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?