No Random Ten today, for my weekly music posting. Instead, I'm going to do something like I did a few months ago; namely, talk about some recent CD purchases.
First, though, I like to rant a bit about a story I heard on NPR's Morning Edition the other day called iPods Edge Out Home Stereo Systems. The claim is made in the story that iPods are replacing the purchase of "high-end audio equipment", which is as ridiculous a claim as I've heard in a news story in a while. I can barely describe just how wrong that is.
First off, to me, "high end" audio equipment is a system that costs tens of thousands of dollars. You know the system - US$5,000 for the pre-amp alone, because of course they would buy pre-amp and the processor separately. The kinds reviewed in the audio magazines, that you and me would never consider. And these sorts of people, who throw around this kind of money on a true "high end" system, just aren't going to let a US$250 iPod replace it, no matter how "convenient" it might be.
And even at a lower price point, say the US$1,000 for a tuner/amp like I would consider, it just wouldn't pass muster. And I'm not talking about being some kind of audio snob. I'd put myself in the middle tier as far as that goes. I have a real nice Marantz amp and some amazing Phase Technology Teatro speakers, and I'm sure an iPod just wouldn't drive these speakers for crap.
And, most importantly, a real home audio system isn't just for CDs any more. In fact, my setup probably plays CDs only about 25% of the time. An audio system is the very heart of a home theater system. Without a nice amp and speakers, you lose half of the impact of a great DVD. And an iPod isn't going to replace that either. So basically, the story is a crock and I'm disappointed that NPR would stoop so low.
Anyway, back to the music. I took care of the neighbor's dog while they were out in the Midwest checking out colleges for their boys. Elkie wasn't the slightest bit of trouble. At 12 years old, she doesn't move very fast and is a very obedient dog. She gets along great with Spenser and it was nothing to go next door a couple of times a day and let her out to play. But they went above and beyond and gave me a couple of gift cards when they got back. One was for Fuddrucker's, the family restaurant. We went up there the other day and enjoyed a burger and fries.
And they also gave me a Best Buy gift card. So I went up to my local Best Buy and tried to spend it. I did get a SD memory card for my new MP3 player, as I have given up on ever getting the one from CompUSA. But I wasn't sure what else to buy. I didn't want a computer game, as Comcast Games on Demand provides me all the games I want or need. I wasn't looking for a DVD. So I prowled around the CD racks for a bit. And I got pretty depressed, as there just wasn't anything that interesting. Lots of mass market pop junk.
But then I figured this would be a good time to pick up one of the Beatles CDs I was talking about earlier. So I picked up Abbey Road, the last (recorded) Beatles album. Maybe I'll start working my way backward now.
And it is amazing just how many of these songs I've heard. I'm not sure I've ever heard the whole album, but just from the radio and the like, I'm pretty sure I've heard nearly all of these songs before. AllMusic.com has full reviews on every song! My favorites include Come Together, Maxwell's Silver Hammer and Carry That Weight, while the girls really enjoy Octopus's Garden. They're pretty familiar with the Beatles, as they got a Beatles for Kids CD a few years ago, where some big names in children's music each sing a Beatles song. A great CD and worthy of all its praise.
But that was it. I just couldn't bring myself to buy another CD there. But thank FSM for Newbury Comics, a local music chain with its heart in the music and not some mass market pablum. I've only bought a small handful of CDs of the past few months, but pretty much all of them have been from Newbury Comics. And I happened to pass by one of them, so I popped in. And walked out with two new CDs.
One of them was the Winterpills CD. I talked about the great song, Laughing, a few weeks ago, and it is still in heavy play here. And I'm glad to report the rest of the CD is just as solid as this song led me to believe. I would describe the music a either rock with a folkie touch, or folk with a rock touch.
This eponymous CD begins with a really good song, A Benediction. I really dig the bass line, played, I think, with a regular guitar and not necessarily a bass guitar. Very attractive chorus. And that great start is followed up with the aforementioned Laughing:
I started losing you
About the time you told me everyone knew
I felt under the strain
And through the rear-view mirror
watched you circle round the drain
Go back to all the places I know
I knock hard but no one's ever at home
Why does every brilliant color I'm shown
Want to bleed to gray
And I can't hear you laughing... any more
And I can't hear you laughing...
