Monday, October 31, 2011

Album Review: Have Gun Will Travel's Mergers & Acquisitions

Have Gun Will Travel - Mergers and Acquisitions (Suburban Home, 2011)

"'Have gun, will travel' reads the card of a man, a knight without armor in a savage land."

In addition to a western show about a gunslinger for hire, Have Gun Will Travel is also the name of a group of alt-folkers from Florida whose new album, Mergers and Acquisitions, comes out tomorrow on my favorite label, Suburban Home. Mergers is their first for SH, third overall.

I have to confess, despite being an alt-folk fan I never really paid much attention to HGWT.  I checked them out around the time their last album, Postcards from the Friendly City, came out, and it didn't really grab me. Mergers changed that, firmly putting HGWT on my radar of bands to watch. The album isn't even officially out yet (though people who pre-order can get an immediate digital version of the album) and already I can't wait to see where they take their music next.

With such a large amount of growth in the genre in recent years, it can be hard to be unique in alt-folk without being gimmicky. HGWT manage it, and despite not really sounding different from other alt-folk albums, Mergers doesn't really sound like any others either. There's a strong bluegrass vibe to all the songs, but none of them are really bluegrass. They don't go for straight bluegrass like their alt-folk contemporaries Old Man Markley, they don't even go for a punk-oriented bluegrass like Tin Horn Prayer. More like folk-rock. It's hard to really put into words what I mean, it's just as close to bluegrass as you can get while not being bluegrass at all. In fact, some songs are more like folk-pop, such as the Guster-esque opening track, "Dream No More."

It's hard to pick out actual influences in the band. For me, that's both a strength and a weakness. I like when I can pick out bits and know exactly where the band is coming from in writing it. But it also means that rather than ripping off other artists or trying to patch together a quilt of influences, the band instead blend their influences with their own style to create something that is completely theirs. The one exception to this is on "Song Of Seven Sisters," which sounds strongly like Bob Dylan back when he started playing with a full backing band. I believe this to be intentional, as the singer trades his usual alt-country twang vocal style with what sounds like a Dylan imitation. It's an interesting track that breaks up the flow of the album, but in a good way.

If you like Dylan or folky rock bands from the 60's and 70's (such as The Byrds), or if you like folk-pop bands like Guster, or if you like modern alt-folkers like Chuck Ragan and Tim Barry or alt-country bands like Two Cow Garage and Drag The River, I think there's a very strong chance you will like this album.

Favorite tracks: "Dream No More," "Freightliners," "Katharine, Don't Fall Off The Wagon," "Song Of Seven Sister"

Monday, October 24, 2011

Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame Nominees 2012

I don't know how I missed this, but last month the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame announced their nominees for induction in 2012. The nominees for this year are:

  • The Beastie Boys
  • The Cure
  • Donovan
  • Erik B & Rakim
  • Guns N Roses
  • Heart
  • Joan Jett & The Blackhearts
  • Freddie King
  • Laura Nyro
  • Red Hot Chili Peppers
  • Rufus with Chaka Khan
  • The Small Faces/The Faces
  • The Spinners
  • Donna Summer
  • War

An eclectic mix, as usual. I'd like to see the Blackhearts inducted, especially since The Runaways haven't been inducted yet. I'd also like to see the Beastie Boys, I think they've had a good amount of influence in rock. Same with RHCP and Donovan. I don't really care much for Guns N Roses aside from a few songs, but they're probably likely to get in. Especially since the Hall Of Fame's online poll shows them in the lead:

There are a lot of artists that were eligible this year that didn't get nominated. I would have liked to see the Cro-Mags or Dag Nasty get nominated, but that doesn't seem too likely. Supposedly Joe Strummer was eligible for 2012 induction, but I checked out his discography and I don't think he actually is eligible. There's also a list here of artists that have been snubbed in previous years, and I could probably fill up a few posts listing the bands I'd like to see nominated from that list.

Anyways, any of you have any thoughts on who might get voted in, or snubbed artists you would have liked to see this year?

