Five Awesomely Terrible Solos

Sometimes, like a Japanese gibberish prog-rock band, terrible things are also awesome things. Let’s examine.

1. “I Will Survive” by Cake

Now Cake is a band known for its simplistic arrangements, but the guitar solo at 4:45 really takes the… cake. Backed myself into a corner on that one. What makes it so great is the guitarist just rocking out on that one note – to the adoration of thescreaming fans below. Never has the one note solo been so successfully employed in a song, so kudos, Cake.

2. “Icky Thump” by the White Stripes

The blips and bleeps that make up the solo at the end of this song are surprisingly melodic – despite the fact that most of them sound like a dying calf. Jack White is the master of odd noises as evidenced by the bagpipe sound that he pulls out of his guitar earlier in the song. Or maybe he plays bagpipe also. Who knows?

3. “Fresh Garbage” by Spirit

Now John Locke’s organ solo in this song isn’t so bad, (we’ll get to one that’s far worse) but the section around 2:00 where he starts jabbing at two dissonant notes on the keyboard is mind blowing. Bassist Mark Andes joins in on the fun by playing a swath of discordant notes at 2:05. All of this was done cognizantly however. I’m not sure I can say the same thing about our number 5 solo.

4. “If” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers

What were they thinking when they included this song on their latest album, Stadium Arcadium? There’s not really a solo in this song, but John Frusciante I’m sure is really holding back some strong words as he watches Flea rock out while he sits dejectedly in the corner plucking half notes. And what about the accordionist? Poor fellow, who only get’s to play one chord throughout the entire nearly three minute song. That was probably Chad Smith being punished by the band for losing his light up drum kit. “Here, Chad, hold these three notes and Squeeze”.

1. “Do It Again” by Steely Dan

OK. This is le creme de le creme of terrible solos. I don’t care, Wikipedia, that it was “among the first in popular music to include an organ solo featuring a pitch-shifting technique”. It’s simply not good. It’s awesome that it’s on the album recording, for sure, but especially following atfer Denny Dias’ spectacular electric-sitar solo, what was Donald Fagen thinking? It get’s better towards the end, but those first few measures…. man.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know what you think.

Happy Listening,

~Josh

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PEAK KEYWORD: AWESOME

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Summerstage 2010: As Backyard as Concerts Get

The XX, Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears, Public Enemy, and Chairlift named to play free concerts at Central Park’s Summerstage.

For those of us who live in cities, open green space is not the norm. But there’s one place where everyone cooped up in NYC can always count on for a lovely grassy field to run barefoot in (sunny weather not necessarily included).

Summerstage in Central Park

Central Park, when not populated with tourists and lounging hipsters, is that place. And in the summer time, Rumsey Playfield, a.k.a. SummerStage is the place to be. This unique and most importantly free concert opportunity has been around since 1986. In ’94, it was transferred to the City Parks Foundation which helps put up free jazz, dance and theatre shows all around the city. I’ve been lucky enough to catch some great free shows by The Cat Empire, M. Ward, the Born Ruffians, and Vampire Weekend at SummerStage over the past few summers, and this year’s lineup, like the past years’, is not going to disappoint.

The big (and free) attraction this year is The xx, the now-threesome from London who’s I’ve written about previously. The band, who recently lost guitarist Baria Qureshi due to an ever-expanding tour schedule, is facing a unique problem. The wrote their songs never with the intention for others to hear them – never once performing them at the elite Elliot School that has put out artists like Four Tet, Burial, and members of Hot Chip. And now with popular demand expecting another blockbuster down the road, they are trying to figure out how to start that process.

In the meantime, they’re still doing great things. Check out this mind-twisting video for their song “Islands:

Incidentally, neither of the vocalists, Romy Madley Croft (seated, middle) or Oliver Sim (seated, left) told the other what the songs they respectively wrote were about. And their overwhelmingly impassive stares do little to convey their meaning. Can you divine what’s on their minds? I can’t, for sure.

Opening for The xx, who will be hitting the stage on August 28th is the Brooklyn band “Chairlift”. There similar in many ways to The xx – mostly by nature of their male and female vocalists trading off verses. But maybe you’ll feel otherwise after watching this video for their single “Bruises”:

It’s a pretty fun 80’s treatment of teenage mayhem.

But this one concert is not the least of the free shows going up in your backyard! Black Joe Lewis and the Honey Bears will be opening up a show for The Specials  on August 22nd. And if you mix a little rap into your rock, don’t miss Public enemy on August 15th.

In the meantime, download out the full schedule with plenty more free concerts across the city by clicking here!

