Headlights

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Wow. Headlights’ sophomore album Some Racing, Some Stopping is hands down the best new release thus far this year.

Consumate pros at their craft, which happens to be solid indie pop, Headlights came out of nowhere to offer Earth the moonstruck beauty of “Cherry Tulips”. One listen is practically guaranteed to have you downloading their latest within minutes.

Be sure to stop by their myspace for upcoming tour dates, I hear they put on a hell of a show!

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“Cherry Tulips” from Some Racing, Some Stopping (2008)

Published in: on March 8, 2008 at 2:30 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Snowden

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Snow! A veritable rarity here in the southern United States, the recent heavy snowfall has caused a few remote areas to be inaccessible. Fortunately, I’ve a powerful shovel to render the driveway snow asunder.

Pitiful frozen water is no match for iron and brawn. To war!

But not before breakfast. . .

In the meantime, if so inclined, please enjoy two stellar snow-related songs from artists soon-to-be featured here:

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 Doves “Snowden” from Some Cities (2005)

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Mew “Snow Brigade” from Frengers (2003)

Published in: on March 8, 2008 at 8:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Jaymay

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Dames. It has been noticed that since the inception of Hurry Home Dark Cloud not a single female artist has held center stage. Further, there has been a distict lean towards music from bygone years rather than more recent releases.

Lest it be said that we are stuck in the past or, worse, misogynistic: it is with great pleasure that I introduce the exceptionally talented Jaymay.

Her debut Autumn Fallin’ was released a few months ago and has been steadily gaining momentum, culminating in an expanded March 11 re-release of the record.

Album highlights “Blue Skies” and “Gray or Blue” showcase the complexity she is capable of, channeling both a touch of Missy Higgins and a bit of Alela Diane.

Highly recommended.

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“Blue Skies” from Autumn Fallin’ (2007)

Published in: on March 7, 2008 at 5:29 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Better Than Ezra

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“Good.” With that single syllable song, Better Than Ezra firmly established themselves as one of the premier alt-rock bands alongside such illustrious contemporaries as Blind Melon, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Dishwalla, Gin Blossoms, and Collective Soul. Debut Deluxe was a surprise hit and spawed at least two other successful singles.

From there, Better Than Ezra crafted an equally grand sophomore record. The release of Friction, Baby saw newfound fans across the globe embracing one of the most reliably crowd-pleasing songs in Better Than Ezra’s catalogue: “Desperately Wanting”. However, despite the success, no new ground was broken because the band opted to utilize the exact same mold they’d used for their debut.

The debate between releasing a roster of straight rock records and experimenting with a style a bit deeper than the average alternative album has torn apart lesser acts. Granted, it is a crucial decision that can make or break a band.

Do you cater to the greatest common denominator and give the people what they theoretically want – another piece of the same rock record? Or do you alter your present style to something less mainstream yet still have the album solidly land within the field of pop music?

Better Than Ezra’s conceptualization of third album How Does Your Garden Grow set about to regenerate the dormant creativity long-time fans knew they were capable of. It begins with quirky opener “Je Ne M’en Souviens Pas”, which essentially establishes this will not be BTE Rock Record #3.

The record really kicks off with “One More Murder”, which adroitly highlights the senselessness of random killings. “At the Stars” recalls late nights that seemed as if they could last forever. “Under You” unfolds beautifully as a love paean, while adjacent track “Live Again” suggests a more complex relationship replete with worries and woes.

“Beautiful Mistake” is nudged near the end of the album when many bands are tacking on filler songs and half-hearted tracks. Concerning a father who has abandoned his family, the track was immediately seized upon by fans who understood the pain of loss. For years it could be found next to Everclear’s “Father of Mine” on oft-pressed melancholy mix discs.

Though Better Than Ezra has released two albums since Garden, with some notable high points, they have yet to reach the creative heights they scaled so seemingly effortlessly in 1998.

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 “Good” from Deluxe (1993)

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 “Desperately Wanting” from Friction, Baby (1996)

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 “Beautiful Mistake” from How Does Your Garden Grow? (1998)

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“A Lifetime” from Closer (2001)

Enigma

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1994. It was, perhaps, impossible to view VH1 at any given moment during that year and miss the memorable clip for Enigma’s “Return to Innocence”. Opening with the peaceful death of an elderly man beneath a tree, the video unfolds in reverse exposition (a la Coldplay’s “The Scientist”) to weave the tale of that man’s life all the way back to birth – the literal return to innocence.