Future Rock Legends' list of artists eligible this year:
Future Rock Legend's list of snubbed artists:

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Album Review - Elsie

The Horrible Crowes - Elsie (SideOneDummy, 2011)

Brian Fallon is apparently an acquired taste for me. When I first heard Sink Or Swim (XOXO Records, 2007), the debut album from his main band The Gaslight Anthem, I loved it immediately. But every subsequent release has taken me time to get into. I didn't care for their 2008 album The '59 Sound (SideOneDummy) at first, but after a couple listens it became my favorite of their albums.

His side band with former GA guitar tech Ian Perkins is no exception. I got it when it came out, listened to it, and didn't give it much thought. It was alright, but didn't meet my expectations based on pre-release interviews. On a whim, I put it back in my car's CD player the other day and realized that, like latter GA releases I just needed to give it another listen or two.

Most of the reviews I read of the album talked about how much it diverged from Fallon's main band, and to be honest I just don't hear it that way. Despite being written specifically for Horrible Crowes, many of the songs sound like they could have been GA tracks. The lead single, for example. As I listened to "Behold The Hurricane," I realized that I could have been told it was an unreleased song from the '59 sessions and I wouldn't have doubted it.

This should not be taken to mean that it sounds the same as GA. Every GA album has had one or two tracks that sound completely different from the rest of the album but still fit in perfectly. For the most part, Elsie is made up of tracks like those. While GA built their sound on New Jersey influence filtered through punk rock guitar sounds, Horrible Crowes put more focus on percussion, organ and piano as well as vocal style and non-traditional rock instrumentations. They also drop the Jersey influence in favor of a variety of other influences, mainly what Fallon called "night-time music" (in interviews, he specifically name-dropped Nick Cave, Tom Waits and Afghan Whigs among others). Horrible Crowes also trade GA's punk poetry lyrics style for a darker, more cryptic style.

The only song that truly sounds unique from GA is "I Witnessed A Crime," which takes on a weird vibe of a lounge act covering Bob Marley. It also has the most present Tom Waits influence, with Fallon's nearly spoken-word vocals taking on an atmosphere like a younger, less rough Waits.

Overall, a great album. Not Fallon's best recordings ever, but it certainly holds up to the rest of his discography so far. It's certainly not a party album, but sounds great on late-night drives through the rain.

Library Punk 2: Revenge Of The Library Punk

Earlier this year, I decided to take a week or two off from blogging to get over a cold and apply to some jobs. A series of events occurred and at the end of it I just didn't have the steam to get going again. Over the past couple months I have considered starting a new blog and scrapping this one entirely. After much introspection and contemplation, I have decided to restart the Library Punk blog. Posts will be slow for a while, but they will be coming.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Bon Jovi Hates Steve Jobs For "Killing Music"

I'm in the middle of an unannounced two week break from the blog (as I finish getting over the nastiest cold I've ever had and apply to some more jobs). I wasn't going to post again until next week but I came across something that I felt compelled to post about.

Yesterday, I randomly saw a tweet that contained a quote from Jon Bon Jovi: "Steve Jobs is personally responsible for killing the music business."Intrigued, I searched the quote and came across an article from the Huffington Post in which Bon Jovi explained how he thinks the Apple founder has killed music:

"Kids today have missed the whole experience of putting the headphones on, turning it up to 10, holding the jacket, closing their eyes and getting lost in an album; and the beauty of taking your allowance money and making a decision based on the jacket, not knowing what the record sounded like, and looking at a couple of still pictures and imagining it…God, it was a magical, magical time. I hate to sound like an old man now, but I am, and you mark my words, in a generation from now people are going to say: 'What happened?' Steve Jobs is personally responsible for killing the music business."

So if I understand him correctly, the music business is dying because newer fans aren't holding a physical album in their hands while they listen. And I think that's the dumbest thing I've heard in the digital music debate. Music isn't dying, fan reaction to it is changing. It's similar to complaining that people want individual songs more than albums lately (which is itself something I want to touch on in a future post).

First of all, not everyone needs the physical product. I appreciate the music, not the format it comes in. I enjoy a song the same wether I'm listening to it on a record player, through my car's stereo or through my iPod headphones. And I'm sure I'm not alone in this. Not many people from my generation even own a record player unless they're vinyl collectors.