Happy Listening,

~Josh

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PEAK KEYWORD: QURESHI

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“The Sea” Inside Corinne Bailey Rae

In an interview on the Today Show, notorious pigeon-holer Meredith Viera tried to tag the British singer/songwriter as “neo-soul”. Bailey Rae, calling her out replies, “I don’t really know what neo-soul is… I know what old soul music is, and that’s the kind of music I like to make.” She goes on to say that her new record, The Sea, which came out this past January “is really more of an indie guitar, soulful record.”

Singer/Songwriter Corinne Bailey Rae

Bailey Rae’s first album, Young and Foolish,  came out in 2005, and promptly by 2006 it had already become certified double-platinum by the BPI. But although she’s living in the limelight, things have not always been easy for her.

Bailey Rae’ was born in 1979 in Leeds, England, oldest of three daughters to a white mother and a black father from the Federation of Kitts and Nevis in the West Indies. Growing up she faced adversity in the form of racial slurs calling her “paki”, for Pakistani. She grew up listening to a lot of rock, including Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and Lenny Kravitz. Check out her cover of Hendrix’s “Little Wing”.

Those are some lovely harmonies. She would write songs with her friends for her Baptist church, often using the melodies of Primal Scream songs, but changing the words to not “offend the regular churchgoers”.

It was her youth group leader that recognized Bailey Rae’s talent, and lent her the money to purchase her first guitar – a smart move, for sure. At 15, she formed an all-girl rock band called “Helen”. And circa 1995, the band was (surprisingly) nearly signed to Roadrunner records, a metal label that carries the likes of Nickelback, Dream Theater and Meatloaf. But Helen disbanded after their bassist became pregnant.

Bailey Rae in 2009

Fortunately for us, Bailey Rae stuck with her musical talents and started writing solo, leading her to where she is today. Her new album, “The Sea” is about family tragedy and coping with life’s realities. According to Bailey Rae, the album is an exploration of her grandmother’s death in a boating accident. “It was a family story that I had grown up with and never asked much about, but I had never realised that my aunt had been there, on the beach, when it happened. She could see it unfolding but was powerless to do anything about it. It made me think about how that grief and sense of powerlessness can shape a person, watching something that’s going to change your life forever.”

But personal tragedy has struck more than once, most recently with the tragically sudden death of Bailey Rae’s husband, Jason Rae, in 2008. Still trying to work through her emotions, Bailey Rae says she has one main goal in making music: “Everything I do I just want to be real and honest”. And she’s speaking nothing but the Truth in “I’d Do it All Again”:

Corinne Bailey Rae is playing two sold out shows, one tonight at Webster Hall at 8 pm, and again tomorrow night at the Music Hall of Williamsburg at 7:30. Hope you can get tickets!

Happy Listening!

~Josh

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The Perilous Consequences of Getting Side-Tracked

Ok, if you’re a person who tends to shy away from inventive, unique (read: strange) music, then this post not may necessarily be for you. However, if this kind of music is your cup of tea, then you are very much in luck.

John Butler

Originally, I was going to write all about the new John Butler Trio album, April Uprising, released earlier this month. It was going to be a wonderful shout out to the hippest skateboarding Aussie bad boys around – I was going to talk about his lack of dreds, and John Butler’s assumption of a rebel persona to fit the album title.

Then I got distracted. In one of my many journeys around the internet I stumbled upon something odd, to say the least. In fact, I would have to say it’s the strangest yet best thing I’ve listened to in long time. Hopefully, some of you will agree with me.

The cover of the rock-opera, "Everyone Might Be A Senator" by the Nebraskan band Shelter Belt

I don’t really know where to begin with this piece of music. Let’s start with the basics. The name of the band is Shelter Belt. The name of the album is Everyone Might Be A Senator.

The 30 minute long rock-opera seems to be centered around several main characters: SAMUEL DES PAIR, the overly pessimistic MC who introduces the album; JOHNNY the protagonist; DANNY, Johnny’s friend, SALLY, Johnny’s girlfriend, and the SENATE, represented by a chorus of upwards of 30 men.

Rachel Kearney, who sings lead vocals in Shelter Belt, and plays the role of Sally on their latest album

The album has two main plots: Johnny’s paranoia that everyone who surrounds him is a United States Senator, and his troubled relationship with his girlfriend, Sally, who recently left him for a Senator.

