The Raveonettes Observator

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Observator, the Raveonettes 2012 offering, was written by someone struggling with a pill addiction while living on a beach in southern California.  It is sad, broken, and so beautiful in a series of small moments realized by a life chained to a pill.  This is the album the Raveonettes, who take their tone somewhere between Dick Dale and Mazzy Star, finally learned to turn down the distortion.  The distortion is not gone, just pushed in the background where it belongs.  Too many songs of the Raveonettes are clouded by distortion on equal plains next to their clean guitar riffs.

Fans of the Raveonettes will remember in late 2011 the band abruptly cancelled any tours or plans for a new album.  Sune Rose Wagner, one half of the duo, suffered a back injury and subsequently slipped into depression and addiction to pain killers.  The future looked bleak for the Raveonettes.  Sharin Foo, the remaining member, spent time updating Twitter and Facebook feeds promising that the band would be back soon.  Wagner’s injuries were the excuse, but the months stretched on until Wagner found himself in Venice Beach trying to pull it back together.  Upon his landing in the sunshine of southern California he slipped even further into substance.  Observator is a collection of the observations he made during this time.

As far as I am concerned this album could have ended with the opening track, Young and Cold.  It is classic Raveonettes, Wagner and Foo in perfect harmony with a weeping pattern of acoustic steel strums.  The instrumentation is very basic compared to the band’s usual form.  The vocals make this track.  The listener is invited into melancholy of Observator.  It’s this track that made me want to add Observator to 67 Days of Music. Observator is barely above mediocre overall.  For the songwriter music is catharsis, but it should be subtle, and the listener should not notice it.  In my opinion.  Observator feels like it needed to happen to pull Wagner out of his slump and get the Raveonettes back on track.  I love almost everything this band has put out, and the opening track to this album is enough to satisfy me until they put out their next album.  If you are reading and are curious about the rest of it, and like the Raveonettes, Observator is well worth the listen.

Stay or go?  Stay

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Observator was recorded in 2012.  It was produced by Richard Goetthrer and Sune Rose Wagner.

Welcome Back!

It’s been a while since the last post.  If for some reason there is still someone out there reading 67 Days of Music, and you have been frustratingly staring back at John Frusciante’s mug since October, rest assured more posts are on the way starting January.  

I’m also going to try and expand this site to cover other things aside from my dedication to unlocking the mysteries of my iPod.  Don’t worry though, it’s not going to turn into one of those “look at pictures of the restaurant my wife and I ate at” or “went for a nice hike today” type blogs.  We will stick to the topic of music.  If you are reading and are ever interested in contributing to the site I am thinking about opening it up to other folks that may be dusting off their old iPods as well.

67 Days of Music wishes any of you readers a belated happy new year and hope it’s working out for you so far.  Thanks for sticking with the site and I promise new content is days away.

 

John Frusciante To Record Only Water For Ten Days

John Frusciante recorded this album fresh out of rehab. This album has some really great songs on it, but most of it sucks. In my opinion. I have tried a couple of times to listen to it straight through and I skip over most of it. So, I am at a crossroads. There is no reason for the majority of it to take up space on my iPod but I do not want to lose those songs I love. I am about to do something I have felt strongly against since the advent of CD-burning, MP3′s, and eventually iPods. I am going to break-up the album.

I am sure we have all been there. Either at work, in a car, or at a party, you find yourself at the mercy of someone else’s iPod. You pick it up and start scrolling through the artists to find someone to play, because it is your turn and you are on the spot. Let’s just use Pink Floyd as a hypothetical band. Let’s say you scroll through the iPod that is not your own, and you do not find anything you like until you get to Pink Floyd. You click Pink Floyd and you see that this iPod contains only one of their albums, Dark Side of the Moon. You are not thrilled, because Pink Floyd is not your favorite band, but Dark Side of the Moon is a solid album and it’s better than everything else you have to choose from. You click Dark Side of the Moon in acceptance, but low and behold, there is only one song from that album (probably Money) and you are no better off than before.
I hate that position and over the years since the iPods invention, I have become very self-righteous about the integrity of an album. I have felt strongly that an album is a whole, or should be, and John Frusciantes To Record Only Water For Ten Days is getting chopped up. Three songs will remain after I am done, clearing room on my iPod for maybe another album or who knows what. I do not really feel bad about doing this since this album has been chopped up and scattered so much in its many different releases around the world. I don’t think John would mind.

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To Record Only Water For Ten Days was produced by John Frusciante. It was recorded in 2000.