Second, not all music is digital. There are a handful of digital-only record labels, but they're still considered oddities. CDs are still being pressed in massive numbers and physical music stores still exist. Even if Bon Jovi wants to complain about CDs replacing vinyls, vinyl is still being made. There are whole companies (Vinyl Collective, for example) dedicated to pressing vinyl versions of albums (in fact, I almost bought the new Red City Radio album in vinyl format just a few weeks ago). And used record stores still continue to do large amounts of business.

Third, how is Steve Jobs to blame? Sure, iTunes is the number 1 retailer of digital music. But that only started in 2003, less than a decade ago. MP3, arguably the most well-known format of digital music, has been around since 1993. Digital music in general as we typically think of it has been around since the 1980s. If you're gonna blame digital music for killing the music industry, you should be blaming the creators of MP3, or Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker. Not to mention that it's all about consumer preference. If digital music didn't sell, CDs would still be the dominant form. So really, Bon Jovi is blaming his fans, the people he depends on for his money. Nice move, Jon.

The way I see it, by blaming digital music for the death of the music industry, Bon Jovi is no better than a label exec driving his company into the ground because he refuses to change.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Band Of The Week: Go Glorious

Go Glorious are a band from Buffalo that I first heard of when they opened for Fake Problems at Mohawk Place in December. I enjoyed their set so I decided to check out their EP. I listened to it a few times in my car before I replaced to to relisten to albums contending for my Best of 2010 list. But I recently removed almost all of the CDs from my car to replace them with new music and in the interim time listened to the EP again.

The band play a high energy pop punk with a very active stage presence live. I get a lot of 90's influence from them, especially the punkier second wave emo bands like Jawbreaker, The Promise Ring or the less experimental moments of Bob Nanna's various bands (Friction, Braid, Hey Mercedes, etc). I like the singer especially. Not auto-tuned or overly polished, but not early-punk "bad singing makes it more punk." Just a guy singing as best as he can.

Check out the band's *website, it has links to their various social networking outlets as well as the songs on the EP. They only have 4 songs out now, but they can be streamed, downloaded indivudually or downloaded together along with the insert that comes with the physical version. It's free so really if you're reading this on a computer you have no reason not to check them out. I highly recommend you do.

*BTW, I love what the band did with their website. They registered the domain "goglorio"with the top-level domain ".us" so their url is the band's name, kinda like how used to be It's called "domain hacking" and it's awesome.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Band Of The Week: Jawbreaker

I was contemplating giving Red City Radio another week of being the Band Of The Week, due to their new album coming out yesterday (and it's GOOD, expect a review soon). But that's not really fair to all the other bands in the world. So instead, I chose a band I've been re-listening to a lot lately that deserves more recognition: Jawbreaker.

Jawbreaker was a highly influential punk band that formed in the mid-80's and lasted about a decade (Wikipedia says 1986-1996), at which point frontman Blake Schwarzenbach formed the also influential Jets To Brazil. Jawbreaker played an agressive, rough form of pop punk that helped pave the way for some of my favorite newer artists, such as The Menzingers and Dan Padilla. In the years they existed they put out 4 albums, Unfun (Shredder Records, 1990), Bivouac (1992, Tupelo/Communion Records), fan-favorite 24 Hour Revenge Therapy (1994, Tupelo/Communion Records) and Dear You (1995, DGC Records), which was a pretty good record but most fans hated the slick production as well as the cleaned-up vocal style.

Jawbreaker have been credited as being one of the bigger influences of the 90's emo revival. Schwarzenbach's heart-on-his-sleeve, confessional lyrical style drew in teenage listeners who heard their own thoughts and emotions in the songs. For example, "Want" from Unfun is a love song that strips away all romantic notions of teenage lust, with Schwarzenbach saying not "I love you" but simply "I want you." Or the non-album single "Kiss The Bottle," long held by fans as one of their best songs. The song romanticizes a drunk who would rather spend time at the liquor store than a lover in need of support.

Despite it's lack of popularity, I would recommend checking out Dear You. Also check out "Want," "Boxcar" from 24 Hour Revenge Therapy (which contains my favorite line Schwarzenbach ever recorded: "You're not punk, and I'm telling everyone") and "Kiss The Bottle." There's also a pretty good tribute album titled Bad Scene Everyone's Fault (named from a track on Dear You), and Lucero do a really good cover of "Kiss The Bottle."

