Category Archives: Thoughts on Music

Musical Journey Part 7 – The Ramones

THE RAMONES by Jonathan Odom

For an explanation of what this pretentious rubbish is, click here. Most of these bands are obvious. But then that’s kinda the point.

From: Jonathan Odom
Sent: 21 July 2008 10:56
To: Ben Smith
Cc: Chris Stoneman; John Klein; Bradbeer, Alexander; Nick Maple
Subject: RE: Musical Journey : The Ramones

The Ramones are the first punk band, period. They were emulated by the Sex Pistols, The Buzzcocks, The Clash, and pretty much every other band in the genre up until it split with Blondie and the Talking Heads branches. The bandSuicide (a little known NYC Ramones contemporary act, who hopefully will come up later, my second favorite punk band) were the first ones to call their music “punk music” on a flier for a show in 1972, but the ramones are widely accepted by the greats as the founders of the genre- the first band to play the signature 3 or 4 chord riff with simple drum beats and raw, angry vocals.

They are comprised of 4 poor, decidedly ugly guys from a shitty neighborhood in Queens with musical technique on par with any 6th grader’s first month of guitar lessons. Dee Dee can’t sing and play bass at the same time, so Joey becomes the singer. Their instruments are shit but it really doesn’t matter because they can barely play them anyway. They sing about Dee Dee unsuccessfully trying to turn tricks in the song “53rd and 3rd”, about the little bastard rich kids that Joey has to deal with at his doorman job in “Beat on the Brat”, about the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, about the Nazis bombing the hell out of europe in “Blitzkrieg Bop”, and so on. 4 guys with shitty lives in one of the worst places in american history (new york in the 70’s) singing about what they know with nothing but their love of music and frustration to float on. Genius.

They grew up listening to pop music on the radio, Beach Boys, Beatles, Motown, etc; and didn’t realize until they were approached by him that Phil Spector had produced the bulk of their favorite music. He then produced End of the Century for them. During the recording session he physically abuses the engineer, curses and insults the band every day, and pulls a gun on Dee Dee and demands he play a riff over and over (thanks wikipedia). The album is probably their worst because spector polishes it so much. The whole point of this band is that they might as well be doing it in an abandoned warehouse in the east village with 1 microphone and a tape player, because there’s not much sonically going on.

They write solid pop music (as seems to be a recurring theme in everything so far) by all accounts. It’s raw, energetic lower class angst and real, unmitigated life experiences set to simple 4-chord riffs. They paved the way for the previously mentioned greats, particularly The Clash who in my opinion surpassed them in many ways, and of course Joy Division – England’s greatest gift to the world. Bands like the Red Hot Chili Peppers have been quoted as saying “… when you heard The Ramones, you thought ‘hey, i could do that…'” The Ramones loosed the fetters created by the likes of Led Zeppelin, Queen, and countless other arena rock bands comprised of oxford educated musical geniuses. The Ramones are the musical equivalent of Marcel Duchamp and his urinal “sculpture”, art can now be anything- now let the rest of the world sort it out.

Like most of the bands on the list so far, you’ll know a lot of the songs when you hear them, you just never knew it was The Ramones. There are a ton of greatest hits records, those are usually the ones to go for since the record as a whole doesn’t really make a difference with these guys. Some favorite tracks:

Cretin Hop
Blitzkrieg Bop
Beat on the Brat
Judy is a Punk
53rd and 3rd
I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend
Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue

enjoy-

Spotify Playlist here.

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Musical Journey Part 6 – Bruce Springsteen

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN by Nick Maple

For an explanation of what this pretentious rubbish is, click here. Most of these bands are obvious. But then that’s kinda the point.

From: Nick Maple
Sent: 18 July 2008 16:57
To: Ben Smith
Cc: Chris Stoneman; John Klein; Bradbeer, Alexander; Jonathan Odom
Subject: RE: Musical Journey : Bruce Springsteen

I’m a simple man- music needs to tell a story or create images that I can identify with. I have never found a band or singer that gets a story across in a song as well as Springsteen and while I can never pretend to identify with the plight of the poor and downtrodden in new jersey over the last 30 years, there is something intrinsically universal about the themes Bruce sings about. Whether its family bond, community, or heartache, the imagery from the stories he creates is unbelievably vivid.

