Back in fighting trim following a one-album crash landing in Prozacworld, R.E.M. — arguably the most influential (if not the most important) American band of the past two decades, and the band whose map for moving from humble beginnings to massive success ought to be certified by Rand McNally, it’s so widely used (look no further than the platinum-plated triumphs of Matchbox Twenty, Augustana, Fall Out Boy, and The Fray — among a hundred others — if you doubt that) — is back, and triumphantly so, with their 14th full-length record, the dizzily edgy Accelerate. Gone almost entirely (save a couple of acoustic-leaning tunes in the disc’s back half) are the languid, esoteric ballads that dominated (and, especially with the latter, quite nearly sunk) their last two efforts (2001’s brooding, introspective Reveal and 2004’s dreary, sluggish Around the Sun), and in their place, a handful of lean, mean, guitar-swamped rock tunes (average song length: just over three minutes) that harken back to the Murmur / Life’s Rich Pageant days.
the Buzz for June 2008
- Adorning the new Sigur Rós album is a nifty sticker which thankfully offers an English translation of the disc’s title. Just in case you’re curious, Meo Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust is Icelandic for “With a Buzz in Our Ears, We Play Endlessly.” Have you any idea how much better I feel armed with this information? Now if I could translate the song titles!
- If you have not yet picked up the new Edwin McCain record (Nobody’s Fault But Mine, a collection of classic soul covers), be sure to grab it at Borders, whose exclusive version contains a bluesy rendition of “Love T.K.O.”
Separately, they are Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement; together, they are Flight of the Conchords, New Zealand’s fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo acapella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo — that’s according to them, mind you, and you’ll likely just have to take their word for it, although, seriously: wouldn’t you kill to see who makes up the top three? — and thanks to the ultra-dry, hilariously deadpan HBO comedy series that bears their name (not to mention their self-titled debut album, which just landed in Billboard’s top ten), they might just be the Southern Hemisphere’s hottest import this side of the eternally divine Olivia Newton-John.
The television series — of sorts, a roman à clef, but played strictly for laughs — follows Bret and Jemaine as they move to New York City to try and make a dent in the American music scene. The loopy, arrhythmic pilot, in which the guys decide their ticket to success is a music video — “like Daft Punk!” — and find their friendship on shaky ground after Jemaine falls for a former girlfriend of Bret’s (played by the marvelous Rachel Blanchard, forever beloved as that ordinary girl Cher Horowitz in that ill-fated 1996 television adaptation of Clueless), might just be the funniest half-hour of madcap insanity since Kramer rescued from a dumpster (and, hysterically, recreated in his apartment) the old set of “The Merv Griffin Show” ten years ago. (No question, the sight of the smitten Clement singing the inanely hysterical “The Most Beautiful Girl in the Room” — “in the whole wide room,” he helpfully adds — to the seemingly oblivious Blanchard will leave you falling from the sofa and gasping for air.)
Conchords, the album, is very much a soundtrack for the series, and so long as you understand up front that this duo is definitely not out to save the world with their music — visualize, if you can, a much cheekier Barenaked Ladies, with that unmistakable Canadian twang swapped out for broad Aussie accents — but rather spread a little mindless joy like so much jam across a slice of dry toast, you’ll do just fine.
“How is she 15 and sounds like she’s been smoking for 40 years?”
— Kathy Griffin, riffing on Miley Cyrus’ inimitably scratchy voice in last week’s Entertainment Weekly
My buddy Chip sent me an fabulous email this afternoon, the opening paragraph from which reads as follows:
“I am ripping [Tori Amos’ classic albums] Little Earthquakes and To Venus and Back today. Finally, the gaping hole in my music collection is filled.”
Have you any idea what kind of good this news does to my battered soul? Most seriously, does it not feel as though an angel was just granted his wings?
A Buzz-centric conversation with A a couple of nights ago led to a positively stellar idea, the fruits of which you are mere moments from enjoying.
I asked A if this blog lacked something, or if there was an additional feature he wanted to see, and he told me that, although he relishes the longer new album posts, the one thing he misses from the Tips is an overview of each week’s major music releases. (Which totally cracks me the hell up, because he doesn’t buy records!) To help rectify this issue, A suggested that I begin composing a regular bullet-points column to direct my readers’ attention toward each Tuesday’s worthy new music. (Sherry Ann has given me similar feedback.)
I found this idea to be a fabulous one, and something that seemed easy enough to construct. So, to that end, I offer you Tuesdays in the Record Store with Brandon, Vol. 1. Herewith, a handy pocket guide to the music that requires your attention this week:
“When I wanted good wine at five, and I knew that the grape juice I was taking in communion was crap. And I was like, ‘No. I want what Jacques Cousteau is drinking on that boat, that’s what I want.'”
— the divinely warped Tori Amos, in a 1999 interview on Canada’s MuchMusic Television, responding to a veejay who asked her when she first realized she saw the world a bit differently than everyone else
A Canadian bubblegum pop star in her teens, and a misunderstood (and, to a large extent, mischaracterized) angry young female (and, at that, one who singlehandedly touched off a deafening revolution for women in rock) in her twenties, the tenaciously divine Alanis Morissette has mellowed markedly as she navigates her thirties, though that fact may not be immediately evident upon first listen to Flavors of Entanglement, Morissette’s texturally dense eighth studio album. Inspired by her brutal breakup with actor Ryan Reynolds, Entanglement finds its author being lured into intriguing new sonic territory by producer Guy Sigsworth (co-writer of Seal’s 1991 classic debut “Crazy,” and best known for his striking work with the lovably psychotic Imogen Heap), who grafts rougher-hewn guitars and touches of electronica onto Morissette’s typically untidy prose.