Elliott Smith Either/Or

We all know how this story ended.

Either/Or was the last album that allowed Portland, Oregon to call Elliott Smith their own.  Gus Van Sant would go on to salt-and-pepper his Oscar-nominated film, Good Will Hunting, with a few of it’s tracks (not to mention one absent from the album itself that grabbed Smith a nomination of his own).  There are a few albums I consider “drinking albums”.  Either/Or is in the top 5, right behind Merle Haggard and in front of The National.  Over the past six-months I have been off the sauce and it has been even longer since I listened to Either/Or.  Usually, Either/Or was played late at night in my headphones, my head tiredly spinning after a night out drinking, skimming through it’s contents of songs that I felt related to myself and whatever craziness I was causing in my own life and others.  I was single, I was young, and I was very stupid.  I never really listened to what Elliott Smith was saying.  I was a very selfish listener, only seeing myself in the stories of Either/Or, seeing myself as the protagonist to this antagonistic world.  I never saw Smith himself.  I now believe that was because I rarely listened to this album sober.  Yesterday, I felt I heard Either/Or for the first time through Elliott Smith.

The opening of Either/Or is terribly subdued.  The image of a lonely child walking home from school with no friends to play with is one Elliott Smith conjures up often in his songs.  The listener feels that while no one has ever been unkind to Elliott Smith, no one ever really bothered to care about the sadness he carried.  The lonely child never got picked on or bullied, but no one invited him over to play after school.  The solitude of Elliott Smith’s playing, both vocally and instrumentally, permeate Either/Or.  For years, somehow I thought that Quasi (Sam Coomes and Janet Weiss) played back up band during the production of Either/Or, but I just found out Smith played all of the instruments himself.  Either/Or is an audio monument to solitude.

I believe the two strongest tracks on the album are it’s most basic.  Between the Bars and Angeles, with nothing more than Smith’s acoustic guitar and vocals.  They are songs that offer no self-pity or self-loathing, just a bleak sadness that nothing in this world will ever be as complete as the happy endings children dream about.  There is no innocence in either song.  There is no light.  There is only a crawling shadow overtaking a delicate dawn.

Smith dives straight into self-hatred and fascination with addiction on many other tracks.  Pictures of Me is probably the loudest song on the album.  A tale of someone staring into a blank coin-op television only to see the picture they least want, their reflection.  Smith’s metaphors are powerful and indicative to his low self-worth.  We have all known someone in our life who is gifted with all the talent in the world and seem to be wonderful in every way, but are stricken with grief of their own reluctance to embrace the great life that should be.  It is a sad story, and I can imagine that many people surrounding Elliott Smith felt that way when they heard his words.

The Beatles, specifically John Lennon’s, influence on Elliott Smith can be heard throughout Either/Or.  The vocals on each track are doubled and harmonized much like McCartney and Lennon, only it is Elliott Smith over Elliott Smith.  Say Yes, the closing track to Either/Or, is a sad love song along the lines of Norwegian Wood.  A love that was for a night but may never last.  The difference between The Beatles take on that and Elliott Smith’s is that he sees the reflection in the mirror as the reason.

I will always have a special place in my heart for Elliott Smith’s music.  It was a huge part of my life for many years, and each album has a special memory.  This album especially, as I have always maintained the personal (and very arrogant) opinion most of his music went to shit after XO.  Either/Or was very difficult for me to listen to again.  Maybe it is sobriety, but I doubt that.  Maybe I just like the impression of these songs, rather than the songs themselves.  Maybe I spent so much time injecting the person I was into these songs, that because I am now no longer that person, I have a hard time relating to them.  Maybe it’s because there have been so many shitty singer/songwriter children that have come along and watered down the similar sound (I’m looking at you Sufjan Stevens, Conor Oberst, and Josh Hodges).  Whatever it is, one thing remains true:  whether it is difficult to listen to or not, Either/Or is a damn good album.  It is subtle, smart, and beautiful.

There is a documentary that was done on Modest Mouse’s album, The Lonesome Crowded West, available on YouTube.  It’s pretty well put together, with interviews from some of the more popular names of the Pacific Northwest independent music during the mid-to-late-90′s.  Elliott Smith makes a brief appearance, standing outside on a sunny day smoking a cigarette.  He looks very reluctant to be in front of the amateur filmaker who is documenting him, giving an interview about a band he probably knows very little about.  The first thing he is asked is his name and what he does.  “My name is Elliott Smith and I play music.”  For a quick second, if you watch closely, he smiles to himself as he calmly drags on his cigarette.  The smile fades fast, and he stares back at the pavement, making abrupt and infrequent eye contact with the camera.  The interview is impromptu and poorly done, but there is something so haunting to me about it, and it was the only image I could think of as I listened to Either/Or again.  Those songs were so much like the person in that interview; so quiet and so awkward, with a happiness and hopefulness that was present but forever fleeting.