Ok, let’s stop and take a breather here. The first thing that stands out is Johnny’s obscure, irrational fear that everyone he knows is a Senator. This is problematic for a few reasons, the most glaring being that the U.S. Senate is made up of 100 individuals, thus making it very difficult for everyone we know to be a Senator. In response to this dilemma, Danny (the good friend that he is) concedes, “[v]ery few people are actually Senators, Johnny.” Johnny’s well thought-out response to this statement is the cornerstone of the album; he says, “Everyone might be a Senator.” Well, ok – wait, what? To compound the confusion, in Track 2, “Are You A Senator?”, Johnny tells us:

Sometimes I get drunk and dress in a suit and pretend that I’m a senator. / I walk around the house rehearsing my speeches, planning my grant proposals, and worrying that behind every closet door waits a real senator who wants to hurt me. / When I wake the next day, I feel shame, but I know with absolute certainty that I am not a senator.

Pause. Why do real Senators want to hurt Johnny? The explanation given is one of a vague past trauma:

JOHNNY: HE was a senator and HE ruined me. I didn’t know HE was a senator. HE was a senator.
DANNY: Johnny, you need to move on.

Do You Know YOUR Senators?

But all of the silliness aside, some of the music is really good if (not surprisingly) a little strange. Track 9 on the album, “The Strangest Feeling” seems like it has the potential to be a single, a lovely duet with a bopping electro beat and a great horn section. And Track 15, “End Theme” is a lovely bit of music that sounds like it could have been orchestrated by the likes of Andrew Bird or Owen Pallette. Over all the album makes use of a wide array of instruments, from horns to strings to electronic samples. Some of the songs sound a little amature, but in the context of the rest of the band’s music it seems to be a put-on.

SO, if you’re still reading at this point, here’s the link to the Shelter Belt’s website (the “Belt Cave”), where you can read the full lyrics and download the album for yourself, and listen to some of the bands other (more normal work).

PHEW, trying to figure out Senator from non-Senator is an exhausting.

I know not all of you will like this, and probably most of you are wondering why I am even writing about it. Mostly, it’s just because I feel strongly that this bizarre exploration is what music is all about, even when it doesn’t entirely make sense. I’m sure you could extrapolate some existentialist meaning from the lyrics if you tried, but that would ruin it for me. If I’ve learned anything from “EMBAS” it’s that you can write a rock-opera about anything. Literally anything.

For those who haven’t gotten anything from this post, I apologize. Here’s the link to a snazzy video by the John Butler Trio for the song “Close to You” off of their latest album.

Screen Shot from the video for "Closer to You" by the John Butler Trio

Happy listening! And may you steer clear of all Senators in the near future.

~Josh

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PEAK KEYWORD: APRIL

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The Daring Adventures of Richard Thompson

I’ve inherited a lot of my musical tastes from my dad. His record and CD collection played a big part in weaning me away from just new releases. I’ve got a really distinct memory of driving down the highway in the back of the car listening to Paul Simon’s “Look at That” trying to imitate his quick scatting in the second half of the song (on the topic of Paul Simon, I also remembered being absolutely shocked by his song “Pig, Sheep, and Wolves” when I was young). Other guitarists like Nick Drake, Leo Kottke and Chris Smither also played a big role in my musical childhood.

Richard Thompson

But the artist that brings back above and beyond the most memories is Richard Thompson. Hailing from West London, Thompson, a skilled guitarist and the son of a Scottish detective, formed his first band (named “Emil and the Detectives”) at his all boys high school. That was around 1967. By 1972, after playing with two more bands, Thompson was playing solo with his newly married wife, Linda Thompson.

But it wasn’t until after their separation in 1982 that Thompson really fell into stride with the audience he had been collecting: members of the rock and folk communities, as well as those drawn in by his Scottish and jazz influences. In 1991, Rumor and Sigh was nominated for a Grammy, and rightly so. One of his singles off of that album is still the most requested song on NPR. Can you guess which one?

1996 saw the release of You? Me? Us?, my favorite Richard Thompson album to date. The record was released as a double disc set – one side labeled “nude” and the other “voltage enhanced” and they make a truly unique listening experience. “Business on You” is a great track, but he also provides dual versions of “Hide It Away” and “Razor Dance”, which are lovely to hear back to back.

Richard Thompson released his latest album Sweet Warrior in 2007, and has managed to preserve the sound and styles while evolving and pushing the boundaries of his music. “Needle and Thread”, the first song on the album is a great example of this. It’s a throwback to some of the songs off of You? Me? Us? but has a lovely new feeling to it.

But there have been a few gems that have popped up online that  stick out of the regular Richard Thompson canon for a variety of reasons.

Obviously, this one was a shocker when it first appeared on the internet:

At first it seems to be a trifling cover, but as one YouTube commenter says “I think It’s [sic] amazing how [Richard Thompson] can play a bit of fluff and take it beyond irony into something artistically relevant.” Too true, adjectivesarecool – especially the section when Thompson takes the pop song and changes it into a 12/8 folk instrumental.

