Thursday, April 28, 2011

Free New Song From Carl Barat (The Libertines, Dirty Pretty Things)

I know it took a bit of a critical drubbing in some quarters, but I actually liked the 2nd Dirty Pretty Things album quite a bit. The slower, more melancholic, songs on Romance At Short Notice (2008) were the ones that I enjoyed on that record and they hinted at the direction Carl Barat's career was going to take as a solo artist.

(That is, when he's not writing a memoir or leading a Libertines reunion!)

On May 2, Carl Barat will be releasing a new EP containing new music and live recordings, including Carl's recording of a previously unreleased Libertines track called "Grimaldi" and a cover of The Langley Sisters song "Sing For My Supper".

Follow Carl Barat on MySpace:

Or on Twitter:

"This Is The Song" by Carl Barat
(Click the downward arrow to download the song as an MP3!)
Carl Barât- This Is The Song by Anorak London

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Rest In Peace, Poly (Poly Styrene 1957 - 2011)

One of the greats has died.

Poly Styrene lost her battle with cancer last night, the night before her triumphant new album, Generation Indigo was to be released in America.

When I asked her press team for a copy of that album to review for this blog, I asked about interviewing Poly. I asked on a whim so I was very pleasantly surprised a few weeks ago when they agreed to the e-mail interview.

I e-mailed my questions to the PR person last week and never heard back.

Maybe one day I'll post those questions here. For now, go get Poly Styrene's Generation Indigo as it's a great record and a clear presentation of all of the things that made her such a great artist.

The BBC has details on her death here.

The press e-mail today had this to say:

Poly Styrene was a punk amongst punks. A groundbreaking presence that left an unrepeatable mark on the musical landscape, she made history the moment she uttered, “Some people think little girls should be seen and not heard but I think oh bondage up yours!” The influence of Poly and X-ray Spex has been felt far and wide ever since. Their landmark album Germ Free Adolescents is a landmark work and a primary influence on Britpop and Riot Grrrl. At the center of it was Poly Styrene, a bi-racial feminist punk with the perfect voice to soundtrack rebellion. Poly never sacrificed the intelligence or the fun in her music and style. Her trademark braces and dayglo clothes were a playful rejection of the status quo and of conformity and complacency. She dissected gender politics, consumer culture, and the obsessions of modern life in a way that made us all want sing along with her.

At the core of Poly’s work from Germ Free Adolescents through Generation Indigo, is a revolutionary with a genuine love for this world and the people and things in it. Her indomitable heart is all over the new material from her championing of cruelty free products (“I Luv Ur Sneakers”) to giving voice to marginalized poor people worldwide (“No Rockefeller”) to tackling racism (“Colour Blind”). Poly Styrene never stopped exciting us with her incisive world-view, amazing wit, and her adventurous sound. It is impossible to imagine what modern music would be like without her incalculable contributions but it’s probably not worth imagining a world that never had Poly Styrene in it.

A thrilling work from a true pioneer and rebel in every sense, Poly Styrene’s album Generation Indigo is out now through Future Noise Music and was produced by Youth (The Verve, Killing Joke, The Fireman, Edwyn Collins). The album received rave reviews from Uncut, NME, The Guardian and countless others across the Atlantic. The forward looking Generation Indigo showcases Poly’s humorous musings on pop culture, the internet and fashion whilst also tackling heavier subject matter (war and racism) with her politically aware and intelligent lyrics all in the inimitable voice of a genuine icon. Listen to the full Generation Indigo record streaming on AOL Spinner.

In the US, you can order Generation Indigo on CD from Amazon here, and on a limited edition CD here, or as an MP3 download here.

In the US, you can order Generation Indigo on iTunes here.

Poly Styrene's official website is here.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Poly Styrene Returns: A Review of Generation Indigo

Back in the 1980s, there would invariably be some "classic rock" figure who tried to make a comeback. Amid the rote Rolling Stone reviews trumpeting "A return to form", there was usually an attempt by the rocker in question to show how modern he or she was and that usually just involved a bit of scratching on a track, or the use of Synsonic drums on another cut.