Stay or Go?  Stay.

Either/Or was produced by Elliott Smith, Tom Rothrock, and Rob Schnapf.  It was recorded in 1996.

Murs Murray’s Revenge

Murray’s Revenge, from the title and Murs expression on the cover, suggests an angry album.  Not at all.  Murray’s Revenge is excellent.  It is an upbeat, mostly positive, hip-hop album that is a pleasure to listen to.  Murray’s Revenge was recorded in collaboration with 9th Wonder, a professor in hip-hop, and provides some high energy production.

The soul songs that are sampled on this album are what make it great for me.  Murs has a lot to say, and the common denominator to his lyrics are women.  He loves his women but doesn’t take any shit, and if he has, he let’s the listener know that he should not have.  The lyrics go from praise to disdain to acceptance to praise.  Silly Girl is a track on the album where he and Joe Scudda go back and forth about girls who have mistreated them in the past.  There is not a hint of misogynist here, just a straight forward exchange about what they will and won’t put up with.  It’s a nice flow over Valerie Wilson’s “Silly Wasn’t I”.

Yesterday & Today is my favorite track on the album.  The beat is along with a beautiful song, “Yesterday I Lied, Today I Cried” with William Bell’s vocals serving as the course.  It’s a spiritual song from Murs.

Murray’s Revenge is not the deepest album I have listened to in a while.  The lyrics are well spoken and eloquent.  There is not one word of profanity, which is a first in my hip-hop listening.  I wish I had more to say about it, but I feel the less the better.  It’s an album that speaks for itself.  It’s positive, upbeat, funny, and very good.  Get yourself some Murs.

Oh, and by the way, 9th Wonder is a professor at Harvard.  A professor in hip-hop. I’m not kidding.

Stay or go?  Stay!

Murray’s Revenge was produced by 9th Wonder.  It was recorded in 2005 and 2006.

Radiohead Kid A

If you would like to read my post on Amnesiac, the somewhat sibling album of Kid A, you can do so here.  I would recommend it either before or after reading this entry, as I think it will help you understand and respect each album better.

Radiohead fans should have been issued a crystal ball with their copies of Kid A as they left the record store.  While listening to this album, they should have been allowed to look into this crystal ball and see future Radiohead albums Hail To the Thief, In Rainbows, and The King of Limbs.  If they knew what was to come, perhaps the fans that were let down so badly by Kid A (myself included) could take heart of what was to come.  Who knows, maybe the reason this album is so polarizing is many fans realized exactly what it was for Radiohead:  a jumping off point.  Some say it was commercial suicide, others proclaim it as a masterwork.  I was so, so, so disappointed in Kid A that I did not care what the fuck it was, I just wanted something more.  Fortunately for me, Amnesiac came out a year later, along with a live EP, and I realized Radiohead had not forgotten their rock and roll self.

One of the reasons I started 67 Days of Music was a hope of rediscovery.  This iPod of mine represents years of myself and music tastes and part of me was very nervous that I may find albums I have revered over the years have not stood the test of time.  I was also excited that perhaps some albums that initially put me off would look better to me after years of experience with other music.  I am happy to say that Kid A is one of those albums.  I really, really like Kid A now, and I feel like when I listen to it I am hearing it for the first time.

When I started writing about Amnesiac last week, I figured it would be easy and self-indulgent as it has always been one of my favorite albums.  Throughout this process I kept finding myself coming back to Kid A over and over because the two were recorded at the same time.  Over and over, I started to feel like I was writing more and more about Kid A.  Although they are both very different albums I think it is fascinating that these songs somehow coexisted in the studio with Radiohead.  In my opinion, it makes an even firmer case that Radiohead are absolute musical geniuses.  I wanted to write about Kid A while it was fresh in my head from exploring Amnesiac, and also wanted to share my new perspective.  I am very excited how new this album sounds to me.

