September 5, 2008

Knights of Cydonia

Posted in Music at 11:43 pm by Calico Jack

I think I found a way to embed the high-quality YouTube videos instead of suffering through the normal crappy quality. And what better way is there to test it than to put up a video of Muse’s performance of “Knights of Cydonia” at the V Festival last month? Opening with a great rendition of Ennio Morricone’s “Man with the Harmonica” adds an entirely higher level of awesomeness to the song:

Edit: WordPress still strips out the added code to display the video in its higher resolution. I hope this issue is fixed soon.

June 25, 2008

Muse on iTunes

Posted in Music at 2:10 am by Calico Jack

For those of us in the U.S. who are Muse fans, iTunes has been a soruce of disappointment over the past several years. All of their albums have been available for purchase, and that’s it — no B-sides, no singles, and no compilations. iTunes UK has everything, but unless you’re skillful enough to work around the UK credit card/billing address requirements, there haven’t been too many legal options left for people wanting more Muse. You could either pay often-outrageous prices for UK and Japanese imports, or you could rely on the generosity of UK friends and the invaluable Muselive (seriously, that site is pure gold).

For most bands, this wouldn’t be a big deal. Rarities and B-sides are often left off of albums for a reason: they’re simply not up to par with the album tracks. But just like Sigur Rós and The National, Muse’s non-album songs are fully equal with anything they’ve released on an LP. And now, for the first time, iTunes US has a very substantial collection of Muse singles available for download. Oh, happy day!

I’m not the biggest fan of iTunes’ thirty-second preview for music; it often isn’t enough to get a sense for what a song is actually like. Below I’ve put full-length, high-quality streams for five of Muse’s B-sides, along with links to buy the tracks on iTunes. The sixth, “Crying Shame,” isn’t on iTunes yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it in a few weeks.

First up is “Fury,” the Japanese bonus track for 2003’s Absolution LP. “Fury” nearly made it onto the regular album, but was replaced at the last minute by “The Small Print.” It’s a shame, because “Fury” is hands-down one of the top five songs Muse has ever released. Listen in awe:

Buy on iTunes

Next we have “Eternally Missed,” a B-side to the “Hysteria” single. It’s one of the longest songs Muse has ever recorded at 6+ minutes, but it has a nice thumping bass to keep things moving. Some Musers call it a masterpiece; I think it’s merely very good — but decide for yourself:

Buy on iTunes

Third on the playlist is “The Groove,” a rifftastic B-side from the “Sing for Absolution” single. Muse hasn’t played this one live since 2004 (well, apart from instrumental versions here and there), and it’s become a running joke for Muse fans to bring banners with the words “Play The Groove!” to every concert.

Buy on iTunes

Moving on to the Black Holes and Revelations era, we have this album’s Japanese bonus track, “Glorious” — one of my favorites due to its chromatic chorus and passionate lyrics: “Believes we could be glorious…”

Buy on iTunes

The last non-remix B-side on iTunes is “Assassin (Grand Omega Bosses edit)” from the “Knights of Cydonia” 7″ vinyl. The song is an extended version of the “Assassin” track from Black Holes and Revelations., including different percussion, more distortion, and a very, very tight bridge in the middle that’s completely missing from the album version. Those changes turn “Assassin” into a must-play on my iPod; it’s a far superior version in every way. I can understand why Muse didn’t put it on the album, since it’s definitely more prog-leaning than the other BH&R songs. Check it out:

Buy on iTunes

And finally, we have a song that isn’t currently available for iTunes purchase, although I hope it will be soon. “Crying Shame” is a B-side off of the “Supermassive Black Hole” single, although it was originally rumored to be Black Holes and Revelations’ first single. It’s a bit too short for me to feel like I can ever fully enjoy the song in one sitting, but I’ve put it on here for your listening pleasure:

June 11, 2008

Blood Red Shoes

Posted in Music at 10:48 pm by Calico Jack

Blood Red Shoes are a two-piece from Brighton that have quite a bit in common with other garage-rock Brit bands. It wouldn’t be wrong to draw parallels with The Subways or The Libertines — or, if you’re into a bit of aural masochism, The Vines. What Blood Red Shoes has that The Vines doesn’t, however, is a fair amount of talent to go along with the unbridled enthusiasm that makes up their debut album Box of Secrets. Check out the ready-for-Guitar-Hero single “You Bring Me Down” (honestly, that’s meant as a compliment) below:

June 5, 2008

Ladytron

Posted in Music at 10:50 pm by Calico Jack

Ladytron’s fourth album Velocifero hit stores this past Tuesday, and it’s been in nearly-perpetual rotation on my iTunes since then. Listen to their first track “Black Cat” and get hooked on five minutes of dark, buzzing glam-pop. And yeah, it’s in Bulgarian. Make up your own lyrics.