I will also not pretend I know all hiss albums inside out. He has done many proper ‘rock’ albums, but I’ve always identified more with the quieter, reflective ones. This email is more about this side of Bruce, not that I don’t enjoy the sing along anthems, especially live.

Track list

You have to start with the classic ‘Born In The USA’ album. While not my favourite, the lyrics are still quite startling and angry even by today’s standards. He’s raging about Vietnam and the treatment of the poor, which makes most of the US reaction to it at the time slightly bizarre, as they viewed the album as a classic slice of rock Americana.

Please listen to track 5, ‘Downbound Train’ over and over again , as it pretty much sums up everything I love about him.

Nebraska

If after listening to this you don’t like it, then you might not have a soul. If on the other hand you do like it, then I think we can be best buddies for ever. One of my favourite albums of all time, if not Number One. Bleak and harrowing at times, and yet has that classic undertone of hope. Reminds me of a Steinbeck novel.

Listen to-

Highway patrolman

Nebraska

Atlantic city

Reason to believe

Devils and Dust

A stripped down album, and the first real sign that Bruce’s voice is only gonna get better with age. In ten years his voice will be amazing and will be remembered along side Johnny Cash. Fact.

Listen to-

Maria’s bed

Reno

Silver palomino

Devils and dust

We Shall Overcome – The Seeger Sessions

My understanding is this album was recorded completely live in a studio in one take. The great thing about this is you can hear in the songs Bruce shouting when sections need to come in, i.e “Wind!” or “Horns!”. Epic. Completely different to his other albums as they are all covers of Seegar songs or sea shanties but soooo good.

Listen to-

Mrs McGrath

O Mary don’t you weep

My Oklahoma home

America land

The Ghost Of Tom Joad

Will be honest, have only been listening to this album for a while but please listen to the title track and ‘Highway 29.’ Monster.

Albums like ‘The Rising’ (with the E Street Band) and ‘Born To Run’ are great but reckon you should try the above first.

Obviously this is all only my opinion. Feel slightly embarrassed writing about an American institution to two Americans but hey ho. Secondly I know very little about him personally and why he wrote a style of album when he did – but then I think that’s not really the point. Please give a moment to listen to ‘Nebraska’ in full with no distractions and I think you’ll get to know what he’s all about.

Sorry this has turned into a bit of a love in. Tried not to. Failed.

Further listening: Decembrists’ ‘Crane Wife’ and Hold Steady’s ‘Boys and Girls In America’

A lovely addition from Nick there, I’m sure you’d agree. Thanks to this post, and other rants (Jamie Atkins was the first by several years), I got into The Boss and a year later found myself enjoying one of the greatest gigs of my entire life at Glastonbury 2009, a snippet of which can be seen above. The choice of song may be obvious, but I’d heard this song a million times before hearing it properly and falling for it.

And yes, in case you were thinking it, at 2:52 that is Alex ‘Sandy’ Bradbeer held above the crowd, with me just in front posing in my fabled festival shirt and Kiwi Bin himself nearby. Nick had upgraded to living in an Ecuadorian slum by this point, but thanks are still due. Thanks Nick.

For a full Spotify playlist of all the songs mentioned above, click here.

The highways jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive,
Everybodys out on the run tonight but there’s no place left to hide,
Together Wendy we’ll live with the sadness,
I’ll love you with all the madness in my soul,
WOAH
Someday girl I don’t know when, we’re gonna get to that place,
Where we really want to go and we’ll walk in the sun,
But till then tramps like us, baby we were born to run.

Musical Journey Part 5 – The Beach Boys

THE BEACH BOYS

For an explanation of what this pretentious rubbish is, click here. Most of these bands are obvious. But then that’s kinda the point.

