Don't Stop either, which, and including, hopefully a President Obama, makes for an already-promising start to 2009).

Below is the tracklist and "Who'd've Known":

1.    Everyone's At It
2.    The Fear
3.    It's Not Fair
4.    22
5.    I Could Say
6.    Go Back To the Start
7.    Never Gonna Happen
8.    Fuck You
9.    Who'd've Known
10.    Chinese
11.    Him
12.    He Wasn't There

Capitol Imaginary Scoop Tristan Prettyman

Toxic Tuesday

For new music Tuesday my pick for the day is more mainstream than one might assume here, Tristman Prettyman's "Hello." Not only is it sexy singer-songwriter tastiness polished to a delectable sheen by Martin Terefe and Sacha Skarbek (the wizards who make KT Tunstall's roots pop so good) but it features the femme fatale pop tart "Madly," which might be this decade's "Black Velvet." Prettyman (whose name sounds like a medieval play but who actually surfs and does ecological activism) is playing massive dates up and down the coast (as part of her Barefoot Wine Beach Rescue Project) but even though she's hitting Vancouver, B.C. and Portland, there are no stops planned in Sea-Town in-between for her tour. Hey!

"Hello" will probably do fine without me hyping it here, as iTunes featured it today and Virgin has achieved VH1 and MTVU rotation with it, but I wanted to let you know about its sassy treasures before the Capitol Records marketing department insists the cover of Britney Spears' "Toxic" is taken off and released as a single to follow up "Madly."

I have the feeling it might become a guilty pleasure on many snob's iPod rotation in the following months (and even measures up to cult artist Richard Thompson's excellent take on "Oops, I Did It Again" a couple of years ago).

Capitol Record Review Sondre Lerche

Dan In Real Life soundtrack

With all the talk that Juno has inspired on the topic of film soundtracks overshadowing the film itself, it's refreshing to come across Norwegian pop songwriter Sondre Lerche's collection of tracks for 2007's Dan In Real Life. The 11 original songs serve their intended purpose as backdrop for the film's story, making use of acoustic guitars and keyboards, sparse instrumentation and slow swells ("Dan In Real Life"; "Family Theme"; "Dan And Marie Picking Hum") and picking up the pace when the film itself takes action, like in the final scene's "Dan And Marie Finale Theme."


But some of these songs are great to listen to on their own, most notably the lazy and lilting "I'll Be OK," which could do double duty on both a long summer evening or an early autumn morning. Lerche also covers Pete Townsend's "Let My Love Open the Door," an acoustic guitar and violin rendition that more than makes up for Steve Carrell and Dane Cook's performance of the same song in one of the film's pivotal moments. "Hell No" is a relaxing, lounge pop-esque number that sees Lerche team up on vocals with Regina Spektor.


And for those who have seen the movie, I was excited to find the bonus 17th track of the cast singing "Ruthie Pigface Draper," a fun ending cap to an otherwise very worthy soundtrack.