Should It Stay or Should It Go?

Monday, March 26, 2007

Change Has Come

It happened. We moved. I'm in the suburbs.

Holy crap.

That's the good news. The bad news is that, as feared, unpacking The Beast is a low-priority item in these first days. I haven't seen any of my CDs in about a week or so. I miss them. I hope they're doing OK.

To top it all off, I come across this blog post in my Google Reader this morning. Hits close to home, it does. The change has come, but how much changing will stand the No Regrets Test over time? Once I have my shelves up, it'll be something to ponder.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Please Hold...

No updates will be on their way for a bit. The missus and me are moving - we've bought an honest-to-goodness house, in the suburbs and everything. The Beast, for the time being, has been tamed into a series of boxes and crates, ready to head to its new home.

And what a home it's gonna get! The third-floor (a fully finished attic) has been designated The Man Room, and will be a place for all things musical. Shelves will be built, wires will be run, comfortable furniture will be arranged, and I will have a place to both store and listen to my music...several flights of stairs away from Eileen's preferred distraction, the TV.

But it's going to take a little time. Right now I'm restricting my listening to what's on my iPod and/or hard drive, and that's going to have to suffice for a few short weeks. Technically, the new arrangement means I don't really have to get rid of anything anymore, what with space not being a particular concern (Lee said I should re-do the blog so it's about what to acquire...). I find the exercise worthwhile (or at least interesting) and am eager to get back to it.

Until's all staying, and it's all going!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

This Just In

Artist: Arcade Fire
Album: Neon Bible
Source: Bought new

Damn, I miss this. A new band blows me away and I am driven - compelled, really - to order the new album. In the case of the Arcade Fire, I actually felt the overwhelming need to preorder the new one, so thoroughly was I rocked by the band at NYC's Judson Memorial Church. It just doesn't happen to me much anymore. (I've either grown too old for such things or too selective to fall for just any new release.)

When Neon Bible arrived from Merge (a full day after the official release date, but I forgive the label and the U.S. Postal Service) I got to tear it open, pop it in the CD player and listen to it already revved up for what I was going to hear.

Neon Bible did not disappoint.

The pre-release show was a definite asset: the Arcade Fire is an intensely visual band, and being able to envision what was going on behind the sounds took the songs and blew them out into 3D, even on the first listen. And the second. And so on.

It would have been easy to be disappointed, too. This disc got WAY too much pre-release media coverage, and I could already imagine having heard too much about the record to really hear it. But it didn't go that way, and some of the critical coverage even helped me listen more astutely. When a few too many critics mentioned a Springsteen vibe to Neon Bible, I had it pegged as either lazy press-release copying or Internet echo-chamber repetition. And yet, there it was, plain as day - not really the sound of the E Street Band so much as the visceral yearning in the performance, the struggle to connect a individualized experience to an everyday one. Lead singer Win Butler overreached on parts of nearly every track, something the young Boss understood intuitively.

The music, though, is more like the Z Street Band. It's all in there, from standard rock playing to exotic instrumentation to carefully structured counterpoint in the vocals. The Arcade Fire has absorbed the high points of the 80s - latter-era Clash, Talking Heads, Joy Division, peak-moment Cure, Eno/Lanois-driven U2, etc - and molded it into something both older and more modern than the sounds they're nicking. Bravo.

Read any year-end poll from 2006 and you'll hear a chorus of moaning, that it's just not easy to get excited about a lot of the newest music. Neon Bible is, early in '07, an answer to that challenge, and I hope there's more stuff in this league to come before the year closes out.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Sample and Hold

Artist: Belly
Album: Star
Source: Bought new

One of the serious advantages the Interweb has brought to obsessive music buyers 'round the world is the ability to sample the goods before you buy the whole meal. While not quite like the vinyl-filled listening booths of old, a site like Amazon or eMusic lets you hear a snippet of the songs for free, to get a sense of whether or not you want to go whole hog. Only like Neil Young when he's playing acoustic? Dip into 30 seconds of the new tunes just to make sure he's not riding with Crazy Horse on this one. Prefer your electronic music sans vocals? Double-check that new Morr offering in half-minute slices to ensure there aren't any processed vox in the mix.

Before the modern, post-AOL era, though, it wasn't so easy. You could read the reviews, but like the man said: you can't get the sound from a story in a magazine (aimed at your average Music Nerd). You could get a personal recommendation, but those are so personal-taste driven that you couldn't always count on a slam dunk. More often than not, you just had to roll the dice on something new and see what came up.

Or you could be converted at a show. From the Lounge Lizards in '94 to the Mekons at CMJ to to a recent encounter with the Arcade Fire at Judson Church in NYC, there's nothing quite like that ear-bending, mind-altering concert to show you something you can't believe you'd been missing. It's a communal, Bacchanalian moment of personal transformation that puts a sound inside your head that never quite comes out again.

To my very great surprise, 90s alt-rock band Belly has turned out to be one of those bands...but I couldn't have told you so at the time. I was in the middle of a semester abroad at the University of Glasgow, and Belly was playing at the student union. I knew Tanya Donnely had been in the Throwing Muses (whom I'd never heard) and the Breeders (whom I most certainly had), and that was about as far as it went. But it was live music that required almost no effort to go to, and anyway I was taking all my courses pass/fail. Why not?

Why not, indeed. The show was...well, to be honest it was just pretty good. Tanya had good songs, a nice voice and looked damned nice on stage. The bass player was a woman with a muscle-T and a backwards baseball cap, who jumped around like she was in L7, not a group doing mostly dreamy, mid-tempo pop (Dorky Trivia Note: said bassist, Gail Greenwood, actually ended up subbing in L7 years later). And the other two guys were...the other two guys. Unremarkable, but they got the job done.

As is often my wont (especially then), the show was enough to inspire me to pick up the record. And Star was a lot like the show: entirely likable, with some parts ("Slow Dog," "Feed the Tree") more remarkable than others ("Untogether," "Witch"), which were just OK. I listened, probably played some tracks on my radio show once or twice, but largely forgot about it.

Not entirely, though. I pulled Star out from time to time, like a lot of my old records. And a couple of years ago...well, I finally had that moment, like a time-release delayed reaction from the show. Suddenly, Star sounded great. Each tune set up the next just so; the production pointed out little bits of ear candy that sweetened each treat; the instruments sang the songs in ways that complemented and extended Tanya's honey-kissed voice. Here I was, in my 30s, walking around New York unable to get songs from my 20s out of my head - not so odd, except I hadn't had these exact same songs in my head when I was in my 20s.

Go figure.

I wonder if Star is here to stay. I didn't love it when it was current and, in theory, more lovable (or perhaps just more fashionable, I suppose), so maybe it will fall from the sweet spot of my ear as time goes on. I think if I shopped for this now, the 30-second-sample way, I'd pass on it about 90 seconds in. But with 90 months or so for time and the songs and the whole thing to do its work, Belly turned a convenient concert into one that sent me shopping for a disc I'm glad I didn't miss.

SISOSIG? Luckily, I didn't start this project a few years ago, or Star would have hit the trash heap. Either the record was ahead of its time or I was just in the wrong moment to appreciate its considerable charms back in 1993. Either way, it's one I wouldn't want to be without.