From: Chris Stoneman
Sent: 17 July 2008 14:27
To: Ben Smith
Cc: Maple, Nicholas; John Klein; Bradbeer, Alexander; Jonathan Odom
Subject: RE: Musical Journey : The Beach Boys

It had to be done at some point, I’m gonna sporadically dive into this whenever I get the chance, and write until my fingers bleed without a second of thought, probably a sentence at a time as the mean people here allow me the odd second to myself. The link. Steve Merrit had a nose. So does Brian Wilson. They also both love melody. Apparently.

Some facts. The Beach Boys are the brothers Brian, Carl and Dennis Wilson, cousin Mike Love, and schoolfriend Al Jardine. This email will probably end up L O N G. Brian Wilson is a genius. He’s also deaf in one ear because his dad punched him, hence all the music The Beach Boys produced is in mono. If he or any of his brothers were naughty, their father would take off his eye patch, hold their face in front of his gaping eye socket (which had never really healed well), and make them stare into it for a full minute. TRUE. OK, that’s enough facts.

There’s very few bands where this is the case, but with The Beach Boys the best place to start is the greatest hits. You’ll know them all already, but listen to them properly and you’ll fall in love with them for ever. ‘Don’t Worry Baby’ is the answer to ‘The Ronettes’ hit ‘Be My Baby’, Brian Wilson’s favourite song of all time. ‘California Girls’ has the most intricate first 20 seconds ever (which most people NEVER notice) and makes up for the songs appalling lyrics (penned by Mike Love of course). ‘Surfer Girl’ shows off Brians amazing falsetto voice, which he was criticized for at the time because it was ‘girly.’ ‘God Only Knows’ is often billed as the greatest song ever (I’m not sure about that, but Carl’s vocal is certainly incredible). And ‘Good Vibrations’ took a year to make, and is officially the most amount of music possible to squeeze onto a record at the time, as shortly afterwards they were forced to invent a new type of vinyl. And is incredible. OK.

The story is long, fascinating, and well worth knowing. Wikipedia it or something, because I really haven’t got time to do it justice, and the facts are amazing enough so it doesn’t have to be told in any imaginative way, hence wiki will suffice. Here’s it in brief sentences though, as I’ve previously written part of this before and it needs to be included.