June 3, 2008

Artist Discovery: Glasvegas

Posted in Music at 12:41 am by Calico Jack

Glasvegas is a new band hailing from Glasgow (note the influences in their name), and they’ve been getting quite a bit of buzz on the other side of the pond. Their debut album will be released sometime this fall — until then, they’ll be performing at pretty much every music festival in the UK. Here’s a video of their recent performance at Later…with Jules Holland:

December 25, 2007

Artist Discovery: Battles

Posted in Music at 2:11 pm by Calico Jack

Perhaps this is a tentative step back into blogging after yet another hiatus. Either way, the single “Atlas” from Battles’ LP Mirrored is one of those songs that I suspect a lot of people simply won’t grok, for lack of a better term. It’s prog-rock at its most rhythmic, with a pulsing drum that accentuates…oh, just watch it yourself:

I can understand how off-putting it might be to those trained on top-40 blandness. For sheer exuberance and stomp-along thrill, however, it has my vote as single of the year. It’s as addictive as my favorite song from last year, Kasabian’s “Shoot the Runner”:

August 13, 2007

Los Campesinos!

Posted in Music at 10:44 pm by Calico Jack

Apologies to all for the light posting this past month. Things should be picking up shortly. In the meantime, here’s the indie Cardiff band Los Campesinos!’ addictive single, “You! Me! Dancing!”

August 4, 2007

Muse!

Posted in Music at 11:26 pm by Calico Jack

Two nights ago I was able to check off another one of my “things to do before I die” list: seeing Muse live in concert. They’ve been my favorite band for four years now, ever since I saw a clip of their song “Sing for Absolution” all the way back in 2003 on the BBCAmerica channel. Their latest album had been released in the UK only two weeks before, so I picked up an import copy…and the rest, as they say, is history.

Muse was headlining a concert with three other bands as openers: Cold War Kids, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and Social Distortion. The Cold War Kids put on a decent performance, although I think their set suffered from being early in the afternoon before most people decided to show up. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club was pretty good: catchy ’70s-inspired rock, very reminiscent of Jet and The Black Keys.

Social Distortion, on the other hand, was a complete disaster for me. Way too loud for what they were doing — uninspired punkcore by a bunch of guys well past their prime. Many people were at the ampitheatre just for Social Distortion, but my brother and I skipped out halfway through to save what was left of our hearing for Muse. SD also had problems with their sound checks, and as a result their set ran about a half hour longer than it should have.

After what felt like an interminable delay, the lights dimmed…and I started screaming my lungs out. We were fewer than thirty or forty feet from the front of the stage, a mere thirteen rows back. You couldn’t ask for much better seats than what we had.

All pictures were taken by my brother, who squeezed his way to the very front of the stage and snapped well over two hundred pics. The best of them are up on his Flickr set here.

Muse’s performance was cut a bit short because they were required to end at eleven, but we still got an awesome setlist:

Knights of Cydonia
Map of the Problematique
Hysteria
Supermassive Black Hole
Butterflies & Hurricanes
Feeling Good
Sunburn
Invincible
Starlight
Time is Running Out
New Born
Plug in Baby
Stockholm Syndrome
Take a Bow

