It’s been a good week for live music. I’ve gotten to see a few of my favorite bands. The standout has been Savages. “Savages?” you ask. Simply, Savages are four chicks from London who know how to rock. They released their debut album on Spotify in May, and it’s been on heavy rotation ever since at Casa Stout. Silence Yourself is intense, loud, and fantastic.
Savages played a show here on Wednesday night. They sounded a little tight at first, but then came a new song “about Berlin” that totally clicked. Everything after that hit home.
Jehnny Beth, their French-born lead singer, said the song “She Will” was “for the ladies.”
She will enter the room / She will enter the bed / She will talk like a friend / She will kiss like a man
You can see their performance of it live on KEXP on YouTube. Nice videography, KEXP. Savages’ live sound is very close to what you hear on the album.
T-Model Ford is dead. Obit at the NYTimes. It’s the end of the line for those raw old-timey blues. Ford married six times, had “at least” 26 children, and came to the blues rather late in life.
“I said: ‘What are you spending my money on that for, baby? I can’t play no guitar,'” Mr. Ford told The Chicago Tribune in 2002. “She said, ‘You can learn.’ She was all the time running off, leaving and coming back. And I said, ‘If I play it, will you stay?’ And she said yes. She left the next Friday night.”
Giorgio Moroder is both celebrated and a man behind-the-scenes. His music has earned him three Academy Awards and three Grammys over the years, and yet many are hearing of him for the first time on the song “Giorgio by Moroder” on the new Daft Punk album Random Access Memories. He’s known for working with a variety of artists and in particular, the late Donna Summer.
It was from one of the late ’90s documentaries on electronic music (either “Better Living Through Circuitry” or “Modulations”) that I first heard about Moroder and his breakthrough with Summer. “Love to Love You Baby” in 1975 was Moroder’s first hit song with Donna Summer, but it was 1977’s “I Feel Love” that changed everything.
If you listen to Donna Summer’s I Remember Yesterday from start to finish, it’s an odd album. The concept was a progression in time. The style of each track was different. It starts in the 1920s and ends somewhere in the distant future. The album holds together, but that last track “I Feel Love” is totally unlike anything else on the album. The music represents what is to come, and Moroder was totally right about that.
Brian Eno, according to David Bowie, said, “This is it, look no further. This single is going to change the sound of club music for the next fifteen years.” What strikes you when listening to the track is the sequencing. There’s a perpetual motion in the bass line that is distinctly mechanical. Moroder envisioned the future of music, and to him, this is what it sounded like.
The track’s greatest influence was on Greek composer Vangelis’ soundtrack for the movie Blade Runner. You can hear that especially in the music that plays at the end of the film. Blade Runner still defines that urban polyglot dystopia found in many hard sci-fi books from the ’80s. That end title music has the same sequencing as the Summer track did five years earlier.
Moroder is now 73 years old, and Vangelis is 70. Both pushed electronic music into totally new areas. Daft Punk are right to honor Moroder on their album. His pioneering sound influenced the world of music from the ’70s to the present day.
Jack White’s key insight was to redefine the term rock band. He was featured in the 2008 documentary “It Might Get Loud,” but he seems mismatched there. Jimmy Page and The Edge are guitar virtuosos but neither are band leaders. White’s sound is distinctly bluesy rock, but his approach to the guitar is completely different from the other two. White used the guitar in the White Stripes almost in a percussive manner. You can see his bloodied fingers from aggressive playing in live segments of “Under Great White Northern Lights.”
Jack White stripped away nearly everything. You have a hooky guitar part, hooky lyrics, and strong, if simple, drum parts. Two people on stage could make a noise that got your attention. Starting with 1999’s debut up to Icky Thump in 2007, the White Stripes sound evolved. Success bred better studios, and Icky Thump was the penultimate White Stripes album. White stayed true to the ethos of the White Stripes, and maybe that’s all that he could say with the two person format.
The success of the White Stripes is a tribute to the drive of Jack White. Hearing De Stijl in 2000 was a breath of fresh air. Compared to the pop of that era (think Britney Spears), the White Stripes came out of nowhere with a totally fresh format. The White Stripes weren’t the very first band with that configuration of guitarist/singer and drummer, but they owned it like no others.
