Saturday, June 9, 2012

They Get Around

Some time in 1964-65 Brian Wilson set pen to paper and wrote the words "Wouldn't it be nice if we were older / then we wouldn't have to wait so long..." Well, Brian, you got your wish...and then some. Take a gander at the photo above; Wilson and his (still-living) Beach Boys compadres are all now pretty long in the tooth. And the album on which "Wouldn't It Be Nice" ended up - 1966's Pet Sounds - is now 46 years old. That's pretty amazing in itself, but the thing that really blows me away is the above image, particularly the juxtaposition of the words "Stream and Download" with a photo of today's Beach Boys looking ready to rock your face off (or at least lull you into a sublime slumber on the lawn of your local outdoor ampitheater). Because if there's a new Beach Boys album available for streaming and downloading, that means these guys have been alive (and working!) long enough to see the rise and fall of about 12 different types of recorded music media. And that's just nuts. If you'd sat these guys down in their living room in Hawthorne, California in 1963 and explained to them that some day their music would live in the ether and be playable on computers the size of postage stamps, they would have called you (in the parlance of their particular milieu) a real gone daddy. Yet here we are. Here's hoping that Brian and his pals live to see the day when we experience their music via microchips implanted in our heads. Wouldn't that be nice? ~ Tim

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Lightouts: The Smart Ones

It's unclear what I like more about Lightouts -- their easy-entry, stuck-on-repeat songs...or their approach to releasing them.

Although they've been putting out music for only less than a year, the Brooklyn's duo's catalog is already bursting with four sharp EPs, all self-released. (The band calls each three-track item a 'maxi-single.' Fair enough.)

Last May's 'See Clear,' the first salvo fired in Lightouts' blitz, is one of the best debut singles I've heard in awhile. Rooted in the able '90s song structure of restrained verses and rambunctious choruses, it's a taut rocker that peaks before slyly ducking out the side door by way of an unexpectedly quick outro.

It's also a fitting introduction to Gavin Rhodes and Greg Nelson's philosophy of building quiet momentum steadily through frequent releases, rather than via some Lana Del Rey-style PR sledgehammer blow to America's cerebellum. (I saw Del Rey's pouting mug plastered on the window of a San Francisco cigarette shop the other day. A cigarette shop.)

Along with its featured title track, each Lightouts EP includes a B-side that, in some cases, stands toe-to-toe with the song portrayed in big letters on the cover. And while Rhodes and Nelson's original material is always worthy of the front seat, the shrewdly curated cover versions punctuating all four EPs offer pretty accurate directions from the back: the Stone Roses' 'Here It Comes,' 'I Am The Key' by the La's, Guided By Voices' 'The Official Ironmen Rally Song,' and the piece de rocksistance, a phenomenally brilliant pastiche of LCD Soundsystem's 'All I Want' and David Bowie's 'Heroes,' which along with 'See Clear' stands tallest so far amid Lightouts' young discography.

And at a time when many bands seem to be de-emphasizing the importance of cover artwork, Rhodes and Nelson, despite only releasing music digitally to date, have opted for striking ink-on-paper works by George Boorujy for each EP. Chalk up a victory for cohesion.

It all recalls the energy of Oasis in their steak-and-potato days (albeit with far less bluster and hurl), when the fightin' Mancunians put out a flurry of nine brilliant -- and brilliantly designed -- EPs throughout 1994-96 to complement their first pair of landmark albums.

Lightouts' latest EP, released earlier this month, is 'The Cure For Shyness,' which includes a breakneck sprint of a title track backed by yet another strong B-side ('Deep Ends'), as well as the aforementioned GBV cover. (As is the case with all the band's releases, it's available as both a paid and free download.) The title track's live drums give the song a less boxed-in feel than the rest of Lightouts' drum-programmed material, and as much as I like everything the band's done so far, I cling to the traditional tenet that says every rock band worth its salt could use an Animal-like spazz behind the drumkit.