Other highlights to the CD include Cranky (about a disappointed woman), Found Weekend (I think it is sort of a still life in audio), and the final song, Looking Down (about being spurned by a lover). I'm bumming that I didn't make it out to see them last night at a local club. They were headlining a show at the Lizard Lounge, which meant they wouldn't be on stage until after 11:30. And as I have hockey at 6:30 on Friday morning, I just couldn't do it. If it had been tonight, I would have been there. But I'll keep a look out for their next show. Really good stuff.
And lastly, a CD that could very well be one of the best CDs I've ever listened to. It has been in heavy rotation ever since I picked it up earlier in the week. If you could wear out a CD, this one would be a mere nub of its original self. I am simply wild about Yes, Virginia by the Dresden Dolls. I carry it from my computer to my car and back, listening to pretty much every track. Wow!
This local duo of Amanda Palmer (singer, songwriter and piano player) and Brian Viglione (drummer) make some incredible sounds, filling the sound stage with pounding grand piano and ringing percussion. Each song has a distinct sound and the lyrics are dark and playful at the same time. I've heard it actually has made quite a splash on the national charts even. It is like 51 on the American charts, and number one on specialized charts like "Indie Rock" and the like. And I can definitely see why.
It's amazing how full a sound these two can make, and the first song, Sex Change, really brings this out. Amanda pounds on the keyboard and growls out the lyrics, while Brian really makes some booming percussion.
It is followed by Backstabber, yet another song showing just why you shouldn't cross a good songwriter! In the same vein as songs like Every Breath You Take(Sting stalking his ex-wife) and You're So Vain (Carly Simon ripping into Warren Beatty after being dumped), Amanda tells the unnamed target:
backstabber! hope grabber!
greedy little fit haver!
god, I feel for you, fool...
shit lover! off brusher!
jaded bitter joy crusher!
failure has made you so cruel...
rotten to the core
rotten to the core
Yeah, I think she's pissed. And then she gets seriously angry! Good stuff.
After Modern Moonlight (ragging on the commercial world), comes a real highlight, My Alcoholic Friends. A real bouncy number, hearkening back to the great Coin-Operated Boy from their first album. She's as hard on herself as she is on her partying friends, but the incredibly infectious sound belies any real disgust with drinking, as it sounds like the party is just too much fun.
After Delilah and Dirty Business (where it sounds like she's pissed about prying publicity hounds and hangers-on), comes (heh heh) the sly and dark First Orgasm which is about the first orgasm of the day. But it is a self-administered one, as she's "taking matters into her own hands" because she's not going to "look for love again". So this is more of a lonely call in the dark to see if "won't you hold me?". A song with many different layers and ways to read into it, and one that the lyrics could be sung in many different ways, and nuances abound. Rises way above the risque subject, for sure.
A few more songs about love, hate, social issues and, yes, more masturbating, lead up to the final song, Sing. I'd be shocked if this song doesn't penetrate the Top 40, but it is still a great song. I've hit replay on this song more times than I can count. Almost anthemic, it is amazing how much sound these two can generate. A very lyrical song with some nice singing by Amanda:
Sing for the bartender sing for the janitor sing
Sing for the cameras sing for the animals sing
Sing for the children shooting the children sing
Sing for the teachers who told you that you couldn't sing
There is thing keeping everyone's lungs and lips locked
It is called fear and it's seeing a great renaissance
After the show you can not sing wherever you want
But for now lets all pretend that we're gonna get bombed
Wow, I just love this CD. The only drawback, and it is a minor one at that, is that the lyrics can sink to almost puerile. It could just be the effect she is aiming for, and/or just the way the "kids" talk these days, but the off-color language and descriptions can get a little tiring. But it is only a niggle and, while it probably won't be a CD I can trot out for the girls, it is still a special sounding CD. Now I have to get their first one!