These efforts invariably made the artist in question sound even older and more out of touch.

The challenge in pleasing old fans and doing something a bit different is not an easy one but I am happy to report that Poly Styrene has triumphantly returned with a wonderful album, Generation Indigo, that sounds effortlessly current and timely.

Just hearing her sing the punchy verses and soaring chorus of "White Gold" was almost worth the wait.

Poly, you have been sorely missed in this moribund musical climate!

Produced by Killing Joke's Youth, the album is a crisp and peppy affair combining elements of dance, pop, and reggae in a rich mix underneath Poly's always playful and witty lyrics and vocals.

While the sound may be different, Generation Indigo made me think of fellow punk legend Joe Strummer's work with the Mescaleros. Like Mr. Strummer, Ms. Styrene wisely doesn't try to recreate the fury of earlier singles from punk's heyday but, instead, finds material that suits her voice and sounds true to the essence of the punk rocker we so admired back in 1977 - 1978.

"Kitsch" has a bit of an attitude but Poly sounds at ease defending herself as being "a little bit kitsch" as the keyboards echo both early Pulp and earlier Human League.

"I Luv Ur Sneakers" updates Blur's "Girls & Boys" for another generation as Poly lovingly describes her admiration for (maybe) a younger generation and their collective style. It's an affectionate song and one of the more shamelessly catchy tracks on the record.

On "Ghoulish", Poly is joined by Viv Albertine from The Slits on guitar. The song, a funny ode to a Goth guy who may not be as scary as he looks, finds Poly Styrene's voice sounding better than it ever has and -- it has to be said -- there's a decided echo of Debbie Harry here.

"No Rockefeller" brings a lite Bad Manners vibe to the proceedings as Poly reminds us that greatness doesn't necessarily come with wealth and that "Winnie Mandela, well she was not a Rockefeller".

Album closer "Electric Blue Monsoon" present Poly's voice as directly as it's ever been presented. Really, a simple and stunning track that made me realize -- again -- that Poly Styrene is not only one of my favorite musicians of the entire punk rock era, she's one of my favorite vocalists. Period.

Generation Indigo should satisfy most fans of Poly Styrene. The lyrical concerns are the same as before but conveyed in an even more direct fashion than in the past, while the music expands upon the punk-ska-pop template used by X-Ray Spex.

Now, we've just got to wait for Poly Styrene to record even more great music!

In the US, you can order Generation Indigo on iTunes here.

In the US, you can order Generation Indigo on CD from Amazon here, and on a limited edition CD here, or as an MP3 download here.

Follow Poly Styrene on her official website.

Follow Poly Styrene on MySpace:

Follow Poly Styrene on Facebook here.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Glory Days Of The Avengers: Nights of Wundagore

In the spring of 1979, I had just turned 12 and I was very happy.

I was living in Louisiana at the time, right outside of New Orleans, and while I was a fat kid, not many of the other kids in my 6th grade class picked on me. There were a few toughies in my Pearl River school but they were in the other classes.

I had been reading a lot of non-superhero comics (the Star Wars comic that Marvel was cranking out; Marvel's Godzilla title was just about over at that time; and Marvel's The Micronauts was surprisingly strong in its first year) and for some reason gravitated back to The Avengers.

I always liked team books and I was probably still reading The Defenders at this time.

The George Perez cover art to issue 181 of The Avengers caught my eye, as did the interior art from John Byrne -- especially that first page that used a photo of Errol Flynn from The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) -- never mind that that film was in color and not in black-and-white like the photo!

The idea of The Beast and Wonder Man taking in an Errol Flynn matinee was an infectious one for a 12-year-old movie junkie like me.

Issue 181 started off a near-great six-month series in the title. After the government orders the team to thin the ranks in issue 181, there's a bit of standard action in the next few issues until we get to the mystery of Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch.

Ironically, I never read the final issue (187) in the storyline so issue 186 with that John Byrne version of a very busty Scarlet Witch on the cover was the last one I read for a few months. I remember I got that issue during the summer of 1979 when I was visiting the D.C. area to see my grandparents.