Friday, February 18, 2011

Album Review - Situationist EP

White Wives - Situationist EP (Lock And Key Collective, 2011)

I first heard of White Wives when I saw them open for Fake Problems last December and I have eagerly awaited recorded output since then. White Wives is a side project started by Chris #2, bassist and backing vocalist for Anti-Flag, and rounded out by Chris Head (also of Anti-Flag) and members of The Code, American Aramada and Dandelion Snow.

I had expected the band to sound more like Anti-Flag, but I was quite surprised. The sound is closer to that of guitarist/backing vocalist Roger Harvey's main band, Dandelion Snow, but a bit harder. Hard to compare them to other bands, but I would say the closest would be bands like Sunny Day Real Estate and the later output of Brand New, but without the sporadic outbursts of the latter.

The format of the band is interesting. They have the standard drummer, bassist and guitarist. But in addition to that Chris #2 occasionally puts down his guitar to play a second, simplified drum kit while singing. In addition to backing vocals and occasionally leading vocals, Harvey plays both an effects-heavy third guitar and an acoustic guitar. There's also some keyboards but I can't tell who is playing those parts (I don't remember seeing or hearing it live).

The songs have a punk feel while straying far from the 3-chord simplicity of the genre's early days. The overlapping guitars and keyboards give the impression of a soundscape where there really isn't one, an intriguing vibe that I can't get enough of. Despite the non-stop guitar noise and thundering drums, the bass is often crisply clear. The vocals are at their best, in my opinion, on the EP's opener, "Hungry Ghosts," in which Chris #2 and Harvey work together perfectly, along with some backing harmonies from the guitar and bass players. The band's experimentation of sound is at its peak on the closer, a haunting cover of The Pixies' "Where Is My Mind."

I looked forward to this EP for 2 months, and I was pleased to be so well rewarded. Check them out, you can hear the EP on Lock And Key Collective's Bandcamp page (where, at the time I'm writing this, you can get the EP for free or for a donation). I really hope they record more in the future. Preferably a full-length, as a 4-song EP isn't enough for such a promising band.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Band Of The Week: Guster

Got a bit caught up in job hunting the past few days, but as I was working on that I was listening to this week's Band Of The Week, Guster.

Guster is a band that was started in 1991 by three Tufts University students. The trio began playing acoustic-based poppy alternative rock around campus, set apart from the rest of the early 90's college radio scene by their use of non-traditional alternative rock instrumentation, most notably hand percussion instead of the usual drumkit set-up.

Eventually, Guster's use of additional instrumentation led to the band adding a fourth member, who as of last year was no longer with the band (due to a conflicting touring offer, not from any bad blood as far as I can tell) and was replaced. The new member is listed as a band member on WIkipedia, but I'm not sure if he is officially a member or just a touring member. The member he replaced was indeed considered a full member, but neither is seen performing with the band in the video for "Do You Love Me" (from the band's 2010 album, Easy Wonderful).

Guster were, as far as I know, the first band to adapt Virginia's tourism slogan for merchandise use, as they sell t-shirts and stickers proclaiming "Guster Is For Lovers," which I have since seen done by other bands, including Fall Out Boy.

I would recommend checking out either Easy Wonderful or their second album, Goldfly. Both are excellent. Goldfly features the hand percussion and acoustic guitars of their earlier days, while Easy Wonderful displays a more evolved version of the band, with more experimental instrumentation. The other albums are good, too, but these are the two I hold as being the best examples of their sound. You can also check out their Youtube channel and Vimeo page to watch videos and get a sense of what they sound like.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Some Libraries To Offer Free Music Downloads

I've been re-evaluating my goals for this blog, and one of the main ones is that I want to start writing more library-oriented posts, because that's what this blog was supposed to be. Well, now I've been given a great story to bring me back to that by my friend Rob over at Esoteric Timestream. Rob drew my attention to Tech News Today (part of the TWiT network of podcasts) episode 174, where they discuss Freegal.