Artists that redefine their art form don’t come around that often. Jack White hewed to a new sound and cut through the clutter. He’s in a different category than Jimmy Page and The Edge. Like those, he defined a new guitar sound, and yet his impact was more fundamental. Jack White made people think about rock in a new way, and that was and is his singular perception.
Pudge, a threesome of brothers from Appleton, are kickstarting a fund to record and produce their first album. Make a pledge now before the deadline, and expect great things. Tony, Andy and Tom have been playing together for a while. They self-produced a five-song EP in 2007, which is really great, and they’re aiming now to release a professionally produced album.
These are three dedicated guys who have rocked out in their spare time at a wide variety of venues in Wisconsin. They’re far too young to call this a bucket list thing, but as a band, they’ve wanted to put out a record for a long time. You can watch and listen to their nicely produced video at their Kickstarter page to get a sense of what they’re about.
They call their style of music 69 rock. It’s a blend of ’60s rock ‘n’ roll and ’90s grunge. Nirvana is one of their major influences. You can also like their Facebook page and get updates on gigs and more. The brothers don’t list their names on Kickstarter, but I can personally vouch that these guys deliver. They’ve got the material ready to record, and now they’re looking for some help to put their vision on wax.
So go own a piece of history, a piece of Pudge!
I first heard The Smiths in the 8th grade. My friend Debbie said, “There’s this great song on the Pretty in Pink soundtrack. I think you’d really like it.” The song was Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want. The whole soundtrack was filled with iconic music from the mid-’80s, but Debbie was right: that Smiths song was beguiling.
By 9th and 10th grades, I was wearing Smiths t-shirts. I used to order all my t-shirts from this place on the East Coast called Burning Airlines. They had a huge catalog and a ton of t-shirt designs you couldn’t find anywhere else. They’re still in business (wow!), and in those days before the web, it’s hard to describe what a boon Burning Airlines was to a geek like me who wore a lot of t-shirts of my favorite bands.
The Smiths were a great studio band. Their live sound was relatively stripped down. The albums and singles were really their strong point. Morrissey was and still is a great lyricist. Johnny Marr was the guitar wizard and songwriting partner. If there’s one song that captures that moment in time most, it’s not How Soon is Now?, which is still an epic song that has stood the test of time. Rather, those days of youth are best encapsulated in a track from their album Meat is Murder called Nowhere Fast. Listening to Nowhere Fast now is like a trip back to high school. Or maybe it’s a trip back to high school as I imagined it. The lyrics are a perfect description of teenage ennui.
We didn’t have cable TV at my house, so I’ve never seen the video…until today. Thank you, YouTube. It was apparently still cool then to play guitar with both hands and smoke a cigarette at the same time. Bravo, Johnny! So without further ado, Nowhere Fast.
St. Vincent live in Madison. Photo: Daniel Stout
David Byrne and St. Vincent (Annie Clark) have a new album out that they collaborated on. It’s quite a treat to hear two wonderful artists working together. Their artistic measures are quite balanced together. This album — called Love This Giant (Amazon and Spotify) — features a full 12 tracks.
Annie Clark has put out three albums thus far as St. Vincent. They’re increasingly good as she finds her unique sound. Album two — Actor — had a lot of buzz and album three — Strange Mercy — has a lot of artistry.
David Byrne tends to ride his bike around New York City just like some other artists and photographers, at least according to Q Magazine. It’s the light touch of bike-riding Byrne and Clark mixed in with some rocking horns that makes this a compelling album. The songs and lyrics are thoughtful as one would expect.
If you like either of these artists, you’ll probably dig Love This Giant. It’s a great collaboration.
Ethereal. Dreamy. Celestial. Galaxie 500 was one of those bands from the late ’80s that captured a moment in time. They were a little bit ahead of the crush of shoegazer bands in the early ’90s like Slowdive, My Bloody Valentine, and Chapterhouse. I recently watched their DVD compilation called Don’t Let Our Youth Go To Waste: 1988-1991. The two-DVD set contains their four stunning, artistic music videos directed by Sergio Huidor and a variety of live sets.