Inspired by recent revisitations to the work of E.S. Posthumus and simultaneously reminded of the mid-nineties by dusting off my copy of In the House of Stone and Light, I felt compelled to remain in flashback mode and review the early works of prominent electronica musicians Enigma.

Fronted primarily by the gifted Michael Cretu and an insanely awesome bamboo flute, Enigma burst onto the electronica/new age scene in the early nineties with impressive bravado. For a few precious years, they accomplished the improbable and made new age sound rather swell.

Then, as fate would have it, Yanni had his Acropolis deal in ’94 and Enya released an album a year later. New age sunk back into its former state of what could be described as “cotton candy” music. Though it should be noted Enya did win a Grammy for her record, but a new age Grammy is pretty much a Gimme Grammy. Enya has racked up a win for nearly every album released. At last count, she is up to at least four or five.

You see, it’s not exactly a hotly contested genre.

But I digress.

With the release of MCMXC a.D. in 1990, Enigma catapulted themselves to stardom with a brilliant cohesion of Gregorian chants, sweet synth beats, and the aforementioned insanely awesome bamboo flute. Their work would be drafted into dozens of films, trailers, and television ads and have the distinction of featuring on my fifth grade mix tape.

Their early albums, perhaps inevitably, sound a bit prosaic at present. It is probably difficult for first-time listeners to recognize that in 1990 the sound of Enigma was both edgy and stylistically nouveau.

Fourteen years after release, there is still something innately special about “Return to Innocence” – indeed, the whole of Cross of Changes is an impressive piece of work. Never, before or since, did Cretu and crew combine their stock of worldly chants and electronica beats with such pitch perfect effect.

That’s why it will always remain a mainstay in my collection, and that’s why it should remain in yours as well.

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“Mea Culpa” from MCMXC a.D. (1990)

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“Return to Innocence” from The Cross of Changes (1993)

Published in: on March 5, 2008 at 5:44 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Pacific!

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Disco. I’m not entirely certain why that was the first genre that struck me upon listening to Reveries by Pacific!, but it seems to fit rather well. Reveries is unquestionably retro in spirit, and there is a certain charm in revisiting a long lost friend from the past – but the term disco is still too tainted with seventies absurdity to take it seriously again.

 And yet, I’m bereft of a more decorous summarization.

Reveries just recently hit the streets and a few tracks are already burning up my playlist. Specifically, I simply cannot get enough of “Sunset Blvd”. At first listen, it sounds like a track from a lost seventies soundcheck. Each successive listen reveals a firm root in the present, while still ringing with all the best intonations of that bygone era. 

Call it disco, retro, old-soul, whatever. Suffice it to say Pacific! is in fine form.  Pick up the single below, stream a few more tracks at their myspace, then buy the album here

If “Sunset Blvd” doesn’t immediately sell you, I’m willing to bet one listen to “Love Isn’t Always On Time” will!

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“Sunset Blvd” from Reveries (2008)

Published in: on March 4, 2008 at 6:01 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Martin Page

 

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Genesis. An admiration for that particular progressive rock band is perhaps one of the few commonalities Martin Page and I share. Though, now that I consider it, Page harbors a partiality to the pre-Collins Genesis records and I definitely fall into the post-Gabriel realm of fandom. Apparently the distinction between the two is still fiercely debated, with many fans still referring to Collins as the “new guy.”

 

But I digress.

 

Aside from a mutal partiality to Genesis, I have an absolute adoration for In the House of Stone and Light, the first and (so far) last album from Page. Released in 1994, the album gained significant buoyance from the success of its album-titled track and subsequent single “Keeper of the Flame.”

 

The video clip for “In the House of Stone and Light” was played endlessly on VH1 (back when they actually rotated music videos) during the summer of ’94 and could still be seen deep into 1995 (usually adjacent to the outstanding Annie Lennox clip for “No More I Love Yous”). The track also spun heavily on radio and featured on adult contemporary playlists for years afterward.