Freegal is a service that allow libraries to pay a fee, listed as ranging from $1,000 to "six figures," to allow library users to download music for free. What's interesting is that the downloads are to keep, not like a "have the file for ______ days, then delete it" kinda thing that I have seen before. Also, according to TNT and the article they link to, these files are DRM-free (for anyone stumbling across this blog that doesn't understand that, DRM is Digital Rights Management, which is how, for example, iTunes can keep a music file limited to a set number of computers, or how movie companies can keep people from ripping a movie from a DVD).

I've seen libraries that offer free, DRM-free downloads before, but it's all "cultural" music, like folk recordings from obscure countries. But Freegal now has my attention because of their deal with major record label Sony. In fact, the article Tech News Today links to specifically mentions Ke$ha and Usher, two major selling artists. Freegal's president, Brian Downing, says that the full collection being offered to libraries contains over 400,000 songs from a variety of genres.

Freegal hasn't really made too many major headlines yet, which is surprising considering what it is offering. And they seem content with that, as their website's About page doesn't contain much information. But just the fact that a major label is working with them is intriguing. It makes me wonder if labels are finally ready to admit that they need to change now or fail eventually. Either way, I wish Freegal luck and hope they continue to expand and grow.

For more information:
Tech News Today episode 174:
Free Ke$ha And Usher Downloads Now Available At ... Your Public Library

Other stories covered or mentioned in that TNT include Facebook's secure connection (and how it turns itself off), the attack against a security firm by hacker group Anonymous, AOL's purchase of the Huffington Post, and's decision to charge a fee for mobile access (which has also grabbed my attention and may see a post on this blog). So check that out if you're interested.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Band Of The Week: Rust Belt Lights

I tend to enjoy more obscure bands. My friends make fun of me for it, but most mainstream music just isn't appealing to me. I don't go out of my way to find these bands, it just kinda happens. A song on a compilation, a mention in a newsfeed, randomly seeing a name that sounds interesting, whatever. These bands just find me.

The second Library Punk Band Of The Week is far from obscure. Alkaline Trio get radio play, they've had videos on MTV, they've made decent placements in music charts. But they're one of the exceptions. The other two, Red City Radio and Old Man Markley, are fairly obscure. I don't know anyone that has heard of  them beyond me talking about them. And the fourth part of my ongoing series is the most obscure yet: Rust Belt Lights.

I heard about Rust Belt Lights through a post on Punknews about Let Me Run (another good yet obscure band) and thought their name was interesting (I didn't remember this offhand, I had to search the Punknews archive to figure out how I heard about them). I figured from their name that they must be from relatively near me as I live in the Rust Belt*. So I looked them up and found out that not only are they from the Rust Belt as the name implies, they're actually from Buffalo, NY, about an hour from where I live. So that was exciting and I decided to check them out, because I love how many bands are coming out of Buffalo lately.

Despite being the most obscure band I've covered so far, I was surprised to hear a friend/co-worker bring them up in conversation once. A friend of his was in a band with current members of Rust Belt Lights, so it's kinda cool to know I have a "friend of a friend" connection to a band I had already enjoyed.

RBL play a kind of melodic hardcore with pop edge. Very anthemic, very fun, but still fairly agressive. I've seen them compared to The Movielife, so I just went through my iTunes library for This Time Next Year and Forty Hour Train Back To Penn and the comparisons are valid. Similar sound, but updated about a decade.

I've had their Long Gone EP for a while, but I finally got around to checking out the full-length they released late last year, These Are The Good Old Days (on Paper + Plastick Records, quickly becoming one of my favorite labels). Very good, it probably would have made my "Best of 2010" list if I had listened to it earlier.

You can check out "It Ain't What It Used To Be" from Good Old Days here. They also have tracks on ThePunkSite's It's Like Bringing A Fork To A Gunfight and AMP Magazine's 35 Punks Songs Are Better Than 3 Feet Of Snow Any Day.

*Side note: I had always assumed it was called the Rust Belt because of our winters. Very cold and very snowy, and a lot of salt gets dumped on the roads to combat the ice, which leads to rusty cars. But according to Wikipedia, it's because of the area's involvement in the steel and automobile industries. Which I guess also makes sense. I like to learn something new every day.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Bands I Need To See

I haven't gotten back to posting as much as I was planning. It's just getting harder to find things I want to write about. So I thought today I'd share this. This is a list of the bands I need to see live at some point in my life.