Beach Boys get popular. Tour world. Make amazing pop. Brian begins to copy producer Phil Spector. Brian explores more interesting paths. Brian takes drugs. Brian quits touring to take more drugs, do more interesting things, and listen to more Phil Spector records. The result is Side 2 of the album ‘Today’. It becomes evident that Mike Love is a c*nt. The Beatles make Rubber Soul in answer to it, and then Revolver. Brian gets jealous cos they’re amazing. Brian made ‘Pet Sounds’. Pet Sounds was/is one of the defining moments in moment pop music, and (obviously) sold poorly. Brian got upset. Beatles got jealous at Pet Sounds. Beatles copied Brian and quit touring to live in the studio, and made Sgt Pepper. Sgt Pepper was also rather good. Brian starts work on ‘Smile’, a musical journey across America, encompassing it’s soul and spirit in 45 minutes of pop music. Brian continued on Smile. And continued. It is still evident that Mike Love is a c*nt. Leonard Bernstein, famous for his weekly documentaries on classical music and hatred of popular music, visits the world of pop for the first and last time ever, by showing Brian doing this (there’s no video for the first minute or so) on national TV. Brian makes an orchestra wear fire helmets while recording music for a song designed to capture ‘fire’ in musical form (to be in the elements suite of the record). Next day a library burns down killing several. Brian blames himself. Brian builds a sandcastle in his house and sits in it for comfort. Brian is now mad. Mike Love is still a c*nt. During this period the other Beach Boys had all successfully managed to grow a beard. Each. Brian stays mad while the Beach Boys tour without him, playing retirement homes on a UK tour in ’73 as they’re popularity wanes. Dennis Wilson get involved with Charles Mansun and is a genius for a short time, but nobody notices. Then they release a greatest hits. Then they become popular again. Dennis sleeps with Mike Love’s daughter ‘just to annoy him’. This is OK because Mike Love is STILL a c*nt. Early 80’s, Brian is wheeled out as a fat bloater who hasn’t got out of bed for a decade for a reunion show. But then goes back to bed. Then Dennis gets drunk, goes swimming, and dies. Late 80’s, Beach Boys play Baywatch with Mitch Bucannon. Beach Boys release Kokomo, one of the worst songs ever, but one of their biggest hits. Early 90’s, Carl gets cancer and dies. Mike Love tours with lots of session musicians as ‘The Beach Boys’. Throughout this he continues to be a c*nt. Mid 90’s, ‘The Wondermints’ form as a band of random individuals who until now are not important. They start to play Beach Boys songs. Brian is told he must see them play. He does. He loves it. He starts to play with them lots, not in a sexual way. Late 90’s, Brian plays Pet Sounds in its entirety for the first time at Royal Festival Hall, London, in one of the most anticipated shows of all time. Grown men weep. They tour, lots. Early 2000’s, The Wondermints convince Brian to start doing Smile stuff. He’s goes a little mad again. Then is OK. Then goes mad. Then is OK. 2003, They finish it and return to Festival Hall to perform it live for the first time. Moments before the show Brian has a minor breakdown and is on the verge of pulling the whole gig. Then Paul McCartney hears of this, goes backstage, tells him it’ll all be OK, and ushers Brian to the stage. Grown men weep. Again. 4 nights later Chris Stoneman sees them play in Bristol. He is a bit of a mess, and weeps. They tour the world. They play Glastonbury. It’s amazing. They still tour but don’t do Smile in its entirety as Brian is still a little mad. 2008, people notice that Dennis Wilson was also a genius and they re-release his only album. It’s not the end, though I doubt much else of note will happen …….. Mike Love will always be a c*nt though, and will probably die one day.

Music to listen to:

Greatest Hits up until 1976, see above.

Today – listen to the change in mood on Side 2 as the happy pop changes to studio strangeness.

Pet Sounds – listen to how much is CRAMMED (skip to 3 mins on this if you HAVE to, after that if you stop watching you’re a loon) into every song. Carl’s vocal on God Only Knows. Brians touching vocal on ‘Don’t Cry’ and the sad sad admission in ‘I Just wasn’t Made For These Times’, with some amazing lyrics (rare for Brian who couldn’t right the best words, bless him). It took me a long time to fully appreciate this album, just in case it doesn’t hit you straight away.

Smile – its actually worth trawling through the demos from the time, which are on my PC but I probably didn’t give you. The album made recently is still great, though it’s a recording of an incredible idea, rather than the recording of some incredible music, which is a shame.

Sunflower – ‘Tears in the Morning’, ‘All I Wanna Do’, ‘Deidre’ and several others are great (if cheesy), but the real reason to visit this is one of the first Dennis songs called ‘Forever’. With the opening lyric of ‘If every word I said, could make you laugh, I’d talk, Forever’. I saw Brian do this song once in Oxford cos it was Dennis’ birthday, and it was amazing.

Surf’s Up – The song not the album. Van Dyke Parks (Brian’s collaborator on Smile, here’s a pic of him and his mates) lyrics at their best. The Brian demo (in the youtube clip) is special, but the Carl vocal done in the early 70’s is also good, though less affecting. The song ‘Disney Girls’ on the album, though actually written by Bruce Johnston (Brian’s replacement), is incredible and will probably play as I walk down the aisle, though of course I’m not enough of  a girl to have actually thought about this. Honest.

Pacific Ocean Blue by Dennis Wilson – stuff like ‘Thoughts of You’ are so heartbreaking, and vocals on stuff like ‘Time’ sound like a dying Johnny Cash.

Kokomo – the song, just for a laugh. To confirm its greatness, it’s the centrepiece for the soundtrack for ‘Cocktail’ that Tom Cruise film. Wow.