Galaxie 500’s drummer Damon Krukowski penned an article for Pitchfork last week called Making Cents about royalties paid to indie musicians from streaming services like Spotify and Pandora. The usual headlines you read are how a tiny sliver of artists are making six figures through Spotify and Pandora. Major label artists receive more. Damon has the most thoughtful take I’ve read on the streaming equation for indie artists. The three members of Galaxie 500 were co-songwriters, and they own the rights to their music. Their streaming royalties are less than pennies on the dollar.
The payouts are less than half a cent per stream on Spotify and even less on Pandora. Damon says that Galaxie 500 would need 312,000 streams on Pandora to equal the profit of the sale of one (1) LP. Indie artists are clearly getting paid poverty rates from the streaming services. It’s true for most artists these days that recordings don’t pay a living wage, and most revenue comes from gigs and merch.
Damon’s analysis of Spotify and Pandora is spot on. These are technology startups, and they’re not tied to the music industry in meaningful ways. The goal, as Spotify’s CEO Daniel Ek puts it, is “growth. That is priority one, two, three, four and five.” Many startup founders build and then cash out. Both Spotify and Pandora are losing money.
I’m ultimately optimistic of the future. I think this problem will improve over time. But the current economics are untenable. Pretty Lights (Derek Vincent Smith), who had a show in Madison last week, simply gives away all of his music online and makes it up with live shows. Not every artist is willing to or even should go that route.
I still love Galaxie 500’s three albums. Dean, Naomi and Damon had a definite thing. Damon & Naomi have continued making music together. Dean Wareham continued on too as he detailed in his memoir Black Postcards: A Rock & Roll Romance. Damon’s article helps raise awareness of the current plight of musicians, but the fix for this problem is elusive.
Yesterday, I was talking about the combination of wistful music and views of city scenes during the opening credits of the TV show Portlandia. That got me thinking of another song that has a very similar effect. Adam F is known mostly as a hip-hop producer, and in 1997, he put out an album of his own music called Colours. It was tragically underrated. I say tragically because it’s absolutely one of my favorite albums electronica or otherwise. There’s a fusion of a lot of music on the album, and it all sounds as if Herbie Hancock put out an album of electronica.
I first discovered Adam F from the video for his song Circles, which was on a compilation DVD from 2000 of various drum’n’bass and electronica artists called Sound & Motion, Vol. 1. You can still order the DVD from Amazon. The DVD is chock full of great electronic music, mostly from around 1997. It starts out with a few popular videos like The Chemical Brothers’ Block Rockin’ Beats, but then it gets into some really, really good stuff like Adam F’s Circles.
The video for Circles is on YouTube, and it’s a shorter version of the track. The full Colours album is available on Spotify, and here is the song Circles. The video is great, but I also recommend listening to the seven minute album version of the song on Spotify. I wish that Washed Out song from yesterday was also seven minutes long.
The video for Circles is mostly people in city scenes, and all of it is cast with a blue hue. Everything looks like they shot it at night. Some of it was, but some scenes are during the day. It’s the perfect music for summer (or fall) nights in the city, in whatever city you are. And so here is the YouTube video. Enjoy!
Update: The original music video was taken down. Here’s a substitute of the song sans visuals.
Recently, I’ve watched the first season of a TV show called Portlandia. It’s a comedy with two stars: Fred Armisen of SNL and Carrie Brownstein who does vocals/guitar for Wild Flag. There are lots of guest stars on the show ranging from Selma Blair to Aimee Mann to the Decemberists.
It’s a spoof on life in Portland. It thrives on a clichéd look at life in the city, but it’s all in good fun. What I discovered sometime around the fourth episode was that the music that plays during the opening credits was entrancing. It’s this slow-burn epic with a beat. It plays as various city scenes from Portland slide by, and it sets in a good mood.
I was so enchanted I had to find out what song it was–only an excerpt plays in the show–and I discovered that a lot of other people were searching for the same thing. Turns out the song is Feel It All Around from a 2009 EP by Washed Out called Life of Leisure. You may know Washed Out from the Within & Without album from last year. You can find the song on Spotify, and just for you I thought I’d embed this great unofficial YouTube clip: