Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Red House Painters - Ocean Beach


Mark Kozelek has definitely made some downer music. But there is a calming and reassuring tone in his voice that always holds the music just above water. That said, Mark’s musical ship seems to have finally landed with Ocean Beach.

Dang, that came out wrong.

Let me try again.

What I mean by that, is I no longer feel like I’m drifting along aimlessly and hopelessly, with no urgency and no real end to look forward to, as I have in other of Mark’s work. That isn’t to say that Mark isn’t still a melancholy sap (I mean that in the best of ways, I promise). He is. But now he’s let the sun break through just a little on the music that serves as the backdrop for his soul-searching poetry. And I have to say, it’s more than refreshing.

The beats are a little more bouncy, the instrumentation a little more colorful, and the ideas a little more concise. And yet, the lyrics are still very sad and melancholy. The conflicting tones make for an interesting listen.

Take “Over My Head” for example. The beat is optimistic, the guitars gliding along in a beautiful melody, and here’s what Mark sings over it:

“Sometimes you get so alone without a friend. It’s hard to know who you are, and to pretend.”

You tend to stop happily bobbing your head at that point.

No, but really, this album manages to be both beautiful and sad, and I ultimately come out of it with a sense of warm appreciation for my life, friends, and everything I love in life. “Drop” is my all time favorite Red House Painters song, and it superbly ends what is, for my money, the best album Mark Kozelek has ever released.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Sonic Youth - The Eternal


I love the band to death, and this is a good record, but man oh man are they in cruise control. It's all starting to sound the same to me and that's disappointing, although it was inevitable. I don't know what I'm missing because everybody else thinks this album rocks harder, but to me these songs may as well be from the Rather Ripped sessions. This is especially disappointing since they are now free from a major label's demands and could really branch out if they wanted to.

So, while this is a good record it's just way too redundant for me to get much from it. Always sad for this to happen to a band you love. But again, it was inevitable.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Sam & Dave - The Best of Sam & Dave


Let's just get this out of the way right from the outset: Sam & Dave are the best soul artists I've ever heard. They're backed by the most groovin' n' rockin' studio band in history, Booker T. & The MGs, for the greatest ever soul label, Stax Records, home of other soul giants such as Otis Redding and Isaac Hayes.
The duo creates an exciting synergy that exudes an energy I've yet to hear in any other soul music. Their music is pure fun to listen to. Every song is like a celebration. It's everything soul should be. But more than that, it's missing the social commentary and dark themes that makes much of the other soul music that was being released at the time almost a drag for me to listen to.
The band is as loose as ever on these tracks. There's an ease and a flow that only comes from bands who are clicked right in with each other. The shuffle feel they get on "I Thank You" makes me wanna scoot my feet across the floor and the groove on "May I Baby" just makes me smile a mile wide. The horn playing in general, and especially on "You Don't Know What You Mean to Me," is exquisitely relaxed in certain parts and punchy in others. As someone who has played lead trumpet in several jazz bands in my life, I appreciate all that much more how much attitude and soul these guys are able to pour out of their instruments.
But as great as the MGs are, Sam & Dave make this music what it is. Their voices are strong and they use all sorts of different stylings, dynamics, and phrasings to emphasize the groove of the songs. And they play off of each other perfectly, never stepping on each others' shoes. A perfect tag-team effort.
Favorites besides the songs I've already mentioned include "Hold On! I'm Comin'," "You Don't Know Like I Know," "Soothe Me," and "A Place Nobody Can Find."
If you haven't checked these guys out, or only know them for their most popular song "Soul Man," as made popular from the movie Blues Brothers, please do yourself a favor and give your life some soul.