 

Despite a default categorization as a “one hit wonder”, I find the record an endless source of indulgence I return to at least once a year. This is partly because of the polished, superlative songwriting and partly because of the exceedingly intricate care given to the instrumentation.

 

Prior to recording his debut album, Page had written songs for acts as diverse as Go West, Tom Jones, Earth Wind & Fire, Heart, and Starship. This experience in the music business, combined with Page’s involvement in seminal eighties techno band Q-Feel, allowed him to slate such venerable session musicians as Robbie Robertson (of The Band, on guitar) and Phil Collins (of Genesis, on drums) who lent their considerable talents to the harmony of Page’s magnum opus.

 

Spaced throughout In the House of Stone and Light are the ubiquitous love songs (“Light in Your Heart”, “I Was Made For You”), yet a variety of disparate topics are addressed on the album, including: domestic violence (“In My Room”), World War II internment camps (“The Door”), and a general condemnation of modern wars and societal ills (“Shape the Invisible”).

 

Curiously, the single version of the marriage ballad “Keeper of the Flame” was coupled with the b-side “Broken Stairway” – which could very well have been written about a divorce. Though this may strike some as a contradictory move to some, I found it a perfect accompaniment to the chugging percussion and amiable tone of the a-side.

 

“Broken Stairway” is a heartachingly beautiful piano ballad clocking in at a scant two minutes forty-nine seconds. In that brief period of time, what unfolds is perhaps one of the saddest songs I’ve had the pleasure of discovering.

 

For those who share my affinity for In the House of Stone and Light and lament the sophomore album that never came, there is light on the horizon. According to Page, second album In the Temple of the Muse is slated for “imminent” release sometime in early 2008. A recent track, “Healing Waters”, which Page recorded for the 2007 Abrazos breast cancer benefit album, can be streamed here.

 

While the tone is certainly reminiscent of his debut album and the track overall is warmingly strong, it’s rather evident his vocals lack the robust power they once held. At present, it is unclear if “Healing Waters” will feature on the upcoming record because a track listing is still unavailable.

 

Page has long had a penchant for quoting historical figures in his works (his myspace blog is adorned with them). In homage to this practice, I’ll leave you with the selection he inserted into the liner notes of In the House of Stone and Light:

 

 

“Defenceless under the night

Our world in stupor lies;

Yet, dotted everywhere,

Ironic points of light

Flash out wherever the just

Exchange their messages:

May I, composed like them

of Eros and of dust

Beleaguered by the same

Negation and despair,

Show an affirming flame”

          W.H. Auden from “September 1, 1939”

 

 

 

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“In the House of Stone and Light” from In the House of Stone and Light (1994)

 

“Broken Stairway” from In the House of Stone and Light (1994)

 

 

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“Dancing in Heaven (Orbital Be-Bop)” from Q-Feel (1983)

 

Published in: on March 3, 2008 at 6:11 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Seabear

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Iceland. Home to a little over 300,000 people. Home to the popular children’s program LazyTown and the magnificent waterfall Dettifoss. Home to the modern progenitors of heartachingly gorgeous melodies. Luminaries such as Bjork, Sigur Ros, and now. . .Seabear.

I could spin a yarn about the subtle complexity of the record, add a couple paragraphs about the existential beauty of the songs, perhaps even the an excessively verbose track-by-track analysis. I could tell you the single “I Sing, I Swim” alone would be worth the purchase price of the LP.

But all of that would only keep you from finding out for yourself one of the brightest new stars on the indie scene today, and you’ll want all the time in the world to enjoy this beautiful, exquisitely crafted gem.

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“I Sing, I Swim” from The Ghost That Carried Us Away (2007)

“Libraries”  from The Ghost That Carried Us Away (2007)

Published in: on March 2, 2008 at 11:26 am  Leave a Comment  
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Klaatu

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Would you entrust these guys with a recording contract?

“Sub-Rosa Subway”. Had it not been for this track it’s likely Klaatu would not have achieved the success they attained. Formed in the early seventies, the band strove for years to garner attention until they finally landed a deal with Capitol. Klaatu released their debut album 3:47 EST in 1976 to surprising success.

