allow yourself to be released

My summer of jetting across the country for concerts came to an end last Friday. [I suppose since it started in April with The Whip and is ending in late October, "summer" is perhaps not the best word to use.] Anyways, of all the shows I went to this year, as it approached I realized that the School of Seven Bells show was the one I was anticipating the most.

First, though, there were three other bands to get through. As part of the CMJ festival, the bill was pretty loaded with two bigger names and two lesser known acts. First: the Depreciation Guild. As far as opening acts go, they were quite good and I rather enjoyed their set. They made sense sharing a bill with SVIIB - the trio created an impressive 2 guitar / 1 drum kit wall of sound with a simple but captivating back drop of solid color squares that constantly changed shapes and sizes. [
As my friend James pointed out, think the PSB 'Yes' theme and you're there.] Definitely one to investigate - and look, there are tracks streaming on last.fm.]

Next up was Phantogram, a boy/girl duo with he on guitar and her on bank of keyboards. [It was interesting to notice that of the four bands, only The Depreciation Guild employed a drum kit. Fantastic.] I wasn't quite as taken with Phantogram, though I can't say exactly why. Perhaps further investigation is needed, I'm not sure. Regardless, I found them to be the weak link of the evening, though on their own merits not bad. [Side note: they told us they were from Saratoga Springs. I didn't think anything was from Saratoga Springs. Interesting.]

Third, The xx. I quite enjoy their album and was excited to hear that they had joined the bill after I bought tickets as I now got to see two acts I wanted to see in one go. However, I was skeptical as to how they could carry off a live show - and my concerns were valid. Taking the stage with all four members lined up across the front, they went through the album pretty much note for note, changing only the order of a few songs and throwing in a cover of Womack & Womack's "Teardrops" for good measure. [I totally had to look it up.] It was very enjoyable, don't get me wrong, but you might as well have stayed home and blasted the album on shuffle. That said, they came across as very nice and genuinely appreciative and good for them for being the unofficial stars of CMJ. [Apparently they played every night and even had another set in Tribeca after their set at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. It's also a safe bet that they were the reason the show ended up selling out as the place was packed to the rafters when they took the stage yet was less than half full for School of Seven Bells.] One thing that both James and I got a kick out of was watching the...well, here's where you'd usually say "drummer", but he wasn't actually drumming. The electronic percussionist, I suppose. It would have been very easy to pre-program all the beats for the show, however he was playing them live and keeping impressively solid time even in some of the more intricate passages. So I guess you couldn't have gotten the whole experience at home, though I don't think I'll be rushing out to see them again any time soon.

Finally, 11:45 rolls around and School of Seven Bells take the stage. [Maybe I'm getting old, but christ that was late.] Full disclosure - over the course of the year, 'Alpinisms' has grown from an album that I quite enjoy to one of my absolute favorite albums of the decade. Such a gorgeous, wonderful piece of music. I had heard nothing but absolute raves about their live show from friends who, admittedly, are just as obsessed as I if not more, so my expectations were high. Outside of a pair of setlist misses - no "Prince of Peace" [not surprising] or "Face to Face on High Places" [kind of shocking, actually] - they delivered on every level. My friend Joe put it - the songs come across as a little more aggressive in the live show, and that is spot on. They opened the set with a stunning version of "My Cabal" and then led us through most of the rest of 'Alpinisms' with a trio of new songs mixed in. The new material is amazing - on one listen, I'd say the aggressive tag applies to them most of all but still very much keeping true to their sound. "Chain" was an absolute monster live, as was the usually pretty-but-perhaps-a-bit-long "Sempiternal/Amaranth", which closed the night. [I suppose technically it was the encore, however they only left stage for maybe a minute, returning before the feedback squall ending of "Half Asleep" had fully faded out so I don't think it really counts.] The biggest surprise of the night for me was "White Elephant Coat", which on the album that seems to be missing something but truly came alive in the live setting.

I hope they're not gone too long, as I need new material and the opportunity to see them live again ASAP.

Set lists:

The xx -
Heart Skipped A Beat
Basic Space
Night Time

School of Seven Bells -
My Cabal
White Elephant Coat
new #1
new #2
Wired For Light
new #3
Half Asleep

Some YouTube videos from the night [not mine]

The xx - Shelter:

[You can also find I believe their full set at the Tribeca Grand from later in the evening on YouTube.]

School of Seven Bells - My Cabal:


fantastic cover alert: Alphabeat

That's the cover of the new Alphabeat album 'The Spell', out in the UK in January. [Possibly elsewhere sooner, will have to look into that.]

It's fantastic.

That is all.


listen to your own desire

It is finally in our hands.

After announcements of dates that then got pushed back, release dates passing with nothing, and - really - years of waiting, the double disc deluxe edition of Duran Duran's 'Rio' is finally here. I am happy to report that the wait was well worth it.

The set is gorgeous. It comes packaged in a mini hardback book style sleeve with each disc getting a pocket to rest in on the front or back "page", if you will. There's a 58-page book that has a very nice essay about the album and its place in time as well as the lyrics to the main album, source lists for the bonus tracks and scads of period pictures, all very stylishly put together matching the theme of the album's artwork. As a tangible artifact, it's a win all around.

How about the music? There's not much point in discussing the album itself - it is amazing and 27 years later stands up as one of the finest albums of its decade, of all time even. The remaster job is very nice - this is easily the best 'Rio' has ever sounded and probably ever will sound given the inherent flaws in the master tape.

That said, the album has a history - probably more so than any album in the pop catalog - of not having a truly "definitive" version. I won't go into all the details here as there is a very thorough documentation of all the various anomalies spread out over various releases of the album here. [Essential reading, by the way.] It hasn't been updated for this new edition, so let's go over what's here as the new go-to version of 'Rio'.

The first 9 tracks on disc 1 claim to be the "original UK album", and as far as I can tell they are. However, that's different than what you're used to if you've spent most of your time with the album listening to the album on CD as all digital copies of the album have an alternate mix of "Hold Back The Rain" from the original UK vinyl. Not having a copy of that to compare to, I can't 100% confirm that that is what we have here, however using the track time and descriptors from the previously mentioned website it appears we finally have the true original version of 'Rio' on CD here for the first time. The biggest difference in "Hold Back The Rain" is this version has more prominent keyboards and less guitar than the CD version and - oddly - sounds closer to the Kershenbaum remix that was prepared for the US LP re-issue. It is also missing the first half of the second verse - "So what if the words ain't rhyming", etc. [That part of the verse appears in the lyric book, though. Hrm.]

Disc one wraps up with the 5 tracks that were remixed for said US LP. Again, details on the site, but this is also the first time that the US LP mixes are together on CD. [I believe they've all been out there on various CD releases over the years, except for "Lonely In Your Nightmare" which makes its CD debut on this package.] Unsurprisingly, the big side-a singles don't get too radically worked over here - a bit of an extension on both and more moans on the fade out of "Hungry Like The Wolf". It is worth noting that this is the version of "Hungry Like The Wolf" from the second US pressing - which is essentially an edit of the Night Version - rather than the longer mix from the more common third pressing. Nice. As for the other tracks, "My Own Way" is the Carnival version and is probably my favorite mix of the song - the album version "punched up for dancing". "Lonely In Your Nightmare" is musically very similar to the original version, however there are a completely new set of lyrics mixed in making this my preferred version. Finally, "Hold Back The Rain" is a nearly 7-minute dance masterpiece. All in all, this is my favorite version of the album and it is very nice to finally have it on disc, free of surface noise from worn out LPs.

Disc two starts with the only truly previously unavailable material - four tracks from the first demo session for the album in August 1981. They sound pretty much like slightly unpolished versions of the songs that made it out - with some very excited to the point of being a bit distracting backing vocals - but are a nice glimpse into the birth of the album. ["My Own Way" does feature an early set of slightly different lyrics.] The next four tracks are non-album material - the original discoed-up version of "My Own Way" and its b-side "Like An Angel" [a great track in its own right but certainly not up to par with the rest of the album], a live version of "Careless Memories" from the "Hungry Like The Wolf" single and the wonderful acoustic version of "The Chauffeur". We round out the set with five extended versions, including the true night version of "Rio" and the Carnival mix of "New Religion" from the Japanese version of the EP. [Either or both might be making their CD debuts here, I'm not sure.] Most of the material on the second disc has been available on the singles box for years, but it's nice to have it all in one place for a mega-'Rio' marathon. Finally, a cute little Christmas message from Simon LeBon hidden away at the end of the final track - an interesting curiosity that they get bonus points for including here. Hooray!

Missing: the 7" and 12" remix of "Hold Back The Rain" from the "Save A Prayer" single which - yes - are different from any of the three mixes included here, and "Rio [Part II]" which was on the UK 12" in place of the Night version.

Off to the internet, there are two digital exclusives for the album that - fortunately - are available for separate purchase. One is the instrumental remix of "My Own Way" from the original Japanese 12" - possibly not available since its original release - and an alternate remix of "Hold Back The Rain" that originally appeared on the 'Strange Behaviour' compilation. Worth the extra purchase. [It is a bit annoying that they're digital only, however, as there was room for at least one of them on the CD itself - both if you didn't include the live version of "Careless Memories" which doesn't really belong anyways.]

Basically, if you're even thinking you might want this, you do. It's the nicest put together deluxe edition I've seen in a while, and it appears that great effort was put into making sure everything they put on here is properly labeled. [With all the minute variations between different versions of the tracks it would've been very easy for their to be errors. There don't appear to be, but not being the world's foremost "Rio"-ologist I'd ask someone to fact check that.] The appearance of the true original version of the album on CD is a huge unexpected plus, as well as having the US mixes all cleaned up and in one place.

By the numbers, you get:
"Rio" - 3 versions
"My Own Way" - 6 versions [one digital]
"Lonely In Your Nightmare" - 2 versions
"Hungry Like The Wolf" - 3 versions
"Hold Back The Rain" - 4 versions [one digital]
"New Religion" - 3 versions
"Last Change On The Stairway" - 2 versions
"Save A Prayer" - 1 version [poor "Save A Prayer" :( ]
"The Chauffeur" - 2 versions
"Like An Angel" - 2 versions
"Careless Memories" - 1 version

This is as close to definitive as it gets, so grab it while you can. Rumor is that more are on the way - I'm already in line for the 2-disc 'Seven And The Ragged Tiger' if that's the case.


what's all the fuss? just do it.

Following up a near-perfect pop debut is no easy task. Hence the term "sophomore slump".

Dragonette's second was going to be tricky in my mind. 'Galore' was handily my favorite album of 2007 - single after single after should have been single - and despite a few solid teaser tracks, I was still nervous they wouldn't be able to pull it off.

Well then. I am very, very happy to report that they have more than succeeded in crafting a worthy follow-up to their debut. It is very much the work of the same band - title track/lead single kicks us off in very much the same way "I Get Around" did previously, dirty synths backing an even dirtier lyric - while not being a mere repeat. Whereas 'Galore' was essentially a greatest hits waiting to happen, 'Fixin to Thrill' is a solid album front to back. Some songs are stronger making some appear weaker, but they all fit together into a very cohesive, poptastic whole.

Second single "Gone Too Far" is also the second track. On it's own, it didn't quite work - the electro-country twang seemed a bit of a stretch. However, placed on the album in between the aforementioned dirty-girl call-to-arms of the title track and the dark corner of the dancefloor ready, downright nasty "Lair" it makes sense. Similarly, "Pick Up The Phone" didn't really seem to take off until it got the remix treatment from one Richard X - he should be in charge of remixing everything as I often say - but it serves as a nice mid-way point for the album. Leading into...

Two of the best tracks Dragonette have put to tape yet. First, "We Rule The World" - they should, really - a playful stormer of a song. Second, in eighth position: "Big Sunglasses", a fun-tastic new wave throwback complete with stuttering vocal intro/outro and acoustic guitar/"woo woo" vocal mid-song breakdown. A-mazing.

After that things calm down a bit - the final third isn't disappointing so to speak, it just doesn't grab as immediately as the opening 8-song run. It is also where a good chunk of the down tempos are hidden - if initial reactions to 'Galore's quieter moments are anything to go by, they just need some time to sink in. It does, however, have one of their best song titles in "You're A Disaster", so there you have it...whatever "it" is.