Around this time, in the next few years, John Byrne totally dominated Marvel's best titles, illustrating The Fantastic Four and The Uncanny X-Men. The guy kept working but his artwork seemed less exciting as the years wore on and, by 1982, even this novice comics junkie was getting sick of him.

As for George Perez, he went to rival publisher DC soon after this where he worked on The New Teen Titans, an X-Men clone but a good one. That ended up being the first DC title I would buy since I was a small child.

When I got back into comics in 2000, I was thrilled to see that Perez had been working on The Avengers again, his art at once more mature and still familiar.

You can read this 6 issue storyline in the Nights of Wundagore paperback.

Monday, April 11, 2011

New Music From David Kilgour - A Review And A Free MP3!

Have I really been listening to the work of David Kilgour for more than 20 years?

In 1989, I could count on one hand the people I knew that knew who The Clean were.

(And four of those five people formed indie bands!)

For a brief blip, fellow New Zealand stalwarts The Chills got played on MTV, albeit only on "120 Minutes" and usually near the 2:00 AM mark.

The Clean? Forget it. The Clean were a band that were in some ways more accessible than The Chills but sometimes more abrasive.

Were people too lazy here to hear the beauty of "Tally Ho!" or "Big Soft Punch"? To my ears, they were Top 40 songs.

But I guess only in a perfect world. Only in an imaginary New Zealand full of similarly-minded musicians.

Beyond The Clean, David Kilgour has released a bunch of great solo albums, including 2004's marvelously tuneful Frozen Orange -- also on Merge Records -- and now, 2011's Left By Soft.

The record, released under the David Kilgour and The Heavy Eights moniker, is probably one of the best showcases for the musician's intricate guitar work that I've yet heard.

If you've ever wanted to hear Kilgour cut loose on his axe, Left By Soft will satisfy that need.

Now, if I lazily compared it in general terms to Neil Young or Dinosaur Jr., would that be an insult?

(Heck, The Clean have been around longer than J. Mascis's crew!)

Frankly -- and I normally hate muso journo comparisons like this -- Left By Soft sounds a bit like Tom Verlaine playing Meat Puppets songs.

That's probably a (very) lazy way to describe this record but I think it's worth noting just how different this album is from earlier non-Clean Kilgour releases.

Album opener, the vaguely Byrdsian instrumental title song, lays things out in long spiraling guitar riffs that sound natural and organic and of the moment -- fierce and focused but not forced. Kilgour cuts loose and unwinds as the rhythm section keeps time behind him.

There's another similar instrumental to close the album.

"Way Down Here" starts in a mellow vibe and then bursts open as David sings "The sky's inside out" and the chorus slams home the idea of being "way down here" -- down in New Zealand? Perhaps. The track's got a bit of menace to it.

"A Break In The Weather" sounds like classic Clean with Kilgour's voice a bit warbly on purpose to echo the rippling guitar.

The glorious "Autumn Sun" rumbles and soars, equal parts Faces and Sonic Youth. That may sound like a weird mix but it works; the song tugs at your heart in a yearning way and I found the emotions here very appealing.

"Diamond Mine" -- the free MP3 on that link below! -- brings a vaguely Big Star-sort-of-vibe to the proceedings. Kilgour's vocals are a bit trippy but the music is up-front and yet laidback, the sound of a drive in the sun.

Then Kilgour unleashes a beautiful guitar solo, a skipping melody of notes mixed with drawn-out lines.

Left By Soft is an expansive record and if it's a bit different than earlier David Kilgour releases, it's a pleasant set of differences. Kilgour's guitar playing sounds fiery here.

As a long-time fan of The Clean, it was a delight to finally hear David Kilgour unfurl guitar riffs and rhythms like this. Sounding a tiny bit like Tom Verlaine is never a bad thing, is it?

Download a free MP3 of "Diamond Mine" by David Kilgour and the Heavy Eights here.