For whatever reason, there was a distinct lack of information about the band and a rumor began that Klaatu was, in fact, the Beatles. The record label and the band did nothing to dispel this rumor, and as a result many avid music consumers truly believed the gossip.

In particular the track “Sub-Rosa Subway”, which the band themselves admitted was structured as a tribute to the Beatles, fueled the madness.

It didn’t take long for natural sensibilities to quell the Beatles rumors and, as one might expect, the band was subjected to severe backlash from fans who felt misled and essentially duped into buying the record.

Still, Klaatu carried on with four more albums before finally disbanding in 1981.

Perhaps the most favored track in Klaatu’s short career, “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft”, was later covered successfully by The Carpenters.

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“Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft” from 3:47 EST (1976)

“Sub-Rosa Subway” from 3:47 EST (1976)

BONUS MP3

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“Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft” from Passage (1977)

Published in: on March 2, 2008 at 9:59 am  Leave a Comment  
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Battlestar Galactica

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Battlestar Galactica. Admittedly, the title suggests an embarrasingly puerile space-romp in the same vein as the original series which aired nearly thirty years ago. With that in mind, I can understand how many would question why the modernized “reimagined series” is receiving nearly universal praise.

Since the franchise relaunched in 2003, Battlestar Galactica has become without question the finest cable television program still in production – science fiction or otherwise. The masterful guidance of former Star Trek producer Ronald D. Moore deserves a good deal of the credit for reshaping the framework of the series, but there are a myriad of vital components to that framework.

Battlestar benefits the most from the prodigiously redeveloped characters and tightknit story plotting, which lends the program a much greater depth than it’s predecessor. Further, the decision to abandon many stalwart science fiction conventions (i.e. laser weapons, excessive technobabble, etc.) and rely instead on a more realistic depiction of a possible alternative future is perhaps the lynchpin of the programs success. 

Battlestar characters still employ ballistic weaponry and do not live in a utopian society. They do not explain problems with lines like “The primary hydroelectric magnetosphere regulator is overloaded” and they certainly do not possess technology that can materialize matter across vast distances. Further, the plot threads are not resolved by hack trickery such as the oft-used deus ex machina conclusion – which Star Trek relied on heavily at times.

With the fifth and final season of The Wire winding down on HBO and many abandoning hope in ever enjoying Lost again, it has been suggested by quite a few bloggers and periodicals (Entertainment magazine, for one) that a perfect solution to the television drought is to pick up BSG.

The penultimate third season will be available on DVD March 18, and the final season will begin airing April 4 on the Sci-Fi Channel. Despite being the resident town crier of the program’s merits, I must concede the executives handling of the show tends to repulse many viewers not generally drawn to science fiction. At times, it’s even insultingly pandering.

The two-hour film Razor, intended to serve as a bridge episode between the third and fourth seasons, simply did not reveal anything especially interesting – other than to prove they killed the Admiral Cain character off much too soon. Michelle Forbes, herself a sometime Star Trek actress, was simply brilliant in the Cain role.

Unquestionably the worst aspect of the film’s inital airing is that between commercial breaks, the powers that be inexplicably felt it was a good idea to insert spots after a major event occured that went something like: “It has been revealed. Admiral Cain is a….lesbian!” Ridiculous.

If the imminent release of BSG:S3 creates a vaccuum of disinterest within, I’ve helpfully provided a list of many other upcoming DVD releases. It should be noted that a host of wonderful films such as The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, 3:10 to Yuma, Michael Clayton, American Gangster, Once, La Vie en Rose, and In the Valley of Elah are all readily available on DVD.

Feb. 26 – Beowulf, The Darjeeling Limited, Goya’s Ghosts

Mar. 11 – No Country for Old Men, Bee Movie, Hitman

Mar. 18 – Battlestar Galactica – Season Three, I Am Legend

Mar. 25 – Lost Highway*

Apr. 01 – Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Apr. 08 – There Will Be Blood, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story

Apr. 29 – The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones: Vol. 3

May 20 – National Treasure: Book of Secrets

* Finally, this bizarre yet brilliant film will see a proper home video release! Now, where’s my proper copy of 1492: Conquest of Paradise?

Published in: on February 25, 2008 at 7:02 pm  Comments (1)  
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