Rhodes and Nelson have indicated that a Lightouts LP (allegedly titled Want) is in the works, with another pair of EPs likely to precede it. Alright. ~ Charles Hodgkins

Friday, January 27, 2012

Ready For The Laughing Gas

I (Tim) would like to introduce a new contributor to Blogracket - Mr. Charles Hodgkins, Brandracket's fearless senior editor, and a wordsmith (and music fanatic) of the highest order. You can look forward to periodic postings from The Hodge (as I affectionately call him), each equally insightful and humorous. We're honored by his presence. First up: a rumination on U2's ground-breaking album Achtung Baby, which recently got the 20th anniversary reissue treatment  from our friends at Island/Universal Music. Take it away Charles...

I wish I could make some sort of hopelessly melodramatic statement about the first time I heard 'The Fly,' the lead single from U2's 1991 masterwork Achtung Baby. The truth, however, is a hell of a lot less sexy.

As a moderately (at most) adventurous 19-year-old -- with the somewhat tentative taste in music to match -- I kind of didn't know what to make of the new sonic territory U2 was suddenly mining in our great season of Nevermind, a.k.a. late '91. I knew I liked Adam Clayton's bouncy bass line on 'The Fly,' though. And I thought the song's video was pretty fun in all its let's-rock-it simplicity. (Still do, in fact.)

The '80s were deep in the rear view mirror by this point, and with them went U2's suffocating pomposity. Good riddance. The band's 1988 documentary Rattle And Hum, full as it was of epic concert sequences, didn't exactly portray the group as a bunch of down-to-earth lads, nor did it do much to dispel the increasingly popular view of Bono as rock's most insufferably humor-deficient frontman. U2's ardent earnestness had painted them into a corner.

What's a superstar band to do once it's:
  • Laid down a long day's drive worth of bulletproof songs over the past decade...
  • Iconically waved a white flag at a bunch of skiers amid a Rocky Mountain rainstorm...
  • Had the 'Rock's Hottest Ticket' tag slapped on it by that old tastemaker, Time...
  • Taken self-seriousness to new depths?

There was really only one true path for the band to follow:
  • Set the most exciting batch of songs of its career to tape...
  • Give the resulting album a jokey name to mask all its darkly unsettling music...
  • Don sunglasses and leather...
  • Finally act like they're having a good time.

I still pick up a lot of records, but few are nostalgic acquisitions. Writing and editing for Brandracket plays right into my ongoing inclination to seek out young bands worth my time (and what remains of my hearing). I'm talking about the Yucks, Weekends, and Creepoids of the world, and while we're at it, the Big Troubles, Horse Marriages, and Lightouts. Not exactly household names (yet). Then again, nobody outside of Dublin in 1979 had heard of this band with a two-character name that reminded some of a German submarine.

So, I went all-in for the so-called Super Deluxe 20th Anniversary Edition of Achtung Baby a couple months ago -- an indulgent gift to myself for my recent 40th birthday. In this case, I am the target demographic.

Few artistic reinventions have been as successful as U2's between 1989-91. Their leap from frowny-faced, black-and-white-portrayed galvanizers of strident high school and college kids the world over, to funtime-loving, color-portrayed messengers of groove with a fusillade of televisions backing them was all a calculated risk. But it completely worked.

The main reason it completely worked, of course, is the fact that Achtung Baby quickly became one of the monster records of its era. And this new big-ass monument of a boxed set -- six CDs, four DVDs, a 12”x12” hardback book full of essays and striking Anton Corbijn photography; all that's missing is one of those Achtung Baby condoms sold at the merch booth on the ensuing Zoo TV tour -- reinforces this in spades. Achtung Baby has aged better and sounds fresher than anything else from the near-endless smorgasbord of early '90s rock. It's still a monster record -- of any era.

Achtung Baby was the first U2 record you could dance to. Achtung Baby was the first U2 record you could have sex to. (Unless you've ever been able to properly get busy to 'Sunday Bloody Sunday' or 'Bullet The Bullet Sky.' Then you are a very special individual indeed. Kudos.) Hell, there are enough oral sex and masturbation references in Bono's early '90s lyrics to make you think he was quietly working on spec for some North Hollywood porn studio.