Follow the band on Merge Records

Order Left By Soft from David Kilgour and The Heavy Eights CD here.

The Heavy Eights are Taane Tokona on drums, Tony de Raad on guitar and keyboards, and Thomas Bell on bass and keyboards. David plays guitar, keyboards, and harmonica. Mike McCloud from Shifting Sands guests on "I'll Climb Back Up That Hill.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Why I Don't Care About The New Superman (And Batman) Movies

(Well, I care, just not very much.)

So Sucker Punch (2011) director Zack Snyder is rebooting the Superman franchise and was promising a new look for the hero only to bring back General Zod as the villain?

I suppose it's better than another Lex Luthor punch-up.

Still, with the next Batman film going back to the story of Ra's al Ghul from Batman Begins (2005), is there anything original planned for these two famous DC Comics heroes?

There are more ideas in that wonderful Frank Quitely cover than in what I've heard about the next Superman film so far.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Tedium Of The Middlebrow

Something made me think back to one of my least favorite courses in college.

Let's call her Dr. Lewis and she taught an English Lit. Critical Analysis course.

When I got into the class, I quickly discovered how undefined the syllabus and approach were. Not only that, with her new haircut, Dr. Lewis was trying very hard to appear younger than she was. I say that because I think that that haircut goes hand-in-hand with her very 1990s PC-approach.

I'm probably giving her more credit than she's due; her approach was at best vaguely feminist in a 1980s sort of way and she tended to reduce everything to one or two interpretations at best, usually based on the gender or ethnicity of the author and not his or her actual talent or skill.

There was one incredibly awkward day when the boy-and-girl Born Again Christians in the class got a chance to air their grievances about her secularist approach.

It was an odd day for a public university. As I had only escaped Bible college a few years earlier, I was being rudely reminded of what I left behind.

That said, I understood their frustration on some level as Dr. Lewis was a bit of an idiot; it was one of those classes where I knew exactly what she wanted to hear so, in writing that, I was guaranteed an "A".

She really wasn't teaching us much beyond her point-of-view which was badly cobbled together from the theories floating around the academic world at the time.

Anyway, the most memorable event of the semester was when she blithely assigned a bonus essay near the end of the term where we were to review either Dances With Wolves (1990) or the then-current Silence Of The Lambs (1991) from a Native American or feminist perspective, respectively.

That's all the instruction we were given. I chose Dances With Wolves (1990) which I would never sit through again, but I did watch Silence Of The Lambs (1991) as well.

The film, not nearly as effective as 1986's Manhunter, was an okay flick but to ascribe some feminist message to the film is a reach. You'd have an easier time ascribing that message to something like Linda Blair's Savage Streets (1984), frankly.

With the creaky, Old Dark House-isms of the introduction of Lecter, and Anthony Hopkins' vaguely Capote-like performance, the old cannibal is less a figure of fear than one of camp joy.

As for Jodie Foster in this film: the less said the better. Her accent is laughable at best, recalling one of the Darling clan on the old "Andy Griffith Show", and her performance is a bit mannered to say the least.

Jonathan Demme made a fine schlocker but to dress up his B-movie flick as an A-list Film is to do a disservice to the viewer and the director.

When I finally watched the film, and recalled Dr. Lewis' assignment, I thought how middlebrow her worldview was. Maybe she was assigning the film because it was current?

But maybe she was just incapable of enjoying something for what it was without finding the agenda in it?


In that spring of 1991, I was reading A LOT of Nabokov. And his quotes would be fresh in my mind as I endured Dr. Lewis' agenda:

"A work of art has no importance whatever to society. It is only important to the individual."

Stuff like that.

I remember this guy in my class was in a D.C. band (Absolutely Boxspring) and we both listed Nabokov as our favorite author on the first day of class during the student introduction go-round.

After class, as we were chatting and it was clear that I had read far more Nabokov than he had -- though he had, admirably, read more than just Lolita -- I made the mistake of asking him what music he listened to.