And that's that. One of my most anticipated albums of the year - the last one remaining, I believe - not disappointing in any way, shape or form. I don't know if it's got what it takes to knock La Roux from the top in the album countdown for 2009 or if it will overtake 'Galore' as my go-to Dragonette album once the excitement of the new wears off, but it is a solid follow up from a band who almost didn't get to share their first album with us. Can't wait to see them next Monday - make sure to play "Lair", please.

jump the elvis candy bar

Fifteen years ago - fifteen! - a record came out that had a profound effect on me. It was a little record called 'Diary' by a then relatively unknown new band on the scene with a really cool name. A friend and I had heard "Seven" on the Spin Radio Network - aww, I miss that show - and we knew we had to have the record. So he bought it, I made a cassette dub - this was the mid-90's after all, and we were only 14-year old high school students at the time - and I fell in love.

A year later the band was no more, leaving an even more amazing record in their wake. We wanted to see them live SO bad but now we would never have the chance...

Flash forward a few years and the band has re-united - without original bassist Nate Mendel, of course - and put out a pair of good-but-nowhere-near-as-amazing-as-those-first-two -albums albums. We made sure to be there for the tours and the pair of shows I saw in 2000 were amongst the best I've ever seen. It always left me wondering, though, what would it have been like to see the original line up...

Last week, that question was answered. Apparently at the suggestion of Nate Mendel, the Sub-Pop Fab Four were back together to give their fans the tour they've always wanted. In a way, it was the 'LP2' tour 14 years after the fact - better late than never, yes?

I believe every fan that was crammed into Chicago's Metro last Thursday would answer with an enthusiastic "Hell Yes!". The boys took the stage and started the opening chimes of "Friday" and everyone went ape shit. Over the course of the next 90-minutes, I was reminded of just what we were missing without a Sunny Day Real Estate live show in our lives. The way Dan goes through the whole show with a gigantic grin on his face the whole time. How Will pounds the fuck out of his kit and works himself into a crazy sweat - first song: button down. Second song: already soaked through t-shirt. Third song: shirtless. Bam. Bobblehead Nate and his constant back and forth sway to the music - we got to see him with most of the boys for The Fire Theft, remember? Not the same, not all.

The center point of all of this, of course, is one Jeremy Enigk. That voice - a bit worn over the years and sounding a bit more harsh than usual this evening - still gorgeous. The way he's either got his eyes closed, concentrating so hard on the lyrics, just feeling the music...the next moment his piercing eyes laser focused in front of him, completely hypnotizing the audience. No wonder the first time I saw them I stood front and center completely enthralled watching the man. *swoon*

The set list? Near perfection. [Let's be honest: unless they came out and played both 'Diary' and 'LP2' front to back with "9", "Spade and Parade" and "Bucket of Chicken" as encores, you could complain about something missing.]

Friday / Seven / Shadows / Song About An Angel / Grendel / Guitar & Video Games / Iscarabaid / Theo B / 'new song' / 47 / J'nuh / Sometimes // In Circles / 48

Yes, that's right: new song. Introduced by Jeremy as "no title, just new song for now". It sounded exactly like you'd expect a re-formed SDRE to sound in 2009 - amazing. Like whatever happened never happened. Speaking of, "Guitar & Video Games" stuck out like a sore thumb. Apparently it was there at Nate's insistence, but especially considering what was missing from the original line up - "8"! "Rodeo Jones"! Hello? - I really could have done without it. However, "Grendel" was a very nice, very unexpected surprise that was the highlight of a night of highlights for me. [I always thought it was the fan favorite - how come no one went crazy for it but me?]

It was, of course, over way too soon and as they left the stage, you couldn't help but wonder if we'll ever see them again. Maybe, maybe not. I think I'm OK with it either way - they've left me with a near perfect experience and how I will always remember them now. Showing me that a record that was epochal to a 14-year old can still matter at 29, a full life time removed. Still giving it their all, still amazed at the effect their music can have - I've never seen a band more gracious, more truly surprised and appreciative at the massive reaction a song like "Song About An Angel" gets. If they decide to give it another go - I'm torn on whether or not I'd like a new album. A single with the new song and another on the flip side would be a nice memento of the occasion but I think a full album would be pushing it. Either way, another tour - even with the same songs - would be just as good.
After all, absence makes the heart grow fonder.

[Side note: opening act The Jealous Sound was a steaming pile and exemplified everything that was bad that came out of SDRE's rise and influence. Embarrassing lyrics, banal "loud/soft/loud" we-mean-it music. Just dreadful.]