I really enjoyed writing this email. It’s a lot to read. Maybe its tube reading rather that work reading. I don’t think I’ll ever get bored of short sentences. Ever.

Midlake – Courage of Others

Midlake Courage of Others

So here’s a quick few words about something that I am pondering this lunchtime. I’ll furiously write in a vain attempt to ignore the fact that I just ate way too much pasta, despite warning myself not to. Fool.

Yesterday, Midlake released their new album, ‘Courage Of Others,’ in the UK. I first came across the band in late 2006 when, after  months of glowing press concerning that years album ‘The Trials of Van Occupanther’ and having heard the tracks ‘Roscoe’ and ‘Young Bride’ all over the radio (by ‘radio’ I do of course mean BBC 6 Music and Hype Machine), I gave in and purchased the album. I felt as if I was transported to a field outside ‘The Bands’ Big Pink house, but about 100 years before the Band were even there. The lead track ‘Roscoe’ summarised the album well, with it’s perfect lyrical phrasing, subtly hypnotising melodies and references to days gone by. I loved it, and so did everyone else. Approximately 6000 copies of ‘Trials’ were sold in the UK. At least in my little world, it was a HIT.

In November last year, they re-appeared in the press with news of a new album. By December they were a trending on our beloved Hype Machine and Elbo.ws, and once again people were chatting. But this is what one would expect, no? It had been a 3 year wait, and fans are not likely to desert them so readily. In January, there’s been coverage in your usual broadsheets, very positive reviews, lots of activity on Twitter and the blogs from fans and commentators alike (are they now the same thing?), and several showcase gigs in London. To me, this was not out of the ordinary.

What I did not expect was to see the album sitting pretty at #10 on this mornings midweek charts. After it’s first day of release, ‘Courage of Others’ has sold (that’s scanned sales, not shipped) almost 5000 albums, just 1000 less than it’s predessor has managed to date. This is a phenomenal result, and I’m fascinated as to how this could have happened.

OK, it’s probably going to disappear out of the charts as the week progresses, but that’s not the point. What’s changed since 2006, resulting in such a huge increase in sales? Of course, more people have heard of them since their last effort. Those that illegally downloaded the last may have gone out and bought this one. On first impressions the album is great, but not better, though I have only heard it in it’s entirety once. It’s instrumentation bears more of a resemblence to UK folk such as Fairport Convention than it’s predessor, and there seems to be less of the whimsical lyrics of US nostalgia that may have put off a UK audience (though I see no reason why it would). But all this would surely not translate to extra sales, particularly as CD sales have continued to drop since 2006. So what has?

The only thing I can think of is that the musical landscape has shifted. ‘Trials’ was released before offerings from Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver, the former of which sold almost 400K, confirming it had reached the mainstream audience. As is always the way, the watered down version of a fashionable genre has filtered into the mainstream, with Mumford and Sons now receiving acclaim on Radio1 with a solid hold on the pop charts. The mainstream printed press must have connected with more of these consumers, who perhaps would not have considered ‘alt-folk’ as a genre they were interested in 3 years ago. If you have any other ideas, do tell, I’m all ears.

Of course, I am not taking anything away from the band for making a fantastic album, and from Bella Union for spreading the word so convincingly. Huge congratulations go to both.

FURTHER NOTE (written 4 hours later) : This was an experiment in speed writing on a topic without much thought or investigation. Therefore, it turns out that Midlake’s previous album ‘Trials of the Van Occupanther’ actually sold 30K units in the UK, and my figure of 6K was off (I’ll blame dodgy tracking systems, though I really should have double checked). This, of course, makes a lot more sense. Still there’s enough food for thought here to warrant not deleting this post. Well, hopefully.

Musical Journey Part 4 – The Magnetic Fields

For an explanation of what this pretentious rubbish is, click here. Most of these bands are obvious. But then that’s kinda the point.