I was thrilled to hear a few songs from their older CDs Origin of Symmetry and Showbiz, and I got my all-time favorite request in Butterflies and Hurricanes. We were fortunate enough to be in a section along with a number of Muse diehards; our entire row belted out the lyrics to every single song while newer fans gave us weird looks. The most disappointing thing about this concert was the crowd’s relative sluggishness; I suspect that many people were just tired after five hours in 90+ degree weather. But I didn’t care how much sweat was soaking my shirt; when Matt, Chris and Dom were performing, nothing else mattered — even my hearing, as I’m still suffering from a slight bit of tinnitus in one ear. I can’t say it wasn’t worth it; this was easily the best concert I’ve ever seen. Muse is a band that gives its audience such a sense of euphoria, words aren’t really applicable. Perhaps this video might help explain things a bit better, as someone took a fairly good video of their opener “Knights of Cydonia.” Most amateur concert videos are either inaudible or too jerky to watch, but this one’s an exception to the norm:

I’m going to remember this night for the rest of my life. Now to get cracking on the next item on my list: See Muse again…

July 15, 2007

Music Roundup 2

Posted in Music at 10:46 pm by Calico Jack

Ah, summertime. While Top 40 radio fills the airwaves with Fall Out Boy’s consonantal “Thnks Fr Th Mmrs,” Timbaland’s illiterate “The Way I Are” and Fergie’s suicide-inducing “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” there are many bands under the mainstream radar that could — and should — take their place upon the “Song of the Summer” throne. Here are a few that I’m rocking out to right now:

First up is LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends,” a vivacious song that perfectly captures the feel of those random summertime road trips with nothing but good friends and the open road. This is one of my favorite tracks from one of my favorite albums of the year so far:

The National’s latest album Boxer was released in May, and I want everyone to stop reading this post and go buy the CD. Yes, immediately; I’ll wait.

Now that you’re back, here’s their first single off of the aforementioned album. “Mistaken for Strangers” is hard to describe, as the National’s lyrics and music are complex musically and lyrically. But they’re also one of the most dynamic bands around. See for yourself:

This is an NSFW video for the Dresden Dolls’ latest single “Shores of California.” Cabaret music, burlesque dancing and an ocean vista — what better combination is there?

And we finally have Spoon’s “Underdog,” a cheerily caustic and eminently singable track replete with horns and syncopated clapping. Summertime music doesn’t get much better than this:

June 21, 2007

Album Review: My December

Posted in Music at 9:40 pm by Calico Jack

Kelly Clarkson’s latest album My December — which has been plagued with problems throughout its recording — will finally hit stores next Tuesday. All five of you who care, raise your hands. Still, in the interests of avoiding the “music snob” moniker I listened to the entire thing, courtesy of MTV’s Mac-unfriendly website. My December has a different tone than her previous albums; it’s lyrically darker and more despondent than even the not-exactly-peppy “Since You’ve Been Gone” track from Breakaway, which made her the darling of so many jilted girlfriends. Even the music has a harder edge; it’s closer to Evanescence than Natasha Bedingfield — although it falls prey to modern rock’s worst attribute, as nearly every track sounds exactly the same. It’s all midtempo, interchangeable stuff that drones on after the first several songs. I believe another American Idol alum had the same problem, with his debut album being focus-tested to contain the maximum number of radio-friendly hits — i.e., Nickelback-lite. Chris Daughtry’s record was inexplicably snapped up by a large number of Americans, though; obviously it worked.

Clarkson also can’t seem to get past her biggest obstacle: her voice. She’s an alto who shouldn’t be trying to belt out anything soprano-related, as the results are more shrieking than singing. The first single “Never Again” is a particularly egregious example of this problem, but it gets little better for the rest of My December. However, there are two tracks which deviate from the usual formula and prove that somewhere, deep down, Kelly Clarkson has a decent singing/songwriting gene buried beneath layers of post-American Idol celebrity. “Be Still” and “Irvine” are quieter, reflective songs unfortunately stuck in the second half of the album; better placement might have given listeners more of an incentive to slog their way through the whole thing. Clarkson channels Damien Rice’s breathy vocals in the hopeful “Be Still”, and pleading “Irvine” is a quiet cross between Sarah McLachlan and Feist. I’ll probably end up getting both tracks on iTunes; they’d make for a nice coffeehouse mix.

If you’re interested in listening to My December, here’s the link for the 64K stream. As pop-rock music goes, it’s mediocre-and-below…but this album will probably sell a million copies to people who have never heard of Neko Case or Regina Spektor or even Corrinne Bailey Rae. Oh well; their loss.

C-.

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