Bob Dylan – Blonde on Blonde

28 05 2010

Listened: Wednesday May 26

I have to start this review by saying I’ve always hated Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 (aka Everybody Must Get Stoned). Potheads are the only ones who like it… it’s not a great song and it’s a crappy song to lead the album with!

I do love Visions of Johanna, One Of Us Must Know (Sooner Or Later), I Want You, Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again, Just Like A Woman, and 4th Time Around.

I particularly love the lyrics from the latter song:

I stood there and hummed
I tapped on her drum and asked her how come
And she buttoned her boot
And straightened her suit
Then she said, “Don’t get cute”
So I forced my hands in my pockets
And felt with my thumbs
And gallantly handed her
My very last piece of gum

To me this always makes me think of a guy asking a girl what gets her off, she clams up and is too prudish to talk about it, so he gives up on being generous and suggests that they get down to the business of vanilla intercourse instead (gum = condom).

Otherwise, Blonde on Blonde is a lot of surrealistic rapping that’s fun to sing along to, but you really don’t know what the heck is being talked about most of the time. But that’s OK. Also I imagine the cover was quite shocking at the time – not a very complementary picture that’s also out of focus, which seems like a drug reference. I also had never noticed before – he’s almost wearing a keffiyeh scarf (a modern-day hipster accessory if there ever was one). Ahead of his time!

The Black Keys – The Big Come Up

28 05 2010

Listened: Wednesday May 26

The Black Keys are another band my coworker Jim recently introduced me to. They’re dirty, bluesy rock and occasionally the guitars sound like Creedence. I love the artificial ring wear on the album cover.

The Beta Band – The Beta Band

27 05 2010

Listened: Wednesday May 26

I haven’t listened to The Beta Band’s self-titled album in years. As I sat down to write this entry, I remembered that you could tell the total Brit-nerds in America by how they pronounced the band’s name. It should be pronounced the way British people say Beta. Beeeeeeta. The Americans who said it this way were the people who knew their stuff.

This album is a strange amalgam of songs – rapping, very Pink-Floydian soundscapes, and something Wikipedia calls “folktronica”, which is “a blend of folk, electronic, rock, trip hop, and experimental jamming.”

I liked being reminded of the songs, but I doubt I will listen to it much. It seems dated to me.

Márta Sebestyén – The Best Of Márta Sebestyén

25 05 2010

Listened: Tuesday May 25

Márta Sebestyén is most famous for the beautiful Hungarian songs in The English Patient, though she’s had a long career besides that. On this collection of her songs, she sings in Hungarian, Slovak, English, and Hindi amongst others. Whatever the language, her voice is lovely, haunting, and not like anything I’ve ever heard before.

This CD actually belonged to my college roommate, but I inherited it when she moved to Nepal (she’s since returned but I still have the CD). The songs always makes me think of her.

Desmond Dekker & The Aces – Best Of Desmond Dekker

25 05 2010

Listened: Tuesday May 25

This album is of an entirely different nostalgia than the high school soundtracks I’ve just written about.

For context, Desmond Dekker was one of the first Jamaican stars recognized outside Jamaica (which, really, probably means he had a minor hit in England). It’s interesting to hear from this collection of songs where Bob Marley got some of his sound. Some of the very early Marley is of a similar musical style and the physical style of those early groups was more do-wop like Desmond (tailored nerd suits and close cropped hair, not hippie clothes and dreads).

007 (Shanty Town) has been referenced by many people over the years (“Dem a-loot, dem a-shoot, dem a-will”). Israelites, Problems, and Too Much Too Soon all have amazing beats and rhythms. Honor Your Mother and Father makes me laugh – a “cool” song about how you should respect your parents?

Now for the nostalgia – after college I went to Wales and England for 6 weeks to volunteer at some work camps doing historical and conservation projects. Desmond Dekker songs were definitely a big part of that trip. Ska, especially old-school ska, is mandatory listening in Britain. These songs make me think of the Welsh landscape, sleeping in a tent for weeks, and bouncing along country roads in a Lada with a shite sound system. But it all makes perfect sense – after all, it is island music, and isn’t Britain an island?

Blur – The Best Of

25 05 2010

Listened: Tuesday May 25

Back in the Britpop wars of the early 90s, I was on team Oasis. Maybe the trashiness and unpredictability of the personalities involved on the Oasis side appealed more to teenage sensibility.

Whatever the reason, I don’t own any of Blur’s non-“Best of” albums. The Best Of makes me think I should. Everyone knows Song 2, which is a good song, but is super-overplayed. I love Charmless Man (British humor again), She’s So High (90s sound nostalgia), and On Your Own (epic singalong). My Amazon wish list got a lot longer after I got this album.

Radiohead – The Bends

25 05 2010

Listened: Monday May 24

The Bends is one of my favorite albums ever. I have to admit that I didn’t own the first two Radiohead albums until well after OK Computer and Kid A. I was a fan of their singles on the radio; I just didn’t take the time to check out all their albums until I had worn out the later ones. I was missing something!

Sulk is the only hetero-male legit torch song I can think of. High and Dry, Fake Plastic Trees, Nice Dream, and Bulletproof are all very creepy (ha) but beautiful songs. The guitar and bass are really good as a whole, and the relatively immature angst of this album is kind of cute compared to later Radiohead.

Despite not owning the album at the time, The Bends era holds a special place in my heart in terms of nostalgia. My high school friends and I saw Radiohead at the Berkeley Community Theater for Live 105’s Green Christmas. They were the second band to play in a 9 band lineup (the other bands were Sonic Youth, Billy Idol, Oasis, Jawbreaker, The Rentals, Garbage, No Doubt, and Toadies, for context) and according to the internets they played:

The Bends
My Iron Lung
High & Dry
Fake Plastic Trees

I remember the circumstances of that show a lot more than how or what Radiohead played. Friends had to lie to their parents to go to a show that far from home and we had to leave before Oasis was done, to catch the last BART train back to Fremont, where I had parked my newly acquired 1986 Volkswagen Jetta with the whistley radio. We packed that car full of 5 teenagers for the trip (and this was before the rules about kids not being able to drive a car full of kids after midnight – thank god. I pity today’s teenagers!) and as a new driver it seemed a big deal to drive so far outside normal routes with a full car. Probably because of all the exigencies, it’s a really fond memory and these songs definitely bring all that back.