The listener jumps right in with Everything In It’s Right Place.  It’s a flood of organ and synthesizer music rushing down, and if you listen just close enough you can hear Thom Yorke chanting Kid A in the background.  It goes from electronic mellow to a crescendo of almost madness, brass blaring sporadically through the background.  Thus begins Kid A, and the listener suddenly realizes Radiohead is not making you any promises and you will just have to sit and see what is in store.  The second track, the title track of the album, begins with a keyboard section that sounds similar to a jack-in-the-box over a distorted vocal section of whispers that sound somewhere between Thom Yorke and robotic.  I know that I use the word haunted a lot, but it really fits this song.

Now, upon rediscovering Kid A, I also feel vindicated in my distaste of The National Anthem.  I really do not like this song.  Never have, never will.  It’s so fucking boring.  It goes on, and on, and on with a heavy bass and guitar over everything.  It feels cluttered and forced and that’s all of the time I’m going to waste on it.

How To Disappear Completely is one of the better parts of Kid A.  I think it is a great track to signify this turning point in Radiohead’s history.  It’s a calmly, acoustic strung guitar with Thom Yorke in lullaby vocal form.  As he sings, a falling section of strings comes through almost like a flash of light and soon picks up like a roller coaster until the eventual climax of the song, where everything is lifted and Yorke’s voice carries you out.

Optimistic is rock and roll.  My favorite song on the album.  It’s like the listener has been in a haze of Kid A and now, six tracks in, the album is getting going.  It’s a great guitar riff that brings a new style of playing to Radiohead, but also brings back hints of The Bends and OK Computer.

Idioteque is the nexus of everything good Radiohead had done up to this point and where it would continue.  Heavy, heavy percussion and some sprinkled electronic elements.  A keyboard that sounds almost like feedback from an amp is very jarring but keeps the listener focused on where Idioteque is headed.  To me, it’s a message of everything wrong in this world, a sinking ship, and offers little hope, just the rage that everyone should feel.  It’s a very angry song, and although it’s tempo is rather slow, it feels like a frenzy.

Thom Yorke’s voice is a “love it or hate it” type of thing.  No one can argue that the man can sing.  The range of his voice and the high notes he can sustain are pretty impressive, but it’s not for everyone.  I love it and think it is perfect vocal compliment to the music Radiohead make, but The Morning Bell (and also the version on Amnesiac) make me understand why people hate it.  The Morning Bell is a very good song, but the vocals are wanky, almost jammy.  At a certain point the song becomes tiresome and you just want it to end.

Kid A, for years, was an album I skipped over on my iPod.  Radiohead is probably my favorite band, and you should never delete an album from your favorite band, but I thought when I went back because of this blog that might be exactly what I had to do.  I am thankful that I found something new to appreciate in Kid A.  This album is neither a masterwork or a disaster, just a good album that has a firm place in the Radiohead catalog.  Kid A also says something about the confidence of Radiohead as a band.  They did not compromise where they were at creatively to appease their label and fans.  They shared what they felt was the best of what they had at the time and sharply turned a corner which led them to some pretty great albums years down the road.

At least Kid A made people pay attention.

Kid A was produced by Nigel Godrich and Radiohead.  It was recorded in 1999.

Radiohead Amnesiac

Amnesiac was a significant turning point for my musical taste.  Learning to love Radiohead came about a few months earlier, right after I had moved to Seattle in late 2001.  I was a fish out of water from Montana.  Seattle is a difficult city to adapt to.  It is a very transient city, so anyone local is hesitant to let you into their life.  One of my coping mechanisms to exactly how “un-cool” I was was to lie about bands I liked or grasp onto any knowledge of new, lesser-known bands that were out there.  Also, I started to listen to more popular bands I had never given an ear to.  The universal love and appreciation of Radiohead was something I found as a gateway conversation to weary Seattleites.  The Bends is a pretty good album.  OK Computer is a classic.  OK Computer, to me, was ok.  Amnesiac is fucking brilliant.  I thank the snobbishness of Seattle for forcing me out of my musical comfort zone and into a world where I discovered music like this.

My fondest memories or Seattle are driving around in the winter with Amnesiac playing over the drops of rain hitting my windshield.  Seattle is one of the prettiest cities in the world, and despite how damp it gets at times, remains that way year-round.  I loved seeing the skyline with Amnesiac as the soundtrack, driving up over Capitol Hill and down to Eastlake.  Perhaps it is these memories that give me so much joy when I hear the opening sounds of Packt Like Sardines in a Crushed Tin Box, a hollow, metalergic sound with Thom Yorke’s insistent chanting.