But those are just the cheap thrills. Beyond Clayton and Larry Mullen's buoyant rhythms, beyond Edge's insistent guitar work -- industrial-inspired riffs here ('Zoo Station,' 'The Fly'), menacing leads there ('Until The End Of The World,' 'Acrobat'), brilliance everywhere -- and even beyond the album's true X-factor of Daniel Lanois' genius production, it's the songs themselves on Achtung Baby that have kept it in regular rotation for me over the last 20 years.

Sometimes it's also the album's song cycle. As opening salvos go, it's tough to top 'Zoo Station.' Any record that begins with (what's always sounded to me like) an oncoming subway train and an opening lyric as heroically intrepid as 'I'm ready for the laughing gas' has my attention right off the bat.

On the heels of 'Zoo Station,' 'Even Better Than The Real Thing' suckers you into thinking you're in for a 12-track dance party. Not so fast, John Q. Ibiza.

I've probably heard 'One' a thousand times by now (perhaps you have as well), and it never goes out of style. Interpret it however you want -- it's about a failed relationship; it's about a broken family; it's about world peace; it's about the AIDS pandemic; it's about dressing up in drag to drive around snowy Berlin in a Trabant -- but it's the song that basically saved U2's life when they were flailing in the earliest days of recording what eventually became Achtung Baby.

If one of U2's swiftest moves in the '90s was learning how to write phenomenal songs that weren't anthems, there's no sharper example than 'Until The End Of The World.' Linked with 'Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses' -- the opening chords of which sound as if they were recorded amid a Yellowstone blizzard; this is a good thing -- and the slow-creeping betrayal of 'So Cruel,' the song is the linchpin of the first of Achtung Baby's pair of notoriously bleak segments. Of course, this is bleakness you can nod your head to (or even shake your ass to, if you're the ass-shaking sort): Edge's riff on 'Until' in particular is a rhythmic force of nature.

Things lighten up a spell once 'The Fly,' one of U2's most unfairly brushed-aside songs, crashes in to begin the album's second half. What do you get when you meld a completely rad guitar riff, a touch of baggy Madchester in the backbeat, and 'Every artist is a cannibal / Every  poet is a thief / All kill their inspiration / And sing about the grief'? Probably my favorite U2 song of all. (Isn't that funny? I don't think so. But if you do, you're not the first.)

The good-time head-fakes continue with dancetacular 'Mysterious Ways' through 'Ultra Violet (Light My Way),' with the alluringly lazy 'Tryin' To Throw Your Arms Around The World' wedged in between (perhaps the song on the record that's best-served by Lanois' deft production). 'Ultra Violet,' meanwhile, is Achtung Baby's last best hopeful moment, all the way down to Bono's uncharacteristic flurry of 'baby baby baby's in the third verse. It's that old uplifting U2 magic all over again...only nobody ever misinterpreted this one to be a rebel song.

In fact, if you were to quit now, you might even have yourself a kind of happy ending. But such a tidy little wrap-up isn't Achtung Baby's aspiration, something that's abundantly clear with the twinkill darkhorse shithammer of 'Acrobat' and 'Love Is Blindness' that closes the album, each featuring searing guitar by Edge. The first is a formidable ode to the wonders of hypocrisy; the second, a meditation on love as a disability not to be lived without. Not exactly lullaby material.

Perhaps the U2 of the '90s -- disco balls, belly dancers, crank-calling the White House from the stadium stage every night, whatever all that silly PopMart business was about -- wasn't so zany after all?