THE MAGNETIC FIELDS by Jonathon Odom

From: Jonathan Odom
Sent: 15 July 2008 18:22
To: Ben Smith
Cc: Maple, Nicholas; John Klein; Bradbeer, Alexander; Chris Stoneman
Subject: RE: Musical Journey : The Magnetic Fields

A logical step after Arcade Fire because they’ve seriously emulated this band on every record, virtually every song (and paid the proper homage i might add). I don’t know the numbers, but these guys have to be one of the most prolific songwriting bands in history. In my opinion Stephen Merrit (lead singer) is a far better lyricist than John Lennon and Paul McCartney combined, i think the only person who rivals him is Bob Dylan. Absolutely incredible, naive, imaginative and captivating lyrics.

In the same way Quentin Tarantino shamelessly jumps from genre to genre (often within the same film), these guys create non-linear histories of music with their records. In a lot of cases you get the feeling the sounds and production techniques don’t matter at all, they’re just ideas for songs, why go overboard in the studio when you get the point after one day of work on it? Other times they make incredibly complex soundscapes.

1. Get Lost- “love is lighter than air”: amazing melody, good atmospheric pop song. “all the umbrellas in london”: one of my all time favorite songs.
2. Pieces of April- “epitaph for me heart”: super-simple, penetrating vocals, uber-cool melody. “you you you you you”: if i heard this song when i was 16, i would have been a total fag and sung this to the girl i wanted to date.
3. 69 Love Songs- stephin merrit actually wrote 69 songs and made them into one of the all time greatest american records in less than a year (unprecedented). “absolutely cuckoo”: super-weird repeating motif and great lyrics. “The Death Of Ferdinand De Saussure”: who writes a pop song about a french linguist? “i shatter”: i’m speechless on this one. “grand canyon”: johnny cash on acid in outer space. “love is like a bottle of gin”: but a bottle of gin is not like love… “long-forgotten fairytale”: in my top 10 songs of all time, pushes the limits of pop. “when my boy walks down the street”: coolest bassline since “lust for life”. “yeah! oh, yeah!”: ballad about killing your wife. ”

Musical Journey Part 3 – Arcade Fire

For an explanation of what this pretentious rubbish is, click here. Most of these bands are obvious. But then that’s kinda the point.

ARCADE FIRE

From: Chris Stoneman
Sent: 11 July 2008 15:45
To: Ben Smith
Cc: Maple, Nicholas; John Klein; Bradbeer, Alexander; Jonathan Odom
Subject: RE: Musical Journey : Arcade Fire

So, this has to be a briefer and more recent band as I’m scared of overloading poor Ben with too many old school artists with a gazillion albums, and my distinct lack of time. Todays band is….

ARCADE FIRE – linked as they love the bowie and have famously performed with him (see video at bottom). Their debut album is one of the best of recent years, euphoric and desolate in the same breath, and the second ‘Neon Bible’ grows on you far more that you’d expect after the first listen. They’ve opened the floodgates to lots of amazing Canadian bands, which is no bad thing, and their gigs are some of the most memorable and emotional events you’ll ever go to. Oh, and the end of ‘Wake Up’ steals the riff from ‘Lust for Life’ by Iggy Pop, which was reportedly co-written by Bowie, just in case one link wasn’t enough.

Drinks in soho tonight anyone?

_________________________________________________________

OK, so that was a little short, so I thought I should add some more…..

Things to love. The haunting rhythm’s of ‘Tunnels’. Régine Chassagne’s anguished backing vocals on ‘Laika’. ‘Power Out’ bursting out from nowhere and morphing into a surprise anthem. The INCREDIBLE strings (arranged by Owen Pallet, aka Final Fantasy, who I’m seeing tomorrow (25th Jan ’10) and after only 2 listens I believe could have made the album of 2010 with ‘Heartlands’) that build and release the song’s tension so majestically. The sing-a-long cries and that sudden key change in ‘Wake Up’. The optimism of ‘Rebellion (Lies)’ and the realisation that after all that, it’s going to be OK. And of course ending the album by capturing that moment when we stare vacantly and figure it all out, ‘In the Backseat’ of a car, or on a train, or bus, or anywhere where the world rushes past our eyes. I’ve watched country after country fly past my eyes while I figure out what the hell is going on, and this song encapsulates that feeling better than any other. It’s 6 minutes of reflection, and allows you to digest the album you’ve just listened to.