“My philosophy of life has always been: anything that is not nailed down is mine, and anything I can pry loose… is not nailed down.”
— acclaimed science fiction auteur Harlan Ellison, in deep conversation with Tom Snyder in 1995
In 1996, as a nifty way to help bridge the excruciating three-year gap between her critical breakthrough (the sultry slow burn Fumbling Towards Ecstasy) and her commercial arrival (the Lilith-fueled smash Surfacing), Sarah McLachlan released Rarities, B-Sides, and Other Stuff, a collection of little-heard remixes, covers, and original tracks anchored by her knockout take on Joni Mitchell’s legendary touchstone “Blue.” And now, twelve years later, McLachlan returns to that well with Rarities…,Vol. 2, the title of which is a probable misnomer: seeing as she’s a hell of a lot more famous now than she was back then, a great many of this album’s songs aren’t quite so rare.
Which is not to say you won’t enjoy them all the same. Included here are a trio of motion picture soundtrack contributions — “Ordinary Miracle,” from 2006’s Charlotte’s Web; “Blackbird,” from 2002’s I Am Sam; and what stands as perhaps the finest vocal performance of her entire career (I’d only put Fumbling‘s magnificent “Good Enough” ahead of it, and even then, with great hesitation), the Academy Award-nominated “When She Loved Me,” from 1999’s Toy Story 2 — and a litany of superstar collaborations — among others, a duet with Cyndi Lauper on a remake of Lauper’s 1984 classic “Time After Time” (which appeared on Lauper’s 2005 record The Body Acoustic); a live rendition of “Angel” with special guest Emmylou Harris; and a team-up with my crazy best friend’s favorite new band The Perishers, on a harrowing track called “Pills” (a handy link for which can be found here, Sherry Ann). To be sure, this latest installment of Rarities doesn’t fully sate the need for a new Sarah studio album (and not counting Wintersong, McLachlan’s 2006 Christmas album, it’s been five loooong years and counting), but if you missed one or more of these tunes the first time around (or if you would simply like to have them all in one compact collection), there are certainly far worse expenditures of your time.
“Don has an incredible ability to get a message across and be entertaining at the same time. That’s such an important component of the band. You can’t just go tadummm — ‘We’re all going to hell in a Hummer’ — tadummm. Not being contrived like that is what sets us apart. Without Don, we’d just be love songs and harmonies. We’d be Air Supply.”
— Eagles legend Glenn Frey, describing in a Rolling Stone cover story Don Henley’s significance to the band.
If nothing else, at least she had the good sense to leave Tom Waits’ true classics alone.
As interesting a concept as it is at heart, I’m not sure the world at large was crying out en masse for a covers album of Waits tunes, and certainly not one performed by a young woman who, no matter how limp and uninspired she is as an actress, proves definitively inside of eight bars that she’s an even worse singer. Nevertheless, Scarlett Johansson (she of Lost in Translation and The Virgin Suicides and The Horse Whisperer) has given us Anywhere I Lay My Head, a tepid collection of lesser-known Waits compositions that might just be the aural equivalent of a burst appendix.
Even understanding that Waits himself couldn’t sing his way out of any given shower — vocal prowess was never his trump card — Johansson’s work on Anywhere stands as a marvel of godawful execution. Every song sounds as if she shouted all the lyrics through the recording studio’s ventilation system and left the mics to capture whatever they could; even on the record’s lone interesting track, “Falling Down,” you can scarcely make out a word she’s singing.
The entire project is a wall-to-wall disaster, made all the more shameful by remembering just how many brilliant Tom Waits covers — Rod Stewart’s peerless take on “Downtown Train,” for example, or Tori Amos’ heartwrenching reading of “Time,” or Shawn Colvin’s bittersweet version of “Ol’ 55” — are already in existence. And as you’re reaching for the Aleve at album’s end, you’re left only to be unspeakably grateful that Johansson, in her impossibly arrogant vanity, didn’t decide to tackle those as well.
Today, the Buzz leaps across the pond to acquaint you with three young women who are all gorgeous, who each have hot new albums to promote, and who are collectively the most sizzling British imports (one of them, crazy enough, by way of Stockholm) this side of fish and chips.
Her given name is Robin Carlsson, but you’ll probably recognize her better as Robyn. In the spring of 1997, with “MMMBop” and “Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)” leading the charge as the earth-shattering teen pop explosion was just gathering its initial head of steam, Robyn slipped in quietly through the back door with a pair of ridiculous-but-fun radio singles (the bouncy “Do You Know (What It Takes),” with that irresistibly stupid “always be uh-reowwwwwwnd” refrain, and its follow-up, the slightly meatier “Show Me Love”), and, although it seemed as though an instant pop star had been minted, all she ultimately succeeded in doing was niftily foreshadowing the momentous arrival of Miss Britney a mere twelve months later.