Bands that are crossed out are bands I have already seen. Crossed out bands with an * are bands that I need to see again. In alphabetical order:

Against Me!
Alkaline Trio *
Andrew Jackson Jihad
Bedouin Soundclash *
Blink 182
Brand New
Chuck Ragan
Dashboard Confessional
The Decemberists
Drag The River
Dropkick Murphys
Fake Problems *
Flogging Molly
The Gaslight Anthem
Gogol Bordello
Hot Water Music
Less Than Jake
MC Lars
The Mighty Mighty Bosstones
The National
Old Man Markley
Red City Radio
Reel Big Fish
Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band
Riverboat Gamblers
Rob Zombie
The Sweet Revenge
Tim Barry
Tin Horn Prayer
Tragically Hip
Two Cow Garage *
The World/Inferno Friendship Society

Also on the list, if they reform and perform again:
Fall Out Boy
Nine Inch Nails

A few of these, most notably (for me, at least) Lucero,are going to be on this year's Warped Tour, so hopefully I'll get a chance to cross them off. The rest, I gotta figure out how to see them since most don't tour near me.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Band Of The Week: Old Man Markley

The Library Punk's Band Of The Week for the week of January 31, 2001 is Old Man Markley.

With OLM's debut full-length, Guts n' Teeth, Fat Wreck Chords enters the folk punk realm (not counting Against Me!, who had dropped acoustic guitar by the time Fat Mike grabbed them, or the Celtcore of The Real McKenzies). Guts n' Teeth is a blast of punk-fueled bluegrass. The Fat Wreck website describes it as sounding like if Mike Ness (of Social Distortion) made a record with Old Crow Medicine Show. I love both of those artists, so I would have checked it out if I hadn't already heard them.

The band is made up of current and former members of Angel City Outcasts and Youth Brigade, so if you've heard either of those bands then you have an idea of the energy and commitment that is put into the music. But it's all played on bluegrass instrument, such as banjos, mandolins, washboards, fiddles and, according to Fat Wreck, a homemade washtub bass.

This is a great band, and I've listened to Guts n' Teeth several times since it came out two weeks ago. I recommend checking out their video from the album's first single, "For Better For Worse."


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Band Of The Week: Alkaline Trio

This week's band of the week is Alkaline Trio. These guys have been around for a long time, but I'vefound myself listening to them a lot over the past few days.

I've always preferred middle-era Alkaline Trio. Specifically Good Mourning (which, when this blog first started, I listed as my personal all-time most important album) and From Here To Infirmary (they seem to have really liked puns back then). Crimson was alright, Agony & Irony was kind of a letdown and This Addiction is a decent return to form, but those middle years have always been my favorite. But for the past few days I've found myself going back further, to the days of the self-titled album and their debut full-length, Goddammit. There's a diriter, less-restrained feeling to that earlier work that's lacking in so much modern pop punk.

For those unfamiliar, from Goddammit to Good Mourning they had a very rough-edged pop punk sound, the best kind of pop punk there is. Very fun to listen to. Lot of dark lyrics about love, hate and death without being a mopey, depressing band. Lot of references to drinking and smoking too much (the latter especially from singer/guitarist Matt Skiba). With Crimson they kinda started polishing the songs a bit more and bringing in other instruments and a more experimental sound. By This Addiction they started going back to that earlier kinda vibe, but much more polished. Less dark too, but still fun.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Album Review - Hi-Five Soup!

The Aquabats - Hi-Five Soup! (Fearless Records, 2011)

The Aquabats are an interesting band. Probably one of the more unique bands out there. For those unfamiliar, here's a summary of their story: Singer Christian Jacobs (who, on a side note, created Yo Gabba Gabba for Nick Jr) was raised on comic books and Saturday morning cartoons, so in his adult life he created a ska band influenced by that. But not just any ska band. A ska band that took on superhero identities (Jacobs became The MC Bat Commander) and created a back story involving them being the only escapees of an island nation under attack from aliens, so they use music to build an army to fight back. Then they dropped the horns and went synth-punk, ret-conned their story to explain line-up changes, and now they've released what might be their best album.