Though it shouldn’t really be included here, I want to write so background stuff on this. I was working in London in my first music industry job when this album was released in the States at the end of 2004, and due to the level of appalling music I was being forced to listen to on a daily basis this album had a huge impact on me. Along with ‘I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning’ by Brighteyes, it reminded me how rewarding it was to obsess over an album with continuous listens. For some reason I specifically remember the first time I listened to it properly, and being so taken aback by the opening track ‘Tunnels’ that I was nearly run over as I crossed the road at Armoury Way in Wandsworth.

This album introduced me, and many others outside of the US, to the music website Pitchfork Media. It’s style was, and is, a traditionally laboured, word-intensive approach to journalism. Though the site is now known as a cliche of itself, often pandering to its reader’s love of obscure, contrived reasoning, at the time I marvelled at the level of knowledge the reviewers had of their subject, and the incredible ways in which they articulated their thoughts. It spurred me to become a fan of musical journalism as an artform in itself, regardless of the music being discussed, and to begin my own scribbling.

It’s believed by many, though I’d disagree to a point, that Pitchfork was a major factor in breaking this album. The review for this album (here), received a score of 9.7 out of 10, almost unheard of at the time. Though blogs had been around for several years, 2004/5 were the years in which it really felt they could make an impact on pushing an album to the mainstream. Suddenly everyone was talking about the album, both online and off, citing their reference as Pitchfork or the blogosphere. The printed mags in the UK missed the boat entirely, as the UK release came a full 5 months after the release in Canada. The London shows at the ICA in March and the Astoria in May ’05 were massively hyped, and the album went on to sell 750K worldwide, rare for a release on an indie label (the wonderful Merge Records). From this point on, labels seemed to understand the power of ‘reviews led’ releases, whereby a relatively small website such as Pitchfork, particularly compared to traditional media, could provoke such an immediate and profound response in coverage and sales.

Oh, and Neon Bible’s good too. As a way of making up for barely mentioning the second album, here’s an early version of ‘Intervention’ that I listened to to DEATH when it surfaced. It proves that at the heart of all the grandeur, there are simply great songs.

And here’s that grandeur I mentioned. Along with David Bowie. And a big posh theatre with celebrities. Try not to laugh at 1min 18sec, that’s just cruel.

Musical Journey Part 2 – David Bowie

For an explanation of what this pretentious rubbish is, click here. Most of these bands are obvious. But then that’s kinda the point.

DAVID BOWIE by Jonathan Odom

From: Jonathan Odom
Sent: 10 July 2008 14:18
To: Ben Smith
Cc: Stoneman, Chris; John Klein
Subject: RE: Musical Journey : David Bowie

Since Chris covered the beatles, the next logical step in the progression is undoubtedly David Bowie. The Beatles were basically a boy band when they came out, but they progressed into something much bigger and more experimental as their career progressed. McCartney and Lennon were the perfect balance for melody and songwriting, Harrison seems to have pushed the limits of what’s acceptable in pop, and Ringo kept the easy-going persona that the masses could relate to. The perfect mix at the right time.

Mr. Bowie on the other hand, emerged in the late 60’s. He started his career on experimentation and challenging boundaries. When you listen to the early records (or any record for that matter) you get the sense that the man is the zeitgeist. Constantly changing to reflect the context, critique it, poke fun at it, and worship it. No two bowie records are alike. With incomparable production talent and the ability to scrap an identity and move on to the next one with absolute grace, this guy has added countless annexes, additions, extensions (and trap doors to bottomless pits) to the foundation The Beatles laid in the 60’s.

