Saturday, October 30, 2010


Of all the bands I listen to Ween is easily the hardest to talk about. They are one of those bands you just have to "get," and it's a task that many folks simply aren't up to. Made up of two guys who operate under the pseudonyms "Dean and Gene Ween," we are talking about a band that started out recording unbelievably raunchy albums on a four track and playing shows with just the two of them and a DAT machine to signing with Elektra and releasing a series of albums where they deliberately defied any specific genera by dint of their ability to completely master all of them. But they never reach the point where imitation is mere kitsch, however; somehow they always "mean it" in their own way, and, knowingly or not, seem to thread their chameleonlike oeuvre with an element that is distinctly, well, Ween. It's weird.

There simply is no pinning these guys down.  Those who don't take to Ween perhaps find their amorphism to be too much without center. But for the die hard fans, which seem to be the only kind, it is the spontaneity and the playfulness which makes up a huge part of the appeal. Gene's infinitely versatile vocals pair perfectly with the band's musical sensibility, which crosses back and forth over the line between being satirical and completely sincere. There is indeed a lot of irony in their music, and a lot of humor too. Just when you think they are hitting on something really profound, there is always the chance that they're making fun of you. But, the fact is, the raucous humor just makes the sweet songs sweeter, simply because you know that it all comes from the same source.

It is almost impossible to decide which songs to post here since more than any band, Ween seems to need a hermeneutic approach which almost requires listening to the whole catalogue. But what the hey. Here are four tunes and two jingles.

"Take Me Away"-

"Help Me Scrape the Mucus Off My Brain"-
Just when it looked like Ween might be about to carve out a comfortable place among the mainstream alternative bands they released a country album.  Here is one of the many gems from that record.

"Stroker Ace" (live)-

"The Argus"-

"Where'd the Cheese Go"-
Written after they were commissioned by Pizza Hut to write a jingle for their new "stuffed crust" pizza.

"Where'd the Mutha^%&^*! Cheese Go"-
Written after Pizza Hut rejected their first jingle.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Joanna Newsom

Joanna Newsom has a very specific element to her sound which I like; and while not everything she's produced quite resonates with me, the stuff of hers that's good is profoundly good.  So while there's just one album that in my humble opinion really hits the mark, I also think it should be required listening for anyone with a heart.  Ys (pronounced "eesh") is her second record, and actually features arrangements from Van Dyke Parks, a legend in his own right, who famously collaborated with Brian Wilson in writing the words to Smile.  His contribution to Ys is a huge part of the appeal, in fact, I can't imagine myself initially digging as deeply into this album without his presence.  He plays the orchestra with a felicity that you don't often hear in run-of-the-mill movie score type orchestration.  Not only are his arrangements tense and otherworldly, but he also meets the challenge of writing for songs which go on for thirteen minutes plus, somehow keeping things not only interesting, but "can't-look-away good."  While Parks is undoubtedly a necessary component, he isn't the reason for the occasion.

Joanna is a poet, plain and simple, worth reading along to as you listen to the music.  Although not all of it can be grasped, even after repeated listening, the words are uplifting, like you're being taken through her own self-made images and allegories to a place that is both universal and, you get the sense, intensely personal for Newsom.  She's one of those musicians who has the courage to follow her own voice; the end result in this case has been a spectacularly original work.  Below is the first track from Ys with an extra link to the lyrics.  If you're the type that likes to know something going in--I sometimes find that helpful myself--I'll go ahead and tell you that I've read that the song is about her sister who is an astrophysicist.  My only advice for a first time listener it this: give it time to grow on you, you'll be glad you did.

"Emily" words--

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Because he did this in 1998:
"Diamond Bullocks" the hidden track off of Mutations-

And because that was from an album which for the most part sounded like this:
"Dead Melodies"-

Add to that an extensive and widely varied catalogue which includes a funk record, Midnight Vultures, which satisfies event the most epicurean funk aficionado, and Sea Change, as earnest an offering as any songwriter could really wish to produce.  Originally a hipster, the hipsters for the most part have moved on from Beck.  His detractors accuse him of ceasing to be a trendsetter, becoming a trend follower instead, and of placing a higher price on production than on songrwriting. They deem his R&B antics superficial, and his excursions into folk at best overly abstract, and at worst maudlin. Whatever.