His taste lined up with mine but the way he prefaced his choices by saying "You probably haven't heard of this band called Television..." rankled me and I sort of avoided the guy after that.

I chuckled politely at the time but I wanted to say:

"Hey you condescending dipshit: I worked at three record stores in a college town and I had both Television albums on tape when I was 18!"

I am sometimes an obnoxious know-it-all but I actually like the stuff I opine about. I'm not in this to show off my knowledge of non-mainstream bands or directors, nor am I in this to prescribe a point-of-view.

Dr. Lewis taught me a lot but not what she thought she was teaching me.

Nabokov taught me even more.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Bryan Ferry's Olympia - A Roxy Reunion Of Sorts

It took me almost 6 months but I finally picked up Bryan Ferry's Olympia (2010) album and I like it quite a bit.

As most of you know, the album is a sort of Roxy Music reunion in all but name only.

The album is closer to Ferry's own Mamouna (1994) than it is to any Roxy album but it's still quite good.

Highlights for me include "Alphaville", the Scissor Sisters collaboration on "Heartache by Numbers", the album closer "Tender is the Night" (one of the best ballads Ferry's recorded in years), and the mammoth cover of "Song To The Siren" that holds the album together.

The cover, with guitars from Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood, Pink Floyd's David Gilmour, and Roxy Music's Phil Manzanera, is so wonderful and perfect for Ferry's voice and interpretation that I almost forget the famous version by This Mortal Coil that I liked so much as a teenager.

"Song To The Siren" by Bryan Ferry, live 2010

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Bad Brains Release Historic Single For Free

In honor of Record Store Day on April 16, D.C. punk rock legends Bad Brains have released their seminal 1980 single "Pay To Cum" as a free download -- with artwork! -- until 18 April.

You can get the 2-track single, along with associated liner notes and artwork as a PDF file, from their official online store:

Monday, April 4, 2011

Jonny, A New Project From Norman Blake and Euros Childs - A Review And A Free MP3!

One of the bonuses of having a blog -- even one like mine that only gets about 500 hits a day -- is that I've been able to get a few albums I wanted to hear for free and in advance of the release dates.

I will admit right now that my hopes were not high for the debut album from Jonny (Euros Childs from Gorky's Zygotic Mynci and Norman Blake from Teenage Fanclub) -- this wasn't necessarily a must hear-thing as much as it was a would be nice to hear-thing -- but, dammit, this is one charming and tuneful album!

I think I'm just surprised at how upbeat and sunny this whole Jonny album is!

Even discounting the 10 minute "Cave Dance", there are 30 minutes of great indie pop on this record.

Sounding at once familiar and totally different than their base-camp bands, Jonny plays to the strengths of both Euros (whimsy, psychedelia) and Norman (songcraft, harmony).

It's a very summer-y record and it recalls some of the more sing-a-long moments on the best Super Furry Animals records.

(And I'm not just going to that reference point 'cause Euros is a Welshman!)

Recorded in the studio of Paul Savage, one-time drummer of The Delgados -- he produced the last Emma Pollock album as well -- Jonny sounds crisp and direct with the bits of Gorky's-inspired whimsy kept to a minimum.

I say that because it's clear that this could easily have turned into a Euros Childs project as the guy is a very distinctive vocalist and musician but, no, Jonny remains a fully realized collaboration.

Opener "Wich is Wich" is a false-flag operation, bringing to mind Gorky's Zygotic Mynci immediately but, hey, the song is over before it's too far along.

Then we get "Candyfloss" (And you get it too; the link to the free MP3 is down below!). This is a near perfect single where both vocalists sound assured and in charge. As the harmonies of Euros and Norman carry the song forward, the music vaguely recalling something off of Heaven Up Here (1981) by Echo and the Bunnymen, the guitars chime and a listener just coasts along not quite sure which part is from Euros and which is from Norman.

And isn't that exactly what all great collaborations should be? While there are some cuts on this record that can be pinned to the guy from Gorky's or the guy from Teenage Fanclub, "Candyfloss" is the peak where things seem more seamlessly blended.