 The Highlights:

1. Space Oddity, 1969- you all know the lyrics “ground control to major tom…”, that’s from the title track. the man who sold the world is a somberly toned, haunting classic (nirvana covered this on their MTV unplugged). velvet goldmine is the undisputed rock anthem of the glam culture (grown straight men wearing frock, blouses and makeup with endless chicks lining up for them wearing the same thing).

2. Hunky Dory, 1971- much lighter and more glam than space oddity, this one has some truly gorgeous ironic ballad-ish songs. changes is a solid pop song with some really interesting time-changes and hamonies, another glam anthem. oh! you pretty things is one of my all time favorite songs- outstanding lyrics with an interesting melody and a 50’s throwback harmony. queen bitch is just badass rock-n-roll, period. fucking outstanding song.

3. The Rise And Fall of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars, 1972- for this record and tour, bowie made up this character, ziggy stardust, and performed as him, did interviews as him, only answered to “ziggy” for a couple of years (can we say obsessed?). it’s definitely a theme record, but there are some solid-gold rock songs in this one. soul love is another confused love song with some awesome harmony and great instrumentation. starman has one of the best chorus lines in rock history. i’m kind of obsessed with last song choices on albums, and rock-n-roll suicide is among the best.

4. Diamond Dogs, 1974- the album as a whole is a little raw for a bowie endeavor, but rebel rebel just makes you want to find some chick in tight jeans and do naughty, naughty things to her.

5. Young Americans, 1975- as a whole i can take it or leave it; full-on prelude to the sax-heavy sound of the 80’s (5 years prior, mind you) and some super-polished production that sets the stage for his future projects. but the last song, fame (with lennon on backing vocals) is an amazing critique on the pseudo-identity of the famous. some fucking awesome production experiments on this track, and one of the best guitar riffs ever.

6. Heroes, 1977- best known for the title track, which has an amazing and simple melody and totally unique sound, this record has like 5 tracks of seriously high-brow classical music sandwiched between pop songs. philip glass even adapted the score in the 90’s and made a symphony out of it.

7. Let’s Dance, 1983- the title track is a solid 80’s hit. it’s got that 50’s retro thing going while still being totally avant-garde. china girl is also on this one.

8. Reality, 2003- almost 40 years later, still somehow the zeitgeist. it’s a little off-putting at first, as senior citizen pop-stars tend to be, but after a few listens you start to get it. the first track, new killer star has a really interesting rhythm and brings back the harmony stuff he used to do in the 70’s. in the lonliest guy, you get the full-on introspection of a sex-symbol in his 70’s-

“Streets damp and warm
Empty smell metal
Weeds between buildings
Pictures on my hard drive
But I’m the luckiest guy
Not the loneliest guy”

really incredible song. looking for water is a really bizarre, expiremental song disguised as benign pop. he has a way of doing that.

that’s all for now, what’s next on the menu?

From: Stoneman, Chris
Sent: 10 July 2008 15:01
To: Ben Smith; Jonathan Odom
Cc: John Klein
Subject: RE: Musical Journey : David Bowie

AGREED, here’s some more thoughts.

Low, 1977 – I love pop music, but its when people like The Beatles or Bowie fool listeners into thinking they’re listening to pop when they’re not that I REALLY love it. Beatles did it a lot, as did Bowie. It’s very important to remember that all these albums were made with a Side 1 and a Side 2, and in this case Bowie (with help from Brian Eno) used Side 2 to introduce the masses to modern avant garde Classical Music, not the most natural of progessions. Genius.

Also I have to mention Quicksand off Hunky Dory and Time off Aladdin Sane, the latter of which makes me have to sit down every time I hear the passage leading up to ‘And all I had to give, was the guilt for dreaming.’ And Mick Ronson’s guitar solo on Moonage Daydream, and the cover of the Pixies ‘Cactus’ on Heathen. And shouting ‘OH NO NO, YOU’RE NOT ALONE’ along to Rock n Roll Suicide. The end.