For the record, I am not among the legion of fans that got mad when they dropped the horns. I do enjoy ska, but good music is good music (seems odd saying that after trashing The King Is Dead yesterday for being to Americana, but this is a different sort of situation I think).  But their first non-ska album, 2005's Charge!! (Nitro Records), felt kinda awkward to me. Aside from a few tracks (mainly "Fashion Zombies ," check out the scene-mocking video) I wasn't much of a fan of it. But for Hi-Five Soup!, the group come across as much more capable of playing non-ska. The result is a much more satisfying slice of synth-punk, with influence from ska as well as pop-punk and hip-hop.

Hi-Five Soup! just might be my favorite album by the band. It's fun and peppy and everything the band should be by this point. Biz Markie provides a guest rap on "Radio Down!,"and Strong Bad (of Homestar Runner fame) sings a verse on "Pink Pants!" The guitar, drums and bass are all fairly standard but well-played pop-punk, but Jimmy The Robot kicks it up on the keyboards. The MC Bat Commander's vocals, in my opinion, wouldn't sound right in any other band, but his Saturday-morning-cartoon-superhero bravado fits in perfectly here. And the lyrics are fun. Children's songs, almost, but aimed at the punk crowd, specifically those old enough to remember the kind of television programming the band love so much (they even filmed a never-aired pilot for their own Aquabats series).

I feel kinda bad for The Aquabats. They're a great band, and they're lots of fun to listen to. But they can come across sometimes as gimmicky. Because of that, I know there are a lot of people that wouldn't even give them a chance. But I highly recommend this album if you like keyboards and Adam West's Batman.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Album Review - The King Is Dead

A lot of great releases this week and upcoming weeks, so let's jump right back into the reviews with my most anticipated release for this year so far.

The Decemberists - The King Is Dead (Capitol Records, 2011)

I've been looking forward to The King Is Dead pretty much since I finished listening to 2009's sprawling Euro-folk/rock epic, The Hazards Of Love. I was interested with how they would follow that up, and the answer is, with a stripped down, simplified collection of alt-Americana songs.

The songs are good. They are well written for the most part (some of the lyrics on "Rox In The Box" are questionable to me), and well performed. Strong Americana influence shines through, mainly in the harmonica and guitar parts that are spread throughout the album, as well as the banjo riffs that decorate many of the songs. Songs like the Dylanesque "June Hymn" and "Calamity Song" (which reminds me of Muswell Hillbillies-era Kinks) display a very midwestern-centric approach that's new to the band.

And that's the bad thing about the album. It doesn't sound like The Decemberists. The songs are great, but they just aren't the sound I had expected to hear by this point. I hate saying that, I feel like I'm saying they can't write songs that aren't the same kind they used to write. But after developing a sound heavily steeped in European folk, going country/western just doesn't fit. I enjoy listening to it, but it might as well have been a Tarkio album (Meloy's pre-Decemberists band) or a solo effort by Meloy.

Let me stress that I do mean the songs are well written and well performed. Just not in a genre that fits with the band. I still love the band, and I would recommend this album to other people (and, in fact, I already have). But I do hope on their next album they go back to what they do best.

Band Of The Week: Red City Radio

Meant to post this yesterday, but family obligations got in the way. I wanted to start a weekly feature that I'll be updating on Mondays (except for this week, when it's a Tuesday). I want to use what small influence I have through this blog to bring recognition to bands that other people may not have heard of. So every Monday, I'll be posting my Band Of The Week.

For the first installment of Band Of The Week, for the week of January 17, 2011, I have chose Red City Radio.

Red City Radio are a band from Oklahoma who play the sort of America-tinged post-hardcore punk I've been so fond of lately. Think Hot Water Music but rougher, with some obvious influence from fellow Oklahoman (is that the term for people from Oklahoma?) Woody Guthrie (and not just because of their EP, more on that in a bit).  I've also seen them compared to Latterman a lot by other blogs and music sites. And the iTunes store's "People Who Bought Also Bought" section includes a lot of The Riot Before and The Menzingers, as well as some other bands that I'm checking out now and liking.