I think we ought to remember just how far ahead of the curve this guy was.  In a time when the airwaves were dominated by grunged-out arena rock, he came along with a beat up acoustic guitar and an 808 and sang "I'm a loser baby."  When anthems to angst were en vogue he penned words with actual metaphors in them.  Self produced from the beginning, he combined sounds we hadn't really heard put together before.  (Note: he has since collaborated with several distinguished producers, including the Dust Brothers, Nigel Godrich, and most recently Danger Mouse.)  Nowadays a lot of what I argue are Beck innovations in the breaking of genre have become standard fare--one of the most notable being the incorporation of electronica into otherwise disparate forms.  He's still good today, but I think it's worth mentioning just where a lot of these mainstream trends got started.  Go back and check the record; I think you'll find Beck there, half coy, half knowing he's got everybody beat.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Flaming Lips

Thanks to the nearly bygone age of continued major label support this band has never gone away.  Had they not been given the time to develop we wouldn't have songs like "Do you Realize"--which is one of those broad and timeless tunes like "A Wonderful World"--and which, as of last year, is also Oklahoma's state song.  But thankfully the Flaming Lips are here to stay.  Here are two tracks (oldies but goodies) that are worth a listen if all you've heard so far from this deep and ambitious band are the one or two songs that made the charts.

"The Spark that Bled"-
Sometimes listening to the Lips you get the feeling that this whole thing is as new to them as it is to you.  They always seem to be discovering and developing their sound as they go.  As a kind of embodiment of this notion, this song has a roaming, explorative feel to it. Not to mention there's a heck of a groove thrown in there from time to time.

"One More Robot/Sympathy 3000-21"-
It's always great when a band can tug at your heart strings and make you wanna move your hips at the same time.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Fleet Foxes

The thing that strikes you most upon first hearing Fleet Foxes' self titled album is hearing that it was released in 2008. It sounds more like a lost Moody Blues record circa 1978, except earthier and perhaps less ornate.  There are tons of harmonies (think Crosby, Stills, Nash) and the occasional verbed-out guitar that almost reminds you of an Ennio Morricone track.  Probably the best way to meet this band is through the link below.  Despite capturing their sound, which is somehow both stoic and soulful at the same time, it also showcases the their other anachronistic quality, the ability to do it live.  The thing about Fleet Foxes is this, it's never pretentious or polished, it's just good music.

The Fleet Foxes playing around town-

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Gnarls Barkley

To write this band off as just another top 40 phenomenon would be a gross oversite. And while their second record wasn't as big a success as their first, I think it is, arguably, better once you realize that this is soul, not pop, and come to view them as the heir apparent to people like Ottis Redding and Al Green. That said, Gnarls Barkley seems to be as much post-genre (if that can be a word now) as they are pop, soul, hip-hop, electronica, or any other label we would hoist on them. We've all heard "Crazy," and while I maintain that it is one of the most important, and not to mention harrowing songs to hit the mainstream--it does seem to have a haunted quality that comes from some unknown and remote place: the difference between these two tracks below is why I love this band so much.

"Transformer" (album cut)-

"Transformer" (re-cut in-studio version)-

Each member of this group has a really productive solo career.  Danger Mouse, of course, has an instantly recognizable production style and works with a constantly varying, super-talented group of musicians. But I'm keeping my eye on Cee Lo Green. The fact is, he's a phenomenal singer with a unique voice, and his lyrics, once examined, turn out to be some of the most painfully heartfelt and honest stuff out there.  Not many folks are deep enough to sing you a hurtin' song with a smile on their face. So I think it's worth hearing just one of his solo tracks too.  This one lends support to my theory that all songs with the word "Georgia" in the title are automatically great.