But going back to Rumor and Sigh, there was one song that didn’t quite fit in with rest of the pack. That was “Psycho Street” – apparently Thompson’s “antidote” to an Australian song about hopelessly happy neighbors. Here we see a decidedly younger and more energetic Thompson howling and acting and quipping from behind the mike:

If you missed some of those lyrics, I’ll give you a sample.

A man has an inflatable doll made that looks exactly like his wife.
He murders his wife, dissolves her body in acid, and marries the doll
Three years later he leaves her, for another doll…

Thompson’s music has become somewhat tempered in the twenty years that have come and gone since that video was made. However, his quirkiness is still quite intact at 61. As we know, with age comes wisdom – something that Richard Thompson is known for appreciating to its fullest. Here’s a song all about his love for women – of the wise and intelligent kind, of course:

Thompson, who played the Paramount Theatre in Peekskill last year doesn’t have any New York shows coming up soon, but I highly recommend you see him when you have the chance. So, thanks Dad for introducing me to some great music. Maybe one day I’ll convince you that Muse deserves a second listen, yeah?

Happy Listening,

~Josh

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Concerts This Week:

FLAMING LIPS!!! TONIGHT!! GO SEE IT!! 8 pm at the Wellmont Theater

Jakob Dylan @ Town Hall on Wednesday at 8 pm.

Thursday’s got a bunch of shows:
– Famed Jennifer-Lover (ew) Mike Doughty will be at Le Poisson Rouge at 7 pm
– Hot Chip (see last week’s post!) will be playing at Terminal 5 at 8 pm (or catch them the next night, also at Terminal 5 but at 9.

Friday will bring you Mr. Elvis Costello at United Palace 8pm
– Also see Willie Nile at the Turning Point in Piermont on Friday!

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PEAK KEYWORD: INFLATABLE

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A Healthy Dose of Indie Music… Concerts

Anthony Kiedis of RHCP

For me, spring time means concert time. But for a college student like myself, there’s a very intricate matrix that determines what shows I’m going to see. Most of the time, it boils down to money (if you’re curious the other factors include, but are not limited to, proximity of the concert venue to a Chipotle, likelihood of me badgering the drummer into giving me a drumstick, and how many friends I can convince to come with me).  I’d love to spend $75 dollars to see the Red Hot Chili Peppers or Radiohead whenever they’re in town, but as much as I love playing “count the tattoos on Anthony Kiedis’ shirtless torso”, it gets a little pricey.

Fortunately, small-time indie bands are much more in my price range. Today hopefully I’ll get you excited about some upcoming concerts through their music videos.

First up: a band that opted for a name on the more unique side, the Freelance Whales. The band is just shy of 2 years old, but already rising quickly with a sold out show at the Bowery Ball room tomorrow night. Here’s their video for their hit, “Generator ^ Second Floor”:

What’s not to like? When have you ever seen a band of Cinco de Mayo skeleton mariachi this cheerful? While “Generator ^ First Floor” is about the beginning of life, and the Second floor, as you may have guessed is its end. As the beautiful chorus implores:

Don’t fix my smile, Life is long enough
We will put this flesh into the ground again.

And the bells and joyful voices in the song and the light-hearted nature help to support this serene view of Death. If you’re bummed about missing them tomorrow, no fear! They’ll be back in town at Webster Hall on May 5th, opening up for the Shout Out Louds.

Next up: Hot Chip, a band from London that will be coming to Terminal 5 on April 22nd and 23rd. Check them out. Here is their video for “And I Was a Boy From School”:

Hot Chip has been hot “ship” lately – touring recently with the XX, and getting scheduled to play at both Coachella out in California and Lollapolooza in Chicago. Overall they’re a pretty low-key lounge-y band, with electronic-laced beats and lyrics that have a tendency to be repeated a lot. Trying to figure out what the game is in this video keeps you entertained however, even if the end result is a little tacky. They’ll also be coming to NYC’s Summerstage this August in Central Park – so you can get those tickets now.

Ok that last one turned out to be a little metaphysical, too. Here’s two bands offering some more upbeat music.

First is the Irish folk-rock duo Guggenheim Grotto. They’ve released two albums now, and have a knack for creating truly artful music. The video for “Her Beautiful Ideas” off of 2009’s Happy the Man, has some whimsically great stop-motion animation. What are her beautiful ideas?

Well, the Guggenheim gentlemen have one idea: Let’s get naked and get under the sheets. Out of context it sounds a little strange sure, but this song is bright and sunny and full of love. Catch the Grotto at The Bowery Electric on June 2nd.

But here’s a song that just about music. The Peak’s been digging this track recently, “Song Away” by Hockey:

The first time I watched this song I didn’t really connect with it – due to some things that the video tried to tell me were true: like white kids from Portland playing craps, or that they found lots of fancy recording equipment in the LA river. But the next few spins (and that hawk!) really got me. Benjamin Gruber, hipster extraordinaire and lead singer of the band has got a voice that sounds unique and classic at the same time. The video blooms with color about two minutes through with vivid blues and oranges, and the $200 dollars of fireworks don’t hurt either. All in all, a fun song that celebrates all aspects of life.

Unfortunately, they’re not coming to NY soon, but they played Bonaroo last year, so there’s a chance that they might show up at All Points West.

If not, hopefully at least one of these artists has whet your appetite for some wholesome indie music. Please comment if you’re going to a hip show soon!

Happy Listening,

~Josh

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Concerts this week:

Ben Folds continues his tour with two more shows tonight and tomorrow at
:: Town Hall!

Blast from the past: Third Eye Blind will be playing at the Wellmont Theatre in
:: Montclair, NJ on Tuesday as well.

And guitar legend Joe Bonamassa will be playing two shows this week, first on
:: the 15th at Town Hall, and then again on the 17th at the Paramount Center for
:: the Arts in Peekskill. Check it out!

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PEAK KEYWORD: FIREWORKS

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Everyone Was Wearing Fingerless Gloves

I can turn off street lamps with my mind. It’s true. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve driven down a dimly lit street only to have the lights flicker off. But it’s totally subconscious – so if you asked me to do it on command I wouldn’t be able to.

I was telling this fact to a friend and she (obviously) didn’t believe me. She said “Well, you remember better the times when the lights turn off as you drive under them as opposed to when they continue shining. You’re not so special. In any case, I can transform into a dolphin, so there.” OK, I added that last bit, but if what she said is true, then I feel like this memory phenomenon is happening to me again.

The boyishly handsome son of a supermodel, Julian Casablancas

Specifically, I’m seeing Julian Casablancas’ name everywhere. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Mr. Casablancas, he is the lead singer of The Strokes – a band that’s been around since 1998. Formed in New York, Casablancas along with school pals Nikolai Fraiture, Fabrizio Moretti, Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr. (who Casablancas met in Switzerland), took the NYC garage scene by storm with the release of their first LP Is This It in 2001.

Here’s a clip of them playing what might be their top hit, “Last Nite”, live – a song so ubiquitous that you might know it without realizing who sings it:

Since the release of that album, The Strokes have release two more albums, Room on Fire and First Impressions of Earth and Is This It has gone on to be named the top album of the decade by NME across the pond.

Here’s a beautifully simple video for another one of their top songs, “Reptilia” off of Room on Fire:

There’s something in his eyes and his voice that is so earnest. He’s certainly not playing to be the adonis-type rock god in this video.

And check out this video for “You Only Live Once” off of First Impressions of Earth, notable for its great concept, raw energy, a sweet jacket worn by Casablancas and the destruction of all the band members’ instruments:

In 2007 the band went on an indefinite hiatus, and Julian went on the advance, releasing his first solo album, Phrazes for the Young, which had a more of an electronic edge than any of The Strokes’ previous works.

But things are looking up for Strokes fans, as the band has been writing and arranging the songs for a new album, tempering ideas from the 70’s with “music from the future“. The album is due to be released this September. In the meantime, they are signed up to headline Lollapalooza in Chicago this summer. On top of that great news Mr. Casablancas recently followed in the footsteps of Norah Jones, T Pain and Justin Timberlake to team up with Saturday Night Live’s Andy Samberg and the rest of The Lonely Island gang. Together they put out this hilarious short about the mystic properties of boomboxes (watch out for some PG-13 content):

You’ve got to love those lyrics:

A boombox can change the world
But you gotta know your limits with a boombox.
And this was a cautionary tale;
A boombox is not a toy!

And as he smashes that vase between his fingerless-gloved hands, you can envision a world where “the music washed away all [of our] hate” and Julian Casablancas rises to the top of the charts once again. Don’t tell me that it’s just a trick of the mind, dolphin girl.

Happy listening!

~Josh

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Concerts this week:

Catch Ben Folds this Friday at the Wellmont Theater in Montclaire, NJ. Show begins at 8 PM.

Also, Ted Leo and the Pharmacists will be coming to the Fillmore NY at Irving Plaza the same night at 9 PM.

Finally, don’t miss out on a treat: Blue October headlining at Webster Hall this Saturday at 7 PM.

Happy hunting!

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PEAK KEYWORD:  FINGERLESS

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