Monday, August 14, 2017

McQ's #57 Song Of 2015 - ROCK & ROLL IS COLD - Matthew E. White

It was a quite a year for Matthew E. White.

For starters, the multi-faceted Virginian produced singer-songwriter Natalie  Prass's lovely self-titled debut, which we will hear more about later in this countdown.

But between those production duties and running his own record label, White also managed to release his own second LP, the short, to the point Fresh Blood, and on that LP was one of my favorite throwawy tracks of the year, the joyous Rock & Roll Is Cold.

A silly, gimmicky play on words and our love of various music genres, it's the farthest thing from a deep, heavy song, but its bouyancy and sense of celebration is near irrestible.

Here's the official video.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

McQ's #57 Song Of 1967 - LAZY ME - Moby Grape

Coming in at #57 in our top songs of 1967 countdown, one of only three of the thirteen tracks from Moby Grape's legendary self-titled debut that was not released as a single, Lazy Me.

In hindsight, it's easy to see why Lazy Me was one of the few songs on the debut Columbia did not rally behind.

 Released just as the Summer Of Love and pyschedelic music was hitting peak popularity in June of 1967, the album was specifically marketed to the hippie/pro-drug-experimentation crowd, but Lazy Me, though itself an exploration of the acid-fueled headspace, not to mention a searing two-minute soul jam featuring some knock-out acoustic and electric guitar work, presented a much darker view of the LSD experience, closing each short verse with a couplet that suggested there were no real answers to be found in such substance-driven explorations, only apathy and decay.

Given how quickly the "Summer Of Love" in San Francisco devolved from a genuine utopian cultural moment at summer's start to a crime-riddled, near humanitarian crisis by summer's end, the song feels cleared-eyed and prescient when compared to the more hopeful, optimistic tone found in the majority of the year's other psychedelic songs, the very anti-thesis say, of Scott McKenzie's San Francisco.

Friday, August 4, 2017

McQ's #58 Album Of 2015 - BIRDS SAY - Darlingside

Stepping away from high profile, internationally recognized releases for a moment, Birds Say, our number 58 album of 2015, comes from a young Massachussetts indie-folk/bluegrass quartet still in the early stages of breaking their way into the listening public and music industry's consciousness.

In fact, I still probably wouldn't know who they are today if it weren't for fellow New Englander Patty Griffin, who asked Darlingside to join her on her 2015 Servent Of Love tour (more on that album in a few weeks). My wife and I were lucky enough to catch both acts in their November 2015 performance on the outdoor stage at Pioneertown's legendary Pappy & Harriets, and as soon as I saw Darlingside, I knew I would want to include a piece of their music in our 2015 collection.

So I bought their merch. And boy, am I glad I did.

The music in Birds Say is far from earth-shattering - basically straighforward contemporary indie-folk that falls very much in the broad male-harmony-driven camp that includes the likes of Fleet Foxes, Trampled By Turtles, Local Natives, and Mumford & Sons -  but at the end of the day, the band just harmonizes beautifully.  We're talking jaw-droppingly well, both live and on record, and that one talent basically overpowers whatever flaws of inexperience (of which, at times, their are many) exists in their music.

What emerges, then, is a light, positive, very well-produced collection of acoustic songs. Songs that are more pleasant than impactful, but that do portend of better things to come for the band as it continues to push forward, sharpen their vision, and grow.

For me, the crowd-pleasing White Horses and sad, Celtic-tinged, immigrant tale The God Of Loss are the definite standouts, though if you can ignore the clunky lyrics, Do You Ever Live is a definite musical/melodic highlight. My Gal, My Guy, the most Fleet Fox-y of the songs here, probably has the album's best melody line, but is diminished slightly by a weak extended ending.

If you're cherry picking, skip the sticky safe title track and Volcano Sky, a failed attempt at an epic pentultimate closer, but otherwise, the rest of the tracks on the record, are, like the band as a whole, quite agreeable and well worth hearing.

Status: Mild Recommend

Cherry Picker's Best Bets: White Horses, My Gal, My Guy, The God Of Loss, Do You Ever Live.

Track Listing:
1. The Ancestor - 7
2. White Horses - 8
3. Harrison Ford - 7
4. Clay & Cast Iron - 7
5. Go Back - 7
6. My Gal, My Guy - 8
7. Birds Say - 6
8. The God Of Loss - 8
9. Water Rose - 7
10. Do You Ever Live - 7
11. She's All Around - 7
12. Volcano Sky - 5
13. Good For You - 7
Intagibles - Average

Here's the official videos for my favorite two tracks on the album, White Horses and The God Of Loss.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

McQ's #58 Song Of 2015 - IN FOR THE KILL - Shamir

Coming in at #58 in our best songs of 2015 countdown, In For The Killmy favorite track from young genderqueer Las Vegan Shamir Bailey's Rachet, one of my favorite 2015 synth-pop albums.

And while much of the emphasis when talking about Shamir focuses on his gender identity or the equally fluid, hard to pin down in traditional genres nature of his music, my enthusiasm for In For The Kill comes from a much less complicated place.

I just love that crazy, off-kilter opening horn line and how it sets the musical tone for everything that follows in the song.

Monday, July 17, 2017

McQ's #58 Song Of 1967 - CAN'T TAKE MY EYES OFF OF YOU - Frankie Valli

Coming in at #58 in our best songs of 1967 countdown, Frankie Valli's iconic pop standard Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You, cowritten by Bob Crewe and Frankie's Four Seasons bandmate Bob Gaudio.

Armed with its irresistible, endearingly schmaltzy "I love you, baby!" chorus, the song would become a Vegas / Cruise Ship / Wedding Band standard for decades to come, and was the biggest solo hit of Valli's solo career (peaking at number 2 on the 1967 weekly charts), until My Eye's Adored You became an even bigger charter for Valli in 1974.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

McQ's #59 Album Of 2015 - WHAT WENT DOWN - Foals

Foals is a talented band: An at-times inspired live act with serious chops, a knock-out rhythm section,  and a unique guitar sound built on the heavy use of harmonic tones; able anthemists capable of nailing classic Brit-rock crescendos; gifted sonic engineers who can claim some of the best produced songs of the decade (see Spanish Sahara from Total Life Forever or Late Night from Holy Fire) in their discography.

But they've also always flirted with blandness - average on their best day lyricists working fairly conventional catharthis-rock/arena-rock tropes lead by a brooding, aloof frontman with an occassionally effective but for the most part limited, less-effette Robert Smith voice - and unfortunately on their fourth time at bat, as the god-awful cover to their 2015 album What Went Down implies, blandness often wins the day.

That's not to say What Went Down is all bad.  There is some fantastic stuff here.

The title track finds the band returning to the metal-tinged direction first pursued on Holy Fire's Inhaler to promising effect, Snake Oil is a probably even better badass nut puncher, London Thunder closes in on some of that Spanish Sahara/Late Night magic, and Mountains At My Gate proves the band is still capable, when firing on all cylinders, to deliver a near perfect track.

But for the rest of the album the pickings are limited.  Albatross, though it sports the album's worst lyrics, is a fairly fun charger, but it reminds me of those harder-rocking, late career efforts by U2, Coldplay, and Midnight Oil in that while the band's instrumental talents, production skills, and sense of dynamics are too seasoned for the song to be a complete washout, the end result is just so much cheesier than what's come in years before. Several other songs (Give It All and A Knife In The Ocean) start with fairly intriquing opening verses (where lead singer Yannis Philipakkis is often at his best), but then devolve into bland choruses (where Philipakkis is usually at his worst).

Suffice it to say, though it's still better than many records I heard in 2015, and the band's sense of sonics and dynamics remain fairly awesome, What Went Down is my least favorite Foals album to date.  It may be technically better and more accomplished than their enthusiastic but uneven, jittery dance-driven debut Antidotes, but it lacks that album's youthful sense of mission, instead conveying the impression of a still formidable but road weary band who haven't yet given up the fight, but whose best days and best ideas might be behind them.

Let's hope I'm wrong, because this band has intermittently thrilled me both on stage and on record over the last decade. I want them to close out with something stronger than this.

Status: Mild Recommend

Cherry Picker's Best Bets: What Went Down, Mountain At My Gates, Snake Oil, London Thunder.

Track Listing:
1. What Went Down - 8
2. Mountain At My Gates - 9
3. Birch Tree - 6
4. Give It All - 6
5. Albatross - 7
6. Snake Oil - 8
7. Night Swimmers - 7
8. London Thunder - 8
9. Lonely Hunter - 7
10. A Knife In The Ocean - 7
Intangibles - Average To Slightly Low

Here are the offical videos for the album's opening two tracks, What Went Down and Mountain At My Gates.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

CONCERT REVIEW: U2 At The Rosebowl, Sunday May 21, 2017

With the possible exception of Bruce Springsteen, I can think of no other legendary band, so critically celebrated and adored by their own generation, that has been so firmly and completely rejected by the next.  We're not talking a normal level of disinterest here, as all generations feel to some degree for their parent's music.  No, with U2, we're talking abject millenial hatred.