Here's to acting like you're having a good time. ~ Charles Hodgkins

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Stuck In Reverse

Came across an awesome article by English critic Gary Wolstenholme about how our culture, and particularly music culture, has essentially stalled out amidst our collective obsession with the past. Dig it:

Key snippets (bolding is mine):

"The ability of new ideas to break through to the general public is stifled by endless waves of shallow nostalgia polluted by financial imperatives and waved through by a compliant and toothless set of critics and commentators who either want the world to stop so they can pretend to be 20 for eternity or are part of the marketing team and thus totally unable to pass any kind of meaningful comment on what is happening."

"The likes of Pulp but, to a lesser extent, even Shed Seven and Ned’s Atomic Dustbin have shown that a well scheduled ‘all mates together’ tour can be a lucrative money spinner for bands who were heading nowhere on their demise. That, in itself, is not a problem. When such things are regarded as being of primary cultural significance it is. We are very close to drawing a line under the progression of mainstream progressive music. That is not just bad news for music, it is bad news for culture as a whole and leads to a greyer and less dynamic future for all."

I'm actually a huge Stone Roses fan, but I have no desire to see them. I'm talking about their comeback but also about actually seeing them. I mean, they look like death warmed over. Yikes.

Another symptom of our rampant cultural grave-robbing: Hollywood remaking every movie that's ever been made, including a film (and an inevitable companion McDonald's Happy Meal) about every last superhero ever conceived. When will we as a culture stop looking backward and actually create something new? Somehow our forefathers and foremothers were able to keep the culture moving in a linear fashion - blues > jazz > rock > punk > hip-hop > electronic music. Now what? Rehash???

We've created a truly post-post-post modern culture in which forward progression has slowly morphed into circular motion. And that's boring, uninspiring and troubling on many levels.

I don't begrudge any band to reunite, whether it's for money or love of what they do (and I respect bands like The Sex Pistols and Cream for admitting it's all about the money). But as Wolstenholme so eloquently points out, when such reunions and wallowing in the past define our current culture, we've got a big problem. ~ Tim

Monday, September 19, 2011

We'll Take Manhattan

Brandracketeers Chris Parker, Mark Willett and myself (Tim Scanlin) were in NYC September 6 through 10 for the world premier of The Art Of Flight snowboarding film, which we music supervised for the stellar folks at Brain Farm Digital Cinema. The premier was held at the legendary Beacon Theater in the heart of uptown Manhattan. The sold out show was attended by 3,500 industry folks, boarders, and assorted celebrities (wassup, Justin Timberlake?!). Artists featured in the film include Sigur Ros, The Naked & Famous, Deadmau5, Black Angels, M83 and others. What can we say about it? It's mind-blowing, and exceeded all expectations. Thanks to director Curt Morgan and his incredible team for creating a truly landmark film, and for allowing us to be a part of it.

In addition to the Flight premier we also took the train out to Long Island to see the first Quiksilver Pro NYC, taking place in scenic Long Beach. It's one thing to sit in our comfy chairs all day working on Quik and Roxy projects, but it's another thing entirely to get out on the sand and actually watch stuff go down in front of you. Congrats to all the Quik and Roxy folks who worked so diligently to pull this thing off after the event was almost scrubbed due to a hurricane the week prior. Y'all kicked butt.

Most days were spent traversing Manhattan, meeting with assorted label folks, without whom we wouldn't have a business. Thanks to everyone who took time out to have a chat or drink a beer with us. Brandracket hearts you.

Finished off the trip with a stellar meal at Ma Peche, then headed home, totally beat, but rejunivated by all the cool and inspiring people we met. Can't wait for next time. Here's a few shots...

The scene outside The Art Of Flight premier @ The Beacon Theater the night of September 7th. 3500 people in attendance.

The Art Of Flight director Curt Morgan (red baseball cap) introduces the Brain Farm team before the lights go down.

The Quiksilver Beach House, Quik Pro NYC, Long Beach, Long Island

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

So You Want To Buy A House...

...You knock on the door and say to the owner, "Good day, I'd like to buy this house!" The person at the door says, "Oh, wonderful. You can have the first floor for $200,000, but you'll need to talk to the person who owns the second floor about buying their half." You think to yourself, "Okaaaaay, that's weird." But you really like the house. So you say, "Where can I find the person who owns the second floor?" And the person at the door says, "I have no idea."