Here it's worth noting that Jonny is not just Euros Childs and Norman Blake; it's Dave McGowan from Teenage Fanclub on bass and Stuart Kidd from BMX Bandits on drums.

"Circling The Sun" is very nearly the best Teenage Fanclub song that's not a Teenage Fanclub song. If it's too obviously the work of Norman Blake, that's okay as it's just about perfect in its vaguely Byrdsian way.

"I Want To Be Around You" also recalls Teenage Fanclub but here, with Euros on lead vocal, the song sounds more like the Welsh band trying to cover the Scottish poppers.

With a sort of 1964 Kinks vibe to it, "Waiting Round For You" rollicks and rumbles in a retro fashion.

"Bread" directly recalls Emma Pollock's "Adrenaline", from her first solo album, and -- as others have noted -- is fleetingly political in its lyrical concerns.

The highlight of the record for me is clearly "Goldmine". With a garage-y organ, the cut sounds vaguely like something from The Bevis Frond or The 3Ds.

And let's not neglect the downright beautiful "The Goodnight" and "Never Alone", vocals handled by Norman Blake and Euros Childs, respectively. The two songs are spare and lean with the keyboards and piano in each used to great effect; it's hard not to hear a touch of the final Delgados records in each song now that I know that Delgado Paul Savage mixed and produced this album.

The 10-minute "Cave Dance" starts with 2 minutes of sprightly indie pop and then turns into an epic 8-minute keyboard workout, akin to the sort of spacious, and space-y, tracks one might find on a High Llamas record.

As it is, the song is more ambitious than essential but it's not a total mistake.

The product of two different pop sensibilities, Jonny works best when those differences are subsumed into something else.

While it would be foolish to try to compare this to the best moments of either Gorky's Zygotic Mynic or Teenage Fanclub, Jonny is as good in its own way as Barafundle (1997) or Grand Prix (1995).

But, you know what? You don't need to even try to make those comparisons. Just put Jonny on and dig those harmonies and melodies.

Download "Candyfloss" by Jonny right here!

Follow the band via Merge Records, where you can buy the album in MP3, vinyl, or CD formats.

Additionally, you can buy the album as an MP3 album from in the United States.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Enough With The Fanboy Nonsense

I got really depressed reading this post about a recent Quentin Tarantino-sponsored film screening in Los Angeles.

The details of the event as described in that post seem to confirm the fanboyish approach that QT and his folks are using. No, they are not bringing back the Shaw Brothers films in their original form for new fans to enjoy; they are bringing them back dubbed so hipsters can riff on them.

Blogger Sean Tierney has lately been posting some really lengthy and insightful takedowns of QT but I think the problem is larger than QT.

The reaction to the poster for True Legend (2010) also illustrates what I'm getting at.

The film is, by all accounts, not that good -- I got the DVD in Hong Kong but sold it without opening it because of what people I trust said about it (and so I could make a profit on the DVD) -- and yet, the fanboys are eating up this retro look.

What are we applauding here, a marketing campaign?

I mean, people who actually care about this stuff already saw this movie a year ago and don't care now. Who is that poster meant to appeal to?

I'm guessing it's meant to appeal to the sort of people who buy their DVDs at Walmart.

Let's just go all out and scruff up the film, Grindhouse (2007)-style, and dub it.

I'm not saying that True Legend (2010) deserves a Criterion Collection presentation.

I'm just saying that it's time to say "Enough" to this Quentin Tarantino-sort of fanboyish nonsense.

I watch a lot of shitty Hong Kong movies but I don't watch them because I want to laugh at the shittyness; I watch them because I am interested in the film scene there and I hope that I can find one moment in an otherwise awful film that surprises me in a good way.

This is starting to remind me of why I don't tell people that I listen to jazz; I either get the people who think Kenny G is jazz, or I get the hipster who bought a few late period Coltrane records on vinyl to prop up in his loft.

Genuine interest in something requires more than a fanboyish reaction. It requires more than just being a hipster and laughing at something, or getting the references of a wildly overrated director/writer/producer.