Amnesiac was released hot off the heels of Kid A.  Kid A was a follow-up to one of the greatest albums ever made, OK Computer.  To me, Kid A was a huge letdown, and for the biggest reason that it followed OK Computer and I expected the world from Radiohead.  It is not terrible, but I felt upon many listens that Radiohead held too much back in favor of contrast.  All the songs on Amnesiac were recorded at the same time as Kid A, and although they are very different albums, the fact that they have the same birthday makes a lot of sense to me.  I could not find the quote online, but I remember one of Radiohead’s members explaining the Kid A-Amnesiac connection by thinking of it as a telephone conversation between two people, Kid A on one end of the line and Amnesiac on the other.

In no way, shape, or form is Amnesiac an orphanage for Kid A’s lost tracks.  It is an album on it’s own, and despite it not being anywhere near the popularity of Radiohead’s other albums, I feel it is one of their best.  It gives the listener a huge scope of music styles to enjoy.  The listener can almost feel Radiohead discovering another aspect of their sound as the album progresses.  Just when you think the album is slowing down, it picks back up and surprises again.

I consider two tracks on this album, Pyramid Song and I Might Be Wrong, to be my favorite songs from Radiohead.  Pyramid Song is a beautiful, lone piano forges into a melody of strings and Philip Selway’s fine drumming.  Philip Selway is Radiohead’s secret weapon, and he is a surgeon when it comes to filling in any voids and beefing up what the rest of the band contributes in a song.  Throughout Amnesiac, Philip Selway demonstrates a jazz-style precision to make each track sound clean and sharp.  In my opinion, I think it is one of Amnesiac’s strongest elements and without it would have been an album unraveled.  Thom Yorke’s eerie voice never sounded as harrowing in Pyramid Song.  The song never picks up tempo, but Yorke’s voice becomes more unrestrained and louder, causing the listeners heart to beat faster as it moves along.  The lyrics offer a picture of a world in darkness haunted by ancient Egyptian kings under a moon-full of stars and astral cars/All the things I used to see.  Radiohead are not often known for clarity in their lyrics, but the words from Thom Yorke are just as important in this song and hang in the atmosphere Pyramid Song creates to spook the listener.  I Might Be Wrong is guitar work at it’s purest.  Just a clean, cold riff, repeated over with only the slightest variation in the bridge and the chorus.  Another look into the half-empty glass Radiohead may or may not live in when it comes to the future of mankind or the planet Earth.  The person behind the microphone seems to offer some solace to himself, between lines of I used to think/There was no future left at all,  there jumps Hey, let’s have a good time/There’s nothing else wrong/there’s nothing at all.  The guitar work is layered, a duo of distortion and clarity, in a drop-D tune, climbing over one and other.  It is a haunted riff, Thom Yorke’s voice doubled up on itself, almost weeping in the chorus.

The cannibalism song, Knives Out, was the most radio-friendly song on Amnesiac.  It is a medley of The Smiths Johnny Marr-style guitar ala Johnny Greenwood.  The lyrics are probably some of the more morbid that Radiohead offers.  A tale of survival on a diet of rats and human remains in what I imagine to be some burnt-out, post apocalyptic house in a deserted city.  The musical elements of this song are light and airy guitar playing that contrast a darker image painted in Thom Yorke’s words.

Beautiful restraint is exercised throughout Amnesiac, and You and Whose Army? is case in point.  Light strumming over a slightly distorted Thom Yorke vocal.  The singer seems to be a man outside the gates of every world power challenging them to a fight.  Radiohead, in their music and extracurriculars, have never shied away from political critique.  This song seems to beg the listeners to recognize power is in the hands of the people and not the illusionary bodies of government.  Holy Roman Empire, quietly muttered by Thom Yorke, is a powerful phrase in this context, representing the two polar regions of what government can be in it’s greatest and how it can rot from the inside out.

Amnesiac ends with Life in a Glasshouse.  This track is mostly Humphrey Lyttleton Band.  It ties the underlying musical jazz elements up in a neat box and sends Amnesiac out on an incredibly cool end.  For some reason, it feels like the least jazzy track on the album, even though it is the least Radiohead-like track.  Thom Yorke sends the listener out Well, of course I’d like to sit around and chat/Well, of course I’d like to stay and chew the fat/But someone’s listening.  Amnesiac ends with a haunting trumpet and horn section fading into nothing.  Life in a Glasshouse sounds like a funeral procession, and after the listener has gone through the ash-strewn world of Amnesiac, it feels appropriate that a song would conjure up feelings of a long rest ahead.

Stay or Go?  Stay

Amnesiac was produced by Nigel Godrich and Radiohead.  It was recorded between 1999-200.