Eventually you manage to locate the person who owns the second floor of the house. You say to them, "Hi. The person that owns the first floor of the house says I can buy it for $200,000. So here's your $200,000 for the second floor." "Oh, no," says the owner of the second floor. "I'll need at least $400,000 for my half of the house." And what's worse, now the guy who owns the first floor is saying, "Well, if he's getting $400,000, then I want $400,000!" By this time, you're really PO'd. All you want is a freaking house, and there are lots of other houses, many of which are just as nice but much cheaper and easier to buy. So you go to the equally nice house next door. This time, the entire house is owned by one guy, and he's very excited about selling it to you for $100,000 total. In fact, he really appreciates that fact that you want to buy it, and goes out of his way to accommodate your request for new fixtures in the bathroom and a fresh coat of paint.

Some "houses" are really easy to buy, and some are a nightmare. Rightsholders: are you doing everything you can to make it easy for people to license your music (like, for instance, knowing who the other rightsholders are for the tracks you rep, and quoting fees that are line with going rates)? If not, you're shooting yourself in the foot. It's a buyer's market out there; make sure your houses are in order. We thank you for it. ~ Tim

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Running Shoes: Punk As F#@!

Saw Buffalo Tom last night at the Troubadour here in LA. They completely smoked it.

I needed that, coming at a time when I'm so freaking busy that I've damn near lost sight of why I loved music in the first place. You can have too much of a good thing, and musical burnout is a very real occupational hazard in our line of work. The show last night reminded me of why I've devoted my life to this stuff.

I've seen the 'Tom, like, 15 times (I'm no spring chick, in case that hasn't been established by now). And every time I see them, I'm struck by how completely ordinary they are in every way except their musical talent. Bill, Tom and Chris looked exactly like your 3 pals that showed up on Sunday afternoon to help you move your couch. Jeans, button down shirts off the rack from Target (these are working men, with families to feed) and running shoes (?!). There was no hipster irony in these threads, no sartorial snarkiness. It was simply three dudes who've always had, and continue to have, their priorities straight: an incredible workman-like devotion to writing and playing godhead songs with a feverish intensity...and then fashion somewhere down around the 7th or 8th rung. (In fairness, Bill was wearing a rather sporty fedora that looked great on him.)

Contrast this to the many hipsters that I encounter at my fave Eagle Rock lunch spot, The Coffee Table (so tasty!). I suspect that many of these people are in bands, and I also suspect that many of them are mediocre to lousy. Because most people who put that much time and effort into looking the way these people look are not spending nearly enough time and effort writing and recording godhead songs. Yes, there are exceptions to this rule, and some people -- The White Stripes, Joy Division, The Velvet Underground, Bowie, Nick Cave, Tim Rogers from You Am I, my Eagle Rock homegirl Best Coast -- are able to achieve the magnificent feat of looking incredibly cool and writing godhead songs.

The Buffalo Tom dudes are not among this group, or else they would be significantly more famous and well-off than they are now. But I get the feeling they don't care, and that's part of why I love them. They put the music first, and discerning listeners and show-goers like myself don't give a hoot if they're not wearing v-necks and rolled-up jeans. In fact, I'm REALLY glad they're not.

Another reason why I heart Buffalo Tom? Because Bill Janovitz has blazed a major trail in the straight world, just as I'm attempting to do. Dude has a very healthy real estate career in full swing. Guess what, kids? It's possible to write classics like "I'm Allowed", "Velvet Roof" and "Sunday Night" and go on to have a respectable career that your mother-in-law can be proud of. Who knew??

As someone who's followed the exact same path as these guys (albeit one of much less renown) -- band dude for years, then "real career", wife, mortgage, kids -- I'm really in awe of what they've achieved. In short, these guys are badasses. They can wear whatever the hell they want on stage -- even running shoes. They're allowed. ~ Tim