Why, who knows.

If I had to guess, Pitchfork, with their unrelenting anti-classic-roc lean, has probably played a part, and clearly the band's tepid post-All That You Can't Leave Behind output hasn't helped.

Or maybe there's just something to the preachy, over-striving, baby-boomer earnestness of Bono/U2 and The Boss that rubs the less-grandiose-in-their-thinking millenials the wrong way,  and by extension then Pitchfork's attitude toward both acts is merely a reflection of this generational divide rather than a misguided taste-making forward charge.

But what millenials will probably never  quite understand is how completely right both Springsteen and U2 felt for their moment (I mean, sensitive, do-gooder, male earnestness was were it was at in the mid-80s - it's no accident Kevin Costner and U2's careers peaked and ebbed at the same times) - and never was U2 more completely connected to its audience than with its Brian Eno-sheparded masterpiece - The Joshua Tree.

So for me, an unabashed fan, it was with great excitement that I ventured with wife and friends to catch the band's Sunday Rose Bowl performance of their 1987 classic.

And what a fantastic show it turned out to be.

After a near-hour-long, engaging warm-up set by Colorado's Lumineers, the band finally took the stage - or rather the small secondary stage designed to look like a reflection of the Joshua Tree pattern that topped the set's huge projection screen - and launched into an opening assault for the ages.

BAM, BAM, BAM - Sunday, Bloody Sunday, New Year's Day, Pride - all knocked out with zero production assistance and as much force and tenacity as I've ever heard the band bring to them live.

It was, without question, one of the strongest starts to a live concert I've experienced.  We were on our feet, ecstatic.

And then it was time for the Joshua Tree.

Things kept on a clicking at an extremely high level through the first four tracks of TJT - Where The Streets Have No Name, I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For, With Or Without You, and a positively badass rendition of Bullet The Blue Sky. And the video production work was awesome, in a deliberately reflective way as suits the majority of the material from the album.

Rather than hit us with all manner of flashing pyrotechnics (Bullet The Blue Sky, Exit, and a couple encore numbers excepted), the massive screen primarily favored long, flowing shots of vast vistas - a never ending dirt road through Joshua Tree park for Where The Streets Have No Name, vast desert expanses for I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For and With Or Without, etc., etc,.  The early visuals were frankly awe inspiring, and did so much to put the themes of the album into clear focus.

But then, with Running To Stand Still, the show did hit a bit of lull over the next five songs.  At the heart of the problem was not the band, who were sharp throughout, but Bono's live singing, which is highly spotaneous and a bit too often, late, especially for the gentler more nuanced tracks of the album's second half like RTSS, Red Hill Mining Town (which received an all new brass anchored arrangement that many loved but I thought was the low moment of the entire show), and One Tree Hill.

Also, just a thought, but I don't understand why U2 always goes it alone stage, rather than bringing on additional musicians for those songs that will benefit from the added orchestration like so many contemporary acts follwing in the band's footsteps do.

But back to the Joshua Tree, In God's Country was excellent with that killer bass line and the stage's Joshua Tree all of a sudden glowing in psychedelic colors, and Trip Through Your Wires, always my least favorite of the Joshua Tree tracks, was actually damn good, though it provided the set's weakest video production moments.

But then Bono donned a hat right off of Robert Mitchum's head from Night Of The Hunter, and jumped into the strongest and most pyrotechnically flamboyant song of the entire show, Exit. An eleagic Mother's Of The Disappeared with a gorgeous slowly evolving back visual of a bunch of third world mother's somberly holding candles for lost loved ones closed out the Joshua Tree portion of the show, and after a kinda long break, it was on to the encores.

For the first encore, we got a politically charged version of Miss Sarajevo recast against recently shot footage of a Syrian refuge camp, and then a fabulous rendition of Bad, one of really only two ballads on the night, along with With Or Without You, to emerge unscathed from Bono's timing issues.

The final encore, while featuring mostly excellent performances of slightly more recent material Beautiful Day, Elevation, One, Ultraviolet and then second encore of BD, E, One, UV, and finally a new track, The Little Things That Give You Away - did get bogged down in too much, all-over-the-map, political messaging, and the visuals of female pioneers set to Ultraviolet, while an admirable gesture, were so busy they detracted from the song.

But those quibbles aside, this was for the most part an wonderful night of music - one in which the hard charging rockers consistently outshone the gentler material, but that overall left me feeling nothing but satisfied.

Not sure how much longer they are on tour, but if you can still catch them in this interation, do! This was the strongest tour they've put together in quite some time.

Here's fan captured videos of the first three songs from The Joshua Tree portion of the show.