Not that much info about them yet, but as far as I can tell they've had 3 releases; Two EPs, Spinning In Circles Is A Gateway Drug (Paper + Plastick Records) and To The Sons And Daughters Of Woody Guthrie (listed on iTunes as The Independent Record Company), as well as a vinyl split with a band called The Great St Louis.  Both EPs are great (haven't heard the split), but I would recommend Sons And Daughters to start with. They also have a full length, The Dangers Of Standing Still, coming out on Paper + Plastick in February, so expect a review of that when it comes out.

If you want to hear them, they're streaming a track from the upcoming album on their Punknews profile. They also have a video for "We Are The Sons Of Woody Guthrie," and that track is available for download from AMP Magazine's free digital compilation, 35 Punks Songs Are Way Better Than 3 Feet Of Snow Any Day.

Check them out, they're great.

And if Red City Radio happen to read this, please play a show in Fredonia, NY, or at least Buffalo, NY.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Why iTunes Needs More Personal Folksonomic Control

My first blog post of the new year. I took a few weeks off after my list of the top 10 albums of 2010. I'd like to say it was a planned break, but honestly I just ran out of steam for a while. That's alright, though, because there are some great albums coming out this week that reinvigorated me. Before I get to them, though, I wanted to write about a topic that comes up in my head every once in a while (and in fact sparked a minor debate on my Facebook wall a few days ago). So I thought I'd run it up the flagpole and see if anyone else is interested in the topic.

I think iTunes needs to allow more ability to users to customize the organization of their iTunes libraries. Specifically, I want the ability to add searchable keywords and customizable sortable categories. What most recently brought it to my mind was a band's name change. Specifically, the band Castevet have decided to change their name to CSTVT. This sparked my mind toward my iTunes library. I already have releases by the band under the name Castevet. If later releases will be released under CSTVT, should I change the name of the previous releases? Or have the band listed under two different names in my library?

Thinking back to my cataloging class in grad school, the name given in a catalog record is the name that is listed with the work itself. But there is room in records to list alternate names. There are ways around this in iTunes (Composer field, Album Artist field), but it seems unnecessary to do so when the option could easily be added.

I'm not asking for much. I'm not asking for a specific Related Artists or Alternate Name or even Record Label field. I AM asking for a Secondary Genre field, but beyond that everything else is achievable through the addition of keyword fields. There is a Comments field, but that isn't easily searchable and adding unique tags to whole albums and individual songs is unnecessarily complex.

I feel like I might be rambling, so let me simplify. I want iTunes to add fields to their song info for user-created keywords. These fields would be searchable, the same way that the Album, Song and Artist fields are searchable. But while iTunes or the song file metadata provide the info for these fields, the individual iTunes user would fill in these fields themselves. Are you ever in a bad mood and you want angry music? You could use a tag in a keyword field like "angry," then when you type "angry" into the search area any song tagged like that would show up. Working on homework and feel like you're running out of steam? Use the tag "motivational" or "inspiring." Want music to listen to but don't feel like processing lyrics? Use the tag "instrumental."

These fields would also have use beyond these tags. You could create your own hashtags to better organize your library. Despite the inconvenience, I have used some tags in the comments field. Here are some examples of what I would do with more freedom (for this to work, there would have to be a decent amount of room for keywords, not like one or two keywords per song):

-#RA: - Related Artists - Bands or artists that are related to that specific artist. For example, if I typed #RA:Nirvana into the search, Foo Fighters (which I would have tagged with this) would show up. If I typed in #RA:OperationIvy (no spaces, to make it easier to search) would bring up Tim Armstrong, Rancid, etc.

-#L: - Label. Certain record labels are known for specific sounds. This isn't relevant much for Sony or Interscope, but would be helpful, for example, with #L:SuburbanHome, #L:FatWreck, #L:Epitaph or #L:MoonSka.

-#[source] - How I heard about the band. Sometimes that's something I like to know. I think to myself, what bands are in my library that I heard about through a Punknews podcast, like Red City Radio (#PunknewsPodcast). Or because they were one of the bands featured on Alternative Press's AP&R page (#AltPress).

These may seem to be complex to some readers, but this is how my mind works. It's what makes sense to me and it's how I think. Other users think in different ways so they would come up with different systems. Part of what I like about this system is that there would be no one "right" way to do it, it's flexible for a user's needs, desires and abilities.

If anyone reading this knows anyone at Apple, can you send this along to them?